A French Honor Not Always for the Honorable; Assad Returns His

Philippe Pétain received the award for his service as France’s military leader in World War I, but he was stripped of it — and imprisoned — after World War II for working with the country’s Nazi conquerors as leader of the Vichy government. Maurice Papon, who held several positions in French government, had his honor revoked after being convicted in 1998 of taking part in sending Jews to concentration camps.

But some non-French recipients, like Mr. Assad and Mr. Noriega, were the subject of doubts in real time, not just in hindsight.

For French honorees, the award — known formally as the National Order of the Legion of Honour — is for “outstanding merit acquired in the service of the nation,” and foreigners can receive it for services to or causes supported by France. (The list of American recipients is heavy on show business figures like Barbra Streisand, Clint Eastwood, Jerry Lewis and Martin Scorsese.)

But, as the order’s website explains, there is another route to the prize. “State visits are also an occasion for conferring the Legion of Honor upon official figures, pursuant to diplomatic reciprocity and thereby supporting the foreign policy of France,” it says.

A spokeswoman for the order said, “it’s a way to show the two countries maintain relations.”

Though the honor is, at least in name, bestowed by the French president, the order effectively takes the lead in making most choices. But the medals awarded in state visits are given at the government’s discretion.


President Jacques Chirac presenting the Legion of Honor to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in Paris in 2006.

Vladimir Rodionov/TASS, via Getty Images

In 2001, Jacques Chirac, then the president of France, presented the Legion of Honor to Mr. Assad, who had taken power the year before. Little was known at the time about Mr. Assad, who had inherited the leadership of an oppressive government that was long headed by his father, but Western governments were eager to improve relations with Syria.

France recently began the process of revoking Mr. Assad’s medal, after joining with the United States and Britain last week in missile strikes on Syria, in retaliation for what is believed to be the latest instance in which the Assad government used chemical weapons on civilians. He has called such accusations baseless.

Rather than wait for that process to play out, Mr. Assad returned the medal, the diplomatic equivalent of quitting before being fired. In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry described the award as a decoration given by a “follower of the United States that supports terrorists.”

In giving out honors, the risk of regret is higher with a prize awarded as liberally as the Legion’s green, white and gold medal on a red ribbon. The honor can be given each year to as many as 2,600 French citizens, who become members of the Order of the Legion, and up to 320 foreigners, who are honorees but not members.

Until last year, the maximum number of recipients each year was higher.

The Legion, created by Napoleon in 1802, has gone to more than one million people. French officials have estimated that there are about 93,000 living recipients.

The order does not reveal how many of the awards have been revoked.

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Computer Chip Visionaries Win Turing Award

Today, more than 99 percent of all new chips use the RISC architecture, according to the association.

“This is the one fundamental idea that has been sustained over the last several decades of chip design,” said Dave Ditzel, a chip industry veteran who studied with Mr. Patterson at Berkeley. Mr. Ditzel helped popularize many of the same ideas and is now building a new RISC chip at a start-up called Esperanto.


Google has developed new chips that were specifically designed for artificial intelligence applications.


Mr. Patterson and Mr. Hennessy were interested in simpler chips because they ran faster, consumed less power, made life easier for chip designers and allowed machines to evolve at a faster rate. In the mid-1980s, new RISC chips emerged from two Silicon Valley start-ups, Sun Microsystems and MIPS Technologies, becoming the standard for the computer workstations and servers that underpinned big corporate operations.

Those processors were eventually eclipsed by chips from Intel, which put its considerable muscle behind a competing design. But as computing expanded into smartphones, tablets, and other small devices — where power and space are at a premium — more and more chips used designs from a British company called ARM, short for Advanced RISC Machine.

As a book written by the two researchers in 1989, Computer Architecture: A Quantitative Approach, became the standard text for chip design, even Intel took a partial step toward the RISC idea. Its chips continued to use their own complex way of talking to a computer’s software, but started to use some aspects of RISC.

Intel chips still drive the data centers that power the internet. But as these chips approach their physical limits, internet giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon are pushing tasks onto a wide range of simpler processors that consume much less power, sparking a renaissance in chip design.

“Complexity is even more of an enemy than it was before,” Mr. Ditzel said. “We have to design differently.”

Mr. Patterson and Mr. Hennessy are at the heart of this change. Their book is now in its sixth edition. Mr. Hennessy is on the board of directors of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, after serving as the president of Stanford for 16 years. And Mr. Patterson works in the Google research lab that is designing low-powered chips specifically for artificial intelligence.

As time goes on, the world could move even more toward the RISC way of doing things, thanks to an organization called the RISC-V Foundation, which has published a chip architecture that anyone can use for free, said industry veteran Dennis Allison. The organization was founded by Dave Patterson and others from Berkeley.

“I expect this to play a vital role in the future,” Mr. Patterson said. “And the architecture is not that different from what John and I described back in 1980.”

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