vendredi 7 décembre 2018

Gilets Jaunes Etc

The Gilets Jaunes
There's been quite a bit in the English as well as the French press about the «gilets jaunes» protesters in France and the disruption they are causing. Let it be said right at the beginning that there is nothing the French love as much as a protest; they have more practice at it than most and generally do it better. In this case the protest is supposedly all about the tax on car fuel but it goes rather deeper than that. There is widespread underlying unrest at what are perceived to be fat cat public servants too and the wealth gap that is growing in France as it is in England.

The initial protests were mild and benign ; stopping motorists so the protesters could make their case, disrupting but not totally stopping traffic flows and also, on occcasion, line dancing across roads: a marked protest but non-violent. In Mollan they had a barecue at a road junction. The big mistake the French authorities have made, in my view, is to engage the CRS (a big French mistake in itself in my view) to disperse the protesters. I can only describe the widely hated CRS ae a kind of rent-a-thug organisation that has official backing. It is a volunteer force, quite heavily armed, whose rôle is to curb and prevent civil unrest. What type of person do you think is going to volunteer for that? Intervention by the CRS virtually ensures violence. I asked friend Daniel about why France had the CRS and he could only answer that the French authorities were always sensitive to civil unrest in a negative way, perhaps with the historical example of the Commune in mind.

There is another historical precedent. During the wars of religion in France in mediaeval times the king François premier licensed bands of thugs to beat up protestants and take their possessions. But, being thugs, these bands didn't generally ask too many questions about religion but took what they wanted anyway. It helps explain the nmber of villages in my region plastered on hillsides or in other difficulty accessible places. But France is supposed to be civilised now. Whatever. Macron has given a few inches, a 6-month moratorium on rises in fuel tax, but also faces the problem of somehow reducing the over-generous terms of employment of public servants.

We've discussed the «gilets jaunes» in our English conversation classes and also the translation in the English press. Yellow vests? That's a hopeless translation. Literally a «gilet» is a waistcoat, wnich would not be a good translation but neither is replacing it with an undergarment. Maybe some confused journalist thought that the «gilet» is really a jacket and jacket in French is «veste» and somehow mixed them up. For the benefit of any journalist (????) reading this, in English we call them high-visibility jackets.

Birds Disappearing
I've been puzzled by the lack of birds feeding on my balcony. The feeders are full of grain, sunflower seeds and fat balls and have been since the latter part of the summer but I haven't yet had to refill them once, as against once a week formerly. Now only one or two great tits come regularly. The probable reason has only just occurred to me. Last summer some heavy (and very noisy) machinery was used to flatten the bed of the river opposite my house and clear it of shrubbery. This was no doubt in anticipation of a probable wet autumn and as a flood prevention measure. However, the birds that come to the feeders on my balcony come primarily from across the river. They alight in the lime trees opposite, then fly onto the grape vine over my balcony and then onto the feeders. It's a bit like watching planes in a stack coming into Heathrow. The heavy machinery obviously will have disrupted the birds' environment but I fear it may also have destroyed many nests. I wonder how long it will take for the birds to recover confidence and return.

Christmas Lights
The coloured Christmas lights are up in all the villages around. In Mollans, I am pleased to report, the village council has eschewed the normal Christmas colour of red and instead our lights are all blue and white. As a Chelsea supporter, albeit one in the glooms at the moment, I find that most tasteful.

mercredi 5 décembre 2018


Progress Towards Christmas
I'm on schedule. All my Christmas greetings that go by post are in the post. Those I deliver locally or send by email have still to be done but they can wait until next week. All presents for family have been ordered and are on their way. The Christmas quiz for the Beaumont library is done and I've run off copies. The Christmas carols, under Jo's management, are well on their way; we all have our «bonnets rouges» and three of us red capes (the three kings). I've written the historical introductions to the carols, subject to any amendments by René, and done the rounds putting posters in both bakers, the Bar du Pont, the Mairie, the library and the Post Office. The English conversation classes finish next week until the end of January and the students have very generously given Steve and I each a bottle of single malt scotch and a basket of wine, pâtés and chocolates. We'll drink some fizz at the last session next Tuesday. Finally, I've planted another 50 narcissi in various places in the front; should look good when the spring comes. Friends will be coming to me to eat on Boxing Day but there is nothing to be done for that until a day or so beforehand. So all is on schedule, barring any last minute crisis.

Parliament Rules Again
With the government defeats yesterday the outcome of Brexit is still unclear but there is at least one good result: parliament has decided to reassume its proper rôle and rule again. For the pasr two years there has been a danger that the result of a referendum which, constitutionally, could never be binding whatever any politician said, would be allowed to be regarded as such, with parliament neglecting its rôle as ruler of Britain. Britain has never been ruled by plebiscite; it is parmiament's duty to rule. If Brexit doesn't happen, this will not be a betrayal of democracy as many Brexiteers and some of the gutter press want to claim. It will in fact be the opposite; a reaffirmation of democracy. The gpvernment, time after time, has tried to avoid scrutiny of its proposals by parliament and now, perhaps just in time, parliament has asserted its authority, as is its legal right and duty. That the government has been found in contempt of this, for the first time in history, is a true and proper judgement on the government's macinations. All the chaos, and the referendum itself, has been the result of a deep divide in the Conservative party, exploited by various individuals for their own purposes without regard for the consequences for the country. So let the Conservative party put its own house in order and let parliament in its own house rule.

lundi 19 novembre 2018

Christmas Is Coming

Christmas Is Coming
And so is winter. I've discovered that the threshold for when I really wake up to this is the remembrance ceremony in the village on the 11th of November. It's quite a low'-key and moving ceremony and always has it's Clochemerle element with the sound system. It is guaranteed that either at least once microphones will be off when they should be on for the speeches or that the recording of the national anthem played will be out of step with the children from the school who are singing it. It happens every year and I find it rather endearing. Every formal ceremony should have its Clochemerle moment.

I know that the advent of Christmas is heralded in the shops long before then but that is too early for the perception to really hit home with me. After the remembrance ceremony, however, three things happen in quick succession: I get asked to create the Christmas quiz for the Beaumont library again and I get asked to come to the first rehearsal of the Christmas carols and those two things remind me to check the number of Christmas cards I have left over from last year and to think about presents for family in England. Also, Beaujolais nouveau arrives in the village.

In fact the first rehearsal for the Christmas carols was on the 15th of November, which is when the Beaujolais nouveau arrived at the Bar du Pont. So immediately after the rehearsal Steve, Jo and I went along to the Bar du Pont for a tasting. This year I thought it was quite good and Patrique and Valérie in the bar provided skewers of chicken, mushrooms and slices of quiche to go with it, all on the house. It made for a convivial evening.

I had two suggestions to make for the carols this year. The first was to make more of an introduction to each carol than the usual “and now we will sing…..”. I feel there should be more time between each carol. The second, because we now have a repertoire of over a dozen with which we are all familiar, whether in English, French, German or Latin,was to get the audience to chose one of those in the repertoire but not in the programme. We try to get the audience singing along with us and this would increase audience participation. I'm not sure yet whether these will be accepted but have been researching the history of carols anyway to get the story behind those we will sing. One interesting point to emerge is that carols weren't sung in churches in England until late in the 19th century. They were sung long before then but in the streets, the age old tradition of wassailing. The word “carol” itself originally meant a dance in a circle so the origins are specifically jollity rather than religion. It points up a different attitude to religion between Britain and France. We Brits sing primarily for the conviviality; the fact that most, but not all, carols are religious is incidental to many of us. For the French, the religious connotations can be a serious inhibition. Many of my French friends who would like to sing won't join in because of the hard religious-secular divide in France.

I've been creating the Christmas quiz for the Beaumont library for two years now and have developed a structure. The total of around 100 questions is divided into around 10 sections, each section with a theme. After grouping potential questions under each theme I review them to try to ensure that there are two hard questions and two dead easy ones in each section; and therein lies the perennial problem: personal knowledge. What seems easy or difficult to me isn't necessarily so for anyone else. I just have to hope that, over 100 questions, the differences even out.

Another sign that Christmas is approaching is that Roberto has started offering a seafood platter, oysters and prawns, as an alternative to the Monday evening pizzas at the Bar du Pont. Oysters figure prominently in the traditional French Christmas meals. And with Christmas comes winter. Snow is forecast tomorrow down to 1000ft; the ski station at Mt Serein will be pleased but the road to the summit of Mt Ventoux is already cut off. I hope the snow stays up there. Even so, you can hardly get out of the village without getting to 1000ft so I'd better check my tyres.

jeudi 8 novembre 2018

Soup And World Domination

Every year there is a local soup contest here, a contest that should receive much wider popularity. It's so much more civilised than many other contests and everyone benefits, tasting soups and learning what has gone into them. Each village in the region has its own contest and the winners from each, voted by the tasters at large, congregate later in Vaison La Romaine to decide the regional winner. I went along with friends to the contest in Mollans. I'd invited them for a meal and decided that rather than make a starter myself we would all go first to the soup contedt in the village. There were half a dozen on offer covering a range of tastes but my personal choices were a creamy chicken soup and a spicy Thai one. I haven't yet found out who won.

World Domination
This evening I xas referred by a friend to a book he said was titled «Who Rules The World ?» but I have been unable to find it. He said it was by a writer who was basically a Marxist but embraced some aspects of caoitalism via Confucianism. Don't ask. Nonetheless the very title provoked some questions in my mind, such as by what means do you rule the world (or at least become top dog)? We all know how it has been done in the past but how can it be done in the future?I have to admit that I don't particularly care and you might not either but the question is there to be answered ;

Answers from the past, which could just still be valid, are by war or economic domination; in the future intellectual domination (having more clever/skilled people than anyone else) or the opposite, having more uneducated people than anyone else might just do it. This last could support a powerful dictatorship or provide plentiful cannon fodder for a war.

Let's deal with war first, as it seems the least viable. Any future war, other than on a purely local scale which wouldn't secure world dominance, would ammost certainly involve nuclear weapons so thete is unlukely to be any viable winner. Cannon fodder would not be needed.

If we don't need an uneducated workforce in large quantity as cannon fodder why else could we need them? Well, they could support a dictatorship (even if only under duress) but both the USSR and China have demonstrated that that situation is not durable.

Economic dominance is still very possible; the question is how? A large what the Americans call «grunt» (uneducated) workforce won't do it, however poorly paid, as many developing countries have already demonstrated. Wealth is obviously needed for investment and most of that will have to be attracted from outside or internally generated; no individual or likely group of individuals would have enough, however rich they were in realistic terms. Neither does having rich natural resources hack it for long. To create wealth these have to be used and they are finite. Being cleverer looks like the best bet, in quantity as well as quality. If the skilled/qualified labour force is not too expensive, relative to other similar labour forces, then investment and wealth should be generated. It looks a winner to me.

So which countries have that? One of the largest, the USA doesn't. I well remember an American professor friend telling me that he despaired of America's future because his IT classes were full of Asians; American students preferred law or sociology. And America anyway, at the moment, seems to prefer grunts. I think China and India fit my criteria best, so I would bet on one of those. But it's just an idle bet; whoever dominates it is unikely to affect the rest of my life in a small French provincial village so I don't really care. As for a resurgent, globally influential Britain….……… seems to be trying hard not to be and certainly isn't working on the necessary credentials.

samedi 3 novembre 2018

Where Britain Is Headed

The Problem For Would-be Neo-Fascist/Communist Regimes
The principal problem is democracy; it isn't authoritarian. Worse,it tends to be unpredictable, subject to swings. However, where a coup d'état is not on the cards, it has to be dealt with, perhaps managed. A majority is needed to gain any power so a block vote of some sort is needed. In Britain in the past «tribal voting», voting by family tradition, provided that but tribal voting seems largely to have disappeared to be replaced by other block interests such as unions or commercial interests. Unfortunately (for neo-Fascists/Communists) neither of these is solidly aithoritarian. So how to overcome democracy and the need for a block vote?

One key has to be to make democracy more prdictable, by managing it. The other key is to identify an appeal, or several, (a feeling, a goal, an ambition, a fear) that is common to a large set of people who are persuadable by something other than reason. People who reason tend not to like nything authoritarian by nature so putting the (jack)boot into any thing intellectual, experts and the llike, is obviously a good idea. An appeal to emotion among persuadable people is needed. Support for what, fear of what? There are two obvious candidates: support for nationalism is one and fear of «outsiders», other nationalities or people visibly different by behaviour or appearance, is another. Bingo! All that is needed now is a sizable budget, which shouldn't be beyond important backers even if it is beyond electoral rules (but who cares about those?).

If any of this sounds familiar, rings any bells, then you know where Britain is headed…….unless democrats themselves do something about it.

Brexit: The Will Of The People?

Every Democrat In Britain Should Read This
This is the conclusion of a Guardian article at

«This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

Key names

SCL Group
British company with 25 years experience in military “psychological operations” and “election management”.
Cambridge Analytica
Data analytics company formed in 2014. Robert Mercer owns 90%. SCL owns 10%. Carried out major digital targeting campaigns for Donald Trump campaign, Ted Cruz’s nomination campaign and multiple other US Republican campaigns – mostly funded by Mercer. Gave Nigel Farage’s Leave.EU “help” during referendum.
Robert Mercer
US billionaire hedge fund owner who was Trump’s biggest donor. Owns Cambridge Analytica and the IP [intellectual property] ofAggregateIQ. Friend of Farage. Close associate of Steve Bannon.
Steve Bannon
Trump’s chief strategist. Vice-president of Cambridge Analytica during referendum period. Friend of Farage.
Alexander Nix
Director of Cambridge Analytica and SCL Group.
Christopher Wylie
Canadian who first brought data expertise and microtargeting to Cambridge Analytica; recruited AggregateIQ.
Data analytics company based in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. Worked for Mercer-funded Pacs that supported the Trump campaign. Robert Mercer owns AggregateIQ’s IP. Paid £3.9m by Vote Leave to “micro-target” voters on social media during referendum campaign. Outside British jurisdiction.
Veterans for Britain
Given £100,000 by Vote Leave. Spent it with AggregateIQ.

Youth Leave campaign set up by 23-year-old student. Given £625,000 by Vote Leave & £50,000 by another donor. Spent it with AggregateIQ.
Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland. Spent £32,750 with AggregrateIQ.
Thomas Borwick
Vote Leave’s chief technology officer. Previously worked with SCL/Cambridge Analytica and AggregateIQ.
ASI Data Science
Data science specialists. Links with Cambridge Analytica, including staff moving between the two and holding joint events. Paid £114,000 by Vote Leave. Vote Leave declared £71,000 to Electoral Commission.
Donald Trump
US president. Campaign funded by Mercer and run by Bannon. Data services supplied by Cambridge Analytica and AggregrateIQ.
Nigel Farage
Former Ukip leader. Leader of Leave.EU. Friend of Trump, Mercer and Bannon.
Arron Banks
Bristol businessman. Co-founder of Leave.EU. Owns data company and insurance firm. Single biggest donor to Leave – £7.5m»

mercredi 31 octobre 2018

No News Is Good News?

No News Is Good News ?
After Nat, Andy and Eilidh returned to Scotland life has returned to normal with raoifity, which leaves me with many happy memories but little to write about. I have, however, included here my current favourite photo of Eilidh with me.

 October has been a beautiful month weatherwise for which we have paid over the last four days with solid rain. Tonight (Wednesday) there is a storm which, I hope, will change the weather pattern. We needed rain but it has been too much of a good thing. I've bought cyclamen and bulbs for planting out the front but had no opportunity to get out and do anything with them. I suppose that I should be grateful that this area is not suffering the floods that are cauing chaos in other parts of France.For floods to reach my house would require a veritable tidal wave. There was a cold snap on Monday however that brought the first snowfall on Mt Ventoux, more than a month earlier than usual, and indeed coated the hillsides down to under 1000ft.

I've been playing boules, cooking for friends and generally doing what I usually do. Steve and Jo arranged a birthday lunch for me in mid-October, with many fruends present but now the last of the summer visitor friends, Claudine and Jacques, have departed, in their case back To St Malo.

Steve and I restarted our Englsih conversation classes at the beginning of October and have been pleased to find 9-10 people attending since then. I got some new ideas from Claudine, who goes to English classes in St Malo, pne of which was to read a book together. Claudine is reading Animal Farm and both Steve and I thought this was a good choice as the novel is fairly short, the vocabulary not too difficult and the theme universal. Also I get Connexion, the weekly English langage newspaper that covers the news in France particularly in its relevance to Btitish residents.

It was Halloween tonight but I wasn't trick or treated as I usually am, probably because of the wet weather. It's just as well as I was watching the Chelsea vs Derby game and probably wouldn't have answered the door anyway. Tomorrow is Toussaint so the shops have been full of large pots of chrysanthemums for the past week. I quite like the brown and deep red ones but never buy any because they have been forced and never last more than a week. One year I did buy a pot and tried to separate the individual plants and grow them on but that didn't work.

During October I had the pre-scheduled phone call to Immigration, which was auite straightforward and now have a date for my interview re naturalisation; it is the 27th of March next year, two days before Brexit day if Brexit happens. I have yet to establish whether I need a carte de séjour or whether my naturalisation submission will suffice. Brexit seems as chaotic as ever. I caught a video clip of a middle-aged man, quite well-spoken, saying in all earnestness that «we need to get back to the British Empire». I wonder how India, Pakistan et al feel about that;.where do these people come from? How stupid (or rich, they've all got EU passports or resident permits) do you have to be to realise that Brexit would be an awful mistake?