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French Cuisine Has Gone Off the Grid

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 30/07/2021 - 6:00pm in

“Do you want to witness the power of the sun?” grins Pierre-André Aubert, taking a scrap of wood and holding it under the beam of light emanating from what looks like a giant satellite dish covered in mirrors.

Within a second it begins to smoke and char at the edges, the point more than dramatically made by the sizzling summer heat of Marseille. “Now that’s what you call firepower,” adds Aubert. “It reaches about 600 to 700 Celsius at this point.”

In this leafy corner of the southern French city, away from the bustling vieux port and next door to the engineering faculty of Marseille’s Polytech University, is Europe’s first ever 100 percent solar-powered restaurant. 

Sitting on 2,700 square meters of land, Le Présage, which launched in April, currently serves up refined, emissions-free gastronomy to dozens of diners per day. The early success of the project has shone a light on the huge potential for solar power to transform a sector infamous for its intensive, inefficient use of energy.

solar Pierre-André Aubert with the solar panels that power his restaurant. Photo courtesy: Pierre-André Aubert

The restaurant’s kitchen stove is powered by a large device known as a Scheffler Mirror, developed by a company called Simply Solar and adapted in-house, and a 37-liter solar oven created by French start-up Solar Brother. A tank of water is also heated by the sun to 80C for both cooking and cleaning. 

Squeezing out every drop of efficiency, the chefs have studied recipes that maximize energy use, which means no pasta (requiring a lot of boiling water for not much food), but plenty of whole vegetables (which can be roasted for hours without extra energy needs while maximizing flavor). The result is dishes as enviable as one would find at any conventional restaurant, from fava bean, butternut squash and courgette tagines to poached apple and elderberry crumbles.

For Aubert, a former aeronautical engineer who worked as a chef for a decade before founding Le Présage, harvesting the energy of the sun is just like harvesting any other kind of local ingredient. “The idea of this restaurant is simple: it’s to use the natural resources from the area,” he says. “Obviously, we use fruits and vegetables, wild herbs like fennel, mustard and rocket that grow in the area. But the other natural resource, which is most available here in Marseille, is sunlight.”

In the restaurant, a tank of water is heated by the sun to 80C for both cooking and cleaning. Photo courtesy: Pierre-André Aubert

The concept was tested in the neighboring town of Aubagne over two short seasons in 2016 and 2017, during which some 1,500 meals were served and logistics were ironed out. But the Marseille site is the first permanent establishment. It is set to expand further next year with more capacity, a new herb and vegetable farm, and a circular system to power the restaurant with biogas and compost from the organic waste that it produces.

The project has immediately cooked up interest. Barbara Pompili, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition, stopped by for a meal in April. And Le Présage, which plans to launch several other sites in the next three to five years, is in the midst of raising €1.7 million to fund its further development.

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Its success suggests that renewable energy has far more potential to make the restaurant industry sustainable than is currently being realized, according to Michael Oshman, CEO of the Green Restaurant Association, an international nonprofit that runs a certification system to recognize restaurants with good environmental credentials.

“It’s come a long way, but the restaurant industry is far from a sustainable industry,” says Oshman. “It really needs to shift. Realistically, society isn’t going back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, so we need energy and it’s got to be clean. But solar is a great story — it’s a huge part of the solution.”

Willy LeGrand, a professor at the IU International University of Applied Sciences in Bonn, Germany, and an expert on sustainability in the hospitality industry, agrees that there’s significant work to be done. “Energy use is a major concern for the industry,” he says. “There’s cooking, refrigeration, lighting and heating. Restaurants are pretty intense in energy use. But the beauty with solar power is the standalone potential — you can produce it on site — and it’s often the cheapest energy source available.”

solar power restaurantThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that restaurants use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings. Photo courtesy: Pierre-André Aubert

The gains could be enormous. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that restaurants use about five to seven times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, such as office buildings and retail stores. “If solar energy could offset 20, 50 or 80 percent of that use, it’s a huge part of the pie off the environmental balance sheet,” says Oshman.

Of course, it helps that Marseille, France’s second largest city, receives 300 days of sunshine each year. “If it rains for a week, that’s going to be an issue for us,” says Aubert. “We sometimes have to deal with the vagaries of the weather. But what’s good about Marseille is that it rarely rains.”

But even in locations that do have sufficient sunlight, layout and lack of space could hinder solar power’s rise.

“If you have plenty of roof space and it’s sunny, then it’s fantastic,” says Oshman. “In Florida, it tends to be that development is spread out, as is the same in California. But in places like New York City, restaurants might not have access to the roof or the landlords might not want to install solar equipment.”

Aubert prefers to focus on the sunny side. He believes this model can be replicated around the world, providing more than just a glimmer of hope in making restaurants greener.

“We could put one at the MUCEM [art museum], one at the Calanques [nature reserve], another at Saint-Tropez,” he says. “Then in California, South Africa, Australia and Chile. We are convinced that this restaurant can be reproduced in all places where the sun shines.”

The post French Cuisine Has Gone Off the Grid appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

A Communist Left Critique of Platformism (Part II): The Platform and its Disciples

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/07/2021 - 12:29am in



image/jpeg iconplatform1926.jpg

In Part I we examined the Free Territory, or Makhnovshchina, the revolutionary movement in Southern Ukraine 1918-21. It was neither a peasant counter-revolution as portrayed in Trotskyist and Stalinist propaganda, nor an anarchist utopia. Rather it was part and parcel of the bloody process of the rise and fall of the Russian Revolution, itself a part of the post-war revolutionary wave. In Part II we finally look at The Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists or simply the Platform, and the Platformist tendency that it later inspired.

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Sokal and Bricmont on the Harm Done to Developing Countries by Postmodernism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 11/07/2021 - 4:56am in

I’ve put up a number of articles recently attacking various forms of postmodernism, such as Critical Race Theory, for their radical rejection of Enlightenment values of rational debate and liberalism. In the case of Critical Race Theory, this has produced an ideology with definite Fascistic characteristics in its appeal to irrationalism, feelings and racial feeling against Western rationalism, which is held to be a form of enslavement when taken up by or foisted on Blacks. This is exactly like the Nazi denunciation of democracy as a Jewish plot to enslave Aryan Germans. Postmodernism is modern philosophy that explicitly preaches radical scepticism. It states that there is no such thing as objective fact and questions scientific objectivity with the claim that scientific theories are merely the product of particular historical events. It was developed by radical sociologists of science, such as the French scholar Bruno Latour, from the work of Willard Quine and Paul Feyerabend. Latour’s anti-scientific scepticism went so far as to question the death of one of the pharaohs from tuberculosis, as suggested by medical researchers in the ’70s. He did so, not because of any medical evidence suggesting another cause, but because tuberculosis was only identified as a specific disease in the 19th century. He stated that the disease only began when it was discovered by Koch, and so couldn’t have existed back in ancient Egypt to kill the pharaoh.

One of the first major attacks on Postmodernism was by the American mathematicians and physicist Alan Sokal and the Belgian philosopher Jean Bricmont. Sokal had kept a dossier of postmodernist papers which cited scientific and mathematical concepts and terminology, but were in fact utterly nonsensical. The two published a book based on these, Intellectual Impostures, which showed how these philosophers abused science and maths. Sometimes they had a vague notion what they were talking about, but the concepts cited were used loosely with no explanation why they were supposed to be relevant to what was supposed to be the subject of their papers, like psychoanalysis. In short, they were attempts by the postmodernists to make their arguments sound more impressive than they really were by couching them in incomprehensible prose and arbitrarily selected bits and pieces of science and maths.

They write that postmodernism is harmful in the Developed World, but the real damage is being done in the Developing World through the postmodernist demand for respect for indigenous traditions, even when they are exploitative, citing a left-wing Indian activist and scientist, Meera Nanda. They write

Unfortunately, postmodern ideas are not confined to European philosophy departments or American literature departments. It seems to us that they do the most harm in the Third World, where the majority of the world’s population live and where the supposedly ‘passe’ work of the Enlightenment is far from complete.

Meera Nanda, an Indian biochemist who used to work in the ‘Science for the People’ movements in India and who is now studying sociology of science in the United States, tells the following story about the traditional Vedic superstitions governing the construction of sacred buildings, which aim at maximizing ‘positive energy’. An Indian politician, who found himself in hot water, was advised that

‘his troubles would vanish if he entered his office from an east-facing gate. But on the east side of his office there was a slum through which his car could not pass. [So he] organized the slum to be demolished.’

Nanda observes, quite rightly, that

‘If the Indian left were as active in the people’s science movement as it used to be, it would have led an agitation not only against the demolition of people’s homes, but also against the superstition that was used to justify it… A left movement that was not so busy establishing ‘respect’ for non-Western knowledge would never have allowed the power-wielders to hid behind indigenous ‘experts’.

I tried out this case on my social constructionist friends here in the United States … [They told me] that seeing the two culturally bound descriptions of space at par with each other is progressive in itself, for then neither can claim to know the absolute truth, and thus tradition will lose its hold on people’s minds.

From Sokal and Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures (London: Profile Books 1998) 94-5.

Now, 23 years after that was written, the philosophical and moral relativists who demanded a completely uncritical respect for indigenous tradition are demanding that it should be incorporated into western science and culture in order to decolonise them. Thus we had the squalid spectacle of a video that appeared a little while ago of a debate in a South African university in which a Black student angrily claimed that western science was racist because it did not accept that African shamans could cause it to rain. The reason why science does not do so is because the supernatural is, by its nature, beyond and outside science’s purview.

But such radical postmodernism and attacks on science and rationality threaten the very foundations of civilisation and spread ignorance and prejudice, leading to the further impoverishment and exploitation of the very people the postmodernists claim to want to help.

Critical Race Theories Rejection of Enlightenment Rationalism and liberalism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/07/2021 - 6:54pm in

This is another short video from Simon Webb of History Debunked attacking Critical Race Theory. I’ve already put up a number of videos from right-wingers like Webb criticising CRT for its anti-White racism and its rejection of rationalism, logic and reasoned argument based on evidence in favour of Black prejudice and emotion, but this reinforces the point by quoting from the Critical Race Theorists themselves. This is the university textbook Critical Race Theory by Richard Delgado.

Webb has been moved to put up this video by a report in the Torygraph about the Royal Veterinary College deciding to decolonise its curriculum, assuming they can find anything racist or colonialist in courses about animal medicine and husbandry. However, the Critical Race Theorists at the school for vets describe the intellectual tradition of the White north as a ‘colonial legacy’. And in Delgado’s book, it is explicitly stated ‘Critical Race Theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, enlightenment rationalism and mutual principles of constitutional law.’ Webb points out that the rejection of Enlightenment rationalism is an rejection of the principle that issues should be tackled through evidence, logic and reasoned discussion. Instead Critical Race Theory elevates feelings and instincts. Webb makes the point that few people are aware of Critical Race Theory’s rejection of Enlightenment rationality, and that this rejection means it is impossible to reach any compromise with this cult’s believers. Without rational debate or discussion, there is simply no common intellectual framework through which compromise can be reached.

Although he doesn’t mention it in his video, such a rejection of Enlightenment rationalism in favour of feelings, especially racial feelings, is Fascistic. This isn’t hyperbole or exaggeration. Fascism explicitly rejected the Enlightenment values of rationality and debate, along with equality and liberal values, in favour of emotion and irrationalism. And obviously, there was an explicitly nationalistic and racist element in this. In Nazism, a German was supposed to instinctively know whether something was right or wrong through his or her membership of the German Volk. As for regarding Enlightenment values as a form of enslavement for Blacks, this is exactly comparable with Hitler’s rants about democracy being against the racial character of the German people, a Jewish plot to enslave them.

This aspect of Critical Race Theory isn’t discussed, and there have been any number of articles in what passes as the left-wing press – the Groaniad, Independent and I – defending it. But CRT’s rejection of the Enlightenment and embrace of Fascistic irrationalism should mean that no-one on the Left should touch it, for the same reason that no-one on the Left should ever embrace any form of Fascism.

I have similar issues with the whole notion of ‘White privilege’. This is supposed to be an anti-racist strategy through attacking the supposedly higher status of Whites rather than Black poverty. But ‘privilege’ is something one uses to describe the power and status of particular social classes, such as the aristocracy. It reminds me of the way Fascism, following the legacy of the French Revolution, divided society into the real and false nation. In the French Revolution, the real nation was the middle class and the masses, as against the aristocracy, who were to be hunted down and eradicated. James Lindsay, one of the left-wing critics of postmodernism, including Critical Race Theory, has expressed fears that if it carries on, the attacks will move beyond ‘Whiteness’ to Whites themselves and I’m afraid I can very easily see it happening. I imagine Robert Mugabe used much the same rhetoric to whip up his followers during his ethnic cleansing of the White farmers of Zimbabwe. And for all their gentle words, when BLM activists such as Sasha Johnson talk about founding Black militias, that’s another step taken towards real Fascism with the establishment of paramilitary foundations.

I am definitely not denying that there aren’t glaring racial inequalities in Britain, or that Blacks don’t need state action to assist them achieve equality. I am simply saying that Critical Race Theory has nothing sensible or reasonable to add to the debate through its race feeling and Fascistic irrationalism.

If this ideology is wrong for Whites, then it should also be wrong for Blacks. And the Groan, Independent and I are deceiving their readers by not discussing this and presenting Critical Race Theory as somehow left-wing, liberal and acceptable.

Cartoonist Kayfabe on Rob Zombie’s and Richard Corben’s ‘Bigfoot’ Comic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 10/07/2021 - 12:38am in

Here’s another video from the Cartoonist Kayfabe channel in which hosts Ed Piskor and Jim Rugg discuss a comic with a paranormal theme. This time it’s not ancient astronauts, but Bigfoot, created by horror director Rob Zombie and comics legend Richard Corben. Corben is one of the great comic artists, though his work I think overwhelmingly appeared in the underground, independent comics and Heavy Metal, the Canadian version of the French Metal Hurlant. The Bigfoot comic didn’t last very long. It told its story in about four or so issues. It was about a child who goes on holiday with his family to the great northern woods, where everyone except the boy, including the family’s dog, is beaten to death by a rampaging Bigfoot. The orphaned lad pleads with the local sheriff to hunt down and kill the monster, but the sheriff refuses to do so for the same reason the local authorities don’t close down the beach in Jaws – they’re afraid of creating a scare. Years later, the boy, now grown up, returns and he and the sheriff and his deputies go after Bigfoot. They manage to kill it, but it true horror style there’s a whole family of Bigfoots, who manage to survive and escape.

The two talk about how the comic’s depiction of Sasquatch as a brutal killer is a quite a departure from the creature’s normal appearance in popular culture. Quite. It isn’t like the show, Harry and the Hendersons, in which Bigfoot lived with an ordinary American family, and very definitely did not go on the rampage and try to kill them. It also differs from the various accounts of encounters with the creature. Many of the people, who claim to have met Bigfoot say they had feelings of fear or terror, and some of the encounters were genuinely terrifying. In some of them, the witnesses say that the creatures surrounded their house or cabin howling. I’ve also read and heard of cases where people say that the creatures threw rocks at their homes. In one case I read, a man was abducted by Bigfoot and taken to its lair before finally managing to escape. However, I haven’t heard of Bigfoot actually killing anyone. The comic does, however, connect with Bigfoot lore by including references to the Patterson-Gimlin film. That’s the piece of cine film, which apparently shows a Bigfoot walking through the forest. The video’s thumbnail shows the comic’s portrayal of the creature in the movie. It was shot in the 1970s by two men when they were out travelling through that part of the American wilderness, and still divides people today. One documentary discussed the movie with a primatologist and a special effects expert with the film industry. The primatologist believed the footage must be fake because the animal didn’t look like a real ape. The special effects expert, however, believed it was genuine because its fur was of different length on different parts of the body, something that isn’t achieved even on the very best Hollywood creature costumes. Zoologists have also cast doubt on the creature’s existence by pointing out that none have ever been captured and if it does exist, it’s numbers are too small for the creature’s survival.

Similar ape-men, however, have been reported all over America, such as the Florida Skunk Ape, so called because the women who encountered it said it gave off a pungent smell. Some of the Bigfoot reports are more like a paranormal encounter than one with a real, paws and pelt animal. Witnesses describe it appearing and disappearing, or suddenly noticing that it was there and there have been suggestions that it has the power to make itself invisible. I honestly don’t know what the reality is. I suspect the creature is probably paranormal rather than physical, but some of the encounters may also be the result of hoaxing and misperception.

Bigfoot and the Yeti interest me, and I find it interesting how the creatures have entered popular culture, of which this comic is an example. Piskor and Rugg debate whether there were any other Bigfoot comics. One believes there weren’t, while the other says that there were any number in the ’80s and ’90, but they were all produced by comics fans and so were home-produced. They appeared in mimeographed copies with the pages stapled together at fan conventions. This isn’t a comic I’d ever read, but I do find it interesting as a cultural curiosity.

Book Review: Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story by Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 02/07/2021 - 8:48pm in

In Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc StoryFanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla explore how the CFA franc, created in 1945, has functioned as a form of French monetary imperialism. Demolishing the shallow rhetoric surrounding the CFA system, the authors are excellent guides to its political, diplomatic and technical history, finds Scott Timcke, offering a book that will be particularly of interest to economic historians, postcolonial theorists and political scientists. 

Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story. Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla (translated by Thomas Fazi). Pluto Press. 2020.

The central topic of Africa’s Last Colonial Currency is how France exerts control over several African countries through the CFA system, ‘the oldest monetary union in the world’ (137). With detailed discussions of the monetary mechanisms, Fanny Pigeaud and Ndongo Samba Sylla overwhelmingly demonstrate how this system, established in 1945, preserves a hierarchy wherein the benefits to France are ‘underestimated’ and the benefits to African countries are ‘exaggerated’ (103).

In demolishing the shallow rhetoric of the CFA franc being an African currency, as Emmanuel Macron has recently said in his Abidjan announcement, this book’s main contribution is to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of neocolonial analysis. Sensing how colonial powers were ambivalent about the ‘winds of change’, in 1965 Kwame Nkrumah described how neocolonialism is ‘exercised through economic or monetary means’ and ‘by a consortium of financial interests’. Pigeaud and Samba Sylla are excellent guides to the recent operation of these means and interests.

Much about monetary policy can be obscure, Pigeaud and Samba Sylla readily admit. Besides this, some of the central agencies have little motivation to simplify the matter for public debate. Indeed, the technical elements of monetary policy can be used to short-circuit discussions about the desirability of the CFA system. Still, the control of currencies can have enormous political-economic consequences because, depending on how this control is structured and exercised, it can be a cause of global inequality. This is certainly the case for the 162 million people living in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (comprising of Benin, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo), the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (comprising of Cameroon, Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic and the Republic of the Congo) and the Comoros. These fifteen states comprise the franc zone, and they have France mediating their monetary policy.

This book has many audiences in mind including economic historians, postcolonial theorists and political scientists. It provides a political, diplomatic and technical history of the development of the CFA system, showing how currency arrangements are also conduits for wealth transfers from colonies to metropoles. It reviews how Africans struggled against this monetary system as well as the techniques the French state used to counter those attempts, like co-opting leaders and economic sabotage. The book also shows how the assassination of presidents like Togo’s Sylvanus Olympio (an LSE graduate) and Burkina Faso’s Thomas Sankara in 1963 and 1987 respectively were windfalls for France given that they both opposed the CFA system.

Image Credit: ‘CFA francs baby!!!’ by kaysha licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0 

French monetary intervention in Africa has a long history. In 1825 King Charles X’s regime minted coins for Goree, an island off Senegal and a site of the slave trade. Eventually the area of this currency was extended to counter British West African traders, often through military force to impose monetary transitions away from local indigenous currencies. In 1851, the French authorities established the Bank of Algeria, supervised by the Bank of France. Colonial banks like the Bank of Senegal were established in 1855 using funds derived from French state compensation paid to slave owners following abolition in 1848.

Yet the colonial model and its fiscal components that had stood since the 1884–1885 Berlin Conference were ill-suited to twentieth-century developments, as the Algerian independence movement showed. Seeking to ‘develop solutions not to lose its colonial empire altogether’ (15), direct rule was replaced by ‘Françafrique’. For French state officials Françafrique refers to France’s sphere of influence, maintained through the soft power of cultural ties, whereas for Africans the term refers to hegemonic imposition that encouraged practices of elite enrichment that undermined democratic institutions. One component of Françafrique was France introducing a common currency in 1945, the CFA franc.

To simplify, the exchange rate between the French franc and the CFA franc was set so that trade flows would be to France’s favour, thereby helping France regain global market share and sources of raw materials for its industrial manufacturing. By overvaluing the CFA franc, metropolitan products became cheaper to import, while also increasing the price of African exports above that of similarly situated countries on the world markets. This meant that France was essentially the only buyer of raw materials, but able to do so without disbursing foreign currency. The pretext was that this arrangement would protect colonies from raising inflation from a devalued French franc due to the devastation of World War Two, but the context is that France sought to maintain the colonial extractive networks during the subsequent Cold War.

As activist and intellectual Walter Rodney discussed in the final chapters of How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, local elites could affiliate more with metropolitan interests. In the post-World War Two era, French President Charles De Gaulle leveraged these affinities to grant formal sovereignty to colonies, but maintained economic provisors through promises of development. Pigeaud and Samba Sylla are more forgiving of local leaders, suggesting that what might appear to be ‘voluntary servitude’ (98) was rather acknowledgement of the contextual constraints of power imbalances. However, they do admit that alignments with the ‘diplomatic positions of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ (98) could cash out in the French state’s assistance in regime maintenance for authoritarians.

As they did not need the consent of the governed to continue governing, this is partly how Omar Bongo, Paul Biya and Denis Sassou Nguesso have together managed to rule for more than 100 years combined in Gabon, Cameroon and the Republic of the Congo respectively (98-99). ‘Obviously, the CFA franc is not the only cause of these countries’ underdevelopment’, Pigeaud and Samba Sylla write, ‘but the claim that the CFA franc has ‘‘promoted’’ growth and development in the area is patently false’ (105).

The CFA system is based on four interrelated principles, these being ‘the fixed exchange rate, the free movement of capital, the free convertibility of the currency and the centralization of the foreign exchange reserves’ (21). Initially fixed to the French franc (and, since 1999, the Euro), CFA francs are not convertible on the international foreign exchange market. This means that all international trade is mediated by the French Treasury.

There are other more severe repercussions of these principles. First, as the CFA franc is pegged to the Euro, countries in the franc zone are subject to monetary policies that have the cyclical development of the Eurozone first and foremost in mind (109). Consequently, countries in the CFA system do not have monetary tools to deal with the myriad of local shocks they experience. The only tool at their disposal is austerity programmes that have dire consequences for economic activity. Second, as ‘the CFA system prevents any policy aimed at the mobilisation of domestic resources’, there are limits to ‘money creation’ which has negative knock-on effects for economic activity (38). Third, the system permits outflows at the expense of local reinvestment. Subsequently, African countries in the CFA system are ‘underfinanced’ (113), with ramifications for the extension of credit. In short, Pigeaud and Samba Sylla show how the CFA franc’s stability primarily benefits French exporters and investors, thereby ‘preserving the advantages of the colonial past’ (4).

The final part of the book reviews the mechanisms in the CFA system by which France maintains neocolonialism in Africa: for instance, how the French state has equal representatives on the boards of the Central Banks in Dakar, Senegal; in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and Moroni, the Comoros. With a majority required for decisions, France has a de facto veto right. Shortly thereafter is a point-by-point rebuttal of the ideological propositions supporting the CFA system followed by a programmatic overview of the means to exit — and options to replace — the CFA franc.

Writing about the drawbacks of the CFA system is crucial, Pigeaud and Samba Sylla write, because ‘African citizens should know its history, functioning and consequences’ (2). Certainly, African intellectuals have done this before with ‘important critical analyses’ (1) provided by Samir Amin and Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi, among others. Furthermore, African deputies of the French National Assembly have protested the arrangement at various points since the CFA system’s inception. But, as Pigeaud and Samba Sylla point out, ‘unfortunately, these did not get the attention they deserved’ (2). As for the French academy, few scholars have given attention to ‘Franco-African currencies. And those who have, have often failed to take into consideration all angles, putting forward very ‘‘francocentric’’ analyses’ (2). When reflecting on astonishment about how and why neocolonialism continues to operate, it might be valuable to consider how and why critical work by African scholars is ignored in the global academic system.

The CFA system exists ‘in spite of the most elementary economic and political sense’ (137). And so, since this book’s French publication in 2018, there have been extended negotiations revisiting the CFA system. Pigeaud and Samba Sylla address these politics in the postscript. More broadly for France, ‘the political costs may be outweighing the economic gains,’ according to Carlos Lopes, High Representative of the Commission of the African Union. But it is still noticeable how French diplomats are trying to upend decades of agreements within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) as they seek to provide technical assistance to this monetary transition. To draw upon Tchundjang Pouemi’s concluding words from his 1980 book, Monnaie, servitude et liberté: La répression monétaire de l’Afrique, ‘Africa’s fate will be forged through money or it won’t be forged at all.’

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics and Political Science.


Book at Lunchtime: Born to Write

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 3:39pm in

A TORCH Book at Lunchtime webinar on ‘Born to Write: Literary Families and Social Hierarchy in Early Modern France’ by Professor Neil Kenny. Book at Lunchtime is a series of bite-sized book discussions held weekly during term-time, with commentators from a range of disciplines. The events are free to attend and open to all.

About the book:

It is easy to forget how deeply embedded in social hierarchy was the literature and learning that has come down to us from the early modern European world. From fiction to philosophy, from poetry to history, works of all kinds emerged from and through the social hierarchy that was a fundamental fact of everyday life. Paying attention to it changes how we might understand and interpret the works themselves, whether canonical and familiar or largely forgotten. But a second, related fact is much overlooked too: works also often emanated from families, not just from individuals.


Professor Neil Kenny is a Professor of French at Oxford University, a Senior Research Fellow at All Souls College and Lead Fellow for Languages at the British Academy. He specialises in early modern French literature and thought, especially from the early sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. Professor Kenny’s current focus is on the relation of literature and learning to social hierarchy and previous projects have investigated different kinds of knowledge and belief.

Professor Caroline Warman is a Professor of French Literature and Thought at Oxford University, and President of the British Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. She specialises in the circulation of ideas and materialist thought and has recently completed a book on Diderot called The Atheist’s Bible: Diderot and the ‘Eléments de physiologie’.

Professor Ceri Sullivan is a Professor of English Literature at Cardiff University and the author of five books on the literary features that structure early modern texts about religion, trade, bureaucracy, and rhetoric. She is the general editor of the English Association's series Essays and Studies and her most recent publication is Shakespeare and the Play Scripts of Private Prayer.

History Debunked Attacks Racially Segregated Schools, Demolishes Free School System

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 27/06/2021 - 12:54am in

Here’s another video from another Conservative youtuber, Simon Webb. Webb’s channel, History Debunked, specialises in attacking various myths and pseudo-history being pushed as authentic Black history. In this video he attacks the call from supporters of Critical Race Theory that there should be separate schools for Black pupils, and particularly for boys. He has seen for himself how such schools actually lead to worse academic performance and behaviour in such a school in Tottenham in Haringey. But some of the reasons for its failure – management by parents, instead of qualified teaching staff – are also a major problem for the Thatcherite free school project, which was intended to allow parents to break out of the state education system.

Webb begins by quoting a passage describing how one Black activist, Derek Ball, urged Blacks to abandon their demands for integrated schooling during the Civil Rights struggle, and instead concentrate on building good, all-Black schools to boost Black educational achievement. The argument for these is that, despite attending the same schools as Whites and Asians, Blacks, and particularly Black boys, still fall behind because of the lack of suitable role-models.

Webb describes how the Seventh Day Adventists in Haringey in 1980 set up their own, all-Black school as part of this ideology. Staff at the school, John Loughborough, were good, moral, upstanding people. Unfortunately, they had a problem recruiting proper teaching staff, so they were being taught by the friends and relatives of the people who founded it, who wanted a job. Webb states he noticed how the academic achievement and basic behaviour of the children of friends, who sent their kids there, progressively decline. Their interest in and performance in vital subjects like maths and physics declined. At the same time, their interests narrowed to Black music, culture and politics. The teaching staff were unable to keep discipline, and so their behaviour became worse, instead of better. By the 1990s, when Haringey closed it down, it was the worse school in the borough.

Webb states that he has heard similar stories from across the Pond, and there are also similar stories about Muslim and Orthodox Jewish schools in this country. In the case of the Orthodox Jewish school, the educational curriculum was extremely narrow, so that its former pupils were left unprepared for life in wider British society. The same is true of the Muslim schools, while many of the pupils at the former John Loughborough school have a chip on their shoulder about how poor their schooling was, and its inability to prepare them for mainstream British society. He states that the problem with schools is that their management requires a very specific set of skills, which most parents don’t have. He states that in all the similar schools of which he knows, Black, Muslim, Orthodox Jewish, there are similar problems – a narrow curriculum, safeguarding issues and poor discipline.

The demand for racially segregated schools to benefit Blacks goes back several decades. I can remember the idea being debated in the 1990s. Round about the time Bristol City Museum was setting up its ‘A Respectable Trade’ exhibition about the city’s role in the slave trade, a women wrote into the local paper, then the Bristol Evening Post, calling for such schools. There were similar moves before then. After the riots in the St. Paul’s area in 1981/2, the council sent into schools various teams and advisors to teach the children not to be racist. This included the school at which my mother taught. This was accepted by staff and parents, though I do remember that the headmaster at the time refusing to allow the same anti-racist educators to take Black children out of the school to have special lessons on their Black identity, or something like that, as he was firmly against any kind of segregation.

I also recall Thatcher’s attempt to break up the state education system. As well as the City Academies, which were so terrible she and her education secretary, Norman Fowler, were actually winding up before Blair later relaunched them as academies when he came into power, she also announced she was passing legislation for free schools outside Local Education Authority Control. No longer would parents have to tolerate sub-standard education as the hands of evil lefty teachers and local councils. No! Parents would now have the power to break free and found their own schools, run how they wished. Which would undoubtedly do well due to market forces. All absolutely tripe, of course. Teaching really is a skilled profession, which not everyone can do. But right-wing governments like those of the Tories and Blair have been able to use it as a political football and partially privatise it by playing on the general belief that ordinary people know how to teach and manage a class better than the professionals. I remember back in the 1980s how the right-wing press, including the Bristol Evening Post, was constantly attacking teachers with scare stories about Communist teachers indoctrinating children. Thatcher herself, in one of her wretched speeches, was scathing about ‘anti-racist mathematics’, while her lapdog paper, the Scum, ran the story about children in Brent or Lambeth being taught to sing ‘Ba Ba Green Sheep’ because the original nursery rhyme, ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’, was supposedly racist.

And the concerns about the narrowness of the curriculum in some of the free schools and academies run by religious organisations are perfectly justified. A few years ago there were concerns about the Muslim schools up north, with allegations that they were being run very strictly in accordance with traditional Islamic practice. The sexes were segregated, discipline harsh, and the curriculum narrowly religious. There have been allegations since that this wasn’t the case, and such concerns were the result of Islamophobia. The Christian schools set up by a the evangelical Christian head of a haulage company have also been criticised for their severe and humiliating discipline, as well as teaching Creationism as science. As for Orthodox Jewish schools, the French academic, Alfred Kepel, in his book about the rise of religious fundamentalism, The Revenge of God, describes one such school in Paris where the only secular subject was maths.

I am certainly not against faith-based schools. Both Mike and I went to an Anglican church school and got a Christian education. But the school also strongly condemned sectarian and racial prejudice, and did take children to other, non-Christian places of worship, like the local mosque, as a way of teaching them about those faiths.

Nevertheless, the very narrow focus of some religious or racial organisations in the education they wish to provide should be of concern. Whatever their faith or none, children need and deserve a broad education which promotes their personal achievement and growth and prepares them for wider British society rather than isolating them in self-imposed ghettoes. And they also need to be taught by properly qualified, experienced and skilled staff, rather than ordinary people, who wrongly think they can teach thanks to decades of being told so by the right-wing press.

The free schools and academies may not provide this, and in many cases they certainly don’t. But they make profits for the academy chains and support the Tory ideology of attacking the state provision of education.

I’ve no doubt that racially segregated education is a failure, regardless of whether it is intended to benefit Blacks or other ethnic minorities. So are the free schools and academies generally.

All of them should be wound up, and schooling returned to the state and control of local authorities.

History Debunked on the White Slaves of Early Modern Scotland

This is another video from History Debunked’s Simon Webb. I’ve put up a number of his videos because they seem to contradict and refute some of the falsehoods deliberately being told about slavery and the maltreatment of Blacks in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. I’ve made it very clear that I despise Black Lives Matter, but I fully recognise the reasons behind their anger. As a community, Blacks do suffer from poor educational achievement, poverty, a lack of career opportunities, drug abuse and the violent criminality that goes with it. I know from talking to Black and Asian friends and relatives that there is real racial discrimination out there, including the threat of genuine Nazi violence. What I object to is some of the glib assertions and false history that has been added to genuine fact and the one-sided presentation of these problems. It’s simply an historical fact that slavery has existed in very many societies right across the world. It existed in Africa, and the Black slaves we acquired during the days of the transatlantic slave trade were purchased from powerful African slaving states like Dahomey, Whydah and a number of others. Black Africans were also enslaved by Muslim Arabs, Turks, as well as Indians and were exported from east Africa as far as modern Sumatra and Java. One historian of slavery has remarked that it has been so prevalent across the world, that what is remarkable is not that White Europeans practised it, but that White Europeans and Americans abolished it. But slavery is increasingly being presented as something that only White Europeans and their colonies did to Blacks.

In this video Webb talks about a form of slavery practised in Britain from the late 17th century to the end of the 18th century, which I doubt few people know about. It was the enslavement of White Scots people to work in their country’s mines and salt pans. The law, Anent Colliers and Salters, was passed in 1660 and was designed to stop shortages of labour in the coal mining and salt-making industries. The salt was produced through boiling seawater in vast pans. These were large parts of the Scots economy at the time, and the law was intended to stop workers in those industries going off and seeking gainful employment elsewhere. The law bound the miners and salters to their masters, who were given the power to beat them, whipping those who refused to work, as well as the right to sell them to other owners. They could not look for other jobs or even leave the area. In 1661 the law was extended so that the masters could forcibly conscript into their employment tramps and vagabonds. And there were harsh punishments for runaway miners. When one owner put up a mine for sale, as occasionally happened, the men were listed alongside equipment and livestock like the pit ponies. In 1701 Scotland passed what was dubbed ‘the Scots Habeas Corpus Act’, which prevented Scots from being imprisoned without cause. But it specifically excluded the workers in the above industries. In 1775 legislation was passed emancipating colliers and salters, but it applied only to new workers. It contained a ‘grandfather clause’, specifically excluding previous workers. It was only in 1799 that a law was passed freeing all miners and salt workers north of the border. He explicitly states at the end that the moral of all this was that slavery was not something that was done solely to Blacks. It was also done to Whites and continued until a few decades before the emancipation of all slaves.

As with all of his videos, I think you have to be aware of his personal bias. He seems to be a Telegraph-reading Tory, and some of what he says is incorrect. He has said that Britain never advertised for Caribbean workers, but this has been contradicted by several of the great commenters here, who remember just such appeals. In my understanding, he is wrong in what he says about the Mansfield judgement banning slavery in Britain. The judgement was issued by Lord Mansfield on a case brought before him by the Abolitionists on behalf of a slave, James Somerset. Somerset had been sold to another master, who wanted to take him abroad, which Somerset didn’t want to do. It’s like the later Dredd Scott in America. Webb claims that the judgement did not rule against slavery, only that slaves couldn’t be taken out of the country, because Mansfield had no power to pass judgement outlawing existing forms of British slavery such as that of the miners and salters.

This is wrong. In every book I read it is stated that Lord Mansfield ruled that slavery did not exist under English law. This is correct. Slavery had died out in England by the end of the 12th century as the Normans banned it. The former slaves instead became villeins, serfs. The mass of English peasants were unfree. By law they could not leave the manors on which they were settled, their property was technically that of their lords, and they had to pay a fine compensating the lord for his loss when their daughters married. In addition to working on their own plots of land, they were also required to do labour service on their lords’ demesnes. Their property reverted to their masters on their deaths, so that their widows and children had to appeal to the lord to get it back. Meanwhile, the parish priest had the rest to take the deceased peasant’s best beast, meaning his best cow, ox or bull. It’s not as severe as chattel slavery, and serfs have certain rights, which slaves don’t. But sometimes, especially in the Russia as the tsars, the distinction between serfdom and chattel slaves is a fine one. Serfdom was abolished in France during the French Revolution. Other states, like Denmark and the German states, abolished it in the decades following and during the 19th century, as did Russia under tsar Alexander II.

In school we’re taught, or given the impression, that serfdom died out because of an acute labour shortage following the death of between a third and half of the European population during the Black Death in the 14th century. In fact what happened is that the Black Death commenced a long period in which serfdom began withering away as landlords began to compete amongst each other to persuade peasants to settle on their estates and commute labour services into money rents. But the process was a long one. The last serf died in 1645, I believe. In one of her programmes in which she visits various historic towns, Dr Alice Roberts, a former female star of Time Team, medical doctor, anthropologist and Professor for the Public Engagement with Science at Birmingham university visited one of the great cities of Norfolk. She learned there about a battle in the 16th century when the local peasants revolted against attempts to turn them back into bondsmen – serfs.

Furthermore, even if slavery was formally abolished in England and serfdom had withered away, it was still customary to purchase certain types of human being. Time Team’s Tony Robinson, also known as Blackadder’s Baldrick, described the appalling conditions suffered by 18th and 19th century mill workers in his series, The Worst Jobs in History. He trembled with raw, justified outrage when he told how millowners would to workhouses and orphanages to buy the children left there to use as their workers. Wives were also seen as the property of their husbands, and the traditional form of divorce amongst British peasant and working class communities was to take them to market to sell. It happened up and down the country, including Bristol, where you could get a reproduction of an advertisement for such a sale down at the Central Library. The transportation of certain criminals also acted as a form of slavery. The Monmouth rebels in the West Country, who supported the illegitimate Duke of Monmouth against James II, if they escaped hanging by Judge Jefferies were transported to Barbados, where they were sold to the planters for sacks of sugar. Irish rebels were also treated the same way. A friend of mine at the Empire and Commonwealth Museum, who was a staunch anti-slavery activist with a mixed-race African wife, told me how you could still see the former cabins occupied by the White Irish amongst those of the Black plantation labourers in Barbados and the Caribbean. The Irish cabins were patriotically decorated with shamrocks.

I think the Mansfield judgement only applied to English law. Scots law is different, because until the Act of Union in the early 18th century England and Scotland were different countries with separate parliaments and different legal systems. Since the 12th century, English law includes custom and precedent. A judgement passed on one case acts as the model for others in similar cases. Scots law is based on Roman law. As I understand, a judgement passed in one case is not automatically binding for similar cases. It can be used as the basis for a similar decision, but the judge is also free to disregard it and make his own judgement. Lord Mansfield’s judgement probably only affected English, and not Scots law. Nevertheless, it was highly influential in that during the 1820s and ’30s before the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, Black slaves in the Caribbean used it as the basis for their own efforts to gain their freedom. There were a series of slaves, like Grace James of Antigua, who had been brought to Britain, or English overseas territories like Gibraltar, by their masters. On their return home, they presented themselves to the Guardian and Protector of Slaves, the official charged with protecting the slaves from brutality and maltreatment, as free people of colour illegally held in slavery. Their owners naturally objected, claiming they were being robbed of their property. The colonial authorities appealed to the home government for guidance, and the diplomatic correspondence, as printed in the government’s blue books, included copies of the Mansfield judgement.

I also believe that the conditions for miners in the north of England was similar to those in Scotland. I think it may have been on Bargain Hunt, one of the Beeb’s early evening antique shows, or perhaps Great Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, that they were in County Durham. The presenter was shown around the miner’s hall, the grand headquarters of the local trade union. He was told about the horrendous, oppressive conditions contained in the contract that traditionally had to be signed by every miner binding him to his master. These were only successfully fought and finally overturned thanks to union opposition in the 19th century. Which is another demonstration why we need strong, effective unions.

There was considerable sympathy for enslaved Blacks amongst working people, and particularly in Scotland. It’s been claimed that one reason for this was because of the enslavement of White, Scottish mineworkers. Thus the authorities and slave masters complained that there was too much sympathy for runaways among ordinary Scots, who were hiding and protesting them.

I think that possibly too little is known about serfdom and the traditional enslavement of Whites in Britain and Europe. Some of this might simply be due to the fact that most history is ‘history from above’, the actions of monarchs and great statesmen and politicians, rather than social history, or ‘history from below’. Another factor may well be the myth most Brits have grown up with – that Britain is the country from which freedom and good government flows. What isn’t appreciated is that every one of the freedoms we enjoy, and which are being stripped from us by the Tories, were hard won through the blood, sweat, toil and tears of ordinary folk and their champions.

It has led to a distorted view of history, the myth of ‘merrie England’ in which everything was somehow better in the old days, when lords ruled and the hoi polloi knew their place. It’s a view that the right do want to bring back. But a lack of understanding of traditional forms of British forced labour, that applied to Whites, has also contributed to the equally distorted view that slavery and forced labour is very much something that Whites inflicted on Blacks or other people of colour.

Both are wrong, and need to be fought.

Big Brother is watching French academia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 9:24am in

Anyone teaching or researching racism, colonialism or Islamophobia will be accused of ‘Islamo-leftism’

It was not enough for the Macron government to prevent any discussion of ‘state racism’ by issuing a controversial imam charter that equates the denunciation of the state’s racist acts and policies with ‘defamation’, which ‘exacerbates both anti-Muslim and anti-France hatred’ (Article 9 of the charter). Now, it looks like the French government envisages issuing a good academics charter. The good academic is defined as a disciplined teacher who, according to the French minister of higher education, Frédérique Vidal, separates their lectures, tutorials and research from what she sees as their ‘opinion’ or ‘activism’. In fact, this control-and-punish approach creates an Orwellian educational system where Big Brother robs researchers of their autonomy. This dictatorial surveillance of academics clashes with the values of the Republic and with the values of the Enlightenment, which opponents of so-called ‘Islamo-leftism’ pretend to ‘protect’.

But what is the reason for all of this? What led Emmanuel Macron, who presented himself as ‘neither left, nor right’ during the last elections, to adopt this right-wing stance and discourse? The 2018 gilets-jaunes protest movement led to a huge decrease in Macron’s popularity. The next presidential elections are scheduled for April 2022. Therefore, in recent months Macron has been determined to prove that his government is cracking down on Islamist extremism. However, many argue that his strategy to win electoral votes has turned out to be an anti-Muslim campaign that heightens Islamophobia. A cornerstone of this Islamophobic campaign is the problematic accusation of ‘Islamo-leftism’.

So, what is ‘Islamo-leftism’? Pierre-André Taguieff coined this very problematic term in his 2002 book The New Judeophobia. Taguieff used it to describe a conspiracy between conservative Muslims and the left to ‘bring down’ France. Taguieff believes in the racist colonial ideology of French exceptionalism and in the need for France’s ‘civilizing mission’. Therefore, he considers the Left’s anti-war rhetoric and rejection of imperialism to be in opposition to France’s historical mission. While there are many leftists who are against French colonialism, the proponents of Islamo-leftism use it to indict what they see as an alliance of Islamists and leftists against Western values. It becomes a conspiracy theory when it alleges that a coalition between left-wing academics and Islamists has taken hold in Macron’s government. Believers in this conspiracy theory want the government to crack down on the supposed movement in French universities. While supporters used to belong to the far Right in France, mainstream society has become involved in this debate over the feared spread of ‘Islamo-leftism’ in France.

The far-right leader Marine Le Pen used the accusation of ‘Islamo-leftism’ against her leftist opponents to suggest that their ‘alliances’ with Muslims have weakened the French state. Recently, Macron has started to use the term in order to appeal to far-right voters. This move has made what used to be a fringe talking point, heard only among members of the French far Rright, gain unprecedented visibility because the debate has reached the mainstream. The deliberate mainstreaming of this populist far-right notion has allowed French politicians to blame leftist forces in universities for the critical views many French students have of French society. The argument goes that the students’ outlook is due to their tertiary educators’ focus on racism, imperialism and structural discrimination.

In June 2020, Macron’s electoral strategy had him telling journalists: ‘The academic world has its share of blame. It has encouraged the ethnicization of the social question, thinking this was a good line of research. But the result can only be secessionism. This means splitting the Republic into two’. Following him, in October the minister for education, Jean-Michel Blanquer, criticised the ‘intellectual complicity in terrorism’ and warned that ‘Islamo-leftism’ was ‘wreaking havoc in society’.

On 14 February 2021, Frédérique Vidal declared on the right-wing channel CNews—the French equivalent of Fox News—that ‘Islamo-leftism is corrupting society in its entirety, and universities are not immune’. Vidal went on to say: ‘I am going to call for an investigation into all the currents of research on these subjects in the universities, so we can distinguish proper academic research from activism and opinion’. In the French parliament, Vidal said that the state would conduct an assessment of all the research that takes place in French universities.  Following the fury that Vidal’s suggested investigation created, Blanquer asserted that ‘there is something at work that is ideological and must be explicit in academia’.

Many people were offended by Vidal’s announcement and saw it as an attempt to kill academic autonomy. More than 22,000 people signed a petition calling for the minister’s resignation. France’s National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) has condemned the government’s move to investigate the research academics’ conduct. According to the CNRS, Islamo-leftism is a ‘political slogan’ that has no scientific basis. The CNRS considered the term ill-defined and accused the attempt to investigate universities as a move to stifle academic freedom. The CNRS insisted that it ‘particularly condemns the attempts to delegitimize various fields of research, like postcolonial studies, intersectional studies, or work on the term “race” or any other field of understanding’.

In light of what has been said, I would like to highlight the amalgamation and problems of the term ‘Islamo-leftism’, which conflates the religion of Islam with the Islamist political movement. This slipperiness is dangerous and misleading. As a Muslim feminist (and there are millions like me), I can be put under the Islamo-gauchisme umbrella—even though I am a fierce opponent of Ennahdha, the religious party in my country, Tunisia, and even though I loathe its leader, Rached Ghanoushi, who has destroyed my country and whose party tried to make Tunisian women lose their rights—simply because I teach courses and write articles that criticise racism, colonial patriarchy and anti-immigrant sentiment.

I would like to end this piece by saying that the authoritarian policing of thought advocated by the Macron government represents the real source of discord. The attempt to criminalise the research of those who introduce students to the atrocities of xenophobia and colonialism, and the new reality of an academic thought police that will allow research approving the government agenda only, will bring about the main sources of national division.

Universities and Palestine: three kinds of silence

Nick Riemer, 8 Apr 2021

If antiracism can be switched on and off as a principle—repeatedly asserted in print, but abruptly suspended when the question of Palestine is raised—then its expressions are degraded into mere performances.