Surrendering To Criminals

So here’s something to get you in a cheerful mood before the long weekend:

Police warn it is no longer safe to walk and talk on your mobile as scooter gangs pocket £2,000 an hour from drive-by phone snatches

As officers battle an epidemic of moped muggings, police are now warning the public not to stand on a curb or street corner with their phone in their hand or risk having it torn from their grasp by thugs who can sell on a single handset for £100.
Up to 50,000 offences a year are being committed by thieves on scooters and mopeds in the capital, while some teenage thieves are being arrested up to 80 times but not sent to jail.

Well, that last sentence is yer problem right there, innit? You stupid idiots. Especially when you have a situation such as seen in the pic below:

Somebody explain to me how this doesn’t constitute armed robbery, and why this little thug and his buddy do not qualify for at least ten years in jail? (Somebody from Britain, I mean. My US Readers are baying like a pack of hounds at this travesty.)

But it gets better.

Over the last 12 months a total of 15,100 mopeds and motorbikes were stolen in London compared to 10,704 the previous year.
Gangs of mainly teenage boys can steal scooters by simply breaking their steering locks.
Detectives are targeting at least 500 known offenders behind the spree.
Yesterday Superintendent Payne compared the desirability of mopeds to thieves as the ubiquitous Ford Cortina in the 1980s, saying: ‘This is the Ford Cortina of the 21st century, they are easy to steal and when we spoke to the manufacturer they said they can fix the problem but it’s going to be three or four years away. They are in the Ford Cortina bracket, you do not need any skill to ride them, you don’t even have to change gear.
‘The theft is all done on a stolen bike. Thieves can steal these bikes in less than 60 seconds, it’s really quick. [They] take hold of the handlebars and break the steering wheel lock by pulling it, it’s like a lump of metal. Most bikes are then stolen by just walking it round the corner and they either sell it on or use it to commit crime.’
The warning come after a spate of muggings in central London, with riders using weapons such as machetes and hammers to intimidate and injure their victims as they try and snatch their mobile phones.

I would probably end up in jail after intervening in one of these little romps.

How, you ask? Imagine having just nicked some fool’s phone out of his hand, and you’re driving off on your stolen moped feeling proud of yourself, when some old geezer (that would be me) steps into the street in front of you and smashes his thick wooden cane* across your face, causing you and your thieving buddy to crash and spill into the road like a broken bag of vegetables. Then said geezer runs over to you while you’re lying there stunned, and starts to put the boot into your ribs, and when he’s done with you, tries to rip your little hammer-wielding friend’s head off his body by pulling his helmet violently around in a full circle. And then things start to get seriously violent.

It’s probably a Good Thing that I’m spending only a little time in London, because otherwise I’d be spending a lot of time in London, if you get my drift. Because while these little shits are obviously part of a “catch and release” program, I have no doubt that I would qualify for a very stiff sentence.

Can’t be endangering the lives of violent criminals, after all. That’s against the law.


*Yes, I walk with a cane when I’m Over There, because my gouty toes start to ache after I’ve walked more than half a mile on city sidewalks, and I need the support.

Camera Work

When getting a new smartphone or camera, the natural instinct is to take photos of people and things almost nonstop. However, care should be exercised, and people should take time to get practiced with features such as “focus” and “zoom” — and especially “zoom”. Take these two scenarios, for instance. In the first, our photographer wanted to capture this romantic picture of a couple kissing on London’s Tube, and share it with her friends.

What she wanted to send:

What actually arrived:

The second situation was a freshman coed who wanted to show her mother a cute picture of herself and her new roomie coming home from a sorority party, somewhat the worse for wear.

What she wanted to send:

What actually arrived:

Like I said: we really need to know how to work the technology…

French Friday II: Salted & Unsalted

I have occasionally written quite scathingly about my recent past as a college student, but I have to make one thing quite clear: at a rough guess, I passed through the classes of approximately three dozen professors, and with maybe only a few exceptions, they were all good to excellent. One of the excellent ones was Professor Michael Leggiere PhD. of the U of North Texas Military History Department, who schooled me on Napoleonic Warfare. Dr. Mike is actually a world-renowned expert on this topic, is often called away to give talks and seminars at places like London’s University College, and in fact the last time I spoke with him in person, he was about to tour some of Napoleon’s Polish battlefields with another military historian, Hasso von Bismarck — yeah, that Bismarck family.

Part of Leggiere’s Napoleonic Warfare course was a brief but typically-superb biography of Napoleon himself, and as I’d read only superficially about the Little General before, this was an eye-opener, to say the least. To a history junkie like myself, this meant reading about Napoleon outside the course curriculum, and by happy coincidence, this extra study dovetailed very nicely with a course on French cultural history I was taking concurrently (yes, I picked my classes carefully, why do you ask?).

Napoleon, you see, wasn’t just some military adventurer or conqueror (although he was both those things, par excellence); he also laid the foundation for the modern French state: its system of (Napoleonic) law, its education system, and its administration — most of which remained more or less unchanged until the 1970s. (Just to make everyone feel inadequate: he’d laid out the blueprint for all the above reforms by age 24, while studying at a military academy and being involved as a junior officer in a couple of military campaigns.)

I’ve told you all that so I can tell you this.

One of the quirks of French cuisine is that most often the butter is unsalted, and at a French dinner table you will usually find a tiny cruet of salt with a microscopic spoon inside, so that you can salt your butter (or not) according to taste. To someone like myself, accustomed only to salted butter, this seemed like an affectation, but it wasn’t that at all: it was the result of taxation, and this is one of the things changed forever by Napoleon’s administrative reforms.

One of the best parts of our U.S. Constitution is the “interstate commerce” clause, which forbids states from levying taxes on goods and services passing from one state to another, and through another in transit. This was not the case in pre-Napoleonic France. Goods manufactured in, say, Gascony or Provence would pass through a series of customs posts en route to Paris, and at each point the various localities would levy excise taxes on the goods, driving up the final price at its eventual destination.

Which brings us to salt. French salt, you see, was produced mainly on the Atlantic coastline, and was a major “export” of Brittany to the rest of France. Butter, of course, was produced universally — in and outside Paris and ditto for every major city — but the salt for the butter came almost exclusively from Brittany, and having been taxed  multiple times by the time it reached points east like Paris or Lyons, it was expensive.  So the cuisine and eating habits in those parts developed without the use of salt — or, if salt was requested, at an added cost. It’s why, to this day, many French recipes use unsalted butter as an ingredient. (In contrast, butter for local consumption in western France was [and still is] almost always salted, because salt was dirt cheap there.)

Napoleon’s reforms did away with all that; he saw to it that the douane locale checkpoints and toll booths along the main roads were abolished (causing salt prices in eastern France to plummet and become a mainstay of French cuisine at last). And when the towns and villages protested about the loss of tax revenue, Napoleon made up the shortfall with “federal” funds out of the national treasury.

Of course, the French treasury had in the meantime been emptied out by, amongst other things, the statist welfare policies of the Revolutionary government (stop me if this is starting to sound familiar). Which is why, to raise money, Napoleon invaded wealthy northern Italy and western Germany (as it is now), pillaged their rich cities’ treasuries and garnered revenue from the wealthy aristocracy, who paid bribes to avoid having their palaces sacked and their wealth confiscated.

So yes: Napoleon was a Crool Invader, a Warmonger and Plunderer. Except that in the wake of his cruelty and so on, much of Western Europe ceased to be oppressive feudal monarchies and became instead republican democracies, because while he took their money, he left behind Revolutionary ideals and democratic government.

But I’ll talk about that another time.


In passing, if any one of you has kids or grandkids who are going to study modern European history, tell them to go to U of North Texas just to take classes from Professors Michael Leggiere and Alfred Mierzejewski, and to take every single class they teach, every semester. (Each professor teaches about four or five topics, but never simultaneously, and spreads them out over several semesters.) I missed a couple of their courses simply because I just wasn’t there long enough, and I regret it to this day. I’ll talk about the brilliant Dr. Alfred Mierzejewski in another post, when I talk about Nazi cattle cars.

French Friday I: (Re-)Intoduction

One of the many things I enjoyed about my old blog was something I did on Fridays, wherein I featured three items from a particular country. I don’t remember what I called it, but today marks its return, wherein I feature some fine things from la belle France. So who or what prompted the return of this (quite popular, as I recall) feature?

Juliette Binoche, that’s who. Here’s a (recent) pic of this magnificent French creature, at age 53:

Are you kidding me? I’ve had girlfriends in their twenties and thirties who didn’t look this good. And yes, lighting, flattering camera shot blah blah blah. Here’s a closeup from that same occasion:

Yeah, a few more wrinkles… and she still doesn’t look like a woman in her fifties. Now we all know that movie stars are not uncommon visitors to the plastic surgeon’s operating table, but the best part of Ms. Binoche’s appearance is that she hasn’t had any cosmetic surgery — in fact, she’s gone on record as hating the idea. All that, and she’s a brilliant actress too. The hills are alive… with the sounds of ordinary women chanting their envious hatred.

Speaking of hills, and to switch gears for a moment, as it were: here’s a French car I think looks quite sexy too. It’s the Alpine 110 Berlinette of 1968, which makes it a bare four years younger than Juliette:

The original 110 had a tiny 1.1-liter rear-mounted Renault engine, but later models (as pictured) sported a larger 1.3-liter block, and these would dominate the World Rally Championship (WRC) for several years — their reign ended only by the mighty Lancia Stratos in 1974.  I have to tell you all: I love the look of this little beast. It’s quirky and sexy (like Juliette Binoche), and I’d love to drive one around a track — maybe somewhere in the south of France.

And as a final segue in this post, talking of Provence reminds me of possibly my favorite modern movie of all time. It’s Ridley Scott’s A Good Year, starring Russell Crowe and the exquisite Marion Cotillard (Mlle. Binoche’s only contemporary competition in the “Gorgeous French Actress” category). The story is about how a driven, ruthless futures trader (Crowe) inherits a piece of property in Provence, and how the country, the place, and its people change him forever.

I watch this movie about every three months or so, or whenever I want to submerge myself in romance. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should.

La belle France, indeed. And I didn’t even touch on French wine, cheese or bread. Those may come in a later post.