Laurel Zuckerman's Posts (11)

Best Paris Stories

3438638823?profile=originalOriginal stories about Paris from the winners of the  2011 Paris Short Story Contest.    For some, Paris is home, for others, merely a dream. For Gaston, it is a bench, the anchor of his life. For Sue, a romantic city filled with scandalous, dark-eyed men, for Frank an all-consuming fire, for Mme Santinelli a ghost she'd hoped to forget.  By turns humorous, bittersweet, historical or surreal, each of these carefully selected* stories invites us to explore a different facet of Paris. 

* DISTINGUISHED JUDGES Elizabeth Bard, Cara Black, Janet Skeslien Charles, Charles and Clydette De Groot, Penelope Fletcher, Nicola Keegan, Anne Korkeakivi, Diane Johnson, Robert Stewart, Heather Stimmler-Hall, and Charles Trueheart in collaboration with Paris Writers News.

BEST PARIS STORIES by Jeannine Alter, Bob Levy, Lisa Burkitt, Nafkote Tamirat, Jo Nguyen, Julia Mary Lichtblau, Mary Byrne, Marie Houzelle, Jane M. Handel, and Jim Archibald.  220 pages. (Summertime Publications 2012) Paperback (May 31) and Kindle ebook (May 3)

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Eve and Laurel Zuckerman question journalist Peter Gumbel about his new essay On Achève Bien Les Ecoliers, a fascinating analysis of the impact of French classroom practices that has attracted major media interest in France and abroad.

The interview was recorded in French (which Peter Gumbel speaks fluently) and English in a café on rue de Rivoli just before the book came out. It is divided into two parts. The first part, published in English below, is based on my questions for Paris Writers News. The second part, which will appear in French early next month, was based on questions from lycéenne Eve Zuckerman for the French high school newspaper, L’Inébranlable.

I hope to publish a third part separately, in which we discuss in detail the possible solutions.

Peter_gumbel On Achève Bien Les Ecoliers (They Shoot Schoolchildren, Don't They?)

From the Publisher’s blurb:

71 % of French students regularly suffer from « l’irritability».

63 % suffer from nervousness.

One out of four has stomach pains or headaches every week.

40 % complain of frequent insomnia.

Why is France the only country in the world to discourage children in the name of what they are not, instead of encouraging them for what they are?

In this exceptionally convincing and well-argued analysis of the French education system based on a close reading of international studies as well as interviews and research, acclaimed journalist Peter Gumbel explores the culture of failure, of humiliation, and of harsh--even cruel--practices which perpetuate and accentuate inequalities in France.

Gumbel demonstrates, to an extent that will surprise even the system’s critics, how French teaching methods shortchange not only the less able students, but the most gifted students as well.

Full disclosure: Having explored French teacher training in Sorbonne Confidential, I believe that On Achève Bien Les Ecoliers should be required reading for all parents, teachers, and students in France and beyond.

Laurel Zuckerman: The launch of On Achève Bien les Ecoliers is a phenomenal success. Could you talk about how your publisher achieved this?

Peter Gumbel: It started with the proposal itself. I pitched this to my publisher and he took it to his comité de lecture (which decides whether to publish). He called me up afterward and said: I had a pretty strange afternoon. Half the people thought you were completely right, and half thought you were completely wrong and they spent the whole afternoon arguing. If that’s going to be the reaction in France you’re on to something.

He was very smart about trying to find a national magazine that would be interested in having it. So they went to all the magazines in June July. Nouvel Obs was interested but wanted to have an exclusive. The negotiation was done with the editor in chief. We said, you can have exclusive rights but you need to put it on the cover.

That kicked it off and then the British press picked up on it

LZ The Guardian ran a terrific piece.

PG Yes, and all this before the book came out. The pre-publication buzz has been fantastic. Whether it now translates into people running out to buy the book, I don’t know.

LZ What do you have lined up on TV and radio?

PG Well, it’s been wall to wall really, France inter, Humeur Vagabonde, early morning segments, phone ins, France 24, JDD and the most terrifying this of all, I was invited to do a debate with the bête noir of the education establishment, Jean Pierre Brighelliwho’s a flaming reactionary. He’s a very aggressive debater and I did a face off with him which will run on France 5. I had to really prepare well. He’s a formidable character. I fundamentally disagree with him. In his book he describes the methods of humiliation I completely disagree with. He even mentioned that one of his students committed suicide and said these things happen.

LZ How long have you been working with your French publisher Grasset?

PG They published a previous essay of mine in 2006 called French Vertigo about the French economy where I took an opposite view of what everyone else was saying. I saidFrance was reforming itself and let me show you how. Interesting enough, I see that French Vertigo has been given a new lease of life by this new book.

LZ Is On Achève Bien Les Ecoliers going to come out in English and if so will you keep the title (They Shoot Schoolchildren, Don’t They? )

PG I wrote this for the French. If I were to do a book in English I would need to rewrite it because I’m so focusing on things the French will know.

LZ In your book you go into the causes in detail. What solutions do you propose?

PG I outline key steps that I believe are needed to reform the system. They are, briefly,

- 1) a massive overhaul of teacher training to introduce international, proven "best practices" into French classrooms, as well as some basic psychological training (ie the importance of motivation and positive feedback) and a lot of practical experience and classroom simulations. New teachers shouldn't be allowed to set foot in a classroom until they feel comfortable they know how to handle a variety of situations. I also think teacher training needs to be a continuous career-long undertaking, with regular refresher courses etc.

- 2) There needs to be a much clearer national debate and consensus around what school is for and what it should be like for kids. That's hard, but my hope in writing this book is that it might stir the pot a bit.

- And 3) I advocate international exchanges of teachers, allowing French ones to get out of the country for a few weeks or months to see how others do it (and vice versa). That could open some eyes.

LZ Based on what you found out writing this book, do you see any lessons for the British, who are facing serious problems with their school system?

PG What I learned is that almost no one has a school system that is really good. Every country has its own problems. And in Britain there is the chronic decline in standards. Foreign languages are no longer obligatory. And that’s not very clever. What’s good inFrance is that they insist on a high level of general culture

LZ Do you think that it’s possible—not utopian—to maintain a high level without brutalizing the children?

PG Yes, brutalization doesn’t work. All the research out there shows that effective teaching is personalized teaching in the classroom with different students learning at different speeds. A good teacher can deal with this. It’s very difficult to do. Countries that have done that have success and countries that have not don’t.

I think the key is teacher training. Very intensive, very smart teacher training.

For more information, see The Guardian, Time and Le Monde.

On Achève Bien Les Ecoliers is available at all French bookstores and on amazon, fnac and other sites.


For more interviews and articles see Laurel Zuckerman's Paris Weblog

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Charles Glass portrait

In Americans in Paris: Life and Death Under Nazi Occupation, Charles Glass offers a rich portrait of the eccentric, original and disparate group of Americans who remained in Paris throughout the war. Many—though not all—engage in remarkable acts of courage and heroism while navigating the treacherous waters of Vichy. Their voices—opinionated, outrageous, arrogant, and impossibly witty—are a particular treat, as is the reminder of the complexities of a forgotten time when most Frenchmen honored Petain and reviled De Gaulle. Whether preserving Paris, helping the resistance, or reaping war profits, these remarkable expats sparkle in this fascinating book written by a renowned author and journalist who for many years covered the Middle East.


Laurel Zuckerman talks with Charles Glass for Paris Writers News.




Laurel Zuckerman LZ: What attracted you to the topic of Americans in Paris during WWII? Is there any link to your previous work as a US correspondant in the Middle East.


CG: The draw was personal. Living in Paris and studying the occupation, I asked the inevitable question: what would I have done? I studied what other Americans who lived here did, and I thought their stories would make a good book.


LZ: How did you choose your subjects?


CG: Not easy, because there were so many interesting people here then. I studied the lives of all those I could track down and settled on a mix of men and women, collaborators and resistants, socialites and bohemians. Most had been to Ivy League colleges, because traveling to and living in mso-ansi-language: then was expensive and fairly unusual.


LZ: You show us astonishing heroes as well as people with divided loyalties but no outright villains. Why?


CG: Among the Americans in Paris I did not find any. There may have been a few, but their names do not appear in the records. Remember, most people who came to from America then were escaping conformity, racism and sexism: they were not likely to welcome the Nazis, who incarnated all three.




Charles glass LZ: There are wonderful quotes. Where did you find them?


CG: Most were in letters and diaries that I found in archives in the US and France. Some came from memoirs written by the principals,
especially Sylvia Beach.



LZ: The Chambrun family is a study in divided loyalites. Was this ambiguity common among the Franco-American elites, or do the Chambruns
represent an extreme exception?


CG: The latter. Because of the marriage of Aldebert and Clara's son, Rene de Chambrun, to the daughter of Pierre Laval, they were closer to the Vichy hierarchy than almost every other American. They did their duty as they saw it, keeping open the American Library and the American Hospital. They did not conspire with the Germans, despite their family relationship with Laval.


LZ: The Chambruns place their hopes in Pétain and loath De Gaulle. Was this a common attitude?


CG: 1940, it was the only attitude. Only a few Frenchmen had heard of de Gaulle, and Petain was a Marechal of France with a reputation from World War I. Even the majority of French servicemen who had
escaped to
England from Dunkirk in June 1940 elected to return to France and live under Petain than to fight on the side of de Gaulle. Vichy convicted de Gaulle of treason, and most of the French office corps approved. As time went on and Germany began to lose the war, attitudes changed.


For the complete interview with Charles Glass see Paris Writers News.



Follow us on Twitter @ParisWriters!



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Do you have a story about Paris?


PARIS WRITERS NEWS SHORT STORY CONTEST

Genre: Short fiction (stories must have some link to Paris)
Closing date: 30 November 2010
Prize: 200 euros for first prize, plus publication of twelve best stories
Entry fee: 10 euros
Restrictions: Maximum 5’000 words. Submission in the body of the email only
Further information: 12 stories will be selected to appear in the book: “BEST AND MOST DELIGHTFUL STORIES ABOUT PARIS” to be published fall 2011
Internet site for details and updates: http://www.laurelzuckerman.com/2010/07/pwn-to-announce-short-story-competition-at-the-paris-writers-workshop-.html

We will soon be announcing the names of the twelve judges as well as the Editorial Committee Prize.

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information.

Best Wishes,

--
Laurel Zuckerman
Paris Writers News
pariswritersnews@gmail.com
http://www.laurelzuckerman.com/paris-writer-news/

ps: Please spread the word!
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Libraries without books? A school in the USA called the Cushing Academy just gave away 20,000 books for lack of space and, it claims, demand, setting off an astonishing debate in the NTY.

Kids use the internet now, the argument goes. And we've got the ebook! Paper books take up so much space!

Do schools need libraries with books? Of course they do! Perhaps not so much for research which, it is true, has moved to the internet, but for real reading: novels, plays, essays, short stories, poetry. Good books create good readers. And the school library is, I believe, a place where children of all backgrounds should be able to find good books.

I remember fondly the large, well-stocked, open-stack school libraries of my childhood. I grew up in Arizona,not the most intellectual-friendly state in the Union, and I attended public schools. And yet, each one of wmy schools HAD GREAT LIBRARIES. Open all day, confortable and welcoming. Teachers gave us lists of recommended books. Sometimes, if we were lucky, the teacher would let us put our heads on the desks and close our eyes, and she would read to us....

This got me to thinking about France. My girls have attended public school from kindergarten (ECOLE MATERNELLE) to high sc hool (LYCEE) in the Academy of CRETEIL. One thing that struck me from the start was the incredible lack of books. In the USA, Cushing Academy threw out 20,000 books? INone of my girls' French public schools had even one twentieth that number to begin with!

I have written frequently about the school system and inequality (see L'enseignement de l'anglais et l'inégalité en France) .French public schools no longer encourage social mobility (see today's article in Le Monde on this subject.)

But this is the first time I have given any serious thought to books. And yet it is so obvious! No books. The most basic, simple and inexpensive way to level the playing field is being neglected: Books. Wonderful books!

Available to the children --all the children--in the school library. (Not the multimedia, usually- closed-because-no-adult-is-available-to-supervise-it, too small, unfriendly CDI).

There is much talk of equality in France right now. Quotas for HEC, POLYTECHNIQUE and other elite shools. Fine.

But if you want to encourage equal opportunity, start with books. Good books and a place to read them. All day long. For everybody. In every public school in France.

Laurel Zuckerman







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French parents protest absent teachers

In an unusual role reversal, French parents revolted yesterday, demonsrating at the Ministry of Education.The rallying cry? "Replace teachers who are absent!"In France, students currently lose ONE YEAR of school due to absent teachers who are not replaced.National Education' chronic inability to perform this basic task of administration has poisoned relations between schools and parents for years.Every possible solution has been shot down by teacher's unions. Xavier Darcos floated some innovative ideas--including a kind of separate agency for managing substitutes, but they were disavowed and he's gone.Luc Chatel, the current Minister of Education, is giving it another try. His solutions?1) report absences immediately (instead of waiting 14 days as is the current practice)2.) More flexibility in assigning substitutes geographically (the current system is rigid and impractical)3) Let each school identify potential substitute teachers including calling up retired teachers and university students.for more reading
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The beautiful American ?

To his amazement, distinguished British author, Geoff Dyer, recently discovered that American were not just crazy gun nuts. They are, he writes in a dazed NYT article, "friendly, hospitable and polite".Who knew?After twenty-five years in France, which I adore, I must admit that I too am occasionally struck by the American genius for disarming charm.On a recent family trip to Arizona, I had to take my daughter to the Department of Motor Vehicles. (You know pleasant that is in Paris.) A formidable-looking fonctionnaire woman behind the gigantic counter handed my daughter a form to fill out. She messed it up, and, trembling, returned to the counter to ask for another.The formidable woman fonctionnaire looked at my daughter."Eve," she said to her, "*W,hy that's a pretty name."My daughter nodded mutely."You know," the lady said, "There's a song with 'Eve' in it."And before Eve could say "It's not my fault!" (c'est pas de ma faute) the state employee burst into song."Eeeevee!" she warbled, "Eeeevee."We stood, feeling strangely French, astonished.When she had finished, the lady leaned forward across the counter. "You have a good day now," she winked."Maman," my daughter whispered to me as we left a little later, business successfully concluded, "no official in France would serenade me like that!"And I thought: how wonderful, this small and seemingly silly kindness to put a nervous girl at ease.Happy New Year!!Laurel Zuckermanhttp://www.laurelzuckerman.com/2010/01/brit-discovers-three-nice-things-about-americans-as-2010-begins-.htmlfor more, see the blog
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A Paris Writers News Interview

Berna huebner

Laurel zuckerman bw Laurel Zuckerman talks with Berna Huebner

about her remarkable film I REMEMBER BETTER WHEN I PAINT, which documents how art helped her mother in the struggle to live with Alzheimer's.


LZ : Berna Huebner, millions of families struggle every day to care for loved ones stricken with Alzheimer's. Seeing your beautiful documentary, “I remember better when I paint” I am struck not only by the remarkable effort you made to help your mother by reintroducing art into her life, but by the incredible achievement of turning this personal struggle into a film which Alzheimer’s associations all over the world have embraced. At what point did you know that you would write and produce a film? How did this come about?


BH : It has been a journey to think about Alzheimer’s in a new way. In the moments when she painted, my mother truly seemed to come alive. That is why we wanted to share these experiencesin the hope that they will help show how our society can address the challenge of Alzheimer's and other memory problems, not only through the search for new medical treatments which might prevent or at least slow the progression of the disease—as important as they are—but also through the healing, communicative power of the creative arts.

With the help of her doctor, the art students who worked with her and a friend (Mary Louise Stott), I met our film director Eric Ellena and he encouraged us to share our story—and said he would like to produce a documentary together.


LZ : Early in the documentary, we learn that your mother had completely stopped speaking and grown so agitated it became difficult to care for her. You arranged for students at the Chicago Art Institute to work with her. It took months to get a first result. Where did you get this idea? How did you know it would work? What made you continue?


BH : As my mother, who had been an artist, struggled with Alzheimer’s in her later years, I asked her if perhaps she might want to paint again. And she had said one day, “Oh yes! I remember better when I paint.” With that phrase ringing in my mind, I became determined to somehow bring my mother back from her detached state. And so I enlisted the help of her doctor. And with his help and the efforts of a dedicated group of art students, and with strong encouragement from our family, my mother, who had used the name Hilgos to sign her work, picked up a brush at age 90 and began to paint again. Through painting and sculpting, she emerged from her listless state and reconnected to the world around her. Her Alzheimer’s symptoms eased, at least in part. She spoke, she danced, she played catch and sculpted—and she painted and painted and painted.


LZ: One of the most exciting discoveries for me was the idea that by soliciting the parts of the brain that still function—sensibility to art, emotion--one can touch and connect with what remains profoundly human. There is a kind of awakening—not just for the Alzheimer’s patients, but for the people dealing with them, family, caretakers, doctors. Did you know about this when you started out?


BH : I knew very little about Alzheimer’s. My mother’s doctor encouraged us to continue to work with my mother. I did not really have any understanding of the disease nor did I know that there were still parts of the brain that could still function. But when I saw the awakening in my mother I decided I wanted to help those who are as afraid of Alzheimer’s as I was, after my mother’s diagnosis—but now are looking for ways to help cope with the disease. Alzheimer neurologists and other doctors have helped us to understand why such therapies can be so helpful, pointing to the fact that they awaken areas of the brain that have not been affected by the disease.




LZ : What were your goals ? Had you made a film before? Did you have any idea how difficult it would be?


BH : Our goal and hope is that this intergenerational story and the stories of others in this film will help educate and raise awareness of those who are touched by Alzheimer’s.

I had never made a film before but was director of research for a governor and then Vice President and I think that helped prepare me to do the necessary research for the film. The information gathering has never seemed very difficult. It was always interesting and exciting.


LZ : How did you write this film? Did you have an overall idea of what it should be, or did it evolve organically as events progressed and you met more experts. Did you discuss it with your mother?


BH : Writing the film evolved organically. I was never able to discuss it with mother. But I did find a letter from mother written before her Alzheimer’s saying that she had such a wonderful and healthy life that if she could ever help the medical world she would like to do that. So we decided we could share her amazing story.

We found other stories similar to the one of mother. I had attended art and health as well as Alzheimer’s conferences. I had worked with mother’s doctor who had encouraged us to put the story into written form. The art students who worked with mother were so dedicated and we continued together to do research and write up our what we had discovered. We visited nursing homes and day care centers. We contacted museums where people with Alzheimer’s were able to look at and discuss the masters they were seeing. For a five year period we collected research information on all facets of Alzheimer’s: medical discussions, books, press clips and anything we could find and kept track of that information. In fact the director asked us to put together a resource book.. which we had already started. A group of very dedicated students helped me put that information together with the help and guidance of Dorothy Seman, a director of a day care center in Chicago, whom I had met at an Alzheimer’s conference.


LZ : “I remember better when I paint” is available in both French and English. Olivia de Havilland performs the English narration. What was it like working with her? How did you convince her to participate?


BH : Olivia de Havilland heard about the film and volunteered to help by doing the narration. She is wonderful and great fun to work with.


LZ: How long did it take you to go from the idea to the finished film?


BH : The idea for the film was that of a friend. It originated in the spring of 2006. We have just completed the documentary in December 2009. The original project with my mother began in the fall of 1995 with her doctor and the art students.


LZ : Many of us have projects we would like to do, and few of us manage to see them through. What are the key skills and qualities needed to realize such a project?


BH : First one needs an idea and then I think friends and mentors and a sense of inspiration, all helping one see the connection and path to realize the project.


LZ : So often Alzheimer’s overwhelms the family. In any extremely difficult situation, you helped your mother and created something remarkable in the process. Where did this positive energy come from?


BH : I think it came from mother’s original words “I Remember Better When I Paint”. Her words guided me to speak to her doctor. Then her doctor helped connect me to the art students… and then the path just continued.


LZ :The documentary is being praised as a reference source in the use of non-drug therapies for Alzheimer’s. Experts from all over the world are interviewed in the film and many attended the film premier. How did you achieve this? How was this organized?


BH : As mentioned, it just evolved and we were able to find mentors to help us. Among them were: Dr. Lawrence Lazarus (mother’s doctor),Yasmin Aga Khan (daughter of Rita Hayworth and founder of ADI—Alzheimer’s Disease International, Dr. Robert Green of Boston University, Marc Wortmann (CEO of ADI) , Dr. Sam Gandy of Mt. Sinai Hospital, Avertano Noronha of the University of Chicago, Charles Nolan and Nancy Kissinger, the art students, the Art Institute of Chicago, Anna Lascar, Tina Ravitz, Pat Thompson, Olivia de Havilland, Gil Donaldson, Ned Tipton, Sergei Dreznin, Alexis Payne Font, Sandy and Charles Incorvia, Penny Rotheiser, Mercedes, Pepper, Dessy Yakova, Chris Boicos, my family and the Hilgos team—of whom there are many including Mary Louise Stott who introduced me to our director Eric Ellena, just to name a few of the mentors!!

LZ: What next?


BH : We would like to continue our student play, “I Remember Better When I Paint,” in classrooms as an educational exercise, and we would like to expand our museum and school-based project, where art students work with people having memory problems in more and more communities.

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France and Swine Flu

Pig As H1N1 vaccination programs ramp up around the world, France faces an unusual challenge: there's plenty of vaccine but French people--and in particular French medical staff--are refusing vaccination.

This is due partly to the specific fear that the vaccines might not be entirely safe, partly to a generalized distrust of French health officials due to previous scandals, and partly to a Gallic weakness for conspiracy theories.

(for more from my Paris Weblog click here)

1. If the vaccines are safe, why are doctors refusing to get vaccinated?

Fear focuses on additives to the vaccine.

While in the USA, the decision was taken NOT to use additives to boost immune response, in France, the government purchased 94 million doses of vaccines, most with additives then refused to communicate clearly and honestly about the exact nature of contracts worth nearly one billion euros.

The government's muddled message: some of additives were well-known; while some had been tested less. Patients may neither choose their vaccine nor even obtain information about what it contains. Trust us.

As a result, French medical personal has refused vaccination. And normal citizens are not reassured.

Clearly French doctors and medical staff do not trust the government not to poison them. Why?

Health scandals in the not-so distant past are partly to blame. These include: contaminated blood, contaminated growth hormone, the decision to protect the nuclear industry instead of citizens during Chenobyl, and the disastrous response to the heat wave of 2003.

AIDS: Thousands of entirely avoidable deaths were caused by French officials' attempt to promote the French HIV-screening industry: blood supplies continued to be contaminated by HIV AFTER American screening technology became available because health officials wanted a French solution. See Time article.

GROWTH HORMONE : 117 gratuitous deaths, mostly of children, from Creuztfeldt-Jacob disease due to use of contaminated tissue in the lucrative manufacture of growth hormone. Half of the deathtoll worldwide was in France.

CHENOBYL LIES : To protect the nuclear industry the French goverment claimed that the radioactive cloud from Chenobyl had miraculously avoided France. The evening news showed entirely false maps and French government officials blatantly lied that there were no health concerns. No precautions of any kind were taken to reduce the public's exposure.

HEATWAVE: The stunningly inept response to the heat wave of 2003 which caused 15,000 more deaths than usual in France. Procedures have changed and one air-conditioned room is now required in institutions housing the elderly; however the most visible result in my town was the disappearance of death notices from municipal publications. (Previously published automatically as public information, this information is now considered privileged: a family member must make a request.)

The idea of collusion finds fertile soil in France, which loves conspiracy theories. A (disgusting) book claiming that 9/11 was all an American-fabricated conspiracy and that no plane ever hit the Pentagon was a mega-best-seller in France. (A polytechnicien colleague of mine praised it for revealing the truth.)

The idea that French health officials would deliberately expose the people to a dangerous vaccine in order to boost pharmaceutical companies' profits is widespread, especially among the educated classes.

The result: tens of millions of doses of vaccine are available in France but people are afraid to get vaccinated.

Funny observation: in hospitals and doctors' offices, magazines have been removed from waiting rooms as disease vectors. But unvaccinated French doctors continue to shake hands with all their patients, including (like me) the coughing ones.

Click here for Center for Disease Control Update on H1N1

Read more…

France and Swine Flu

Pig As H1N1 vaccination programs ramp up around the world, France faces an unusual challenge: there's plenty of vaccine but French people--and in particular French medical staff--are refusing vaccination.

This is due partly to the specific fear that the vaccines might not be entirely safe, partly to a generalized distrust of French health officials due to previous scandals, and partly to a Gallic weakness for conspiracy theories.

(for more from my Paris Weblog click here)

1. If the vaccines are safe, why are doctors refusing to get vaccinated?

Fear focuses on additives to the vaccine.

While in the USA, the decision was taken NOT to use additives to boost immune response, in France, the government purchased 94 million doses of vaccines, most with additives then refused to communicate clearly and honestly about the exact nature of contracts worth nearly one billion euros.

The government's muddled message: some of additives were well-known; while some had been tested less. Patients may neither choose their vaccine nor even obtain information about what it contains. Trust us.

As a result, French medical personal has refused vaccination. And normal citizens are not reassured.

Clearly French doctors and medical staff do not trust the government not to poison them. Why?

Health scandals in the not-so distant past are partly to blame. These include: contaminated blood, contaminated growth hormone, the decision to protect the nuclear industry instead of citizens during Chenobyl, and the disastrous response to the heat wave of 2003.

AIDS: Thousands of entirely avoidable deaths were caused by French officials' attempt to promote the French HIV-screening industry: blood supplies continued to be contaminated by HIV AFTER American screening technology became available because health officials wanted a French solution. See Time article.

GROWTH HORMONE : 117 gratuitous deaths, mostly of children, from Creuztfeldt-Jacob disease due to use of contaminated tissue in the lucrative manufacture of growth hormone. Half of the deathtoll worldwide was in France.

CHENOBYL LIES : To protect the nuclear industry the French goverment claimed that the radioactive cloud from Chenobyl had miraculously avoided France. The evening news showed entirely false maps and French government officials blatantly lied that there were no health concerns. No precautions of any kind were taken to reduce the public's exposure.

HEATWAVE: The stunningly inept response to the heat wave of 2003 which caused 15,000 more deaths than usual in France. Procedures have changed and one air-conditioned room is now required in institutions housing the elderly; however the most visible result in my town was the disappearance of death notices from municipal publications. (Previously published automatically as public information, this information is now considered privileged: a family member must make a request.)

The idea of collusion finds fertile soil in France, which loves conspiracy theories. A (disgusting) book claiming that 9/11 was all an American-fabricated conspiracy and that no plane ever hit the Pentagon was a mega-best-seller in France. (A polytechnicien colleague of mine praised it for revealing the truth.)

The idea that French health officials would deliberately expose the people to a dangerous vaccine in order to boost pharmaceutical companies' profits is widespread, especially among the educated classes.

The result: tens of millions of doses of vaccine are available in France but people are afraid to get vaccinated.

Funny observation: in hospitals and doctors' offices, magazines have been removed from waiting rooms as disease vectors. But unvaccinated French doctors continue to shake hands with all their patients, including (like me) the coughing ones.

Click here for Center for Disease Control Update on H1N1

Read more…