Tagged: France

Children of the Night — from Reuters Wider Image

Seris Bros
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Twenty-one-year-old French twins Vincent and Thomas Seris lead an ordinary life no different to others their age – as long as it takes place after sunset.

During the day, the men only venture out in attire resembling astronauts to protect themselves from the sun and its ultraviolet (UV) rays, or risk developing fatal types of cancer.

Colloquially referred to as the “Children of the Night” — or Les Enfants de la Lune in French — the Seris twins are among 70 to 80 people in France who suffer from Xeroderma Pigmentosum (XP), a rare genetic disorder.

The two men have been testing out a new protective mask which is transparent and ventilated and developed by several hospitals in the country.

There are up to 10,000 XP sufferers in the world, according to the French association “Les Enfants de la Lune.”

Surviving in circumstances comfortable in comparison to poorer folks in a poorer country, you still can’t count the Seris brothers as lucky – being able to live a long and fulfilling life. Still, they are treated by most ignorant strangers as if they were lepers passing through a market in the 18th Century.

RTFA. A worthwhile read. The Wider Image is one of the best things about Reuters.

France presents citizenship to Malian hero of Kosher market standoff

FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO
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What should have been an average workday for 24-year-old Malian, Lassana Bathily, an employee of a Parisian kosher supermarket, turned into a hostage nightmare that shook the world just days after one of the deadliest attacks in France in decades.

On Friday, Jan. 9, Bathily, a practicing Muslim, went far beyond his daily responsibilities as a shopkeeper. He courageously aided law enforcement and store patrons through one of two simultaneous standoffs…

His actions inspired a Change.org petition, which compiled more than 300,000 signatures, calling for him to be granted French citizenship and the Legion of Honor. French officials agreed.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve declared Bathily a hero and announced that the country would expedite his citizenship and naturalize him next Tuesday for his bravery.

Bathily came to customers’ aid that fateful Friday, when attacker Amed Coulibaly stormed into the busy Hyper Cache as shoppers prepared for the Sabbath. The gunman threatened to kill the hostages if the police didn’t release brothers Säid Kouachi and Chérif Kouachi, the men responsible for the Charlie Hebdo attack who were, at the time, engaged in a separate hostage standoff in the French countryside.

Bathily valiantly guided costumers into a cold-storage space for protection, turned off the refrigeration, and fled the shop to notify the French police of the heist.

Initially the police considered him a suspect and handcuffed him for an hour and a half…Bathily was eventually able to convince police that he was not an accomplice, but an employee who could aid in the unnerving standoff.

With his knowledge of the store, he provided authorities with critical information about the layout and location of the hostages. Despite their collaborative efforts, four customers were killed that day. Nevertheless, Bathily emerged as the heroic civilian during 54 hours of violence that wracked the nation.

With France now experiencing heightened Islamophobia and anti-Semitism after the attacks, Bathily said he was not fazed by some of the divisiveness.

“We’re brothers. It’s not a question of Jews, Christians or Muslims,” Bathily declared. “We’re all in the same boat, and we have to help one another to get out of this crisis.”

Just one more ordinary working man rising to the demands of crisis around him.

An object lesson for the idjits who descend to bigotry in the face of perceived danger.

It was the largest rally ever held in Paris

It was the day Paris united. And with dozens of world leaders joining the millions of people marching to commemorate and celebrate the victims of last week’s terror attacks, it was also the day the world united behind the city…

It was the first time since the liberation of Paris in August 1944 that so many people – the interior ministry said there were too many to count but most estimates put it at somewhere between 1.5 million and 2 million – took to the streets of the city. An estimated 3.7 million took to the streets across the whole country.

As investigations continue into the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine by Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, which left 12 dead on Wednesday, the killing of a female police officer the following day, and the attack on a Kosher supermarket by Amédy Coulibaly on Friday in which four died, the mood among the crowds in Paris was one of unity.

This was a nationwide outpouring of grief, solidarity and defiance. Parisiens of all ages, religions and nationalities turned out en masse not only to show their respect for the victims but their support for the values of the Republic: “liberté, égalité, fraternité” – freedom of speech and freedom of the press…

The noise along the route…rose and fell in waves, with songs and chants of “Charlie, Charlie, Charlie” punctuating the solemnity of the atmosphere and drowning out the helicopters overhead.

At regular intervals, the crowd stopped to applaud police and gendarmes shouting “merci police”; three police officers died in the attacks.

On a political and diplomatic level, it was unparalleled. Protocol rules were ignored as around 50 world leaders congregated in the French capital. Presidents, prime ministers, statesmen and women took buses from the Elysée palace to join the march from Place de la République to Place de la Nation, two of Paris’s best-known squares…

As a powerful mark of respect for those who died, the world leaders took second place, walking behind the families and friends of the victims of last week’s attacks.

Earlier in the day hundreds gathered to honour Ahmed Merabet, 42, the police officer gunned down in the Charlie Hebdo attack. The hashtag #JesuisAhmed has become widely used on Twitter along with #JesuisCharlie.

The events of last week have deeply shocked and scarred the French people who found a sense of collective comfort in coming together on Sunday to say “We are not afraid”. As night fell, they continued to march and gather, reluctant to leave the comfort of the crowd and the momentous occasion.

I shouldn’t be surprised when a journalist discovers there can be something correctly called the “comfort of the crowd”. Not a mob emotion, not even the jubilance of a proper rally; but, the quiet sisterhood and brotherhood of being able to stand in harmony with thousands and tens of thousands of others who are sharing the satisfaction of coming together in a progressive cause. A gathering so large that even the most ignorant and bigoted retreat in fear and confusion from the confrontation they always brag about desiring.

You never lose that feeling. Unless you’ve lost the caring that brought you there in the first place.

I felt it in Washington, DC a few times. The civil rights march for peace and freedom with Dr. King in 1963. Later gatherings just as large against the US War in VietNam. All those hope-endorphins leave a lasting effect on your brain. Maybe that’s why I remain an optimist…

Gizmag’s Top 10 sustainable houses

You can click over to the article to wander through all ten. I’d like to feature a few I really like.

The ZEB Pilot House

International architecture firm Snøhetta has partnered with Norway’s Research Center on Zero Emission Buildings (ZEB) and to design and build a remarkable experimental house that helps move the development of very efficient buildings forward. The ZEB Pilot House is claimed to generate almost three times the amount of electricity it requires, with the significant surplus available to help run an electric car, for example…

A lot of sustainable technology was used on the build. The roof sports a 150 sq m (1,614 sq ft) photovoltaic array, and a 16 sq m (172 sq ft) solar thermal panel array, in addition to a rainwater collection system that provides water for toilet and garden use. In order to ensure all available rays are caught, the roof also slopes 19 degrees toward the southeast.

A Snøhetta representative told Gizmag that the photovoltaic array is expected to produce 19,200 kWh annually, while the home’s total electricity needs are calculated at just 7,272 kWh per year.


Pop-Up House

Whatever kind of home you live in, the chances are it took longer to build than the Pop-Up House, by French architecture firm Multipod, which was erected by a team of builders in just four days with no more tools than a screwdriver. The firm likens the construction process to building with Lego.

The Pop-Up House is a prototype prefabricated home that Multipod aims to bring to market for around €30,000 (roughly US$41,000). Thanks to its excellent insulation and near-airtight thermal envelope, no heating is required for the home in its location in Southern France, and it meets the very exacting Passivhaus energy standard.


The S House

Vietnam’s Vo Trong Nghia Architects has been tinkering away at the issue of providing practical, sustainable, and most importantly, cheap, homes. The result is the S House, a US$4,000 dwelling part-built using local, easily-obtained materials, including Palm leaf thatching and bamboo.

The interior of the S House is very basic and measures just 30 sq m (322 sq ft), with one large interior space. The building is prefabricated and can be disassembled into multiple small pieces for easy transport by local builders. Vo Trong Nghia Architects is still working on the design of the S House but the eventual plan is to mass market it.

I could wander off into the tech of these three. I shan’t. Wander through the series and reflect on your own choices – and why.

The last two, the S House and the Pop-Up are my favorites of these three because of size. I firmly believe smaller is usually better. My wife and I [and a dog, of course] first lived together in a 2-bedroom guesthouse that encompassed 650 sq.ft. – and we didn’t use one of those bedrooms. We lived day-to-day in about 450 sq.ft. and that still was more than we needed.

We live in more space, now, and once again have a room we don’t use at all. The guesthouse is back to being a guesthouse. A functional design when you live within a destination. It’s convenient to have two bathrooms; but, still, the main room could be smaller and that would simply encourage sitting closer to the TV set watching a football match or a movie. :)

Maersk loses 517 containers from freighter – not 70

Svendborg Maersk 01
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A French environmental group says it will sue a Danish shipping company for failing to fully report the loss of hundreds of containers during a violent storm.

The complaint by Robin des Bois accuses the company, Maersk, and the crew of the Svenborg Maersk of “unacceptable light-mindedness”…

The 20-foot and 40-foot shipping containers fell off the ship this month off the coast of France during a storm with 30-foot waves and 60-knot winds…

The containers were found missing when the ship docked in the Spanish port of Malaga for repairs.

Maersk initially reported 70 containers were lost. On Wednesday, it upgraded the total to 517.

The environmental group called the lost containers “a permanent danger for fishermen, coastal communities and the environment.” It said Maersk was guilty of pollution and “abandoning waste.”

The company said 85 percent of the containers were empty. The rest contained dry goods; none carried hazardous materials.

I hope authorities require online publication of a detailed listing for each container, contents, safety requirements and proof of insurance. All certainly exist inside the bowels of the Maersk computers.

First of all, this will aid local coppers when they have to deal with containers washing ashore. No matter where. Second, this would press Maersk essentially to prove they’re not continuing to lie about what happened.

France, Mexico, latest allies of the USA who learn the NSA is spying on everything in their lives


Felipe – I read your email about switching to Viagra

The US ambassador was scheduled to attend an emergency meeting over spying on Monday morning at France’s foreign ministry in Paris, according to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The meeting was prompted by an article published by the French daily Le Monde alleging that the US National Security Agency had listened in on millions of French phone calls…

There was no immediate response from Washington regarding the article or the French government’s outrage over the claims.

According to Le Monde’s online article published today, the NSA gathered 70.3 million French phone records between December 10, 2012 and January 8 of this year. The article cited documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and was co-written by Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who originally broke the NSA story…

The Mexican Foreign Ministry also demanded answers from Washington after the publication of a separate article alleging NSA-snooping on Mexico on Sunday. The latest revelations stemmed from an article published by the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel which said the US surveillance program had been spying on Mexico for years…

The Spiegel article said the NSA had hacked into the email of President Felipe Calderon in 2010, citing documents obtained from Edward Snowden.

The revelations of US espionage have angered allied countries. Last month, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff cancelled a meeting with President Barack Obama in Washington in protest of alleged surveillance on Brazilian citizens and companies.

Last week, Deutsche Telekom announced a plan to shield domestic Internet traffic from foreign spying. The telecommunications giant aims to strengthen data privacy in Germany by preventing it from leaving its borders and opting instead to channel it through domestic servers only.

Typically, the excuse used by conservative apologists or just plain lazy-ass sophists about the NSA/United States wholesale gobbling up of everything digital about your life is “everyone has always done this, nothing new, move along”. Which is hogwash. Quantitative levels of snooping change qualitatively when you go from slipping a spy into a foreign embassy to photograph the new submarine plans – versus vacuuming up every iota of metadata for every citizen of your nation, 24/7.

You might feel more secure deluding yourself with political ennui. That just makes you part of the problem. Individuals of conscience react to the crimes of their own nation as thoroughly as those of “nasty furriners”. The questions come down to principle – and responsibility.

French nuclear plant profits to help fund alt-energy goals


Hollande and Ayrault

France will use some of the proceeds from its nuclear power plants, alongside a new carbon tax, to help fund an overhaul of the country’s energy policy, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Saturday.

He did not specify the size of the contribution from nuclear power or how it would be applied…

In addition to the flagship carbon tax, to be levied on fossil fuels from next year and which should raise 4 billion euros ($5.4 billion) in 2016, Ayrault said the government would raise funds from nuclear plants…

“For the remainder of our plants’ lifetime and while ensuring the highest possible security of course, our nuclear fleet will be made to contribute,” he said, referring to funding of so-called energy transition goals…

State-owned electricity group EDF operates France’s 19 nuclear plants, which house 58 reactors…

France is currently the world’s most nuclear-reliant country in its electricity supply.

Hollande reiterated on Friday an election promise to cut France’s dependency on nuclear power from 75 percent to 50 percent by 2025…

Hey – every little bit helps.

As I’ve previously noted, after more than a half-century supporting the building of nuclear power plants I’ve done the math and switched to support for solar and wind power. The cost of building and maintaining nuclear power never diminishes, continues to increase. The opposite is the case at least in the near and medium term for many alternative systems.

Whistleblower has names of tax cheats with Swiss bank accounts

Hervé Falciani is a professed whistle-blower — the Edward Snowden of banking — who has been hunted by Swiss investigators, jailed by Spaniards and claims to have been kidnapped by Israeli Mossad agents eager for a glimpse of the client data he stole while working for a major financial institution in Geneva.

“I am weak and alone,” Mr. Falciani said, as three round-the-clock bodyguards provided by the French government looked on with hard stares. The protection was needed, he insisted, because he faces constant risk as the sole key to decipher the encrypted data — five CD-ROMs containing a list of nearly 130,000 account holders that may be the biggest leak ever in the secretive world of Swiss banking…

In 2012, Mr. Falciani passed his information to American authorities. They, in turn, used the data to pursue an investigation into whether HSBC flouted controls on money laundering, eventually forcing a $1.92 billion settlement with the bank in December…

Since being released from jail this year after a Spanish judge denied a Swiss extradition request, Mr. Falciani, who is married and has a young daughter, has resurfaced in France. Authorities here have offered protection in exchange for Mr. Falciani giving testimony to local prosecutors who are investigating whether HSBC helped French clients dodge taxes.

As the investigations play out, Mr. Falciani said he was holding down a day job, working for a European Union project as a computer researcher to develop algorithms to detect abnormal behavior. But he worries about his long-term safety, wondering whether he will live another year. He notes that his house has been broken into and that his wife was recently fired from a job at a shoe store because of his notoriety

“This business represents thousands of billions of euros,” he said. “From my side, I’m frightened.”

He should consider moving to a nation like the United States which respects and protects whistleblowers, preserves their liberty and responds to leaks by prosecuting criminals in high places.

Oh.

French parliament lifts historic ban on insulting president

A change in French law means it has now become legal to insult the French president.

Parliament agreed on Thursday to amend legislation dating back to 1881 in favour of freedom of speech.

Previously, anyone tempted to offend the head of state risked a fine.

In March, the European Court of Human Rights ruled France violated freedom of expression by fining a man for insulting former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The abuse, repeating words that Mr Sarkozy himself had used previously, was a crude version of “get lost!”

The European Court said the man’s conviction and his 30-euro (£26) fine had been “disproportionate”.

The president would now need to prove there had been slander or defamation towards him.

Why am I not surprised the last presidential creep to use this law was Sarkozy?