Reports from France indicate that someone in Toulouse who went up their attic to fix a leak found an old Caravaggio worth a reputed £94,000,000 lying around.
The picture is rather grim, it shows the Jewish fighter Judith beheading Holofernes, an Assyrian general. It also seems rather close to the bone (as it were) for these times, I would ask Holofernes what he thought, but…
Sadly, the French State gets the first option on buying it.
By now, everyone knows about the Volkswagen scandal. VW have admitted installing software that cuts exhaust emissions when their cars are being tested and lets them spew death and disease every which way when they’re not.
So who is the villain here? To my mind there are two possible suspects: the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. I know what you are thinking: why can’t we pin the blame on both of them? Well, cheer up because I think we can.
To my mind pollution is simple. The polluter pays the victim. I would like to find some non-state means for doing this and as I understand it in the days prior to environmentalism just such a mechanism – albeit involving courts – did indeed exist.
Of course, since then government has queered the pitch for everyone introducing two principles which it rolls out according to taste. One, that the polluter pays the government. Two, that the polluter becomes subject to government violence – or to put it in statist terms: pollution is regulated.
So, the government imposes regulations in which if you score below a certain number you are left alone and if you score above they send the boys round. Black mark against the EPA.
But meanwhile the EU has been promoting diesels like crazy over recent years. Whether this is a sinister French plot or the result of the global warming hoax, who knows. The really sad thing is that we have ended up with that abomination: the diesel-powered sports car. Oh yeah, and London’s air ain’t too great either.
Miscellaneous thoughts and questions
Why is that we are quite happy to use the term NOx but not the term COx? It makes no sense.
What were VW doing selling diesel cars in the US? Petrol (US = gasoline) is much cheaper there. So the market for diesel cars is much smaller. Come to think of it it’s probably because they were trying to make inroads into the market in the expectation that diesel taxes would come down making diesels more attractive. It is a tax issue isn’t it?
Why is it that cars are regulated in this way? I find it difficult to believe that a lorry or bus is in any way cleaner than a car. But I bet the latter two are not nearly as stringently regulated. To ask the question is, of course, to answer it. They do it because they can.
Did anyone else catch that excellent Mark Evans documentary about the diesel engine on BBC4 the other night? Comet swirl chambers, eh?
Paul Johnson, writing in the Times about the minimum wage (“Why it’s a gamble to follow Ikea on higher pay”) talks some sense but puts the cart before the horse:
It is a bet that forcing companies to increase wages will force them to increase productivity. If you have to pay £9 an hour then you’ll be forced to invest in the training and the machinery to ensure you get your money’s worth. Indeed this could be one of the reasons why productivity in France is so much higher than in the UK. With high minimum wages and extensive labour market regulation French companies can only survive by being highly productive. On the other hand that same regulation probably partly explains higher French unemployment.
Of course French workers are productive. The people who would have been the least productive French workers aren’t workers at all. Thanks to the minimum wage they’re unemployed, except for a little light rioting.
However Mr Johnson’s penultimate sentence cannot be faulted:
The minimum wage as it stands is widely seen to have been a success.
Everyone loves a feelgood story, and to increase the minimum wage feels so good. How vividly one imagines the joy of the hardworking night cleaner as he counts the extra in his meagre pay packet! In contrast, how dim and watery is the mental picture of the, um, potentially-but-not-actually hardworking unemployed person who might theoretically have benefited from a job at the till at a supermarket but now there’s an automated checkout machine instead. She’ll never know. The supermarket chain are not such fools as to announce that the reason for them scaling back their hiring plans is that they would rather not pay their employees any more. They will present automation purely as a benefit to the customer. The customers will continue to curse at the words “unexpected item in the bagging area” and moan about what a pity it is that they don’t have real human beings at the till like they used to, especially since that nice Mr Osborne put up their wages.
An afterthought: Oh, and about that hardworking night cleaner… six months after he was interviewed by the BBC saying what a wonderful difference the extra pay would make to his life, he was let go. Nothing personal, but what with the rising wage bill, the only way for his employers to keep within budget was to cut the frequency of cleaning. The BBC were long gone. Warmhearted people continued to feel good about how companies were finally being made to pay a “decent living wage”.
Le Journal du Dimanche printed a loyal address made by President Hollande to Jacques Delors on the occasion of the old emperor’s nintieth birthday.
Here are some extracts, translated by me and Messieurs Google et Bing:
“Because Europe can only advance if it carries the idea of transcendence. No nation can contemplate giving up part of its sovereignty if it is not satisfied that it will emerge stronger from this process. He [Delors] intuited that out of the crisis, Europe needs to define a new horizon that can give rise to a new hope, because he knows that the European idea runs out of steam when it is no longer put into action.”
“What threatens us is not too much Europe but too little.”
“The eurozone has managed this week to reaffirm its cohesion with Greece.
The quality of the Franco-German relationship had a great deal to do with it. The European spirit prevailed. But we cannot stop there. I have offered to take forward Jacques Delors’s idea for a Government of the euro area with the addition of a specific budget and thus also a Parliament to ensure democratic control.”
Found via Bloomberg and the Drudge Report. The French original can be seen at the first link. Is he really saying what I think he’s saying? A unified Eurozone government?
Nice Mr. Obama has told the Frogs the NSA is no longer spying on them at the highest level. And of course that’s that, because there is no way a US President would lie about that, right? Indeed if the NSA kept spying on France, they would of course tell nice Mr. Obama, right?
Any country that does not spend a chunk of change specifically targeted at protecting their communications from the USA is simply not serious about defending themselves, and that includes ‘allies’.
Tonight four terrified children are going to sleep among hostile strangers, torn away by force from their homes and their families because their parents committed the crime of living differently.
Tonight four children rescued from imprisonment and abusive parenting are able to take their first wondering look at the the wide world that had been denied to them.
Which is true? Search me. In my post of a month ago, “The morality of not teaching your child English”, I asked at what point the right of parents to raise their child according to their values must give way to the right of a child not to be cut off from the world. Language is not an issue in the real life story of the recent raid by the French police on the community variously known as the “Twelve Tribes” or “Tabitha’s Place”, but many of the other elements of my thought experiment, such as a self-isolating group not permitting their children to watch television or use the internet, are – allegedly – in place.
The Times reports:
Christian cult’s ‘racism, violence and child abuse’ leads to ten arrests
Police raided a fundamentalist Christian community that seeks to follow a 1st century lifestyle, arresting ten people and placing four children in care amid allegations of maltreatment.
The raid came following the launch of a criminal inquiry after a former member told prosecutors of the corporal punishment meted out by the Twelve Tribes community in southern France.
The group’s communities in France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere have long faced accusations of racism and of violence. They deny the claims and say they are misunderstood.
Jean-Christophe Muller, the state prosecutor in Pau in the Pyrenees, said 200 gendarmes accompanied by doctors had intervened at the group’s French base, a château in the hamlet of Sus, on Tuesday.
He said officers had been tipped off by the former member, but were stunned to discover a community of about 100 people cut off from the modern world.
“The children have never seen television or the internet and do not know what football is,” he said.
The Times story is quite similar to other reports in the French media. The sect has its own website, which has an English version. The existence of this website suggests that the Times may be wrong to claim that this sect prohibits the internet. Or the prohibition may not be absolute, or it may be applied to ordinary members but lifted for the elite or… any number of possibilities. One does not know which account to trust. No, make that “one does not know which account to distrust more”. Cruel and abusive cults do exist, but so do cruel and abusive governments.
The Twelve Tribes website gives their account of an earlier occasion when some children had been taken away from their parents by the German authorities in this link:
The parents of the children who were taken away permanently by the OLG Nurnberg are appealing the decision to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe. There are a number of constitutional violations in the OLG rulings that must be heard by the honorable court. Here are some of them:
The court in its ruling admits that there is no evidence of abuse in the children. However, they reason that the mere beliefs of the parents are enough to justify taking away permanent custody.
In its reasoning the court takes the position that all spanking is abuse. The Jugendamt handbook says that all spanking is not abuse which supports what Parliament made clear in 2000 that the intent of the law was not to criminalize parents who spank
Ambitious police chiefs love operations like this. In 2008 David Friedman wrote a series of posts about the time when Texas police raided a ranch belonging to a group of fundamentalist Mormons and took large numbers of children into custody. Few of the dramatic initial claims of abuse were substantiated and the vast majority of the children were later returned to their parents, but only after many prevarications by the authorities that seemed motivated by a wish to deflect criticism of their heavy-handedness rather than out of any concern for the children. In “Taking Children from their Parents: The General Issue”, Friedman wrote,
Which raises the general question: Would it be better if governments had no power to remove children from their parents? It is easy to imagine, probably to point out, particular cases where such removal is justified. But in order to defend giving government the power to do something, you must argue not only that it can sometimes do good but that, on net, it can be expected to do more good than harm. Judging by what we have seen in Texas over the past two months, that is a hard argument to make.
This leads to a second question: Are there alternative way of protecting children from abusive parents? One obvious answer is that even if the state cannot take children away from their parents, it can still punish parents for the crime of killing or injuring their children. In my first book, I suggested a different approach: shifting power away from parents not to the state but to the children. Weaken or eliminate the legal rules that make it possible for parents to keep control over children, especially older children, who want to leave. Make it easier for adults who care about the risk of child abuse to offer refuge to runaways.
If you are an adult and want to work as a model in France, the French government will decide if the way you look is appropriate in their view. And if not, the people who hired you will be fined or jailed.
Uber banned for the second time in Germany:
A regional court in Frankfurt ruled that Uber’s low-cost ride-sharing service UberPop is now banned throughout the country. The case was brought by taxi union Taxi Deutschland that been battling Uber for over a year.
And the French state agrees:
Around 30 police officers were sent into the Parisian Uber headquarters on Monday as part of an investigation into its UberPop service, which connects drivers with passengers via a smartphone app.
The state really hates it when their Permit Raj and compliant patron rent-seekers get threatened. Next thing you know, uppity consumers sick of overpriced taxies might start thinking state state involvement was not necessary!
I understand why NickM, for instance, complains about all the people waving Je Suis Charlie signs at the recent Charlie Hebdo demos just over a week ago. But at least there were demos (Hebdemos?), and big ones. Whatever the finer points of the relationship between Islam and the rest of us, thousands upon thousands of people, in France millions, disapproved of cartoonists being killed, no matter how offensive anyone might think they had been, just because of various cartoons they had done. I agree that disapproval is not much. Ooh, they disapprove. But it’s a start. I mean, would you rather that all those millions of demonstrators had just shrugged their shoulders, stayed indoors and forgotten all about it?
And yes, there was plenty of hypocrisy involved, on the part of public personages who, only weeks or days before the attacks, had been saying more like: “Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie”, and who will be saying much the same as that in a few days or weeks time. But I prefer hypocrisy and inconsistency to brazen wickedness. If you demand consistency from public figures, you are liable to get consistent stupidity and consistent wickedness. The public attitudes that public people feel they need to strike, even if they strike them very insincerely or in a way that contradicts other things they have earlier said and done and will later say and do, still count for something.
I attended the demo in London’s Trafalgar Square, and I made a point of photoing signs that said other things besides Je Suis Charlie, of which this was my favourite:
For the benefit of those with no French, that means (unless my French is letting me down badly) something along the lines of: “Down With The Tyranny of The Offended”. Good one. See also the earlier posting here, in which our Prime Minister is reported as standing up for the same idea. And, see my paragraph above (which I had already written before that earlier posting had appeared) about how the public attitudes of public people do matter, however occasionally and inconsistently they may be expressed.
This next sign might have been my favourite. But, that T for Team looks too twiddly, and not clear enough and assertive enough. It’s like the guy who wrote the sign was just taking dictation and didn’t really mean it.
Or, it could just mean that here were some people demonstrating who had not done any such thing before. Because, this was not your usual demo, the sort of demo perpetrated by the demonstrating classes, so to speak. Which was another big plus, from where I was standing, photographing everything I could see.
You can view other photos that I took of signs that afternoon here.
The latest edition of Charlie Hebdo has a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed on the cover. This is when we see who are the men, and who are the boys, so… well done to all the various newspapers who have shown some defiance to those who urged submission, and republished the image.