Tyranny of Losers

As you know, I’m living in the UK with a French car, a BMW. My plan was to go back to Annecy at some point in the autumn and sell it quickly on one of the auction sites. The trouble is, the service light came on. Apparently it needed an oil change and nobody is going to buy a car with a service light on, or at least they’re not going to pay full market value for it. So I called the BMW dealership closest to me and asked if I could book it in (yes, I know the main dealers are expensive and honest Hank down the road can turn the service light off, etc.) They took down the VIN number and told me there was a safety recall on an engine component, and they might need the vehicle for a few days. I said I’d had the car in the main dealer in France a few months back and they’d not said anything, even though this recall is a couple of years old. So I said skip the faulty component, just change the oil. Ah, but this is Britain:

“We can’t do that, we are not allowed to release the car with a safety malfunction”. 

Not allowed by whom? Is there a law saying a garage cannot change the oil in a car with some alleged problem in part of the engine? No, it’s probably some policy imposed by BMW, or even the dealership, being presented as if they are words handed down by God himself. You see a lot of this in Britain, appeals to mysterious higher powers who have delegated their formidable authority to the person you’re dealing with. There’s nothing a British jobsworth likes more than pompously telling you something mundane is illegal, truth be damned.

I decided to take the car in anyway. I asked at the counter why the French BMW concession hadn’t told me about this recall. “Well, it was just a UK-wide recall,” I was told. “Then why does it affect my French car?” I asked. She had no answer for that. When the work was done I asked the same question to another clerk. He replied that “There were a lot of recalls, maybe they were too busy and so decided not to mention it?” Which seems odd for a problem which, according to these jobsworths, was so severe they simply couldn’t just change the oil and let me be on my merry way.

For some reason, I don’t think my experience with BMW was too far removed from this video, which shows a couple of thugs employed by the local government in Grimsby fining a pensioner for having a dog in a graveyard:

British people, in the main, like to follow the rules and cooperate with authority. The downside of this is that certain people, when given a smidgen of temporary authority, gleefully wield it against ordinary folk, and especially those who have little choice but to cooperate. You can be damned sure the fat fool in the video would stay well clear of a couple of chavs with a pitbull; they’d have slapped him silly and posted the video on Snapchat. You see this authoritarian, bullying attitude everywhere in Britain, especially at airports and anywhere else where jumped-up little wannabe Hitlers can cite a Blair-era law to justify their actions. I remember years ago being on a rubbish dump outside Worcester with the bloke who ran the place lecturing us on how interfering with a washing machine we found lying there was “breaking the law”. You can only imagine what these people would be like if given real power.

None of this happens in France. For a start, the local government wouldn’t hire thugs to harass pensioners for walking their dogs. Secondly, no Frenchman would take the job because they’d find the local bar wouldn’t serve them any more. Thirdly, the public wouldn’t cooperate. There’s no way you’d get a hundred euros out of Frenchwoman the way these two shook down the old lady in Grimsby for £100. They’d risk arrest and imprisonment before they’d cough up on the spot like that. One of the things I like about the French is their disdain for authority, particularly that wielded by the government. I’ve written before about the very different relationship the French police take towards the citizenry in comparison to their British counterparts (the gilets jaunes in big cities notwithstanding).

That’s not to say the French fonctionnaires aren’t the most frustrating people on the planet; a trip to the local prefecture would disabuse you of that notion within minutes. But their contempt for you is one of utter indifference: they don’t hate you, they simply don’t care. But in the UK the bureaucrats and petty officials take delight in lording it over people, as if they’re trying to make up for a lifetime of being a complete loser in every field.

There’s also no room for nuance. I expect the reason the recall never happened in France is because the Frenchmen who owned the dealerships realised they were going to have a load of irate BMW owners on their hands, demanding compensation and free courtesy cars. So they probably negotiated and persuaded BMW that maybe the issue wasn’t that bad after all. Whereas in Britain BMW would have called the UK dealerships who immediately accepted whatever they were told and decided they’d refuse to perform routine services on customers’ vehicles unless they agreed to surrender them for several days during which they’d have to hire a car at their own expense (as I did).

The French approach to things can drive you insane at times, but there are times when I grudgingly admire their intransigence. And few things make me feel more ashamed of my country than the combination of authoritarian bullying by British jobsworths and its craven acceptance by ordinary people.


La Tournette

The reason I didn’t post anything today was because I hiked up La Tournette, a 2,351m mountain which is the highest in the area around Annecy. It took me 3 hours and 50 minutes to get to the top from the village of Montmin, and another 2 hours and 30 minutes to get back down. According to the guidebook, it represents an altitude gain of 1,024m and it felt like it. Two hours in and I was on a grassy slope looking up at this towering wall of rock and I felt like turning back. If I’d known what was to come I would have, but if you live in Annecy and you tell people you go hiking then you pretty much have to go up La Tournette. Also, I didn’t want to be looking at it in future thinking “yeah, I almost got up there but wrapped my tits in”, so I kept going. I’m reasonably fit thanks to going to the gym and skiing, but I wasn’t hiking fit: the last serious hike I did was up Le Parmelan 3 years ago. By the time I got back to the car I could barely stand up. It didn’t help matters than an hour from the end half the sole came off my walking boot, and I did the rest with it flapping about underneath. They were very good boots, made by the Italian company Zamberlan, but in fairness I bought them in 1997 and have battered them since, so I probably shouldn’t ring them up and complain.

Anyway, here’s me at the top.

I’ve posted some other pictures here.


French Resistance


Teen activist Greta Thunberg has lashed out at French lawmakers for mocking her in a speech to parliament that was boycotted by far-right politicians.

Far-right, eh?

Ms Thunberg, whose solo protest outside the Swedish Parliament inspired the school climate strike movement, has been lauded for her emotive speeches to politicians.

But lawmakers from French parties, including the conservative Republicans and far-right National Rally, said they would shun her speech in the National Assembly.

So not just the far-right, then. Ordinary conservatives as well, those representing French men and women who might not like being lectured to by weird Swedish teenagers.

Urging his colleagues to boycott Ms Thunberg’s speech, leadership candidate for The Republicans, Guillaume Larrive, wrote on Twitter: “We do not need gurus of the apocalypse.”

Other French legislators hurled insults at Ms Thunberg ahead of her speech, calling her a “prophetess in shorts” and the “Justin Bieber of ecology”.

Republicans MP Julien Aubert, who is also contending for his party’s leadership, suggested Ms Thunberg should win a “Nobel Prize for Fear”.

Speaking to France 2 television, Jordan Bardella, an MEP for the National Rally, equated Ms Thunberg’s campaigning efforts to a “dictatorship of perpetual emotion”.

Say what you like about the French, but at least their politicians seem broadly representative of everyone in society. Contrast this with the UK: who among our political classes was representing the tens of millions of people who thought this Thunberg brat had no business addressing parliament?

Members of other parties, such as the Greens and French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist En Marche, were more supportive of her appearance.

Well, yes. They’re representative of the wealthy Metropolitan elites who have no problem whacking up the living costs of those in the provinces in order to engage in Earth-worship.

Speaking in English, Ms Thunberg said…

I’m sure that went down well, too.

Ms Thunberg has been harshly attacked by journalists and trolls on Twitter, but politicians usually use more measured rhetoric when criticising her.

That’s French politicians for you. Good for them.


Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I’m back from Spain after a 10 hour drive yesterday in the middle of that heatwave everyone’s talking about. Fortunately my car has air conditioning.

Tarragona was nice, although strictly speaking I was in a small town called Altafulla a little down the coast towards Barcelona. I spent two days on the beach and two nights drinking until 4am so it wasn’t the most productive of holidays, but I did get to hang out with my friend, his family, and a whole load of his friends who all live in Altafulla and have known each other since they were kids. From what I could tell, Altafulla is a place where Spanish families live or go on holiday: I didn’t see any foreigners or even hear English spoken the whole weekend I was there. Unfortunately I don’t speak Spanish, but that didn’t seem to matter very much. And I was reliably told the conversations would routinely switch to Catalan in any case. The food I ate alternated between Spanish, Venezuelan, and Catalan so I got the full culinary experience. I drank whatever was close to hand, which was often rum. I’d never spent much time in the company of Spaniards before, and I have to say they were very friendly and welcoming, and they like to have fun. The place is also extraordinarily cheap when compared to France. Perhaps I should go back.

As planned, I stopped at the Pont du Gard on the drive down. It’s worth seeing.

I made the mistake of thinking the bridge is all that’s there, so thought I’d just visit for an hour then leave. It turns out there’s a sort of beach there where you can swim, go kayaking, etc. as well as an excellent museum meaning you could easily spend a whole day at the place. I had a good look at the aqueduct from both sides but couldn’t devote more than half an hour to the museum which explained how it was built and why. It’s a shame because I’d like to have spent more time there, but was enough to get an idea of the incredible vision, ambition, and skill of the Romans. It left me wondering if a municipal government could execute a comparable project today, two thousand years later. I bet the Romans didn’t worry about how diverse the engineering team was, at any rate. As I was reading about its construction I learned there was another Roman aqueduct in, funnily enough, Tarragona. If I’d spent less time drinking I might have turned the trip into a Roman aqueduct tour. As it was, I only glimpsed it from the motorway. The Pont du Gard is well worth a visit though, and I can recommend it. While I was there I did see a few British tourists; I mention them just so I could get the post title working.


The Lives of Others

This article is primarily about France’s descent into authoritarianism under Macron, but this passage caught my eye:

A recent poll found only 18 percent of Germans feel they can speak freely in public. More than 31 percent did not even feel free to express themselves in private among their friends. Just 17 percent of Germans felt free to express themselves on the internet, and 35 percent said free speech is confined to small private circles.

Whether this is related to the fact that for the past 14 years Germany has been presided over by someone who not only grew up in East Germany but seemed to do rather well under it I leave as an exercise for the reader.


Soiffen SS

Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to form a praetorian guard isn’t going too well:

President Emmanuel Macron’s new-look national service has got off to a shaky start, with 29 teenagers in the first group of recruits succumbing to heat exhaustion during a ceremony in Evreux, near Paris.

Well done, chaps. Now I thought France had abolished national service and indeed they had, but:

Mr Macron is France’s first president not to have done compulsory military service, which was abolished in 1996. The first batch of 2,000 recruits embarked on his updated version of national service at the weekend.

Several hundred politicians, public personalities and military cadets also attended the unveiling of the statue on Tuesday, the anniversary of General de Gaulle’s 1940 appeal to the French to resist the Nazis.

Mr Macron’s new “Universal National Service” is mainly civic but has a military component. It was launched at the weekend with a volunteer group, but is eventually to become compulsory for all 16-year-olds.

What better way to mark one’s opposition to Nazis than forming a compulsory politico-military youth movement?

The teenagers are spending two weeks under the supervision of soldiers and youth workers, who are training them in self-defence and how to respond to a terrorist attack or natural disaster.

Or, the ruling classes hope, put down the mob at the palace gates.

They are only allowed to use their mobiles during a one-hour free period each day.

Presumably so they can’t inform their parents that their supervisors are so incompetent they can’t even supply them with water and keep them in the shade.

They wear a uniform of black trousers, white shirts and a blue cap for ceremonies, and fluorescent vests for civil protection exercises.

I guess this will make things easier for when they defect to the gilets jaunes. At least they had the sense not to make the shirts black. Because of the sun, you see.


Baked Al-Akhbar

Following on from the news of antisemitism in Germany, here’s a story from France:

Halimi, 65-years-old at the time of her death, was subjected to a frenzied beating and then hurled from a third-floor window in the early hours of Apr. 4, 2017, by Traore, a neighbor in the same public housing project in eastern Paris who broke into her apartment.

Terrified neighbors who alerted police after hearing her cries for help reported that Traore had shouted the words, “Allahu Akhbar,” and, “Shaitan” (Arabic for “Satan”), during Halimi’s ordeal.

Police investigations later revealed that Halimi had told relatives that she was scared of Traore, who insulted her visiting daughter as a “dirty Jewess” a few weeks before the murder.

It’s a hate crime, right? No, don’t be silly:

Traore’s lawyers, however, have insisted throughout that their client was too intoxicated from his ingestion of cannabis to be held responsible for his actions. On March 20, a third psychiatric report commissioned by the investigating judge in the Halimi case concurred with this assessment, arguing that Traore’s consumption of cannabis had eliminated his “discernment” (a clinical term for “judgment”).

Get blind drunk and commit a crime? Pokey for you, sunshine. Get high as a kite on cannabis and murder a Jewish woman while screaming “Allahu Akhbar”? Well, he didn’t know what he was doing.

In a statement carried by the Jewish publication Alliance, the BNVCA  —  a Paris-based group that works with victims of antisemitic attacks — said that the investigating magistrate in the Halimi case had concluded that the murderer, Kobili Traore, was heavily intoxicated on marijuana when he committed the killing, and mentally unfit to stand trial.

The term “protected classes” really does mean just that, doesn’t it?

The group added that it was now “very pessimistic about the real possibilities of eradicating antisemitism when the culprits are neither tried nor sentenced.”

It concluded: “We fear that this decision will encourage other so-called mentally ill people to commit other anti-Jewish crimes.”

And it seems Jews’ membership of a protected class is highly dependent on who is attacking them.


One Man, One Vote

The financial press have a certain fetish about Total’s CEO Patrick Pouyanne. Here’s another gushing article:

Patrick Pouyanne pounced after Occidental Corp trumped Chevron’s $33 billion bid for Anadarko in April with an offer that includes raising financing by selling some of Anadarko’s operations worth up to $15 billion.

By keeping those in the know to a minimum, the French CEO was able to stay flexible in negotiations, take a swift decision and ensure there were no leaks until the binding deal worth $8.8 billion was announced on Sunday, a Total source said.

“Pouyanne proceeded in the same way he did with previous deals: a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel,” another source, close to the deal, told Reuters.

Throwing out the rulebook that expects CEOs to be surrounded by investment bankers and other advisers when dealmaking has become a trademark for the 55-year-old CEO and chairman of Total, who took the helm of the French energy major in 2014.

He has surprised investors with his acquisitions, such as buying Maersk’s oil and gas business in 2017 and Engie’s upstream LNG operations in 2018, setting one deal in motion after an unsolicited phone call with the controlling shareholder.

Shouldn’t we perhaps wait a little to see how rushing headlong into major deals while consulting almost nobody plays out over the long term? Look at this bit again:

a restricted task force, no bankers and no external counsel

You’d not hear this from fawning financial journalists, but Pouyanne has a reputation for yelling at anyone who doesn’t tell him what he wants to hear and demanding absolute obedience from all those around him (he’s a product of a grande ecole, after all). And here he is doing multi-billion dollar acquisitions in record time without involving bankers or outsiders. What could possibly go wrong?

For all the praise heaped on him, thus far Pouyanne is reaping the rewards of projects sanctioned by his predecessor. He has put considerable personal investment into Total’s Uganda project but that’s not exactly going according to plan:

French oil and gas major Total’s chief executive said on Thursday that the firm’s Ugandan Lake Albert oil project will be a personal priority this year after setbacks led to a delay on a final investment decision (FID) in 2018.

The project, which was expected to have been cleared last year, has been delayed due to disagreements over field development strategy, tax disputes and a lack of infrastructure such as a refinery or export pipeline.

Indeed, it has all the hallmarks of a development someone jumped into feet-first without carrying out proper due diligence and ensuring the right legal structures were in place. I don’t know if Total’s acquisition of Anadarko’s African assets is a genius move or not, but financial journalists should be asking questions over how decisions get made in that company, not blowing smoke up the CEO’s arse.



I’m not surprised by this:

The ex-boss of France Telecom and six other former executives have gone on trial in Paris, accused of moral harassment linked to a spate of suicides among employees.

Didier Lombard and his fellow defendants deny their tough restructuring measures were to blame for the subsequent loss of life.

The company, since renamed Orange, is also on trial for the same offence.

Thirty-five staff took their lives between 2008 and 2009.

Some of them left messages blaming France Telecom and its managers.

At the time, the newly privatised company was in the throes of a major reorganisation. Mr Lombard was trying to cut 22,000 jobs and retrain at least 10,000 workers.

Some employees were transferred away from their families or left behind when offices were moved, or assigned demeaning jobs.

The French management style – or what passes for one – consists of appointing the best students from the grandes écoles to the top management positions regardless of industry experience. While these individuals are undoubtedly very bright, they often lack the emotional intelligence which genuine leaders have in abundance. They set up a top-down command-and-obey organisation in which absolute obedience from subordinates is demanded, or their careers abruptly ended. Promotion and advancement is based on the degree to which an individual has not fallen foul of the boss. It is probably as close to an Asian power model as can be found in Europe.

The problem is the French are not Asians, and the stress this puts on employees is immense. During France’s golden era of industrialisation this probably didn’t matter as the organisations were doing well, but as globalisation is forcing companies to adapt or die, French management has been found wanting time and again. Total, for example, is a company with operations in 131 countries yet retains French as its official working language for the convenience of those in headquarters and to preserve an outdated model of cultural identity. French management, in parallel with their political counterparts who are drawn from the same schools and with whom swapping positions is commonplace (see here again), are proving incapable of doing the job which is assigned to them. Their response is to take it out on the employees.

One might argue that France Telecom needed to lay those workers off, but they might have witnessed a decade of blithering managerial incompetence prior to that decision, making retrenchment a bitter pill to swallow. And if you’ve hung around French companies as long as I have, you’ll know these suicides don’t just happen in times of redundancies; we used to hear the stories filtering down at my last place of work. I also know at least one case where a complaint of harcèlement moral was brought to HR concerning a manager, and their response was to do whatever was necessary to protect the management. I suspect this is commonplace; little wonder French unions still enjoy high membership rates.

I suspect as the large French companies come under increasing competitive pressure from globalisation, the failings of their managerial cadres are going to get more pronounced. Sadly, it will be the ordinary workers who pay the price.


Knaval Architects

Yesterday I said this:

I have no doubt Notre Dame will be restored, but there will be small but noisy campaigns for the money to be used elsewhere or the building replaced with something “more inclusive”.

Sure enough:

Yet the damage wrought by the Notre Dame fire has also raised important questions about the cathedral’s symbolic significance in an increasingly divided France, and how to rebuild (or which version of the cathedral should be rebuilt) going forward — and in some ways, these questions are one and the same.

It has been my experience that anyone who uses the term “going forward” is either trying to distract you from a catastrophe of their own making or is trying to sell you something which goes very much against your interests.

But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,” says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.

If the claim is that “some people in France” resent Notre Dame, why the need to quote an American academic? Surely a Frenchman on the streets of Paris would suffice, no? Or did they tell you va te faire foutre?

What it means to be “French,” however, has obviously changed a great deal over the past few centuries.

I don’t think this is obvious at all. What is obvious, though, is that over the past couple of decades cultural Marxists have done everything they can to destroy any tangible means by which people can feel themselves French.

Although Macron and donors like Pinault have emphasized that the cathedral should be rebuilt as close to the original as possible, some architectural historians like Brigniani believe that would be complicated, given the many stages of the cathedral’s evolution. “The question becomes, which Notre Dame are you actually rebuilding?,” he says.

The one that was there last week, you cretin. And why does anyone care what an Italian professor in New York thinks?

Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making.

Ah, finally we get to it. These grifting foreigners don’t want the French to restore Notre Dame to how it was, they want some steel-and-glass monstrosity to arise in its place, preferably bearing their name. That, or a mosque.

“The idea that you can recreate the building is naive. It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?,” he says.

If it’s up to the French people, why are you sticking your beak in? Now I know this is only Rolling Stone but the ashes on the floor of Notre Dame are still warm and already the postmodernists are turning up with a crane and a wrecking ball. Thankfully I’m confident the French will tell them where to shove it and restore the cathedral properly, but if this were Britain and St. Pauls a blackened shell you can be sure these sociopaths would be welcomed with open arms by half our political class. Knowing both countries quite well, the big difference I can see between France and the UK is the French establishment, at least for now, doesn’t seem to detest France quite as much as the British elites hate Britain. Right now, that’s a valuable edge.