It’s a Saturday, and American troops are camped south of Baghdad, at the airport. Down south, British troops continue to besiege Basra. By this point, the BBC World Service has discontinued its continuous war coverage in order to broadcast Saturday Sportsworld. And that’s a good thing, too; after a week’s break for Euro 2004 national team qualification, there’s a full schedule of English football matches scheduled for today and tomorrow. Just today, Manchester United win 4-0 over Liverpool to go even at the top of the Premiership standings with Arsenal, who draw 1-1 at Aston Villa.
But in the Dutch papers today, it’s all about epidemics.
There’s that SARS epidemic (“Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”), centered in southeast China but inexorably spreading to the rest of the world. We don’t have any cases of that reported yet in the Netherlands, although the lower house of the Dutch parliament, the Tweede Kamer, is already rather concerned and is grilling bureaucrats over whether they have done all they can to ward it off, reports De Telegraaf reports that it’s being called into action to enforce the ban on the transport of any poultry products from a zone ten kilometers around the southern town of Ospel, which is seen as the hotbed of the fowl pest. “Is this what the once-mighty Dutch army (at least around the turn of the 16th/17th century) has been reduced to?” you might ask, and your concern would be well-placed: The Dutch armed forces overall are tasked with saving €850 million over the next few years, reveals Het Parool, so that the command staffs of army, air force, and navy will lose a collective 600 positions (with a total of 1,400 possibly more to come), from now on no more civilian personnel will be hired, and limits will be put on the numbers of new military personnel accepted.