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French press review 20 December 2011

North Korea, the French airport strike, Salah Hamouri's account of his six years in an Israeli jail, and the seasonal story of the disappearing oyster. Those are this morning's front page stories ...


No one in the West seems too sad about the passing of Kim Jong-Il. He was a "despot" who bled his benighted country dry, according to left-leaning Libération; Le Monde calls him a "tyrant". No one is too sure what his departure will mean.

The Catholics atLa Croix wonder if the enforced change might mark the start of North Korea's accession to the modern world and the end of the last Stalinist regime on the planet. The question is a serious one, since the country Kim's son takes over is nuclear armed, still officially at war with South Korea, and has a standing army several million strong.

Not a lot is known about North Korea, beyond the fact that people there are very poor and very isolated from the rest of the world. But the army is clearly the prime mover and military regimes are not renowned for their capacity for rapid change.

Security personnel in some French airports continue their strike, making holiday travel difficult or impossible. Business daily Les Echos looks at government attempts to introduce a minimum service agreement, similiar to that in place with rail workers, so as to ensure that at least some workers show up, even on strike days. It hasn't worked very well in the rail sector, and the unions have promised to fight it all the way.

The French-Palestinian Salah Hamouri has just been released after six years in an Israeli jail. In communist L'Humanité he describes his arrest and detention, and what he calls the Israeli determination to break the spirits of Palestinian political prisoners. There are still 5,300 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

The oysters are missing from the Bay of Oléron on the French west coast. Forty tonnes of them, or twice as many as were stolen last year. One oyster farmer who has lost his entire holiday period production says he hopes the police catch the thieves before he does, because otherwise he'll administer justice himself.

On an inside page, Le Figaro reports that time passes at different rates, depending on age and mental condition.

Kids, old people, depressives and schizophrenics all sense time differently.

There's a simple, physiological explanation for the age-related difference in our perception of time: old people typically have a slower heart-rate, and thus feel that everything around them is racing along; youngsters have a rapid heart rate and so feel that the world is crawling past.

After certain types of brain injury, time can stop completely. For those suffering from depression, the eternal present of their misery is another timeless zone, with suicide often being seen by the sufferer as the only way out. For the clinically anxious, in contrast, there is never enough time, the precarious present being swallowed up by events largely beyond the sufferer's control.

Many autistic children have a problem with time, perhaps because they lack a hormone called cortisol, which controls body rhythms. This may explain why some autistic kids rock themselves, attampting to create an artifical compensation for the missing body clock

Our emotions also play a part in the way we feel the passage of time: just ask any child who's impatiently waiting for a visit from Santa Claus. When our lives are full of events, time passes more rapidly, mainly because our sense of time seems to come from the same brain area as where we stock immediate impressions . . . with fewer impressions, we feel slowed down.

But the body has more than one biological clock, and they are not all set to the same time.

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