Job vacancy opens on Sakhalin

Like NKVD chiefs under Stalin and Hamas leaders, it appears being governor of Sakhalin oblast’ is a risky business:

Alexander Khoroshavin, the governor of the Sakhalin Region in Russia’s Far East, has been arrested along with three of his associates on suspicion of taking a substantial bribe. According to an investigation into Khoroshavin’s activities, the governor received $5.6 million for his part in approving a contract for the construction of a local thermal power station.

On March 4, law enforcement authorities searched the government building of the Sakhalin Region as well as Khoroshavin’s official residence, dacha and apartment in Moscow. In the course of the investigation, the agents found large sums of money, as well as a large amount of valuables.

Khoroshavin had held the post since 2007 when his predecessor was forced to resign, allegedly due to non-action when an earthquake struck the island but possibly because he “wasn’t persistent enough in the battle against foreigners”. I blogged about this here.

This being Russia, the arrest took place as depicted in the picture below:

Because having FSB agents dressed like the Provisional IRA arresting a governor decked out like a football hooligan does wonders to dispel stereotypes about Russian law enforcement.

Posted in Politics, Sakhalin | 14 Comments

Tickled Pink

When I read stories like this, I can’t help but get the impression that Australia is going to disappear up its own arse before too long:

The pink jersey worn by Australian rugby league referees is being scrapped as there is a feeling among officials that it undermines their authority.

So far, so meh.

But the move has come in for criticism for alienating certain groups.

Dr Tom Heenan, of the National Centre for Australian Studies, said: “I don’t think this move away from pink really supports social inclusion.”

Heenan told the BBC World Service that the change risks alienating the gay community and breast cancer awareness groups.

Leave aside for a moment the laughable idea that Australia is a tough, frontier nation and the even more laughable fact that certain of its menfolk go on holiday in Japan, aged 40, wearing a t-shirt saying “Harden the f*ck up!” on the front.

Really, people are going to become alienated by rugby league referees changing their shirt colour?  What a load of bollocks!  But it’s yet another example of the most patronising language deployed against any given group of people coming from those who profess to speak on their behalf.

I assume there are a lot of gays in Australia who like watching rugby league, and I doubt there is a single one who genuinely gives a shit that the referees are not going to wear pink any more.  Probably because, unlike the crude stereotype Dr Heenan is peddling, most gay men don’t go all giddy over the colour pink any more than they have limp wrists and wear bottomless chaps.

Then again, Dr Heenan is an academic.  Here’s what his profile at Monash University’s website says:

Tom believes that learning should be informative.

Just think: that is only the second most stupid Tom Heenan line I have posted today.

He likes nothing more than taking students on the road. His students sample life in Outback New South Wales. He introduces them to the mining community around Broken Hill, and the endless expanses of Eldee Station and the Mundi Mundi Plain.

They ride camels, visit the ghost town of Silverton and meet the indigenous custodians at Lake Mungo National Park. Students explore this and other Australian places and issues as part of Tom’s Australian Idols: Exploring Contemporary Australia unit.

I have no idea what Dr Heenan teaches, but his students would be forgiven for thinking they’d joined a rambler’s association by mistake.  I wonder what they get charged for this?

Posted in Australia, Education, Sport | 13 Comments

Getting beds delivered in France

Well, our beds got delivered.  Yup, a couple of professional, uniformed, well-groomed young men turned up in a Compagnie du Lit transporter – the one we’d heard so much about last time – and installed our beds without a hitch.

Heh.  Only joking.

What happened was a couple of Algerians turned up in a rented Europcar van, one of whom was in a foul mood.  Within 10 seconds of trying to get a giant mattress in the elevator, he started screaming that the elevator was shit, and the stubborn mattress corner that wouldn’t quite fit he tried to persuade in by booting it as hard as he could.  This is the mattress I’d forked out about 800 Euros for.  They appeared to be in a blinding rush, the grumpy one hurling bits of bed in the first room he found and then shouting at me for telling him it was in the wrong room.  He then got upset because I said if he drags that dirty plastic mattress cover across my wallpaper again I’ll kick him out and refuse to sign for anything.  The less grumpy one leapt in and said “Sorry, but my friend is very tired”.

Like I give a fuck.

No, they could not assemble the beds (as I’d been promised by the salesman) and no they couldn’t take away the packaging (as I’d been promised by the salesman) because they work for a different company and their boss had told them they could not and blah blah blah.  Get the fuck out of my apartment, and tell your friend to have a shower some time in 2015.

So there you have it.  If you go to the one of the largest, nationwide bed suppliers in France you pay a few thousand Euros up front, then they give you all kinds of reasons why they can’t deliver them at a time of your choosing making references to the “transporter”, only to discover they’ve awarded the delivery to a couple of angry Algerians who’d nipped down to Europcar the day before and hired a van.

The beds themselves are damned good, though.

(Oh, and before anyone leaps in and tells me how wonderful this sort of thing is in the UK, last month I ordered a small item from a British shop online.  They sent it to my office address in France only neglected to put my actual name on it.  My office building has about 3,000 people in it.  So the mail room handed it back to the UPS driver and it was never seen again.  It took several threats of disparaging reviews and blog posts to persuade the company that they were at fault for not putting my name on the delivery, and that they should send a replacement.

And I should also mention that Darty delivered a fridge and washing machine on the same day the beds arrived, and that went like clockwork.)

Posted in Customer Service, France | Comments Off on Getting beds delivered in France

On the killing of Boris Nemtsov

I received the news that Boris Nemtsov had been murdered as I was leaving the cinema.  When I jumped to the news sites to confirm the story, my first thoughts were that this is another Kirov.  Sergey Kirov was a popular leader in the post-Lenin Soviet Union, and was shot and killed by unknown assassins in 1934.  Speculation abounds that Stalin ordered the hit, but despite the obvious threat that Kirov posed to Stalin’s leadership, there is no evidence which supports his involvement.

What we do know is that Stalin siezed the opportunity to launch a nationwide campaign of repression against enemies both real and imagined, having shed crocodile tears over Kirov’s death and vowing to handle the matter personally.  Involvement in Kirov’s assassination became a common accusation in the show trials that followed, as Stalin consolidated his power in what became known as the Great Terror.

Before I had a chance to post this, Streetwise Professor had noted the same parallel:

With a chutzpah that puts OJ Simpson’s pledge to track down the real killers to shame, Putin announced that he is putting his Chekist skilz to work and taking personal charge of the investigation.

In other words, we are going to see a reprise of the Kirov murder, which Stalin exploited to justify the purges that began soon thereafter. Note the similarity:

“Comrade Stalin personally directed the investigation of Kirov’s assassination. He questioned Nikolayev at length. The leaders of the Opposition placed the gun in Nikolayev’s hand!” (Barmine, Alexander, One Who Survived, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1945.)

Perhaps the anti-war activities and revelations about Putin’s lies about Ukraine were the proximate cause of Nemtsov’s killing. But I think that the murder serves a far larger purpose for Putin. It eliminates a gadfly, yes, but Nemtsov was hardly a threat. But a la Stalin and Kirov, the murder gives Putin a pretext to unleash a full-scale repression.

As with the murder of Anna Politkovsyaya (fitted-up Chechens notwithstanding), I doubt we’ll ever know who killed Nemtsov because, as the Prof. points out, Putin’s personal involvement will:

“[E]nsure that no mistakes are made that could result in the identification of the real executioners. There are frames to be fitted.

Indeed.  The last thing that Putin et al will be interested in is finding the killer, they’ll care far more about exploiting this for all it’s worth.  Although it would be tempting to suggest Nemtsov was whacked on Putin’s orders, I think this would be unlikely.  I don’t believe Nemtsov posed enough of a threat to Putin’s rule, and direct assassinations are not his style.  I suspect it was more of a case of Nemtsov being a modern day Thomas Becket, and I was about to post this when I noticed David Duff had beaten me to it:

So, on the day that ‘Vlad the Impaler’ successfully imitates Henry II of England by asking the Russian equivalent of ‘Who will rid me of this turbulent priest/irritating critic’ … the exceedingly courageous, liberal politician, Boris Nemtsov, was shot down in cold blood by four gunmen.

Perhaps some hothead, hearing Putin had a problem, jumped in to do his patriotic duty?  With this sort of thing going on, it will be difficult to rule out an independent group thinking they were doing Putin a favour:

Putin’s Russia has crossed a Rubicon: it now has sanctioned the Anti-Maidan Movement, a domestic version of Hitler’s storm troopers, and thus created a monster that almost certainly will engage in pogroms against one group or another in the future, according to Moscow commentator Matvey Ganapolsky.

As Ganapolsky reports, “the new Russian storm troopers call themselves ‘the Anti-Maidan Movement” and have ostensibly been created by the Militant Brotherhood, the Union of Afghanistan Veterans, the Central Cossack Forces and the Night Wolves, thus allowing the Kremlin plausible deniability about who and what is really behind them. (h/t Samizdata)

There is an interesting discussion going on over at The Dilettante’s place which includes a list of possible perpetrators.

Personally I have no idea, but there is one thing of which we can be absolutely sure: the Russian population will swallow wholesale whatever bullshit the Kremlin will come out with.  For a nation of individuals who believe they can sniff out bullshit across a mile of Steppe – which they often can – they don’t half believe in some batshit insane conspiracy theories.  Take a look at this comment, from a Russian, over at Mr Duff’s place:

It’s a sort of strange… the last summer… the USA insists sanctions against Russia to be introduced, the EU doesn’t go for it… MH17 falls… and then EU introduces the sanctions.

The end of the winter… the USA insists new sanctions against Russia to be introduced and Russia is to be isolated the EU doesn’t go for it… a well-known (but not popular) oppositioneer is killed… what’s next?

Yet laughably, a few comments down the same chap points to an article in The Daily Telegraph and says:

If anyone would like I can provide a step-by-step brainwashing analysis of the twaddle written in the article below. It made me laugh. However, as Russian proverb says – it would be merry if it wasn’t so sad. The West judges about Russia by that kind of scribbles made by propagandists.

There’s a lot of this.  Otherwise intelligent Russians are convinced everything they read about Russia is unalloyed, CIA-produced propaganda whilst simultaneously believing the most Blofeldian conspiracy theories dreamed up for domestic consumption.  This is by no means unique to Russia, but it is probably more prevalent there than anywhere I’ve been save the Middle East (there, you’d have little difficulty persuading the bloke at the next desk that the moon is really an Israeli weapon aimed at controlling the minds of American presidents).  I remember being in Sakhalin shortly after the South Korean warship ROKS Cheonan was sunk.  I was at a barbecue and one of the Russian engineers who I vaguely knew – an intelligent, professional man – declared confidently that the Americans sunk it and – these were his exact words – he was “an expert in this subject”.  His expertise consisted of his having studied in South Korea, and this was apparently enough to conclude that the Americans had sunk it in order to demolish any hopes of a peace deal between North and South Korea thus allowing them to keep their troops on the peninsula and dominate the region.

Now there are no doubt plenty of people in the West who also believe this bollocks and more like it, but generally they are on the crankier end of the political spectrum and have limited influence beyond obscure truther web forums.  But in Russia, this kind of stuff is peddled on government media and gobbled up by the mainstream population. I mentioned in an earlier post that most Russians believe they had no choice to invade Crimea because the Americans were about to build a naval base there.  The accept without question the Kremlin line that Russia cannot tolerate having Nato on its borders, despite Russia enjoying borders with Poland as a Nato member since 1999 and Estonia and Latvia since 2004.

So I think it will come as no surprise if, in the coming weeks, we hear from ordinary Russians that Nemtsov was killed by American spooks looking to discredit Putin/escalate the Ukrainian crisis/galvanise the Europeans into accepting stiffer sanctions and all manner of other nutjob conspiracy theories.  And all the while they’ll find their own freedoms curtailed, their internet monitored, their economy crumbling, and more outspoken people beaten or killed as Russia rushes headlong back to the murderous, chaotic, and impoverished 1990s – and possible further.

All in the interests of gaining “respect”.

Posted in Politics, Russia | 9 Comments

Orgies and Pimping in France

How very French:

Ex-IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who denies charges of pimping, has told a court in northern France that he took part in only a few rare sex parties.

He said prosecutors had greatly exaggerated the frequency of his “licentious evenings”. There had only been 12 in three years, he said.

Although using prostitutes is not illegal in France, supplying them or assisting in supplying them is. Prosecutors have been quoted as saying Mr Strauss-Kahn, 65, played a pivotal role in facilitating the orgies, describing him as the “party king”.

Mr Strauss-Kahn is accused of helping procure sex workers for a prostitution ring based at a hotel in Lille.

If found guilty, the one-time potential candidate for the French presidency could face up to 10 years in jail and a €1.5m (£1.13m) fine.

France is probably not the only country where a former presidential candidate finds himself on pimping charges and downplaying exactly how many orgies he was involved in, but you’d not find this in Britain or Germany.  It would probably occur in Italy. Russia too.  Only in the latter you’d have to have really pissed somebody off to wind up on a charge for this kind of stuff:

The day before he was due to testify, an ex-prostitute named Mounia described how she had been paid €900 (£690) by a businessman, David Roquet, for what she had been told would be a “small party”.

Mr Roquet, aged 46 and one of the men who organised the parties, said on Monday that he had taken part for “professional” purposes.

It was important for his construction business and it enabled him to have contact with Mr Strauss-Kahn, he told the court.

Russia would have to reopen the Gulag system if businessmen were jailed for that.  Perhaps DSK has pissed off the wrong politician somewhere down the line?

His defence isn’t looking too strong, either:

He has argued that he did not know the women were prostitutes.

Although with the way pretty French women tend to inexplicably throw themselves at unattractive, older, powerful men, perhaps he has a chance?

Whatever the truth of the matter, I’m struggling to see how anybody in the courtroom can keep a straight face:

Among the 13 co-accused are luxury hotel managers, a lawyer, a former police commissioner and a brothel owner nicknamed “Dodo the Pimp”.

They face charges of “aggravated pimping”.

Welcome to France, where we have folk named Dodo the Pimp and politicians may in the course of their careers face charges of aggravated pimping.  Knowing this place, it’ll probably increase his electability.

Posted in France, Politics | 3 Comments

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.

Posted in Customer Service, Hypocrisy, UK | 6 Comments

Buying Beds in France

We are in the process of buying an apartment in the French Alps, and in anticipation of getting the keys sometime in late February I visited an outlet of one of France’s largest bed suppliers.  The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello, I’ve chosen two very nice beds for a total of 3,000 Euro and I would like to place the order right now. But can they be delivered in 3 weeks?

Salesman: 3 weeks?! Merde, that is too short! We don’t have the stock!

Me: Okay. So when?

Salesman: I don’t know. Maybe 5 or 8 weeks.

Me: Okay. Not ideal, but this is France and not the USA, so I guess I’ll just have to wait. So, see that bed there? Two of them, please.

Salesman: Oh, that one? Oh, that is an extra delay. We have problems getting that one.

Me: When?

Salesman: I don’t know…we would need to see. It is complicated.

Me: Okay, whatever. Complicated. As is everything here, it seems. So can we at least agree that it can be delivered on a certain date once we know it is available?

Salesman: Sure, yes.

Me: On a Saturday?

Salesman: Mais, merde, non! C’est compliqué! We have the transporter, and many deliveries, and you are not in Paris but a province, and….well, it’s complicated.

Me: So here I am with 3,000 Euros ready so spend *right now* on a product you have right there, and you can’t tell me when it will be delivered, you can’t deliver it on a Saturday, and everything is too complicated?

Salesman: Bienvenue en France, m’sieur.

To be fair, the salesman looked about two stages away from full-on suicide, and I did feel sorry for him.  And I did place the order, because there was a sale on and anywhere else would have given me the same story as it was exactly the same when I bought a sofa last spring.  On that occasion I ended up buying the one in the shop in order to avoid a 12 week wait.  Only you must pay the full amount up-front, naturellement.

The bed salesman called me back a couple of days later.  He surprised me by telling me they’d managed to find some in stock (seriously, this nationwide company is unable to check stock in real time from its sales outlets; they need to send a special request and wait a day or two) and could deliver them whenever I wanted.  But only on Mondays or Wednesdays.  Why only those days?  Because “you don’t live near Paris” and “the transporter needs to do other deliveries” and “it’s complicated”.  Bienvenue en France, indeed.

I am comforted by the knowledge that it would be no different in the UK.

Posted in Customer Service, France | 23 Comments

The March of the Impotents

Well, I’m glad I didn’t go on that march through Paris yesterday.

On Friday, French President Francois Hollande said in a public address:

“These fanatics have nothing to do with the Muslim religion”.

Which is a flat-out lie, and Hollande knows it.  These fanatics have everything to do with Islam.  Now it may be fair to say they are not representative of ordinary Muslims, and I would agree.  If may also be fair to say that these fanatics are operating on the extremes of Islam, and I would also agree.  But to say it is nothing to do with Islam?  Nothing?  Utter bullshit.

The problem is, this bullshit has been swallowed not only on a national scale, but a global scale.  The response – pretend to give a shit, but downplay the Islam angle – was utterly predictable, because we have heard the same bullshit time after time.  This is why I pretty much stifled a yawn last Wednesday, even whilst the attackers were still fleeing through the city.  I knew it would change nothing.

Of course, Hollande needs to choose his words carefully.  France is home to several million Muslims who are not murdering fanatics, and loose words from a president could easily pose a danger to innocent people.  But nobody is calling for retribution against Muslims.  Nobody is asking for mass deportations.  Nobody wants Hollande to introduce illiberal restrictions on Muslims.  It would be grossly irresponsible and unjust for Hollande, or anyone else, to come out and say Muslims are collectively to blame or that these attacks are the natural result of practicing Muslims.

But saying this is nothing to do with Islam is also grossly irresponsible: there is a real and present danger posed to citizens everywhere by an unknown number of well-organised, well-connected, and well-armed fanatical Muslims who genuinely believe they are acting in accordance with Islamic teachings.  Regardless of whether their intepretations are theologically correct or in accordance with other Muslims, this is what drives them to kill.  Unless and until Western leaders acknowledge this, it will happen again and again and again.

What we’re seeing here is politics, politics in the absence of leadership.  Hell, it isn’t even governance.  Modern day politicians operate under no principles whatsoever, save for that which makes their own lives easier (meaning, it makes their election or re-election more likely).  There was a time when politicians would make unpopular decisions because it was the right thing to do.  Nowadays these charlatans posing as world leaders do whatever they think might make them popular, and haven’t the faintest idea what is right or wrong.  It’s all about them, and nobody else.

As I said before the march, this wasn’t a demonstration by a million people that enough was enough and something had better be done, or else.  No, this was called because Hollande saw the event as a way to nail French unity in the face of a national tragedy to his re-election campaign.  And people took part in it not to demand change, but to be assured that nothing would change.  People marched in support of free speech, did they?  Then what did they propose is done differently to protect it?  Nothing.  They just marched to say “Yes, we stand for free speech – just don’t expect us to do anything to protect it from another attack.”

Supposing a French politician proposed re-integrating the disaffected Muslim population in the banlieues by tearing up the stupid, outdated employment legislation which ensures they remain jobless for life.  You’d see those same people who marched yesterday out in twice the numbers to protest.  Or if the authorities proposed closer surveillance of Muslims in French prisons and those recently released on terrorism-related charges.  The human rights lawyers would descend like vultures, and half the people marching yesterday would be screaming “racism”.  Hell, they couldn’t even bear the prospect of somebody saying something different, so they stopped the National Front from joining in.

Now I don’t know what the answer is, or what the government should do.  I’m an engineer, not an expert in terrorism or the leader of a country.  But I know sticking our collective heads in the sand is not the answer.  Maybe once, in case such atrocities are an aberration.  But now, after almost 15 years of repeated attacks by Islamic headcases across four continents, a response of some sort is seriously needed.  But yesterday’s march wasn’t to demand a response, it was to demand there isn’t one.  Where the hell is the leadership?  All they’ve done is kick the can down the road another two years.

But we’re living in an era of non-action, easy decisions, and can-kicking.  Life has gotten too comfortable for most people, and few are prepared to take the necessary hardship to ensure our way of life continues.  Look at the western economies, FFS.  Two of today’s generations are utterly fucking over the next two or three, and congratulating themselves in the process.  How many of those marching yesterday are so scared of change that they won’t even consider a 10% chance they might have to get another job at some point in their lives in order to save their own country from bankrupcy?  The modern-day “manager” is no better: facing crippling mortgage repayments due in no small part to his own idiotic voting record, he cowers in fear of even a bad word being passed down by his superiors despite ironclad employment protection, and any decision he makes is either utterly spineless, solely in his own interests, or both.

Bush Jr. was a damned clown, but at least he went and kicked the shit out of the Taliban after 9/11.  Whether this was sensible or not is largely beside the point, something needs to be done when 3,000 of your citizens have been spectacularly murdered and mere words just don’t cut it.  “The pen is mightier than the sword” was the message of many cartoonists following the massacre last Wednesday.  Not if you’re shit scared of wielding that pen it isn’t, and especially not if some crazy cunt is running at you with a big fucking sword.

I am of the opinion we need leadership and action based on sound principles of liberty and justice, not more of the same lame speeches and empty soundbites.  It seems a million people marching yesterday disagreed with me.

Probably just as well I didn’t go, then.  See you for the next massacre.

Posted in France, Islam, Politics, Terrorism | 26 Comments

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.

Posted in France, Islam, Media, Politics, Terrorism | 13 Comments

Fallen Idols

A few nights ago a giant, 328-foot tall windmill came crashing down in a field in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.  To say that questions need answering is an understatement.  Take a look at the photos.

turbine-2_3153749b The failure mode here is buckling, but with my not being a structural engineer I can’t say much more than that.  However, I can say with some certainty that the root cause is either:

1. A poor design; or

2. Poor fabrication/installation.

(With  it being only 3-4 years old we can probably rule out maintenance issues.)

Let’s start with the design.  I would expect that lateral and other loads exerted on the structure to be more or less known, and design loads calculated (expected/actual loads plus a safety margin).  The whole structure would be modeled using a Finite Element Method, which would give the stresses present in the structure under the design loads.  The engineer would then compare these stresses with those allowed under the applicable industry standard (e.g. ASME, BS, etc.) appropriate to the material and application.  If the calculated stresses were within the allowable values, the design is sound.

Simply put, that’s how every single modern structure is designed and verified these days, and it is certain that this windmill will have been subject to the same process.  So either the design loads were wrong, or the allowable stresses were badly calculated: neither is very likely.

There is a possibility that fatigue is at play here, the phenomenon whereby cyclic loading of a structure (caused by vibrations around its natural frequency, which are commonly caused by wind especially around cylindrical structures in what is called a Kármán vortex street) results in cracking followed by catastrophic collapse.  But such effects have been known for the best part of a century and it comes as no surprise that vibration effects and how to avoid them are taught in the first year of a civil engineering course.

So if it’s not a design issue which caused the main tubular structure to buckle, that leaves fabrication or installation as the root cause.  The first step in the investigation will be to see whether the material was actually that which it was supposed to be.  It wouldn’t be the first time that substandard material has been substituted into a design which called for higher-grade stuff, either deliberately or by mistake.  It might be that the material is fine but the welding is substandard (although it doesn’t look to have failed along a weld).  But it might also be that somebody backed a forklift into the tubular section when it was in the yard waiting to be assembled, and with a bit of heat and a large hammer they knocked the dent back out again, painted over it, and told nobody but left it forever weakened.  Again, it wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.

Somewhere along the line the quality assurance process has fallen down, and I doubt it will be long before the exact cause is found.  What will be more interesting is how the government reacts to it.  So far, from what I can tell, the wind power industry appears to be self-regulating:

Chris Streatfeild, director of health and safety for wind industry body RenewableUK, said: “A thorough investigation is already underway into what happened in this extremely rare incident. The wind industry takes health and safety issues very seriously, and the lessons learned from this will be implemented as swiftly as possible.

“No member of the public has ever been injured by wind turbine operating in the UK. As the trade body representing the wind industry.”

So the industry body which promotes the growth of wind power is also responsible for regulating the health and safety aspects of windfarms.  This used to be the case with the FAA in the US, until the NTSB was formed to take over accident investigations; and it was also the case that the UK’s offshore oil industry was self-regulating with respect to health and safety until Piper Alpha, after which regulatory powers were passed to the HSE.  Quite sensibly in both cases, I might add.

The results of the investigation, and the frequency of similar incidents, will determine for how long this arrangement lasts.  Quality control and safety compliance is expensive, and if the groups promoting wind power take the same approach to safety and quality assurance as they do the economics, we might find that operating under an umbrella of political promotion and protection has generated a culture of complacency.  Maybe.

It is interesting that The Telegraph links to another story of two windmills falling over in February 2013, this time in Devon, with sabotage being cited as a possibility:

An investigation into the collapse of the first turbine in Bradworthy, Devon, during a 50mph gale last weekend has revealed that bolts are missing from its base.

The turbine was initially thought to have been brought down by the wind, despite being designed to withstand winds of up to 116mph, but the new evidence could suggest a case of foul play, councillors said.

Margaret Coles, the chairman of Bradworthy Parish Council, revealed that an examination of the turbine had found that a number of bolts were absent from its base.

She said: “We know the bolts are gone but don’t know what caused it. It was a windy night – we do suffer lots of high winds but you would have thought the structure would cope with that.

“People that end of the parish were woken up by the crash it made when it came down. Some people think the bolts had been removed from the turbine which is why it was brought down.”

I’m a little skeptical of this.

Although the picture above supports the view that the bolts didn’t do their job (with the bottom flange appearing to be intact), I’m not entirely convinced somebody would go and deliberately undo the bolts.  For a start, these bolts are huge, and the nuts done up extremely tightly by a powered torque wrench, two of them per bolt – one on top of the other – then likely plastered in something to keep the rust off.  It isn’t simply a matter of turning up with an adjustable spanner and running off with the nuts in your pocket.  Also they say the bolts are missing, which is odd as I would expect them to be embedded in the concrete foundation and impossible to remove.  So I expect they mean the nuts.

It is possible that somebody decided to commit the necessary tools and manpower to undo the nuts on the foundation of a windmill, but it seems like an odd thing to do.  Were they subject to repeated vandalism already, then perhaps I’d be more ready to believe it.  But before I’d go hunting for saboteurs, I’d be looking at the quality control records of the installation: were the bolts properly installed, were they of the right material, were the nuts tightened to the correct torque.

The Tay Bridge didn’t need sabotage to bring it down.

Posted in Engineering, UK | 17 Comments