Archive for the ‘Belgium – Flanders (Dutch-speaking)’ Category

Papa’s Got a Brand New Grave

Friday, March 12th, 2010

I guess that, even in death, the great Godfather of Soul got Tired of Standing Still – He Gotta Move On! Maybe he took one look at the temporary crypt at his daughter’s South Carolina house where they put his body and exclaimed “It’s Too Funky in Here!” Maybe he just knew that if he stuck around he would Get Ants in His Pants (And Want to Dance).

In any event, according to a new report in Belgium’s Gazet van Antwerpen (“Body of James Brown stolen”), administrators of his estate are now in a Cold Sweat, singing Lost Someone together in heart-breaking harmony. For Brown’s illegitimate daughter, LaRhonda Pettit, has come forth with an allegation that her father’s body is missing from where it was supposed to have been deposited after his Christmas Day 2006 death.

Pettit has another message, too: Give Me Some Skin! Not only does she know that the body is not there anymore, she knows why: because Brown was actually murdered, by people after his money. (The official cause of death was a heart attack.) So any proper autopsy of his remains – if they’re ever recovered – would reveal all that and get the law going in pursuit of the killers.

There you go, South Carolina police. What are you waiting for? Get Up Offa That Thing and go find Brown!

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Father of Dutch Queen Was Nazi

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you: Bernhard van Lippe-Biesterfeld, German-born husband of Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, therefore father of the country’s present head of state, Queen Beatrix, known to his Dutch subjects as well as to the wider world generally just as “Prince Bernhard.”* He died back in 2004, after a quite eventful life highlighted by his marriage to Juliana in January, 1937, and then his exile in London during the War with Juliana and her mother, Queen Wilhelmina.

Actually, there were some other highlights as well, which Bernhard let everyone in on by means of an interview with the Dutch paper De Volkskrant, conducted a few years before his death but authorized for release only afterwards – basically, two illegitimate daughters, one of which everyone already knew about, but one of which they didn’t. Another “highlight” Bernhard discussed in that interview (which, believe me, everyone had known about for a long, long time) was the scandal that broke out in 1976 about payments he had received in the late sixties/early seventies from Lockheed in order to push the purchase by the Dutch government of their military airplanes. This affair came very close to causing a grave constitutional crisis, with Queen Juliana threatening to abdicate if her husband were punished too much for his indiscretions, and Princess Beatrix also pledging in that case to refuse the throne. In fact, a recent, and excellent, history I read about the Netherlands in the 20th century claims that Bernhard was in fact also bribed, for the same nefarious purpose, by the Northrup Corporation, and that the Dutch cabinet of 1976 knew about that as well but never disclosed this for fear that public outrage would become so insistent on punishing the Prince that the above-mentioned abdication crisis would then in fact ensue. (In the end it was avoided via some wrist-slapping measures taken against the Prince, like taking away his military offices and forbidding him from wearing the uniform.)

A naughty guy, then, you could say. (Well, he also founded the World Wildlife Fund as well as Rotary International.) And also, it seems, a card-carrying Nazi. That is the latest Bernhard revelation, soon to be officially disclosed when the new book Bernhard: Een verborgen geschiedenis (“Bernhard: A hidden history” – pictured above) is presented next Monday by its author, Annejet van der Zijl. (Who has an excellent website, with even an English section. Strangely, though, this book-presentation will actually take place at one of the Dutch royal palaces, Paleis Soestdijk. Do they know what’s in the book?)

For now, the Flemish paper De Standaard has the story covered. Basically, in the course of her research Ms. Van der Zijl tracked down at Berlin’s Humboldt University Bernhard’s old membership-card for the Deutsche Studentenschaft. This itself was definitely a Nazi-sponsored organization, but of more interest were the other memberships claimed for Bernhard on that card, which included the NSDAP – that’s the Nazi Party, folks – and even the SA, or Sturmabteilung, who were the Nazi bully-boys who went around beating up people on German streets.

Yes, he’s dead now, so why don’t we all just leave him alone? That’s a reasonable proposition, except that, as the Standaard article notes, throughout his life Bernhard steadfastly denied that he had ever been a Nazi Party member, or that he even had any sympathies for that movement – even in that Volkskrant interview that he knew would be published only after his death. And there may very well be further revelations to come: I myself have run across allegations of some serious intelligence-leaks during World War II (i.e. to the Germans) that may have had the Prince behind them. I won’t get specific in this public forum because I’m not at all sure that they can be substantiated. But this latest revelation certainly does not make them any less likely.

*Although, if for some reason you just don’t care for “Bernhard,” he had a wide array of other official first names: “Bernhard Leopold Frederik Everhard Julius Coert Karel Godfried Pieter.” Take your pick!

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I have now stumbled upon the fact that the Flemish paper De Standaard does not believe in “permalinks” but rather eliminates articles from its website after the passage of some (as yet undetermined) interval. Very disappointing! And not only because readers of this weblog thereby lose the possibility of clicking through to check out the original article, in the original Dutch. (Of course, since I’m writing for an audience that I assume does not understand any language other than English, I always try to pass along a healthy bit of what any given article says, but still . . .) No, this is also disappointing because De Standaard had been delivering so many interesting articles, especially lately.

My inclination is to write nonetheless about any noteworthy article that I come upon, even if it’s from De Standaard and therefore is sure to disappear shortly. Or does this violate some bloggers’ commandment? Could someone let me know?

FURTHER UPDATE: Never mind, the De Standaard permalinks are back. Sorry, I don’t know what happened, I just know that for a while they were dead.

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No Second Life for South Korean Three-Month-Old

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Unbelievable. Sometimes an article’s headline and lede simply say it all. From De Standaard:

Gamers’ baby dies of starvation
SUWON – A South Korean couple let their three-month-old daughter starve while together they were busy raising a virtual daughter on-line.

The villain of this particular piece was Second Life (yes, I’ve included a link to it there for you – for goodness’ sake, be careful!), which essentially is an on-line virtual world where you create your own character (“avatar”) and then wander around interacting with other avatars and doing various other things. Well, OK, I think we can agree that the actual villains were the parents, named Kim Yoo-chul and Choi Mi-sun, who the article says were given to spending up to 12 hours daily down at the local Internet café, living their “second lives” – which apparently included a virtual daughter – and in the meantime simply leaving their real-life daughter back home by herself.

Until the day when they came back home and found that daugher dead – of starvation (and also dehydration, of course), according to the autopsy. The two parents are now under arrest, and have sworn off playing any more Second Life – so they say.

South Korea is said to be the world’s most “wired” land, with the most operational high-speed DSL connections per-capita*. But maybe this isn’t always such a good thing – the Standaard article also mentions at the end another South Korean 28-year-old dude who recently died after playing Starcraft (yes, I’ve included a link to it there for you – for goodness’ sake, be careful!) for 50 hours straight, without eating or drinking.

*Of course, the parents here did not happen to have one of those many DSL connections at home, but had to go to the Internet café. One therefore wonders whether this tale could have had a somewhat happier ending had they been able to afford a home connection (you know, rousing themselves away from the computer to the child’s screams of hunger) – that Wikipedia article says it’s easy to sign up there for 100 mbps (!) downstream for less than the equivalent of $50.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: I’m afraid the link to the original De Standaard article provided in this post no longer works – see my UPDATE at the end of this later blogpost if you want further discussion.

FURTHER UPDATE: Never mind, the De Standaard permalinks are back. Sorry, I don’t know what happened, I just know that for a while they were dead.

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Communist Poland Sheltered, Armed Palestinian Terrorists

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

An interesting revelation came to light just yesterday, in a program broadcast on the private Polish TV station TVN. So far – strangely – I have found the story picked up only by the premier Flemish newspaper De Standaard and by the Czech mainstream daily Mladá fronta dnes. (That’s right: nothing in the Polish on-line press, yet.)

Of particular interest in that program was the interview it included with former Polish general Czesław Kiszczak, who headed the Interior Ministry of that then-Communist country from 1981 through 1989 – thus for the entire period of martial law that was initiated in mid-December 1981 in response to the growth in popularity of the Solidarity movement. General Kiszczak was willing to openly admit that Communist Poland provided shelter and weapons to Palestinian terrorists on the lam during the 1970s and 1980s, including to Abu Nidal, head of the Black September group which was responsible for the hostage-taking and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich, among other incidents. “We closed our eyes to the fact that they came to Poland to recuperate and equip themselves for further terrorist actions,” Kiszczak admitted. Poland was also quite willing to help with such preparations by selling these militants as many weapons as they wanted. Abu Nidal was even allowed to run a business in Poland – known by the name or abbreviation “SAS” according to the MFD account – for a while in the 1980s.

Former Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski (thus Kiszczak’s colleague and immediate superior) was also interviewed for the program, according to De Standaard’s account. He could not recall anything of the sort happening.

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Twitter = Pedophile-Paradise?

Friday, October 23rd, 2009

I’m sorry, but some of the “old media” over here on this European continent just don’t get it when it comes to Twitter. A current example is the Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen with its brief piece “Twitter is a pedo-paradise”.

At least those quotation-marks are in the original title, as if to show that the Gazet editors aren’t quite ready to fully endorse that opinion. Still, the first paragraph reads in its entirety: “The social-networking site Twitter is a cost-free and easy hunting-ground for child-molesters, experts say.” Their proof? One “on-line conversation” between a pedophile and his 13-year-old prey as published in the English newspaper The Sun – one that is thoroughly banal (13-year-old: “Are you trying to seduce me?” Pedophile: “No, not at all. I just want to more more about you.”) besides coming from a source of little more use to the general public than as an exhibitor of “Page Three girls” and none at all when it comes to factual presentation. Oh, and let me add: besides constituting but one instance (an “anecdote,” in scientific parlance) of alleged evil behavior, and one whose use completely misinterprets the Twitter’s technological essence at that. Yes, it is possible to use Twitter to send an “@reply” to communicate directly with someone – but then everyone who subscribes to you can read the message, and anyone can find it afterwards through search. And it is also possible to send a “direct message” to someone, that no one else can read – although that’s only when the two parties subscribe to each others feed, and tell me how that is possible in a case of pedophilia other than after the child-molester has already gained his victim’s confidence through entirely other means!

But what Twitter is really all about is not one-to-one communication, but rather broadcasting – it’s basically a broadcaster of 140-character-or-less messages. In this light, it’s ridiculous to paint it as some potential tool for pedophiles. This article is simply brain-dead, looking to attract attention through the cynical spreading of rent-an-expert pedophilia alarm. And that’s sad, among other reasons because presumably plenty of people (Belgians who are Flemish, mostly) read the Gazet van Antwerpen and believe what they find there, and so will come away with a mistaken negative impression of what has proven to be quite an innovative and useful communications tool.

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Cheap Saint

Wednesday, October 14th, 2009

sinterklaasFrom a brief piece in the Gazet van Antwerpen by Gunter Willekens we get the very interesting news that Belgium has some sort of advertising “ethics code” that prohibits Christmas-related marketing prior to November 1. Now that’s an interesting solution (although perhaps also a “European socialist” one, like universal access to health care) to the annoying phenomenon of “Christmas creep” whereby Christmas advertising and even public decorations appear earlier and earlier in the year throughout the Western World. This weekly feature, for instance (careful: it’s mainly about American football), has constantly tracked (and bemoaned) this “Christmas creep” and now reports that it has now started to be noticeable even in August! (Go to the link but then scroll down about a third of the way, to the heading “Christmas creep.”) This restriction is all the more impressive when you consider that in Belgium the big loot-accumulating day for children (oh sorry: the Christmas holiday) is not December 25 – although there is an Xmas celebration then, too – but earlier, on 6 December, St. Nicholas’ Day. And it is in fact that St. Nicholas (better known as Sinterklaas and pictured above) who plays the big Christmas sugar-daddy, not any “Santa Claus.”

That “ethics code” provision, then, basically amounts to a prohibition on displaying good ol’ Sinterklaas’ image on advertising materials before November 1. But Willekens’ article further reveals that toy retailers and the like this year are pretty desperate to move their Xmas goods and so have already started sending out their advertisements, handbills, and the like using the obvious loophole: they simply don’t include Sinterklaas. But they do include promises of savings of up to 20% off regular prices.

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“Stop Getting in the Way of Our Bullets!”

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Serendipity is once again at work here on this site, meaning that you get yet another piece from Belgium’s Het Nieuwsblad. It was the title that caught my eye this time: President of Guinea accuses opposition of bloodbath. That would be the incident from last Monday when soldiers from the presidential guard opened fire on people at the national stadium in the country’s capital, Conakry, who were demonstrating against President Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s intention to take part in the upcoming presidential election. Camara became president in the first place by simply seizing power from his base in the army last December after the previous dictator, Lansana Conté, had died.

An otherwise-unnamed human rights organization based in Guinea estimates that about 160 people were killed at the stadium and more than 1,200 wounded, and other nasty things occurred as well, particularly against women, that I will forbear from detailing here. The government, on the other hand, maintains that only 57 people died, most of them trampled in the stampeding crowd. From President Camara: “It was the opposition politicians who led other people’s children to their deaths, while their own children sat comfortably elsewhere.” Anything untoward that might have happened, he declared, was due to “uncontrollable elements in the army,” which he can’t be expected to take responsibility for. You’ll be glad to know, though, that his government does intend to financially compensate the victims’ families.

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Tonight at the Bar: Shooter Special!

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

In a masterpiece of reporting-by-understatement (by a journalist who, unfortunately, is credited only as “loa”), the Flemish paper Het Nieuwsblad reported yesterday on that new law in Arizona, USA that you might have heard about that allows citizens to take their loaded firearms into café’s and restaurants where alcohol is served.

Bear in mind, though: The armed can come into those places, but they aren’t allowed to drink any alcohol themselves. And they can’t come in at all if the owner happens to think it might not be such a good idea and posts a “No Firearms” sign at the door: around 1,300 of the roughly 6,000 establishments eligible to welcome a bit of packed heat have thought the better of it and “requested such a sign,” although they also are allowed just to print one out for themselves.

(For example, bar owner Brad Henrich unwittingly helps us learn an interesting Flemish expression when in the article he characterizes the very idea of mixing weapons with alcohol as welhaast bezopen: roughly “just about plastered/smashed,” i.e. crazy with drink.)

Naturally, the National Rifle Association needs to be consulted here for its view of the issue, and spokesman J.P. Nelson helpfully points out that this is nothing new, that similar laws are in effect in 40 other states. He then adds:

Funny things happen in cafés. People want to have a weapon on them, and if the café-owner has no problem with that, then there should be no problem. If someone drinks and gets in a shootout and kills someone, then he naturally must be prosecuted by the law.

Indeed, some other establishment-owners positively welcome the new law as enabling a “deterrent” (afschrikmiddel). It’s precisely those places posting “No Firearms” that criminals will go after, claims restaurant-owner Marc Peagler: “[They] know that no one is there who can stop them.”

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Short Anne Frank Movie On-Line

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

The Flemish Gazet van Antwerpen reminds us today that the Anne Frank House Foundation recently set up an Official Anne Frank Channel on YouTube.

Among the film-clips on display is one showing the only time Anne Frank was captured on video, as she watched from her family’s balcony the departure of the neighboring girl to her wedding. Naturally, this is before the Frank family had to go into hiding. In fact it is a little less than a year before they did so, and so the scene is at the apartment house elsewhere in Amsterdam where they lived a normal family life up to and a couple years into the German occupation, before moving to the famous achterhuis on the Prinsengracht to try to disappear and so evade a call-up from the occupation authorities for relocation to a “work camp” (which more often turned out to amount to transportation to a death camp in Eastern Europe; it was only Anne’s elder sister, Margot, who received this notice, but that was enough to drive the whole family into hiding).

The brief Gazet van Antwerpen article (no by-line) notes that another clip gives a video-tour of the achterhuis and was put on-line in celebration of the Anne Frank House Museum’s fiftieth anniversary, but it also seems that the entire YouTube channel was created only recently.

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Opel Antwerp: Doomed to Closure

Monday, September 14th, 2009

Sorry, we have to leave the sexy now for the serious. The big news of the past week on the European auto-manufacturing front was the announcement – finally! – of the fate of Opel, for eighty years the General Motors subsidiary operating in Europe, especially Germany. The winner for Opel’s hand is Magna, a Canadian-Austrian investment consortium working together with the Russian Sberbank as financial partner (and also with the Russian auto company GAZ). The announcement was that GM is willing to sell to Magna a majority stake (55%) in the new company, while it retains 35% (and the Opel workers the remaining 10%).

From there the story proceeded just as it always does when a company gets a new owner, especially in the case of a failing firm where that new owner is being counted on to come in and rescue its fortunes. Clearly, drastic cuts have to be made – but who will bear them?

The answer has always been pretty obvious, but it seems that “De Nile” is not just a river in Egypt, somehow it also flows through Flanders. Opel’s factory located in the harbor area in northern Antwerp was always the leading candidate to draw the short straw and face closure as part of any attempt to reorganize the company. The leading negotiator for General Motors – one John Smith – openly said as much: “In our plans Opel Antwerp is superfluous.” Nonetheless, it’s amusing to read in coverage of the new Magna deal in the Flemish business newspaper De Tijd about the refusal of many parties still to accept that reality. After all, points out Luc van Grinsven, spokesman for the ACV union that represents most of the plant’s workers, that’s only a GM official saying “superfluous,” not anyone representing Magna, i.e. the actual new owners. “The exact consequences of the take-over are not yet clear,” claims Van Grinsven. “But GM after the take-over has no more authority.” And Flemish regional president Kris Peeters is still clinging to a letter he received from Magna at the end of July, assuring him that the company intended to investigate further what possibilities there may be for the future of the plant. (more…)

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Facebook Going to the Dogs

Saturday, August 1st, 2009

fkblaffendehond“Snoutbook”? “My Dish”? Exporting the social networking paradigm to the canine world was probably only just a matter of time, and you can still legitimately debate how such a service might best be named, but there is already a notable site of that kind in existence, and it is called honden.be (“honden” being Dutch for “dogs”). The Belgian daily Het Nieuwsblad has an article up now on-line in its “Lifestyle” section about the new project of one Jan van Vlimmeren, a Fleming, to set up that site to bring social networking functionalities like the “Wall” (to relieve oneself on?) and “pokes” (here “sniffs”?) to man’s best friends, as represented by their owners. Specifically, on honden.be you can already set up your dog’s profile, join groups, post a doggie-diary, and even hook up with Google Maps to locate the nearest veterinarian and canine hair-salon (although I suspect that that latter functionality does not extend beyond Belgium). Features that are soon to come include a new category of profiles for dog-breeders as well as checklists to compare your own dog’s personality with the character-traits that his/her particular breed suggests that he/she should have. What’s more, according to the Nieuwsblad article 220 dogs have already been signed up to the site!

Van Vlimmeren does stay aware of other dog-oriented sites which might pose a bit of competition. There’s dogster.com, for example (“for the love of dog”), which he dismisses as “not very user-friendly.” It’s also true that dogster.com is not really structured to be a social-networking site, although it does have private accounts, discussion fora, and groups. It also has a companion site called, of course, catster.com, with much the same pluses and minuses. One has to assume that Van Vlimmeren is well aware of the obvious main limitation of his own honden.be: he’s going to find it hard to make it appeal to anyone with no capability in Dutch!

UPDATE: I should have known that Facebook itself would be on the case. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Dogbook!

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What, Were They Torturing Prisoners On The Moon?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

You’ve noticed all the hype these days about the first manned landing on the moon, the Apollo 11 mission, forty years ago this month, right? Newspaper articles, radio programs, “Where were you then?” requests for viewer/listener feedback, etc. . . . Unfortunately, yesterday NASA had to put out word that might dampen the celebratory mood somewhat, as the Flemish newspaper De Standaard reports: Original video-pictures of the first moon-landing lost. Specifically, the space agency can’t find any of the 45 (!) tapes of the videos made on the moon of the first “moonwalk” (not involving Michael Jackson in any way, but rather Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin) on what back on Earth was the night of 20-21 July 1969. It’s not that they haven’t tried to find them: in fact, spokesman Dick Nafzger claimed they have been looking for three whole years, after first discovering that they were missing in 2005(!).

Bummer. A full investigation is planned, you’ll be pleased to hear. And there’s plenty of other moon-landing commemorative material out there on the Net, anyway, as you can see from this link-collection Kai Biermann has put together for Die Zeit. You’re right, that’s in German; for those for whom that presents something of a barrier, let me just recommend from among those NASA’s entertaining and informative animated comic, an image-gallery of pictures that the astronauts themselves took on the Moon, and Google’s own moon-map where you can specifically see where the Apollo 11 astronauts (as well as those of other Apollo missions) did their thing.

The De Standaard article also mentions that, as a way to reclaim those lost videos to a certain extent, video-recordings of the moonwalks taken at the time off of television back on Earth will be “cleaned up” to make them more viewable by a California firm specializing in that sort of thing called Lowry Digital. Actually, Lowry Digital is based in Hollywood – another unpleasant surprise to NASA executives, who fear that this “cleaning up” of those substitute tapes will only reinforce the suspicions of a cover-up by those who believe that this “moon landing” was never anything more than a Hollywood production designed to fool the world.

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Bhutto Investigation: Better Late Than Never?

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Het Nieuwsblad, out of Flanders, has this piece on-line now about how the United Nations has finally gotten around last week to setting up its long-promised investigative commission to look into the assassination of the Pakistani politician and international figure Benazir Bhutto. You might remember that that actually occurred at the very end of 2007 – so one-and-a-half years ago!

Anyway, the commission will be headed by Chile’s ambassador to the UN, Heraldo Muñoz, assisted by former Indonesian public prosecutor Marzuki Darusman and the former Irish policeman Peter Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald actually has some experience in this sort of thing, as he was heavily involved in the UN’s investigation into the February 2005 bombing-assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. Strangely, though, back then Fitzgerald and his UN staff were on the scene in Lebanon to begin their inquiries only eleven days after the crime was committed, and he issued his report the following month. I wonder what his private thoughts must be about the considerable delay involved here.

There’s another, more subtle problem present as well. Presumably, as was certainly the case in Lebanon, an important reason for this UN measure is the generally-accepted skepticism that the Pakistani authorities themselves could ever conduct a thorough and impartial investigation. The “whodunit?” here is simply too politicized; if you ask the government in power at the time (headed by former general Pervez Musharraf), you get the answer that the Pakistani Taliban were the culprits, but the current government (headed by President Asif Ali Zardari, Bhutto’s widower) instead points the finger at Musharraf. Yet the Nieuwsblad article notes that commission-member Darusman has already indicated that it will rely on the current Pakistani government to bring forward suspects.

In all, then, this whole UN effort looks like a farce – one-and-a-half years is surely long enough for any murder-trail to go stone-cold. But the article also reminds us that, for whatever reason, the Pakistani authorities at the time made sure to hamper any proper collection of evidence, no matter how prompt, by thoroughly hosing down the site of the assassination just as soon as the bodies and the wreckage of the vehicle in which Ms. Bhutto had been riding could be removed.

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A Better American Obesity Report? Fat Chance

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Looks like it’s that time of year again for the latest review of the USA’s epidemic of corpulence, issued jointly by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and Associated Press writer Lauran Neergaard’s account of the ever-worsening news on that front was posted on-line by (among others, I’m sure) the Washington Post.

Over here in Europe, the only on-line publication that I can catch in my RSS-net handling the subject is Flanders’ leading newspaper, De Standaard. Inevitably, the piece (no by-line, just credited to the Belga news agency) is entitled Americans keep getting fatter; and the accompanying photo meant to illustrate the theme does get things rather ass-backwards. This is a somewhat briefer treatment than Neergaard’s, but it nonetheless is able to repeat for De Standaard’s readers all the main statistics: 23 states listed as having even more obese people than last year, Mississippi as always at the top of the list, etc. The Flemish piece does add a bit of new material about the impact that the authors of the report think the current financially-troubled times will have on the situation. You might think that impact on people’s health would be favorable (folks not being able to afford so much food, etc.), but you would be wrong. Rather, cheaper food tends to be less healthy, and plus we can also expect the rolls of Americans not covered by any health insurance at all to rise, in parallel with cases of stress and depression.

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Iran Presidential Candidate Withdraws Election Fraud Complaint

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Don’t worry, we’re not talking here about Mir Hussein Mousavi: The Flemish daily De Standaard is now reporting that one of the three defeated candidates in the 12 June Iranian presidential election, Mohsen Rezaei, has now withdrawn his official complaint of “irregularities” in the conduct of that balloting, as announced today by the official Iranian news-agency IRNA. Rezaei is quoted thusly: “The political and social situation in the country and security have become more important than the election.”

Could this be a sign that the authorities have succeeded in quieting down the opposition and convincing the country to forget about that election, accept Ahmadinejad, and just go back to work? Probably not; Rezaei is identified in that Standaard article as the “conservative presidential candidate,” i.e. the one closest anyway to the current government establishment. Juan Cole implies that, in the true tally of the 12 June votes, he probably came in dead-last.

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News from Tehran

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

Fear not, all you thousands of EuroSavant fans, whether on Twitter, by RSS, or simply frequent direct visitors to the site! While I’m always on the look-out for news of quirky Euro-events that I can pass on to you (see, for example, immediately below), especially if they provide fertile breeding-ground for puns, I do also regularly treat the major news of the day when I can add to the discussion a new insight or perspective as gleaned from the European press.

As of this Sunday, the world’s burning news is of course the recent election in Iran, the apparent plot by the authorities in that country to steal it, and the people’s reaction thereto. Unfortunately, all of this is occurring so far over a weekend, which might be another dastardly trick by the current Tehran regime designed to limit take-up of the story by the regular European press, some parts of which do not work on Sunday at all (although there’s also word that the American MSM has been similarly slow off the starting-blocks). (more…)

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Smoked Nuts

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

The leading Flemish daily De Standaard brings curious news today about a fire last night that broke out in a peanut-processing factory in the town of Sint Maartensdijk. The main damage: 200 tons of savory, crunchy raw material. (No person was injured.) What’s curious here is that, according to the fire department spokesman, burning peanuts are particularly tricky to extinguish. That’s because they burn very slowly, so it takes time to be sure that they’re completely out, i.e. that there’s no remaining bit of fire that can get to work on any near-by unburned material to get going again. So the process generally takes two or three days, and the first step involves spreading the burning peanuts out over a large surface to in fact starve the burning parts of any more fuel.

Another notable issue about this report is why it happens to appear in a Flemish (i.e. Belgian) newspaper. That’s not just a macadamic question, since Sint Maartensdijk itself is in the Netherlands, not in Belgium. Now, it’s true that the town is down in the southern part of the Netherlands, only a little over 20 km from the Belgian border, so you might speculate that what set the Flemish reporters off running was that mysterious, delicious smell of roasted peanuts detected by residents of those border regions. But no, the article explicitly notes that “[t]he surrounding area was little disturbed by the fire. There was little wind, so most of the smoke went directly upwards.”

All I can conclude here, for now, is that De Standaard has simply confirmed its reputation as Dutch-speaking Belgium’s premier newspaper with another demonstration of the comprehensiveness of its coverage of notable, and even semi-notable, public events. It’s also true that there has been no coverage of this incident yet that I can find from the Dutch press – i.e. that of the country where the fire actually took place – but that fact is easy to explain: it happened Saturday night and, out of long-standing (Calvinist) custom, Dutch newspapers simply do not publish on Sundays.

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Miley Not Serious About Her Greens

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Miley Cyrus refuses to eat her vegetables: I’m sorry if this message serves to disillusion any teener-readers of EuroSavant, but that’s what the Flemish newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen is reporting today in the “She” (i.e. women’s) section of its website. So maybe Hannah Montana is not such a goody-two-shoes after all! The exact quote out of Miley’s mouth in the Gazet: “I eat fruit but not vegatables. They look so funny. Most vegatables are green, and eating something green is simply strange. Too many filthy things are green.”

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Pre-Marital Support, Japanese Style

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009

Did I go to sleep and miss a couple of months? Is it already “silly season” – those depths of summer when real news is so scarce that radio time, newspaper pages, and weblog entries must be filled instead with the trivial and inane (if hopefully amusing)?

Well, you should know by now that you can count on EuroSavant for that sort of thing every so often. The latest bit is from Japan, as reported by Belgium’s Het Nieuwsblad within – surprisingly! – the “.biz” business section of its website: Bra stimulates women to seek a man.

Yes, it seems the Land of the Rising Sun has somewhat of a demographic problem, in that its women are increasingly disinclined to marry, preferring to devote themselves to their careers. Now the lingerie company Triumph International has come to the rescue, with its new “Husband Hunting Bra” (available on the Japanese market only, for reasons which will soon become obvious). It’s a bra, all right, but the star attraction here is the digital clock built in on an extension underneath the garment’s supporting sections. There are two set of numbers there that count down; I assume that they represent months and days, for the idea here is that the bra’s owner sets herself a deadline for catching a man, programs it into the digital clock, sets it going, and so has a constant prod to action there on her chest. How to stop the clock? I’m glad you asked: above that clock-section, in the sweet spot between the cups, there’s a slot just big enough to accommodate the insertion of one engagement ring. Upon such an insertion, the clock mechanism stops.

Those Japanese do sometimes inspire the darndest things, don’t they? Oh, and Triumph has even taken care to discourage any sort of pre-marital hanky-panky, in that below the clock part you have printed in big Japanese characters a message which according to the Niewsblad article reads “In search of a husband.” Imagine taking a girl home, getting to third base with her – and recall that the Japanese are very into baseball – and encountering that! Maybe at this point you’re suspecting that I made all of this up, but be my guest and click through to the article: even if you know no Dutch, you’ll find there, appropriately enough, a set of two illustrations showing what I mean, as displayed by a rather cute young Japanese model.

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Porpoise Driven Dive

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

Today, news from Koen Lauwereyns of the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: there are dolphins in the North Sea! His lede: “Sunken treasure-hunters get a free performance off the coast from Nieuwpoort.”

Nieuwpoort is a seaside-resort town in Belgium, maybe ten miles away from the French border, across which lies also on the coast the slightly-more-famous Dunkerque (Dunkirk). We just enjoyed an unseasonably-warm Easter weekend in this corner of Europe, and on Sunday Gert Vanluchene, Didier Balencourt, and Pieter Jonckers (all out of Brussels) were taking advantage of the weather to grab their scuba-gear, head for the seaside, and indulge in their hobby of going diving in search of interesting sea-wrecks off of this very historical coastline. As things turned out, they didn’t have much luck when it came to finding something interesting underwater. It was only afterwards, as they were all relaxing under the springtime sun in their rubber-boat “drinking a pint,” that they hit a sort of jackpot. As Vanluchene recounts for the article:

Suddenly there appeared above our heads swarms of sea-gulls and we saw to the left and right of our boat silver flashes. Immediately afterwards two porpoises shot out of the water. That was the beginning of a spectacular exhibition. Evidently we had arrived right in the middle of lunch for some tens of dolphins. There were two-meter-long specimens, but also little ones. For definitely an hour they showed us their stuff all around our boat.

That passage is very heartening to read, but ultimately is of course but an anecdote. For the bigger picture about dolphins in such cold waters we could use some sort of scientific authority, and Lauwereyns duly segues to Wim Wauters of the Sea Life Center in Blankenberge, BE (for what it’s worth, a for-profit aquarium), who lets him know that dolphins are hardly unknown in the North Sea, it’s just that pollution over the last decades had tended to drive them away. That they are now back in greater numbers – along with seals too, by the way – is a hopeful endorsement of state efforts to clean up the North Sea, as well as adjustments fishing-boats have been required by law to make to avoid getting them caught up in their nets.

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Obama in Europe

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Did you know that Barack Obama’s first visit to Europe as US President actually begins tonight? I didn’t know that, but that’s only one of the interesting facts you can pick up (if you read Dutch) from Frank Poosen’s preview of the president’s visit published today in the Flemish newspaper Het Nieuwsblad (The Obamas tear through Europe).

Yes, the US first couple (and the rest of their 500-person entourage) fly into London’s Stansted airport (misspelled in the article) sometime tonight, to be then helicoptered promptly to their hotel in London proper. Poosen adds that up to six helicopters will be taking off from Stansted at roughly the same time, each heading to London by a slightly-different route – it’s a helicopter shell-game designed to befuddle any terrorist stationed just outside the airport with an anti-aircraft missile, you see. (more…)

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Find Dream Job Under the Knife

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

A number of the Flemish newspapers today are carrying the same brief article about an interesting approach to the job market currently being adopted in China. I might as well point you to the version in the Gazet van Antwerpen: Crisis drives Chinese massively to the plastic surgeon. Yes, operating under the assumption that the more attractive you are, the more you are likely to be hired, this piece tells how Chinese plastic-surgery patients are 40% more numerous now year-on-year. From a survey conducted at the Time Plastic Surgery Hospital [sic] in Shanghai, more than half of the people there for plastic surgery are motivated by considerations of finding either a new or a better job. Also: “most patients are women.”

Not to worry, though, because at least this Gazet van Antwerpen article provides its own antidote to those Belgians who might read it and think, “Yes, that’s a good idea!” For it is headed by a picture of an array of flesh-probing and -cutting tools indispensable to such procedures – yuck!

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Have They Got Your €1.16 Million?

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

lottoAny chance that you stopped by the newspaper-shop ‘t Patje in Brugge, Belgium, sometime late last year to buy a ticket in the National Lottery? Because someone who bought a ticket there won the prize for the drawing held back on 31 December – a cool €1.16 million! As the prime Flemish daily De Standaard reports, no one has stepped up to claim this prize yet, and the 20-week grace-period they are allowed in which to do so is now half-over.

Never before has a winner made the Lottery authorities have to wait this long, which (according to the article, at least) is actually making them nervous that they might have to just throw the money back into the pot if no one turns up. “We’re going to do everything to find the winner,” declares Lottery spokeswomen Ann Publie to the paper.

By the way, I searched in vain for any mention of this story within the French-language Belgian press. This led me to wonder whether this lottery organization, despite the “National” in its name, was perhaps only something for the Flemish part of Belgium. But no, it appears it is Nationale in fact, contributing each year millions of its proceeds to both the Flemish and French states/communities. (That’s €36.8 and €24.52 respectively; I interpret those sums to be set as proportional to those communities’ respective populations. It even devotes a much-smaller sum to the German community.). I guess in the first instance that this lack of French coverage simply comes down to the fact that the winner is known to have bought his/her winning ticket at that newsstand in Brugge (which you may know as “Bruges”), well within Flanders – but still, this does not reflect particularly well upon cross-community solidarity.

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Kadhafi A Jolly Roger for Pirates

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

By and large, the world was certainly glad to see the Bush administration out the door, but one particular population sub-cohort was not. (I mean besides Halliburton, Blackwater and their ilk.) Don’t tell me you don’t know who that was – it’s not as if political comedians’ grief over losing their best source of creative material was not covered extensively both in the on-line and the dead-tree press. I have good news for the yuk-meisters, though: while they and you and I recently had our attention occupied by the struggle to get the $900 billion stimulus bill through Congress (little prospect for laughs there), the African Union, at its summit in Addis Ababa, installed long-time Libyan strongman Muammar Kadhafi as its president for the next year! That’s at least a year of reprieve for you, guys! Enjoy!

(By the way, go ahead and click that link; it leads you to an English-language article from Voice of America where you can read about, among other things, how most of the African heads-of-state assembled there in Addis Ababa found that they had pressing business to attend to back home that kept them from being present for Kadhafi’s inaugural speech on the summit’s last day.)

Unfortunately, that VOA account does not report the remarks Kadhafi offered later as he went to inspect AU headquarters there in the Ethiopian capital. But our old friend the Flemish newspaper De Standaard has an account of them, which I just happened to trip across while preparing my previous blog-post, below. (SerenDIPity-doo-dah, serenDIPity-ay!) You know those Somali pirates (we’ve followed their exploits here on €S before) who recently got that $3.2 million in cash dropped by parachute that they had been demanding and finally released that Ukrainian-registered freighter filled with some heavy arms and ammunition (including 31 tanks)? Well, it looks like you can forget for a while about asking the AU to do anything about them – Kadhafi is taking them under his wing. While still in Addis Ababa he publicly labeled their hijack hijinks as mere self-defense against “the stingy lands of the West” and then added “it is the defense of food for Somali children.”

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Sharp Eye on Obama from Flanders

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

Where did Obama’s political “honeymoon” go? I guess it comes down to the times being a little too serious for cutting much slack to any new presidential administration, especially one coming into office with so much committment to “change” and so many electoral promises to keep. And keep them he had better, or the Flemings (that’s the Dutch-speaking Belgians) will let him know about it; already their main daily, De Standaard has the headline up Obama breaks first electoral promise.

Now, to be sure, it does not seem to be the case that De Standaard has dispatched one or more of its reporters over to Washington to function as Flanders’ watchdog over the Obama administration for the rest of its term; newspapers around the world are trying to cut costs these days, not add to them. You’ve got to be smart in the news biz and get more out of less by leaning heavily on time-honored economic concepts like specialization and comparative advantage. So De Standaard relies mainly on the special website, called Politifact.com, that the St. Petersburg Times has set up to monitor (in great detail) Obama’s many electoral promises.

Sure enough, there is already problem about the speed with which President Obama is signing newly-passed bills from Congress into law. It’s not that he’s too slow; it’s that he’s too fast, since his “Sunlight Before Signing” promise entailed putting each bill on-line for five days before signing it, “giving the American public an opportunity to review and comment on the White House website.” Yet the very first bill he signed into law, the “Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Bill,” was dispatched from the president’s desk a mere two days after the Senate passed it on to him, and in any case it does not seem that its text was put on-line even for that period. And then the next, the SCHIP bill extending children’s public health insurance, he signed into law a mere couple of hours after it was passed by the Congress.

The Standaard article continues: “An Obama spokesman confirmed that Obama wants to bring more transparency into government with the so-called “Sunlight Before Signing” measure, but said he hoped the measure would be implemented soon.”

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Globalized Rot

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

As long as we are on the subject of countries tooting their own horns (but in their own languages, and thus mainly to a domestic audience), did you know that Belgium is #1 in the world when it comes to globalization? That’s the word from the leading Flemish daily De Standaard, and the authority bestowing this accolade is the KOF economic research institute of Switzerland. That evaluation is based on three globalization sub-scores: economic (self-explanatory), social (how many foreign people and firms are there), and political (how active it is in international organizations/cooperation). Belgium is not #1 in any of those individual sub-scores (it’s #5, #10, and #3 respectively) but combined they are enough to give it a “Globalization Index” of 91.51 and put it on top of the world’s nations, just ahead of Ireland and the Netherlands. (If you’re interested, the US ranks far down the list at #38, behind even Jordan and Malaysia.)

“Alright, but isn’t this the same country where no one wants to serve as prime minister?” you might be asking at this point, particularly if you followed along with coverage on this weblog last summer of yet another Belgian political crisis that unfortunately coincided with the National Holiday. And, of course, you’re right. So it is no surprise – even if it is kind of amusing – to see on the website of that very same newspaper, De Standaard, on the very same day a headline in English, “Something is rotten in the state of Belgium.” That fronts an article that is all about Belgian politician Bart De Wever and his dominant (in the Dutch-speaking part of the country, that is) N-VA or Nieuw-Vlaamse Alliantie party. De Wever tells reporter Peter De Lobel that 2008 was for his party “the year of the great disillusionment.” He laments that “this country doesn’t work any more,” and points out that the major Belgian bank KBC had to get a €2 billion bailout from the Flemish regional government a few weeks to avoid bankruptcy – the Belgian federal government was supposedly uninterested in helping out what De Wever claims it looked askance at as a “Flemish and Catholic” bank.

That sort of squabbling over a major financial institution in trouble is a measure for you of how divided politics are in contemporary Belgium, no matter how “globalized” the country may be.

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Air Force One à l’européenne

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Interesting news today of a slightly bizarre nature (and not for the first time) from the leading Dutch-language newspaper in Belgium, De Standaard: Airbus wants to deliver the next Air Force One. (De Standaard duly credits this story to the French newspaper Le Figaro, but I couldn’t find it there on-line.) The American military is getting ready to open the procurement process for airplanes to replace the two Boeing 747-200’s that currently constitute the fleet for Air Force One, the President’s airplane. And Airbus is preparing to participate, and even thinks it has a good shot at landing the contract.

The American authorities actually have in mind purchasing three planes to replace that current pool of two, although they won’t have to be delivered and ready for use until 2017. Initial submissions as to how the competing manufacturers would modify the planes that they make so as to accommodate the American president’s unique telecommunications and security needs are due by 29 January, and Airbus is busy preparing its documents.

It’s true, as the article points out, that the American authorities have already contracted to replace the helicopters tasked for presidential transportation (a.k.a. “Marine One”) with machines from AgustaWestland, an Italian-British joint-venture. However, you have to go to the Marine One Wikipedia page to learn that those helicopters will actually be produced in the USA under license by Lockheed Martin. (Right, it’s Wikipedia that says that, but this press-release from Lockheed Martin seems to confirm it, if you remember that the “Marine One” helicopters are to be designated as “VH-71.”) What do you think are the real chances that the contract for something as high-profile as Air Force One would go to the Europeans? For that matter, what do you think are the real chances that the American government will be in a position to pay for anything when the airplanes are due to be delivered in 2017?

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Mob Moves In on Facebook

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

No, don’t worry, I’m not saying Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg is about to be fitted with his very own pair of cement shoes. Rather, as just reported by the leading Flemish newspaper De Standaard (Italian mafia-leaders heroes on Facebook), it seems that the leading social-networking site has also turned into a sort of cosa nostra. Specifically, the article (attributed only to “VVE” – is this part of an author-protection program?) discusses the couple of fan-groups existing on Facebook dedicated to some notorious bosses of the Italian Mafia, including Toto “The Beast” Riina (convicted in 1993, currently serving 15 concurrent life-sentences in jail) and Bernardo Provenzano, his successor. (No indication that Provenzano is currently anywhere but on active Mafia duty.) These groups apparently feature member comments like “he’s an honest man!” and “people should kiss his hands!” and so come as rather unwelcome to relatives of past Mafia victims, such as Maria Falcone, also quoted in the article and who is the sister of the famous anti-Mafia judge Giovanni Falcone, killed by a bomb in 1992. On the other hand, Falcone and various other anti-Mafia heroes have their own Facebook fan groups, which the article reports always have far more members – tens of thousands – than those for the Mafia criminals. But still . . .

(€S readers are advised that, any Mafia endorsement to the contrary, there is no Facebook counterpart to this site or anyone associated with it. Nor are there any plans in place or in prospect for the same. Comments regarding hand-kissing or anything else, as usual, can simply be addressed to the e-mail link over in the right-hand column.)

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Throw Down! Get Your Own “Bush Shoes”!

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Here’s a tactic they don’t teach you in “Marketing 101” about how to re-package your product to help its appeal to skyrocket world-wide: as ammunition! If you have been following at all the continuing story of the Baghdad shoe-thrower, Muntadar al-Zaidi, you will have already heard about how the offers of money for those very two shoes that President Bush had to duck have reached very high figures, mainly from various wealthy Gulf individuals. But we lesser mortals can at least be content with purchasing a pair of the very same type of shoe which al-Zaidi used, available from the original Turkish manufacturer. This word comes today from the Belgian paper Gazet van Antwerpen“Bush shoes” immensely popular with Americans. (In fact, the story happens to be placed within the “She” sub-section of GVA’s site, devoted to women-relevant subjects like “Fashion and Beauty.” You ask why? Shoes, man – women can’t get enough of shoes!)

Yes, the shoe-company (or -person, I don’t know; I’ve no facility in Turkish, it’s not a European language, sorry) is “Ramazan Baydan,” and it/he has already received more than 300,000 orders for that model and counting. The all-too-brief piece also reveals certain additional characteristics about them: made of brown leather, with a thick sole (ah, but does not one need a thick sole to reside in Baghdad these days?), priced at $42/€30 a pair. From the picture at the top (looks like a crowd of Indonesian protestors), we also see that the shoes are loafers (i.e. no laces), which makes sense from a weapons standpoint: better for deploying to one’s throwing-hand quickly, especially in that most-critical interval when you have already thrown one and hope to get the second one despatched as well before any bystanders or security personnel can react.

Sorry, no actual link or any other information other than “Ramazan Baydan” about where to go to get your own pair – time to head for Google! But it seems that very many Americans have already solved that puzzle and placed an order – thus the GVA article’s title.

UPDATE: Here you go! H/t to Bloomberg’s Mark Bentley, it turns out that the place to go for your “Bye-Bye-Bush” shoes is the Baydan Group. Fair warning: Even on their “English” site (to which the preceding link connects you, of course), they still use Turkish extensively.

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Flash: Vatican Reconciled with Rock ‘n Roll!

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Did you miss the commemoration on Saturday, the 22nd? No, I don’t want to refer here to the 45th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination, but rather to something rather more happy and refreshing: the 40th anniversary of the release of the double-album “The Beatles” by the Beatles, known to one and all simply as the White Album. It seems also to be known to Pope Benedict XVI and his minions in the Vatican (either as the “White Album” or at least whatever that translates to in Latin), as the Holy See’s house-organ (not the musical kind) L’Osservatore Romano used the occasion as an opportunity publicly to forgive John Lennon for his remarks back in the 1960s that the Beatles were “bigger than Jesus.” Unfortunately, I’m not able to find anything to that effect at that link for L’Osservatore Romano, which gives the English version, nor at any of the other editions, so we have to rely for this piece of news on an article in the Belgian daily Gazet van Antwerpen: Vatican forgives the Beatles for “bigger than Jesus” utterance. (Also unfortunately: John Lennon happens to be deceased.)

Yes, in that article the Vatican authorities are said to conclude that, in the final analysis, the “bigger than Jesus” remark was simply “a joke from a young man who was overcome by unexpected success.” So they’re willing to let bygones be bygones. Oh, and for that matter, the Gazet reports, Elvis was OK, too: the description of him from L’Osservatore Romano was of a “dear, sensitive young man.”

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