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Reunion Island - a photo blog - Part 2: Volcano blogging

by Bernard Sun Nov 6th, 2011 at 06:44:51 AM EST

The Réunion island really has some impressive scenery and one can understand easily why a large part of its area has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In the first part, I've posted pictures of the main three cirques and the piton des Neiges, but we still had to visit the second mountain range: piton de la Fournaise, the active volcano whose last big eruption occurred back in 2007.

We were spending a week-end in a rental house in la Plaine des Cafres, one of the high plains connecting the two main mountain ranges, with family and a couple of friends... Being at 1200m elevation la  Plaine des Cafres is usually a nice resort to escape the heat from the coastal area; but this is spring time and the weather was cold and damp; okay, 'cold' means about 12°C but that's quite cold for the locals. Anyway, it was raining and after a small walk in a nearby forest with plenty of wild flowers, we settled in front of the satellite TV to spend the late Saturday morning watching the French rugby team trouncing England in Eden Park.

After lunch, my brother had a quick discussion with his brother in law: it was still rainy, but it might be possible that the volcano is actually above the clouds. The only way was to drive there and find out for ourselves, so off we went.

Satellite view of the piton de la Fournaise, from NASA (via Wiki). The Dolomieu crater is visible in the middle. On the western side: Plaine des Cafres, Plaine des Sable, Pas de Bellecombe and the caldera rim of Enclos Fouqué. On the eastern side, several lava flows, including the 2007 vintage that wen straight into the ocean.

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Reunion Island - a photo blog (Part 1)

by Bernard Tue Nov 1st, 2011 at 05:49:01 PM EST

Last October, my wife and I visited the island of la Réunion, both for a vacation and a family visit (my brother lives there).
La Réunion is a volcanic island in the Southern Indian Ocean, about 200 km from Mauritius.

While both islands are volcanic in origin, la Réunion is much younger - geologically speaking - than its neighbor Mauritius where the erosion has smoothed the terrain over the ages, allowing for a large coral reef lagoon and white sand beaches to develop. La Réunion on the other end is barely three million years ago, created out of two volcanoes: Piton des Neiges and Piton de la Fournaise (all mountain peaks on the island are called "pitons"). The Piton des Neiges is no longer active and three volcanic calderas around it have collapsed over time, creating the three main cirques in the  middle of the island: Cirque de Salazie, Cirque de Cilaos and Cirque de Mafate. The Piton de la Fournaise is still  very much an active volcano: no eruption while we were there (sadly), but the last one was in December 2010. The two mountain ranges are connected by high plateaus called "plaines": La Plaine des Palmistes and La Plaine des Cafres.

So the terrain on Réunion island is much more rugged than in Mauritius: there are only a few coral lagoons and a limited number of beaches, mostly on the West coast (also called "côte sous le vent" - leeward coast), such as Boucan Canot or Saint Gilles. Actually, the most spectacular features of La Réunion are inland: in 2010, the "pitons, cirques and remparts (cliffs)" have been officially listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Visitors and natives alike are hiking the mountain trails, and Sunday family picnics up in "les hauts" (the heights) are a strongly rooted tradition.

Satellite view of Réunion island, from NASA (via Wiki). More pictures to follow below the fold...

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LQD: Of Election Campaign Football and Golden Rule

by Bernard Sun Aug 21st, 2011 at 05:17:26 AM EST

You read ET, so you know that "France's AAA rating has become the subject of French Presidential Election Campaign Football" (h/t Migeru). In addition, president Nicolas Sarkozy and prime minister François Fillon have devised another issue:  modify the French constitution to make budget deficits illegal, following in Germany's footsteps. This so-called "règle d'or" -- "Golden Rule", is predictably enough used by the UMP (Sarkozy's party) as a weapon to beat the French Socialist with in the run-up to the next presidential elections in May 2012: either the PS accept this "Golden Rule" and get in full TINA mode onto the austerity bandwagon or they reject the poisonous gift and will be immediately tarred as "irresponsible". Heads the UMP wins, tails the PS loses.

Sarkozy's camp is hoping for a repeat of the 2007 presidential race when they successfully portrayed Ségolène Royal as "incompetent" with the help of compliant media while Sarkozy was looking "presidential"; of course, this was before Le Fouquet's, "Casse-toi, pauvre con" and other fixtures of the bling-bling era supposedly long gone by now.

In the wake of last weekend's "no-business meeting" between Sarkozy and Merkel, long on the hand waving but short on any concrete action, Sarkozy's prime minister François Fillon, who just came back from his Tuscan summer vacation, published an editorial in Le Figaro (August 19), a broadsheet who is to the UMP what Fox News is to the GOP. In this editorial, Fillon is calling for no less than national unity behind the golden rule:

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Colossal blunder: Sarkozy style diplomacy in Tunisia

by Bernard Sun Feb 20th, 2011 at 02:14:37 PM EST

One thing that struck me with the Wikileaks cables, is the overall good quality of the analysis -- regardless what you think of their orientation --  showing in general a high level of professionalism among the US diplomatic corps.

There was a time when the French diplomats too were reputed for the quality of their work and the networks they were setting all over the globe. However in recent years, career diplomats are increasingly being replaced with yes-men or people who have no higher qualification than being close to the French president and his ruling party.

Case in point: Remember the colossal blunder of previous French ambassador in Tunisia, Pierre Ménat?

At the height of the "jasmine revolution", on Friday January 13, Ambassador Ménat famously sent a diplomatic cable to Paris, stating that Ben Ali had "retaken the situation in hand".

A mere couple of hours later Ben Ali and his clan were fleeing to Saudi Arabia...

Sarkozy was unsurprisingly angry after Ménat who was recalled a few days later.

After such a gaffe, you'd think President Sarkozy would be careful in replacing him with an experienced diplomat who would spare no efforts to continue good relations with Tunisia and generally behave, well, diplomatic.

You'd be wrong.

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Burqa, a progressive framing

by Bernard Wed Jun 24th, 2009 at 09:56:14 AM EST

I haven't had the time to chime in on the subject (and join in the fun?), but I'm in an off-site meeting this afternoon and not all subjects covered there are equally interesting :)

It all started a couple of weeks ago when a couple of lawmakers decided to start a workgroup on the burqa wearing in France; it was supposed to be just a study group, with right wing as well as left wing lawmakers, united by the traditional French secularism ("laïcité").

Until the President, N.Sarkozy, decided this was to good a wedge issue to be left to the Parliament, that is.

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Nicolas Sarkozy and the Great 2010 Tax Swindle

by Bernard Mon Feb 9th, 2009 at 07:03:48 AM EST

Last Thursday night, our fearless president invited himself on three -- count them, three -- national TV channels for one hour and a half prime time interview by four journalists from these three most widely viewed TV channels: France 2, the public channel whose top boss will be now directly appointed by Sarkozy himself  (a recently voted law), TF1 and M6, whose owners, Martin Bouygues and Vincent Bolloré, happen to be Saroky's BFF, just like pretty much everyone who counts in the clubby world of French capitalism.

Satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchainé, wrote this snarky headline: "Sarkozy had sworn: No commercials after 8 PM". Rules just apply to the common men, I guess.

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