Will Pike and the Costs of Legislation

There’s another video doing the rounds on social media made by a chap called Will Pike, a Brit who was injured in the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks and is now wheelchair bound.  It goes without saying that I have every sympathy for Mr Pike and his predicament, and I can imagine the frustration he feels when he encounters the difficulties presented in the video:

His problems are real, and I take no issue with them.  But I have a problem with his proposed solutions:

The law protecting disabled people from discrimination when accessing goods and services has existed for 10 years and is supposed to be enforced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The Equality Act requires that service providers make reasonable adjustments to make sure disabled people are not disadvantaged when accessing their services. However, there are significant flaws with the enforcement of the act. In the majority of cases it is left to disabled people to sue service providers for discrimination. Moreover changes to legal aid have made it much harder to start legal action. Court proceedings can be very time consuming and costly. They are not accessible to all disabled people, many of whom just want to get on with their life.

The main issue here is one of expectations versus reality of what passing a law can achieve.  Since I was a student and I became aware of these things there seems to have been a headlong rush in the developing world to solve every problem in existence by passing a law, as if by doing so the problem merely goes away.  Only if this worked, nobody anywhere would be doing drugs.  Oops.

The key word in the legislation is “reasonable”:

The Equality Act requires that service providers make reasonable adjustments…

What is reasonable or not depends on the individual.  Most viewers of the video would see a flight of steps in a clothing store and think “Why can’t they put a lift in?”  A building services expert hired to testify on behalf of a company defending a case brought before the EHRC would explain in detail the costs and practicalities of doing so, and an engineer would go further, into details of the structural design of the building.  London is an old city, the buildings are old.  Retrofitting a lift or making substantial modifications to a building could well cost as much as demolishing it and building a new one.  Not in all cases for sure, but in some.  It could be that the owner of the shop premises doesn’t own the whole building, or maybe even the floor above.  Whatever the case, it is not immediately obvious that the lack of a lift in a shop means the owners or the tenants have not made all reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people access to their services.

There is one answer to this.  Take away the “reasonable” qualifier and ensure all companies provide full disabled access that caters for every type of individual that might cross their threshold.  This would cost a phenomenal amount of money, which would be passed directly onto customers, and would entail moving almost every business out of city centres and into purpose-built retail parks or strip malls, but it is certainly possible.  Only major complaints I hear from the sort of people who campaign for greater disabled access are: the cost of living in Britain (especially London) is already way too high and we need government intervention to force companies to pay employees a Living Wage; town centres are dying and everything is moving to purpose-built retail parks in the outskirts; and independent “local” shops are disappearing, replaced by endless outlets of multinational chains who “send their profits overseas and out of the local community”.

So which is it to be, folks?  Strip-malls filled with faceless multinationals with full disabled access, or smaller franchises and independent shops in city centres and high streets?  You can’t have both for simple reasons of practicality and economics. And if you insist on having both, you’ll end up with neither: nobody is forced to open a shop, and anyone doing so much be able to envisage an economic return.  Sadly, I suspect people will insist on having both and wonder why their towns look empty.  This has already happened.

I have my sympathy with Will Pike and his video might well have identified companies that could have provided better access at a reasonable cost but didn’t.  But I suspect most people sharing his video on Facebook won’t have thought much beyond the initial, emotional reaction to a guy in a wheelchair struggling through life.

Thoughts on Friendship and Chivalry

James Higham has written a thought-provoking post over at Nourishing Obscurity on the behaviours of modern women.  Rather than quote it at length I’ll advise you go and read it in full, but there are two things I wanted to expand on, separately.

The first:

In childhood, I had a mate who had a younger sister and she was rather nice looking, smiled a lot etc. Someone joked about him fancying her, to which he replied we had to be kidding, she was a right little bitch, he had to deal with her every day.

There is a persistent belief among some women (and maybe this also applies to men) that they are suited for a romantic relationship because they have friends.  I’ve known women who, struggling in a relationship in part due to an inability to compromise and/or communicate properly, rush off and speak to their friends who give them advice along the lines of “Fuck him, there’s nothing wrong with you, if he can’t accept you as you are, dump his ass!”  More often than not they’ll follow this advice rather than listen to what the man is telling her.  Leaving aside the whole issue of women’s “friends” and whether their advice is sincere or self-serving, it misses the point that – as James’ pal noted – having to deal with somebody in an intimate relationship in terms of compromises, values, and communication is a very different beast than being somebody’s mate.  I have fantastic, close, and long-lasting friendships with both men and women but I’d not want to have to interact with them with the frequency, intensity, and emotions that a romantic engagement requires.  And I can assure you that not a single damned one of them would want to do the same with me!

The second:

The obvious rejoinder was and still is – that we males are no great shakes either by our own lights – slovenly, brusque, uncaring, insensitive, making bad jokes and disrespecting wimmin.

Methinks wimmin would be well advised today to consider the reintroduction of chivalry.  Not only did it offer protection, in that any man nearby would have stepped in to help her in dire need, but it then afforded her great power of negotiation, especially regarding her body.

Back in the summer I was talking to a friend and colleague, a French lady who works as an engineer in the oil industry.  She has worked in a variety of countries and cultures, but told me the worst place she’d been in terms of harassment and disrespectful remarks was a platform in the British sector of the North Sea.  To say that this surprised me would be a gross understatement: it blew me away.  Argumentative though I am, when confronted with something rather unexpected like this I occasionally shut the fuck up and try to figure it out.  It didn’t take me long.

Back in my university days – 1996-2000 – we had a period which the tabloids and Radio 1 called the era of the “ladettes”, when British celebrities such as Denise Van Outen, Melanie Sykes, Zoë Ball, the Spice Girls, and others were throwing off the patriarchal chains and shamelessly behaving like lads in a drunken, boisterous, and crude manner.  Not only was this gleefully covered by the tabloid media, but it was positively encouraged by a branch of modern feminism which thought equality for women ought to take the form of adopting the worst behaviour in young, British men.  It wasn’t pretty.

Now I’m something between a libertarian and a classical liberal, and so I believe that if these women – or any others – want to drink themselves into oblivion on alcoholic mouthwash and make idiots of themselves in kebab houses at 3am, that’s their business.  But such liberties are also extended to those of us who observe such behaviour and pass judgement, which includes deciding how such women ought to be treated in terms of subsequent personal relations.  And when this was going on, huge swathes of Britain’s menfolk did just that: they observed women adopting their own worst behaviour and reached the inevitable conclusion that they were no different and therefore shouldn’t be treated as such.  Treat them like men, in other words: speak to them coarsely, get them drunk, pass crude remarks on their appearance, and use them for indiscriminate sex with no commitment beyond a genuine attempt to not throw up in the process.  Isn’t equal treatment what the feminists wanted?  Well, now they’ve got it.

Little wonder, then, that oil workers on the North Sea platforms don’t treat women in a respectful manner: they’ve seen their womenfolk’s behaviour and decided they are not worthy of respect.  Of course, this came as a shock to my French friend who hails from a culture where certain old-fashioned behavioural standards among women are still adhered to and hence the menfolk afford them a respect which by English standards is almost quaint.  Ask yourself if you’ve ever seen a middle class French woman blind drunk, falling over, and having sex behind a bin.  They’d die of shame first.  Whereas my French friend did say she had a limited amount of admiration and envy for the British girls who could go out dressed in anything they liked and behave however they wanted, she did not wish to replicate such behaviour herself.

I don’t think Britain should return to the 1950s, before the sexual revolution set the current train in motion.  There were practices and attitudes that needed to be abandoned, and thankfully were.  But I can’t help thinking we’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater, here.  Having mocked the traditional, chivalrous, English gent of the pre-1950s into extinction, women are now rather distressed to find he has been replaced by a boorish oaf.  Whose fault is that, then?

Here be dragons

Via Tim Worstall, I see that the Hungarian government has upset British diplomats by dishing out leaflets saying that Britain has “no-go” zones as a result of its immigration policies.  This follows the row a few weeks back over Air China warning its passengers to be careful in areas of London populated by swarthy folk.

I cite the above merely to remark on the warnings our own Foreign Office gives to British citizens travelling abroad, which either:

1) Warn travelers to stay away from a place which has just witnessed some one-off catastrophe which is all over the news and in which thousands of people have been killed. This warning appears on their website two days after the event.

or

2) Warn travelers to stay away from a country in which something of minor consequence has happened that nevertheless got the British media excited, and life is going on as normal.

Hurrah for Comprehensive Education!

There is a furniture company in the UK which advertises relentlessly on Sky Sports, particularly during cricket matches, and earlier this year it looked as though they would be able to supply me with some items I was looking for.  They didn’t deliver abroad, but did offer free delivery in the UK, and so I could get them to deliver the goods to the premises of this outfit which I have used before to bring furniture from the UK to France (I can recommend them).

The cross-channel transport company quite reasonably asked what volume of goods I was shipping to they could give me a proper quote and reserve space in one of their vehicles.  Unfortunately, the furniture company don’t do what most furniture companies do and specify the volume of each item on their website, and so I had to email them and ask.

This turned out to be a difficult question to answer: apparently, they were unable to tell me unless I placed an order.  Alarm bells started ringing: could it be that I’d gotten involved with a company that puts 90% of its effort into sales teams and mass advertising, and 10% into delivering on its core services?  I was advised that I could place an order but not pay for it, and then ring them up (international call, of course) and get the information.  So I duly did just that.  The person who took the call sounded as though he applied for an entry-level position in a vegetable-packing plant and got turned down due to lack of intellect.  If he’d told me he’d suffered major head trauma in the past 24 hours but couldn’t get time off to go to hospital, I’d have believed him.  He told me he could see my order but couldn’t give me the volume because “only the logistics people know that”, and he thought they’d all gone home.  But he’d check.

After a few minutes he came back.  “Two point three centimetres squared”, he told me.  I sighed.  “Firstly,” I said “you have described something the approximate size of a cigarette lighter and I’m sure my furniture is a little larger than that.  Secondly, the unit will be cubed, as we are talking about a volume not an area.”  He replied with a voice that betrayed either a heavy cold, a hangover, or somebody holding his nose, “Well, this is what my computer screen is telling me.”

I finally got the information I wanted by converting his centimetres squared into metres cubed, but I never got the furniture: compared to his colleagues with whom I dealt with later, this chap was Employee of the Year.

Brexit

I’ve a few things to say about Brexit, and here they are.

Firstly, I didn’t vote.  I abstained mainly because I’ve lived outside the UK for 13 years and am not registered to vote on UK matters any more.  When I looked at registering I found the government was asking me for all sorts of information I’d rather not give them, and so I quit the process.  The other reason was that I wasn’t sure how I’d vote.

For strictly personal reasons, I would have been happy enough with a Remain victory.  I am a French resident, I have bought a property in France, and intend to maintain a presence here for the foreseeable future.  Whereas I am quite confident France isn’t about to expel all Brits and a deal will be struck in pretty short order to allow me to remain in France (if for no other reason than France doesn’t have jobs for the 250,000 plus French who would be kicked out of London alone), few people appreciate the different between applying for residency under the terms of French (or any) law and being entitled to residency under European law.  One involves submitting mountains of documents to a bureaucrat who is supposed to operate within the law but is usually a law unto himself, and can delay your application indefinitely, lose it, or reject it without explanation; the other means you don’t need to deal with the bureaucrat in the first place.  Those Brits who can’t see the difference are usually those who haven’t gone through a residency visa application process before.  If Britain does actually leave, it is certain that I will have to jump through a lot more bureaucratic hoops in future.

That said, I was pleased with the Leave victory for one simple reason: I think the EU in its current form is completely unsustainable politically and economically and unless it undergoes major reforms it will plunge the continent into a disaster which might go as far as civil war.  Reforms were never going to happen while the whole project is run by and for Europhile has-been and never-was politicians in the pay of the EU, who as individuals are shielded from the fallout of their own stupid policies.  It would take a cataclysmic event, such as Greece leaving the Euro, defaulting, and taking a few other member states with it, to bring about serious reforms.  Despite all the bluster from third-rate EU shills, Britain walking away from the project might yet be such an event: Germans are going to be keenly aware that it is pretty much they alone who are going to be bankrolling the EU from hereon.  This is the outcome I am most hoping for: Brexit triggers huge reforms within the EU, and Britain either remains or retains the benefits of free trade and movement (with greatly improved immigration policies) while ditching all the regulatory and political crap.  If these reforms don’t happen, I am confident the EU won’t last much longer anyway and Britain will be glad to have jumped ship early.  With the enormous structural economic and social problems in countries like France (particularly), Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece it is only fair to ask why Britain would want to remain locked in a union with countries that are heading straight off a cliff.

I have noticed that a lot of the lefty middle-classes who are wailing on social media about the Leave vote “depriving their children of a future” and Britain “turning its back on the world” are monolingual, lifelong British residents.  As somebody who can hardly be accused of turning my back on the world and has carved out a life for myself overseas, allow me to point out that out of the six countries I have worked in since 2003 – Kuwait, UAE, Russia, Nigeria, Australia, and France – I only had the right to work in the last one.  For  the rest I had to apply for a visa, just as an American, Australian, or Canadian has to do when coming to work in Europe.  The idea that working in Europe will become unreasonably difficult should Britain leave the EU is demonstrable nonsense, given how many non-EU citizens work in London or Paris.  Not that many of those complaining on Facebook have actually taken up their right to work in Europe, though.  No, they are content to be middle aged and living in the Home Counties moaning about being deprived of an opportunity I’m sure they were just about to sieze in Slovenia when the racist mob voted to leave.  For most of them, Europe is a place to go on holiday and not much else.  If any of these people are genuinely concerned about their children having an opportunity to live and work overseas they ought to spend time getting a foreign language dinned into them rather than supporting a political union with people with whom they have no intention of interacting outside a holiday resort.

I think part of the problem is that people think European politics work like British politics.  Had more people actually “interacted” with Europe by living there and seeing how things work on the Continent (particularly the southern and eastern parts) they would realise how appallingly corrupt, nepotistic, and disfunctional much of it is.  I think it is precisely exposure to other European politics and government, rather than ignorance of them, that would drive more people to vote Leave.

This protestor seems particularly dimwitted:

Laura Honickberg, 33, from London, said she was concerned that the vote would lead to a rise in violence and hate crime.

“I’m Jewish and I find the rise of nationalism and hate crime in Europe deeply concerning,” she told the BBC.

She added that she felt the Leave campaign “was based on lies, about money that was going to go to the NHS and now isn’t, about what’s going to happen to the economy. These are things that are going to directly impact me.”

If she really thinks the biggest threat to her wellbeing is European nationalism instead of a rapidly expanding demographic adhering to a culture which isn’t too keen on Jews then she is seriously deluded.

But she might have stumbled inadvertently on a point regarding the NHS.  I understand that the Leave campaign claimed that monies freed up from EU contributions would be redirected towards the NHS.  This is monumentally stupid, for the simple reason that hosing more money at the NHS without it first undergoing major reforms is an exercise in futillity and will benefit nobody except the management classes and armies of administrators.  That people wanting to leave a structurally unsustainable EU incapable of reform were boasting of spending money on a structurally unsustainable NHS incapable of reform doesn’t say much about their capacity for consistent thought.  As an organisation, the NHS is about as close to the ideals of the EU as it’s possible to get.

This is why I never quite bothered listening to the bickering over that £350m figure.  Regardless of the real number, I have no confidence whatsoever that any saving would be spent on something worthwhile, and am quite sure it will just get fed into the gigantic maw of the state or some branch of it (like the NHS) with negligible effect.  Similarly, I am also not convinced Brexit will result in pettyfogging EU regulations being torn up: we were the only country to employ armies of people in hi-viz vests bearing clipboards to ensure they were being followed to the letter, and it’s not like any of the current crop of politicians from any party believe in light regulation and small government.  I can expect a huge lobbying effort being made to recreate all those “essential” EU regulations in a post-EU Britain, to be managed by sprawling government bureaucracies crammed full of civil servants.  “Just think of all the jobs it will create!” will be the cry, once “Think of the children!” has faded.

I was also not persuaded by the immigration argument.  Now I appreciate Poles, Romanians, and Latvians might be pinching jobs from hard-working locals in areas of Britain, but the real immigration issue that I see is one of people from outside the EU arriving in Britain with a mindset more akin to medieval theocracies than liberal democracies and no intention of integrating and every intention of causing as much trouble as possible.  The disgrace that is Rotherham, the 7/7 bombings, the murder of Lee Rigby, and the other dozen or so I’ve forgotten about were not caused by EU citizens exercising their right to free movement, it was brought about by immigration policies (some decades old) that were and are firmly in the hands of the British Home Office.  Nobody in government has even admitted there is an issue, and until they do I’m not going to take fears of additional undesirables arriving via the EU very seriously.  True, Angela Merkel’s astonishingly stupid and irresponsible decision to invite in millions of immigrants willy-nilly would have raised genuine concerns that gangs of jihadists will turn up in Britain after obtaining German or other EU passports, but this would be more of a worry were not hundreds if not thousands of British citizens waging merry jihad with ISIS already.

The problem is the British, as with every other citizenry which is not mentally ill, wants freedom of movement to be based on something other than nationality.  Most Brits have no problem with the EU citizens coming to Britain if they are going to be productive members of society and not try to forment foment unrest.  Similarly, most Brits don’t have a problem with intra-EU migration provided it does not come at the expense of their own livelihood.  Both of these are entirely reasonable opinions to hold, but it speaks volumes about the state of western politics that the only prominent politician willing to promote them is Donald Bloody Trump.  Sooner or later, if civil war is to be averted, freedom of movement is going to have to be guaranteed by holding the right passport and not being a complete fuckwit.  The criteria for the latter should not be hard to set.

So all in all, I’m not sure Brexit will achieve much in terms of smaller government, lighter regulation, and improved immigration policies, and it will likely cause me considerable personal headaches in future.  But what Brexit has surely done is given the EU and British political classes and establishments a severe kick up the arse and shaken them to the very core, something that is long overdue.  I am deriving enormous pleasure from hearing the petulant wailing of lefty middle classes who think it all terribly unfair that their right-on, progressive thinking didn’t mean their votes counted twice.  I am also deriving great pleasure from watching politicians and other mouthpieces twist themselves in knots having realised they are firmly on the wrong side of most of the country.  The result has created some extraordinary bedfellows: you have social-justice warriors relaying the warnings of multinational corporations regarding future profits, and anarchists who are usually in favour of smashing the state marching in support of a superstate.  People who were a few months ago campaigning for minimum alcohol prices are now worried the price of wine might go up, and those who thought curbing the “excesses” of the City was top priority are now fearful the banksters might move to Frankfurt.  It is absolutely bizarre in its intellectual inconsistency.

Finally, I am dismayed by the lack of balls shown by many of my countrymen.  All the talks of “fear” and “panic” and “distress” at the thought of Britain, with a functioning (hah!) parliament and centuries of independent rule under its belt not being able to survive without being hooked to Brussels/Strasbourg is embarassing to say the least.  Being a good European, I am reasonably knowledgeable of the modern history of fellow EU member state Lithuania, which in 1990 decided enough was enough and declared independence from the USSR (the first Soviet state to do so).  Given the size of Lithuania relative to the Soviet Union, the demographics, and their dependency on Moscow, this took real balls.  And here’s what happened next:

The Soviet Union attempted to suppress the secession by imposing an economic blockade. Soviet troops attacked the Vilnius TV Tower, killing 14 Lithuanian civilians and wounding 600 others on the night of 13 January 1991 (January Events). On 31 July 1991 Soviet paramilitaries killed seven Lithuanian border guards on the Belarusian border in what became known as the Medininkai Massacre.

On 4 February 1991, Iceland became the first country to recognise Lithuania’s independence. After the Soviet August Coup, independent Lithuania received wide official recognition and joined the United Nations on 17 September 1991.

Any Lithuanian from that era who read about the protest march in London yesterday must be wondering how the hell Britain ever had an empire.  And any European politician jeering at Britain voting to leave might want to consider what impact Lithuania’s departure had on the future of the Soviet Union.

Brits Abroad

You’ve got to love the British press:

England fan fighting for his life and dozens more injured as English fans and Russian thugs clash at Euro 2016 in Marseille

The English were fans.  The Russians were thugs.  Presumably no Englishman in Marseille last night displayed thuggish behaviour, and no Russian showed the slightest interest in football.

Aye, they look like a bunch out to enjoy the beautiful game.

There’s another word the British press and authorities like to use in such situations:

Sir Julian King, Britain’s ambassador to France tweeted that several Britons were being kept in hospital overnight.

If ever a British citizen is in some sort of strife abroad, the immediate assumption is he is wholly innocent and the hapless victim of overseas thuggery, an incompetent and heavy-handed local police force, or a corrupt foreign justice system, in which case it is necessary for the British press to thereafter refer to him as a “Briton”. (The best example of this is in the reporting and government statements relating to the conviction of Liverpool fan Michael Shields in Bulgaria in 2005.)

This reminds me of the summer of 2010 which I spent in Phuket, Thailand hanging out in expat bars all day (and all night, if I’m being truthful).   One of the regulars who used to come into my favourite bar was a dangerous-looking thug from Manchester, whose reputation for fighting, drug-dealing, treachery, and other unsavoury behaviour preceded him by a good three miles.  Typically he would come into the bar at 11am ready to start the day’s drinking and recount the story of what happened the night before, usually prompted by somebody asking why he was sporting some new injury or other.  His recollections always followed the same format:

“I was walking along the street near the boxing stadium minding my own business when a bunch of Belgians started kicking off…I punched one of them, but the others got behind me and I fell down and one of them kicked me in the head.”

“We were in a bar and some Germans started a fight with us…you know what the Germans are like…and we all ended up being thrown out when the police arrived.”

“I was riding my scooter down the road and I ran into a bunch of guys…Spanish or Greeks, I think…same thing…and one of them threw a bottle at me, so I picked up a brick and threw it at him, and it all kicked off.  The police came and I had to spend the night in the cells.”

I detected a pattern here.  Now he might have been telling the truth.  And I might be the Dalai Lama.  But what I never heard, in all my time in Phuket or indeed ever in my life, was a story told to me by non-Brit complaining of getting into a fight with another non-Brit.  For whatever reason, Frenchmen don’t seem to end up fighting Spaniards in beach resorts and Germans somehow manage to rub along all right with Italians on holiday without kicking the shit out of one another.  The common element in all the fighting in beach resorts across the world, particularly the Mediterranean, is the presence of young Brits.  Little surprise then that the only trouble seen thus far at the Euro 2016 tournament features the same demographic.

Eddie the Embarrassing Eagle

Over at the film blog Mostly Film there is a post on a new film about Eddie the Eagle.  For those unfamiliar with the background story, Eddie the Eagle is the nickname given to Michael “Eddie” Edwards who represented Great Britain in the ski-jumping in the 1998 Winter Olympics in Calgary.  He became famous for being utterly shite – he finished last in both the 70m and 90m events.  As Mostly Film recalls:

Do you remember Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards? The British love an underdog, so the cliche goes, and Eddie was the lowest dog of all: the ski-jumper who was never good enough to compete in the Winter Olympics, let alone win, but who somehow won the heart not just of a nation but of the world when he came last, twice, at Calgary in 1988.

I was 11 years old at the time, but I remember the coverage in the British media.  We seemed almost proud of the fact that he needed to wear six pairs of socks to make his boots fit, and that his glasses (worn under his goggles) steamed up.  There is no doubt that Eddie the Eagle captured the hearts of the British public.  But the world?  I’m not so sure.

There is an annoying habit of Brits whereby they assume others perceive them as they see themselves.  One of the most egregious examples of this is the constant refrain that the NHS is “the envy of the world”.   This claim would carry a lot more weight if it were foreigners expressing it and not Brits, and especially not those Brits who have a personal interest in the continuation of the NHS in its current form.  Alas, if foreigners genuinely do hold the NHS in such high regard they seem reluctant to say so.

Another example can be found in this old BBC article:

With all the attention paid to this year’s Crufts dog show, the UK does not look like losing its unique reputation as a nation of animal lovers.

Despite having lived abroad for almost 13 years, I have never once heard a foreigner refer to Britain as a nation of animal lovers.  Britain’s reputation seems to be one for drinking and fighting insofar as these are the activities most often commented on by foreigners who have visited our fair Isle, or had the misfortune to run into a bunch of us on holiday.

I’m therefore a little skeptical that Eddie the Eagle was seen by the rest of the world through the same feel-good lenses the Brits had on at the time.  Whereas the British might see themselves as the plucky underdog in certain situations, it is probably a lot harder for foreigners to apply this label to a nation which recently had an empire which spanned the globe, influenced so much of the modern world, and remains a wealthy and reasonably powerful country capable of dropping bombs on uppity dark folk.  The story of Eddie the Eagle was recalled by the media when the swimmer Eric Moussambani failed so charmingly in the 2000 summer Olympics, earning him the moniker of Eric the Eel.  But the crucial difference was that Moussambani was from Equatorial Guineau, which few had ever heard of let alone could place on a map, and not a divisive former superpower with the 5th or 6th largest economy and a permanent seat on the UN security council.

I haven’t actually canvassed the opinions of what foreigners think of Eddie the Eagle, but I suspect he invokes ridicule rather than good-natured humour.  But one friend of mine, a Norwegian, did offer his opinion thusly:

“You’re Great Britain! That’s the best you could find? He was a fucking embarrassment!”

I get why the Brits adored Eddie the Eagle, but I can’t help but find myself agreeing, at least partly, with the sentiments above.  Britain cannot and will not ever be viewed as a plucky underdog by the rest of the world, and we should probably be a bit less quick to assume others share our sense of smug self-satisfaction.

Sympathy Level: Zero

I hope HSBC gets fined out of existence:

Britain’s biggest bank helped wealthy clients cheat the UK out of millions of pounds in tax, the BBC has learned.

Panorama has seen thousands of accounts from HSBC’s private bank in Switzerland leaked by a whistleblower in 2007.

They show bankers helped clients evade tax and offered deals to help tax dodgers stay ahead of the law.

HSBC admitted that some individuals took advantage of bank secrecy to hold undeclared accounts. But it said it has now “fundamentally changed”.

Not that I have anything against British citizens opening offshore bank accounts (I have two myself, as the article makes clear they are not illegal and there are genuine reasons for having one), nor do I think the whistleblower was performing any kind of public service (indeed, I think he should be filled in), and nor do I care for HMRC or anyone engaging in illegal tax evasion.

But what pisses me off beyond belief is the pompous, self-righteous posturing of British high street banks who make normal people jump through umpteen petty bureaucratic hoops at their own expense in order to carry out ordinary transactions or to open an account, all in the name of preventing money laundering or tax evasion.  Most of what they ask you to do (e.g. present a notarised copy of your passport) is at their own discretion, and not a legal requirement.  Yet this doesn’t stop some spotty twerp in a flammable suit pompously telling you “it’s the law” when you query whether it’s really necessary to take a day off work and visit a random solicitor just to submit a mortgage application form to a bank with whom you hold an account already.

However, if you’re some dodgy Nigerian with a suitcase full of cash, a Mexican drug cartel, or what is being called “a wealthy client” then it’s “step right this way, sir”.

Lock ’em up and throw away the key, bunch of fuckers.