A Fascinating Tale of Revenge

On the suggestion of ZT in the comments I’m going to re-post some old blog entries for the benefit of newcomers while I’m away.

Today’s post will be one I wrote back in 2010, which is an excerpt from an obscure but excellent book on the French debacle in Indochina called Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall. As far as I know, this is the only account of the story which exists online (there was a reference to it on an Israeli web forum that commenter Alisa found by searching the name in Hebrew, but that’s now disappeared). Anyway, enjoy.

Excerpt:

A last chapter of the of the Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendent was a 25-year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman. Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but this case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven months ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Soon, the Rumanian Conductorul (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard” and practising mass murder on a large scale. In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A. [the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations] by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews. Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting. Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers. Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he had remembered who killed it. It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian from a town not too far away from his own home town and who enjoyed his new job. And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it. More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944. Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town. Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his hometown for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu served his time but did not forget. His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him. In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops. Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory. There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites, or Rumanians, became Israelis. To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country”, to the war and the horrors of the persecution. Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers, and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it. He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life. The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina. The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up. He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper. A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa. A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.

In Genoa, Seaman Itzkovitz applied for shore leave and simply walked off the ship; took a train to Bordighera and crossed over to Menton, France, without the slightest difficulty. Three days later, Eliahu had signed his enlistment papers in Marseilles and was en route to Sidi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, the headquarters and boot camp of the Foreign Legion, and again three months later, he was aboard the s/s Pasteur on his way to Indochina.

Once in the Foreign Legion, Stanescu’s trail was not hard to pick up. While no unit was made up of any single nationality, each unit would have its little groups and informal clans acording to language or nation of origin. It took patience, but in early 1954, he had located his quarry in the 3d Foreign Legion Infantry. The last step was the easiest; the Foreign Legion generally did not object if a man requested a transfer in order to be with his friends, and Eliahu’s request to be transferred to Stanescu’s battalion came through in a perfectly routine fashion. When Eliahu saw Stanescu again after ten years, he felt no particular wave of hatred, as he had somehow expected. After having spent ten years imagining the moment of meeting the killer of his family eye to eye, the materialization of that moment could only be an anti-climax. Stanescu had barely changed; he had perhaps thinned down a bit in the Legion; as for Eliahu, he had been a frightened boy of thirteen and was now a trapping young man, bronzed from his two years of training with the Israeli paratroopes, the Navy and the French Foreign Legion.

There was nothing left to do for Eliahu but to arrange a suitable occasion for the “execution;” for in his eyes the murder of Stanescu would be an execution. Stanescu (his name was, of course, no longer that) had become a corporal, and led his squad competently. The new arrival also turned out to be a competent soldier, a bit taciturn perhaps, but good. In fact, he was perhaps better trained than the run of the mill that came out of “Bel-Abbès” these days. He was a good man to have along on a patrol.

And it was on a patrol that Stanescu met his fate, in one of the last desperate battles along Road 18, between Bac-Ninh and Seven Pagodas. He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away. Both men slumped down into the mud. There was no cause for fear; the rest of the squad was close by on the road and would cover their retreat. Eliahu was a few paces to the side and behind Stanescu.

“Stanescu!” he called out.

Stanescu turned around and stared at Eliahu, and Eliahu continued in Rumanian:

“You are Stanescu, aren’t you?”

The man, the chest of his uniform black from the mud in which he had been lying, looked at Eliahu more in surprise than in fear. For all he knew, Eliahu might have been a friend of his son, a kid from the neighbourhood back home in Chisnau.

“Yes, but…”

“Stanescu,” said Eliahu in a perfectly even voice, “I’m one of the Jews from Chisnau,” and emptied the clip of his MAT-49 tommy gun into the man’s chest. He dragged the body back to the road: a Legionnaire never left a comrade behind.

“Tough luck,” said one of the men of the platoon sympathetically. “He was a Rumanian just like you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Eliahu, “just like me.”

The search had ended and the deed was done. Eliahu was now at peace with himself and the world. He served out his time with the Legion, received his papers certifying that “he had served with Honor and Fidelity” and mustered out in France. There was nothing left for him to do but to go home to Israel. The Israeli Armed Forces attachè in France at first refused to believe the incredible story, but the facts were soon verified with the French authorities and a few weeks later Eliahu was on his way to Israel. At Haifa, two Israeli M.P.’s, perfect copies of their British models with their glistening white canvas belts and pistol holsters, took charge of him and soon the gates of Haifa military prison closed behind him.

The three Israeli Navy judges rose. Seaman Itzkovitz stood stiffly at attention as the presiding judge read out the judgement.

“… and in view of the circumstances of the case, a Court of the State of Israel cannot bring itself to impose a heavy sentence. … One year’s imprisonment … “

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Holidays and Sport

Tomorrow I’m off to visit some friends in Baden-Baden until Friday, so no blogging next week I’m afraid.

I was going to write a post on the Lions v New Zealand, but what’s there to say? The Lions played well but didn’t take two golden chances when they ran right up to the line, which you can’t afford to do against the All Blacks. The pack played well but so did that of the Kiwis, cancelling each other out. There was little penetration by the Lions for whole periods of the game, but the breaks by Liam Williams and Jonathan Davies were very good indeed and justified their selection. Nobody played badly for the Lions, in fact everyone played well, only the Kiwis played better.

It’s hard to know what to do for the second test. Perhaps play Itoje instead of Kruis? As I said, nobody played badly. The worrying thing is the All Blacks generally put in their weakest performance in the first test and get progressively stronger thereafter. Gulp.

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Gatland’s Lions

This is a good line, from an article on Warren Gatland and the Lions:

But sport is about guff and myth-making: it’s why Manchester United are criticised for not playing attacking football even as they grimly gather up trophies, like body collectors trudging through a medieval village.

And this:

Gatland has seen all this before. Dropping Brian O’Driscoll for the final test in 2013 was transformed from a tough but logical selection decision into a rugby version of the killing of Bambi’s mother.

Mostly this was because of the embarrassing Irish reaction, the dangerous mix of Liveline and sporting controversy once again leaving us in an irrational heap; but there was also some blather about the essence of the Lions being disrespected by treating a former captain so callously.

Of course, he was only trying to win a Test series, which he duly did.

I watched that final test when I was in Melbourne in a pub full of Irishmen. They were moaning from start to finish, and even when I pointed out that O’Driscoll’s replacement, the Welshman Jonathan Davies, had set up a crucial try in their 41-16 drubbing of the Australians they still stuck to the line of “Ah, but he should have kept him in, all the same.” They still complain about it to this day.

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A useful guide to the British Police

Yesterday was not a good day for the outfit calling themselves the Sussex Police. They started out by tweeting this:

Which wasn’t met with the response they’d hoped for from some quarters. Naturally, Plod responded in the only way he knows how – with heavy-handed, ill-advised threats:

Evans quickly deleted this tweet, but some nimble-fingered soul on the internet archived it.

Things didn’t get better after that, when they gave the following answer to somebody who’d asked how much the paint job cost:

Which led to howls of derision, mainly along the lines of “What the fuck is a diversity budget?!” British police, remember, are busy telling us that they lack the resources to track jihadists because of funding cuts. The attitude above is one that is common in the public sector: they think money in a “budget” cannot be wasted because “it will be spent anyway”.

Things didn’t end there. The day before Sussex Police had posted this:

Which again didn’t meet with the praise they probably hoped for. Many people asked why the Metropolitan Police happily allowed the Al-Quds march to take place in London last weekend amid a forest of Hezbollah flags and anti-semitic chanting. The Sussex Police sloped shoulders and said that it didn’t take place in Sussex, as if they’d have done anything if it had. References were made to the Met Police refusing to address a complaint about the Al-Quds march made by a member of the public, and reported here by Breibart:

This controversial stance led to a woman attempting to make a complaint to three separate police constables about Hezbollah flags at the al-Quds demonstration on Sunday, with the police refusing to accept it.

The woman was sure that flying the “terrorist flags”, which depict an assault rifle held overhead in a clenched fist, was an offence, and was concerned that the officers’ refusal to register her complaint would mean they could “do like last time [and] say nobody complained”.

“You need to go and reacquaint yourself with the rules and the law around that particular flag,” an irate inspector told her. “There are specific wordings around when you, or anybody, can claim or refer to it as becoming an offence [to fly the flag],” he said.

The College of Policing’s Hate Crime Operational Guidance manual states: “For recording purposes, the perception of the victim, or any other person, is the defining factor in determining whether an incident is a hate incident.

“The victim does not have to justify or provide evidence of their belief, and police officers or staff should not directly challenge this perception. Evidence of the hostility is not required for an incident or crime to be recorded as a hate crime or hate incident.”

Senior police constables, such as Essex police force Assistant Chief Constable Maurice Mason, have previously confirmed that these incredibly loose definitions have led to “hate crimes” being logged after “members of the public [complained] about Nigel Farage, or whatever”.

Of course, the woman in question didn’t expect the Met Police to register her complaint, she did it to demonstrate the inconsistency with which British police forces apply this extremely vague and badly-written law.

This is deliberate, of course: the law was drafted like that precisely so the police could pick and choose who to arrest. It was intended as a tool to censor the native population under the pretext of protecting minorities, and was never meant to address complaints made by ordinary people regarding hatred spewed by violent minority groups.

A lot of people were annoyed by Sussex Police, but I was not one of them:

The sooner the public come to understand the nature of the police forces who lord it over them, the better it will be for everyone. Displays of idiocy like that of the Sussex Police on Twitter can only help with that.

 

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More Fruit & Veg

I see the story about Britain having a lack of seasonal farm workers has been picked up by other news outlets, including the Guardian which declares:

Farms hit by labour shortage as migrant workers shun ‘racist’ UK
A 20% shortfall in migrant workers relied on to pick fruit and vegetables is blamed on Brexit making the UK seem ‘xenophobic’

I guess eastern European migrant workers must have changed since I rubbed shoulders with them occasionally on farms and building sites, because back then they were about as politically correct as Donald Trump.

“The grim reality is that the perception from overseas is we are xenophobic, we’re racist, and the pound has plummeted too,” said John Hardman, director at Hops Labour Solutions, who also estimates a 20% shortage of workers. “We’ve gone with Brexit and that makes us look unfriendly.

Seasonal farm workers rank friendliness of a country highly on their list of criteria? Who knew? It’s bollocks: this Hardman twat is facing extra admin. costs to import his labour and he doesn’t like it, so he’s decided to insult those who brought it about. The Guardian, true to form, has swallowed it whole and slapped it in their headline as if he’s stating an empirical truth.

Hardman said people who thought the shortage of farm labour could be filled by UK workers were “delusional”. He said: “There is no appetite in the UK labour pool for seasonal agricultural work.” The hospitality industry was more attractive for temporary work and unemployment is low in key areas, like Kent, he said.

So start paying wages that compete with the hospitality industry, then. Or will that mean the missus can’t get that new Aga until next year?

What’s strange is fruit and vegetable picking isn’t badly paid. Yesterday I read a load of people on social media, who had never harvested a vegetable in their lives, imply that the workers are paid less than minimum wage. There was no minimum wage when I was a farm labourer, but the hourly rate wasn’t bad, especially if you were a student like I was. And if you’re on piecework you can make way more than the minimum wage, as my Chinese pal Zu found out. And if I’m honest, it isn’t that much hard work: yes, picking potatoes hurts your back and none of it is much fun, but you get used to it. And I was 19 and fit as a fiddle, so who cares? That’s half the fun of being young, you can work like that and get smashed that night, and shrug it all off. It’s a summer job, not a career. Don’t kid yourself it’s similar to mining coal by hand.

And of course, there is always the possibility that you might get promoted, and here I must make a slight confession: I didn’t actually do a lot of vegetable picking that summer*. They stuck me out in the fields for the first couple of weeks, and then one day the bloke who drove around the farm delivering packing materials and crates of ice couldn’t make it in. The farm manager asked if I could do it, told me once what I needed to do, and I just got on with it. Driving a tractor and trailer around was a lot more fun than picking bloody vegetables, so I did a good job of it. I was therefore asked to do it each day for the next week until the regular chap come back, and when he did he’d lost interest so the farm manager just told me to carry on. And that was my job: driving packing materials, ice, and produce around between the fields and the farm.

Having demonstrated that I was (just about) responsible (there were some hairy moments with the tractor) and I was reliable and organised, I got myself a much better job than everyone else. My fellow students didn’t mind because they were more interested in the higher-paying piecework; I was more interested in driving tractors. But to get that “promotion” I first had to turn up at the farm and scrape around in the dirt. Demonstrating reliability and responsibility is essential when starting out in employment, and a farm is as good a place to do that as any. The farm manager wrote several references for me in the years that followed, mainly for jobs in Manchester.

A few people said that the yoof cannot be expected to work on farms because they live in cities, and can’t get there. Well, I didn’t live in Pershore either but surprisingly those who run multi-million pound labour-intensive farming operations have thought of this and provide accommodation on the farm. Where do Guardian readers think all the Romanians and Bulgarians live? In the nearest Travelodge? The accommodation was pretty good, a shared room in a catered residence. A few others lived in fixed caravans nearby. I was 19 for God’s sake, who cares what the accommodation was like? But then I’d been an army cadet and done boarding school, so perhaps I was less fussy.

As I said yesterday, it’s why I enjoy articles about farming: almost every word is written by somebody who’s never done a day of it in their life, and that includes the commenters.

* Trust me though, I have picked a shit-load of new potatoes by hand.

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Fruit & Veg

I always enjoy articles like this:

UK summer fruit and salad growers are having difficulty recruiting pickers, with more than half saying they don’t know if they will have enough migrant workers to harvest their crops.

Many growers blame the weak pound which has reduced their workers’ earning power, as well as uncertainty over Brexit, according to a BBC survey.

About 80,000 seasonal workers a year pick and process British fruit and veg.

Most of them are from the European Union, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.

I like them because, unlike 95% of people who comment on the subject of picking fruit and vegetables, I have actually done the job in question. I spent a lot of time on a farm when I was a kid which included vegetable picking, mainly potatoes. This experience landed me a job on what was (and maybe still is) Britain’s largest vegetable farm in the summer of 1996 between school and university.

The farm, situated near Pershore, Worcs. was absolutely massive by British standards, thousands of acres. It produced damned near every vegetable I could think of, and I remember picking lots of broccoli, runner beans, dwarf beans, cauliflower, asparagus, and cabbages. The produce would be put on ice and packed in a plant on the farm and collected by lorries belonging to the UK’s supermarket chains. My fellow workers were mainly students, most of whom were young Brits. There were about ten or twelve of us. We had a Chinese guy called Zu who had taken part in the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, and was studying at an agricultural college nearby. If you put him on an hourly rate he would snooze all day. Put him on piecework, i.e. pay him per kilo of produce picked, and he’d be like a man possessed. We’d have to drag him out of the runner bean fields at dusk, slashing at the air with his knife. Apparently the year before the farm had employed a lot of Polish and Bulgarians but the summer I was there none showed up, or they had problems recruiting them. I don’t know, but the farm ended up with a handful of Brits and the odd foreigner.

They called us the “student workers”, but there were others. A gang of gypsies used to pick broccoli and cabbages, but it was in the spring onion fields where the real labour was carried out. Gangmasters from nearby Birmingham used to come down with vans filled with Indians, both men and women, who would work all day in the fields under a blazing sun. I understand the farm paid the gangmasters and they in turn paid the workers, probably thruppence. The gangmasters also kept order. This system of companies keeping the labourers at arms reach gained notoriety in the 2004 Morecambe Bay cockling disaster, and I believe legislation was tightened in its wake. I was probably one of the few who knew what a gangmaster was when that story hit the news. I have no idea if they’re still used on the farm I worked on in Pershore, but I suspect so.

About 80,000 seasonal workers a year pick and process British fruit and veg.

Most of them are from the European Union, mainly Romania and Bulgaria.

Well, what did they do before Romania and Bulgaria joined the EU in 2007?  Unfortunately, British Summer Fruits, the body which represents soft fruit growers, doesn’t seem to know and would rather engage in scaremongering:

It warns that soft fruit prices could rise by up to 50% if the UK relied solely on imports.

“It is inconceivable that people who voted to leave the European Union wanted to destroy an iconic and incredibly competitive British horticulture industry,” said Laurence Olins, chairman of British Summer Fruits.

“Failure to secure the future of soft fruit production in the UK will have a negative impact on the economy, family budgets, the nation’s health, UK food security and the environment,” he added.

The incredibly competitive British horticulture industry which appears to be utterly dependent on cheap foreign labour. I wonder if construction companies in Dubai boast of being incredibly competitive, too?

The BBC asks the obvious question:

So why doesn’t horticulture, now a £3bn industry, simply try to employ British workers?

The answer is straightforward for Beverley Dixon, from G’s Fresh, which employs some 2,500 seasonal workers growing salad crops across large areas of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, as well as other farms dotted across the UK.

“We operate in areas of such low unemployment, so here in Cambridgeshire, it’s less than 1.5%,” she said.

“So there simply aren’t the people available to do the work, added to which UK people tend to want permanent year-round work and this is seasonal work.’

But doesn’t follow it up with the other obvious question: why don’t unemployed people from the cities go and work in the fields like I did? Perhaps because they won’t like the answer: they don’t want to, and benefits mean they don’t have to. Whatever the reason, this is not an argument for keeping Britain in the EU.

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Recruitment and Marital Status

Yesterday I came across this Tweet:

To which I replied:

Marital status is important: some roles will seriously strain a marriage.

This appeared to cause some confusion. The original poster – who appears to work in recruitment – couldn’t work out if I was serious or not, and some other pompous twit from Brooklyn (where else?) jumped in to say that what I was doing was illegal, the laws exist for a reason, and I am “not helping” by not understanding this.

For the record: I am not a manager and I am not involved in recruitment or hiring in any capacity. But I used to be, a long time ago.

It’s interesting that anyone should consider what I said as contentious. Perhaps I’m wrong, though. Maybe the partner working long hours in the office, being too involved with work, or spending weeks away from home is something that rarely gets mentioned in divorce proceedings? Somehow I doubt it.

But I looked at it from another angle. You probably don’t want to be sending a middle-aged family man on a lengthy overseas assignment to places like Russia, Venezuela, or Vietnam on single status. This is often a recipe for disaster as he gets bored and ends up having an affair with one of the many young local beauties who hunt expat men for sport. Yes, the responsibility for the affair lies squarely on the shoulders of the man, but I have heard enough wives complain bitterly that his employer should not have sent him there in the first place: had he not gone, the family would still be intact. I am not convinced the employer, knowing full well what is likely to happen, doesn’t have some duty of care here. But the law says that they must not attempt to exercise it.

I understand why the laws came in: enough people were convinced that married or unmarried men or women were being discriminated against when it came to recruitment, and they believed marital status should not make any difference. Which is odd, because I am forever hearing about the importance of a work-life balance, but for that balance to occur one must surely consider what sort of life we’re talking about. Apparently that is illegal.

For the sake of this post, let’s say I might agree that companies should not be allowed to reject a candidate based on their marital status, but I think it imperative that an employer explains the nature of the job to candidates and attempts to fully inform them as to any possible impact on their personal life. How else is the candidate supposed to make an informed decision? Supposing the job involves working nights, or spending weeks away from home? Should the company not ask the candidate to consider the effect this may have on his personal life? The candidate might not even be aware the job would have such an effect, as I’ve heard a lot of men lament as they lie amid the ruins of their lives, shacked up with a Chinese hooker and the divorce papers on the way. As things stand, the employee is on his own to figure out how a job might affect his family, and the employer is compelled by law to pretend it is irrelevant.

It’s not even clear to me which direction the discrimination is supposed to run in. I can think of several roles that would suit single people, but I often hear that very small, dull, or restrictive places are “good for families”; single people will go crazy with boredom. At the very least, I think a company should try to ensure that each person’s personal goals, expectations, and family situation are as compatible with the location and demands of the position as possible. An unhappy employee with domestic troubles is the last thing a company needs.

National governments have attempted to legislate away the effects a demanding job has on family life, as if by passing a law they simply disappear. They don’t: all they’re doing is creating more work for divorce lawyers, brewers, and the manufacturers of anti-depressants. The idea that an employer – who has such a massive impact on your life, controlling around a third of your waking hours – should take no account of your personal and family situation seems insane to me. But here we are: obviously most people like it this way.

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Brexit, Britain, and Mainland Europe

I have noticed on Twitter a certain propensity among the metropolitan elite, particularly journalists, to claim that Britain is now the laughing stock of Europe and that everyone on the Continent thinks Brexiteers to be delusional. I imagine that in their world this is actually true: most of them will speak French, German, or Spanish and will spend much of their time in Europe for work or visiting families and friends. Only you can be sure they’ll be swanning around the nicer areas of Paris, Berlin, Frankfurt, and Geneva with wealthy, middle-class journalists and the sort of “businessmen” whose nose is never more than half-an-inch from a politician’s arse. They sure as hell won’t be hanging around a Portuguese dock or drinking vodka in a Latvian bar with a bunch of ethnic Russians.

From what I can tell, Europeans don’t seem particularly interested in Brexit. I think everyone was rather surprised initially, but now they’re so resigned to Britain leaving that it barely gets mentioned. I work in a very international company with major operations in the UK, and talk of Brexit is conspicuous by its absence. When the subject comes up, usually over lunch with colleagues who ask me for my opinions on the matter, there is some disappointment but in general they don’t see it as a big deal. For a lot of mainland Europeans, Britain was never really part of the club anyway. We were always complaining, we seemed to prefer the company of Americans, and a few are not even sure why we joined in the first place. It’s a bit like Australia being in the Eurovision Song Contest, nobody is quite sure what they’re doing there. The attitude of everyone seems to be slight confusion as to why Britain voted to leave but now they have, can we just get on with it ASAP and if we can still work, travel, and trade that would be grand.

Unlike perhaps our lofty metropolitan elites, the mainland Europeans appreciate that Britain is quite different. The mainland Europeans, particularly the French and Dutch, still have bad memories from the war and are willing to do anything to avoid a repeat. They truly believe the EU is responsible for keeping the peace, whereas in the UK we think that was down to Nato. There are reasons for this.

Britain had the enormous advantage of not being occupied during WWII, which had a major effect on how we viewed the war afterwards. We lost a lot of men and saw our cities bombed, but we never had to deal with the messy compromise of an occupation. The excellent book Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of WWII goes into some detail on this subject, and explains the effects of prolonged occupation on a population. At some point people cooperate, because they have to: the book cites an example of a French baker accused after the war of selling bread to the Nazis. He asks what choice he had, and points out that he was also providing bread to the French population who would otherwise have starved. It discusses the issue of young women who engaged in relationships with the occupying soldiers, and met the full fury of their countrymen when the war was over. One girl protested that as far as she could make out the Nazis were the local government and had been for some time, and plenty of other people were interacting with them. How is having a relationship with a soldier of the de facto regime a crime? She had a point.

Few people in the occupied countries wanted to dwell on matters of collaboration and cooperation after the war: there was a period of retribution, much of it vicious and used as a pretext for power-grabs and the settling of old scores, but the various governments quickly found themselves establishing a semi-believable narrative that made them look good and running with it. To be fair, they had little choice: the late 1940s was not the time for hand-wringing, there were nations to rebuild and Soviets to keep out. This is why the French, even to this day, skip over the small matter of the Vichy regime when celebrating Charles de Gaulle and the heroic Resistance. It’s why the Dutch never point out that quite a few of them welcomed the Nazi occupation initially, seeing them as Germanic cousins. Britain avoided all of this, and their particular tale of heroic resistance and defiance against all the odds was much easier to weave.

Britain also didn’t get wrecked like Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, parts of France, and other countries on the mainland. Our cities took a pounding, particularly London and Coventry, but there was not the sort of devastation seen in those cities which first saw aerial bombardment and then ground fighting as they were liberated. We also didn’t have the hunger: there was a famine in the Netherlands in 1944-5 which claimed the lives of 22,000 people. There were major food shortages in Austria and Germany after the war, and it was years before food supplies were back up and running across the continent again. Britain had rationing, but nobody starved.

The mainland European view of the war is very different from the British: our culture makes light of the war – Dad’s Army, and ‘Allo ‘Allo being two examples – because for us it was a jolly old ruck with the Bosch that we won. Our families, homes, and communities weren’t wrecked, for the large part. So when we talk about keeping the peace in Europe, we’re not haunted by the same memories as mainland Europeans. We saw the priority as keeping the Russians from occupying all of us, hence Nato. If Europe got demolished in the meantime, then meh. Whereas for the Europeans, particularly the Dutch and French, they are equally if not more concerned about keeping the peace among themselves because that is what caused so much destruction last time. It’s hardly surprising, then, that they see the EU as a greater guarantor of peace than Nato.

The way people think, vote, and behave differs wildly between nations, regions, groups, and individuals and there are usually very deep cultural and historical reasons for these differences. It is not a lack of intelligence, information, and values which drive the French to maintain a political and economic system which is unfathomable to an Anglo-Saxon: they simply have a different history and culture than us. This is why I find the self-righteous posturing of London’s elites over Brexit so irritating. They may share pro-EU views with their counterparts in mainland Europe, but they have no idea why. If they did, they’d understand why so many people don’t share their views. They hope that by writing puff-pieces about pro-EU attitudes on the mainland while sneering at their own people they will ingratiate themselves with the former and show themselves to be superior than the latter.

Neither will happen for the same reason I will always be considered a Brit and never a Frenchman: culture and history matter and shapes who you are, even if you detest them and wish you were someone else.

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Tucker Carlson

Via ZMan I came across this speech by Fox presenter Tucker Carlson which he gave to the International Association of Fire Fighters a few months ago. The first ten minutes are well worth your time, and he makes several points that I’ve made on this here blog over the last year or so.

I like Tucker Carlson, both his political views and presentation style. He is refreshingly honest about the sort of people who inhabit Washington DC and he freely admits that he is very much one of them. His career seems to be soaring – he took over the prime 8pm slot when Bill O’Reilly got the boot – and I hope that, when the ruling classes eventually turn on him and start looking for dirt, they can’t find anything.

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Two Approaches to Safety

Tim Worstall makes the following remark in response to a column by Polly Toynbee:

There was significant regulation here. What there wasn’t was responsibility. And a little more of the second can be very much more important than the first. Whether we call it the Clerk of Works, or professional responsibility, whatever, that one individual–and yes, making it one person does concentrate minds wonderfully–owns a project, the benefits and failures of it in that liability sense, tends to make things safer. On the very sensible basis that someone with their knackers potentially in the vice tends to pay attention. Box ticking doesn’t have quite the same effect.

This is absolutely correct.

In the wake of Piper Alpha, the regulations governing North Sea oil and gas operations were completely overhauled to address the many, many shortcomings that had led to the world’s worst oilfield disaster. One of them was to adopt what is known in the industry as a risk-based approach to safety, and put the responsibility to implement it on the shoulders of the operating companies.

What this means in practice is this. Each company must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the UK HSE and – God forbid – a tribunal or court in the event of an accident, that the residual risks have been minimised to a degree which is As Low As Reasonable Practicable (ALARP). Residual risk is the term used to described the risks associated with a facility or operation which remain once mitigation and prevention measures have been implemented. This is important: playing around with highly volatile hydrocarbons is an inherently dangerous business, and there will always be risks associated with it. The requirement is not to eliminate risks entirely, as that would entail leaving the hydrocarbons in the ground, but to minimise the risks that remain once you’ve done all you can.

This is the principle of ALARP: “reasonably practicable” is an open term with no strict definition, but is well understood in the risk management industry. It recognises the fact that money spent on safety and minimising risks is a scarce resource and must be properly targetted. If open-ended safety obligations are demanded of an oil company, commercial operations will cease.

Most important is the word demonstrate, which is why I emboldened it. How a company demonstrates that it has minimised the risks associated with its operations is largely up to them, but the North Sea has developed a standard process (with associated tools and techniques) which all operators now follow. In short, it consists of:

1. Identifying potential hazards and the events they could lead to.

2. Identifying the consequences of such events should they occur, in terms of effects on humans, the environment, the asset, and the company reputation.

3. Identifying what can be done to prevent the event (preventative measures).

4.Identifying what can be done to mitigate the impact of the event, should it occur (mitigation measures).

5. How the company intends to manage the residual risks of their operations once 3 and 4 have been implemented.

This process focuses the minds of those charged with designing, building, and operating the installations to ensure the residual risks are ALARP, and can indeed be demonstrated to the satisfaction of anyone who may ask (e.g. regulatory bodies). I am heavily involved in this entire process as my day-job, and have been for years. I take the approach that if I find myself hauled in front of a court facing twenty to thirty years in an African prison for manslaughter, can I demonstrate that I did everything I could do minimise the risks associated with the installation? I am not exaggerating, I really do think this. In Nigeria I was responsible for signing off designs. Gulp.

By telling companies that they have to demonstrate their facilities and operations are as safe as they can be, and all potentially catastrophic scenarios have been thought of and addressed, it forces them to take responsibility for the complete design and operation. Moreover, it forces them to consider the installation as a whole, i.e. how the different systems interact with one another, and address the unique complexities of their particular situation.

The alternative system is one whereby clever people draw up a set of rules and regulations that must be followed, and if a company does then – in theory – the installation will be safe. This is called a prescriptive-based approach to safety. In effect it’s a giant box-ticking exercise, which involves little actual thinking on the part of the design engineers and allows them to shift responsibility to those who drafted the regulations if something goes wrong. As far as I am aware, this is how most industries are regulated: companies obtain a set of prescriptive rules and regulations and if they follow them to the letter, they are covered. Indeed, this is how the American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works, and this approach is applied to their own oilfields.

The shortcomings of the prescriptive-based approach are obvious, but a risk-based approach is more complicated and expensive to implement. However, the lessons from Piper Alpha might well be dusted off and re-learned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire. I highly doubt that the British building regulatory regime allowed banned cladding to be installed: I am reasonably certain that it was quite legal. However, they were clearly not suitable for the application, because nobody considered the cladding system as a whole as it was installed on that particular tower, and what might happen in the event of a fire. All they did was select a panel type that was approved by the regulations, comply with all the other regulations, and assume they were safe.

The problem with prescriptive regulations is that they cannot anticipate every scenario, and it only takes one unique application of a certain product or system to leave the whole thing prone to a catastrophe. Or course lessons will be learned from the Grenfell Tower fire and that particular gap will be closed, but others will remain so long as we insist on a prescriptive-based approach to safety. The irony is that all those people calling for companies to take greater responsibility for the works they carry out are likely to be the same people calling for greater regulation, which will inevitably be of the prescriptive type. The two demands are not compatible: either we tell companies to follow the regulations, or we tell them to proceed as they see fit but demonstrate to the regulators that they’ve done the job properly and take full responsibility if it later proves they haven’t.

My guess is we’ll end up with an unhealthy mess of both: companies told to follow regulations but also carry the can when those regulations prove to be inadequate, leading to increased prices, a lack of transparency, and yet more cosy partnerships and conflicts of interest between private businesses and those writing the regulations. None of this will make the public any safer.

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