Thursday, 30 June 2016

Body count

So we're finally going to see the Chilcot Inquiry about a hundred years after the British military fought its bloodiest, most costly battle ever. The coincidence made me think about how many British people the British state was prepared to sacrifice in the furtherance of diplomacy by other means, in the early 20th Century and the early 21st. The contrast is jaw-dropping:

19,240 British personnel killed on the first day of the Somme, 179 in the Iraq War between 2003 and 2009 and 454 in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2015. There are many other considerations, like how many enemy combatants and civilians our state is prepared to kill, but the drop in British military casualties is astonishing.

I'm not drawing any conclusions from the figures, although explanations range from the size of an effective fighting force shrinking, because weaponry has become more deadly, to the move from fighting against powerful, well-equipped states to asymmetric warfare against weak states and insurgent groups, to The Better Angels of Our Nature idea that we're just becoming less violent over time.

I suspect that more than one of these factors (and some others I've not thought of)* play a part in explaining the huge discrepancy. But there's one other fact which makes me think there might be something in the Better Angels explanation. That's the fact that, although the scale of the slaughter in World War One was staggering, it wasn't the bloodiest conflict in British history, if you think of the casualties as a proportion of the national population:
Although more Britons died in WW1 than any other conflict, the bloodiest war in our history relative to population size is the Civil War, which raged in the mid-17th Century. A far higher proportion of the population of the British Isles were killed than the less than 2% who died in WW1. By contrast, around 4% of the population of England and Wales, and considerably more than that in Scotland and Ireland, are thought to have been killed in the Civil War.

*Update - I should also have mentioned another obvious difference - that Britain was one of the major players in World War One, but was America's junior partner in Iraq and Afghanistan. But even the American deaths (4,486 US personnel killed in Iraq and 2,345 in Afghanistan) add up to less than half the body count of that one day on the Somme.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

That dreadful cad

After Brexit, hoped elderly members of Nigel Farage's fanbase, Britain would go straight back to the 1950s. And judging by the way Nicholas Soames has started talking, that wish has already been granted in spades:
Appalling ghastly performance by that dreadful cad Farage in the European Parliament
Cads and bounders - still made in Britain.

You silly sods

We're in the middle of a national crisis, directly triggered an incompetent government which is leaderless, divided and clueless.

Fortunately we're a democracy. There is an opposition. There is an alternative.

Unfortunately, the alternative seems to be the Judean People's Front's Crack Suicide Squad:
Corbyn spoke to heckles of “resign” from his own side, and taunts from the green benches opposite. Dennis Skinner, the veteran Labour MP for Bolsover, shook the leader of the opposition’s hand as he entered the chamber and made a “V” sign at other backbenchers.

Why has everybody in the country formerly known as Britain suddenly decided to embrace their inner idiot? Am I the last person to realise that it's National Facepalm Week?

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Friended by Fascists

"Congratulations, Britain!" say Europe's Fascists. They, like Bob, have Felt Our Pain:

Feeling Oppressed by Their Existence

Bob is not free, or so he thinks. On the contrary, he considers himself to be very oppressed. Because there is a certain kind of people that he doesn't like, and they... exist. He's not free to kill them or otherwise remove them, thus he's not free at all...

...death threats or "liberation" is optional. Whining about how the open existence of other people in itself infringes on one's freedom is enough.
TV Tropes

Hans... are we the baddies?

Friday, 24 June 2016

Well, that just about wraps it up for Britain

For heaven's sake Britain, what were you thinking? Even when Donald Trump, a living orange public information poster, created by the Universe to warn people what happens if you listen to ignorant, lying demagogues, started circling the corpse like a vulture with bad hair, you still didn't get it, did you??

Hope you're looking forward to the next Scottish Independence referendum.

Image credit

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The Red Queen's Brexit race

Here's this blogger's obligatory post on how I've decided decided to vote in the EU referendum tomorrow (I'll be voting to stay). It's not chiefly because I think that the Leave campaign has told more and bigger fibs than the Remain side. It's not even the contemptible racism, xenophobia and scapegoating being encouraged by politicians playing the migrant card.*

I'm mainly pro-Remain because (as I've mentioned in passing before) Brexit would mean the UK wasting years duplicating things we already have in place.

The Leave camp makes a lot of "yuge" Trumpian boasts about how the UK could negotiate a series of "winning " deals, which may or may not come to pass (given that we'd lose the clout of being part of a trading alliance of 500 million people and would, like Switzerland and Norway,** still have to abide by many of its rules, I'm pretty sceptical that a bit of The Art of the Deal-style hustling would fill the gap). But what we do know is that a lot of that deal-making activity would be squandered in simply renegotiating 100+ trade deals we already have in place. Why would you want to move to a place where you had to keep running just to stay in more or less the same place, if you had an alternative?

'Now! Now!' cried the Queen. 'Faster! Faster!' And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.

The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, 'You may rest a little now.'

Alice looked round her in great surprise. 'Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!'

'Of course it is,' said the Queen, 'what would you have it?'

'Well, in our country,' said Alice, still panting a little, 'you'd generally get to somewhere else— if you ran very fast for a long time, as we've been doing.'

'A slow sort of country!' said the Queen. 'Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!'
Through the Looking-Glass

Sorry guys, this time the status quo is an option.

*Not to mention the patronising faux concern for worried working-class Brits. Those politicians deliberately aggravating the migrant panic know that the people who feel that their jobs, services, or communities are threatened by migrants, or by people who look different are badly informed (believing, for example, that 31% of the population are immigrants, when it's more like 13% and that Black and Asian people make up 30% of the population, when it's actually around 11%).

Educated, informed people labelling such easily-corrected wrongness as "legitimate concern" aren't being respectful - quite the opposite. They're treating members of the public as if they're not just wrong - which is no shame, as we all get things wrong from time to time - but as if they're mentally or emotionally incapable of processing the truth. It's not respectful to know that somebody is wrong, but encourage their delusion. It's treating them like children you've taken to Santa's grotto - you, the grown-up may know that the jolly man in red is really that Mr Timms from number 39, disguised in a cotton wool beard, but you tell the kids that he's Father Christmas from the North Pole, because they're only kids and it's just a bit of fun. But the voters, by definition, aren't children and this vote isn't just a bit of fun.

**A good example of a country which is both prosperous and outside the EU, although the prosperity may have more to do to the Norwegians having invested their North Sea Oil windfall wisely than the supposed advantages of being outside the EU (not to mention the fact that Norway's Nordic neighbours which are all EU members, also enjoy enviably high standards of living).

Monday, 20 June 2016

Demagoguery and deceit

As Donald Trump makes another one of the countless absurd claims he’s made during his campaign (this time, following what happened in Florida last weekend, we’re to believe Barack Obama supports ISIS), on the other side of the Atlantic potential future Prime Minister Boris Johnson continues to stoke voter immigration fears. Now, his campaign is assuring fellow Britons that a vote to Remain in the European Union will see Turkish migrants flooding across the border.

Neither of these claims are true. It should go without saying that the president of the United States takes no pleasure in a man massacring 49 of his fellow Americans in Orlando, while the chances of Turkey ever joining the EU are slim to non-existent. All the same, these two politicians are popular – immensely so – because they’ve discovered they can reach the top simply by inventing their own versions of the truth. For various reasons, not only are they getting away with cooking up their own “facts,” but Trump and Johnson are as a result of their fabrications gaining new supporters all the time. He didn’t use the term in his Temple speech, but there’s a name for what Marty Baron was talking about: post-truth politics.

The danger today is that the most unscrupulous of politicians, figures with a real contempt for the electorate, are the ones most likely to exploit voters in the post-truth era. Enter Donald Trump and the Leave campaign. Trump and Leave, headed up by Boris Johnson, are but products of this new system, pushing bigger and bigger fibs and always finding there are zero repercussions for deceiving the electorate – not when the media and the voters fail to sufficiently hold them to account.
Writes Brogan Morris. No further comment needed.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Outrageously suggesting that actions have consequences

Sometimes rhetoric has consequences. If you spend days, weeks, months, years telling people they are under threat, that their country has been stolen from them, that they have been betrayed and sold down the river, that their birthright has been pilfered, that their problem is they’re too slow to realise any of this is happening, that their problem is they’re not sufficiently mad as hell, then at some point, in some place, something or someone is going to snap. And then something terrible is going to happen.
Alex Massie on the predictable consequences of using fear and scapegoating as tools of political persuasion. Massie makes the connection between using incendiary words and the burning feelings of injustice and hate such words can aggravate in the minds of people who are already feeling angry and hard done by.

Which is either a perfectly reasonable point to make, or - according to the idiosyncratic and highly selective form of logic used by Massie's fellow Spectator pundit, Douglas Murray - an insult to "decency." Apparently it's rude to point out the dangers of screaming "fire" very loudly in a crowded building and Murray warns darkly that such disrespect will have "bloody long-term" consequences. So can everybody please stop thinking about actions and consequences right now and get back into reflexive fight or flight mode, otherwise unspecific bad things will definitely happen.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Dating advice for cartoon dogs

Red, hat-wearing, dog: Hello!
Yellow, hatless, dog: Hello!
Red, hat-wearing, dog: Do you like my hat?
Yellow, hatless, dog: I do not.
Red, hat-wearing, dog: Good-by!*
Yellow, hatless, dog: Good-by!
From Go, dog. Go! By P D Eastman. Raquel D'Apice is unimpressed by Yellow Hatless Dog and isn't afraid to say so in An Open Letter to the Female Hat-Wearing Dog From “Go Dog, Go” :
If you’re seeking approval because you’re itching to be in a relationship right now, know that there are other fish in the sea and, more importantly, bazillions of other dogs in this book. Without even looking I found some big dogs and some little dogs going around in cars. I found a red dog on a blue tree. I found a green dog on a yellow tree. I found two dogs in a house on a boat in the water and three dogs at a party on a boat at night. All of whom seem single, ready to mingle, and possibly capable of empathy. The female-to-male dog ratio in this book is totally in your favor so why are you selling yourself short???

Forget this dude who isn’t into your hats! It shouldn’t be hard—he is so completely and totally forgettable because P.D. Eastman draws all dogs more or less identically. And yet like so many cartoon female dogs, you only have eyes for some generic nobody who can’t see how freaking fantastic you are. You confront this guy a third time, desperately searching for the hat validation that since childhood you’ve been told you need.

IT IS NOT ABOUT THE HAT—ARE YOU LISTENING??? It doesn’t matter if he likes your hat or not. I want you to feel the burning radiation of your self-worth as you say, “THIS IS ME. THIS IS WHO I AM. IF YOU’RE NOT INTO ME BECAUSE I’M WEARING AN UNCOMFORTABLY LONG SKI HAT, MAYBE THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT RELATIONSHIP FOR EITHER OF US.”


*[sic (don't know what happened to the "e")]

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

“Assimilation has been very hard”

From Messiah to mascot

A couple of months ago, I was pretty confident that Europe was only a big issue for a tiny group of obsessives. By making their pitch to the minority who are deeply into niche interests like xenophobia and following conspiracy theories about Brussels plotting to make all our bananas straight, I thought the Leave campaign had shot itself in the foot.

But, apparently, I was wrong. A campaign based on the urgent need to keep foreigners out of Britain seems to be working pretty well.

Never mind that the big number emblazoned on the Vote Leave Battle Bus has been fact-checked to death and found to be a complete lie. Never mind that most of the people now pledging a post-Brexit spending spree, to be lavished on every interest group or public service you can possibly imagine, are the same people who've spent the last six years as cheerleaders for the austerian idea that every spare penny spent on public services is a penny that could have better spent reducing the deficit.

Never mind that the notion that the government could favourably re-negotiate all the trade agreements that Britain already has, rather misses the obvious point that there's a massive opportunity cost associated with locking our representatives into x years of renegotiation of stuff we already had in place, instead of concentrating on whatever new opportunities or threats come along in that time.

Never mind all that, because if we don't act now, Brussels will definitely be in a position to unleash weapons of mass migration within 45 minutes, bombarding our country with volleys of Schrödinger’s immigrants who would be totally capable of lazing around on benefits whilst simultaneously stealing all our jobs.
It is all a bit like the run up to the last Iraq war, only turned in its head. In 2003, there was a lot of scepticism out in the country, but there was a burning certainty at the centre of power that "we" had to act now. Blair's dossier might have been dodgy, but you get the impression that he'd talked himself into believing that war was the right and necessary thing to do. And once he'd convinced himself to believe, the strength of his belief became in itself a justification for acting. The time for quibbling over mere evidence was over - you just had feel the strength of his conviction and believe, brothers and sisters!

In 2016, the muddle-headed belief in dodgy scare stories seems to be out there on the streets, (fed by the dodgy dossier cobbled together by pro-Brexit press barons, well-funded astroturf groups like Migration Watch and all the politicians who've ever thought that migrants make a pretty convenient scapegoat for every intractable problem they can't solve). But at the head of the Brexit campaign, there isn't some new Blair, blazing with messianic certainty. At the centre of this doughnut of belief, there's a hole called Boris.

Amazingly, the official face of Vote Leave, doesn't seem that bothered whether we're in or out. Boris looks a lot like the lovable floppy-haired dog that that's been the face of the Dulux paint brand for years and the resemblance is more than fringe-deep. You might get a warm, fuzzy feeling from watching an Old English Sheepdog being used to flog paint, but you know in your heart of hearts, that Rover, or Floppy, or whatever he or she's called isn't really endorsing the brand of paint. Almost certainly, the dog's thinking something completely different, like "Woof! Dog biscuits!"

And when it comes to Boris, you know with even more certainty that he's not bothered about the Brexit product, but is probably thinking something completely different like "Cripes! I'd like to be Prime Minister!" I say this with even more certainty because, unlike the Dulux dog, Boris has expressed himself in human language and other people have recorded and written down the words that came out of his mouth.

If you're still under the naive illusion that BJ actually believes any of his own sound bites, I would direct you to this collection of Boris Johnson quotes, curated by the excellent Tom Pride and expertly rearranged into an EU debate in which the Boris Johnson who's finally realised that he might become Prime Minister by becoming a figurehead for Tory Eurosceptics, argues with the Boris Johnson who hadn't yet decided which side of the fence he ought to come down on to further his career.

In 2003, the nation made a poor choice, based on questionable evidence, because one individual at the heart of power was gripped by a terrible certainty. In 2016, we're in danger of making another poor choice, based on questionable evidence, but this time, the individual leading the charge probably doesn't even care whether it's the right or wrong thing to do, so long as it advances his own career.

Is it worse to be so wrapped up in your own beliefs that you ignore the evidence and leave chaos in your wake, or to be so cynical that you're prepared to lead the nation into an irreversible leap into the dark, just so that you can inch your own career a little further up the greasy pole? You decide.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Queen drones on

Why are unpiloted flying machines called drones? The Online Etymology Dictionary explains, sort of:
drone (n.)
Old English dran, dræn "male honeybee," from Proto-Germanic *dran- (source also of Middle Dutch drane; Old High German treno; German Drohne, which is from Middle Low German drone), probably imitative; given a figurative sense of "idler, lazy worker" (male bees make no honey) 1520s. Meaning "pilotless aircraft" is from 1946.
OK, but where's the link between bees (whether of the striving or skiving variety) and uncrewed aerial vehicles? It's not obvious, but Wikipedia has a plausible explanation going right back to the 1930s, involving the famous Tiger Moth biplane:
A radio-controlled gunnery target version of Tiger Moth appeared in 1935 called the DH.82 Queen Bee; it used a wooden fuselage based on that of the DH.60 Gipsy Moth (with appropriate structural changes related to cabane strut placement) with the wings of the Tiger Moth II. There were nearly 300 in service at the start of the Second World War. It is believed the name "Drone" derived from "Queen Bee". These aircraft retained a normal front cockpit for test-flying or ferry flights, but had a radio-control system in the rear cockpit that operated the controls using pneumatically driven servos. Four-hundred were built by de Havilland at Hatfield, and a further 70 by Scottish Aviation.
Some Queen Bees, produced for the Fleet Air Arm, were mounted on floats for water operations - here's a picture of one being demonstrated to Mr Churchill:

Of course, this was long before the days when drone jockeys started flying via computer screen and joystick, or video game-style controller. As a contributor to The Aviation Forum explained:
Radio controlled, they were launched by catapult, then radio controlled using pulse signals from (honest) an old-style telephone dial.
Dialing nine or ......... gave you a dive.
Six or ...... gave you climb
Five or ..... left turn
Three or ... right turn
...which is wonderfully like playing a game using the keys of your mobile phone, only you get to control a real Tiger Moth, instead of a few pixels on a screen.

In other news, the Queen was 90 (again) yesterday and apparently said some stuff. Prince Harry looked unamused...

... although, to be fair, the photo probably puts those paternity doubts to rest or, if not, at least makes me think that nurture must trump genetics in some cases.

Friday, 10 June 2016

Truly economical

"News is anything anybody wants to suppress; everything else is public relations” according to ... well, take your pick.

Although nobody can agree who said this first, or who put it best, everybody can at least agree that "everything else" now looks way bigger than journalism, at least here in the UK. According to the Graun's Roy Greenslade, there are now around 64,000 people working as journalists in the UK, but there are 84,000 people working in public relations.

Or, to put it another way, there are only about three quarters as many people being paid to tell us the truth about what's going on in the world as there are people being paid to slant, manipulate, or be economical with, the truth.

And that's the optimistic version, based on the shaky assumption that telling the truth is always what media proprietors want their journalists to do. If you're teensist bit sceptical about the assertion that journalists are never, ever pressured to self-censor to keep advertisers sweet, told to parrot the boss's prejudices, or tacitly encouraged to cut n' paste unchecked press releases churned out by PR people, in order to hit deadlines, then the truth's actual mileage looks even more economical.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Leave it to Beaver

"Britain torn between blatant racism or insidious racism" writes John Shafthauer at The Canary, proving the folks at the Daily Mash haven't completely monopolised the art of the pithy spoof headline.*

Good to see that reports of satire's death have been greatly exaggerated - at least it's a bit more to the point than spray painting a Vote Leave poster to read "Vote Beaver":

Mind you, it may not have been the most incisive satirical comment ever, but the priceless look on Angry Vote Leave Man's face does make the graffiti'd comment worthwhile. And I suppose even the beaver angle does have satirical possibilities:
Speaking on behalf of Vote Boris Leave, Boris Johnson has claimed that "If the people of Britain vote for Brexit, everyone will definitely get a free beaver." In reply, David Cameron mocked the Leave camp's failure to meet its own "no ifs, no buts" pledge to increase net beaver migration to more than the "tens of thousands."

The vote to decide the next leader of the Conservative Party whether the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, or remains a member, will be held on June the 23rd.

* Update - although I think the Mash might just have raised the bar with "Britons demand to live in medieval village surrounded by a wall." Maybe I'll leave that sort of thing to the professionals in future...

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Not the sharpest axe in the toolshed

Yonks ago, in a post titled "A brief history of eco-fascism", I touched on a weird bunch of mystical Fascist loons misunderstood and totally apolitical group of neo-pagans who go by the name of "Woden's Folk." I'd more or less forgotten about them until I happened on this extract from one of the group's old newsletters. If the British Comedy Awards had an "unintentional" category, we'd be looking at a winner here:
I have to report that Grimwulf is fine and getting better after cutting his finger badly when preparing the Sacred Fire with a new and very sharp axe. Thanks must go to Uhtred for taking him to the local A & E.
Terry Pratchett must be chortling in his grave.

"I still say you should do a risk assessment, Grimwulf. Somebody might get hurt..."
 Image credit.


Potoblogging Ely

Ely Cathedral, West Tower (the gowned people are Open University students, whose degree ceremony was being held in the cathedral yesterday)...

...and with the West Tower out of the way, you can see the famous Octagon Lantern.
Under the Lantern. Sadly, not the sharpest picture, but you can still see that that it looks spectacular.
What a ceiling...

Oliver Cromwell's House (Cromwell lived here with his family between 1636 and 1647, when he wasn't busy in Parliament, or fighting the Civil War).

The Offspring on a cannon which has nothing to do with the English Civil War...

... as you can tell from the Cyrillic writing...
... and the double-headed eagle - gotta be a Crimean War trophy.

And finally, a panorama, featuring Ely Cathedral, St Mary's Church and Cromwell's house in one shot - click to embiggen.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Boris and Boney the bogeyman

The most interesting thing about Boris Johnson's inevitable Godwin moment last month wasn't the predictable reductio ad Hitlerum, but his desperate attempt to pad out his tissue-thin argument with a vague reference to the alleged, misguided, attempts by Napoleon and "various others" to  subject Europe to a new Pax Romana:
The former mayor of London, who is a keen classical scholar, argues that the past 2,000 years of European history have been characterised by repeated attempts to unify Europe under a single government in order to recover the continent’s lost “golden age” under the Romans.

“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” he says.
It's more interesting than the headline-grabbing Hitler comparison because Boris is probably wrong about Napoleon on an even more fundamental level. There are at least two questionable assumptions implicit in Johnson citing Napoleon as a warning from history about megalomaniacal attempts to unify Europe under one government.

  1. Was Napoleon really trying to conquer the whole of Europe in order to recreate a Roman-style empire ?
  2. Was Napoleonic rule really so bad?

There are plenty of historians (including Andrew Roberts, who presented the BBC's history series about Napoleon last year) who'd say no. Granted, Roberts is a bit of a Napoleon fanboy and too uncritical of the "great man" version of history for my taste, but he still provided a useful counterbalance to a British view of Napoleon as seen through the distorting lens of his victorious enemies' propaganda.

This propaganda was so effective that it spawned one of history's most successful memes, long before the term was invented, the stereotypical  maniac who thought, in his madness, that he was Napoleon.

According to the monarchies of Europe, Napoleon was a power-crazed tyrant, who had to be stopped before he subjugated the whole of Europe by force. But, as Roberts pointed out, a lot of the time when Napoleon was waging war, he wasn't engaged in some grandiose project to conquer Europe, just trying to defend France from the enemies who were attacking her. And Roberts isn't the only one to make this argument:
Popular and scholarly history presents a one-dimensional image of Napoleon as an inveterate instigator of war who repeatedly sought large-scale military conquests. General Franceschi and Ben Weider dismantle this false conclusion in The Wars Against Napoleon, a brilliantly written and researched study that turns our understanding of the French emperor on its head... Franceschi and Weider argue persuasively that the caricature of the megalomaniac conqueror who bled Europe white to satisfy his delirious ambitions and insatiable love for war is groundless... This rigorous intellectual presentation is based upon three principal themes. The first explains how an unavoidable belligerent situation existed after the French Revolution of 1789. The new France inherited by Napoleon was faced with the implacable hatred of reactionary European monarchies determined to restore the ancient regime. All-out war was therefore inevitable unless France renounced the modern world to which it had just painfully given birth. The second theme emphasizes Napoleon s determined efforts ... to avoid this inevitable conflict. The political strategy of the Consulate and the Empire was based on the intangible principle of preventing or avoiding these wars, not on conquering territory. Finally, the authors examine, conflict by conflict, the evidence that Napoleon never declared war. As he later explained at Saint Helena, it was he who was always attacked not the other way around... After each of his memorable victories Napoleon offered concessions, often extravagant ones, to the defeated enemy for the sole purpose of avoiding another war.

Other brands of opinion are available, but it is at least possible to argue, in a way that it isn't about Hitler, that Napoleon was no worse than his enemies. You say he was autocratic? Maybe, but more so than the Czar who ruled over a country which didn't even get round to abolishing serfdom until 1861? I don't think so.

A power-crazed empire builder? Well, yes, according to the British, who fought him while they were busy with their own megalomaniacal scheme for a global empire on which, they would later boast, the sun would never set. But history is written by the winners, so it's only the losers' grand designs which get to be labelled as insane hubris with impunity.

But never mind the things Napoleon didn't achieve - even the stuff he did complete compares pretty favourably with the legacies of the rougues' alliance of monarchies that eventually overwhelmed him:
Yet he said he would be remembered not for his military victories, but for his domestic reforms, especially the Code Napoleon, that brilliant distillation of 42 competing and often contradictory legal codes into a single, easily comprehensible body of French law. In fact, Napoleon’s years as first consul, from 1799 to 1804, were extraordinarily peaceful and productive. He also created the educational system based on lycées and grandes écoles and the Sorbonne, which put France at the forefront of European educational achievement. He consolidated the administrative system based on departments and prefects. He initiated the Council of State, which still vets the laws of France, and the Court of Audit, which oversees its public accounts. He organized the Banque de France and the Légion d’Honneur, which thrive today. He also built or renovated much of the Parisian architecture that we still enjoy, both the useful—the quays along the Seine and four bridges over it, the sewers and reservoirs—and the beautiful, such as the Arc de Triomphe, the Rue de Rivoli and the Vendôme column.
Insane, reckless ambition, Boris? Two words come to mind.

Psychological projection.