Airheads of Youth (Get Off My Lawn!)

Posted on September 19th, 2018 by MAO

Tourist alert: There are a couple of big, BIG national parties coming up soon in Eastern Europe! This is due to the simple fact that both Czechoslovakia and Poland emerged at the end of the First World War -so a hundred years ago, in 1918 – from the Russian and Austria-Hungarian Empires which collapsed at the end of that conflict. Fortunately, the exact schedule is fairly spread-out (to the benefit of the hard-core partyer): Founding of the Czechoslovak State, 28 October, of the (Second) Polish Republic on 11 November.

Head in that direction for some substantial celebrations, especially if you missed the last millennial party-day – no, not 1 January 2000 (although that one, too), but 1 May 2004 when these and eight other countries all became EU member-states. No need to study up on the exact historical occasions this time, though, for the natives likely won’t do much of that themselves, at least in the Czech Republic according to to this piece in that country’s main business newspaper Hospodářské noviny.


There people o have plenty of historical milestones from recent history to remember, mostly of the sad variety. But that’s if one cares to recall them in the first place (and isn’t ignorance equivalent to bliss?). Admittedly, the 1918 (happy) events are relatively prominent in the national memory: in a recent survey, 79% could recall the end of the war and/or the establishment of the republic (not from personal experience, of course). Just twenty years later, in 1938, that republic crumbled to dust, abandoned to Nazi German forces due to the infamous Munich Agreement. But only 54% of this poll’s sample know about that.

Similarly, they’re pretty up on the Warsaw Pact invasion n 1968 that put an end to a brief period of liberalization known as the Prague Spring – 76%. Rather fewer (65%) could tell the poll-takers anything intelligent about how the Communists took power in the first place, namely by means of “Victorious February” (as it was styled in Communist propaganda) a Soviet-supported take-over of the government in 1948.

This poll was conducted by the NMS Market Research organization on behalf of Post Bellum, which describes itself as “a non-governmental nonprofit organization which documents the memories of witnesses of the important historical phenomenon [sic] of the 20th century and tries to pass these stories on to the broader public.” It might well be worth your time to click that previous link to read the fuller (English) description of what they try to do, or even to download their entire 24 page EN-language brochure. Crucially, Post Bellum has managed to partner with Czech Radio, and thereby has gained not only necessary equipment for recording and storing live historical testimony, but also occasional programming-slots within State radio’s various channels to present a series of documentaries, collectively titled “Stories of the 20th Century.” The webpage that brings all these together (about 90 of them) for listening/downloading is here; however, as you might well imagine, everything is in Czech.

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Dutchmen Attempt Murder in Prague

Posted on September 11th, 2018 by MAO

I’ve been watching coverage of this particular incident for a while, mainly via the Czech press. It has to do with an violent episode in downtown Prague last April 21 (a Saturday evening) when a group of Dutch citizens beat a waiter unconscious at a downtown sidewalk restaurant after he objected to their bringing along their own alcohol to the meal. The latest development, reported about a month ago (i.e. first week of August, 2018), is that two members out of that group – brothers, as it turns out – judged to have acted most violently now face attempted murder charges from Czech justice.


They were a group of seven men, presumably having traveled to Prague for some “stag party”-type fun. And yes, they seized maximally the chance to display their upbringing, their courage and their sheer manhood by ganging up en masse against the sole waiter, quickly getting him on the ground and then repeatedly hitting and kicking him there, breaking his jaw and and an eye-socket and rendering him unconscious. This happened at a very public location, namely in the shadow of the Tesco department store and right by the Národní třída Metro entrance (not to mention a famous statue of the head of Franz Kafka by David Černý), and things went on in front of plenty of witnesses (and cameras) until the gang decided they needed to escape any oncoming police intervention and ran off. So we can also assume they didn’t bother paying for the meal they were in the process of consuming.

Don’t worry, they were all eventually captured, and brought before Czech justice. To be clear, according to the latest Dutch coverage, of the seven perpetrators two were released without charge because of evidence that they had actually tried to calm their colleagues down rather than fight. Three others of the group were given an eight-month suspended jail sentence and deported out of the country, which they are not allowed to re-enter for the next five years (something admittedly difficult to enforce given that the Czech Republic is in the EU’s passport-free Schengen Zone). The remaining two are still jailed in Prague to this day; evidence subsequently submitted about the serious nature of the waiter’s wounds has led the Prague authorities to increase the charges agains them to attempted murder (possible 18 year jail sentence).

I have two further points to add about this disgraceful incident:

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Past Deeds Catch Up with Venezuela

Posted on August 27th, 2018 by MAO

The news is full these days of the disaster that is happening in Venezuela, basically a collapse of the economy and massive emigration. These people’s lot was not helped in any sense by last week’s 7.3-Richter earthquake – that’s pretty damn strong, it made buildings in Caracas sway. You’d imagine there were extensive casualties, although I have yet to see reports about that: perhaps, even as they were hit by those shifting tectonics, the Venezuelans realized they still have bigger ongoing problems and just quickly moved on.

That derelict economy is a complicated issue, but it is at least clear that it is due to disastrous past decisions made by the national government. Some additional after-effects of those recently popped up which you have likely not heard about. For Curaçao and a couple of its five other associated islands (Aruba, Bonaire) lie rather too close offshore from Venezuela, pretty much a stone’s-throw from the chaos prevailing there. So, for example, these islands regularly encounter their own boat-loads of refugees coming from the south, desperate for sustenance.

Curaçao and its five associated islands are in fact still in a loose political relationship with the original colonizer, the Dutch state, so the Dutch press is always interested in what is going on there. Lately there was this:


“Curaçao relieved: Confiscation of Venezuelan national oil company [property] lifted.” That property on the island is basically the refinery there and associated ships at anchor, which oil company ConocoPhillips had succeeded in having impounded – via judicial means, of course – as a means to gain compensation for the seizure of its own oil refining property in Venezuela proper by the government there around ten years ago.

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A Flying Leap From Climate Change

Posted on August 15th, 2018 by MAO

Here’s something on my EuroSavant Twitter timeline that made me sit up and take notice: “Low-Cost Air Tickets are A Catastrophe, From Which Only Legislation Can Save Us”


To be sure, this comes from the Copenhagen-based Dagbladet Information, generally considered to be oriented to the Left (and that in Danish terms!). And the guest-columnist for this particular piece is one Lauritz Korfix Schultz (@lauritzschultz), a high-school teacher.

But since when has one’s station in life necessarily blocked anyone from putting together a cogent argument, an alarming and convincing warning? This comes in particular after a “scorching” European summer (and elsewhere within the Northern Hemisphere) with drought everywhere and the widespread outbreak of forest-fires.

Schultz focuses squarely on commercial aircraft flights and the substantial contribution they make to ever-more CO2 in the atmosphere, to a greater greenhouse effect that is gradually heating the Earth. Yes, there is a growing realization here, with increasing coverage (at least within Scandinavian papers) of those who resolve never again to fly, out of concern for future generations. Admirable, for sure, Schultz says, but hardly enough: it is rather time for national governments to intervene to at least make flying far more expensive, in order precisely to drive down demand and ensure that ticket prices finally accurately reflect the damage they enable travelers to inflict on our common environment.

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Seehofer Antidote: Sealift

Posted on August 6th, 2018 by MAO

“We’re a bit like a left-wing PEGIDA – only ten times as fast and not as shitty.” That’s the take-away quote from a recent piece in Neues Deutschland, “Uprising in Orange,” about Seebrücke (“See-bridge”; in English they call themselves “Sealift”), a new pro-refugee political movement that has recently arisen in Germany.


Maybe you already know about PEGIDA: A notable anti-refugee movement, since its formation in 2014 it has been organizing regular right-wing nativist demonstrations in its home-city Dresden and then further afield. These people are not that, they’re the opposite. Seebrücke just recently got its start in Berlin, which is where Neues Deutschland journalist Niklas Franzen interviews its two top officials for this piece; it, too, has already spread beyond its cradle to other cities. Its cause is clear: Stop the Mediterranean deaths! That is, save the refugees found floating there in their precarious, smuggler-provided rubber boats and let them come – let them even come to Germany! To that end, the organization has organized a series of public demonstrations this summer, including around 12,000 people gathering under the Seebrücke name in Berlin, and numerous other public events elsewhere in Germany, to include raves, flashmobs and even “yoga lessons”(?).

After initially coming to life as the result of communications traffic on the Telegram on-line message system among people alarmed at the drownings and increasing repressive measures against those Mediterranean “boat people,” the organization was formed through the coming-together of various left-wing NGOs and “art collectives.” Yet it resolutely keeps its own structure to a minimum: the two “leaders” interviewed for the piece are better described as Seebrücke‘s leading spokespersons, as it operates in a very decentralized manner, with no hierarchy, leaving it to local enthusiasts to organize events to move the cause forward, itself offering only what it calls “a roof” over the common cause (plus a common color to brand all their activities, namely the easy-to-pick-out orange tinge of the standard life-preserver vest).

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Bulgaria Wants to Join Euro

Posted on August 2nd, 2018 by MAO

August has now started, and this is the month Brussels notoriously empties out (together with Paris, etc.), you can’t find anyone who can actually make a decision, and so nothing can get done. But when they come back in September EU officials will face a full plate, topped by Brexit but also refugee policy (the incoming hordes have now notably shifted to Spain), Poland/Hungary, Trump, and all sorts of other things. None of those is a particularly pleasant subject, so the EU mandarins will surely cherish all the more any good news on their agenda – like Bulgaria know knocking on the door of that EU club-within-EU club, the Eurozone, as Martin Ehl recently reported for the Czech business newspaper Hospodářské noviny.


This is nothing particularly new. Rather, we’re just past an important milestone for this effort by Sofia (no, not any female but rather Bulgaria’s capital), which namely happened in June when the Bulgarian government struck agreement with Eurozone officials on a program of six economic/financial requirements the country will have to meet by June of 2019 to then be admitted into the so-called European Exchange Rate Mechanism II (ERM II), a monetary arrangement allowing a divergence of only ±15% around a set central rate. It is standard that any given national currency be subject for at least two years to ERM II before that country is allowed to adopt the euro.

Membership Requirements: No Sweat!

For Bulgaria, upholding that ±15% should be no problem, as the Central Bank has long had its currency, the lev, “shadow” (i.e. stay close to) the euro around a fixed point (and before that, the lev “shadowed” the deutsche Mark). When it comes to the three fundamental criteria for euro membership, as well, Bulgaria meets them all with room to spare:

  • Inflation: 1.4% in 2017 (1.9% max allowed)
  • Government budget deficit: Actually had a surplus last year of 0.9% GDP (max allowed deficit is 3%);
  • Overall government debt: Now 29% of GDP (max allowed 60%)

It is hardly unknown for central bank authorities to have their national currency “shadow” a dominant neighboring currency, even though such a policy effectively means giving up control of national monetary policy to that “shadowed” money: the Netherlands authorities long had the guilder shadow the deutsche Mark, while Denmark still today does the same for its krone with regard to the euro (it’s the only other country currently within ERM II).

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Sing to Me of Your Bloody Standard!

Posted on July 30th, 2018 by MAO

Here’s a pretty remarkable photo; the setting is the porch-entrance to the Elysée, France’s presidential palace.


It’s a fairly variegated group, at least racially if not sexually. Of course, it’s the victorious French national football team, visiting President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. And they’re all singing something.

In fact, they’re serenading about “the day of glory,” yes, but also about “the roar of those ferocious soldiers,” “cut[ting] the throats of your sons, your women!” – all so that “an impure blood [can] water our [farms’] furrows!”

Yes, they’re singing La Marseillaise, France’s national anthem from 1795, and the heyday of France’s revolution. It was relevant back then, with foreign armies streaming into the country to try to extinguish the widespread revolt against the sort of king and aristocracy that prevailed then in the rest of Europe.

But is that sort of thing still suited for 2018? The contrast is striking – at least for me – when national anthems are played at national-team football matches involving France: the downright bloodthirsty words the French players are expected to sing (many do not) versus the more anodyne sentiments sung by the other side:

“God Save the Queen”;

“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there”;

“Unity and justice and freedom/For the German fatherland!”;

“William of Nassau am I, of native blood” (from the Dutch; the world’s oldest national anthem, so perhaps we can forgive the fact that it makes less outright sense than most);

“Poland has not yet perished/So long as we still live”;

Etc.

Or you have the Spanish, luckiest national football players of them all, with a national anthem for which there are officially no lyrics at all!

For France, can this be allowed to last? Is that country really still the sort of revolutionary power for which such an official anthem is appropriate, particularly considering its position for decades at the heart of the EU?

I really would look forward to finding what writer Alain Borer for Le Point has to say about all this, his title even speaks of some sort of “misunderstanding” (malentendu) involved here. But the bulk of this piece is behind their paywall, so I’m not allowed to know. Sorry about that.

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Extradition & Dodgy Polish Justice

Posted on July 25th, 2018 by MAO

This is HOT off the press, off the Twitter timeline! (At least for those of you out there reading not long after the date/time of this article’s posting.) And it’s big: it’s a major ruling just out from the European Court of Justice regarding the EU’s internal system of mutual criminal-suspect extradition.


If the reader has been paying attention at all to EU affairs (certainly to this Twitter-feed and associated blog), s/he will be aware of the ongoing struggle between the EU and the government of Poland. This regards several changes which that particular regime (composed of of one party only, so-called PiS or “Law and Justice”) instituted starting shortly after coming to power in October 2015 elections. Among such authoritarian measures in the eyes of the EU have been those regarding nomination and mandatory retirement of national judges, which subject the courts to much too much influence from government officials.

Unfortunately, all that has resulted so far between the EU and Poland is stalemate, with neither side inclined to back down. It’s also true that the EU Commission instituted a so-called “Article 7” procedure against Poland, which could eventually strip that country of its vote in EU matters (except that the Hungarian government has made clear its intention to veto any such development). And the Commission has sued the Polish government at the European Court of Justice, but getting any resolution out of that also takes a long time.

Ireland: We Won’t Extradite!

Last March, however, a monkey-wrench was thrown into the EU-Poland confrontation from an unexpected source: Ireland High Court Judge Ms. Justice Aileen Donnelly. The Irish authorities had apprehended one Artur Celmer, a Polish citizen wanted back there on suspicion of various drug-trafficking charges, and Judge Donnelly was handed the task of supervising his extradition to Poland in accordance with the EU’s system for that (the “European Arrest Warrant” or EAW).

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Moustique Mystique

Posted on July 24th, 2018 by MAO

We’re now heading into Europe’s summer doldrums, when everyone seems to be away on vacation, to return only sometime in August. That’s certainly the case for France, which notoriously closes down every year for that entire month. Just enough time, then, to address a remaining philosophical question before packing up the family plus luggage in the car hitting the road. Audrey Dufour of the newspaper La Croix poses a piercing question: Is the mosquito [FR: le moustique] actually good for anything?

La Croix [Fr: The Cross] is well-known in France as the national paper of the Roman Catholic Church, so it is rather interesting that Ms. Dufour should take up this particular question. After all, the mosquito has long served as a key piece of evidence for those secular types ready to dispute the doctrine that the World/Universe is so wonderful and intricate that it must have been created by a divine intelligence. An argument that has spanned millenia and currently goes under the labels of “creationism” or “intelligent design,” it is often first attacked by bringing up the lowly mosquito: What sort of world-designer in His right divine mind would have thought to include that?

Human-mosquito interactions are inevitably unpleasant for the former across-the-board, whether looking down on a summer’s day to see an irksome insect drawing your blood, to hearing that bothersome whine around your head at night while trying to get to sleep. But that is ultimately small potatoes: what is truly serious about mosquitos is the ~400,000 people they kill each year by transmitting malaria, making them truly the world’s most deadly animal.

Right … Anything Good to Say?

That’s a pretty heavy weight on the debit side of the ledger. But Ms. Dufour gamely makes a good effort towards trying to find something positive to say. One word: Biodiversity, something Pope Francis has explicitly lauded in his speeches on ecology, and which here expresses the idea that the mosquito, no matter how odious, is an irreplaceable link in the great natural chain of being.

And it’s true, fish and amphibians eat mosquito larvae wholesale, while birds and other sorts of animals feast on the grown-up versions. Now, it’s not as if any of these rely solely on mosquitos for their nutrition; indeed, the article points out how it would be hard to prove that any would particularly be affected should mosquitos go extinct entirely.

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Qatar 2022: Ready Already?

Posted on July 23rd, 2018 by MAO

The Russian World Cup 2018 is now over: for us here at EuroSavant, roughly four weeks of studious effort to ignore what was going on there, with periodic postings of tweets seeking to remind people what a propaganda victory this represented for Putin. Next up, in World Cup terms, is Qatar in 2022. According to the FranceTVInfo.fr site, le Qatar est déjà prêt: “Qatar is ready already” (much more gracefully expressed in French, of course):


I guess almost limitless funds, together with a largely formless homeland with few distinctive terrain features, can be useful for efficiently driving such a massive construction project to completion (not to mention the, er, “forced labor” as Amnesty International puts it). Still, that headline is misleading: from the article itself it becomes clear that Qatar is not yet ready to run a World Cup-size football tournament, although its progress is likely more advanced at this stage than any other host has achieved.

The biggest stadium, Khalifa International Stadium, situated in the capital Doha, is now ready to host opening and closing ceremonies together with key games such as the Final. Indeed, in October of 2019 it is scheduled to host the world track & field championships. But that’s about it: Work remains ongoing on the remaining seven, as well as on the subway/metro system which is the country’s first such installation, being purpose-built for the occasion.

(Indeed, in Qatar you get where you need to go by car: highways are plentiful, gas is cheap, and the inside is air-conditioned. If you don’t have the means to do that, then you don’t count. Obviously, that attitude cannot apply to the thousands, even millions, of football fans that mini-state hopes to attract in late 2022 – but who will take the metro afterwards, when they are not used to doing so now?)

How Much Is That in Real Money?

In money terms, writer Emmanuel Cugny calculates that Qatar will ultimately spend the equivalent of around €100 billion on World Cup 2020. That aforementioned subway system alone will cost around €31 billion. Plus, it says here that the authorities promise to have available 1.5 million hotel rooms (versus the normal FIFA requirement of 60,000); this presumably means some level of private infrastructural spending as well. And as Cugny takes care to note, this massive effort is all the more impressive considering it is taking place against what is supposed to be an economic embargo, now nearly 14 months old, against Qatar by its fellow Gulf Cooperation Council states.

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Twitter: Something Rotten

Posted on May 30th, 2018 by MAO

The scandal around Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and misuse of personal data is now old news, updated only by Mark Zuckerberg’s recent “mea-culpa-but-no-real-answers” appearance at the European Parliament – and by the advent of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which one would think will pose a stark challenge to Facebook’s entire business model (and legal challenges from NGOs against the Internet giants, based upon GDPR, are already filed).

I’m basically not involved with Facebook. Rather, it’s no secret that EuroSavant has for some time revolved mostly around Twitter. And it’s not anything about my personal data on Twitter that I am particularly worried about. It’s something else, namely the timeline.

It’s by now well-known how Facebook applies massive computing-power to manipulate a user’s timeline (called there the news feed) to keep people hooked. When it comes to Twitter, for too long I believed (rather naively) that there was no such manipulation, that the Twitter timeline was a simple “fire hose” of tweets aggregated from accounts one chose to follow.

It’s hardly that anymore. The first step away from “firehose” was the “In case you missed it” feature: manipulation to pluck individual tweets (chosen via AI to be of particular interest to the account-holder) out of their place in the timeline to be displayed again in a special section under that title. The significance here was less any utility from the new feature itself, than representing the first overt (i.e. that users were allowed to know about) concession to tweet-flow manipulation. Since then, it’s become clear that things have gone much further, to the point of what we might term the “Facebooking” of the Twitter timeline.

I know this is not just me: even famed journalist Elizabeth Drew has noticed something odd is going on:


But speaking of me, I’ve become frustrated by the increasing time/effort it now takes to find the sort of tweet-material I need, namely news-pieces worth passing on – whether in by tweet or a blogpost – with a bit of translation and commentary. Ms. Drew’s key objection is quite basic: “let us see tweets by people we’ve chosen to follow.” Too often that does not happen anymore.

“Oh? So what does one see instead on the timeline?” you might well ask. Tweets from people to whom I do not subscribe, for one thing, but which have been retweeted by people to whom I do. Fine, since by retweeting a given twitterer in effect broadcasts that tweet as his own, you can argue that there should be no objection to that when it is from someone I follow. But what about seeing a tweet solely due to it having been “liked” by someone whom I follow? For example, @Slatefr liked this Beach Boys tweet from @jmpottier, that’s supposed to have something to do with me??


No, “liking” is something different; and it’s nothing I ever asked for. Even worse: Receiving a tweet from someone whom I do not follow solely on the basis that he is followed by someone I do! Sometimes the apologetic message even states that not just someone you follow follows this guy, but many others as well! I don’t care: quit constipating my timeline! I’ve told Twitter what I am interested in, in effect, by the choices I’ve made about whom to follow!


Again, this really degrades Twitter’s usefulness for EuroSavant, namely finding interesting foreign-language articles – and not dealing with distraction through tenuously related fluff used by Twitter in its constant quest to increase “user involvement,” measured by numbers of followers. For it’s a public company now, folks, and has been for a while! Gotta show ever-rising metrics to Wall Street!

Back to Basics

Let’s recall what should be the Twitter fundamentals: You and I and everyone signed up to regularly receive the tweets of other tweeps in whom we are interested. But more and more, as Ms. Drew points out, that simply does not happen: tweets from those you follow are not put on your timeline, while all sorts of tempting, extraneous, AI-created garbage is.

You know how you can counteract that? By making a separate list of the Twitter-handles of those you follow (perhaps on an Excel sheet) and then cutting-and-pasting each handle in turn up into the URL, pasting it just after the “http://www.twitter.com/,” and then Return to go in sequence to each user directly! That’s what I increasingly do when I get tired of cutting through the crap displayed on my regular timeline.

That’s also what you could do, dear reader, to ensure you do not miss any tweet emanating from @EuroSavant! OK, I can’t ask you to do that, only to be aware that you surely have missed some of mine, even when your timing was otherwise right to catch them, all due to the Twitter algorithm trying to “broaden your horizons” via exposure to other tweets of quite evanescent relevance. And yes, I see the value of exposure to new things, to let serendipity bloom – but how about if we limit that to retweets from those I have chosen to follow?

I know, I’m shouting into a void here: Twitter will do what it feels it needs to do to satisfy its shareholders, not its users. And “timeline abuse” has hardly penetrated into the current controversy encircling the on-line giants. Like Facebook, Twitter is a worldwide monopoly, riding a powerful network effect, for the communication service it provides. But increasingly there is something rotten there at the core.

UPDATE: Cut-and-paste the following URL; save it somewhere securely:

https://twitter.com/search?f=tweets&q=filter%3Afollows%20-filter%3Areplies&src=typd

Here’s what you do: Log on to your Twitter account normally. But then copy-and-paste the above into your browser’s address bar, hit Enter and go there. In effect, you’re executing a Twitter-search of your timeline which functions to remove the extraneous bullshit discussed in the blogpost above, so that you are left with what we could call “ur-Twitter”: namely, just the tweets in accurate chronological order from only the accounts you have chosen to follow.

For those into Irony, I would admit that I came upon this solution from a tweet which I never would have seen in my timeline without the new-fangled “So-and-so liked” distortions about which I complain above, which this tool serves to remove. But I’ll take it anyway.

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Leave ISIL Out of This!

Posted on November 13th, 2017 by MAO

Remember back at the end of July when a young guy pulled out a knife in a supermarket in a residential suburb of Hamburg (Germany) and started stabbing people? He killed one person there and wounded five, then wounded another as he tried to flee the scene.

Naturally, as he jabbed he repeatedly cried out that old standard “Allahu Akbar” – Of course! Of course! – and it should neither be a surprise that he was a refugee in Germany, housed in a local Hamburg refugee center: he had been refused asylum, was supposed to be deported, but was enjoying a bureaucratic delay because he had never shown any “papers” specifying where he came from. (He’s Palestinian, although born in the UAE.)


Well, he has succeeded in avoiding deportation, but only in favor of a German jail. (Of course, he succeeded far more in souring the German electorate’s mood towards refugees generally.) Now he will go to trial, charged with one count of murder and six counts of attempted murder.

Back then after his arrest, he had a lot to say to the police. His aim had been to become a “martyr,” but only after first killing as many “Christians and young people” as possible. He had meant his act as a “contribution to a worldwide jihad,” and ISIL issued a statement shortly afterwards taking credit for his attack.

Nonetheless, he is not being charged with terrorism. Investigators could find no actual connection on his part with ISIL or any other terrorist group, no matter how much the perpetrator himself and ISIL tried to talk up such a connection after-the-fact. It seems clear that he was nothing more than a very confused young man, a lone-wolf “inspired” by ISIL but nothing more.

Hamburg law-enforcement, after proper investigation, are intelligent enough to realize that. Contrast that with, for example, the New York City Halloween truck-killer. (What? Forgot about him already?) Send him to Guantanamo (said President Trump)! ISIL also claimed credit for that attack and – no matter how tenuous the actual links between that killer and ISIL seemed to be – their credibility (ironically enough) was good enough for US authorities: He’s a terrorist! Or consider the 2015 San Bernardino shootings: they’re Muslim, ISIL takes the credit, so they’re terrorists – when acceding to that self-description in fact gives them more sinister credit than they deserve, not to mention potentially subjecting them to further criminal charges which may not actually be warranted.

In the Age of Trump the US is no sort of calm, reflective country, so that we should not expect anytime soon rational proceeding in such extreme public criminal matters of the sort the Hamburg authorities have displayed here. But that’s a shame.

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Secret Police Skeletons

Posted on November 9th, 2017 by MAO

By now it’s reached the cliché-stage to call the new presumptive Czech Republic prime minister, Andrej Babiš, the “Czech Donald Trump.” Sadly, people like to do so – among other, obvious, reasons – because the comparison is so true. The main aspect here is that Babiš is also rather rich, said to be the second-richest person in the country, so that a great part of his political appeal undoubtedly is voters’ confidence that someone who has been so successful in his personal financial life must be able to perform in the same way for the country.

Oh, and he also does not hold back when it comes to advancing those private financial interests using his public powers; we know that from his record as Treasury Minister in the outgoing government.

But now the leading Czech business newspapere, Hospodářské noviny, brings up another parallel people may have started to forget: Babiš’ unsavory pre-Revolution past.


“Agent Bureš”: That was said to be Babiš’ code-name in filed reports about his alleged collaboration with the StB, the Czechoslovak secret police back in the bad old Communist days, dating from when he was reported to have sat down as a 28-year-old in 1982 at a specific cafe in downtown Bratislava to sign a collaboration agreement. Now, Babiš’ own father was a high-ranking Czechoslovak Communist official, in fact a diplomat, meaning that young Babiš mostly lived and was educated abroad. Naturally, he then grabbed an excellent regime job as a young adult, working for the Slovak international trade company and even representing it for a while in Morocco.

So working secretly for the regime in some way was pretty much baked-in for Andrej Babiš. The real question is: How enthusiastically? More »

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Laughing on Spain’s Precipice

Posted on September 15th, 2017 by MAO

Here at EuroSavant we’re always trying to expand the breadth of European non-English-language sources we regularly consult: both through learning new languages (a slow process; also one sometimes even prone to reversal) and simply through finding fresh news-sources we hadn’t been aware of before.

How long ago was it that I added the Twitter-feed of El Mundo Today to my “following”-list? I can’t remember, but that media-outlet seemed legit at the time, what with its very name a derivative of El Mundo, one of Spain’s “newspapers of record,” and with the ambitious slogan La actualidad del mañana (“Tomorrow’s news”) making up its Twitter-bio.

They also seemed to have a knack for coming up with interesting scoops, or at least so I thought recently when I saw one of their tweets yesterday:


“A Catalan Terminator comes from the Future to appear in Parliament intending to dissuade Puigdemont.” That would be Carles Puigdemont, let’s call him “governor” of the want-away Spanish (let’s call it) province of Catalonia, and so point-man for the referendum on independence from Spain which officials of that province intend to hold on October 1, despite opposition from the central government. More »

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The Brutal Remedy for Mongolism

Posted on August 28th, 2017 by MAO

What interesting news the mainstream Italian newspaper La Repubblica recently had! “Down Syndrome: In Iceland they choose to avoid it”:


And avoid it they do: The tweet-text below the picture goes on to report how only 1 or 2 babies afflicted with that genetic irregularity are born in Iceland each year.

Let’s have a reminder that Down Syndrome is certainly nothing anyone would want to see in their new infant; from Wikipedia:

Those with Down syndrome nearly always have physical and intellectual disabilities. As adults, their mental abilities are typically similar to those of an 8- or 9-year-old. They also typically have poor immune function and generally reach developmental milestones at a later age. They have an increased risk of a number of other health problems, including congenital heart defect, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and mental disorders, among others.

Further, and to be blunt, people with Down Syndrome have a certain common look: “a small chin, slanted eyes . . . a small mouth,” etc. Not something you like to see; and it was this appearance that led the doctor who originally described the syndrome back in 1862, John Langdon Down, to initially call those suffering from it “mongoloid” as he felt they resembled the so-called Mongoloid race in Asia. (These days, use of that term is strongly discouraged; I only have it in this post’s headline because I needed something short and with brutal shock-value.)

Icelandic babies, then, are to a remarkable degree spared such anguish* – innocents spared a stunted (and likely shortened) life assigned purely due to the cruel vagaries of chance. Perhaps even more significantly, Icelandic parents as well are spared what are certainly the much greater – and longer – demands on them, both financially and emotionally, to support their child in living as happy a life as he or she can.

Fantastic! Then again, perhaps that this comes out of Iceland is the least surprising thing. Many are aware how people there share a unique common genome-set, due to the fact that almost all of them are descendants of a limited group of Viking explorers who first settled the North Atlantic island starting towards the end of the ninth century A.D. (OK, and maybe also of the Irish slaves they brought there.) This remarkable fact once led Wired magazine to call Iceland “the world’s greatest genetic laboratory,” due to the remarkable genetics research that has been carried there in recent years, taking advantage of that national genetic homogeneity. More »

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Look Both Ways Crossing Autobahn

Posted on August 28th, 2017 by MAO

“Grieving Momma-Duck Paralyzes Traffic on the A3 Autobahn” – it’s quite a story, a tragedy, really, reported by the Rheinische Post from news-agency dispatches.


As we humans know, you actually never try to walk across the Autobahn in Germany, not unless we’re talking about a pedestrian overpass. But this momma-duck didn’t know anything about that, and apparently led her brand-new brood of ducklings onto Autobahn 3, at the spot just to the west of Cologne where it crosses Autobahn 4 coming from the west.

That brood numbered a bit more than five ducklings. We know at least “five” because, unfortunately, that was how many smashed duckling bodies were left there on the pavement, before the momma-duck and the rest of the ducklings managed to get off the highway quick and into the surrounding foliage.

The problem was that the momma-duck then reappeared at the same spot around three hours later, presumably trying to find out what had happened to her missing progeny. She was harder to drive away this time; for whatever reason, there were firefighters on the scene, but she wouldn’t let herself be caught nor be shooed away from the Autobahn – where, we can assume, the on-coming high-speed traffic was staring to make things dangerous.

So the police shut the Autobahn down! For the duck! As they tried to chase her away, which is where she went after about half an hour. (I would have loved to hear the report on the traffic bulletin broadcast by both national and the local radio stations!)

Now, this happened during the day last Wednesday, so a business day but with perhaps traffic a little less thick than usual because for many it was the tail-end of summer vacation. But the traffic was undoubtedly still substantial – this is Autobahn 3, people, the Autobahn coming out of Cologne and paralleling the Rhine southward for a while before heading eastwards to Frankfurt am Main, and beyond.

I have never heard of the Dutch authorities ever shutting down a highway due to any bird. Then again, in a couple of places there highways do have “animal” overpasses, that is, bridges built over the highway from the woods on one side to the woods on the other, for wildlife to use. These are expensive, of course, and perhaps one could argue about their actual benefits to the public versus their costs; but then again, perhaps Germany could take up this idea and add a couple of these to its infrastructure budget nonetheless. Sorry, no sort of “public service announcements” are going to be able to educate the ducks!

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The AWOL Czech President

Posted on August 24th, 2017 by MAO

This week started off with a commemorative occasion of note, at least if you live in the Czech Republic or Slovakia. Monday, 21 August, marked the 49th anniversary of the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia to crush the broad-based Communist reform movement underway there known collectively as the Prague Spring.

OK, the 50th anniversary next year will presumably be a much bigger deal. But for remembering officially the event in those peoples’ political history which, in its long-standing trauma, probably corresponds to the 9/11 attacks in the US, at the least, every year’s 21 August is surely worth some official attention. But not from the Czech Republic’s President, Miloš Zeman, at least not this year: there was nothing from the Presidential Palace, no attendance at any ceremony, no statement.

Naturally, then, the State Radio’s news channel, Radiožurnál, wanted to find out how come. Gaining no access to Zeman himself (perhaps somewhat understandably), they turned to his official spokesman, Jiří Ovčáček.


The interview was brief, three questions, amounting to “Did the President express anything in relation to the 49th anniversary of the Occupation, and does he intend to do so going forward?” What it yielded was no so much obfuscatory as, frankly, outrageous. The President had already expressed himself on that subject, Ovčáček maintained, and that at least 47 years ago when he made it clear he was against the invasion and paid for his opinion by losing his job. And then check this:

In other words, the President bravely expressed himself during that period when it was no cheap thing to do so, [whereas] today the sort of people who opine on this sad anniversary are those who during Normalization [the period following the ’68 invasion] were satisfied with digging in to the gravy-train [CZ: chrochtali u koryta].

Now, Zeman is getting old, perhaps he momentarily forgot that he is, after all, President of the country.

And then: “Isn’t he going to return to the subject at future anniversaries?” “The President puts forth his views on this almost every day, when he speaks of how the Czech Republic must remain a sovereign nation” and bla bla bla . . .

It’s as if Zeman has no further obligation to have anything to do with that Warsaw Pact “brotherly assistance” simply because of how he is alleged to have behaved in the years immediately afterwards. Let’s take a quick look at what that behavior actually was; for this, I go to his page in the Czech Wikipedia. I know, the particular nature of that source is such that you never can discount someone with a political point to prove distorting what you find there, but still, there’s some interesting material. More »

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“Those Lazy [Black] Immigrants!”

Posted on August 22nd, 2017 by MAO

Italian journalist Luca Bottura spotted these guys hanging out last Friday in a picture on his Twitter-feed, and just had to sound the alarm:


Basically: “Here’s your government money, these guys go shopping for Prada with their €35! Share this if you are as angry as I am!” And that one-word comment up top: “Shame!”

The key element here was the €35 part, this is the daily money the Italian government provides refugees to survive on while their individual asylum cases are being processed. Meanwhile: what a good life, eh? Sitting around with their new Prada clothes, smilin’, jivin’ – all on the Italian taxpayer’s dime!

Not really, though. Surely most of you recognized these guys, namely the movie star Samuel L. Jackson and the LA Lakers basketball legend Magic Johnson. Lately they’ve been on vacation together in Italy (Capri, Sorrento, that sort of thing) along with their families and other friends. This tweet from Magic Johnson’s own feed shows what was really going on:


How could Bottura get things so wrong? He didn’t; he’s a journalist and columnist for the Corriere della Sera newspaper (and other media outlets, including radio), but he’s mainly known as a satirist, and here he was trying something out, seeing how far he could push the widespread prejudice and resentment against refugees among the Italian population, to see who took the bait.

Indeed, his tweet was widely spread, also through Facebook, and attracted a good bit of racist comment. The biggest fish Bottura caught was Nina Morić, a Croatian model who lives in and is relatively well-known in Italy; once the truth about these gentlemen was out, Ms. Morić then claimed that her own unseemly reaction to Bottura’s tweet was her just playing around as well, to fool all the rubes.

That truth was out as of last Sunday, two days after he had set things going, and Bottura also shared some interesting statistics:

The meme was shared thousands of times. Forty percent grasped the provocation, thirty percent were angry about it, twenty percent found it to be racist and scolded me for not recognizing Samuel L. Jackson and Magic Johnson. Ten percent passed it on with no comment.

Yes, that “forty percent” part is confusing; I interpret that forty percent gave indications that they understood the surface meaning of the incident, i.e. that something “wrong” was being depicted, but did not comment on it further. But you see, I had to translate Bottura’s report at second-hand, from the Dutch that had been translated from the Italian, since a write-up in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen was my main source and how I found out about this in the first place. Otherwise, reports are only starting to creep onto the edges of the EN-language press, such as Mashable (with more detail on the source of that government money) and . . . er . . . the Quebec Times.

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Poisoned Mass Shell-Game

Posted on August 16th, 2017 by MAO

As I mentioned previously on my Twitter time-line, yesterday was a Catholic holiday: Ferragosto in Italy (end-of-summer, woe betide whoever has to work that day, etc.), but more generally the holiday which celebrates the Assumption of Mary into Heaven.

Turns out, in the Ardennes town of Malmédy in Belgium each August 15 is marked by a special ceremony in which a huge public omelet is cooked in one of the main squares, la Place de Rome, and then cut up and handed out for consumption by whoever is present at the time.


Hold on, though: if you have been keeping up with current European affairs (certainly on this weblog), there should be alarm-bells ringing. Fipronil! What about that? The egg-poisoning scandal that has by now spread from its origins in Netherlands/Belgium to infect most other EU member-states as well as other countries who are the EU’s agricultural customers.

But no, tradition demanded that, once again in mid-August, a huge cooking-pan be set up in Rome Square, ready to process thousands of eggs (as well as 25 kilos of grease, etc.), after volunteers had first had a cracking time that morning extracting their innards. Talk about defying Fate, about sheltering within the Mother of God’s protection!

At least there was one significant difference this time: the mega-omelet was made up of around 6,500 eggs, rather than the ~10,000 that have usually been used up in previous years. Was that a concession to fipronil worries? No, the article claims; rather, the weather meant that fewer people than usual could be bothered to make the trek to Malmédy for the occasion.

Admittedly, yesterday was indeed marked by a line of violent, mid-day thunderstorms that proceeded from France through the southern part of the Benelux and then hit the western part of Germany with particular force. And anyway, think about it: if they were taking the fipronil threat at all seriously, what sort of half-assed measure would it be to go ahead with cooking the omelet, but with only 65% of the usual amount of eggs?

No, egged on as they were by whatever crowd that converged on the square, the assembled chefs – clothed in the customary white jackets and toques blanches – went right ahead as soon as all ingredients were ready, and were serving it out along with a piece of French bread on plastic plates by 1:20 PM. All for free, garnished with plenty of commentary about how jolly and convivial everything was (as you can see/hear in the accompanying video if you click through, and if you can understand French). You also learn from that how all eggs were sourced from the most local producers possible, from the neighbors, practically – so they couldn’t possibly have anything to do with fipronil, could they?

We will see. Remember as well that so far EU and national authorities have maintained that, even if people eat affected eggs, it is unlikely that anyone would be exposed to enough fipronil to really get sick. But that’s what they would say, of course; further, it’s clear that any effects appear over time, not at once.

Anyway, it’s hard to think of a better mass experiment about the risks of exposure to fipronil, under present circumstances when European authorities are still struggling to gain control over the emergency, than what we saw yesterday in Malmédy. Now to just sit back and wait; Hail Mary, full of grace . . .

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Trump’s Military Flunky?

Posted on August 16th, 2017 by MAO

This week German Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel returned from her three-week vacation in the Italian mountains. Her absence meant she had to miss the famed “Diesel Summit” on 2 August with all of the country’s auto manufacturers, but at least campaigning towards nationwide election happening next 24 September was set to a low simmer while she was away.

She returned still enjoying a healthy lead in the polls over her nearest competitor, former EU Parliament President Martin Schulz. Schulz represents the Social Democratic Party, or SPD, the country’s next-biggest political party after Merkel’s CDU, but also the one that is in the current government with her, as they formed a “Grand Coalition” together after the last election in 2013. That’s always an uncomfortable arrangement – having to cooperate within a government even as your colleagues from the other main party are your main election-rivals – and I’m sure both sides are looking forward to seeing it end after this next election.

From Germany’s northern neighbor, the Danish newspaper Politiken has identified something a little strange in the German campaign:

“Merkel wants to increase NATO funding.” “What’s so strange about that?” you might ask. After all, it’s well-known that Germany’s defense budget has long stood below the 2% of GDP that is prescribed (by 2024) for all NATO member-states; currently the figure is around 1.26%. It’s a rich country, and the economy (including tax-receipts) is now doing very well; indeed, it is the leading country on the European continent, at least politically and financially. No excuse, it would seem, not to hit that funding target.

But here you might forget who has been loudly demanding that Germany raise its defense-spending*: Donald Trump. And, already, Donald Trump is someone you don’t want to be associated with in the eyes of the German electorate.

Well, when you’re behind in the polls you’ll go with anything halfway-plausible that you can think of, right? Sure enough, Schulz and other leading SPD officials are now attacking Merkel for her stated intention to raise the country’s military spending, should she be re-confirmed in office (for the third time in a row) in the election. This sort of thing even comes from Germany’s current Foreign Minister, Sigmar Gabriel (SPD):

For me, this means that Germany is subordinating itself to the American President. Up until recently I never believed that this was possible.

See what I mean about the awkwardness of Grand Coalitions? This is the person with whom Merkel still has to work closely – for another few weeks, at least – to formulate and carry out the country’s foreign policy.

Now admittedly, the military has always been a sore point in German politics, say, in the past seven decades or so. For example, it took the longest time even to overturn the law that once forbade German armed forces from being deployed outside the country. And we all know why that is, namely due to the rather unbridled use Germany made of its military some seventy-to-eighty years ago.

Still, it’s striking how Trump represents the Kiss of Death in Germany, even when it comes to policies for which you would think there would be general agreement. Here’s an idea: The German auto industry’s lobbying arm should try its best, at whatever cost, to get Trump to start singing the praises of electrically powered cars!

A final note: All of this could become academic. For the precise German election day is Sunday, 24 September, or the day after a widely accepted Internet meme claims the world will come to an end.

*Actually, in most of his statements Trump has made it sound like NATO members are required to pay 2% of their GDP to the US Treasury in exchange for defensive cover from the US military. It actually doesn’t work like that.

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Making Her Name in the West

Posted on August 8th, 2017 by MAO

A surprising summer TV ratings hit, in many countries, was the Women’s Football European Championship Tournament, just concluded this past Sunday and held at various stadiums in the Netherlands starting on 16 July.

As with all such tournaments, things only start to get really serious when it comes to the knock-out rounds, here the quarter-finals which were held on the weekend of 29-30 July. I tuned in then to the Germany-vs.-Denmark game, and was taken by surprise at the beginning when the stadium band played the Danish national anthem and – as is standard – the TV camera panned the line of starting Denmark players. One of them was definitely not like the others: not fair-skinned and blonde or standard brunette, but quite dark-skinned and dark-haired indeed. That was number 9, Nadia Nadim (also nothing near the typical Danish first or last name), who it turned out played as one of the forward strikers within Denmark’s 4-4-2 system.

Nadim actually scored, with a header, the goal that brought Denmark back to 1-1 against the Germans (cancelling out their goalkeeper’s terrible mistake that had allowed in a long-range strike for the Germans’ one goal), in a game the Danes would go on to win 2-1, a spectacular upset against the German women’s team that had won the last six such tournaments. She also scored Denmark’s first goal – an unstoppable penalty-kick – in the final against the Netherlands that the Danish team ultimately lost 2-4. And throughout the tournament (at least the games I watched) she was a dynamo of energy up there at the front of the Danish line.

But the equally interesting thing here is the back-story. Where is this lady from? This piece from The Local.dk explains things well enough, in English: She was born in Herat, Afghanistan, to a father who was an officer in the Afghan Army and was executed by the Taliban in 2000, whereupon she fled with her mother and siblings to Europe, to Denmark. (I believe hearing during a game broadcast that the original plan was actually to carry on to go live in England.)

Now 29 years old, she is starting striker for the Denmark women’s national team, as well as for the Portland Thorns in the (American) National Women’s Soccer League. But that’s not all: she ultimately will become a doctor, as she is also studying in Denmark towards her medical degree. (For those not in the know, that requires abilities in math and science.) PLUS, as this piece from the website of a Danish sports TV channel puts it, she speaks seven languages (Danish, English, German, French, Farsi, Urdu and Hindi) and can be interviewed in at least the first three listed. (Nadia quote from that sports-site piece: “I’m quite bright. You would hardly believe it – surprise!”)

Inevitably, then, she embodies themes that go far beyond the mere persona of Nadia Nadim herself, in several directions. There is the elevation of international women’s football in the general public interest that this particular tournament has helped achieve, with the related and important aspect that now, for once, girls interested in playing football finally have heroes there performing on TV to which they can relate, of their same gender. Except that these particular feats, of course, were pretty much achieved collectively by all the women players participating in that Euros tournament.

For Nadim, in addition, there is the refugee aspect, the fact that she certainly does not “look” very Danish – and indeed only became a citizen when she was 12-13 years old. I daresay, however, that you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone calling for her to be thrown out of the country, even among Denmark’s most rabid anti-foreigner rabble (all tattoos, piercings and Viking-horns). Denmark has certainly had a problem within the context of the Europe-wide refugee crisis that exploded in mid-2015, and it’s fair to say the country has mainly tried to keep its doors closed; it’s anti-foreigner party, the Danish People’s Party, has had strong influence on each government since the turn of the century. In Germany, similar anti-foreigner sentiment has to some degree been tamped down through nation-wide delight at the success of the men’s football team, which features stars of Turkish, Tunisian, Ghanaian lineage and the like. Might the same thing happen in Denmark via Nadia Nadim?

Yet I feel there is an even greater point to be made here, by looking back to where she originally came from. My thoughts were turned in this direction when I recently came across this piece from De Volkskrant:


“In some parts of Afghanistan women aren’t even referred to by name.” First paragraph of the article:

Women in Afghanistan are often indicated as “mother,” “daughter,” “wife” or “grandma.” In some parts of the land the name is not even denoted on birth-certificates, and on the marriage license only the name of the groom and the father of the bride are to be read. It even happens that the name of a woman who has died is not put on her gravestone, but she is rather referred to as “wife of.” Certainly within conservative circles, it is just not done to use a woman’s name within the family environment.

That is what Nadia Nadim escaped when she fled with her family. Does anyone think she would have played football (there is no Afghan national women’s football team), learned seven languages, become a doctor had she stayed in Afghanistan? We all know that the chances are overwhelming that she would have been kept illiterate and barefoot, restricted her whole life long to the usual roles of child-bearer and household servant. For we know that one of the things the Taliban are quite serious about is that girls are not to be educated – just ask Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala. (Admittedly, Malala herself is Pakistani, but the point still applies. By the way, that sort of outside-imposed upholding of women’s rights still does not justify the continued presence in that country of foreign military forces, nor the trillions of dollars or many thousands of lives – native and foreign – that have been wasted there since 2001.)

It was only by escaping to the West that Nadim could develop and display her quite impressive personal potential – and only in these comparatively rich (could one say: “comparatively civilized”?) countries where the society that took her in could also benefit from her many gifts. Why are these other countries so poor? Admittedly, it is a complicated question, which certainly involves somewhat of a history of colonial exploitation. But Nadia Nadim shows that an important reason they are still poor is their unwillingness to allow women to contribute to society in all the ways that they can; and this has to be specified as a very grave problem centered around a certain religion, namely Islam.

P.S.: For those interested in hearing her speak English, here is an interview she did in Oregon as a Portland Thorns player. (When I have time, I’ll see if I can embed that here in this post – thanks for making it so difficult, WordPress.)

Also: It seems she mostly tweets in English, for whatever reason. Sure, that reason may be “because that’s not really her account” (it’s not verified), but take a look, it has pictures you imagine only she and her team-mates had access to, and the like.

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Poisoned Egg on their Faces

Posted on August 7th, 2017 by MAO

Have you heard? There’s a new European food-poisoning scandal raging – “European,” well, affecting at least those countries that buy their eggs from Netherlands producers, so at least the Netherlands itself*, Belgium and probably at least Luxembourg and Germany as well.

The keyword this time is fipronil, an insecticide that is not supposed to be allowed anywhere near poultry, but of course was. More specifically, a particular Dutch company out of Barneveld, the center of the Dutch poultry industry, by the name of Chickfriend (that’s no joke, see this report on the guilty parties from the NRC newspaper) indirectly bought 3,000 liters of an insecticide containing fipronil from Romania, then sold it on to its chicken-raising customers as a means of fighting that notorious chicken-pest, the blood-louse. It’s likely Chickfriend knew what it was doing; the invoices for the sales to the chicken-farmers give a name that hides the true poisonous nature of what is being sold. And now authorities are scrambling to track all the places this poison went, so that the eggs/chickens affected can be pulled from sale and/or destroyed.

But what caught my eye was the Belgians’ reaction:


The responsible agency throughout all of Belgium for product-safety is known as the FAVV, and the headline-news is that the FAVV was aware of the fipronil appearing in eggs from the Netherlands way back in June, even though public alarm over poisoned eggs first broke out only last week.

Why was that? Why no alarm back then? Now, of course the responsible federal Belgian minister Denis Ducarme (Minister of Agriculture, but only since last 26 July – Welcome to your new job, Minister Ducarme!**) has demanded a “detailed report,” which will be passed on to the Federal Parliament, where there will be hearings, etc. But the Het Laatste Nieuws article gives some preliminary indications. The concentration of fipronil that the FAVV initially detected in the Dutch eggs was under some EU-determined threshold for actually being supposed to worry about it, you see. But you still wonder, because the very next sentence seems to say that the FAVV was in no position to determine even that: “Then they requested that tests be done by a Dutch laboratory, since our country [Belgium, of course] has insufficient expertise to do that itself.”

Apparently Minister Ducarme finally went this morning to the FAVV offices to read them the riot act, and later he released an official list of “57 Suspected Firms,” i.e. which are suspected of being involved with the fipronil and whose products are therefore likely to be withdrawn from sale.

Further, no reports have emerged of anyone dying, or even becoming sick, from having ingested an egg poisoned with this fipronil. Surely that is just a matter of time. Meanwhile, the Dutch poultry industry has taken a big hit, several firms have already gone bankrupt (not just Chickfriend, which is of course under legal investigation) and the public health authorities in several EU lands have a mess to clean up when it comes to tracking down all the poisoned eggs.

*Point of detail: “[The] Netherlands” is a name in the singular, whether in English or Dutch (Nederland), just as “[The] United States” is, at least in English.
**Frankly, you’d hope Minister Ducarme had some unpleasant words for his predecessor as Minister of Agriculture, Willy Borsus, who was kicked upstairs to become Minister-President of Wallonia, a sub-state taking up around 40% of the entire country.

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Protect the Planet!

Posted on August 2nd, 2017 by MAO

One of Donald Trump’s personal traits – only occasionally noted – is that he is a mysophobe: that is, he is afraid of catching germs from other people, and thus doesn’t like to shake hands, probably keeps tubs of hand-cleaner all around the Oval Office, etc. I don’t know whether that is a good or bad thing, or even something particularly strange; what I do know, having had it just pointed out to me by the Dutch national news service, the NOS, is that for the right person this trait could turn out to be lucrative.


“NASA is looking for someone (male/female) to protect the Earth against other-worldly life” that tweet reads. Note well: We’re not talking here about the macro level (so no need to pass along word to Ironman, say, if you happen to be acquainted, that an alien-invader fighter is wanted), but rather the micro level. Yes, even though the official notice (which you can read in English here) lists “Planetary Protection Officer” as the job-title.

Stated simply, bringing back microbes from, say, Mars to the Earth could cause all sorts of serious problems. (Ask any immunologist for help if your own imagination is not up to the task of figuring out what this is all about.) But it goes the other way, too: It won’t do to bring any sort of harmful Earth-based microbes to places we explore (like, uh, Mars, or our Moon), for at least two reasons:

  1. Since 1967 there has been the Outer Space Treaty forbidding that (as well as the contamination of Earth by foreign microbes already mentioned, of course); and
  2. At a lower level of concern, it just wouldn’t do to unknowingly bring along some Earth microbe to another planetary body, then “discover” it there, believe it to be something new and remarkable because of the context in which you think you have “discovered” it, and then ultimately be embarrassed when the truth is discovered.

This all sounds very reasonable and necessary – but also difficult to master! How can one know for sure that no such microbes are being transferred, in either direction? It must require a lot of training, a lot of smarts. But if you are up to that, it’s well-rewarded: That job announcement lists a salary of between $124,406 [sic] to $187,000 per year, on a three-year contract (renewable).

Fortunately as well, even as the NOS picked up this job announcement from the USAJOBS.gov site, it also took the trouble to unearth an OCT 2015 article from the New York Times about NASA’s current Planetary Protection Officer, Dr. Catharine A. Conley.

Those of you interested in looking into this opportunity further can simply head on to there. (Note: There is no indication that whoever NASA hires would necessarily be replacing Dr. Conley.) Careful, though: As the NOS piece points out, this is a NASA appointment and therefore for US citizens only. (No doubt you would also have to gain a pretty high security clearance as well.) Then again, as it goes on to observe, the European Space Agency has a similar position, although there are no apparent openings there at present.

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Turkey’s Coup: The Real Story

Posted on August 1st, 2017 by MAO

Just over two weeks ago Turkey “celebrated” that nerve-wracking failed attempt at a coup d’état of last July. It was an anniversary one imagines someone within Turkey could hardly have ignored even had they tried, but almost the same was true in much of the rest of Europe in view of the various Turkish government ministers sent out (most of them unsuccessfully) to harangue the assembled diaspora faithful in various foreign cities that day.

Still, today marks another important attempted-coup milestone in that the first major trial of alleged coup-plotters begins in the Turkish capital Ankara, to take place in fact in a new court-building specifically built for the purpose. A total of 486 defendants are to be put on trial at the same time (although 27 of those are being tried in absentia). The BBC earlier today had live audio of the scene as those defendants were first led handcuffed into the courtroom: apparently, 438 “accusers” (e.g. family-members of those killed resisting the coup) were also present to greet them, and the yelling and jeering at the prisoners filing in was clearly audible.

Not something that would be permitted by the judge in any Western courtroom, to be sure . . . but then, these proceedings are unlikely to have as their aim the true pursuit of justice. Along the same lines, it’s clear the massive clearing-out of opponents of any stripe that President Erdogan conducted in the coup-attempt’s wake has gone far beyond any attempt merely to find and punish those parties directly involved.

Inquiring minds still might want to know, despite no one there on the scene seeming too terribly interested: Who truly was responsible for trying to overthrow Erdogan’s government? Die Welt steps up to have a crack at the question.


“These are the facts”: Turkey is distinguished these days by its fierce enemies, not only the separatist Kurd organization PKK, but also ISIL and the Gülenist movement headed by a Muslim cleric safely in exile in Pennsylvania, USA. Nonetheless, the main responsibility for the coup cannot really be ascribed to either of those two first-named actors, using dog-chasing-car logic: If they were actually able to take over the Turkish state, what could they really do with it? – although there are accusations against some of the accused of affiliation or at least sympathy with the PKK. No, the Gülenist thread must be most fruitful for pursuing criminal intent to overthrow (and kill) Erdogan, and this is what reporter Boris Kálnoky pursues here. After all, it wasn’t that many years ago (say, up to 2012) that Fethullah Gülen was actually a close friend and political ally to Erdogan, so that his own followers had plenty of time to insinuate themselves on a widespread basis into the main Turkish state institutions.

Truly, then, it may well have been the Gülenists behind 15 July 2016. Kálnoky remains unconvinced, however. Oh, he gives plenty of juicy Gülen-related details here, mostly revolving around a Gülenist imam by the name of Adil Öksüz – who, unfortunately for the Turkish authorities, is one of those who got away and so is being tried in Ankara now in absentia. It was he who allegedly carried out the key go-between role between Gülen in the US and those who would go on to carry out the coup. For one thing, Gülen himself has conceded in a press-interview that he did meet with Öksüz in the US. On the other side, Öksüz is said by other witnesses to have met secretly with 30 military officers in Ankara on 6 July to give them the green light and go over the details of the coup plan.

But is everything proved beyond a reasonable doubt? Kálnoky says “No”:

The Gülen-thesis of the accusation founders on certain confessions that might have been extracted by force, as well as on hard-to-verify declarations from in some cases “secret” witnesses.

And anyway, that is all pretty much beside the point; Kálnoky rightly reminds us at the end that what we really have developing in front of our eyes in this specially-built Ankara courtroom is but a “classic show-trial” (i.e. in the old Communist sense) meant to arrive at predetermined political conclusions. It will be a long time, if ever, before any fair-minded investigator will have the sort of untrammeled access to witnesses and materials in Turkey to try to figure out the actual truth. In the meantime, perhaps we can rely on the proxy of the US Government’s attitude towards last year’s July coup-attempt: it has steadfastly refused to conclude that any evidence against Gülen adds up to the point that his forced extradition to Turkey is called for.

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Grave Trouble in Poland

Posted on July 19th, 2017 by MAO

You might have heard recently about big demonstrations going on in Poland, starting this past weekend and continuing. You would have particularly gotten such word if you pay any attention to my own EuroSavant twitter-feed, whose above-average level of Polish developments has lately been caused by an abnormal flood of such news within the feed I myself use to source most of the foreign-language stories that I pass on there.

It’s serious there, it’s true. It’s even chaotic. The government has been dominated since the last election by the PiS party, a nativist, right-wing organization that seemingly has designs to take over the government permanently, using techniques copied from Hungary along with some the party has thought up all on its own. The latest trick is passing a law basically enabling the government to hire and fire judges at will – including Supreme Court justices. (The plot has further thickened within the last twenty-four hours as Polish President Andrzej Duda – also of the PiS – decided he would not sign the new law to control the judges.)

The hidden power behind PiS is Jarosław Kaczyński, nominally nothing more than a delegate to Poland’s lower-house legislature, the Sejm, who usually likes to keep a low profile. Not recently, though:

There he is, up at the podium addressing his fellow members of the Sejm, and this is what he is saying:

I know you are afraid of the truth, but don’t try to wipe away your treacherous murders using my brother’s name. You destroyed him, you murdered him, you are all rogues!

Murder? His brother? Well, that would be his twin brother, Lech Kaczyński, who back when he was serving as Poland’s President in April, 2010 – i.e. more than seven years ago! – was killed along with almost a hundred other high-ranking Poles in the tragic Polish Air Force plane-crash near Smolensk, Russia.

Evidently, then, Jarosław Kaczyński has convinced himself that that tragedy was no mere accident but an assassination; apparently, he also thinks the political opposition, represented within the Sejm, was also somehow responsible. Or at least he wants to make it look like he is convinced of such sensationalist allegations, perhaps to rile the political waters and increase the chance of getting the measures he wants passed in the confusion.

There is a YouTube video of Kaczyński delivering those brief but very inflammatory remarks. Yes, it’s all in Polish, it’s also short, but you can see the outrage on the other side of the chamber in reaction to what he comes up and says. Meanwhile, the guy sitting up front who is supposed to be responsible for the maintenance of order within that legislative body – I have to assume he is the Sejm’s so-called “Marshal,” Marek Kuchciński – keeps ringing his little bell, trying to get people to calm down, until that bell literally breaks (you see that in the video – cheap Eastern European iron-work!) and he has to turn to a back-up.

That particular tweet given above comes to us via Gazeta Wyborcza, and that is significant in itself. The PiS has already managed to enable the government to hire-and-fire personnel for the main state-owned national TV and radio networks, but when it comes to newspapers there still remain a number of independent voices. Gazeta Wyborcza is among the most independent of them, as befits a truly historic newspaper whose genesis lies back in functioning as a hastily put-together news-sheet back in 1989 meant to let the people know who were the Solidarity-approved candidates in Poland’s first post-WWII (partially) free election of early June.

As such, Gazeta today has also tweeted (and Instagrammed) this:

We the female citizens, we the male citizens. Appeal to the Poles: In the face of the threat arising from a series of anti-democratic and non-constitutional decisions of the PiS government, we stand in defense of the basic freedoms belonging to every person and resident of the Polish Republic.

This goes on for a couple more paragraphs; the full (Polish) text is available here. Clearly this is a call to arms from among everyone in Poland to resist what the present government is trying to do.

The statement is then signed up-top (like John Hancock) by Władisław Frasyniuk, a hero back in Solidarity times and one who holds the particular distinction of having been arrested not only by the Communist authorities back then, but also (recently) by the current PiS government. That’s impressive enough, but then look at all the other signatures:

  • Three former Polish (post-1989) presidents, including Lech Wałęsa and Bronisław Komorowski, the latter of which happened to have been the president before the current one (Andrzej Duda);
  • At least one former prime minister I can recognize, in Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz;
  • Leszek Belcerowicz, the famed economist and Central Bank governor responsible for the economic “shock treatment” policy of the early 1990s which laid the basis for the country’s impressive economic growth since then.

Then there are many other names that I don’t recognize, but they are likely to be as impressive within Polish society as well.

In short, these are historic, fraught, vital times for the preservation of Polish democracy. I’ll be keeping an eye on happenings from this, my EuroSavant perch and passing on the most important developments.

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Haqqed!

Posted on May 24th, 2017 by MAO

That’s what happened yesterday to the Qatar News Agency (QNA), the official Qatari press agency, run by the Ministry of Information, as revealed in a number of reports, among which one from the Belgian French-language public channel RTBF:


Pirated by “an unknown entity” – who could it have been? Iran? North Korea? (The latter have been acting up quite a bit lately!) In any case, it was quite an impressive job, in that the QNA was hacked pretty much across the board: Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Instagram, etc.

An achievement like that at least offers one the opportunity to have a little fun. As a somewhat fuller EN-language report on the incident revealed, the hack also reached the QNA TV channel, resulting in the “chyron” of text at the bottom of the nightly newscast reproducing various non-kosher messages, such as that Hamas is “the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” and that there are tensions between the US and the Qatari governments. One should be able to think of even more humorous applications: how about a tweet from the QNA reading “Pardon, delivery-man wondering where to take that case of Johnny Walker Sheikh al-Thani ordered ?” . . . and the like.

The reality, of course, is that such hacks lead to nothing but trouble. Those chyron-statements may raise a chuckle, but they definitely caused red faces among Qatari diplomats. And someone was definitely trying to stir up trouble by messing with the QNA Twitter-feed – but that seems to be exclusively in Arabic.


Translation: The foreign minister confirms a conspiracy by Saudi, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait to smear the reputation of Qatar.

For those with long-enough memories, this episode will recall that time back in 2011 when hackers took over the FoxNews Twitter account and posted six tweets claiming President Obama had been assassinated. That definitely caused some turmoil, for a short while, on the financial markets. Must do better, QNA!

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Wanted: Anglican SocMedia Expert

Posted on May 23rd, 2017 by MAO

I found out something that rather took me aback when preparing the following tweet:


Most of us are aware that, for some time now, there has been a Twitter account associated with the papacy, namely @Pontifex, just as there is an account for the American President (@POTUS – and in fact @FLOTUS for the First Lady as well).

Turns out, though, that there is no such account for the Archbishop of Canterbury! (For those of you not in the know, he’s precisely the “pope” of the Church of England – that is, the highest official of all, other than God Himself, subordinate to no other mere mortal ever since Henry VIII took the Anglican Church out of Catholicism back in the 16th century.)

Now, it’s true that there is an account for the current Archbishop of Canterbury, namely @justinwelby. And as you can imagine, he’s been tweeting up a storm today in response to the suicide-bomber attack last night at the Manchester pop-concert.

But again, that’s only for The Most Reverend Archbishop Welby himself, not for the office. The way things work in the Anglican Church, apparently, being top-archbishop is not for life – the last one, Rowan Williams, was in office for ten years and then retired, for example. So eventually The Most (Current) Reverend will presumably also leave office, taking his Twitter with him, and how can we be sure that the next Most Reverend will bring along his own account? Make it a prerequisite for the job? Somehow that just doesn’t seem appropriate.
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What’s FR for “Abbott & Costello”?

Posted on May 22nd, 2017 by MAO

As you may be aware – especially if you are French – the legislative elections are coming up there, once again in two rounds, on Sunday, June 11 and then just one week later, on June 18. There might be a slight problem coming up, namely in the Normandy constituency/département known as L’Eure.


One the one hand we have the mayor of Évreux, a city within that district – or le maire of Évreux in French, addressed as Monsieur Le Maire. On the other we have his opponent – no, not another mayor within that département but rather no less than President Macron’s brand-new Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire. Naturally, he is politely addressed as Monsieur Le Maire.

So you see the problem, right? Particularly if the two gentleman happen to arrange a pre-election debate:

The next question goes to M. Le Maire . . .
Sorry – which one?
Wait: Who’s on first?
M. Le Maire
But which one?

And so on . . .
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“Not Only the Players”

Posted on May 1st, 2017 by MAO

The football season in the various European lands is coming to a close, usually meaning that tension mounts over which team will end up at the top of those various leagues,* while at the same time the main cup-competitions proceed to their final stages. Then, since this is an odd year, we can look forward to a peaceful summer devoid of the big football competitions between national teams (and of any Olympics).

Not so fast, though: Had you forgotten about the Confederations Cup? That involves national teams, although not as many, since it’s a somewhat more abbreviated tournament that FIFA puts on only for the champion national teams of the six world regional football confederations, together with the current World Cup champion and the host nation.

And there’s the problem: That host nation is traditionally the same one scheduled to host the World Cup itself the very next year; you could say that the Confederations Cup, in a minor way, serves as a sort of dress-rehearsal to make sure the country can handle the big show coming around after another 12 months’s time. For 2017/2018, then, we are talking about the Russian Federation. And that is a problem.


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If Erdogan Loses

Posted on April 12th, 2017 by MAO

. . . if he loses next Sunday’s Sultan Referendum on expanding his Presidential powers, what then? Have you thought about it? No particular reason that you should have, but journalist Karen van Eyken of the Belgian (Flemish) paper Het Laatste Nieuws has done so, and lays out an analysis in an excellent piece, in which she posits three scenarios.

None of them includes Erdogan just peaceably accepting such a result and moving on, by the way, but you already knew that, right?


1) Here’s the closest we get to that: He accepts, and he’s soon gone.

It does seem so unlikely. As Van Eyken notes:

… that is perhaps too optimistic an estimate because in the past months an over-eager Erdogan has struck his opponents dumb by throwing into jail politicians from other parties and so-called Gülen-supporters.

Indeed, in its essence what this referendum is about is handing over dictatorial powers, but he has been no less dictatorial before the fact in trying to bum-rush the entire country (together with expat Turkish voters in Europe – until the governments there intervened) to a Yes vote. It’s really a miracle how, as I write this five days before the election, indications are that the Yes vote is only slightly ahead.

But OK, if the vote is No: Scenario 1 is that that would be such a setback that it would catapult him out of politics altogether. Note that this is not just Van Eyken herself here, she does cite to this effect a couple of Turkey experts in the academy and the press. These claim that there are enough opponents even within his own AKP Party who are ready to push him out should the referendum fail.

2) Erdogan calls for a re-try: Especially if the No vote passes with a thin margin, the Turkish president is likely to give his country an early opportunity to get things right the second time. (Note the similarity here to the EU’s own practices when it comes to referenda. But this whole sorry tale shows yet again why referenda are such a flawed political instrument, something I have repeatedly brought up within this weblog.)

Remember, this would be little more than what Erdogan already did in 2015, when in the June general election his AKP party lost its majority in parliament; Erdogan arranged for early elections again in November. (He also went to war with the country’s Kurds, to assure he would get victory at that second try. And now he’s suffering from that unnecessary step, especially in Syria.) Remember as well that, as a result of that November victory, the AKP party with its renewed parliamentary majority can easily arrange that second-chance referendum.

3) Turkey descends into general violence: This is intriguing, and does seem quite possible. Is Turkey even a democracy now? Don’t we have Erdogan already far exceeding the given powers of his presidential office, de facto, to be allowed to act like the sultan he aspires to be de jure? Then what can happen when the figurehead of what is actually a top-heavy state faces such a setback is that everyone comes out of the woodwork ready for violence: the Kurds, ISIL, but also dissidents within the AKP. For the country is still on a knife-edge after the trauma of last July’s attempted coup d’état.

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