Stories by Scott C. Johnson

  • A New Approach To The Morning After

    The French government says it's just being pragmatic. Teenagers have sex. They make mistakes. And pregnancy shouldn't be one of them. So by the end of the year, nurses in public high schools throughout France will be authorized to distribute a "morning after" pill to some 1.7 million French girls, by request. Free.Norlevo, an estrogen-free contraceptive made from the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, works by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the wall of the uterus. If ingested within 24 hours, the pill is 95 percent effective. Available over the counter in France, it is sold by prescription only in the United States. "Girls should be able to get it where they spend most of their time," says Dr. Laure Sirinelli of Broussais Hospital in Paris, "and that's at school."French parents, however, are wondering why they weren't consulted. "This isn't the way to solve the problem," says Marie-Christine Molinari, spokeswoman for one parents' group. The Roman Catholic Church...
  • Down With King Money

    Selling Jose Bove on the merits of globalization isn't easy. But credit European Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy with trying. Bove, you'll recall, is the farmer-radical who wrecked a McDonald's last summer to protest U.S. trade policy. Declining to post bail, he spent three weeks in jail; the day he stepped out, the French government gave him credentials to attend next month's WTO meetings in Seattle--as a protester. Last week he limbered up at a Green Party conference on trade issues in the small town of Meze in the south of France. Lamy came down to try to convince the crowd that "globalization is a good thing," and to promise them that their concerns won't be ignored in Seattle. He didn't win many converts. "Lamy is convinced that business has made the world a better place," says Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the leader of the French Greens in the European Parliament. "These people aren't convinced."The Greens' political clout on trade issues stems mainly from public concern over the safety...
  • The Cynical Celebrity

    As musical debuts go, it was fairly tame. Standing before a crowd of 50 in the basement of the hip St-Germain club Le Montana, a middle-aged writer named Michel Houellebecq gave his first Parisian performance, warbling his own poems set to music. Accompanied by a four-piece orchestra, Houellebecq sang for nearly an hour, and gave the critics plenty to talk about. But it was nothing compared to the storm that followed the publication of his second novel, "Les Particules Elementaires," (Elementary Particles) last fall. A furiously cynical rant against modern France, the book attacked Greens, hippies, Muslims and feminists with equal fury. Critics labeled Houellebecq a fascist, a nihilist and a pornographer. The Perpendicularists--an intellectual salon he had helped to found--kicked him out. But the book sold 300,000 copies and polarized the French literary world into two camps: those who thought he was a disgrace, and those who thought he was a genius. "Houellebecq writes about real...
  • The Not Great Escape

    French civil servant Maurice Papon is hardly one of the "great men of history." But that is how the former Vichy government official, convicted April 2, 1998, of complicity in Nazi war crimes, referred to himself in a letter to the Bordeaux daily newspaper, Sud-Ouest. Papon had appealed his conviction; the day the letter was published--last Wednesday --he was scheduled to appear in court for a ruling on the appeal. Instead of showing up, he announced in the letter that he would go into exile rather than serve his jail time.In fact, Papon had made his getaway 10 days earlier. On Oct. 11, he casually left his house in Gretz-Armainvilliers. He took his granddaughter with him, perhaps to confuse the police guards assigned to keep an eye on him. Amazingly, no one followed them. Papon fled to Switzerland, covering his tracks by introducing himself as "Robert de la Roche-Foucauld." According to official reports, the French police didn't discover that Papon was in Switzerland until Oct. 15-...
  • The Rubber Meets The Road

    The company veteran is scared. He has spent 27 years--his whole adult life--working as a technician for Michelin. Now he wonders how much longer his job will exist. The French tire-making giant has announced plans to boost productivity by laying off 7,500 people, 10 percent of its total European work force, before the end of 2003. "No one is sheltered from these layoffs anymore," says the technician, 46, who declines to be named. Where he and his wife work, at Michelin's main Clermont-Ferrand complex in central France, the company has cut its payroll by half, to 15,000, in the last 15 years. In 1997 the couple voted for the winning Socialist ticket; they liked Lionel Jospin's pledges to create jobs and build job security. And now what does the couple think of the prime minister and his cabinet? The technician's wife, 47, puts it in one angry word: "Charlatans."The layoff news has only emphasized Jospin's flailing. In the same press release, Michelin said net profits for the first...
  • Caution: Men Working

    Not quite tout Paris is on holiday. Check out La Defense in mid-evening and you'll see some stressed-out people in business attire, headed home after another long day. They're among the hundreds of executives, bankers, lawyers and accountants laboring away on a trio of mammoth mergers. Over time, their efforts may have far more effect on French work life than any 35-hour workweek laws.Just ask Jean-Pierre Rodier, CEO of French aluminum maker Pechiney. Last week he joined with Jacques Bougie and Sergio Marchionne, his counterparts at Canada's Alcan and Switzerland's Algroup, to announce a three-way, $19 billion combination. Meanwhile, oil companies Elf and TotalFina battled on to see who will take over whom, as did three big banks, with BNP trying to thwart the merger of two rivals (Societe Generale and Paribas) by bidding for both. Three industries, but just one theme: global competitiveness. Whoever wins, these deals are about raising French standards for efficiency, return on...
  • One Father's Unique Perspective

    I was driving my truck through Salt Lake City last Tuesday afternoon when I heard the awful news from Littleton, Colo., on the radio. I immediately pulled over and set up my satellite dish, tuning in to CNN. The images and descriptions were all too familiar to me. Just over a year ago I was driving my rig through Dallas when the radio broke in with news of a school shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. I had two boys in that school and frantically called the administrator on a pay phone to find out where they were, and if they were all right. A moment later, an Arkansas State Police officer was on the line. I will never forget the horror of the words I heard next: my 13-year-old son, Mitchell, was involved. ...
  • Making A Killing

    Like the death star closing in on the Rebel Base, the goodies for Episode I are ready to attack. Two of the first three toys have been in stores for three months, selling like crazy. The STAP and Battle Droid (about $18) is an evil robot on a jet-powered pogo stick. (These guys apparently attack Queen Amidala's palace.) The Gian Speeder and Theed Palace playset (about $20) features the queen's parking lot and a sleek purple craft that shoots missiles, with tiny figures of her protector, Captain Panaka, and more of those mean robots. The third toy, a four-inch Mace Windu (the Jedi played by Samuel L. Jackson), is a premium; it was available only last October through December, and you had to send Hasbro six bar codes from "Star Wars" toy packages and $2.99 to get it. A "Star Wars" specialty store in France did just that. It's now selling its Mace Windu figurines for $60 a pop (compared with a $10,000 Darth Vader statue, they're a bargain). Everything else--almost every character,...
  • 'What's Going On?'

    The buzz at the Palais de Justice in Bordeaux last Thursday morning was certain: that hippie icon Ira Einhorn, after 20 years of running from a murder rap, was going to beat the system. The sisters of Holly Maddux, the woman whose mummified body was found in a trunk in Einhorn's apartment, feared that a three-judge panel would rule that the 58-year-old fugitive need not answer for the 1977 killing, despite the Philadelphia jury that convicted him in absentia. Einhorn's lawyers, who had been urging the French judges to refuse extradition to the United States, described their case as a slam-dunk win. And the huge media throng gathered at the courthouse had their headlines prepared: GURU KILLER'S LUCKY STREAK CONTINUES.Certainly a smiling, goateed Ira Einhorn, joking with his lawyers and wife, Annika, before raising his hand for the ruling, seemed confident. But when chief Judge Claude Arrighi announced a "favorable decision for the request of extradition," Einhorn looked stunned. ...