Thursday, October 21, 2010

The riots that never were

I'm being constantly reminded these past few days of the immense gulf that separates the media from reality. I'm being asked regularly (by people far away from the City of Light) how I'm dealing with the “riots” in Paris that people are seeing reported by the ever-reliable news media. And I reply, as always, that I've only seen riots on the news, just as they have. In the real world, I don't see anything.

Right now, Parisians are mostly irritated by recent strikes, not by any kind of riots or violence. Transport strikes are the most irritating. However, in reality, they haven't been that bad, at least not over the past two or three days. It depends on where you are going, though. For those of us who live and work inside the city, transit strikes hardly matter at all, since we can walk to work. I walk to work every day, so I don't see strikes much. I did ride the Métro and RER on Monday, and while the Métro was fine, the RER was slightly slower than usual (about half the normal number of trains). So I had to wait ten minutes or so for a train, but it wasn't too crowded. In France, a strike usually means a significant work slowdown, but not a total stop.

As for the “riots,” I haven't seen any of those. And while the media reports on various and sundry disturbances in Paris, I haven't actually witnessed these disturbances, even though, in some cases, I've supposedly walked right through them. It's as if the news media live in another dimension.

Nothing has made me more wary of the news media than living in Paris. When you live in a city that is the center of so much world news, you very rapidly come to see just how hopelessly distorted news reporting is. There's just no connection between what the media say and what's actually happening. The constant sensationalism of the media with respect to Paris has led me to be extremely suspicious of anything the media says about any topic. I take all news reports with an enormous grain (or rather boulder) of salt these days.

I've seen some non-Parisian news items that clearly illustrate the media's total cluelessness. For example, a few days ago, at Fleet Week in San Francisco—an event that includes many impressive airshows—a Boeing 747 was invited to make a flyover during one of the shows. These flyovers are heavily regulated by the FAA, which defines very specific areas in which they are allowed to take place, with very specific restrictions and very precise waivers of certain regulations so that they may be carried out safely and legally. Anyway, someone made a video recording of the 747 flyover, and somehow CNN got hold of this video, and CNN presenters (with absolutely no clue concerning aviation, photography, Fleet Week, or anything else) apparently interpreted the flyover as some sort of neo-9/11 attack on the Golden Gate Bridge. Supposedly one of the presenters (I didn't see the initial newscast, as I don't watch TV) even said to the other “don't look at it!” apparently because he thought the 747 was going to hit the bridge.

Now, I watched the video, and it was abundantly, blatantly obvious that the 747 wasn't anywhere near the bridge. It passed well in front of one of the towers, which it could not do if it were actually flying towards it. And the relative size of the airplane in comparison to the tower in the background made it equally obvious that the 747 was thousands of feet away from the bridge. I don't understand how anyone could think otherwise. But CNN pounced on it, broadcasting sensationalistic claptrap without even trying to verify anything. (Other news services seemingly missed this news, thank goodness.) The FAA felt compelled to issue a statement, just the same, reassuring all that there was absolutely no conflict between the 747 and the bridge. People who were actually at the show weren't especially bothered by the flyover, without the polluting influence of CNN news.

Anyway, that's not the first time that CNN has blown it. I recall it posting a scary story about an asteroid headed for the Earth a few years ago, and another story about a solar flare threatening our planet. Both posted without any background research at all, and more or less retracted shortly therafter.

I mention all this to illustrate just how unreliable the media are. You can take anything they say and just throw it away.

Back to Paris, then. All is well here. The weather is slightly chillier than normal, but it's sunny outside, and I rather like chilly weather, anyway. There are still scattered protests and strikes, but there are always protests and strikes in Paris. That's one reason why Paris lost its bid for the Olympics—the threat of strikes was just too great to make the Olympic committee comfortable.

The strikers and demonstrators this time are from the extreme low end of the curve, I'm afraid, although strikers in general are often not very gifted intellectually. Apparently they cannot do simple math. The government wants to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62 (oh my!), which would still make it one of the earliest retirement ages in Europe. There isn't much choice, since money is running out, as the population ages. You cannot pay people retirement for half their lives. There's no other option … but some people are still whining about it. It just amazes me. It makes French people look extremely selfish and stupid to the rest of the world.

And, as with all demonstrations of this sort, there are always some looters who infiltrate the demonstrators and use demonstrations as an opportunity to steal TV sets from stores and what-not. It's hard to track them down and arrest them in such large crowds, although more than a thousand have been intercepted and charged. They don't care about the purpose of the demonstrations, they only care about how much loot they can collect in the confusion.

And then you have the totally clueless teenagers from high schools who demonstrate only to escape class and to have an excuse to rant and rave. It is somewhat revealing that they especially like to demonstrate during school hours—weekends, on the other hand, are for other occupations.

Oh well … never a dull moment in the City of Light!

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