Europe and Iran

Amid all the wailings over Trump binning Obama’s Iran nuclear deal, this part made me laugh the most:

Mr Khamenei told the crowd that Iranian officials “want to continue the nuclear deal” with Britain, France and Germany, but added: “I do not trust these countries either.”

He continued: “If you could get guarantees from them in such a way that they can be trusted, no problem then you can continue.

“If you cannot get such a strong guarantee from them, and I see it very unlikely that you can, we could not move and continue like this anymore.”

The Iranians are not stupid and know full well the Europeans’ sole interest in Iran is as a lucrative market for their leading businesses. When Macron says he hopes to “keep working” on the nuclear deal, what he means is he wants to somehow keep the place open for French companies to go in and make hay, having strangled them with regulations on their home turf. They’re not in the least bit interested in whether or not Iran develops nuclear weapons or spreads terrorism around the Middle East, but they pretended they were in order to get Obama to lift the sanctions. Now they’re pretending the US withdrawal from the deal doesn’t matter, which is dishonest in the extreme: this was always a US deal which other countries simply piggy-backed on for business reasons. The Iranians know this, and they also know that if the US imposes sanctions the Europeans will fold like a cheap suit as soon as the US Department of Justice or Treasury Department starts growling.

The Iranians probably have a grudging respect for Trump’s outspoken manner and stubbornness, even if they don’t like him. I suspect they hold Obama and the various grovelling European governments in utter contempt.

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Fonctionnaires

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s had to deal with a French fonctionnaire:

A recording of an emergency service operator mocking a young mother, who died hours after her call was ignored, has sparked outrage in France.

Naomi Musenga, 22, called Strasbourg’s ambulance service with severe stomach pain and said: “I’m going to die”.

“You’ll definitely die one day, like everyone else,” the worker replied.

The woman eventually called another service and was taken to a hospital but died after a heart attack. The health minister has ordered an investigation.

In the three-minute audio, Musenga – in a very weak voice – appeals for help and struggles to describe her pain while speaking with the ambulance service (Samu).

The operator, apparently in an annoyed voice, replies: “If you don’t tell me what’s going on, I’ll hang up!”

I don’t know if the operator was employed by the government, but I suspect he was poorly paid, unmotivated, badly trained, and a member of a powerful union. During the experience I recounted here, the woman in charge of the department I was dealing with quickly adopted the attitude of a petulant child who knows they are immune from repercussions regardless of their behaviour. She was quite young but already bitter and jaded, wielding her allocation of power with callous indifference to those relying on her department to do its job competently.

For French and foreigners alike, dealing with such people is simply part of life in France.

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Macron: good for France, useless for everything else

He’s an odd fish Emmanuel Macron, quite capable of coming out with sensible stuff one minute and considerable idiocy the next:

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned that “there seems to be a European civil war” between liberal democracy and rising authoritarianism.

Personally I think the looming civil war is between the ruling classes, their clients, and the oiks, but let’s run with Macron’s version for now.

He urged the EU to renew its commitment to democracy, in a passionate speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

“I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past”, he said.

Populists dominated recent elections in states like Hungary and Italy, fuelled by the continuing EU migrant crisis.

Hungary’s right-wing Prime Minister Viktor Orban returned to power with a landslide victory earlier this month while Eurosceptic parties caused a political earthquake in Italy in March.

The EU should renew its commitment to democracy by heaping scorn on the democratic choices people make? The BBC article is garbled as hell, and it’s hard to separate what Macron actually said with the BBC’s editorialising. So here’s The Guardian:

“There seems to be a certain European civil war: national selfishness and negativity seems to take precedence over what brings us together. There is a fascination with the illiberal, and that is growing all the time,” he told MEPs.

This isn’t a civil war, it’s a conflict of ideas and opinions. You know, the thing which is very important to allow so that actual wars don’t occur.

“In the future, we must struggle to defend our ideals … This is a democracy that respects individual minority fundamental rights, which used to be called liberal democracy, and I use that term by choice. The deadly tendency which might lead our continent to the abyss, nationalism, giving up of freedom: I reject the idea that European democracy is condemned to impotence.

European democracy will be condemned to impotence if you believe your beliefs and “ideals” should be imposed against the will of the people.

“I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers, I don’t want to belong to a generation that’s forgotten its own past,” he said.

Says the person who wants to sideline millions of people who disagree with his vision for Europe. My view on Macron is this: he’s a fairly sensible chap when it comes to purely French affairs and knows – as all French leaders must – how to put French interests before anyone else’s, principles be damned. But when it comes to international politics which doesn’t directly concern French interests, he’s just another empty-headed globalist parroting words he doesn’t seem to grasp the meaning of.

One thing I will say about the man, though: he has a damned good tailor, up there with Antonio Conte’s.

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Professionals at Work

From the BBC:

A woman who was partially sucked out of a window of a US passenger plane after an engine exploded in mid-air has died.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 made an emergency landing in Philadelphia after a window, wings and fuselage were damaged. Seven passengers were injured.

Initial findings say an engine fan blade was missing. In a recording, one of the pilots can be heard saying “there is a hole and someone went out”.

That’s the background. Now listen to this conversation between the female pilot and an air traffic controller at Philadelphia airport:

You can hear the pilot struggling to contain the emotion in her voice, but she does a tremendous job of keeping calm. The guy in the tower is as cool as ice, and that’s due to professionalism and training rather than the fact he’s safe on the ground and not up there in a crippled plane. That the pilot, Tammy Jo Shults, managed to handle this situation brilliantly perhaps ought not to surprise:

Shults applied for the Air Force after she graduated. She wasn’t allowed to test to become a pilot, but the Navy welcomed her. She was one of the first female fighter pilots in the Navy’s history, and the first woman to fly F-18s. She later became an instructor.

She’s now an American hero, and deservedly so. I suspect Trump will shortly be hanging a medal around her neck and saying something well-meaning but cack-handed as he does it.

I find the calmness with which Shults and her interlocutor handle the situation almost mesmerising, but I often find that when watching a real professional go about their job. Oddly, the scene I most enjoyed from the the film Captain Phillips is when the corpsman aboard the US Navy ship examines Tom Hanks for the first time. The way she went about giving him direct, clear, and repeated instructions with completely calm, professional body-language made me think this was a very good actress. Or:

Tom Hanks claimed that the scene of Captain Richard Phillips’ medical examination was improvised on the spot with real-life Navy Corpsman Danielle Albert, who was told to simply follow her usual procedure.

Which explained it. A friend later told me he’d also been struck by the same scene. Calmness is vital to thinking clearly, and the best way to remain calm is to follow an established procedure and practice as much as possible. If you panic you’ll make mistakes and, panic being highly infectious, you’ll cause other people to make mistakes too.

A Russian friend was flying from Paris to Lagos with Air France once, and a Nigerian lady started having some sort of seizure in her seat. The passengers alerted the stewardess who, frankly, had no idea what to do and her body language let the entire aircraft know it. The passengers began to get agitated, and the stewardess (who was not joined by a couple of others) go the lady to lie down in the aisle. Then she started going into convulsions, and the stewardesses started to panic. They called the head steward, a Frenchman, who arrived and immediately panicked himself. The passengers lost control of themselves and started screaming and shouting. Somehow the air crew regained control of the situation, the woman stopped flapping around, and she got back to her seat. My Russian friend was very unimpressed, and said he had little confidence the pilots would do much better under duress. Given Air France’s safety record, nor have I.

By contrast, I was once flying Aeroflot from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk when my companion ate the wrong thing in the in-flight meal and had an allergic reaction. Her throat began to swell and her breathing got difficult. Normally she carries medicine with her, but either didn’t have it with her or forgot where it was. I alerted the stewardess – the usual slim woman with bleached-blonde hair and painted nails – who took one look and asked my companion firmly what she’d eaten. She asked a few more questions, never raising her voice, then calmly told her colleague to fetch the medicine chest. My companion’s face was swelling up and she was breaking out in spots. A helpful chap in the seat behind thought she was simply airsick and offered her a tumbler of cheap cognac, which I still laugh about today. The stewardess returned with the medicine chest, they confirmed with my companion that it was the correct one, and gave her the tablets. Within a few minutes everything was back to normal, and only those sat nearby had any idea anything had happened. Aeroflot might be the butt of a lot of jokes, but the air crew knew their stuff and didn’t panic, and you can be damned sure the pilots wouldn’t either even if they plane had lost a wing, was upside down, and on fire.

I’ve noticed in my professional life that Frenchmen are prone to panicking under pressure, and letting their emotions get the better of them. By contrast, I don’t think I ever saw a Russian man panic, and there are numerous videos of Russians walking nonchalantly away from horrific car crashes and this legendary one of a pilot lighting up a cigarette after ejecting from his MiG-29. That’s not to say Russians never panic and Frenchmen always do, but propensity to panic is probably cultural in part, and training is needed to overcome it.

Whoever they may be, I find something awesome about a professional calmly going about his or her business, especially in a situation which would render most people unable to function at all. That might be because absolute professionalism is something I don’t see as much as I should. Clearly, the Americans flying planes and manning control towers still have it in spades. Good for them.

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Quelle Surprise

This amused:

“This is astonishing!” say people in the responses underneath. Sure, a French-Bulgarian academic studying liberal arts in Paris in the 1970s turning out to be a die-hard lefty working for the communists is just incredible, isn’t it?

Now I have no idea who this woman is and perhaps she did or said things which had everyone believing she was a loyal follower of Hayek, Adam Smith, and Ayn Rand but I doubt it. Shit, even today it’s a fair bet most academics on Paris’ left bank are hardcore lefties if not out-and-out communists mourning the day the Eastern Bloc collapsed.

What will be interesting is whether these revelations will see her hounded out of polite society. I highly doubt it. She’ll be given a sympathetic interview with softball questions and with a smile and an airy wave of the hand the entire thing will be dismissed as happening a long time ago and it was all a bit of a giggle anyway. I doubt this will dent her social and professional standing one jot, at least in the west. The Bulgarians might think a little differently however, especially those who lost family members at the hands of the Bulgarian communists.

Whatever the case, she ought to be grateful she only collaborated with the security services of a brutal communist regime since the age of 30, and wasn’t a teenager working a telephone exchange when the Nazis were in town.

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The Bravery of Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame

While I was away in Morocco, a young Moroccan Islamist went on a murdering spree in the south of France, ending up in a supermarket where he took a woman hostage. A police officer on the scene, one Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, traded places with her in a move of monumental bravery that cost him his life:

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to the officer, saying that Col Arnaud “fell as a hero” after showing “exceptional courage and selflessness”, adding that he deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

The whole world, even. Note that Beltrame was a Lt-Col, and would have been one of the senior officers on the scene. When the time came to show leadership, he stepped up.

Mr Collomb told reporters on Friday that police officers had managed to get some people out of the supermarket but the gunman had held one woman back as a human shield.

It was at this point, he said, that Col Beltrame had volunteered to swap himself for her.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame was mortally wounded.

One may contrast the brave and selfless actions of Col Beltrame with those of the Deputy Sheriff who refused to confront the lunatic during the Parkland school shootings, even as children were being murdered, and with his superiors afterwards. We may also contrast the disregard for his own safety Col Beltrame displayed with that of the US police who dress for full combat and shoot unarmed people through “fear of their lives”. Cheese-eating surrender-monkeys, indeed.

That the French are cowards is a common slur on that nation*, one that is nonsense. French policemen have shown considerable bravery over the course of several attacks on civilians by Islamic lunatics, running towards the sound of shots even knowing they’re likely to be outgunned when they get there. Hopefully Col Beltrame’s sacrifice will put that stupid notion to bed forever. For my part, I’m rather glad I have French policemen around me, offering whatever protection they can.

*This mostly stems from their surrender to the Germans in 1940, and their reluctance to fight another war. Having been to Verdun, and knowing how much France suffered during WWI, their desire to avoid another war was understandable, particularly once their position on the battlefield had deteriorated so rapidly. Great Britain lost three-quarters of a million men during WWI, the French 1.1m. However, with much of the fighting taking place in France the civilian casualties were much higher and, coupled with disease, accounted for 4% of its population killed. Added to that were 4.2m wounded, compared with 1.6m British soldiers.

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More on Pettibone’s letter, and my problem with Lauren Southern

If Brittany Pettibone’s letter is fake, she’s doubling down:

Following discussions on Twitter last night, I’m leaning towards this being real. That someone writing letters on behalf of the Home Office can’t spell shouldn’t come as a surprise: they were probably state-educated. Expecting literacy from someone working in Britain’s public sector is like me going into a French prefecture and expecting the staff to be properly trained and helpful. What set the alarm bells ringing was that it seems to be a little too convenient, containing phrases guaranteed to trigger the American alt-right. But I think Adam in the comments might be correct:

I suspect that the reason that the written English in the letter is so bad is due to the fact that the person who wrote it uses English as a second language. I would also lay a firm bet that the individual in question originally hails from a country where a certain religion of peace is widely practiced.

The Home Office is refusing to confirm the letter’s authenticity, which makes me think they are desperately running around trying to find out who wrote it and come up with a suitable narrative. My guess is the public sector is so stuffed full of SJWs and sympathetic Muslims that middle management and bureaucrats believe they can make arbitrary political decisions with impunity. After all, this is precisely how much of the US government operates so why should it not be the same in the UK? What the person who wrote this letter may not have realised is that it would gather so much publicity, they probably thought they were seeing off an obscure right wing provocateur. I suspect there are a few in the Home Office, Amber Rudd included, rather happy that everyone is kept busy by this crisis with Russia and the media are distracted.

On a similar subject, a couple of people have asked why I said Lauren Southern makes stuff up. Firstly, there was the time she took a boat into the Mediterranean to supposedly intercept NGO boats ferrying Africans to Italy. She was on the scene for a matter of minutes before the Italian coastguard picked her up, but she made out she was personally battling to stop these boats. In fairness, I kind of overlooked that because at least she was putting herself out there. But a short time later she came to Paris and posted this:

And a whole load of other short videos and tweets like this:

What she’d done was attend a Mayday protest taking place in République for an hour or two in the morning, and made out that the whole of Paris was a permanent war zone and there were not white people to be seen. Had she walked two blocks in either direction, or come back the next day, she’d have found the streets rather ordinary. What annoyed me about these tweets was that I’d spent the entire afternoon walking around a large chunk of Paris, and at some point posted this:

It was the first day of decent weather in a while and all the Parisians were out with their kids enjoying the city and the sunshine. I then got home and saw Southern’s postings and wondered where the hell she’d spent the day, because it didn’t look anything like the city I’d just walked around. I quickly worked out her schtick is to fire out a few right wing soundbites and put herself in front of a camera somewhere looking cute. I suspect if she wasn’t good looking she’d have about 30 followers on Twitter instead of 30,000. She certainly hasn’t got much to say that’s worth listening to and her reporting is, as I’ve discovered, unreliable. But she is cute. Did I mention that?

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The Strange World of Hotels

Several people have asked the question as to how the lunatic who carried out the massacre in Las Vegas was able to stockpile so many guns in his room without staff at the Mandalay Bay hotel noticing. Well, that’s an easy question to answer: hotel staff are conditioned not to see stuff.

Even the finest hotels can be the venues for quite dodgy goings-on. Consumers of amateur porn might have noticed that an awful lot of it takes place in hotel rooms (which must be nice for the next guest), and if Hollywood films are any guide so do most major drug deals. The splendid book Hotel Babylon, an inside view into life in a upscale London hotel, gives several examples of strange things which happen in hotel rooms with alarming regularity. The author explains that people often go to hotels to commit suicide: it saves the family having to find the body and clear up the mess afterwards.

When I worked in a fancy hotel in Manchester (there’s your contradiction in terms for the day) we used to share stories of what we’d seen during our shifts. A receptionist told us she’d checked in the same middle-aged couple regularly for a number of years when one day the man turned up with a new woman in tow. A mistress, perhaps? No, the new woman was his wife. One of the shift managers said he’d brought breakfast to a rather respectable middle-aged woman only to find her in bed with another, equally respectable-looking woman, who’d checked in separately into a different room. Neither batted an eyelid and, more importantly, nor did he. Hotel guests expect discretion from the staff, and they usually get it.

There are some countries that immediately cast suspicion on anyone staying in a hotel. You must show your passport in the UAE for example, and I was rather surprised to find that the Belgian police require hotels to collect a copy of the ID of each guest. Unless things have changed since I stayed in American hotels, there is no such requirement stateside. You can be sure the Mandalay Bay had every inch of the hotel monitored by camera – it is a casino after all – and had anyone banned from the gaming floor been found wandering around they’d have been ejected within minutes. But nobody is going to pay attention to a white bloke in his fifties going in and out with a lot of luggage (I’m going to assume he dismantled his guns and put them in a holdall or suitcase, and didn’t just stroll in through the front door with a heavy machine gun and a thousand rounds of link over his shoulder, even if the cretinous European media would believe you could do this and nobody would notice). That said, if anyone from housekeeping or room service entered his room and found weapons lying everywhere, they’d tell their manager straight away and they’d keep an eye on him. My guess is he hung the “Do Not Disturb” sign on his door and left it there, and the staff paid him no attention.

That’s not to say hotel staff aren’t observant, though. Several years back I was on a business trip to Paris and stayed in the Sofitel in La Defense: this was in the days of $100+ oil, nowadays we’d be given a horse-blanket and told to cuddle up to a tramp beneath a railway bridge. Anyway, by coincidence a friend arrived in town from London on the same morning and we met up in the afternoon. In a moment of quite spectacular dimness she’d come to Paris to stay with a friend without actually telling them in advance; when she arrived and tried to call, their phone was switched off. As the afternoon wore on it became increasingly clear her friend was out of town and she had nowhere to stay. Generous chap that I am I let her stay in the Sofitel with me: the beds are the size of tennis courts and the room is set up for two anyway. The next morning we went down for breakfast and the female maître d’hôtel sat us in a corner. She was a tall, dark woman with a long pointed nose, perhaps half-Arabic and extremely efficient and professional. I’d seen her every time on my previous business trips, so she was long-term employed and I dare say she’s still there. Anyway, we had breakfast and my friend got her act together and went back to London.

The next morning, a Monday, I come down for breakfast and the maître d’ leads me to a particular spot. With a slight grin she says:

“Zere you go, sir. Ze same place as wiz madame yesterday.”

If the Las Vegas police want to know about the movements of this headcase in and out of their premises, they probably just need to find the equivalent of this woman. Every hotel has one.

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Paris according to a credulous journalist

One of the fun things about living in Paris is reading other people write about it and wondering if they’ve ever been here. Yesterday an article appeared in the Financial Times telling us why Paris will become the first car-free metropolis. Let’s take a look.

In Lima next Wednesday, the International Olympic Committee will rubber-stamp Paris as host of the 2024 Games.

Oh, lucky Parisians! Can I be the first to predict pictures emerging in 2028 of a derelict aquatic centre that cost €3bn to build, the pools full of weeds and covered in graffiti captioned with “This is the pool where Michael Flipperfeet won his 38 golds in 2024”.

By the time the Games begin, Paris will be transformed. “Vehicles with combustion engines driven by private individuals” could well be banned from the city by then, says Jean-Louis Missika, the deputy mayor, whose responsibilities include urban planning.

“Could well be”. Those words are going to be doing a lot of heavy lifting in this article, easily enough to win a gold medal in the snatch, clean, and jerk.

“Every inch of that road surface has to be maximised,” says Ross Douglas, who runs Autonomy, an annual urban-mobility conference in Paris. “The first thing the city will want to do is reduce the 150,000 cars parked on the street doing nothing. Why should you occupy 12 square metres to move yourself? Why should you use a big diesel engine to pollute me and my family?”

“Why should the workers have more than one pair of shoes?” said the Commissar. “Why should they eat meat which could be used to feed others?” 

Naturally, it doesn’t occur to such people that those 150,000 cars represent the residents of Paris deciding for themselves what their needs are and how they should spend their meagre salaries after careful consideration. Put it this way, nobody owns a car in Paris unless they really need it; a lot of my colleagues don’t have one, for example. Also, the French are not show-offs when it comes to cars and money, owning a car doesn’t imply status as it does elsewhere. In other words, anyone who owns a car in Paris and parks on the street has a pretty good reason for doing so. And no, they don’t have “big diesel engines”. The average car parked on a Paris street is a small compact with at least three dents in it. A big car won’t fit in the parking spaces.

By 2024, driverless taxis will be making ride after ride, almost never parking.

Firstly, anyone who says driverless taxis will be technologically possible in 7 years’ time is selling snake-oil. Secondly, I seem to recall Parisian taxi drivers rioting, tipping over cars, and burning tyres when Uber came to town, leading to the government caving in by lunchtime and banning the app in Paris. Presumably they’re going to take the introduction of driverless cabs without a murmur.

Paris’s parking spaces will become bike or scooter paths, café terraces or playgrounds.

Oh, so we’re going to replace cars with scooters, are we? There are already about a million of them in Paris as it is, and let me assure you they do not make for a silent utopia where children can frolic freely. Also, a lot of Paris’ car parks are underground. Will they become playgrounds or cafe terraces? Either sounds lovely.

The second reason Paris can change fast: France’s car industry has been steadily shedding jobs since the 1980s. It’s now too small to lobby hard against the future.

Okay, the reason Parisians own cars is not to keep people employed at Peugeot or Citroen. I think the author has spent rather too much time hanging out at the Sorbonne.

Third, France has a 39-year-old tech-savvy president.

You mean he owns an iPhone. What does he know about vehicles?

Whereas his predecessors spent their energy saving dying industries, Emmanuel Macron intends to grab pieces of new ones, such as driverless vehicles.

Oh yeah? Let’s see, shall we. He hasn’t experienced his first strike yet, and he’s already rapidly back-tracking on the promises he made when elected.

Fourth, Paris doesn’t need private cars because it already has the best public transport of any international city, according to the New York-based Institute of Transportation and Development Policy.

Then there’s no problem, is there? There’s nothing left to do if nobody needs a car. Only the very existence of those 150,000 cars mentioned earlier seems to contradict this statement somewhat. Like I said, nobody in Paris owns a car for fun, and most would much rather do without. But hey, what do they know? Surely a clever FT journalist knows better!

Visitors from clogged developing cities ride metro trains here goggling in amazement.

They do? Shit, even the French complain about it, and I know: I work in a building of 3,000 people, many of whom use it to get to work. I have spoken to people from KL, New York, Caracas, Moscow, Istanbul, and a dozen other cities all of whom complained about the Paris Metro. It’s usually two things: the lack of air conditioning in summer and (more importantly) that it’s extremely difficult to access with a pushchair. Most of them prefer the London Underground which has improved massively over the past 10-20 years, particularly in regards to disabled and pushchair access. The Paris Metro isn’t bad, particularly Line 1 which uses driverless trains, but let’s not pretend people ride it “goggling in amazement”. I’m wondering if the author has actually used it himself. You can be damned sure deputy-mayor Missika gets chauffeured around in a massive car, and will do so long after the plebs have their own cars confiscated.

Already, nearly two-thirds of the 2.2 million Parisians don’t own cars, says Missika.

Yeah, which implies the third who do actually need them.

True, the 10 million people in the suburban towns outside Paris rely more on cars. But, by 2024, most of them should have been weaned off.

Should?

Wander around almost any suburb now, and somewhere near the high street you will find a billboard saying: “We are preparing the metro site.” Grand Paris Express — Europe’s biggest public-transport project — is going to change lives. It will bring 68 new stations, and thousands of homes built on top of them.

Yes, they’re upgrading the Metro – but to the extent nobody in the far-flung suburbs will need a car while adding thousands more homes? This is rather fanciful.

The Olympics will help ensure it’s delivered on time.

Because nothing speeds up complex infrastructure projects in major, developed cities than adding a giant politically-driven infrastructure project which an inflexible completion date to the mix.

New electric bikes will allow suburban cyclists to cover two or three times current distances, making long commutes a doddle.

Should be fun in winter with two kids to take to school.

The Périphérique — Paris’s ring road, which now cuts off the city from the suburbs — will become obsolete, predicts Missika. He looks forward to it turning into an urban boulevard lined with trees and cafés.

Because Paris is short of urban boulevards lined with trees and cafes. And has he actually been along the Périphérique? It goes through some of the worst areas imaginable. Who’s gonna want to sit there drinking coffee?

By then Paris and the suburbs will have merged into a single “Grand Paris”. Missika points out that the Olympic stadium and athletes’ village in 2024 will be outside Paris proper, in Seine-Saint-Denis, one of France’s poorest departments — just five minutes from Paris by train, but currently a world away.

Would that be the same Saint-Denis that was supposed to be rejuvenated in 1998 by the FIFA World Cup and the building of the Stade de France? The one which nobody wants to go anywhere near unless there’s a game or concert on, and the modern office blocks built nearby remain mostly empty? So what will be different this time?

Missika says, “For me, the Games are above all the construction of a Grand-Parisian identity.”

That’s all the Olympic Games ever are, a manifestation of a politician’s ego, funded with taxpayer cash.

I asked Missika if he expected Brexit to benefit Paris. He replied that he considered London and Paris a single city, “the metropolis”. You can travel between them in less time than it takes to cross Shanghai. Anyway, he adds: “I have the impression Brexit won’t happen, since the English are pragmatic. The moment when they say, ‘We were wrong, we’ll take a step back’ will be a bit humiliating, but it will be better than doing Brexit.”

At least if all these grand plans go horribly awry we won’t be able to blame it on hubris, eh? Such down-to-earth people these French politicians, aren’t they? But we knew that already. The real question is, why is a British newspaper felching them so?

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Diana Revisionism

I’ve managed to avoid any TV programmes and articles on the subject, but we’ve recently had the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death. I remember it well, particularly the shameful “outpouring of grief” that followed, whereby millions of seemingly sane and ordinary people with no connection to the promiscuous princess wept in the streets. Since then, the mass feigning of grief in order to feel part of something has become a recurring theme in British life, and has spread to other English-speaking countries (witness the embarrassing scenes in Australia following the death of cricketer Phil Hughes). For me, the death of Diana (or rather, what followed) marked a turning point in Britain becoming something of a joke. I always found it hard to take the British public seriously after that.

I have a Ukrainian friend who for some reason has a strong interest in the British royal family. She was rather surprised when I told her that before she died, Diana was an unpopular and rather divisive figure. Many people, myself included, thought she was an embarrassment and I was particularly annoyed with her muddle-headed campaign to ban land-mines, a subject she knew nothing about. She went to Africa and encountered victims of the millions of Soviet and Chinese landmines scattered willy-nilly around the continent’s many war zones, then returned home and harangued the British Army – who carefully map their minefields, and use them only for essential defensive purposes – into giving them up. My initial reaction to her untimely death, before it transpired she’d got into a car driven too fast by a guy who was drunk, was that she’d stepped on the toes of somebody with a considerable interest in land mines.

The idea that Diana was universally loved and adored is pure revisionism (see PCar’s comment here for example). In the months preceding her death, Viz ran an amusing series called “The Queen of Hearts” which used photos of her with fictitious captions. One of them was of her holding the leg of an African child in a hospital:

Diana: Is this your leg?

Child: Yes.

Diana: Is it supposed to be that colour?

Child: Yes.

They also took the piss via spoof collectible offers, such as The Lady Diana Pubic Soap of Hearts.

Then there was this incredible correction issued by the National Enquirer after news came in that she was dead:

The switch of stance typifies the tabloids’ reaction to Diana’s death, and since then there has been nothing but whitewashing.

The other thing I find annoying about Diana, one a bit closer to home, is the way her sycophantic admirers have hijacked the Flame of Liberty in Paris:

The Flame of Liberty (Flamme de la Liberté) in Paris is a full-sized, gold-leaf-covered replica of the new flame at the upper end of the torch carried in the hand of the Statue of Liberty (Liberty Enlightening the World) at the entrance to the harbor of New York City since 1886. The monument, which measures approximately 3.5 metres in height, is a sculpture of a flame, executed in gilded copper, supported by a pedestal of gray-and-black marble. It is located near the northern end of the Pont de l’Alma, on the Place de l’Alma, in the 8th arrondissement of Paris.

The Flame of Liberty became an unofficial memorial for Diana, Princess of Wales after her 1997 death in the tunnel beneath the Pont de l’Alma (see death of Diana, Princess of Wales)[3] The flame became an attraction for tourists and followers of Diana, who fly-posted the base with commemorative material. Anthropologist Guy Lesoeurs said, “Most people who come here think this was built for her.”

They’ve even had to add a separate plaque nearby half-acknowledging the monument’s unofficial role as a Diana memorial. However, this annoyance is tempered somewhat by recalling the response of the French authorities when it was suggested that the design of the Alma Tunnel was unsafe and contributed to her death, along the lines of:

“There’s nothing wrong with the tunnel if you don’t drive through it at suicidal speeds.”

With characteristic French stubbornness they resisted calls to alter the tunnel, and it remains unchanged to this day.

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