It's most definitely not worth flying into Heathrow anymore. It always was a grim place, the trip thither or thence enhanced &

this was many years ago &

only by the beautiful Deco Firestone factory on the north side of the road. Then some swine bought the Firestone building and knocked it down overnight before the preservationists could muster and resist. The crawl down the A4 now lacks all allure, and the airport itself gets progressively uglier as the years roll by. In recent years, the "war on terror" was blended in with innate British petty-minded obstructionism, culminating in the "one-bag rule," which has now entered the history books as a classic illustration of the incidental consequences of political ambition.




In August 2006, British Home Secretary John Reid, an ex-Communist Scottish bully of low mental caliber, disclosed a plot by Islamo-fascist chemists (homebrew division) to take liquids onto planes, blend them in the lavatory and then consign all on board to a fiery doom. The British press praised Reid's fearless mien and expressions of resolve to battle Terror whatever the cost, and he was touted as a possible successor to Tony Blair. Reid decided to keep his name on the front pages by banning all carry-on bags at Heathrow, thus instantly paralyzing the busiest airport in Europe.




After a while, the rule was somewhat relaxed. Transit passengers were told that they were allowed to carry one bag, roughly the size of a laptop case, through Heathrow. So the walk-in closets that passengers routinely drag onto planes had to be loaded into the belly of the plane along with the pet cages and stowaways at point of origin, and Heathrow remained paralyzed.




Landing at De Gaulle airport north of Paris, though, is pleasant. You take a commuter train to the center of town, and then the Metro, in my case to the Arts et Metiers station in the Marais, from where I trundled my bag to the Rue du Temple, handy for the Jewish Museum, the rehabbed Musee de la Chasse, several score small jewelry manufactories now run by the Chinese and the National Archives. There were a couple of Velib stands along the street, where you can rent a bicycle with a credit card, peddle around and lock it back in a stall at any other stand in Paris, assuming there's an empty one available.




These are nice bikes: not complicated by the 18 gears that now destroy all pleasure on bikes in the United States but the traditional three. The saddle is not the odious knife edge but a comfortable pad. The bell works, and so do the lights fore and aft. On some, there is even a basket.




There are soe 180,000 Velibs available in Paris, and transport strikes lately mean they have been in constant demand. Indeed, some Parisians are creeping down in the late evening and putting their own private chains on Velibs to be sure of having one available in the morning, thus privatizing a public asset. Why the strikes? President Sarkozy is set on destroying the French social welfare system, starting with the years you have to work to get a full pension, an increasingly unfamiliar concept to most in America, enjoying as they do lives of entrepreneurial vigor uncompromised by effete notions of enjoyment and ease in the sunset years.




If Sarkozy fails, then the French Socialist Party stands ready to take up the task of liberating the French from their pleasant lives. The leaders of this party are all reading Bernard-Henri Levy's latest bestselling package of nonsense, "Ce Grand Cadavre? la Renverse" (literally, "this big corpse lying on its back"), in which the silk-shirted millionaire (big bundle inherited from timber baron dad) says (a) the left is incurably anti-Semitic and (b) should stop being left, thus presumably purging itself of anti-Semitism in the cleansing medium of capitalist greed. After all, anti-Semitism is, as August Bebel said, the socialism of fools. Why not go the whole hog and give up both? Serge Halimi, who has a savage review of the book in the November issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, of which he is one of the chief editors, tells me that BHL's counsels are being taken extremely seriously by the Socialist Party's elites.




Foul of purpose though he may be, Sarkozy has something lively about him. It's the same as with those other sons of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg. They have the inestimable talent of not being doleful. They enjoy being politicians and communicate this pleasure in a way that makes people sit up and pay attention.




Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through . To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at .