France Champions!

Well the French might not be able to organise the colours of their flag on a fly past, but they can win a world cup final. Croatia started brightly and put considerable pressure on France, but their defence held up and they never looked like losing control; they simply remained patient and took their chances. Sure they had some luck, but it’s hard to argue with 4-2. For all those who think France may not have deserved it, consider that they were also the beaten finalists of the Euro 2016 tournament. Consistency is a big factor in winning trophies, and France seems to have mastered it.

It was nice to see Didier Deschamps join Brazil’s Mario Zagallo and West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer in the small club of men who have won the FIFA World Cup both as a player and a coach. I still remember Deschamps lifting the trophy in 1998, having captained the side throughout the tournament. Good for him.

It wasn’t so nice to wake up this morning to discover the good-natured celebrations which took place in Paris after the game had turned into full-on riots with widespread looting. It made me glad I wasn’t there. Whereas it might be tempting to blame it all on African or North African minorities, I suspect there were others involved too. Like many European cities these days, Paris seems to have a lot of people who seek to destroy it given the slightest opportunity – and that includes those who have allowed the situation to get so bad.

There is much of this sort of sentiment going around Twitter this morning:

People made similar remarks when France won in 1998, although few attribute the footballing success of Italy, Spain, or Portugal to their teams’ relative homogeneity. The point they’re trying to make is immigration is good, but it ought to be noted that these players or their forebears came to France solely because that’s who colonised them a century or two ago. The French team is therefore as much an advert for colonisation as immigration; I’d prefer it if we just called them French and didn’t concern ourselves with their skin colour. As someone has noted:

Indeed. Well done France, I’m happy for you all. It’s just a shame about the rioting.

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Mais non, c’est cher

I expect the principle purpose of this BBC piece on the supposed decline of French bistros was to give the author a week in Paris on expenses. This bit made me hoot (emphasis mine):

“The bistro bar is a place of exchange, of conversation, a way of life,” he explained at his own Paris bistro Le Mesturet. “You can have a blue-collar worker elbow-to-elbow with a CEO and an office worker, sharing a coffee, a glass of wine, discussing everything and nothing. Anyone can afford bistro prices, erasing all socio-economic lines.”

A beer in a Parisian bistro will set you back around 10 or 12 euros. If two of you have a cup of coffee and a pastry each you’ll not got much change from 20 euros. When I was last in Annecy I thought the waiter had made a mistake on my bill I was so used to astronomical prices in Paris. I get the impression the bistro owners might not be aware of the country outside Paris, and a BBC journalist over from London is the last person who’d be in any hurry to find out.

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Some More Equal Than Others

There’s a certain irony about this tweet:

I have no idea what a gender equality breakfast entails, but I wasn’t surprised to learn this particular one featured a commencement speech by Canadian man-child Justin Trudeau. I also don’t know what the purpose of the tweet was, but many responses believe it shows Trump, by arriving late, is a misogynist who has no respect for those present. Which is probably true, especially that last bit.

The irony, though, is that extremely privileged and wealthy men and women in positions of great power and influence held this breakfast in the name of gender equality. Now I would have thought the very presence around the table of Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Christine Lagarde would have rendered the entire purpose moot, but apparently not. If there is an inequality that needs addressing in most if not all the societies represented at the G7 it is that which exists between the ruling classes and everyone else. Nowhere is this yawning chasm better demonstrated than by Christine Lagarde herself; she is the woman with the pink handkerchief in her blazer in the photo above, and head of the IMF. Here’s an article from 2016:

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has been convicted over her role in a controversial €400m (£355m) payment to a businessman.

French judges found Ms Lagarde guilty of negligence for failing to challenge the state arbitration payout to the friend of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Yes, that’s right: she has a criminal conviction after passing a bung.

The Court of Justice of the Republic, a special tribunal for ministers, could have given Ms Lagarde up to one-year in prison and a €13,000 fine.

But they didn’t. Instead:

The 60-year-old, following a week-long trial in Paris, was not given any sentence and will not be punished.

Oh. How fortunate for Ms Lagarde!

I remember when this happened, and the authorities were almost apologetic in their treatment of this pillar of the French elite. It explains why the charge was one of negligence and not the more serious corruption, and why she walked away scot-free, smiles and handshakes all-round despite having been found guilty. And here she is, this convicted criminal whose privileged position allowed her to evade punishment and even keep her job at the IMF, hosting an “equality” breakfast.

Let me ask, if it were you or I who’d done what she’d done, do you think we’d have kept our jobs and be attending breakfasts at jamborees? Or would be languishing in a jail somewhere? Equality, indeed.

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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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