January 09, 2003

Live, From Autrans, France!...

Live, From Autrans, France!: Hello, friends! I'm here in southeastern France, up an Alp or two from Grenoble, watching my charming Autrans Internet conference:. Tomorrow, (that's Friday afternoon, Frog time) she leads a panel discussion not just on web-logs, but on mo-blogs, which are apparently sites created on mobile phones. Which, in Europe, are about as common as kneecaps.

I think you can watch the discussion live on some webcam, or at least read about it in real time on a specially made moblog ... should be pretty fun; a real smart future dude named Christophe Ducamp will be be on the panel, as will I (can't wait to try out my new jackass line of the day: "What some people call 'Balkanization,' others call 'liberty'"!) Anyways, see Emmanuelle.net for the details, and please tune in if you can.

French Internet conferences are, ah, a bit different than the ones I've attended elsewhere. For instance, I don't recall many where most of the people you meet work for the State. Nor do I remember many jokes about scrambling in December to meet annual budget allotments for postage, just so you'd keep the same overall funding for next year. The panels I've seen (which are admittedly few) have been short on laughs (except for a lone anti-business joke), but the private conversation and drink-talk has been lively. Also, there seems to be a major obsession with Fighting Microsoft to the Death. This has created what one might call anomalies; for instance, people here are very concerned about the Digital Divide & whatnot, but they've also managed to insist that around half of the state-owned Internet centers nationwide (for which many attendees work) run exclusively on Linux. Not that my technical abilities are much more advanced than a common escargot, but I couldn't run a Linux box if you put a Guillotine to my neck. One can only imagine a retired 50-year-old truck driver wobbling into his local e-mail center only to endure a passionate lecture about the Slashdot Revolution....

But I jest.

Europe has been great, thanks for asking. As usual, I have dragged my uninsured body to a handful of preventative medical appointments that end up costing me half or less than what I would pay in the States, where my insurance costs $241.88 a month and only covers one doctor visit every three months (calm down, Seipp, we're switching!). For instance, the other day I had blood drawn to test my cholesterol and sugar levels (fine, thanks), and the entire exercise cost me 23 Euros. The dentist and back doctor were around the same. Poor Emmanuelle has probably endured enough medical testing to place her on the HMOs' Permanently Banned List, had it been conducted in the United States. Sneer at the cheese-eaters all you want, hombres, but this nationally expensive and personally cheap health care system has some excellent advantages, and I'm glad I'm fortunate enough to take advantage of them. (We pay some taxes here, so it's not a totally freeloading situation.)

What else? I've been writing article after article after article, though you haven't seen any of them yet (check the National Post on Saturday). I've been almost completely cut off from the Internet, and as usual this has had a marvelous calming effect on the brain-box. Of course, daily stuffings of foie gras, cheese and the Richard family cuisine don't hurt, nor does the delicious wine.

Spent some time in London, most of it working or in bed, though I did have the pleasure of watching Brian Linse at work (sorry about the cock-up Perry; I'll see you there soon enough). Brits, as always, are hilarious creatures ... and oh, the newspapers! I meant to write y'all up a little best-of, just of funny headlines and cheeky wordplay ... maybe after I get back.

Also did some time in the libertarian paradise of Switzerland -- Guns for everybody! Neutrality! Minimal taxes on vice! Trial lawyers kept in check! (Phillip Morris, as a result, has moved its headquarters to Lausanne, I believe.) Cheap smack! Incredibly graphic sex classifieds in the local daily ("deep anal," etc.)! Direct democracy by referendum! A series of local languages that don't even exist in written form, yet dominate the oral culture in cities such as the capital Bern! Regional autonomy so devolved that tiny little cantons can hold back key legislation, such as women's right to vote (which came after 1970)! Weird, lovely country. Emmanuelle wants to live in Geneva some day; I'm game, though I prefer London.

Have I bored you all yet? Hope not. At any rate, we'll be back in the U.S.S.A. come Monday, after which regular blogging shall commence. Remember to tune in tomorrow for the mo-blog fest, and check the NatPost on Saturday, though there are no guarantees.

Oh yeah, the Putnam Pit: Geoff Davidian, bless his crazy soul, has been digging up dirt and frothing on about Cookeville, Tennessee for years. I don't have it in front of me, but that Salon story I wrote, which ends (I believe) in a paranoid-sounding Davidian quote about "people are being killed" ... well, a week or two later, the local state senator, whose name now escapes me, was killed, allegedly by the local tax assessor, Byron "Low Tax" Looper, who was, incidentally, a sworn enemy of the local forces Davidian has long claimed are running the town like a fiefdom. When I visited Cookeville not long after Looper's arrest (he was eventually convicted), I heard the same quote, over and over again, from nearly everyone I talked to. "Looper will be convicted," they'd say, "even if he's not guilty." Now, dude might well be guilty, and I can testify that Davidian is a mad hatter, but that response sent chills down my spine. One hopes that in every town across America, where citizens say with a straight face that the local authorities will convict regardless of evidence, that there's a dirt-digging renegade like Davidian, challenging the cops and courts and city hall every step of the way.

This Internet stuff's cheap, folks. We can do whatever the hell we want, within the broad limits of our generous laws. I'm trying to imagine, sitting in my little Autrans hotel room, a French Geoff Davidian, rifling off FOIA requests to the local corrupt mayor, publishing crude comics online, filing endless legal papers for this or that. It's not so easy. "A big problem here," one of the friendly participants told me over tasty, straight-out-of-the-barrel Cote-du-Rhone, "is that there is not enough money to start new things." With much respect to my generous host, I'm happy to come from a country where many wild and wonderful new things start without money, just because people are weird and haven't been convinced to shut up.

OK, enough of the sermon. Time for another perfect five-course meal, and some of that nice red liquid that keeps the cholesterol healthy. See you in a few days, pals!

Posted by at January 9, 2003 09:59 AM
Comments

Yes, I hope normal blogging service will resume soon. I want blogging for my tax money !

Posted by: philippe at January 9, 2003 10:24 AM

Doesn't Andrew Sullivan publish a 'moblog? (Sorry. (Not really.))

Posted by: Jim Treacher at January 9, 2003 04:50 PM

Just wondering - would the lack of money "to start new things" possibly be connected to the cheap health care services you experienced?

There's no free lunch, even in Europe.

Posted by: Tim Irwin at January 9, 2003 07:47 PM

Looper was convicted pretty easily...

Especially after his friend took the stand and pointed out Looper told him the day after the shooting "Hey, I capped that dude"

Looper was always a nut.

Posted by: Michael Stamps at January 9, 2003 09:50 PM

OK, I know I should stay courteous and friendly all the way, but just in case I can’t resist, please receive my apologies prematurely.

Sorry buddy, but I’m French and what I’ve just noticed in your “Health Care From France” paragraph is totally lamentable.

“(…) this nationally expensive and personally cheap health care system has some excellent advantages, and I’m glad I’m fortunate enough to take advantage of them. (We pay some taxes here, so it’s not a totally freeloading situation.)”

Yeah, right.

Over the past 20 years, almost every new tax dreamed up by the successive governments (either Left or Right – although the Left has been a champion on public spending and deficit in the name of the “social” cause) and imposed upon individuals and businesses alike were, one way or the other, related to our “magnificent” social security system.
From CSG to CRDS (those being actually by a complicated – but smart, in a twisted way – trickery forged by the French ministry of Finance a tax on a tax. Yes, it goes that far here) up to the appalling CMU, it’s been nothing but trying to fill in the cracks in this incoherent and – no matter what your new friends, those “people who work for the State and scramble in December to waste the tax payers’ money so they can get at least the same funding the next year” will tell you – particularly unfair Social Security system.

Nationally expensive is a fact but "personally cheap"? Pardon the expression but I’m tempted to answer “My ass”.

So you pay “some taxes here”? How noble and bighearted of you!

So our “health care system has some excellent advantages” right?
I wear glasses, buddy. Consider this figure: on a global 3 000 Francs bill, our oh-so wonderful Social Security will refund… 12 Francs.
I’m talking Francs because the last time I changed my glasses, we were still using Francs and Euro was just a nebulous possible future. My sight has declined over the past years (thanks to those darn cheap computer monitors) so I know I should visit an ophthalmologist and change my glasses.

I just can’t afford it right now. I miss the extra 2988 Francs.

Oh, I still have some teeth by the way. Same deal here.

So our “health care system has some excellent advantages” right?
In consequence of the previous paragraph situation, we have no choice but to subscribe an extra (fairly expensive) personal health insurance that will eventually give us some… 300 or 400 Francs more on that ophthalmologist/glasses invoice.

I still miss 2588 Francs to change my glasses though.

And you know the funny thing buddy? When I take this personal health insurance (which I pay on the vacations and leisure budget – the last time I went on vacations was… way before the last time I changed my glasses), the state deduce that I’m being one of those evil and privileged capitalist sucking the people's blood and charges a tax on this personal insurance to finance his own (called the CMU) which he gives away without hardly checking the legitimacy of the recipients’ demand (I know by first hand information – i.e. right from my personal informant inside the Social Security mafia - that this CMU has became one of the most “successful” fraud attraction of our oh-so wonderful Social Security system. The Turks get the first place, because they’re working full time on that, but the average German tourist is doing fairly well too).
Granted, I could play the Turkish Game and (try to) fraud the Social Security system to get this CMU. But the last thing I have left after paying my taxes is my self-esteem and my scrupulousness. I’m not going to give that away.

I do hope that you enjoyed the bargain.

Come back anytime, this is a free shop.

Now, I really mean no harm to you, buddy.
First because, after all, maybe you really needed these medical tests and care.
Next, because being a foreigner you probably can’t know and can’t tell what’s really going on here and you’re not very well informed on the odds and ends of the Wonderful French Social Security.
I bet your charming wife is not either. Or she just doesn’t know shit about that.

What’s more, if you only happen to meet the kind of people you described in your post, it’s eventually a small wonder that you only know about the glossy visible part of the Health Care iceberg which is going to sink the Titanic that France became.
These people are indeed the privileged unproductive class the French are fcan’t tell what’s really going on here and you’re not very well informed on the odds and ends of the Wonderful French Social Security.
I bet your charming wife is not either. Or she just doesn’t know shit about that.

What’s more, if you only happen to meet the kind of people you described in your post, it’s eventually a small wonder that you only know about the glossy visible part of the Health Care iceberg which is going to sink the Titanic that France became.
These people are indeed the privileged unproductive class the French are feeding. Their employment is guaranteed by the state, they have no obligation of results and efficiency, they never engage their own responsibilities, their wage ups regularly, their career is paved with them so precious “avantages acquis”, they retire earlier than the working people and with a better pension, yet they’re on strike every now and then, asking for more, spreading and supporting the same collectivist inanities that already wrecked Eastern Europe.

Granted, from their point of view, France is a paradise.

And of course there is this “business is evil” culture.
Since you’re at it, could you please remind those pledged civil servants “scrambling in December to meet annual budget allotments for postage, just so they’d keep the same overall funding for next year”, bashing businesses, fighting Microsoft (this arch-evil big American business), praising Linux (such a sympathetic euro-born digital symbol of “freedom”), masturbating with their brand new Digital Divide Struggle of the Year (since they, and their like so masterfully failed to solve the Social one – bye, bye Mr. Jospin), and globally stuffing on the French people, could you please remind them that the businesses and the working people are actually paying for their privilege and comfort?

Looks like another pitiful example of “biting the hand that feeds…” to me.

However, it looks like their fight against the Evil Business God is succeeding. More than ever, the Evil Big Business Gods are closing their offices here and relocating (mainly east of here, where people still want to work. Yep, that’s a weird idea according to French standards).
The latest being Daewoo, but others will follow. So it’s good bye work, hello “unemployed force”.
Medium and small businesses are already vacillating and they won't endure the fiscal pressure. Notice, however, that your “friends” have nothing to worry about. Their job is guaranteed by the state, so they can actively work to ruin other people’s one.

And one last thing while you’re at it, please remind them the shame of the first round of my country’s presidential elections last year.
They have a huge responsibility in what happened. And the next time could be worse.

Anyway, please be our guest and enjoy your stay in La Douce France.


P.S. I didn’t go into this long (and probably boring) rant from an anti-American point of view.
In fact, I would probably have more fondness for you precisely because you’re American.
But that thread on the “oh-so wonderful French health care system and how cool it is to benefit from it” was, sorry to say that, typical of the average unthinking Eurowheeny’s opinion (French flavor).

“Les avantages acquis” are so cool… as far as you don’t ask who’s paying.

Posted by: Jules Le Renard at January 10, 2003 03:55 AM

Zut Alors! Jules, that was an amazing post. I agree with you that Matt is suffering from "tourist syndrome" -- seeing a very limited part of the total social picture and extrapolating from that small part to paint an almost comically distorted picture. To be fair, what a visitor can see is by its very nature limited and incomplete. It's only when you live in these systems (Germany is very similar to France in this regard) for a while that you can see the full cost of Matt's "excellent advantages".

Posted by: haruspex at January 10, 2003 06:07 AM

Exactly right haruspex. And that's why I can't really blame Matt (and I don't mean to anyway) or any other fortuitous visitor in our beautiful - but clueless - country.

I just wanted to clear the air a bit pertaining to this "wonderful" system our political and intellectual "elite" keeps bragging about.

If I had received 1 cent every time I heard the famous "the USA social care system is xxx (inexistent, unfair, expensive - insert what you want here - I even heard "racist" once.) while here in France we have the best Social Security in the world" ... I could change my glasses twice a year ;-)

Posted by: Jules Le Renard at January 10, 2003 06:29 AM

hé Jules, is the bad weather getting on your nerves ?
Just 2 questions :
How comes you get such a high income that you pay 50% of taxes and still can't afford glasses and vacations ?
What do you mean by There are people here who pay every month and every year and some who paid all there life who can’t get access to health care (sincerely wondering) ?
:)

Posted by: philippe at January 10, 2003 06:35 AM

Philippe:
It's not the bad weather, just a touchy subject.
Besides, I'm not that nervous :)

So let's see:
1) High income? When did I write "high income"? I'm talking about the fiscal pressure (not only taxes on the revenue) which mostly consists in indirect taxes and social fees, paid by the richest and the poorest alike (probably the French idea of egalitarianism) no matter what your income is.
50% - which you made out by yourself actually, I don't recall writing that - is a bit extreme, but it fluctuates between 43 to 48%.

So no, I dont have a "high income", unfortunately. As a fact, I don't even have an "average income" either. I'm way below the average income rate in France, hence the old glasses and no vacations.(to be honest, I don't really mind about the vacations actually... but I do need the glasses)

I'm afraid that was a "faux procès" you've just tried on me. Please don’t make me say what I didn’t ;)

As for the 2), well, first of all, I'm hearing more and more cluding my personal experience) stories about people who got a refusal from their GPs or specialists. Whatever the "official" reason ("I'm overbooked" being the most frequently invoked) these people got turned down because the system is reaching its limits and because the practitioners themselves are being "blackmailed" by the state. If, as I presume, you're French, you can hear these stories in the news and read 'em in the papers as well.

Many specialists and most notably the anesthetists will be cutting down on their activity in the public hospitals. The insurance they are required to subscribe is so expensive that it's not economically viable for them anymore. A private clinic (which means out of the Magical Social Security Train) is the way to go for them.
Yet, the patients who were (are, and will be) turned down pay their social assessments every month.

Besides, when the state shuts down miscellaneous services (tagged as “not necessary”) in regional hospitals… People have no other choice than give up on extra tests. I’m talking mostly about detection of diseases that’s not being done anymore but I also encountered circumstances where the actual therapy had been postponed without notice and even cancelled.

What’s more,

As for the people who ”paid all there life and can’t get access to health care” well, if I’m not wrong in thinking that you’re French (judging by your name and email address) then I am the one who sincerely wonder how you could possibly sincerely wonder :)
Just ask any old folk over 65/70 if he/she can get access to the health care they need. I suggest you focus on the retired artisans and shopkeepers. These people used to work at least 12 hours a day. In rural zones, they would work 7 days a week, all their lives and most of them never earn more than the subsistence minimum.
Their pension is close to nothing although their assessments were proportionately high.
They’re dying in their homes or, when they’re lucky, in their children’s, when those are respectful enough to take them in and look after them til the end.
Access to health care in their last years is nothing but a dream, even though they paid all their lives and that’s the very moment when they most imperatively need it.

So Philippe, if you are French, does that ring a bell, or do we live in a so different France you and me?
I know I belong to what our debonair new Prime minister called “La France d’en bas”, and so I’m sincerely wondering on which bar of the ladder you could be ;)

Have a nice week-end, in spite of the bad weather :D

Posted by: Jules Le Renard at January 10, 2003 08:07 AM

Jules, you are probably not familiar with my site, or my previous writings on the French system. I suggest you look for a column, in the WorkingForChange page, entitled "Be Careful Lefties, You Might Turn French!" If you read my post as a sum-up of my opinion on French health care, then I have not been clear enough.

Also, France double-taxes my wife's income, and, I might add, the 35-hour workweek affects her in a monstrously negative way. And, yeah, she just had to get some new luniettes, and they cost a bundle.

I'd write more, but I'm in a hurry. I'm hardly a starry-eyed foreigner drooling over everything in La Patrie; on the other hand, I am grateful for the cheap doctor visits, and thought my readers (many of whom may be reflexive French-bashers) might be interested in ways that the bloated Etat can actually be helpful on an individual basis. Just as I have railed forever against France's agricultural subsidies, though I adore its ag products. Gotta go!

Best,
Matt

Posted by: Matt Welch at January 10, 2003 09:05 AM

Jules,
I'm french indeed.
And was mostly joking...

About the point 1, you wrote All in all, each year, from January to the end of June, we work exclusively to pay the taxes, which means a 50% (or 48%) impôt sur le revenu. It's a very high rate *I* do not achieve by far, though I'm earning more than the average (still not on the high ladders unfortunately...). Now, if you meant to speak of the total tax rates (including every other taxations on the income, les cotisations sociales on salary for instance) I concede the rate is probably even higher than 48%.
On the point 2 :
I think you're confusing the pension problem and the health care system problem. It's absolutly true that too much people, especially among retired artisans and shopkeepers, don't bernefit of the pension they should. But they're certainly not barred from the health care system. Even Matt, who is american, is not barred from it !
I also think you're overating the access problems to GP's or specialists, even hospitals. I've never experienced this, nor hear such things around me, though I'm usually in good health.
I won’t talk about the disabled people or those with a serious handicap. The way they’re treated is a damn shame
Agree. Our main problem, according to me, is that our scale for refunds (hope my english is understandable...) is twisted. Small fees (a cold cured by a GP) is 100% refunded, but prothesis (among them glasses, and I'm shortsighted, or teeth) are not. Let's cut the spendings on médecine de confort and put the money where we need it. Specialists tarifs are also too low. One hour of a heart specialist is almost cheaper than a mechanic's !
Now, should you undergo a serious treatment for a serious illness (a cancer, a heart desease...) I'm quite confident our system provides a better quality for those of a low to a medium income. It's still in the public hospitals (free) that you find the better specialists.

A nice week end to you too.

Posted by: philippe at January 10, 2003 09:17 AM

Every system has its downfalls, Jules. Come to America and find out for yourself what 'capitalist paradise' is like. The small businessman has huge advantages here, but it is big business that gets all the real breaks. You may be weeping about your country now, but I have yet to find a perfect system. The thing French and Americans have in common is that we both bitch about our lots, for different reasons of course, but the majority are not interested in tearing it down.

Posted by: Eric at January 10, 2003 03:49 PM

Fabulous! Cripes, we've missed ya the last couple of weeks, Welch -- glad to have you back stirring it up again. Jules: Thanks for the lively posts -- here's hoping you remain a regular visitor to Matt's little community....

Posted by: Mark at January 10, 2003 09:04 PM

Well, Matt, I think I see a new column for you here. You could call it: "Think the French Health Care System Is So Fabulous? Ask the French..."

You know I'm always thinking of ways for you to make money...

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at January 12, 2003 01:42 PM
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hings around me, though I'm usually in good health.
I won’t talk about the disabled people or those with a serious handicap. The way they’re treated is a damn shame
Agree. Our main problem, according to me, is that our scale for refunds (hope my english is understandable...) is twisted. Small fees (a cold cured by a GP) is 100% refunded, but prothesis (among them glasses, and I'm shortsighted, or teeth) are not. Let's cut the spendings on médecine de confort and put the money where we need it. Specialists tarifs are also too low. One hour of a heart specialist is almost cheaper than a mechanic's !
Now, should you undergo a serious treatment for a serious illness (a cancer, a heart desease...) I'm quite confident our system provides a better quality for those of a low to a medium income. It's still in the public hospitals (free) that you find the better specialists.

A nice week end to you too.

Posted by: philippe at January 10, 2003 09:17 AM

Every system has its downfalls, Jules. Come to America and find out for yourself what 'capitalist paradise' is like. The small businessman has huge advantages here, but it is big business that gets all the real breaks. You may be weeping about your country now, but I have yet to find a perfect system. The thing French and Americans have in common is that we both bitch about our lots, for different reasons of course, but the majority are not interested in tearing it down.

Posted by: Eric at January 10, 2003 03:49 PM

Fabulous! Cripes, we've missed ya the last couple of weeks, Welch -- glad to have you back stirring it up again. Jules: Thanks for the lively posts -- here's hoping you remain a regular visitor to Matt's little community....

Posted by: Mark at January 10, 2003 09:04 PM

Well, Matt, I think I see a new column for you here. You could call it: "Think the French Health Care System Is So Fabulous? Ask the French..."

You know I'm always thinking of ways for you to make money...

Posted by: Cathy Seipp at January 12, 2003 01:42 PM
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