The Birat Family Chronicles..

Les tribulations d'une famille éparpillée...

Author: Kathie (page 1 of 4)

Pomp, pomp, pompidou

Yesterday was the inauguration of the Centre Pompidou. I was not invited for the inauguration with Sarkozy (that was at noon). JP was invited but didn’t go since he was looking for his hotel somewhere in Pennsylvania. I was invited to the inauguration in the evening along with a lot of other people. When I arrived I wondered if I was going to stay, but finally I did in spite of the crowds and looked at the whole museum. It’s not  the collection that is interesting but the way they have used the space in the museum. On the upper floors there are huge windows that look out on Metz and the rooms are large and airy. So I liked the museum. In the present collection there are several Matisse and Picasso. They are right at home in this type of museum which highlights the relation between form and space. It is better adapted to modern and contemporary artists like Miro, Giacometti, Brancusi and pop artists than to more traditional painters. In one place they had masks from different cultures, but you had to be able to read the fine print to see where the masks came from. That is always a problem in museums. If the light is too soft or the print too small there is no point in having complex messages to convey. There are elevators to go from one floor to another, but not very practical when there are a lot of people. I used the stairs. I’m sure they’re going to discover a lot of glitches from a pratical point of view once visitors start pouring in. I used the WC but that was sort of an Alice in Wonderland experience because the toilet seemed very small (for children?) or else I had suddenly grown very big. So we’ll see what the reactions are and whether the museum draws tourists to the city.  The New York Times called Metz « a sleepy provincial town » and Sarkozy mispronounced the name of the city (He said Metz instead of « Mess » which is the local pronunciation. I heard that from someone in the President’s office who had been to the noon inauguration.


Kathie, maman, whatever…Madame la Directrice

Rain, rain, go away…..

It’s still raining here, but the temperatures are balmy.

I am once again not receiving notification of messages posted on the blog.

Last night I went to see the film they made on Marceline Lappara, showing how she is doing research on children in the final year of nursery school. She is working on how they learn to write and the impact it has on the way they write in the future. The university has made a series of films to be shown to high school students to show them the type of research done in universities.

This morning I have a meeting for the Université de Lorraine. Not much else is going on. Now that the beginning of the year is past, my colleagues are just trying to survive from day to day.

Have a good one,


Happy Birthday

Joyeux anniversaire à la miss. Amandine m’a grimpé sur la tête ce matin pour me réveiller pour le grand jour. Normalement des choses devraient arriver par la poste. Aujourd’hui Naomi devient une GRANDE FILLE.

Sinon nous sommes au creux du pire du mauvais temps. Temps gris, petite pluie, froid. Heureusement que nous sommes jeudi, donc pas loin du weekend. Papa a reçu sa convocation pour la vaccination contre la grippe A. Il va le faire. Karen Gervais l’a déjà fait si j’ai bien compris, mais elle a également un problème aux poumons et elle travaille avec des gens à l’hôpital.

Sinon, rien à signaler. Nous avons passé la journée hier à travailler. Même pas envie de sortir. Rachel a dit qu’il y avait des magasins ouverts à Metz.

Bonne journée à tous,


Garfield is worried about Jean-Marc. I thought the X-ray was your tail bone (a new word for you) and not your lung. I can’t help worrying about the flu that seems to hit people your age before they understand what is happening. Keep us posted.

For our distant relatives in Las Vegas, the latest new is my re-election as Dean until I have to retire at the age of 68. Maybe I’m crazy.

The weather is still fairly warm, but we’ve finally had some rain.

On the literary front, the Prix Goncourt went to Marie Ndyaie for a novel that describes the lives of women of the African diaspora. The press insisted on the fact that it was the first time in ten years that a woman received the prize. However, it’s not just any woman. She comes from family of « surdoués » and her brother has published a book on African American history. I haven’t read it, but I have too much to read and I don’t have time to read anything. Jacques Chirac is about to publish his memoirs. Apparently the person he seems to have respected the most is Mitterand and his worst attacks are on Giscard D’Estaing and Balladur. Not much comment on Sarkozy.

Have a good one.


Fish story

Garfield did notice that there weren’t many fish around yesterday. FOR THOSE OUT WEST on the first of April when you play pranks or tell fish stories, you say « Poisson d’avril ». In effect, there weren’t too many good ones. Someone did start a meeting by announcing that Sarkozy in an interview said that the new law concerning the universities was being withdrawn. Since he said it with a straight, somewhat angelic face, he caught most of us. Apart from that two colleagues from Tours got roughed up by the police during a demonstration, but unfortunately that was for real.

The week has been rather hellish, but at least it’s almost over. I met our Mexican and Brazilian visiting professors and got them installed. They both speak such good French you would never guess they are not French. Mme Batalha, the Brazilian, was telling me about the Japanese in Brazil (nisei) who had gone back to Japan in large numbers and are now coming back to Brazil. On the other hand, people of Italian and Portuguese origin who have been there for generations are going back to Europe. And the Mexicans in the US are going back to Mexico, but God knows why, because they are not finding jobs.

Well, that’s all folks.



Cheese boards and other forgettable words…

I’ve got your attention again.

This morning a few people who would like to take Sarkozy’s place expressed themselves. One man said the UMP (Sarkozy’s party) could not stay « sous une cloche à fromages ». No way to translate that. In English the only equivalent is a cheese board, and it’s not easy to hide under that. The idea was that you can’t stay in an ivory tower, you have to be in touch with the world. Alain Juppé (former prime minister, now mayor of Bordeaux) said Sarkozy was changing too many things too fast. His references were to Montaigne. « Rather than tearing down an edifice, it’s better to shore it up. » As to Villepin, another former prime minister, I can’t even remember what he said. Something about balance. Not very eloquent all of that. Meanwhile Paul Krugman continues to cheer us up with his economic forecast. However, Obama should be pleased to know that France is returning to NATO. Ah, super Sarko, what would we do without you.

My husband will be amused to know that I got tired of the music that was spilling out of the engineering school across from us on the campus. With another colleague I went over and told the kids that if they turned on the music tomorrow, a mob would come and take care of the affair.

So between teaching Melville and dealing with noise, I have my hands and ears full.

Have a good one,


Those garbanzo beans are real bombs…

I have to find eye-catching titles to get the attention of THOSE PEOPLE OUT WEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I am referring to the news yesterday that among the products which cannot be imported into the Gaza strip are lentils and garbanzo beans.  It’s true that people full of garbanzo beans might be used as human bombs. However I don’t really feel like joking about people who really have a hard row to hoe.

Among the good news lately is the American study that found that the harder you work, the more worn out your brain becomes. However, on the other hand, one of the unexpected side-effects of the « crise » is the fact that people who are forced to take days off without pay are discovering that time is perhaps more valuable than money, except of course for those already holding down two or three jobs to make ends meet. So everyone get out your copy of Walden and learn how to « simplify » as Thoreau used to say. Take time to listen to the birds and observe any bees that might still be wandering around.

The sun is out, it’s fairly cold but warming up and I should find something useful to do, after having beaten off the few early morning wolves who thought they could get answers out of me to questions I would prefer to avoid.

Have a good one (and keep away from those blasted beans)



I’m not sure who is most anxious to see the weekend arrive. I think everyone is slightly crazy. Last night I was sitting in my office after having spent the afternoon in one more demonstration to try to make the government back off their stupid reform of the university, and a colleague showed up and asked me if I could lend her a desk lamp because the light had gone out in her office (on the whole floor, actually). It’s just one thing like that after another. When I arrived  back in my office yesterday afternoon I had a message from some students who had written to me just before the February vacation and wanted to know why I hadn’t answered them yet. I can’t imagine…

But watch out (if your’re in France, that is) because there are Turkish coins that people are circulating because they look like 2€ coins and there is a epidemic of intestinal flu (another one). I got this information from my Spanish teacher last night. I didn’t understand whether the Turks were also responsible for the epidemic (you never know… If they’re capable of passing off counterfeit money, they’re capable of anything).

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Paul Krugman is very pessimistic about 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013….need I go on? But Christine Largarde (the one who did synchronized swimming when she was younger and now practices synchronized lying) does not seem particularly flustered by the alarming increase in the number of unemployed in France.

So all is well and I suppose I should find something constructive to do. What will I find to lie about today?


Happy birthday Blair

I’m not sure that tomorrow is Blair’s birthday. Given the fact that he looked pretty much as he does now the first time I saw him (a few days before Valentine’s day) I’m not sure that the biological facts fit the date. But so what? No one seems to pay much attention to facts biological or other, these days.

Valérie Pécresse is still trying to tread water and Darcos claims he can recruit teachers without any help from the university professors who don’t like his reforms. On the radio this morning the debate between Laurent Jaufrin (?) and Sylvie Pierre-Brosselette concerned the conflict surrounding the universities. I was on cloud 9. There’s nothing like being in the middle of the fray. The only thing we don’t know is whether the Université des Antilles in Martinique has transmitted the maquettes for the new Master’s degrees. I’m not sure I’ve seen them mentioned in any list. (This is really an inside joke that you can’t understand if you’re not listening to French news every day.) But in Guadeloupe and Martinique there are serious social conflicts involving the cost of living, but obviously reflecting an old resentment dating from the colonial period.

I wonder if my husband is still stuck in a tunnel. He got up early this morning to take a high-speed (?) train for Paris. At 8h30 he called to say he was stuck in a tunnel somewhere near Reims.

Well, keep tuned to find out whether Valérie Pécresse will really receive a bouquet of roses from Sarkozy with a note wishing her good luck in her next job.



Is anyone still rooting for him?

Since my main function is to circulate information and misinformation, here’s some more to feed Sarkozy fans. Rough day, a few misunderstandings about the misrouting of misinformation.

BUT the sun is out.



122 membres de l’IUF et 18 directeurs de laboratoires de Polytechnique dénoncent le discours sur la recherche de Nicolas Sarkozy

Dossiers d’actualité

« Nous, membres de l’IUF (Institut universitaire de France), tenons à vous faire part de la stupéfaction que nous avons éprouvée lors de l’audition de votre discours du 22 janvier dernier à l’occasion du lancement de la réflexion pour une stratégie nationale de recherche et d’innovation (L’AEF n°108082). » C’est ainsi que 122 membres de l’IUF (L’AEF n°104957) s’adressent à Nicolas Sarkozy dans un courrier rendu public, mercredi 11 février 2009. « Nous n’acceptons pas les sarcasmes qui ont émaillé votre discours », expliquent ces enseignants-chercheurs. Ils dénoncent des métaphores (« immobilisme », « frilosité », « repli sur soi ») aux « antipodes de notre réalité quotidienne et de la passion que nous consacrons à notre travail ».

Les signataires n’acceptent pas non plus les « contre-vérités » exprimées par Nicolas Sarkozy. Ils énumèrent: « budgets prétendus en hausse, résultats de la recherche française prétendus en retrait de ceux d’autres pays, prétendue absence de l’évaluation de nos métiers ». Ils affirment que « le manque de considération » dont Nicolas Sarkozy a fait preuve « aura des effets catastrophiques ». « Il s’écoulera du temps avant que la majorité des enseignants-chercheurs recouvrent un semblant de confiance en ses dirigeants », écrivent-ils.

La recherche menée au sein des universités françaises, souvent en association avec les organismes de recherche français, « est d’une qualité et d’une diversité reconnue internationalement ». L’IUF, « par sa richesse disciplinaire, par son recrutement fondé sur une évaluation internationale des candidatures (…), et par l’indépendance accordée à ses membres, associée à une évaluation a posteriori, constitue une excellente synthèse du modèle français de recherche universitaire ».

« Nous ne contestons pas le besoin de réformes. Mais celles-ci doivent être construites en concertation et en tenant compte de l’identité universitaire », concluent les 122 signataires.


Par ailleurs, 18 directeurs de laboratoires de l’École polytechnique ont adressé une lettre ouverte au président de la République. Ils s’associent « à la forte émotion des personnels de la recherche et de l’enseignement supérieur provoquée » par le discours du 22 janvier 2009. Ce discours, « fondé sur une vision inexacte et parfois méprisante de la recherche française, donne une image déformée et dévalorisante de celle-ci », déplorent-ils. Ils estiment que la transformation des organismes de recherche en agences de moyens annoncée dans ce discours « scellerait rapidement la fin de la politique de partenariat équilibré et de mixité entre les établissements d’enseignement supérieur et les organismes ». « L’utilité d’un tel partenariat est pourtant largement reconnue. »

« Nous témoignons de l’efficacité de la gestion de nos moyens par le CNRS. Nous témoignons de l’importance du soutien du CNRS au travers de sa double mission d’agence de moyens et d’opérateur », écrivent les directeurs de laboratoires. Ils rappellent que « tant cette double mission que la structuration des laboratoires en unités mixtes ont été explicitement validées par l’État par l’adoption du plan stratégique du CNRS ».

Ils rappellent également que « les laboratoires de recherche sont évalués par une agence indépendante, l’Aeres, qui a également vocation à évaluer les organismes et les établissements d’enseignement supérieur » et que le CoNRS « évalue tous les deux ans les chercheurs du CNRS sur des critères publics » et que ce comité comporte, suivant les sections, « jusqu’à plus de la moitié de membres extérieurs à l’organisme, élus ou nommés ».

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