Geneva: Still Dull and Expensive

Sometimes I wonder if the BBC is a bit like the Clinton Foundation and receives hefty bribes cash donations in exchange for favourable treatment, in this case puff-pieces on various trendy expat locations.  This week the city under discussion is Geneva:

For an affluent country once considered one of the most stable economies in the world, Switzerland is going through a rocky patch.

In the country’s financial hub, Geneva, a slowing economy and an investigation into the country’s secretive banking industry has led to almost 2,000 jobs being cut over three years, about 9% of the sector, according to the Geneva Financial Center.  In the coming years, more jobs could disappear following Brexit, since the UK is Geneva’s fourth largest trading partner.

Eh?  Geneva – located in a non-EU country – could see jobs disappear because Britain leaves the EU?  What’s the mechanism for that, then?  The BBC doesn’t say.

Yet the city (which is not the capital, that’s Bern) remains an incredibly popular place for expats to relocate to for work. Mercer’s 2016 Quality of Living Survey ranks Geneva among the top ten cities to live in, scoring highly for personal safety and quality of life.

Ah yes, we’ve been here before: these surveys tend to identify which cities upper-middle class wives with husbands who draw large corporate salaries most like to live and raise kids in.  The result is usually a list of cities which are clean, safe, expensive – and mind-numbingly dull.  Geneva, then.

One of these fans is Silvana Soldaini. After nearly 20 years working in Milan, Italy, Soldaini received a job offer to work in banking in Geneva. She arrived in March 2004 as a single parent of two.

Before she arrived in Geneva, she held some common preconceptions about it.  “Being an Italian, my stereotype of [the city] was that it was stiff, that it had a culture without much soul to it,” she says.

Twelve years on, she’s a convert. She lives in a spacious apartment a 10-minute walk from Lake Geneva and has no desire to move back to Italy. Her two teenage children speak French, Italian, German and English.

Okay, good for her.  But if you’re looking for somebody to disprove the stereotype of Geneva being a boring city, you might want to pick a 25 year old bachelor rather than a middle-aged woman bringing up two kids on her own.

Switzerland is one of those places where the 1% – that tiny chunk of the global population who are rolling in money – are conspicuous. Luxury watchmakers specialising in diamond-encrusted watch faces line the riverfront, and it’s not uncommon to see Ferraris and Lamborghinis cruising down the spotless streets.

So a bit like London, Paris, New York, Dubai, and Singapore, then.  With the possible exception of the spotless streets in those first three.

Initially drawn here by higher salaries, expats – especially those with families – often choose to stay for the year-round cultural events such as the Geneva Music Festival or Nuit de Bains, a contemporary art event, plus a wide range of outdoor activities around Lake Geneva…

…but mainly for the higher salaries.  And wifey’s ability to park the Porsche Cayenne without some brown oik nicking it.

While it used to be standard practice for multinational firms to fork out for housing and children’s school fees, this is not always the case today, says Laetitia Bédat, managing director of relocation agency Welcome Service. Now, most foreign hires will either get no allowances or they will only get relocation services, tax assistance and medical benefits.

Bless.  How will they cope?

According to research from global consultancy firm ECA International, Geneva is one of the most expensive cities in Europe, second only to Zurich. In other words, you will need good salary prospects to even consider living there.

For American Sarah Brooks, who moved from Washington, DC to work at a human rights organisation, she found her expenses comparable.  “There is more take-home salary,” Brooks says, “and I find I tend to spend it in different ways, like I don’t spend it on commuting anymore.”

Why a human rights organisation chooses to base itself in one of the most expensive cities in Europe is a question the BBC didn’t bother to ask.  But I’m glad those who work selflessly for the betterment of mankind aren’t having to slum it:

According to the survey, nearly a third of expats in Geneva earn more than $200,000 a year, second only to Hong Kong’s high-earners.

Which will no doubt bring comfort to those rotting in the dungeons of a third-world kleptocracy.

For Olivier Greneche, his reason for relocating from Paris in 2012 was simple.

He could finally escape French meetings?

Besides the job opportunity from a French bank, it was also for his two children who were toddlers at that time. Geneva’s access to nature and green spaces made it an easy decision.

“To understand Switzerland, and to fully enjoy Geneva, you should be keen on going to a chalet in the mountains on the weekends and the countryside quite often,” he says.

Similarly, to understand France, and to fully enjoy Marseilles, you should be keen on taking your yacht out at the weekends.

Soldaini’s family were much more city-centric, and state benefits – such as allocating 250 Swiss francs (about $260) per child to a family or the four public swimming pools within a 15-minute bike ride from her apartment – made life as a single working mother much more manageable.

Which is great, until you learn that:

Eating out could terrify frugal newcomers. Lunch in a low-key restaurant will generally cost more than $20, while a mid-range restaurant can quickly surpass the $100 mark with wine.

Does having free stuff offset ludicrously high prices?  I’ve generally found it doesn’t.

As for their schooling, Geneva is spoiled for choice. Public schools are free, and generally considered very good. Due to the large number of expats, there are plenty of international and private schools, although tuition fees can hit 30,000 CHF ($31,200) a year, says Greneche.

I think that tells you just about everything you need to know about the type of people who show up for expat positions in Geneva and the taxpayer-funded international organisations that are based there.

Much of the residents’ social lives revolve around stunning Lake Geneva, a pristine, freshwater lake measuring roughly 21 sq km.

Tim Worstall is forever bemoaning journalists’ lack of grasp of orders of magnitude: Lake Geneva covers 580 square kilometres.

So Geneva sounds awesome.  Only:

Often, residents cross the border into France at weekends to buy groceries, to avoid Switzerland’s higher prices. Produce is generally double supermarket prices in France, while meat generally costs triple.

What the article doesn’t mention is how many people work in Geneva but choose to live over the border in France, getting the best of both worlds with high salaries but lower living costs in a place which doesn’t shut down and go to sleep at 6pm.  This practice is so widespread that the canton of Geneva and others deduct French taxes from your salary. Yes, there is a reason why Annecy and its surroundings are so popular, and it’s not just because of the lake.

What £3.7bn per year gets you

In a rather confused article entitled The Arrogance of Power, the BBC gives us this gem:

Some European countries have no [Presidential] term limits, including Italy, Switzerland and Russia.

According to the Russian constitution, Article 81 Clause 3:

One and the same person cannot hold the office of the President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running.

Good journalism there, BBC.

Having started talking about African presidents hanging onto power beyond their constitutionally determined limits, the article then veers off into an opinion piece by one Lord Owen, former British foreign secretary and leader of the Social Democtratic Party in the 1980s who argues:

by the time they have been in power for many years, some leaders tend to become arrogant, unwilling to listen and overly optimistic that their decisions will produce good results.

“Eight years is enough,” Lord Owen told Newshour Extra.

“Blair is the classic example of hubris and it had profound effects because he reinforced the hubris of Bush and Bush reinforced Blair’s and these two made terrible mistakes.”

I assume that Lord Owen is referring to the decision to invade Iraq in February 2003, which was made during Bush’s first presidential term.  Bush assumed the presidency in January 2001, meaning he’d been in power all of 2 years when the invasion was launched.  Blair had been in power 7 years at the time of the invasion, and although Lord Owen is quite correct in his assessment of the man, even a casual observer would have spotted that he had been this way right from the start: he didn’t need 7 years in which to develop arrogance and the idea he was on some sort of holy crusade.  This is just another excuse for some washed-up Lefty to have a swipe about the Iraq War: they were quite okay with Blair’s arrogance and hubris until he did something they disagreed with.  Naturally, Lord Owen takes the opportunity to have swipe at “bankers” as well:

Lord Owen believes acquired hubris is not limited to politicians:

“It exists in bankers,” he says.

“If you look at the roots of the 2008-9 crisis you see in many major banks that their chief executives were making decisions based on a lot of the characteristics of somebody suffering from hubris syndrome.”

So in an article of the arrogance of power and hubristic behaviour, the best examples the BBC gives us are Bush and “bankers”.  The absolute clusterfuck that is the Euro project and the catastrophe unfolding in Greece warrants nary a mention.

Then last week we had the BBC report on the resignation of Ellen Pao, CEO of Reddit:

Ms Pao had been the subject of intense criticism over her handling of the site, one of the web’s most visited, since taking over late last year.

At no point does the BBC mention that Pao’s appointment to Reddit came in the middle of her highly-publicised lawsuit against her previous employers for discrimination and harassment, which she subsequently lost, and that many predicted that this appointment would be a car-crash from the beginning.

The argument against scrapping the BBC is that the quality of news reporting available to the British public would suffer.  I’m trying to think how.

The Bali Nine Seven

This post is an expansion of a comment I left over at TNA’s gaff, and is on the subject of the recent execution of Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the Bali Nine group who were arrested for smuggling a shitload of heroin out of Bali in 2005.

Firstly, Australia as a nation was entitled to, and would have been correct IMO, to oppose the execution of these two men on grounds of principle.  Such a principle could have been that the death penalty should never apply in any case for a variety of reasons, for example:

1) the fallibility of any justice system;

2) the irreversibility of the sentence in the event the conviction was wrong;

3) the propensity of individuals working within justice systems worldwide to fuck over defendants in order to further their own careers (examples here).

I would have agreed with Australia formally making Indonesia aware of their opposition to the death penalty in principle, for the above reasons, before the Bali Nine were even arrested.  I would have considered it perfectly reasonable for Australia to reiterate its opposition in this manner before, during, and after the sentencing.  And I would have been quite okay with Australia repeating this point right up the execution and to continue to do so afterwards.  Raising such objections would have been entirely possible while still recognising Indonesia’s right to manage their own affairs.  Had they done so, there is a chance the Indonesians might have listened.

Instead, we got an attempt by the Australian and international media – seemingly supported by Australia’s politicians and intellectual elite – to downplay the fact that the two condemned men were unrepentant criminals who had been tried and convicted of a serious crime which would result in the harshest of sentences in any jurisdiction you care to mention.  Rarely, if ever, was it noted by those supporting Chan and Sukumaran that:

Four of the seven mules were arrested at Denpasar airport with heroin strapped to their bodies, while Sukumaran and three others were detained at a Kuta hotel in possession of heroin. Chan, arrested at the airport, was not carrying drugs.

Convicting them in February 2006, the court said the pair were guilty of “illegally exporting first-class narcotics in an organised way”.

It said Chan and Sukumaran had provided money, airline tickets and hotels to the seven mules.

“There are no mitigating factors. His statements throughout the trial were convoluted and he did not own up to his actions,” Judge Arief Supratman said of Chan. Another judge, Gusti Lanang Dauh, said Sukumaran “showed no remorse”.

These two were not duped into carrying drugs, or desperate men who turned to desperate measures.  The Indonesian court recognised that the other 7 were not as culpable and handed down hefty prison sentences instead of the death penalty.  The court, quite rightly, recognised that these two were the head of an organised criminal enterprise without whom the smuggling would never have taken place.  This distinction was barely mentioned by all those campaigning for clemency, mainly because the main message being peddled by Australian politicians and the media was that actually the two are pretty good eggs after all:

Multiple advocates for the pair said they became very different in jail to the young men sentenced to death by the court.

Chan, 31, ran Bible study classes in Bali’s Kerobokan jail, while Sukumaran, 33, became a keen artist.

The son of restaurant owners, and a former part-time cook, Chan also ran a cooking school in Kerobokan prison.

Sukumaran’s mother told News Limited that her son was also “rehabilitating” and had set up several courses in prison, including those in philosophy and art.

This rubbish is insulting to read, yet it was wheeled out again and again.  Bible classes, learning to paint, and cooking – the three things which were mentioned most often – does not constitute a single shred of evidence that the two were reformed.  I suspect a cursory glance at death row and lifer inmates worldwide would show most are engaged in some sort of artistic or instructional endeavour, mainly to stave off boredom.  And any regret they may have is an utter irrelevance: few criminals do not have regrets when receiving a harsh sentence, particularly those on death row for drug smuggling.  What might have convinced the Indonesians that the two had reformed was an admission of their guilt, a full and detailed description as to the extent of their operation and methods employed, and a request that their supporters in Australia desist from insulting the Indonesians any further by refusing to respect the court which convicted them.

Because if I was an Indonesian, hell I’d have been spitting feathers.  By all means, make the principled stand I described earlier but whipping up a media frenzy which overlooks the pair’s incontrovertible guilt and their leadership role, complete with accusations of corruption, threats of boycotts, withdrawal of ambassadors, and the casual dismissal of the sovereign right of Indonesia to try and sentence criminals apprehended on their own turf in accordance with their own laws.  There were times when the Australians might as well have said “Listen brown folk, we know you’re all corrupt and we are your superior neighbours, so let our citizens go free and we’ll allow you to sit with us at the next regional summit.”  Would Australia have dared to behave like this had the two ended up on death row in California?  Would they hell.  Would Australia have been happy about the Indonesian government protesting an Australian court ruling in such a manner?  No they would not.

Whatever chance the condemned men had of being spared before they were shot on 29th April, this was surely extinguished by the frankly disgraceful behaviour of Australia’s politicians and media.  No doubt the Indonesians will be blamed for years for the death of a “young, shy Australian man” and his mate who is “funny, articulate… charismatic and has a very caring personality”.  But Australia ought to shoulder the blame for ensuring their sentence would be carried out by insulting the Indonesians to such an extent that they had little choice but to do otherwise.

They were a nasty pair of criminals who chose to break the laws of another country and persuade others to do the same.  The Indonesians should not have sentenced them to death or carried out the executions, but even after doing so they come away from this sordid affair looking better than the Australians.  For the latter, having not actually shot anybody, that’s quite some achievement.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

I’d be lying if I said I was shocked or shaken by the attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s offices in Paris last week.  It may be different for the French, but I’ve gotten strangely used to this.  Indeed, the only thing which is surprising is how surprised everyone is.

9/11 was a shock, one I remember feeling shaken by even several days later, and waking up the morning after thinking it very surreal.  2002 saw the appalling bombing of the bar in Bali (with a less deadly repeat in 2005).  In 2004 came the train bombing in Madrid, which few outside of Spain seemed to care much about once the intial bang had faded from earshot.  Then we had 7/7 in the UK in 2005, which to me wasn’t much different from the IRA bombs only this time the perpetrators spoke English better and probably didn’t like Guinness.  In 2008 the Mumbai attacks took place, featuring Islamic gunmen massacring people in a hotel.  2013 saw the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the same year Lee Rigby had his head hacked off in a London street by two men shouting Islamic slogans.  Last month a headcase waving an ISIS flag took over a coffee shop in Sydney, killing two people in the process in an act which a lot of Australians seemed to avoid condeming.  In fact, these atrocities have become so common I’m sure I’ve forgotten several of them, not to mention all the smaller attacks and foiled plots such as Glasgow Airport, the underwear bomber, etc.

A murderous attack on the office of a satirical journal in France by Islamic lunatics is unique only in the specific target, the country, and the date on which it took place.  In all other aspects – including the wholly predictable response from the media and politicians – it is dreary business as usual.

At least that’s how I felt.  I heard the sirens and saw the flashing lights, and saw this on my way to work on Thursday morning:

I also attended the two-minute silence my employer organised, believing quite genuinely that the murdered deserved my thoughts.  The attacks are an outrage – a disgusting event – but shocking, at least to me, they are not.

And nor should they have been, at least to the French.  The list of attacks I have posted above notwithstanding, the French have been sitting on a timebomb of their own making for years.  In browsing the blog discussions following the attacks, I came across this article written by the splendid Theodore Dalrymple on the ghettos established outside of Paris to house immigrants from north and sub-Saharan Africa.  It is impossible to select any paragraphs to quote, so I encourage you to read it all.  Sadly, the article was not written in time to alert the French authorities as to the serious problem they have in the heart of their country, published as it was in 2002!!

There are many theories in place which seek to explain why such attacks happen, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to pretend that the politics that has prevailed in western Europe over the past two or three decades has greatly enabled the ability of Islamic nutcases to act, even if we charitably assume these same politics have not facilitated their creation in the first place.  Mass immigration followed by a combination of politically correct permissiveness, a soul-destroying welfare system, and no prospects of employment might not be responsible for people wanting to kill us for our beliefs, but they are sure as hell to blame for these people living in our cities with the freedom to arm themselves to the teeth and murder their fellow citizens again and again.  Each time the affected nation reacts with faux shock, before going back to reinforce the exact same policies which have led us blind into this situation.

I don’t expect anything will change as a result of this latest attack.  And if there is any change, it will be further curtailment of our freedoms and liberty enacted in a manner which will make not the slightest difference to the next atrocity.  Today there is an enormous march planned in Paris under the banner of National Unity.  I won’t be attending, mainly because I have something else to do but also because of this:

Despite the French president calling for “unity” in the light of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, an almighty row broke out on Thursday after the National Front were not invited to Sunday’s Republican rally.

I hold no truck whatsoever for Marie Le Pen’s National Front party or their policies, but the exclusion of a reasonably popular party from a National Unity march on the grounds their politics are not welcome demonstrates that this march is more about maintaining the status quo and saving the faces and careers of the French establishment.  Would I join a march to recognise the attacks on Charlie Hebdo is one attack too many and things must change?  Yes.  Would I join a march in support of the establishment that has presided over this disaster in the first place, and shamelessly intends to continue with the same policies?  No.  So I’m not going.

The attacks revealed to many a yawning chasm between two belief systems, filled with mistrust, a failure to find a common language, and the lack of understanding of one another’s culture.  Obviously I’m talking about the French and the British.  Many of the British commentators referred to Charlie Hebdo’s output as infantile, childish, and unsophisticated.  Which indeed it was.  But France has long had a much different relationship with cartoons and comics than Britain, one that is probably unique to France.  Adult (in the sense that adults read them, as opposed to the content being sexual) comics are very popular here, similar to Japan.  Satire via comic stips and cartoons is as much a part of the French culture as Camembert, cafés, and strikes on the SNCF.  Our office sees the circulation of a satirical magazine (I have no idea who publishes it) which pokes fun at the company, CEO, and other board members.  One of the French unions produces a regular newsletter consisting mainly of cartoons and silly slogans which it hands out in the canteen.  A recent edition featured one of the newly promoted directors who looks a bit like Ken photoshopped to be lying in bed with Barbie discussing whether he should speak French or English.  I don’t think the concept exports well, with probably only the Asterix books being a success in this regard (mainly thanks to Anthea Bell’s brilliant translations), but it is very much a distinct aspect of French culture.

From what I can tell, it is more the fact that crude cartoons were attacked more than the message being conveyed.  Had they bombed Le Monde, chances are the reaction wouldn’t have been so defensive: every country has newspapers, but only France has deliberately offensive satirical cartoons.  Nothing highlights the cultural gap between France and Britain more than the uncomfortable suspicion that Charlie Hebdo would not have lasted more than a year in the UK before being hounded out of business by the state and its backers in one form or another, as this article makes clear.  Rather than go on a hypocritical jolly to Paris today, David Cameron might want to reflect quietly on that for a moment and ask himself where he thinks his country is headed.

For my part, I’d never heard of Charlie Hebdo before the attack, but I will make sure I buy a copy when it comes out on Wednesday.  Having browsed the cartoons that have been displayed online (no thanks to our brave and fearless MSM), I agree that they are infantile – but at the same time, very very French.  Although this one I thought made a very pertinent point regarding ISIS:

image.jpgHeadline: If Mohammed returned.
Mohammed (kneeling): I’m the prophet, idiot!
Guy with knife: Shut up, infidel!

We need more of this, not less.

The BBC: Inventing new oil companies since 2014.

I knew that this BBC article would be bollocks as soon as I saw the headline: Halliburton reports $622m profits. The first thing you see is this picture:

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With the caption: Halliburton was one of the contractors involved in the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010″

And you know immediately that the point of this article is to say “evil, polluting American company makes enormous profits” and allow all the assorted lefties who think the BBC is a national treasure to nod smugly at this further proof that capitalists are raping the planet.

Naturally there is no mention in the article that the US Department of Justice closed its investigation into Halliburton’s role in the Macondo blowout over 18 months ago, imposing a fine of $200k for no more than the unauthorised deletion of a computer record.  Now personally I think this was a complete whitewash on the part of the US government protecting one of its own and dumping as much blame as possible on BP, but the BBC doesn’t say that either.  It just doesn’t mention anything, possibly in the hope that its readers will assume Halliburton continues to shoulder responsibility of some sort.

But the article doesn’t even get the basic facts straight:

US oil exploration firm Halliburton has reported better-than-expected first quarter profits, helped by robust drilling activity in Russia, Saudi Arabia and Angola.

Oil exploration firm?  Halliburton is an oilfield services provider, it does not carry out any exploration of its own, as a brief glance at its corporate website would tell you.  Secondly:

The world’s second-largest oil company said net income for the three months to the end of March was $622m (£370m).

God only knows where they got this from.  Aside from Halliburton not being an oil company, even if it were, with a market capitalisation of about $53bn it is an order of magnitude smaller than ExxonMobil ($436bn) or Chevron ($237bn). I’m not even sure it’s the world’s second largest anything, being as far as I know the world’s largest oilfield services provider.  But then this is the BBC, so who knows what they’re waffling on about?  Still, the narrative fits: polluting American oil company makes giant profits.

People are threatened with jail to pay for this shite.

Latvia moved, climate improved, tribal feuds on the rise.

At the bottom of this story of a supermarket roof collapsing in Riga, Latvia was this nugget:

The reason for the collapse is not known. However, the BBC’s Caucasus correspondent Damien McGuinness says a possible explanation is the weight of soil being used to plant a winter garden on the supermarket’s roof.

Firstly: no shit, Sherlock.

Secondly: Caucasus correspondent?  Is the BBC aware that Latvia is an EU member state situated on the Baltic sea?  Riga is 1,300 miles from Grozny; it is 1,000 miles from BBC headquarters in London.

Either those at the BBC don’t know geography well enough to figure out which correspondent to call, or Our Man in the Caucasus is on a jolly in Riga.

The BBC: 15 years behind

From the BBC, ten days ago:

Former dual-code England rugby international Jason Robinson has revealed his battle with depression that saw him turn to Christianity.

The 37-year-old said his lowest point was while he was at league side Wigan.

“I was playing so well at the time I had some money in my pocket, I had all the things that I thought would be the answer,” he told BBC Radio Manchester.

It was during his time at Wigan that his friendship with former All Black winger Va’aiga Tuigamala set him on the path to finding religion.

This was known to pretty much everyone following rugby league in the mid-90s, and anyone who followed Wigan.  He used to talk about it all the time, and continued to do so when he switched to union in 2000.  Here’s an article in The Independent from five years ago:

The example that he himself followed was that of his Wigan team-mate Va’aiga Tuigamala, who arrived at Central Park in 1994 when Robinson was downing bottles of vodka for fun. “I couldn’t work out why he was so happy. He turned up every morning with a smile from ear to ear, yet he didn’t drink, he didn’t smoke, he didn’t sleep around, he didn’t have the nicest car in the car park. It was when I finally realised what brought him such contentment that I realised it what I was seeking myself.”

And the change Tuigamala brought about in Robinson was being reported way back in 1996.

Perhaps this is one of the changes brought about by the BBC’s move to Salford: decade-and-a-half old stories from the north-west being rehashed as news.