Brexit and the Conditional Perfect

Posted on June 24th, 2016 by MAO

Yes, of course this is to be about Brexit, but I’ve no grand pronouncements to make, just what you could call a linguistic note. It has to do with this very interesting piece – written by one Naomi O’Leary, no less, how Irish can you get! – in the Atlantic about its effect on Northern Ireland.

NaomiOL
Scroll to the bottom, where Ms. O’Leary discusses a “gray-haired couple” witnessing a (Protestant) loyalist march there just last month, who “confided they would feel safer if the roads from the south were blocked again.” In the following direct quote from the lady, the English takes a turn into the bizarre:

I would have gone to school when I was a little girl on the other side of the border and we would have had our bags searched by the soldiers and so on.

Right – so did that actually happen, or not? You’re using the conditional perfect there, madam, which implies that it did not actually happen, but rather would have happened in the presence of some contrary-to-fact condition that you do not define, but that in any case did not hold true.

But no, then the quote goes on: “We didn’t mind. There was a reason for it.” OK then, so you did go to school in the Republic when you were a little girl, etc. Someone tell me, is this actually common English usage in Northern Ireland? Or was this lady rather peculiarly twisting her language to express past facts in as deferent, non-assertive a way as possible?

In any event, here is her final quote in the piece: “We managed before [i.e. when there was quite a serious border between Northern Ireland and the Republic] and we’ll manage again.” That is, she’s voting for Brexit. No doubt you also “managed” before without internal plumbing; I’m sure you could also “manage again” without that particular mod-con. More seriously, you also apparently “managed” when Protestants and Catholics were hunting each other down unmercifully in that very area – after all, you are still alive. Why not also that again, then – why the hell not, madam?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Para. 103: More Bark Than Bite

Posted on April 25th, 2016 by MAO

Many Germany observers are confused these days by the so-called Böhmermann Affair: Jan Böhmermann has his own show, called Neo Magazin Royale, on the German public television network ZDF, and on March 31 he recited on-air a poem concerning Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that was not so nice, including as it did i.a. several references to the President’s alleged sexual practices. Top officials of the Turkish government, including Erdoğan personally, lobbied the German government to press criminal charges against Böhmermann; Angela Merkel herself eventually announced that the German State would indeed give its required go-ahead for a criminal investigation of Böhmermann for insulting a foreign Head of State.

What is going on with Germany? Isn’t it the country which, for some time now, has topped all opinion polls for world-wide admiration. This abridgement of elementary freedom of speech seems to hark back to the bad old Nazi times.

Not really, though; if anything, it harks back to the mid-1950s, when after a decade of Allied occupation Germany was getting back on its feet as an independent Western country. The former Shah of Iran – were he still around – would be glad to remind us of how speech in modern Germany is far from fully free.

Shah
Indeed, that paragraph of German federal law under which Böhmermann might be prosecuted – paragraph 103 StGB, forbidding “the insulting of organs and representatives of foreign States” – was for quite a while known as the Shah-paragraph, so often did the Persian monarch use it in his relations with the Federal Republic.

But first back to 1953, when German criminal law, having been suspended since that country’s defeat in 1945, is being restored – and authorities take care to re-institute paragraph 103, which dates back to Second Reich, that is, to the rule of German Emperors following the country’s unification in 1871. The political system of post-WWII Germany naturally was carefully designed by the occupying powers to try to ensure that such dictatorship as was seen during the Nazi regime could never happen again; for one thing, the peculiar American concept of federalism was introduced, so that the country was broken up into individual states each having rights and powers at their own local level.

But this new Germany was by no means designed to be any sort of liberal paradise with the world’s greatest personal freedoms. People’s memories were still fresh in 1953, only eight years after the Nazis’ gross crimes against humanity had been ended, and Germany was still to some degree a pariah state. There was no room, in other words, for the inevitable satirists and smart-alecks which such a fertile culture would inevitably produce to spoil the German government’s attempts to get back into the world’s good graces by ill-conceived, badly timed and just plain rude cross-border insults. Indeed, in 1958 Konrad Adenauer’s government wanted to go even further to prevent that sort of thing, namely to adding a paragraph 103a which would have outlawed the spreading of any sort of denigrating reference concerning the private lives of foreign heads of state or their families – whether true or not.

That extension was rejected by the Bundestag, the lower house of Germany’s federal parliament. But even in rejection the proposed law had a name: Lex Soraya, or “Soraya’s Law,” after the Persian Empress who was the Shah’s second wife, whom he was busy divorcing.

Nobody Cares; Nobody Really Punished

So the Shah lacked that extra bit of legal machinery to go after critics in Germany who said something insulting about his wives. But paragraph 103 gave him plenty of leeway to file charges against those insulting him personally, and he did so in three instances, the first in 1958. The same stricture applied, of course, against insults directed at other countries’ representatives, but the interesting point in this taz.de article is rather how the very prospect of such a foreign head of state complaining often caused the German police to move in ahead of the game and start confiscating materials and even arresting people being rude to foreign political figures, as they did in the case of insulting materials directed at such figures as then-Chinese President Li Peng, against the Chilean dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, against Pope Benedict XVI and against visiting American Presidents Ronald Reagen and George W. Bush.

In all of those latter cases the police then had to back off and apologize because one key element required to prosecute such acts – namely, an official complaint coming from the “insulted” party – was not forthcoming. Thus we see that it has really mainly been the Shah who has actively taken advantage of this paragraph 103 during its post-War history. It is also important to note that the harshest punishment that ever resulted was “low-level fines” collected from editors at a Cologne newspaper (after a three-year trial) which published a disrespectful set of cartoons about the Shah in the 1960s.

Now the Turkish government is seeking legal redress as well. (Vice President Numan Kurtulmus has even publicly characterized Böhmermann’s poem as a “crime against humanity.”) That fact has caused many to worry that President Erdoğan, buoyed by how dependent Chancellor Merkel is upon him regarding the refugee situation, is deliberately using these insults directed against him to force her to turn Germany into something it has not been since 1945. Such concerns are misplaced, however, for a Bad and a Good Reason:

  • The Bad Reason: Paragraph 103 has been there as part of German federal law since that law was resurrected in the mid-1950s, so it’s nothing new; and
  • The Good Reason: Over-enthusiastic policing aside (which has always eventually been called back), it seems clear that the modern German legal system does have a good understanding of, and sympathy for, the right of freedom of speech, as we can see from the minor penalties courts have issued even when Paragraph 103 cases have managed to go all the way to trial and judgment.

In other words, while for much of its post-War history German diplomacy has operated within a difficult and awkward framework, so that measures such as Paragraph 103 were useful to have when citizens “misbehaved” vis-à-vis foreign potentates, in the final analysis they have amounted to mere window-dressing. When necessary, “action” can be seen to be taken, whereas no one is seriously punished as a result, and nothing (including the German people’s right to express themselves, in particular) fundamentally changes. OK, Jan Böhmermann may now be under police protection, and he has had to cancel the taping of a number of his shows – but he should enjoy his new status as media martyr, history shows he won’t pay much for it, if anything, and it might even enhance his career.

One might well see a parallel here with the “promises” concerning a resurrection of Turkey’s EU membership bid that are part of the recent agreement concerning the refugees – but that would require a separate post.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

A Little Incompetence Goes A Long Way

Posted on March 23rd, 2016 by MAO

More #BrusselsAttacks here, what else? But I think you’ll be amused this time, if perhaps in a somewhat morbid way . . .

From recent personal experience, I’ve come to the view that the central taxi switchboard for Amsterdam – at least that in charge of dispatching cabs for the largest taxi company here, with the longest tenure – is hopelessly incompetent. It seems that might also be true for Brussels:

23MARHeureusement
“Luckily, the call center for the taxi company misunderstood the terrorists . . .” it reads there.

Taxis: If you have been following the whole #BrusselsAttacks thing closely, you’d be aware of the taxi story. Namely, the three fellows who carried out the attack at Zaventem airport were identified by the taxi-driver who had driven them to the airport. The funny thing about them, he reported, was that they refused to let him handle the baggage they were taking along. That baggage, of course, turned out to be the explosives that blew up within the terminal – or at least two of the three bags did.

23MARFeelLucky
(Actually, we now have further reports that that third bomb did ultimately explode – but only later, when police were in control of the arrivals hall and everyone else was evacuated, and no one at all was hurt when it did.)

Further, the same taxi-driver was glad to reverse-engineer the ride for the police’s benefit, so that that big raid that was reported yesterday evening (the evening of the attacks) in the Schaerbeck section of town actually was directed at the address from which the taxi-driver had picked these terrorists up.

But here is the rest of the story, as reported in one of the main French-language Belgian papers, La Dernière Heure (DH.be). As it turns out, the terrorists had much more baggage (i.e. explosives) than just those three pieces, as the police indeed found out when they raided that evening. They wanted to take all of their explosives to the airport, and so when calling for a taxi specifically requested a mini-bus (une camionette). But this is what was misunderstood; what they got was just a plain old taxi, with only a trunk to carry their luggage. So they could only take along those three explosive pieces – one of which, the biggest and most powerful, did not explode immediately – and not everything that they wanted, specifically a fourth explosive that was even bigger than the other three.

Indeed, says this piece, just that biggest fourth piece would have sufficed to completely blow up the entire departures hall there at Zaventem – or, alternately, “a fifth of all houses in Schaerbeck.” That last bit is definitely an exaggeration, to be sure, although there were some anxious moments during that raid as the bomb-disposal experts worked to disarm that largest, “unstable” charge.

Meanwhile, it seems that quite a few of the rank-and-file Brussels taxi drivers showed themselves willing to take stranded people home yesterday for free! But now they’re worried about all the lost business from the airport remaining closed, which it will also be tomorrow, Thursday. Also, the head of the local taxi association insists – quite rightly – that the identity of that driver who took the terrorists to the airport stay secret. That’s what the driver wants him/herself, and remember: s/he did his/her job, and then reported his/her suspicions, while it was the switchboard that demonstrated that admirable ineptitude.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Flipping the Fried Finger

Posted on March 23rd, 2016 by MAO

Today we’re into day one of #BrusselsAttacks recovery and we’ll see how the city reacts as its airport remains closed and with major damage, as do the main thoroughfares through the European Quarter, while the metro reopens with major holes in its structure, and the like. Actually, even at what we could call the “day one-half” point – that is, yesterday evening – there was a heartening and spontaneous mass-gathering around the Bourse, the now-unused Stock Exchange building at the center of town, where people wrote encouraging and defiant messages in chalk on the pavement and otherwise showed general solidarity (considerably aided by the fact that that part of the city was turned into a pedestrian-only zone last summer).

Further, it seems that next Sunday, Easter Sunday, there is to be a “white march” through the city, to show more solidarity, an absence of fear, etc. In that link that is the spokesman for the European Parliament in the video who is announcing it; perhaps it will be organized by that institution (which would make it not so spontaneous).

By now, though, I’ve learned to be leery of most post-terrorist attack public gestures. We saw how those could turn out with the Charlie Hebdo killings fourteen months ago, and in particular that incident’s own marche blanche down the Champs Elysées: an event meant to reassert freedom of speech in the face of murderous threats turned out to feature – in the marchers’ front row! – more national leaders responsible for beating down free speech in their own countries than you could shake a stick at. Thereafter, as treated on this very blog, the French authorities made clear that “freedom of speech” would thenceforth only be permitted along narrow lines that they allowed, namely only speech against Muslims. Sadly, I later noted how no less than Denmark seemed to be following suit.

Still, this looks like a cheeky gesture:

pommes
“Why many Belgians are posting pictures of french-fries, of all things.”

Black-yellow-red: the colors of the Belgian flag, of course. In front of that, “french” fries, which you might be aware were (probably) invented in Belgium. Finally, you might also recognize there a very familiar gesture of contempt, usually executed by the fingers of one hand.

Quite clever! – although, to be fair, the HuffPo Germany traces this original “meme” back to advertising by Burger King brought out around ten years ago – and quickly withdrawn, in the face of public outrage (in that commercial context). Still, the HuffPo piece goes on to report that “Garde la frite!” (FR: “Hold on to your french-fry!”) is French slang for “keep your chin up!”

So, all told, very appropriate, and shrewd. Nonetheless, when evaluating the effect these attacks have on Belgian society I intend to continue to focus on what is done rather than what is expressed, be it through social media emissions or city-marches. We all realize that to a large part such post-attack gestures of defiance serve to mask the fear that the attacked society feels; will that fear translate into restrictions on freedom (e.g. France’s seemingly never-ending state of emergency after the November Paris attacks) and/or useless security measures just for show, such as metal detectors stationed at the doors of subway stations? If so, then we will know that society has capitulated to what the terrorists were trying to bring about in the first place, no matter what that society says.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Book Trade Fairs, In Minor Key

Posted on March 18th, 2016 by MAO

Look what I discovered yesterday:

17MARLeSalon
“The Salon du livre invites [you] to discover South Korean literature.”

“The Salon du livre“: I had never heard of it! Looks like it’s basically a book fair, held every year (since 1981) in Paris. Its website is here (but only in FR, bien sûr), where it says that this year it’s being held at the Porte de Versailles Pavillion 1, and it opened yesterday.

Now, the thing that made this particular bit of news remarkable for me was my realization of the other book-fair that also opened yesterday, namely the Leipzig Book Fair (the link this time is in EN). But that book-fair has been held since 1632 (interrupted only very occasionally by various wars).

What can we conclude from this confluence of events, on both French and German sides? It’s easy, and it’s what I already realized when I went to visit the Leipzig Book Fair six years ago: that one may very well the second-biggest such trade fair in Germany, but in absolute terms it has a way to go towards really being important on a global scale. Because if it were truly important, if it were the international book occasion where everyone just had to be present, the Salon du livre would never dare to schedule itself at the same time. You can rest assured that the people in charge of the latter are very well informed of when the Leipzig Book Fair is scheduled to happen, and made their decision accordingly.

No, the world-dominating book fair is the one held in Frankfurt-am-Main every second week of October. I’ve been to that one a few more times than the one occasion I have tried Leipzig. That’s truly the one everyone who has anything to do with books, wherever in the world, has to attend, particularly those involved in a professional capacity. I mean, it’s simply impossible for mere mortals to arrange for anything even resembling a reasonably priced hotel room in Frankfurt when that is on – I’ve had to use the tactic of staying overnight at some other relatively close-by city (once Munich) and taking the train to and from the Fair on the day in question.

By the way, just when the Frankfurt Fair first started is hard to say, among other reasons because 1) Frankfurt had been a renowned fair town (i.e. in general) for quite some time before they added books to the wares; and 2) Books did exist many centuries before Gutenberg (who did his pioneering printing work in near-by Mainz), they were just hand-made and -copied. But 1454 is a common date cited for Frankfurt’s Book Fair, i.e. very shortly after Gutenberg’s innovation. Nonetheless, by the 1700s it was the Leipzig Fair that was doing better, attracting more visitors and business, due to various major booksellers simply deciding they liked Leipzig better, and Frankfurt slipped rather far behind. But 1945 brought a radical reversal of fortunes – hard to have a really good book fair under a regime that is not so fond of free expression – to produce the situation we still know today, of Frankfurt superiority by far.

I mentioned how, if you are a book professional (or indeed, an author with something to sell), you really have to be in Frankfurt the second week of October. I’m beginning to doubt whether that still holds true for those of us – like me – who are crazy about books but mere amateurs, i.e. with a private interest. For one thing, at Frankfurt you aren’t even allowed admission until they opened their doors on the weekend days (at the end of the Fair) to the great unwashed reading masses. But as well, the last time I was there I didn’t have much of a good time; I really started to wonder about the true extent of the Fair’s commitment to those public cohorts who, after all, merely supply the custom which keeps the whole publishing industry (in whatever form) profitable and ongoing.

So maybe Leipzig is a better choice – or Paris, both going on now and through this weekend? Well, maybe not: they’re smaller, and therefore more “intimate,” but one really goes there to see what is going on with the publishers in which one is interested, and there is no guarantee those publishers are going to be there, unless you are talking about Frankfurt.

Featuring the Undecipherable, the Untransmittable

Another minor reason to attend is that such book fairs like to feature the literature of a particular country and/or language on each occasion. Actually, Frankfurt and Paris do that; Leipzig does not. As we read at the very top of the 20 Minutes piece on the Salon du livre, “Who knows Hwang Sok-yong or even Lee Seung-U?”

Who knows them, indeed? In my mind that is the problem with such country-focuses, particularly when the literature being focused upon comes from such an alien culture as, here, South Korea (or indeed, for me, any Asian language). I’m not saying that any literature written in an Asian language is useless, certainly not. Rather, how relevant can such a fair-focus possibly be to attendees of book fairs in the West? The overwhelming majority of those people are going to read such literature in translation, if they ever read it at all, and really, just HOW distorted from its original artistic content – being made up entirely by the texture of the original language – will such translations necessarily be? Truly, to appreciate Korean (or any other) literature, you need to learn Korean (or any other . . .).

Now, on the other hand I understand the Frankfurt Book Fair happening later this year will feature Netherlands-Flemish literature (having already done the same back in 1993; and they did Korea in 2005). Perhaps that could be a reason to start searching for a hotel room in some neighboring city around that period, so I can give the event one more chance.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

The Regeni Case: Expect No Progress

Posted on March 10th, 2016 by MAO

Giulio Regeni: A name you should know. He was an Italian graduate student at Cambridge University who in January was conducting research in Cairo towards his PhD on Egyptian labor unions when, on the 25th of January, he disappeared and was not seen again until his body was found nine days later in a ditch along the highway between Cairo and Alexandria. It was clear from his corpse’s condition that he had been brutally tortured before he was killed. As it turned out, Italy’s development minister, Federica Guidi, was in Cairo with an entourage of Italian business leaders the day his body was found; they all immediately left the country.

In contrast, the Egyptian authorities were rather less punctual in investigating what had happened: it took them another five days for them to search his Cairo apartment. Nor were they very fast in finally delivering his body for shipment back to Italy so he could be buried at his hometown of Fiumicello, in the North. But obviously: whereas in a Cairo morgue only a handfull of officials such as the Italian ambassador to Egypt could have access to it, once back in Italy a much wider circle could see first-hand how brutally and cruelly he had been abused.

His death fits precisely within the recurrent pattern under the dictatorship of General Al-Sisi of those native Egyptians who somehow incite the ire of the authorities also suddenly disappearing, either for good or – if they’re lucky – emerging from local police stations having suffered brutal torture. Indeed, it is a fair complaint that the world only now has jumped up to denounce this inhuman behavior once it was finally a Westerner who was its victim. Still, how could it be otherwise that it was those authorities – with authorization coming from whatever level, high or low – who did this to Giulio Regeni? The EU Parliament, at least, is satisfied that the Egyptian government in fact was responsible, as it showed in its action today:

EUParlRegeni
The Italian government itself, though, has so far been more careful than that, as it does truly want to find out what happened here. This recent piece in the Corriere della Sera gives some idea of its progress:

Regeni
Headline: “The Regeni Case: Close-Circuit Camera Images Erased.” Lede: “Our investigators also did not succeed in obtaining the telephone traffic around the house.”

What? “Images erased”? We’re talking here of the closed-circuit surveillance camera images from the Cairo subway, which Regeni is known to have used that fateful evening of January 25th to get to wherever he was trying to go. Why were they erased?

Italian investigators requested acquisition of these recordings starting on 5 February, after the discovery of Regeni’s body, as decisive testimony for reconstructing the boy’s agenda and movements. The Egyptian authorities, however, took them [the recordings] only quite later, only on 13 February was it discovered that the images did not exist anymore, they were recorded over by more-recent ones.

That’s apparently what happens with those recordings, as a cost-cutting measure: after a certain period of time, they are recorded over. Too late.

And what about the mobile phone traffic, both around where Regeni resided in Cairo and the metro station. It’s no good.

The documentation submitted by the Egyptian authorities is inadequate. All that the [Italian] prosecutor Sergio Colaiocco has on his desk is a list of Regeni’s outgoing calls on the day of the 25th. The entire period before that is missing.

The bottom-line here is obvious: Egyptian officials are not interested in aiding the Italian investigation simply because they are the guilty ones. People around the world – academic researchers, potential tourist and the like – should realize very well from this incident that the only foreigners who are safe now within Egypt – presumably! – are those with diplomatic accreditation, but no others.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Heads of State & Their Rides

Posted on March 8th, 2016 by MAO

Oh, to have one’s choice of a ride – of wheels, man, of an automobile to take you around! The vast majority of us are limited in this respect by budgetary considerations, but some are not. Among those are heads of state, and Rzeczpospolita takes a look at their choices of roadster.

Jezdza
This inquiry just doesn’t come out of the blue, though. Last Friday there was apparently some sort of incident involving Polish President Andrzej Duda as he was riding in his official limousine along the national A4 highway. This article only mentions this in passing; you have to go elsewhere to find out any more about it (like here, to the tvn24 site, in Polish), and even then many details are still missing. The important thing, of course, is that President Duda was completely unharmed. Additionally, there seems to have been some damage to the tires, at least, but otherwise the incident is being investigated further, by all sorts of Polish governmental agencies. President Duda was himself asked directly about it yesterday (Monday), but he was willing only to confirm that he was in fine shape.

Well, what sort of car is it that he rides around in? A common thread for presidential cars – as one would expect – is that they are made within the same country in question, so that, for example, David Cameron uses a Bentley Mulsanne, President Mattarella of Italy cruises in a Lancia Thesis, Czech President Zeman disposes of a Škoda Superb and (of course) Angela Merkel* has a Mercedes S Class. Poland is not really known for any make of cars, though, so President Duda is taken around in a BMW 7, the “High Security” version which is (like all the others mentioned) modified to reflect the needs of security (and of communications) for a head of state.

President Obama’s ride is most famous of all. It’s a Cadillac, again highly, highly modified (e.g. to enable communication at any time with the Vice President and the Pentagon; also to withstand chemical attack), known as Cadillac One, or the Beast. This vehicle is transported to any of the various places in the world to which the President may travel, and is so heavily weighed-down by its armor and other equipment (it weighs 10 tons, although with a super-charged engine that can handle all that) that it gets only 100 km per 30 liters of gasoline (that is 7.8 miles/gallon).

The piece finishes up with a listing of other Heads of State and their official cars, which I’ll reproduce (and translate, where appropriate) for you here:

  • France: Citroen DS5
  • Hungary: Audi A8 Ls
  • India (sorry, no Tata): Mercedes-Benz S600
  • Japan: Toyota Century
  • Malaysia: Maybach 62 (Maybach is owned by Daimler-Benz; it’s their luxury line. Strange, Wikipedia reports that the 62 model was discontinued, so the Malaysian government may have trouble finding spare parts.)
  • Russia: Mercedes-Benz S Class (just like Merkel)
  • South Korea: Hyundai Equus VL500
  • Sweden: Volvo S80; and finally
  • Vatican: Kia Santa Fe (!); maybe they particularly like the model-name?

* Yes, it’s true that, properly speaking, Angela Merkel does not belong in this list because she is a Head of Government, not Head of State. Nonetheless, this is the data-point which the (unnamed) Rzeczpospolita author uses. I think we can assume German President Joachim Gauck rides around in his own presidential Mercedes S Class as well.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

“Bitter” Refugee Experiences

Posted on March 7th, 2016 by MAO

Today there occurs that climactic EU summit with Turkey PM Davutoğlu devoted to the refugee crisis. It’s safe to say all Europe awaits the outcome of that with bated breath, although perhaps none more so than the many refugees now trapped in Greece, together with those others even further behind in the pipeline (e.g. still in Turkey; or trapped in Syria in front of the closed Turkish border).

Here and there, however, there will be some who are not so interested: they’ve made up their minds to head back where they came from. The following Agence France-Presse piece by Guillaume Decamme, carried on Yahoo! France, examines a couple of their “bitter experiences.”

AmereExp
Let’s take up these examples. Note that they all have to do with men from Afghanistan. (Note as well that there is also a two-minute video heading the article, in case you’d like to hear them make their cases personally – in language translated to French.)

First we have Mohammed Asif Nouri, 26 years old and with a degree in economics: “I thought my dream would come true in Europe,” he laments. Last year he braved the terrible journey which eventually landed him in Frankfurt-am-Main, via the route everyone knows about (once the Hungarians had put up their fence): Turkey-Greece-Macedonia-Serbia-Croatia-Slovenia-Austria. Once in Germany, he was shuttled between various refugee centers in Hamburg, Sachsen-Anhalt and then to Frankfurt.

The one constant he encountered? “European nationalism,” he says. “The Europeans think we are going to destroy their culture.” Then there was that time when he wanted to ask directions of some German, who first stood off to put some distance between them and then insisted in answering in German – “whereas 99% of Germans speak English.” More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Maybe She Was Just Glad to See Him?

Posted on March 5th, 2016 by MAO

That may very well have been true, but the one thing for sure was that this 26-year-old Frenchwoman was not as well-endowed as she would seem.

soutiengorge
Describing this woman’s journey to visit her man locked up in the city jail of the northern French city of Rouen, the newspaper Le Parisien put it this way:

Before going to visit her detainee, she had pumped up her bust. Nor for any erotic reasons, but just to supply him with various products he would need. To do this, she had loaded up her bra.

I’ll say: When prison guards inspected her more closely they found in there:

  • 5 “mini-telephones” with their chargers
  • 1 Sim card (OK, those are small)
  • 5 grams of cannabis
  • 2 packages of cigarette rolling papers
  • 1 recharge for an electronic cigarette
  • 20 euros cash; and, get this . . .
  • 2 packets of meat (further unspecified)

Quite the heavy load! I bet she was glad to get all that off her chest, even if it turned out to be in quite another room within the prison building than what she expected, prior to her being led off to incarceration herself.

The unnamed author of this piece characterizes this cargo as something out of Prévert, that is, Jacques Prévert who was a prominent post-World War II French poet. Unfortunately, I don’t know anything of his work. In any case, in view of this episode’s setting in Rouen, my own mind is cast much more in the direction of Emma Bovary, that protagonist of Gustave Flaubert’s classic novel who was so confused about love and men, and whose sad fictional existence was set in and around that city (where Flaubert himself lived most of his life).

Smuggling stuff – a lot of stuff – hidden in one’s bra to one’s lover: surely this the sort of incident Flaubert could have come up with for his fiction. Well, almost: Wikipedia reminds us that the bra was not even patented until 1889 (and that was in Germany; Flaubert himself died in 1880). Then again, the word brassiere originally came from Norman French (Rouen is the capital of Normandy) meaning a child’s undershirt. (Note: as you can see in the tweet, in French they use the word soutien-gorge.)

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

French Anti-Brexit Threats

Posted on March 4th, 2016 by MAO

Now this is curious . . . “Brexit would have ‘consequences’ for the migrant question, [France President] Hollande warns.” This comes right when French authorities have just wiped out about a quarter of the infamous “Jungle” camp of migrants at Calais trying to get into the UK – and just as British Premier David Cameron went to the northern French city of Amiens yesterday to visit with President Hollande, Premier Valls and other officials.

3MARBrexit1
What “consequences” could President Hollande have meant? Unfortunately, the Le Huffington Post story is not exactly clear. Here is what Hollande said standing next to Cameron at their joint press conference:

One should not raise fears, but speak the truth. There will be consequences if the United Kingdom quits the EU . . . including the manner of managing situations in the matter of migrations.

And here is Premier Manuel Valls:

The day that this relation [that between the UK and the EU] is broken, the migrants will be no more at Calais.

HuffPoFR reporter Alexandre Boudet then helpfully adds, “In plaintext, the doors will be thrown wide open for them rejoining the United Kingdom.” (Wait: RE-joining?)

And then Harlem Désir, French Secretary of State for European Affairs:

There is no blackmail, nor threat, but it’s true that we cooperate more easily as members of the EU than if the United Kingdom wasn’t that anymore, because for example we also work with common European tools such as Europol or the Schengen information system. Even though Great Britain is not a member of Schengen, it cooperates through this system and other means of exchanging information.

Still not very clear. And there still seems to be some element of threat, despite M. Désir’s denials. Luckily, this piece also references an article in the Financial Times (EN-language; but paywall) which helps to clear things up:

3MARBrexit2

Mr. Macron [that’s the French economy minister] said that Brexit could scupper a bilateral deal with France, known as the Le Touquet [A]greement, that allows Britain to carry out border controls – and keep unwanted migrants – on the French side of the Channel.

Finally the picture comes clear as to how, as David Cameron has also been warning his constituents, that “Jungle” over in Calais could potentially move across the Channel if Brexit were to occur – despite the best efforts of UK authorities. For when their officials can no longer first check travelers’ papers on the far side of the English Channel, then they have to do it once they are already in England – and what can you do then with those who you discover don’t belong there, who immediately claim asylum? According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, you have to deal with them in a humane way, which includes not just sending them back somewhere, at least not at first.*

Still, this key “Le Touquet Agreement” is a bilateral agreement, i.e. not something within the legal framework of the EU. Therefore, it does not logically follow that it should necessarily fall by the wayside should the UK no longer be an EU member-state. Rather, if that does happen, then that will amount to the French government canceling it after Brexit out of sheer vengeance. If this really is being contemplated, it could set a pattern, by which I mean: If the French will be vengeful after a Brexit, then why won’t the EU be so as a whole? How can those who advocate Brexit really be so sanguine that the UK will be able to re-negotiate basically the same terms for trade, etc. that it had as an EU member once it is out?

One can look at the matter that way, or one can employ another perspective: That, starting here with President Holland and his top officials at this UK-France summit, a campaign has begun of threats and intimidation to try to head off a Brexit. Here at EuroSavant we view the UK remaining an EU member-state as a no-brainer – there’s little doubt future blogposts in the run-up to 23 June will faithfully reflect that – yet one can doubt whether this sort of tough approach is really best calculated to aid the British electorate to make that correct choice when they are called upon to cast their votes.

Anyway, that HuffPoFR piece also reported that President Hollande made special mention of the problem of reuniting the many refugee children stuck at the Jungle who have relatives already in the UK with those relatives. David Cameron was said to be accommodating on that. Further, Cameron announced a supplemental payment to France of €20 million to help out with those refugees still stuck at the Jungle – mainly, however, for encouraging them to be dispersed and moved away to other parts of France.

* Note that the “Le Touquet Agreement” has to do with people arriving to the UK via the cross-Channel ferries. There are analogous agreements (which are also bilateral), under different names, covering train (Eurostar) and aircraft travel, which also could be abrogated by the French/Belgians (train) or those and other EU member-states (aircraft) in the event of Brexit.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

SuperTuesday: Who’s Behind Whom

Posted on March 1st, 2016 by MAO

Yes, it’s SuperTuesday today, the day when the world at large is sure to gain some clarity as to who are likely to be both the Republican and Democratic 2016 candidates for president. Time for a quick review of which cohorts of special citizens stand behind which candidates.

SupTsdy
Granted, this review comes from a German newspaper, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, not from an American one. On the one hand, the FAZ is truly one of Germany’s most-respected newspapers, certainly in the top three. On the other hand, can you really accept an evaluation of US political conditions from someone named Winand von Petersdorff? (Plus, as I look at the FAZ website just now, the headline article is a report on an interview Syrian dictator Assad just gave to German television, in which among other things he “praises Germany for its refugee policies”(!). Groan . . .)

Let’s proceed anyway. The first thing to keep in mind is Marco Rubio’s unique policy proposal to completely abolish taxes on interest, dividends or capital gains income from stocks. This naturally means that most hedge-fund managers are wildly in favor of seeing him occupy the Oval Office come next January.

Supposedly Larry Ellison, Oracle founder, is also included within Rubio supporters. Otherwise, what can loosely be called Silicon Valley has some very nebulous and split allegiances. Anyone who pays attention now knows that Meg Whitman – formerly CEO of eBay, now of HP – did support Chris Christie, right up until he endorsed Donald Trump. Who she supports now? No clue. Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are similarly cloudy as to their preferences – although, for different reasons, Herr Von Petersdorff is sure it’s a Democrat for both. Noted Libertarian Peter Thiel (PayPal) supported Rand Paul, as one would expect, and is now is said to favor Ted Cruz. As for current Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella – well, how about some clues: He’s an Indian immigrant, and he satteth at the right hand of Michele Obama at the last State of the Union speech. This means Hillary.

Hollywood is also for Hillary: Jeffrey Katzenberg, head of DreamWorks Animation, and noted director Steven Spielberg. Maria Barra, CEO of General Motors, is also for Hillary – ’cause Obama saved her company’s bacon (and that of Chrysler, though the CEO there is Italian) a few years back.

Note that there is no such current American VIP who Von Petersdorff was able to find who supports Donald Trump. Neither can The Donald expect support from big Republican donors such as the Koch brothers, Harold Hamm (“King of the Frackers”) or Sheldon Adelson. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker was clearly the candidate in the Koch Brothers’ pocket, but he withdrew from the Republican race quite a while ago. Now it’s said they are going for Rubio – makes sense. Same for Sheldon Adelson, and this we know because that Las Vegas paper, the Review-Journal, that Adelson bought a few months ago to be his mouthpiece (and tried to keep the purchase secret) has endorsed Rubio.

Of course, it’s easy to imagine there are certain supporters any candidate would not want, or at least would not be glad to have the support publicly known. That’s probably the case for those big Republican-supporting money-men just mentioned. Also, the degree of Wall Street support for Hillary is a very sensitive subject. The past record would seem to indicate both Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein and JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon are definitely friends-of-Hillary, but Von Petersdorff reports they have kept mum about their presidential preferences for quite some time now.

If you’re still intrigued about the Continental perspective on SuperTuesday – and can handle the German – the FAZ will have a live-blog today.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Gassing It From Both Sides

Posted on February 23rd, 2016 by MAO

The second week of Champions League last-16 action kicks off tonight, with a pair of very juicy matches indeed: Bayern Munich at Juventus and Barcelona at Arsenal. So maybe it’s the appropriate time for a little reminder about one of that competition’s chief sponsors.

Gazprom has paid big to associate its name with Europe’s leading international football club competition for a number of years now, and at every commercial break you’ll see an elaborate paean to it on your TV screen, generally in cartoon form and accompanied by a medley of leading tunes from Tchaikovsky. The thing everyone must remember is that Gazprom is not really a company in the conventional sense of that term. Rather, it is a component of the Russian state, tasked with making money, for sure, but also with carrying out Putin’s strategic objectives. Those have included, multiple times, forgetting about money entirely and cutting off gas supplies to entire countries – generally in mid-winter, of course – to make them knuckle under. Among these victims have been the Ukraine, of course, but also those EU countries, generally to the East (e.g. Bulgaria, Slovakia, Estonia, Finland), which have not had the resources or time to make the considerable infrastructure switch from the heavy dependence on that gas that they had during Soviet times.

So you can watch those playful cartoons of serious-looking employees manning gas pipeline control rooms, etc., flick by on your screen, but you need to remember: this is a “company” that would be glad to simply let you and your family freeze; all that it takes is for Putin to give the word. The sad fact that it has been able to do that reflects the absence of any common EU energy policy. Yes, the Commission has certainly been aware of the problem, and of course there exists a Directorate-General for Energy within the Commission, now headed by the Slovak Maroš Šefčovič. And in one sense it’s reassuring to read (in Dutch, from Het Financiële Dagblad; behind paywall) that the Commission recently concluded from a study that “well coordinated actions by member-states, above all in case of emergency, can considerably increase the security of [natural gas] delivery.” (On the other hand: Why did they find this out only recently? And what are they going to do to make that conclusion a reality?)

Fortunately, other developments have occurred which – often independently from anything the Commission might have done – serve to lessen this dependency on Gazprom and Russia. For one thing, demand for natural gas is declining simply due to increased energy-efficiency and alternate renewable sources of energy that are coming on-line. And there are other developments, too, discussed in a separate article not stuck behind a paywall (although it is in Polish):

GazBitwa
“American natural gas arriving on European shores forces Gazprom into a battle for the market and for investors.” Yes, the Americans are coming to the rescue again, specifically the shale-oil companies which, via fracking, have unlocked considerable new supplies of both petroleum and gas there on the North American continent. Mighty kind of them, you have to admit, namely to pollute their own ground-water and a as result have so much gas coming out of local household water-taps that you can light a match and explode it, all just to produce some more fossil fuels to sell. But the business of America is business. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Clattering Clooney

Posted on January 27th, 2016 by MAO

It’s Gorgeous George! And he was in Amsterdam within the past couple of days.

Clooney
The Dutch news/commentary website “The Post Online” took appropriate note and recorded about a minute-and-a-half of video, which you can access by clicking through. Don’t worry, of course he speaks in English, it’s merely dubbed underneath in Dutch.

I feel the need to take exception to a couple things he mentions here.

First, he is asked about the whole #OscarsSoWhite phenomenon, and claims he’s been on the problem for a while. He attributes it mainly to “who’s doing the hiring and who’s greenlighting pictures and the kinds of movies being made – and that’s something that needs to be looked at.”

OK then: write more parts suitable for actors of color and hire them – fine. But “the kinds of movies being made”? I thought, when it came to that, it was all about Art – that is, about inspiration, about pursuing deep themes and not about some reasoning-process such as “Hey, looks like we haven’t made a Latino film in a while – time to make a Latino film!” etc. Am I naive here? Probably.

Then there is the reason he visited Amsterdam in the first place, and you can read it on the wall in the background: Nationale Postcode Loterij. It was their big gala, and George doesn’t neglect to plug them in the interview:

We don’t do it in the United States, and we should, it forms this whole sense of community where, like, a whole postcode wins, which is great, but they also donate so much money to so many different actually needy charities . . . . I wish we were forward-enough thinking to do the same thing.

That’s right: What’s drawn in the Postcode Loterij as the result is a postal code and, if you do actually live there AND you bought a ticket, you get a payoff. You can see the extensive list of charities to which this institution contributes – as well as the by-year monetary amounts – on its Wikipedia page. Amusingly, that list includes the Clinton Foundation. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Yes We Can – Take Bribes

Posted on January 15th, 2016 by MAO

Here’s another bit of news that I am surprised has not been reported more – or maybe it’s just that it has only been reported in Spanish and not yet crossed the language barrier.

15JANPodemos
The headline is fairly straightforward: “The DEA of the US reveals that Venezuela and Iran agreed to finance Podemos through Hispan TV.” “US,” “Venezuela” and “Iran” should be no problem; “DEA” is the Drug Enforcement Administration of the US federal government; “Hispan TV” is a worldwide Spanish-language TV station operated by the public television authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran; and Podemos (SP: “[Yes] We can”) – here we come to the point of all this – is a new, insurgent, left-wing, anti-austerity Spanish political party which did fairly well in the pre-Christmas Spain nationwide elections. (It’s not in government yet, though; no party is yet in government. The old government is still there as caretaker because, unfortunately, several other parties also did well in those elections.)

This is not good news for Podemos. Accepting political contributions from foreign sources, at best, puts any political party in bad odor. At worst, it is illegal; and that is the case in Spain (emphases in the original):

The Law for Party Financing of 2007 prohibited receiving funds from foreign governments but did not impose sanctions on those who evaded this restriction. Nonetheless, last 1 July a reform of the Penal Code came into force which prescribed up to four years’ jail and fines of up to five times the amount of the donation received by formations gaining more than 100,000 euros from another country . . .

Podemos is alleged to have received €5 million from Iranian sources, and undisclosed other amounts from the Venezuelan government. Further, Pablo Iglesias, Podemos‘ leader, is alleged to have received personal payments of between €2,000 and €3,000 numerous times. Again, Hispan TV was used as the main vehicle to move these monies and make things look legal, through inflated invoices and the like. All this is coming to light now – allegedly – because a Venezuelan government insider with knowledge about what has been going on has started talking to the DEA.

The affinity between Podemos and the Venezuelan government is easy to see: both are left-wing. But neither are Muslim; indeed, there has not been a strong Muslim political presence in Spain sine 1492. So why would Iran want to buy influence in an up-and-coming force in Spanish politics this way? For that matter, what is the Iranian government doing in the first place splashing out the cash for a television network to push it views throughout the Spanish-speaking world?

And, really, why haven’t we all heard a lot more about this? Could it be just a journalistic hack-job from a media outlet, El Confidencial, that is hostile to Podemos‘ politics. I have to confess that I really do not know; for what it is worth, El Confidencial seems quite a newcomer to the Spanish media scene, and I’m not even sure whether it has or ever had a paper/sold-on-the-streets version.

Still, as hinted above, the Spanish political situation remain in limbo after that December 20 election because, for the first time, no party won a majority enabling it to govern alone. The parties which did well (including Podemos) have been thrust into the very unfamiliar task of forming a coalition government, something that has never been required before in post-Franco Spain. They are not doing well at it so far; and if it turns out that they can’t work things out, then there would have to be new elections. That is when these allegations – if true – would start to really bite for Podemos.

UPDATE: Here we are in March, 2016 – there still is no new Spanish government yet – and there comes this report that this Podemos case has been brought before the Spanish Tribunal de Cuentas or Court of Accounts:

PodemosII
The facts at issue are pretty much as described in the initial blog-post (above): “the alleged illegal financing of Podemos via Iran’s television station in Spain,” although in this piece there is no mention of Venezuela. So on the one hand this would seem to lend credibility to the accusation; on the other hand, this is once again a report from that same source, El Confidencial.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

German Finances in Cautious Clover

Posted on January 14th, 2016 by MAO

Here’s some news that I have not seen reported elsewhere, and I really don’t know why:

14JANHaushaltsplus
That’s 12.1 billion, as in euros: it is a surplus, and it is the bottom-line result of the German Federal Government’s budget over 2015. Further:

The reasons for this are the good economic conditions and high level of tax-receipts. For Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble (CDU) this surplus turned out to be double as much as was expected in November.

No wonder we see Schäuble there leaning on his hands with such a smug look on his face: for him, it’s job well done!

Actually, good economic conditions pretty much automatically mean high tax-receipts, at least for any government which has its act together in the tax-collecting department, which Germany certainly does. But where did those good economic conditions come from? Well, the Germans do what they do well, as everybody knows; among other things, that means a healthy Mittelstand or layer of mid-sized companies (usually privately owned) making all sorts of capital equipment held in such regard by the rest of the world that demand for it is largely price-inelastic (that is, that demand takes little or no hit even if prices rise, e.g. due to currency fluctuations). The result is Germany’s long-standing status as the world’s #1 exporter, these days contested only with China.

So there is all that, a set of character traits contrasting sharply with others said to be more typical of other areas of Europe (mainly to the South) now experiencing quite worse economic conditions. Germany also implemented its so-called “Harz Reforms” around ten years ago, consisting of a series of changes to labor market regulation which made it easier to hire and to fire workers, and which resulted in a suppression of German labor costs which made the prices for native manufactures even more competitive internationally. And finally there is the effect of the euro: No matter how much it might be derided there (e.g. as the teuro, from the German word for “expensive”), one thing that is clear is that, by taking away Southern European nations’ ability to devalue their currencies when their own products became too uncompetitive, the euro locked in a high degree of export superiority for goods from the North, and thus flows of money there – and so relative prosperity, and high tax-receipts. (This also can mean – to some extent – that the economic troubles afflicting Europe’s periphery are not these countries’ fault.)

So Where to Spend the Bounty?

That big pot of money is there – billions of euros, twice as big as had been expected – so the question naturally arises: What to do with it? Ideally, having accumulated in German Federal coffers, the money would be spent in such a way to recycle it back to the other EU states from which it largely came, in such a way to share the wealth and the prosperity a bit more broadly around the European continent. This could be something as simple as an accelerated raising of German workers’ wages, so that they spend more and some of that more they spend are goods and/or services from elsewhere in the EU.

That’s not what is going to happen, though. Rather, according to this piece, much of the money will go to the obvious need: Wir schaffen das!, i.e. “We can do it!” That is, it will be devoted to dealing with the flood of Third World asylum-seekers of which more than 1 million have shown up on Germany’s doorstep through 2015 (with many more expected still to come). The German government largely attends to this problem by sending money to the lower-level Bundesstaat and local governments that actually have to deal with the incoming refugees on the ground. So these elements will get more money. (Not that that will solve the problem; it has become clear recently that considerable political and inter-cultural obstacles also need to be addressed, with solutions that largely cannot only rely upon money.)

There is also another consideration. Successful governing in Germany necessarily means keeping in the back of one’s mind the Biblical tale of Joseph in Egypt, of the seven fat years followed by the seven lean years. German official have to be especially careful with their budgets, considering that an amendment they passed to their Constitution in the recent past mandates that the federal budget deficit be no more than 0.35% of GDP – and that provision comes into effect starting now, in 2016. That means any surplus – no matter how unexpected it may be – to some degree must be husbanded with a view for any bad times ahead (although that same amendment permits greater deficits than 0.35% of GDP in case of national emergencies, whether economic or natural-disaster in nature).

This mandated caution looks even more reasonable in light of some additional news:

14JANWIrtschaft2
Germany’s economic growth for 2015 is expected to come in at 1.7%. What is more, more-or-less the same rate is expected for calendar 2016. Many would see that as low – especially in comparison to economic growth in developing countries, especially China. It’s pretty much also low in comparison with rates that the US is starting to hit again.

Then again, compared to European standards, 1.7% is pretty good, due to Europe’s (and especially Germany’s) continued graying and population loss, over-regulation and other factors. Further, as this FAZ piece adds, “comparatively few currently have to worry about their jobs: The situation on the labor market is at a historically favorable level.”

Still, in absolute terms you could say 1.7% is low. As we see, Germany has been able to extract from that a very nice federal government budget-surplus. But one must still be cautious.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

WiFi from the Indigent

Posted on January 14th, 2016 by MAO

A story about Prague . . . from the Spanish press, from La Vanguardia – but Twitter is a many-splendored thing that way. But first, just appreciate the photo, taken on Prague’s Charles Bridge about a week ago – the statues, the ice-fog in the background so you can’t even see any sky.

14JANIndigentes
What is of significance here is the figure at the lower-left: the beggar crouching in the snow. An enterprising young Prager by the name of Luboš Boleček has come up with an innovative way to help such people. They spend a lot of time hanging around on the streets, right? At the same time, other people walking in those streets – people with the wherewithal to own a smartphone – are frequently in search of a WiFi signal, right?

Why not give the homeless person a WiFi repeater, so s/he can create a useful WiFi hotspot where s/he stands? The tourists and other people in search of a WiFi signal thereby benefit; but so do the homeless as well, in the sense that they thereby provide a useful service which justifies and might attract sponsor’s funds, which can then go to providing these people with the sort of services useful for helping them get back on top of their lives and re-entering society again as full and fully productive members. (Any funds go in the first instance to public transport tickets, lunches and toilet facilities which enable them to go about this WiFi hotspot task.)

I suppose those inclined to look on the bad side might dismiss this project as an abuse of the homeless as a sort of city furniture – or some such – for visiting tourists. In Boleček’s reasoning, however, it is much more along the line of the “homeless newspapers” you often find such people peddling on the street: again, an escape from merely begging outright for money in favor of attempting to offer some real value-added in return. Maybe it’s time to update that “homeless newspaper” paradigm, he suggests: people don’t read much anymore in any case – at least not anything on paper – so the rationale for such newspapers is fading and it’s time for something new.

Boleček’s project is admittedly off to a stuttering start, as he is still looking for private or public funds to enable him to fully get going with it. As he says himself, you’d think some telecommunications company would be glad to step in as a sponsor. Anyway, you can learn more about it on the website he has set up, which is also in English.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Back to Doping Square One

Posted on January 12th, 2016 by MAO

Take a good look at the below tableau: Such a scene of triumph and female empowerment, smiles all around, the Russian flag wielded like a blanket and the (bizarre, disjointed) logo of the 2012 London Summer Games looming off to the left.

12JANBritseAthletiek
Sadly, as was revealed to the world not so long ago – by the WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency – if that Russian flag stands for anything these days, it stands for a state-sponsored campaign of deliberate cheating at international athletics competitions through doping and other artificial (and banned) chemical advantages. The two “athletes” pictured here, track-and-field runners Mariya Savinova and Ekaterina Poistogova, were both on a list of five published in November for which the WADA recommended a lifetime ban from any further competitions. (As you will further be aware, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) also banned all Russian track-and-field athletes from the upcoming Rio Olympic Games.)

Gee, people pay billions to build facilities and throw a a high-level athletics party (OK, “competition”), invite you to come join in – and then you cheat! Not being especially grateful for the hospitality there, wouldn’t you agree? That may be why, as the Volkskrant reports here, the British athletic federation, UK Athletics, has just put out a quite remarkable anti-doping proposal, entitled “Manifesto for Clean Athletics.” Here are the introductory words of Chairman Ed Warner:

Greater transparency, tougher sanctions, longer bans – and even resetting the clock on world records for a new era – we should be open to do whatever it takes to restore credibility in the sport. And at the heart must be a proper and appropriate funding regime for the anti-doping authorities to help confront the new challenges they face. Clean athletes the world over deserve nothing less.

“Greater transparency” means recording all doping-checks and their results in an open register, according to this proposal; “tougher sanctions, longer bans” means establishing a minimum ban of eight years for cheaters. There are a number of other interesting suggestions here as well (e.g. if your athlete is caught cheating, you as a federation compensate the lost prize-money to those athletes of other federations who were honest) which you can read, in English, on the UK Athletics website. But the one that particularly catches the eye, of course, is erasing all athletic records and just starting over. Why not indeed? More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Polish Media: There’s More to Come

Posted on January 11th, 2016 by MAO

Relations between the new right-wing Polish regime and the EU have taken a turn for the worst lately. Whether it’s doing so purposefully or not, the PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law and Justice) Party now heading the government there seems to be following the route pioneered only a few years previously by Victor Orbán in Hungary towards making the country an “illiberal democracy.”

This has involved measures such as reducing the independence of the Supreme Court equivalent there, but what has caught the eye most has been the law recently pushed through the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) which converted the State radio and TV institutions from commercial organizations wholly owned by the government to governmental institutions – thus liable to having their top staff chosen by the government of the day. Once this law was passed and signed last week by the country’s president (also PiS), the government lost little time in putting in its own people.

As usual, I’ve tried to track that via my regular review of the Polish press, so that I can then pass on interesting bits of what was going to you via tweet and/or blog-post. But now that the law has been passed – and the Polish government and EU Commission have set out their antagonistic positions about it – what seems most interesting is a tweet I first picked up from last November, when the PiS government was getting ready to take power.

11JANUmbau
“Radical reconstruction planned: Poland wants to cut down on foreign influence in its media system.”

Here we got a first warning, from the influential Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, of the intentions of the incoming PiS government, in particular of Piotr Gliński who became Minister of Culture. Note the emphasis: “cut down on foreign influence” – now, what sort of “foreign influence” could there be within the State radio and TV institutions? As mentioned, even before the new law they were 100%-owned by the Polish government; some variation of this is the rule with all other European State broadcasters. So what could they mean by “foreign influence” – perhaps the foreigners who happen to work there?

No, that’s not it (although it wouldn’t be any surprise if the new bosses at TVP and Polskie Radio do fire the foreigners); rather, we’re speaking here of the print media. In Poland that is mostly foreign-owned (and that mainly from Germany) and Gliński wants to do something about it.

The new government wants to “change the ownership proportions” of local newspapers, Gliński said. To do this, they are considering “buying back” shares owned by foreign publishing companies, founding native Polish newspapers or further building up those fully Polish-owned papers that now exist.

Consider: “buying back” foreign ownership stakes in Polish publications. What if those foreigners who now own them do not want to sell, or demand what the new Polish government considers too high a price? It is easy to imagine here that the PiS government will not be willing to accept nein! for an answer. It’s easy to see we are talking here about the potential expropriation of business assets bought fair-and-square in the past. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Smoking Ruin

Posted on January 8th, 2016 by MAO

I heard it on the Belgian radio news, and now this from the on-line press so it must be true:

8JANKansspel
“Gambling Commission wants to allow players to smoke again in order to save casinos.”

For Belgian casinos – all nine of them – are in trouble, mainly for the usual reason of fierce online competition. One can always smoke at home (if the significant other there agrees), in front of the computer. If something is not done, argues Gambling Commission Head Peter Naessens, then punters will stay there to place their bets or, if they really desire that on-site gambling experience, will simply cross the border, presumably where they can both gamble and smoke.

So the proposal is to put in an exemption to the general smoking ban for enclosed public places of July, 2011, and thereby allow smoking again in Belgian casinos – that is, allow people to ruin their lungs (for the cigarette-makers’ profit) at the same time as they ruin their finances (for the casinos’ profit). This is really depraved; and both of these are potentially addictive behaviors!

The one hitch here may be that that 2011 ban came about as the result of a decision from the country’s Constitutional Court, which interpreted the relevant law to require that, if you are going to have a smoking ban at all, you enforce it for all public places, in the interest of equity and fair competition. Meanwhile, this particular article signs off with the reminder that “. . . the [gambling] sector is good for 5,000 jobs in our land.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Just *Forget* Charlie Hebdo!

Posted on January 6th, 2016 by MAO

WHY oh WHY do we have to look to Quebec for a little bit of contemporary wisdom?

6JANCharlie
Translated: Is it really necessary to commemorate the Charlie Hebdo attacks, as it seems France is doing all this week? In fact, the writer here, Nathalie Goulet, is from France, she is a member of the French Senate for the center-right party UDI and Vice-President of a government commission investigating how best to fight jihadist networks.

These Charlie Hebdo anniversary ceremonies, she makes clear, are not the way to carry that fight forward. What are terrorists looking to achieve, after all? What might those key elements be that transform them from angry young men thinking of causing mayhem to gun-toters ready to carry that out?

. . . what these murderers are looking for, other than to promote a violent ideology and to oppose our values, is a moment of glory: they are searching for acknowledgement from their mentors, from their friends and those helots [low-lifes] who surround them.

It’s inexhaustible media coverage and especially official ceremonial attention – repeating year after year – which gives them exactly what they want, and thereby also attracts future candidate-terrorists looking for their own chance to go down in a blaze of glory.

Within this international bond of terrorist crimes, what sort of effects can these images of the Charlie anniversary have, other than to reinforce their conviction that they have attained their aim? To cast families into endless mourning, create a security psychosis, divide society, make more fragile the [French] Republic which then forgets here and there its founding principles of Liberté Egalité Fraternité . . .

Yes, of course. Yet there’s another reason to drastically tone down or even cancel outright these sorts of commemorations. (And I’m also looking at you, 13 November 2016!) All you have to do is recall images of that parade through Paris last year after the Charlie Hebdo attacks – you remember, with French President Hollande there in the middle of a menagerie of other world leaders in the front row. The vast majority of those leaders were implicated in some way with harassment of journalists and restriction of freedom of the press in their own countries, even while this solemn Paris parade was supposed to be a celebration and defense of press freedom as expressed in the slogan “Je suis Charlie.”

In short, we also need rather less of these ceremonies because, through craven government cynicism as abetted public ignorance, they run too much danger of becoming gigantic exercises in hypocrisy.

By the way, if the French government still wants to indulge in such ceremonies, could it at least get the spelling of the victims’ names on the plaque correct?

UPDATE: Here’s what I mean about the sheer “Je Suis Charlie” hypocrisy, from Glenn Greenwald: France Spends Last Year Crushing Free Speech.

In all the many years I’ve worked in defense of free speech, I’ve never seen the principle so blatantly exploited for other ends by people who plainly don’t believe in it as was true of the Hebdo killings. It was as transparent as it was dishonest.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Volley-Boondoggle

Posted on January 5th, 2016 by MAO

This week sees the qualification rounds, to be held in Berlin, for the volleyball competition that will be part of the 2016 Rio Olympic Games later this year. The German team coach, Vital Heynen (himself of Belgian nationality, as you can perhaps tell by the name), has a lengthy interview in the leading German newspaper Die Welt.

StolzDeutsch
By all accounts, he’s done a good job, and the German team is confident about its chances. Then again, I’m not so interested in volleyball, German or otherwise. I would have passed this bit of news entirely by had it not been for that text-fragment in the tweet: “You Germans are not proud of Germany!”

Yes, the quote comes from Heynen. What would cause him to say something like that? Here is the wider context from the interview:

The problem of Germany is that it is no sports-country, it has no sports-culture. Hamburg’s decision to not apply for the [Olympic] Games [of 2024] hit me right in the heart. I cannot understand it. The Olympic motto for 2012 was “Proud of Germany”; I’m telling you now, you are not proud of Germany, when you have a country of which one really could be proud.

(That 2012 motto must have been in connection with Leipzig’s application to host those particular summer games. Leipzig got nowhere in the bidding, which of course was won by London, for whose Games the motto was “Inspire a Generation.”)

No “sports-country”; no “sports-culture.” Because the German taxpayer has picked up a new reluctance even to bid for the right to host Olympic games!

Heynen may think that his position gives him a privileged platform to comment on German athletic affairs generally, but he is likely wrong. The citizens of Hamburg voted last September to withdraw their bid, but those of Boston had done the same thing just two months earlier.

Indeed, is staging the Olympic Games – whether summer or winter – something any reasonably democratically run polity is going to want to undertake from here on out? It’s an awful big drain on public monies, all for a bit over a month of concentrated world-attention – and then the long hangover of an expensive collection of white-elephant athletics buildings for which permanent alternative uses are hard to find. The 2004 Games certainly gave Greece a good shove down the path of public insolvency, while there has already been and will certainly continue to be widespread dissatisfaction in Brazil over all the public money spent on this year’s Summer Games, especially given the recent sharp downturn in Brazil’s economic fortunes – and given the strong whiff of public corruption whose revelation has accompanied that downturn.

Clearly, staging the Olympics is a project not for democratic localities but rather for the undemocratic variety, where there is no public accountability for the vast sums of public money required. The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics – the most expensive in history, by far – clearly had as their main function being a conduit for Putin to divert government money to his friends and supporters. The 2008 Peking Games, for all we know, fulfilled a similar function, as will surely the 2022 Winter Games, also to be held in that world-renowned center for winter sports, Beijing.

Of course, even if the democratic world sensibly starts to leave hosting the Olympics to the autocrats, that still means condemning a series of national populations to misappropriation of their tax monies. Far better to harken back to the Games’ original spirit, to the very name Olympics, and start hosting the Games (at least the Summer version) permanently in their spiritual country of origin, namely Greece, in Athens. There is a good collections of purpose-built buildings still there just dying to be properly used again.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

A Molenbeek Near-Miss

Posted on December 16th, 2015 by MAO

Salah Abdeslam: does that name still ring a bell? He’s the Belgian citizen thought to be among the attackers in Paris last November 13 – and the only one to have escaped alive, aided considerably by what appears to be his decision to shed the regulation suicide-vest he wore at the time and just get out of there. It’s been more than a month and he is still at large. You really have to think that, by now, he is somewhere in Syria, safe under ISIL protection.

There’s a new piece up on the website of the Luxembourg-based newspaper L’Essentiel claiming that the Brussels police came very close to nabbing Abdeslam shortly after that deadly assault. We’re talking here again about Molenbeek, that notorious quarter of central Brussels from which so many radical jihadis have originated, and not just many of those involved in the Paris attack.

Abdeslam
To be fair, L’Essentiel is just confirming a scoop first gained by the Flemish commercial television chain VTM, to the effect that Brussels police from Sunday, 15 November were fairly sure Abdeslam was sheltering inside a particular Molenbeek apartment known to be a jihadi safehouse. But they did not move in: they couldn’t, legally, because, according to this article, “House-searches are in fact forbidden by the Belgian penal code between 23.00 and 05.00 hours except in urgent cases such as fires or les flagrants délits,” that latter phrase I assume signifying cases when it is known that crimes are actually being committed there on-scene.

Neither was the case for Abdeslam hiding out there in Molenbeek, so the authorities had to wait until the next morning. By that time they went in, he had given them the slip. By the way, from the timing it is clear this report provides further insight into why Belgian authorities decided to raise the alert levels for Brussels to “Imminent Attack Expected” for that same Sunday and the following couple of days.

Very frustrating, obviously. But this is also very unfortunate from a civil liberties point-of-view. This sort of police-failure – an inability to use the powers they do have, which should be enough – inevitably will accelerate the erosion of citizens’ liberties towards the police that we have already seen too much of following those November attacks.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Central European Money Laundering

Posted on December 8th, 2015 by MAO

I suppose Vienna has often been known as a depressing place – Freud’s hometown and all. Still, police there were taken aback last Saturday from witnesses reporting one person after the other jumping off a certain bridge into the cold waters of the Danube.

Danube
But these Viennois were not in dispair of life at all. They loved life, and in particular all the good things money can bring to it. Upon visiting the scene, the policemen discovered that numerous €100 and €500 bills were to be found floating on the water. (Strangely, no mention here of €200 bills.)

Naturally, further reinforcements and a boat were called to collect up as much of the currency as was left, and then to dry it all, as you see in that hilarious photo of the drying-rack. It was real money, all right; they just don’t (yet) know to whom it belongs. There haven’t been any recent reports of robbery in that area, for example.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

One That Got Away

Posted on November 17th, 2015 by MAO

I realize that the world in general is hardly in the mood to hear news about any more terrorist attacks. But at least this was one that was thwarted.

Tunisie
“Tunisia foiled a large-scale terrorist attack this month.” So at least announced today that government’s official in charge of security, Rafik Chelli. He claims they did so by discovering and breaking up a 17-man jihadist cell which was planning to execute a coordinated attack on hotels, security installations and politicians, “in order to sow chaos in the country.” Some of these people were said to have been trained in Libya – the country directly to Tunisia’s East – and some in Syria.

But if a bomb goes off, or a bullet is fired, in the Middle East these days, will people elsewhere necessarily care? You might have heard that ISIS suicide-bombers killed 40 at a South Beirut open-air market just the day before the Paris Attacks – or, likely, you may have not, as Paris soon overshadowed everything. It’s a shame, as the Beirut attack featured a heroic Lebanese man, Adel Tormos, who tackled the second suicide bomber and thereby gave up his own life to save those of many others, including his daughter.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Head Down South for Blackface

Posted on October 3rd, 2015 by MAO

Just a heads-up here to all my readers, as part of this weblog’s public service function, for the coming annual controversy over the Father Christmas-associated figure in Dutch culture of Zwarte Piet or “Black Pete.” As a rule this squabble only gets going around mid-November, when major Dutch cities stage elaborate “arrivals” of Father Christmas (Sinterklaas) from Spain, always accompanied by his multiple Zwarte Piet helpers, gaudily attired and in blackface with a curly black wig, preparatory to the Dutch celebration of pakjesavond on 5 December when Sinterklaas and his assistants visit houses to bring presents to well-behaved children and to chastise the naughty.

Of course, observers outside the Netherlands and even within have come to take increasing offence at what they take to be the implicit racism of Zwarte Piet. Things came to a head during last year’s go-round, what with an intensive level of international press attention and even street-disturbances in the city of Gouda on the occasion of Sinterklaas’ “arrival” there. Recently, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released its (non-enforceable) judgment that the Netherlands should dial Black Pete back.

It’s possible that last year represented, to coin a (not easily repeatable) phrase, peak Black Pete, as Amsterdam and various other Dutch cities have taken steps to minimize that racial dimension, and have banned Black Pete entirely from their schools. Of course, we’ll have to see when the time comes – in a little over a month – just what the differences will be between the new Black Petes and the old. For there will surely still be Black Petes: there remains considerable resentment among man-on-the-street Dutch people at what is perceived as outside interference in cultural practices that (in their view) do not harm anybody and are ultimately no one’s business outside the Netherlands.

Make that outside the Netherlands or Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, where they also celebrate Sinterklaas (although their pakjesavond is on 6 December*).

ZPiet
“Come on down to Antwerp,” is the message. “We keep our Black Petes black!”

This bit of touristic promotional work comes from alderman Koen Kennis, who represents in Antwerp the N-VA or Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie party, a right-wing, strongly Flemish nationalist party whose key demand is for Flanders to secede from Belgium entirely.

Of course, the Netherlands certainly has its own parallel party to the N-VA, namely the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV) headed by the notorious Geert Wilders – one which certainly books healthy gains in its electoral support with every such Zwarte Piet controversy. As one would expect, Wilders has been unyielding in his “Leave Black Pete alone!” attitude, but his party is nowhere strong enough in any municipality to push that through as city policy. Things are different – for now – in Antwerp.

* Note to children with family connections in both the Netherlands and Flanders: the two territories are of course adjacent, so keep in mind the “double-dipping” possibilities of presents north of the border on the evening of the 5th, then presents south of the border on the evening of the 6th!

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Germany Deals with Refugees (#Fail)

Posted on September 22nd, 2015 by MAO

This month’s European crisis has without a doubt been the waves of refugees trekking their way from Turkey, through Greece and then northwesterly up the Balkans, whose eventual desired destination has generally been Germany. Germany itself has changed before our very eyes: first taken aback by developments, then taking a welcoming attitude, but now dialing that greeting back somewhat, with border controls and other restrictions, as the full reality hits of what that welcoming attitude has wrought.

Here are a couple of “under-the-radar” articles from the German press on how that country has been trying to deal with circumstances. First: gut gedacht, schlecht gemacht (“good intentions, terrible execution”).

aChaos
The goal was a noble one, if perhaps also serving as good PR for reBuy.de, a German site that functions as an on-line marketplace for used goods of all types. But what better company to launch an effort to solicit and coordinate used clothing donations for the refugees, right? So it made an arrangement with the German Red Cross; donors could send in their used clothing for free, using labels provided by reBuy.de, via the Hermes package-deliver service.

There was a major misunderstanding, however. For the German Red Cross, this was supposed to be a local action confined to its Berlin Wedding/Prenzlauer Berg affiliate. But reBuy.de understood it to be nationwide – and improperly used the nationwide German Red Cross logo on its website announcing the action. The result was the rest of the German Red Cross’ branches throughout the length and breadth of Germany being inundated with clothes they never expected, before the whole national organization abruptly withdrew from the effort. reBuy.de employees all over Germany gamely tried to push on anyway, accepting, sorting and distributing the clothing themselves, but things soon broke down entirely, with many recriminations.

Then there is this other interesting development in Berlin.

ALuxus
Even beyond clothing, a major concern for the German authorities in dealing with all the refugees has been finding them sufficient acceptable shelter, particularly in view of the oncoming colder weather. Already Berlin officials have taken some decisive measures to achieve this. Last month they pressed into action an old town hall, that of the city quarter Wilmersdorf (capacity: 500), for housing refugees, and the Berliner Morgenpost piece also reports they recently confiscated a former bank in the same area for the same use.

But now those authorities are ready to take things up another notch. Specifically, another Berlin quarter, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg (known for decades for its many immigrants and left-wing politics) now wants to make use of the many apartments standing empty within its boundaries. These are generally higher-quality residences, and the reason they are not being actively used is either because they are being withheld by their owners for speculation or because they function as second homes for well-off people who usually live elsewhere. They are estimated to number up to 5,000.

It does look like those apartments are going to be pressed into service. Will it be confiscation, or some sort of money paid to the owners as compensation? Likely the former. Here we encounter the age-old conflict between private property on the one hand and taking care of people’s urgent needs, in an emergency situation, on the other hand. Those owning those apartments really should not be surprised; the squatting movement has been particularly active in Berlin and Hamburg for decades, way before any refugee crisis.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Guests of the Prime Minister

Posted on September 5th, 2015 by MAO

Hey, forget Bob Geldof! Now it’s no less than the Prime Minister of Finland who is offering to house – personally – migrant asylum-seekers.

FinnPM
Prime Minister Juha Sipilä this (Saturday) morning made this announcement on Finnish state radio YLE, adding that all fellow Finns should follow his example.

As you might surmise, however, there is some fine print involved here (quite apart from the fact that he did not specify how many such persons he is willing to house – or at least reports I have seen so far do not so specify).

  1. This is Finland, a country not notable as one that asylum-seekers interviewed out of that . . . er, mob coming up from the Balkans through Hungary have mentioned as a desired destination. Indeed, remember that all these folks come from relatively hot lands – yes, “hot” in terms of conflict-ridden, that’s why they are trying to get away, too hot to handle, but here I mean more conventional “hot,” e.g. in terms of ambient temperature records recently broken in the Middle East with measurements of up to 140˚F. Finland, on the other hand, is rather cold. Among other things, this means that any who take up this offer will surely find themselves isolated from anyone else remotely sharing their background or values, as other migrants who aren’t able to take advantage of free accommodation – and who knows to what extent the Finns are truly ready to follow their head-of-government’s lead? – will not follow them there.
  2. Making things worse, the accommodation Premier Sipilä is offering is not his house in Helsinki, at least in Finland’s south, but rather his vacation-house at Kempele which, while not really in the far Lapland-North, is certainly at what you could call Finland’s “Middle.” At least it’s also rather close to the Gulf of Bothnia, that is, the sea – although the concept of “beach” at that Northern latitude is problematic at best.
  3. Finally, whoever takes up the Prime Minister’s generous offer will be obliged to at least keep trying to pronounce his name correctly – a difficult assignment!

Take another look at the Premier’s face in that photo, then – this couldn’t be some sort of elaborate Finnish practical joke, could it?

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

I Protest! Take My Blood!

Posted on August 19th, 2015 by MAO

Perhaps some of you in the UK will have already heard of the remarkable #polishblood initiative, but most have not. And it is all supposed to go down tomorrow (that is, Thurs., 20 August).

xpolishblood
This is a tale of the birth and growth of a special meme, largely via social media, in this case among the very many people of Polish citizenship living and working in the UK. It started out of the substantial accumulation of grievances held by this particular cohort against the country they chose to move to – basically, of the many instances of unfair discrimination against Polish people as being foreigners, as an unwelcome people coming to the UK to steal native jobs, to compete for resources, take up space on a crowded island generally, etc.

One of their natural champions in articulating and publicizing these grievances has been Polish Express, a Polish-language UK newspaper. This publication certainly does not hold back on its Twitter-feed:

xpol1
“20 thousand pounds reward for information on the affair of the degenerate who brutally attacked an immigrant” – Polish, of course.

xpol2
“Immigrant [actually, not Polish this time] does not pay a fine of 20 pounds, is deported.”

xpol3
“These UK firms cheat their workers! We publish the government’s ‘list of shame.'”

A few weeks ago, in the febrile atmosphere of the UK’s summer heat, resentment at this sort of treatment cropping up in the Polish Express’ on-line forum finally boiled over. “We’ll show them!” was the new attitude. “Let’s have all Polish people in the UK go on strike for a day, to show the Brits how their economy would collapse without us!”

That must have been a satisfying feeling, getting that off one’s chest and being able to look forward to a coordinated, nation-wide action designed finally to demonstrate the error of their ways to what UK-based Poles perceive as an often resentful native population, insufficiently appreciative of their contributions to modern-day Britain. Just how things went on from there, however, is not so clear.

For the evident down-side of such public action – assuming it really can successfully be coordinated on a wide scale in the first place – is that it could make British people angry even as it reminded them of how much they depend on the Poles. Indeed, it might make them angry precisely by making them aware how much they depend on the Poles.

Blood for Money

That is why we now have #polishblood, at least as Rzeczpospolita (which is of course one of the leading national newspapers in Poland) reports it. Don’t go on strike; instead, take some time from your work to go to the local hospital, or Red Cross center, and donate blood!

That’ll show those Brits! Ha! No regular Anglo-Saxon person will be able to donate blood his/herself that day, as all the slots will be taken up by Poles! In fact, according to the Rzeczpospolita piece, this new campaign took off among Poles so much that even they were having trouble arranging to go give blood on the appointed day (which is 20 August: tomorrow), so that many of them had to resort to booking times to do so even several days before. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Male Leather-Strutting Misplaced

Posted on July 29th, 2015 by MAO

Here’s something you don’t see in the streets of the Chinese People’s Republic every day. However, if the Beijing police have anything to say about it, you won’t ever be seeing this type of thing again.

ABChine
What is going on? Is it perhaps a casting-call for a Chinese-studio remake of 300? No, as the accompanying RFI piece explains, this was a marketing stunt, by a Beijing restaurant called “Sweetie Salad” – a marketing stunt gone bad for those taking part, as the local police swiftly moved in and conveyed at least some of the make-believe Spartans to the slammer.

ABBeijing
On the other hand, it was a marketing stunt gone good for Sweetie Salad – if you take into account that old maxim that no publicity is bad publicity – which according to this RFI report generated enormous on-line buzz about itself within China and was punished only to the extent of feeling obliged to post this message:

We have humbly recognized that, as a start-up, we lack a certain experience in the organization of large-scale events.

Where did all those buff foreign males think that they were – Amsterdam? In fact, the timing couldn’t be better: all they need to do is get out of jail (those to whom that applies), scrape up the funds for a half-round-the-world flight and find a hotel (admittedly a challenging proposition at this late point), and they then can all enjoy themselves royally this upcoming weekend at the yearly Amsterdam Gay Pride celebrations. They’ll feel right at home there, walking around Amsterdam’s streets in their Spartan suits (I assure you, that sort of get-up often verges comparatively on the tame side); yet they might very well impress the locals enough to be invited to join a boat for the infamous Canal Parade that kicks off this upcoming Saturday (August 1) at 1.30 PM CET. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Not for the Faint-of-Heart Tourist

Posted on July 8th, 2015 by MAO

It’s that time of year now for making travel-plans, and so we see this from Vox’s Matt Yglesias:

voxdebt
Ah, but click through to actually read the article! (You do take care to do that every time, right?) Surveying the arguments actually presented there for going to Greece now, what one comes up with is: 1) Greece is cheap; 2) It’s the “right thing to do”; and 3) Greece is pretty safe (here citing figures from, of course, some past, more “normal” period that did not feature closed banks and a full-blown financial crisis).

Actually, Yglesias’ piece inadvertently presents some good arguments why not to go just now. “Bring cash to Greece” warns one of his section-headlines, and rightly so. First of all, more and more places won’t want you to pay with plastic, because current restrictions mean they can’t get quick access to that money. And while it may be true that cash-withdrawals for those using foreign credit- or debitcards are not limited, it’s likely going to be a struggle to find an ATM that has not run out of money.

When you do find one, do not assume that the Greeks’ supposed love for tourists extends to allowing them to cut in front of the long lines in front of those ATMs – so that it may well be empty by the time it is your turn. And don’t think that your efforts towards making it emptier by extracting your foreigner’s amount will be appreciated, either. Then consider the happy hunting-grounds for muggers made possible by the knowledge that everyone is carrying around so much cash, for burglars and room-thieves knowing that everyone has to store all that cash somewhere. More »

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on DotNetKicks.com
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)