Obama’s Arctic Ban Overturned

Donald Trump has signed an executive order aimed at reducing restrictions on oil drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic in order to “unleash American energy”.

reports the BBC.

It could undo a ban put in place by Barack Obama in order to protect swathes of the ocean from development.

A ban put in place via executive order in December 2016 is one of many pieces of legislation Obama petulantly signed in his last hours in office mainly to hamstring his successor. In other words, reversing the ban will take us back to the end of last year. Was America a vast wasteland where any human peaking out of the ash piles would be picked off by giant, mutant pterodactyls? No.

It is debatable how much income might be generated by a reversal of Mr Obama’s order. Worldwide prices for oil have dropped in recent years, with a review by news agency Reuters finding the amount of money oil companies spent in the central Gulf of Mexico’s annual lease sale dropped by more than 75% between 2012 and 2017.

Perhaps Trump, unlike Reuters and BBC journalists, is aware that the oil industry is cyclic and the period in question mostly covers a downturn.

David Jenkins, president of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a non-profit conservation group, said: “The Trump administration’s hasty move today toward expanding offshore oil drilling … defies market realities and is as reckless as it is unnecessary.”

If it defies market realities, i.e. nobody is going to drill in these waters anyway, then what’s the problem? How can it be both reckless and unnecessary? Alas, thanks to the BBC’s policy of quoting environmental groups’ press releases without scrutiny, we don’t get to find out.

Time to Apologise

The people who make up ISIS are not entirely stupid:

Isis-affiliated fighters “apologised” after launching an attack on Israeli soldiers, the country’s former defence minister has claimed.

Moshe Ya’alon was reportedly referring to an incident when a group linked to Isis in the Syrian Golan Heights exchanged fire with Israeli forces last November.

“There was one case recently where Daesh [Isis] opened fire and apologised,” Mr Ya’alon said.

That’s probably sensible, yes. The scene was captured in cartoon form below:

This was interesting, too:

According to the first Western journalists, who have entered Isis’ territories and survived, Israel is the only country in the world the Islamic group fears because it believes its army is too strong to face.

And the reason Israel ensures it has a very strong army is precisely because of groups like ISIS and those who think like them.

Russian ship sinking: it’s all relative

Not the Russian navy’s finest hour:

A Russian naval intelligence ship sank off Turkey’s Black Sea coast on Thursday after colliding with a vessel carrying livestock and all 78 personnel on board the navy ship were evacuated, Turkish officials said.

The rescued crew members of the Russian ship Liman were in good health after the collision with the Togo-flagged Youzarsif H, Turkey’s Transport Minister Ahmed Arslan said.

The incident took place in fog and low visibility 18 miles (29 km) from Kilyos village on the Black Sea coast just north of Istanbul.

A spokesman for Hammami Livestock which owns the Youzarsif H said there had been no loss of life on board the vessel. “It is considered a slight hit, for us,” he told Reuters in Lebanon, adding he had no information about the cause of the collision.

So, a lot of Russian surveillance equipment lost but no cows. I refer to this article as an excuse to cite my favorite story regarding the Russian navy: the Dogger Bank Incident.

The Dogger Bank incident (also known as the North Sea Incident, the Russian Outrage or the Incident of Hull) occurred on the night of 21/22 October 1904, when the Russian Baltic Fleet mistook a British trawler fleet from Kingston upon Hull in the Dogger Bank area of the North Sea for an Imperial Japanese Navy force and fired on them. Russian warships also fired on each other in the chaos of the melée. Three British fishermen died and a number were wounded. One sailor and a priest aboard a Russian cruiser caught in the crossfire were also killed. The incident almost led to war between Britain and Russia.

Why the hell would the Russians think a British trawler in the North Sea was a Japanese warship? Because:

The Russian warships involved in the incident were en route to the Far East, to reinforce the 1st Pacific Squadron stationed at Port Arthur, and later Vladivostok, during the Russo-Japanese War. Because of the fleet’s alleged sightings of balloons and four enemy cruisers the day previously, coupled with “the possibility that the Japanese might surreptitiously have sent ships around the world to attack” them, the Russian admiral, Zinovy Rozhestvensky, called for increased vigilance, issuing an order that “no vessel of any sort must be allowed to get in among the fleet”, and to prepare to open fire upon any vessels failing to identify themselves. With ample reports about the presence of Japanese torpedo boats, submarines and minefields in the North Sea, and the general nervousness of the Russian sailors, 48 harmless fishing vessels were attacked by the Russians, thousands of miles away from enemy waters.

As military blunders go, this one is hard to beat. As The Times said the next day:

“It is almost inconceivable that any men calling themselves seamen, however frightened they might be, could spend twenty minutes bombarding a fleet of fishing boats without discovering the nature of their target.”

Hitting a boatload of cattle in fog off Turkey seems almost professional by comparison.

On whose side are the British Police?

My walk to the office each morning takes me through a gigantic pedestrianised concourse with a police station located smack in the middle of it. This means that police cars often have to enter the concourse area and navigate their way through crowds of pedestrians.

This morning I saw a fully-marked police car (without its lights flashing) trying to enter the concourse and into a line of commuters. They weren’t having an easy time of it because nobody was really willing to move aside, and if they did it was a couple of feet at the most. The police car had to inch forward and wait every few metres for a pedestrian to walk past; nobody was particularly interested in cooperating to give the men in uniform an easier life. If one were to look at who had the power in that situation, the conclusion would be that it lay with the pedestrians. The ordinary people, in other words. I thought it interesting that the policemen didn’t resort to using their lights or sirens or even trying to push through aggressively. They looked a bit annoyed, but they didn’t make any moves to insist the pedestrians change their behaviour any more than necessary.

If the same scenario were to take place in the UK, the public would be a lot more helpful. They’d leap out of the way in their attempts to show the police they are cooperating, mainly out of pure public-spiritedness. I’ve written before about this difference:

Growing up in Britain you are sort of taught that policemen are nice people who are there to help. Terms like “citizens in uniform” and “friendly neighbourhood policeman” are bandied about, and this mindset appears in the British culture in shows like Dixon of Dock Green and the Noddy series of books where Noddy invites the policeman into his house for a cup of tea. As far as I can tell, British citizens still view the police as people to be trusted, approached for help, and to cooperate with at all times.

This contrasts sharply with places…such as France for example. Here people think the gendarmes and other police forces are there to catch criminals and keep the piece, but are to be avoided wherever possible. They are not your friend, you don’t ask them the time or for directions, and nor do you invite them into your home for a cup of tea. You hope to go through life with a minimum of contact with them, and any other uniformed authority.

But what’s more interesting is how the British police would have behaved had the citizens not cooperated by flinging themselves into bushes and ditches to get out of their way. They would almost certainly have used the sirens, causing people to jump out of their skin. They’d have turned the lights on implying there was an emergency when none existed. And they’d have wound down the windows and threatened people, and if one or two were not sufficiently cowed they’d have jumped out and quite possibly tasered and arrested him. As I discussed in my earlier post, the British police are quick to use intimidation and force against people who they are reasonably sure will not fight back, i.e. proper criminals.

Of course this is speculation, and maybe this wouldn’t happen at all. So let’s take an example of what the British police actually do. I sat down this morning expecting to use this example in which the police see motorists as a handy revenue stream, but opening Twitter I saw this:

(In case you can’t see the picture, a screen-grab is here.)

This comes from those who police a city where:

Daylight stabbings of schoolchildren have become “part of the workload” for London’s Air Ambulance medics, they revealed today.

The service is now treating almost as many shooting and stabbing victims as people seriously hurt in road crashes, with open-heart surgery on knife victims performed in the street on an almost weekly basis.

This morning I read this:

Detectives in Greenwich Borough are appealing for witnesses and information following a stabbing in Plumstead.

Officers and the London Ambulance Service attended and found an 18-year-old man suffering stab wounds. He was taken to a south London hospital his injuries are being treated as life threatening.

DC Andrew Payne, the officer in the case, said:

“This attack happened in broad daylight, in a busy street and I am appealing for anyone who saw anything, or who knows anything, about the attack to contact me.”

And this:

A man has been found stabbed to death on a bus in central London.

Police said the man, aged in his 40s, was found fatally wounded on the 189 bus in Gloucester Place, near Dorset Square, at about 00:10 BST.

And last week I saw this video of events which took place in Hackney:

As I said before:

If the police in Britain … want to remain relevant, they had better make up their minds whose side they are on and inform the law-abiding masses of their decision, preferably via demonstration rather than empty speeches.

At the rate they’re going, the British police are going to be awfully surprised when one day in the near future they are called upon to restore law and order find the population treating them very much as part of the problem.

The French police might not be liked and respected, but at least they are confident the people they serve know whose side they’re on.

The Bundesliga Fails Again

I’ve been critical of the cosy arrangement between Bayern Munich and the Bundesliga before:

It has long been my opinion that the Bundesliga is run for the benefit of Bayern Munich and the national football team, whereby anyone who shows a smidgen of talent in the other clubs is snapped up by Bayern Munich who immediately trebles the player’s wages.  Other clubs have almost no chance of competing unless they could stumble upon a few youngsters and assemble a side that could be held together long enough to win before the bigger clubs came and swiped their best players, as Klopp managed to do.  As a method of winning the World Cup it proved successful as Bayern Munich players formed the core of the German team that won in Brazil in 2014, but I am doubtful that it benefit the long term health of German football.  Bayern Munich won the league by 10 points last year, 28 points ahead of the 3rd placed team; they won by much the same margins the year before that; in the 2013-2014 season – Guardiola’s first in charge – they won with 90 points, 19 ahead of their nearest rival and 26 ahead of third place; much the same was true for the season before that.

Last week Bayern Munich crashed out of the Champions League quarter finals with a 6-3 aggregate defeat to Real Madrid. This is the shape of the Bundesliga table right now:

As usual, Bayern are cruising to a 5th successive Bundesliga title having lost only 2 games in the league (and they’re still in the cup). Probably the first difficult match they had all season was when they met Real Madrid. Little wonder that, despite the vast array of talent on their benches, they lost. The players probably forgot what it’s like to have to mark the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored a hat-trick in the second game, including one with his head.

The other German teams aren’t doing much better: Borussia Dortmund also lost their tie 6-3 on aggregate against Monaco in the CL, and Shalke went out of the Europa League at the hands of Ajax the next day.

Despite the entire German football system favouring Bayern Munich at the expense of all other teams, they’ve not won the Champions League since 2013, and before that it was in 2000. This is not a great success rate. True, they have a good history of getting to the semi-finals, but this is hardly worth sacrificing an entire league for.

The problem was summed up neatly by two of the English commentators during the Real Madrid match. One speculated what would happen when veterans like Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller retire. The other quipped that they’d just buy Borussia Dortmund’s best players in those positions.

The quality of football in the English Premier League might not be as good as that of Spain’s La Liga or even Italy’s Serie A, and English clubs have performed woefully in Europe for several years now. But at least the EPL is fiercely competitive and hasn’t become the farce that the Bundesliga now is. I’m wondering how long German football can continue like this before people start losing interest.

More on Macron v Le Pen

There have been some rumblings on the Interwebs that perhaps Macron won’t be the shoo-in we all think he will.

One argument is that, if the likes of Merkel, Juncker, and all the others who think the EU rules über alles keep fellating him, the French are going to wonder in whose interests he will serve. Perhaps unlike other EU citizens, the French believe the EU is there to serve French interests, not the other way around. They don’t want an EU poodle any more than the Brits do, and Macron appearing in front of a giant EU flag on every occasion isn’t going to be helping him in this regard.

Another argument is that a lot of folk are behaving as if he’s won already. People are already talking about how the EU has been saved and how he will usher in a new era of economic prosperity for France. I can’t see this going down well among the French. They’re a prickly bunch and don’t like being taken for granted and have a wonderful habit of chucking a stick between the spokes of any process which they think is being done over their heads. A lot of French might not like Le Pen but they at least expect an election to take place to confirm this before the world starts planning Macron’s coronation.

There is also the issue of turnout. Fillon has come out and said he will support Macron, and everyone has assumed those who voted for Fillon will do as well. But that’s a big assumption: Fillon was much more of a genuine, centre-right candidate in the mold of Sarkozy than Macron, who is running on the platform of vague promises and nobody knowing quite who he is. Those who voted for Fillon will be well aware that Macron is not the outsider the media are portraying him to be and he’s as likely to be the next Hollande as the next Thatcher. This might not make them all turn out for Le Pen, but it might make them stay at home.

In the end the 2016 US presidential election came down to who could get the voters out. Throughout the campaign it was obvious that Trump had the more dedicated supporters, those who would turn out to vote for him come hell or high water. Hillary’s rallies were lukewarm, stage-managed affairs with very little passion and supported by people who only really knew that they didn’t want a Republican in the White House and especially not one named Donald Trump. If this has any bearing on what happens in France, it is Le Pen who has the fired-up support base who know exactly what they want and why they want their candidate to win, and Macron who is reading out boilerplate political guff and hoping his “decency” and assumed centrism is enough to get people to turn out for him on election day.

I still think it is likely Macron will win with a 70% share as all others unite behind him, but I could just as easily be completely wrong. If I am wrong, and Macron manages to lose, those things I mention above will be among the reasons why.

Robert M. Pirsig

Robert M. Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died at the age of 88.

I first came across this book in 1998 when I was on holiday in Rhodes and I borrowed it from somebody in the hotel. I got through the first few chapters before he asked for it back, and so when I returned to Manchester I bought a copy of my own. It was heavy going in places, and some people at the time (my sister being one of them) said it was rather pretentious and there is some truth to that, but I recall thinking it was very good nonetheless. There were certainly some interesting ideas in there, one of them being that university students should not be graded: instead of chasing marks they should simply attend, because only those who truly wish to learn and apply their knowledge would stick around. I was also swayed by the author’s arguments on quality, which I notice are mentioned in the article I’ve linked to:

The protagonist of Zen attempts to resolve the conflicts between “classic” values that create machinery like the motorcycle, and “romantic” values like the beauty of a country road. He discovers all values find their root in what Pirsig called Quality:

“Quality . . . you know what it is, yet you don’t know what it is. But that’s self-contradictory. But some things are better than others, that is, they have more quality. But when you try to say what the quality is, apart from the things that have it, it all goes poof! There’s nothing to talk about. But if you can’t say what Quality is, how do you know what it is, or how do you know that it even exists? If no one knows what it is, then for all practical purposes it doesn’t exist at all. But for all practical purposes it really does exist.”

There were two other elements to the book that appealed to me, one of which ought to be pretty obvious to those who know me: that of motorcycle maintenance. As you know I’m an engineer (at least, that’s what my degree certificate says) and I’ve spent a few years of my life as a rather enthusiastic amateur mechanic, and I found the technical details and descriptions of the maintenance philosophies interesting in their own right.

There was also the theme of the great American road trip in which the author discovers himself, which at the time interested me a lot. On my wall in my student hall of residence I had a huge map of the United States, and for a long time I planned to drive around as much of it as I could. Some stories would now have me tell you that I never found the time and life intervened, but not this one: I went to the US in the summer of 2000, rented a car, and did just that, covering 26 states (if I include those I went through on the Greyhound). But it wasn’t Pirsig’s book which inspired me so much as William Least Heat Moon’s Blue Highways, which I’d found knocking around back home in Wales. While it doesn’t have the Zen wisdom and chapters on motorcycle maintenance, it is a far better account of a journey of self-discovery across America.

I’ve read Blue Highways at least twice, Zen only once. Both are with me here in Paris. Perhaps I should read Pirsig’s tome once more, and see what I find different in the nineteen years since I last read it. I’m sure the ending will be no less heartbreaking.

Fake Charities

An organisation based in New York calling itself the Anne Frank Center is apparently not quite as it’s name suggests:

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, known until about a year ago as the Anne Frank Center USA, is a small organization of about nine staffers. It is independent from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, which memorializes Anne’s hiding place, and is not connected at all to the Anne Frank Fonds, the Swiss organization that owns the rights to Anne’s diary.

The Anne Frank Center has reliably been willing to criticize the Trump administration in more aggressive and hyperbolic terms than any of these well-established groups, and media outlets have credulously rewarded it with extensive coverage.

With just its famous name and a savvy social-media strategy, the Anne Frank Center has transformed into a putative authority on anti-Semitism and American politics. But it’s not at all clear the organization speaks for anybody other than its own leaders—not Holocaust scholars, Anne Frank’s family, or the Jewish community.

In other words, it’s a political lobby group masquerading as a benevolent organisation under a highly misleading name.

This is more common than you think, and the only surprise (or not, given the state of our media) is that these fraudsters are not called out more often. In Britain we have the wonderfully named Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (OXFAM) which appears to exist primarily to agitate for redistributive policies at home rather than alleviate hunger abroad. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) seems only concerned that western, liberal democracies have nuclear weapons; communist and other oppressive regimes get a free pass. I could go on.

The sooner these organisations are stripped of their charitable status and treated the same as every other special interest political lobby group, the better.

Turkey and the Armenian Genocide

Yesterday I noticed there was a lot of chatter on the internet about the Armenian genocide which took place in 1915. Denial of the Armenian genocide is a criminal offence in France, and I’m not about to get myself chucked in jail, deported, or ceremoniously guillotined in front of the offices of Turkish Airlines by doing any such thing. And the same goes for the comments: when the blade is about to be dropped, my bleatings that “It was my commenters!” will fall only on the deaf ears of the man about to cut the rope, so behave you lot. (Especially you, TNA!) Besides, regardless of the law I am woefully ill-informed to comment on the matter of what occurred, when, and how.

What I want to say is that the issue has come down to a solitary word – genocide. Armenia and a good few other nations want Turkey to acknowledge that genocide took place, whereas the Turks themselves take issue pretty much only with the use of this particular word. The problem is, even moderate Turks aren’t much in the mood to concede on this point, it’s not just the raving, ultra-nationalist fans of Erdoğan who are being stubborn. From what I understand, the issue holds such significance that any politician willing to concede on this particular word would be committing political suicide: Turkey has staked its national pride on it, and it’s not going to budge.

Part of the problem is there isn’t really a solution. In the case of other seemingly intractable issues (Northern Ireland, Crimea, etc.) there is always a compromise involving power sharing, land swaps, etc. as well as formal apologies and acknowledgements. On the issue of the Armenian genocide and the use of that particular word there is not much room to compromise. No acknowledgement from Turkey that does not include the word “genocide” will be accepted, and Turkey won’t acquiesce to using the term. There is no more room to meet in the middle.

Often these things are solved with the passage of time. I am reliably told that the animosity between Greeks and Turks has lessened considerably as the older generations died out and the younger ones weren’t sure what all the fuss was about. But a hundred years on and the Armenian genocide isn’t going away, in part because Armenia defines itself so much on this issue and they have a powerful lobbying ability (I’m not saying these are bad things, I’m simply pointing out facts). The Armenians aren’t going to drop the subject, and the Turks aren’t going to concede.

Perhaps in a few more generations Turks will have evolved politically and socially to the point where they no longer consider this a trench worth fighting to death in, but the way things are moving with Erdoğan I expect things to get worse before they get better. Either way, it’s not going to be resolved any time soon.

Macron v Le Pen

So, it’s Macron versus Le Pen, then. In the next two weeks Macron is going to find himself fellated by the European political Establishment and media to such a degree that Barack Obama will feel jealous. Indeed, so hyperbolic will be the accolades leading up to the election that people might be put off voting for him out of pure embarrassment. He is going to be held up as the single person preventing Nuremberg-style rallies being held at the Stade de France every weekend from July onwards, and the saviour of Europe. If the roles were reversed and it were Le Pen who they adored, she would grace front pages of newspapers decked out in white armour.

What’s interesting is foreign heads of state aren’t even pretending to be disinterested any more:

Many European leaders have been congratulating Mr Macron on the first round results – as they are keen to strengthen the union after Brexit.

Mr Macron addressed the nation in front of an EU flag as the results came in – something noticed by both pro and anti-EU politicians.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffan Seibert, tweeted: “It’s good that Emmanuel Macron was successful with his course for a strong EU and social market economy. All the best for the next two weeks.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also congratulated him, as did EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

“The result is the hope and future of our generation,” she tweeted.

Are these people interested in France or the EU?

What’s also interesting is the media still haven’t got their story straight on Macron yet. The original version of the BBC’s article that I linked to had him down as “an outsider”. They’ve since changed this to “newcomer”, presumably when people pointed out that he was about as much an outsider as Ryan Giggs was when he took over at Man Utd at the back-end of the 2013-14 season.

Mr Macron was current President Francois Hollande’s economy minister but quit to create his own party, En Marche, which pushes a liberal, pro-EU agenda.

Even “newcomer” is pushing it. The truth is, the entire France political Establishment in France is set up quite deliberately to exclude outsiders from rising within it, and the same is true for business, the civil service, and anything else deemed important. To progress within these organisations one must come from the grande écoles, and to get the highest positions one must have finished close to the top of the class. The scores somebody gets when at these institutions is something that gets looked and their entire career; I have seen a French company phone book from the mid nineties that had beneath the name of each person the school they went to and the score they got. The chances of an outsider getting to where Macron has found himself in France are precisely nil. Even Le Pen was born into a political household to a father who was known everywhere. She’s no outsider either.

As for his policies: a liberal, pro-EU agenda and promises of economic and social reforms is what damned near every French politician has run on since I can remember. The economic reforms fail at the first sign of protest from the unions, and the social reforms don’t address serious issues such as immigration, terrorism, and collapsing rural communities but stuff like this:

Ban on mobile phone use in schools for under-15s and a €500 culture pass for 18 year olds

France can’t stop people murdering gendarmes on the Champs-Élysées with AK-47s but they are going to police kids bringing phones into schools. Uh-huh.

Macron sounds like another Tony Blair, promising “big tent” centre-ground policies to appease everybody but the fringes thus ensuring his election but, lacking principles or conviction, not being able to deliver on anything. Blair promised “Education, Education, Education” and “tough on the causes of crime” and instead we got micromanagement, a massive increase in the public sector, petty meddling, authoritarianism, paternalism, and an erosion of civil liberties. And after ten years kids still couldn’t read or write and the jails were still full.

France needs this about as much as they need another German invasion. I am sure Macron will win thanks to people feeling they have little other choice; Le Pen represents change, has grasped the immigration nettle, and at least appears to like France more than the EU but her economic policy is no solution for anything. A Macron win will be seen by the European and French policial Establishments as a full endorsement of the status quo and Macron’s muddle-headed policies, and France will be subject to another four years of “more of the same”. Macron’s popularity will collapse and the usual plethora of corruption allegations will surface, and we’ll go through the whole pantomime again next time around.

Things don’t change easily in France.