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The unsung genius of the yellow vest

Whatever one thinks about the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests/riots in France – and I happen to know that they are the result of a deal made between a French green activist wishing to see more protests about what the government was doing to combat climate change and a particularly literal minded demon – the choice of the yellow Hi-Vis waistcoat or vest as a symbol of the protests was inspired. As every schoolboy knows, St David told the Britons to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from foe in their battles with the Saxons. In many struggles since then some item snatched up in haste from whatever was lying around in order to improvise a uniform has duly become an icon of that cause. Here are some reasons why the gilet jaune is destined to join that illustrious list:

One: Protesters want to be seen. Hi-vis vests make people highly visible. This is one of those linkages that manages to be both obvious and surprising at the same time. Why did no one think of this before?

Two, anyone driving a car in France has got one in the boot anyway because a 2008 law says they must. Might as well put the thing to use.

Three, and this is the one I love, it turns a symbol of compliance into a symbol of defiance. Cop pulls you over. Cop saunters up to the car. “Is monsieur carrying a gilet de haute visibilité as required by law?” “Why of course, officer. I always carry my yellow vest. One never knows when one might need it.”

38 comments to The unsung genius of the yellow vest

  • Ellen

    And fourth, if the Law comes around asking people what they are doing with that yellow vest, they can simply say “the law compels me to have one.”

  • Paul Marks

    No doubt there are some bad people among the Yellow Vests – any mass movement runs the risk of attracting violent vandals and thieves. But the present situation can not continue – the French people are crushed by taxation, and their country is being stolen from them and handed over to forces that have been the enemies of France since at least the time of Charles Martel (and French law now forbids opposing the ideology that has been the enemy of the West for 14 centuries – Freedom of Speech is crushed). Macron and the “liberal” elite he represents, the elite that has nothing but hatred and contempt for the ordinary people of France, must go.

    By the way the root of the FAKE freedom of the French Republic is old – the French Revolution “Declaration of the Rights of Man” supposedly supports Freedom of Speech – but the section (Article Ten if my old memory serves) says freedom to express opinions “unless their expression might lead to public disorder”. In short if the government does not like your opinions it may ban your speech – even if you do not use violence and do NOT suggest that anyone else does, “might lead to public disorder” means that Freedom of Speech is a dead letter in France – as it is, sadly, becoming a dead letter in the United Kingdom. Mrs May and Mr Macron are much the same.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . they are the result of a deal made between a French green activist wishing to see more protests about what the government was doing to combat climate change and a particularly literal minded demon . . . “

    This is all very confusing for those of us at far remove.

    I would think that people protesting Macron’s new high taxes on fuel and driving would be polar opposites from Greens protesting that Macron isn’t doing enough about CAGW.

    But we hear about both, in the same crowds, wearing the same vests.

    Who co-opted who?

  • Paul Marks

    Excellent point Ellen – the edicts of the state have created the uniform of its foes.

    I find that deeply satisfying.

  • bobby b (December 3, 2018 at 10:40 pm), I think Natalie was making a dead-pan joke about how greens complaining loudly that Macron was not doing enough may have both encouraged him to do more (than was prudent) and warned the yellow vests that yet more would be inflicted on them soon. Sort of Macron chastises you with whips but we will soon make him chastise you with scorpions!

  • bobby b

    Niall Kilmartin
    December 3, 2018 at 11:38 pm

    ” . . . I think Natalie was making a dead-pan joke . . . “

    . . . which I of course missed entirely. Too inside cricket, as the case may be.

    But we read, from a distance, how the protesters appear to be conservative smaller-government types, while the rioters appear to be hard-left anarchists looking for their own special fun combined with hard-left strategists looking to discredit the original point of the protests.

    It all appears too obvious, which makes my Inner Cynic wonder who’s being too obvious for subtle reasons, and who’s just too dumb not to be obvious. Feints within feints, or just boors?

  • Phil B

    This link has a more nuanced explanation and other reasons why the protests are happening:

    https://no-pasaran.blogspot.com/2018/12/blogger-in-paris-in-midst-of-tear-gas.html

    NOT just a single cause, eh?

  • Mr Ed

    The plan is to get the Communist/Anarchist sewage in amongst the protest to contaminate the milk so as to discredit it.

    About 4 years ago, I drove past an Army base in Yorkshire, the sentries on duty were armed with rifles (probably unloaded, this is the Blairmacht now). The sentries wore urban camoflague fatigues, showing how combat-ready they were (expecting some imminent enrichment), but also hi-viz jackets, presumably to keep them safe from ‘traffic’.

  • Stonyground

    I’m not sure that there is such a contradiction between those who oppose higher fuel taxes and those who think that their government isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. Those who go around demanding action on climate change never seem to go as far as thinking through what the consequences of such action might be and how it might directly effect themselves. As a consequence, they are likely to get just as angry about it when it does.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    By coincidince, last night the BBC news led – of course – with Sir David Attenborough, naturalist and AGW alarmist, giving a speech about how our civilisation is doomed any day now because of global warming. And although he has that sort of “natural treasure” image that applies to a handful of Britons, his views on strict population control and a desire to see much economic growth destroyed or pulled back would horrify if put into action.

    The ironies are striking. On a day when a bunch of people get on carbon dioxide-emitting aircraft to fly to hear this old chap vent (excuse the pun) about climate disaster, French men and women take to the streets to protest against the fuel tax policies of the poison dwarf of the Elysee Palace.

    We live in interesting times.

  • Andrew Douglas

    If you doubt the inability of educated left leaning middle class people to fail to see the contractions in their thinking about climate change, ask them about their coal-powered Teslas.

  • Mr Ed

    his views on strict population control

    Has this conversation yet occurred?

    Sir David, do you wish to combat population growth?

    ‘Yes, in the interests of humanity’.

    And is every inhabited continent over-populated?

    ‘Yes, I fear for the Planet’

    So, as a matter of inevitable inference, would you say that in Africa, for example, there are too many people who happen to be black?

    I’m afraid so.’

  • Y. Knott

    Mr. Ed, I happened-upon a perfectly delightful Spike Milligan poem that illustrates your point:

    “STANDING ROOM ONLY”

    This population explosion
    Said Peter to St Paul
    Is really getting far too much
    Just look at the crowd in the hall.
    Even here, in Heaven
    There isn’t any room
    I think the world could do with less
    Much less fruit in the womb.
    Thus Heaven is overcrowded
    The numbers are starting to tell
    So when the next lot knock at the gates
    Tell ’em to ‘Go to HeII’.

    On a side note, I’m struggling to tell colleagues about this event, as they all read the CBC and consequently haven’t seen a word about it – is the correct French pronunciation {G as in glue}ilets, or {a soft J}ilets? They don’t make us carry them here (yet…) or pronounce their name in French (yet…)…

  • Stonyground

    In the UK there have been cases of the police flagging down motorcyclists who are not wearing hi-viz vests and “advising” them that they should be. This being despite there being no law saying that you have to wear one and no evidence that doing so makes motorcyclists any safer.

  • Mr Ed

    Y. Knott

    A nice poem. AFAICR, it is a ‘zuhh’ sound or ‘soft’ ‘g’ like a ‘j’, in English we say ‘gilet’ pronounced ‘jill-ay’. (I absolutely hate those phonetic alphabets).

    Stonyground.

    How did they flag them down if they weren’t visible? 🙂

  • bobby b and Niall Kilmartin,

    Yes, it was a joke about all those cautionary tales in which someone sells their soul in exchange for a wish, but, like the witches in Macbeth “that keep the word of promise to our ear / And break it to our hope”, the devil or his minion fulfils the literal words of the bargain in a way that the person who sold their soul did not expect.

    Johnathan Pearce, indeed. I see that Jeremy Corbyn has referred to that speech by David Attenborough in the following words:

    David Attenborough is right: the people have spoken on climate change, and we must act now.

    We need renewed political action led by governments not in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry.

    Looking across the channel, he should be careful what he wishes for. And how odd that he has used the formulation “The people have spoken”. When did they do that? I wish he’d be as clear about the people having spoken in the EU referendum!

    Y. Knott, neither, it’s more like “zhilay zhon”, saying the “on” nasally. You don’t pronounce either of the S’s on the ends of the words.

  • WillS

    “As every schoolboy knows, St David told the Britons to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from foe in their battles with the Saxons”

    As every schoolboy knows?

    I think you may be being more than a little optimistic.

    WillS

  • Rob

    In the UK there have been cases of the police flagging down motorcyclists who are not wearing hi-viz vests and “advising” them that they should be. This being despite there being no law saying that you have to wear one and no evidence that doing so makes motorcyclists any safer.

    Arguably less visible (and hence less safe) on a bright sunny day, but the moronic bureaucracy cannot be swayed by reality.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Our modern-day Saint David says there are too many people and something should be done about. Is he becoming one of Les Misérables, or just leaking words? Chris Packham (another celebrity naturalist) says similar.

    What will be done about? (Down with this sort of thing). Will it be a population-reduction policy (regional conflict style), or a population-redistribution policy (Soros-style)? Or maybe both?

    Just don’t call it Eugenics, alright? It might give the game away, even on the BBC.

    I’m more inclined to Hans Rosling’s optimistic view.

  • Lloyd Martin Hendaye

    “Vest” implies vested interest, a stuffy commercial term. Much better to use “jacket”, as in Hornet: Yellow Jackets “bring the Sting; a piercing thing we sing.”

    Pretty dreary, but what better excuse to render floccinaucinihilipillification?

  • Y. Knott

    Natalie, I suspect that in the meme of “we must act”, there’s little out-there more blatant than this item I dredged out of my Quotes Page:

    Emma Ruby-Sachs, Acting Executive-Director of Avaaz says: “These lobbyists have come to Paris to sabotage a global deal for ambitious climate action, despite over 3.6 million citizens around the world calling for 100% clean energy. Ministers must listen to their people, not polluters, and refuse meetings with climate criminals who want to derail a deal the whole world wants.”

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2015/12/07/climate-skeptics-in-paris-branded-as-criminals-wanted-posters-go-up-in-the-city/

    – So, “3.6 million” = “the whole world” then? Right – got it…

  • bobby b

    ” . . . 3.6 million citizens around the world calling for 100% clean energy.”

    Ooo. Likely almost as many people as those who believe in a flat earth.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Lloyd,

    What a long word to designate something as unimportant! 😆

    And new to me for sure, but then I never went to Eton. The longest word I ever knew of was “antidisestablimentarianistically” followed by “-inclined.”

    I had to Look It Up. :>))

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    WillS, “every schoolboy knows” was yet another of my jokes that people don’t get. (Don’t worry, I’m used to it.) Alas, it is probably true that few primary schools these days do as mine did and without fail tell the story of each of the patron saints of the constituent nations of the UK on the appropriate saint’s day.

    I believe that even when the phrase was newly coined, amused comment was made about the unexpected brilliance of schoolboys. Like that blogger, I had thought the phrase originated with Macaulay’s line about Atahualpa, but apparently it’s older than that and can be traced back to 1783.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Julie I had to Look It Up.
    A long time ago, when I was a schoolboy, the word appeared as one in a series of unusual words printed on the backs of crisp/chip packets.
    Lloyd may also have learnt it from that source.
    It is jocular (i.e. made up by some Latinist to amuse) like postprandial or Antananarivo (I think).

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ah, Clovis! Thou art a very fountain of information.

    And here I always thought “postprandial” was a real word.

    But I did Look Up that long word with lots of A’s and N’s, and all I can find says that it’s the capital of Madagascar.

    .
    Oops!
    “antidisestablimentarianistically” antidisestablishmentarianistically 😥

    As for the other, really long word, I feel cheated. When I was a girl (was??? I’m pretty sure I still am), we didn’t have any bags of chips with the really long word on them. :>((

  • Ckovis Sangrail

    @Julie
    Sorry, Antananarivo just sounds made up to English ears!
    That was an English schoolboy joke too.

    The chips with useless but amusing facts were good.

  • Clovis Sangrail

    @Julie
    Sorry, Antananarivo just sounds made up to English ears.
    That was another schoolboy joke.

    The chip packets were good though.

  • Robbo

    Anyone else remember the boxer, who , for the walk through the crowd to the ring, wore a hi- vis jacket instead of the usual silk dressing gown, as a way to show that his people were the ones who wear fluorescent gear to work, the warehouse operators, road menders, garbage collectors, building workers, outside in discomfort and danger types. It was a veryceffective signal.

  • stopped doomsday clock

    Before you start praising the “yellow vests”, read this, their official 42 demands (as far as there can be anything official about this amorphous movement). Some of them are libertarian, but not many.

    https://yetiblog.org/le-programme-politique-des-gilets-jaunes-42-revendications

  • Jacob

    I’m very much opposed to taxes of any kind, and the hi-vis gilete was a brilliant idea.
    Still I hate very much violent riots by unruly mobs, who smash windows, torch cars and shops, loot and destroy property.

    So, I’m not amused.

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Stopped Doomsday Clock & Jacob,

    I don’t approve of rioting either (unless against a dictator, which for all his faults M. Macron clearly is not). And I note that whenever the protesters get so far as to list their demands, they include statist things like including the minimum wage. That was why I started this post with the words “Whatever one thinks about the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests/riots in France”

    Still, most of the protesters were peaceful and many have denounced those who did riot. I do have sympathy with the headline issue, the way that an increase in tax on diesel fuel, presented as a move to combat climate change, was loaded onto individuals who cannot benefit from the many exemptions offered to state and private organisations. This must be doubly resented because the reason that so high a proportion of French cars are diesel-fuelled in the first place is that the French were encouraged to go for diesel rather than petrol cars as part of a previous, now discredited, state policy that was also sold as an anti global warming measure in its day.

  • This must be doubly resented because the reason that so high a proportion of French cars are diesel-fuelled in the first place is that the French were encouraged to go for diesel rather than petrol cars as part of a previous, now discredited, state policy that was also sold as an anti global warming measure in its day.

    Very true!! The change was slower and certainly a lot quieter than “Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia – no, with Eastasia” but it was a great deal faster than the flip from “We’re about to cause an ice age” to “We’re about to make global warming unavertable”. Not long ago, driving a diesel car was good for the planet (and taxed less). Then, one day, I noticed it was taxed more, and was being declared a bad thing (by the same people as had but recently encouraged it), and I thought “When did that happen?”

    It’s hard to keep up.

  • Runcie Balspune

    I happened-upon a perfectly delightful Spike Milligan poem that illustrates your point:

    According to his secretary’s memoirs, Milligan was a proponent of population control … who had six children.

  • Runcie Balspune

    the police flagging down motorcyclists who are not wearing hi-viz vests and “advising” them that they should be

    Makes them easier to target when you need to ram them.

  • Runcie Balspune

    The switcheroo over diesel fuel has an interesting subliminal point.

    Diesel always beats petrol on CO2 emissions because of the vastly better fuel economy, the nasty part of diesel is NOx, which is a greenhouse gas 250+ times more GWP (Global Warming Potential) than CO2.

    So, perhaps an admission that concentrating on CO2 is a waste of time and NOx may be a better target?

    NOx also comes from farming (nitrate fertilizers) and the cement industry, and although fuel emissions of NOx are the main source, this covers the air, land and sea industry with only a part being cars. Also consider that recent advances in diesel technology plus the DOC converters means NOx reduction already underway.

    The whole exercise is a modern day “Four Pests” campaign.

  • While I think Natalie’s post is spot-on in terms of its specific points, I also note that news of Macron’s waning authority in France, like that of Merkel’s waning authority in Germany, offers some welcome side-effects. Just 12 days ago, Macron was explaining that

    the EU’s demands on fisheries needed swift resolution after 29 March 2019 or the talks on a wider trade deal would fail leaving the UK in the “backstop” customs union envisioned in the withdrawal agreement. … ““It is a lever, because it is in our mutual interest to have this future relationship. I can’t imagine that the desire of Theresa May or her supporters is to remain for the long term in a customs union … We will concentrate our efforts in order to obtain access to the British waters before the end of the transition period. And of course all of our fishermen will be protected.”

    I suspect Macron was being injudiciously frank in explaining that the backstop’s function is to be a lever. I’m guessing that’s now on Macron’s back-burner – for the moment.

  • Slartibartfarst

    I reckon that the use of the HVVs (Hi Visibility Vests) is a typically “French” thing to do – to turn the tables on an oppressive authority by flipping the bird with an oppressive symbol used by that authority. The guillotine of the French Revolution was a prime example. The irony is biting/cutting.

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