Archive for the ‘Belgium – Wallonia (French-speaking)’ Category

Tamiflu Increasingly Under Fire

Monday, August 10th, 2009

The swine flu’s a-coming, it’s a coming! There’s no ignoring it now, not after today’s front-page story, top-of-the-fold and complete with color-coded maps, in the Washington Post. “‘The virus is still around and ready to explode,’ said William Schaffner, an influenza expert at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine who advises federal health officials. ‘We’re potentially looking at a very big mess.'”

Wow. You may wonder, as I did: “OK, we had swine flu in the spring, and now they say it’s going to come back soon. Where has it been off to in the meantime?” The answer: in the Southern Hemisphere! It’s winter there now, so I guess it has something to do with cold weather – although it has stuck around to an alarming degree nonetheless in the UK. That could be a function of the rather “un-summery” (i.e. cool, cloudy, rainy) summer we’ve mostly had here so far in Northern Europe.

Turning back to the Northern European press – i.e. to something you may not be able to just read yourself – the French-language Belgian paper Le Soir has picked up on those reports that we discussed here earlier about swine-flu cases being discovered that are resistant to Tamiflu. Once again with Le Soir, the article includes a brief mention of how “The Roche laboratory [maker of Tamiflu] had indicated that it expected a 0.5% rate of resistance to its antiviral [drug] according to results from clinical tests,” and that makes me see red. That’s just marketing propaganda; how can they truly know how widespread the resistance to their drug will be through “clinical tests”?

Here’s what Le Soir has that’s new about the swine flu, however (although they tend to call it the “Flu A/H1N1,” which seems standard for French media): the Tamiflu used to combat it also induces undesirable side-effects in children – “important” effects, according to the article, effects “quite a bit more than the preliminary studies done to get the medicine approved allowed us to guess.” This is evident from the unpleasant experiences of pupils at one particular elementary school in England where they all were given Tamiflu after it was found that one of them had returned from a vacation to Mexico with the swine flu virus, and it obviously argues against that kind of preventive prescription of the drug.

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Kiss Me, You Swine!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Caroline Grimberghs of Belgium’s French-language daily La Libre Belgique gives notice today of what at first glance seems a rather strange new phenomenon: “swine flu parties” (“Flu evenings” for voluntary contamination – although she repeatedly misspells the event as “swin flu parties” in her text). Yep, these are supposed to be social occasions for which the guests of honor, so to speak, are people known already to be suffering from the “H1N1 pandemic flu,” better known as swine flu. The idea is for everyone else in attendance to do their darndest to catch the disease themselves, thereby gaining at the cost of a little discomfort for a while some bodily immunity against a second wave of H1N1 that is supposed to hit in the fall and be rather more deadly. (For now, national health authorities describe swine flu’s symptoms as basically indistinguishable from your garden-variety – why don’t we just call it “kosher”? – influenza.)

To be sure, Grimberghs does not claim this new wrinkle in festive occasions (could we call it a “cough-y klatch”?) is yet to be found in Belgium, just mainly in the US and the UK so far. But that may only be due to some lack of Belgian imagination: she also notes that her country recently had to switch from the “blocking phase” of health policy (i.e. trying to keep H1N1 out entirely) to the “attenuation phase” where authorities can only try to the limit the damage, and the total of Belgian swine flu-sufferers now stands at 126, although with no deaths (yet). Meanwhile, a vaccine against it is still only under development, while medication to counteract it (I assume she means Tamiflu here) is in short supply and thus allocated only to those most seriously at risk.

So indeed, why not go try and get it to give yourself the immunity? Studies of the great 1918 Spanish flu epidemic seem to indicate that those who came down with that early had much greater survival rates. And while “swine flu” does seem an intriguing new idea for a party-theme, I have to wonder just what sort of activities that is supposed to mean – what’s the protocol? “Get down, get funky, get infected”? Do you serve drinks in dirty glasses? What specific sort of physical person-to-person interaction is envisioned here? Does everyone sit on the living-room floor and play “spin-the-medicine-bottle”?

On top of that, we learn from the Washington Post that US summer camps are closing down out of fear for the H1N1 virus. Frankly, to me this signals a fading of the traditional American entrepreneurial spirit that may offer a clue to the US’ current economic troubles. No, you don’t cancel summer camps – in fact, you quickly set up and advertise new “swine flu camps” where parents can handily send their children both to ensure that they get the immunity and that others – medical professionals, optimally – have to put up with the kids during that messy, cranky period when they are sick. I can imagine it now: “Good afternoon, boys and girls, I’m pleased to welcome all 110 of you to Porky’s H1N1 Holiday Camp! As you know, we have 55 sleeping bags available to accommodate you – please submit your choice of “sleep buddy” to your assigned counselor . . . ”

UPDATE: Uh oh, don’t get confused: word from the other side of the Belgian cultural divide, i.e. from the Flemings, is that they like to refer to the H1N1 virus in Dutch as the “Mexican flu” instead. Kiss me, Julio!

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France and China: BFF Once More

Thursday, April 2nd, 2009

So today is the day: the G20 summit in London. I’m pleased to report delightfully sunny, warm, no-need-for-overcoats spring weather here in NW Europe to aid the assembled world leaders in their deliberations, even though we all realize that as a practical matter that will do little but boost the ranks of protestors out on London’s streets – for today, especially, the lives of a world leader and his/her staff are bounded by conference rooms and the climate-controlled cocoons of limousines.

Belgium’s La Libre Belgique has a good run-down (Re-start more, regulate better) of the task these leaders face. The lede:

The stakes of the “Twenty,” industrialized and developing countries, are at minimum double. Consolidate the chances of economic recovery and avoid new skidding from the financial markets. The G20 will have to convince in both registers.

As La Libre reporter Pierre-François Lovens notes, Barack Obama himself has gone on record as refusing to be satisfied with leaving London having achieved only “half measures.” Yet as Lovens also writes, “Four hours, maybe five . . . That’s the time – a priori derisory enough in view of the stakes – that the heads of state and of government of the G20 will devote on Thursday, in London, to the multiple dossiers” before them at the summit. Furthermore, the basic outlines of disagreement have not changed: the US wants greater spending on stimulus packages from other governments, especially those in Europe, while for their part the Europeans reject this idea while making it clear that they are after an expanded system of international financial regulation in which “no place, no financial product and no institution can exist anymore without supervision or transparency.” (more…)

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Giving the Cowboy the Boot

Monday, December 15th, 2008

You’ve heard by now of the remarkable welcome President Bush received at a press conference during his surprise visit to Baghdad yesterday, yes? Arab journalists may still be in the early stages of adjusting to the freer media environment in Iraq, but at least they don’t settle for flip-flops. No, what George W. Bush instead twice found coming in on a bee-line to his head were the formal dress-shoes of a certain Muntadar al-Zeidi, correspondent for the Cairo-based TV network “Al-Baghdadiya.”

Which of the many available European lenses to take up for review of this incident? Obviously it should be from a culture with a certain shoe-expertise; the Italian press thereby suggests itself, but long-time readers (Hi Mom!) will realize that Italian coverage is here on €S an exception rather than a rule, due mainly to considerations of linguistic familiarity. The French should be a perfectly-suitable substitute. (more…)

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Belgian Beauty Bust

Monday, November 17th, 2008

American beauty pageant organizers and participants, attention please! Time to break out the briefing-books! There is now a trend over on the European side of the big ocean that insists upon seeing from contestants at such events both beauty and brains – at least a bare minimum, please. This is originating from none other than Belgium, as we see from a report from that French-Belgian newspaper La Dernière Heure (A future unpolished Miss Belgium?). (more…)

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Get ’em Young

Friday, September 12th, 2008

Eight years for marriage, that’s what the Belgian French-language paper La Dernière Heure wrote about in a recent article. No, that’s not the average duration of matrimony in Belgium, that’s as in a marriage for a girl of eight years of age, united in connubial bliss with a man in his fifties (Married at eight years? The judge “gives himself some time to reflect”). (more…)

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Where Do We WTO from Here?

Thursday, July 31st, 2008

On Tuesday negotiations of the “Doha round” being held in Geneva by representatives of the world’s major trading nations, under the rubric of the World Trade Organization (WTO), resulted in a break-up of the meeting with failure to reach any new agreement. Olivier le Bussy, writing for the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, tackles the question remaining on all observers’ lips: And Now What Do We Do? (more…)

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Nothing Really to Celebrate

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008

As I noted in this previous post, July 21 – yesterday – is each year the Belgian National Holiday: think along the lines, for example, of the 4th of July in the US. Except that yesterday in Belgium the occasion was more like America on 4 July 1860: then, Abraham Lincoln had just been nominated to be the Republican Party candidate for the upcoming presidential election in November, and it was evident that, while he had a good chance of sweeping the more-populated Northern states with his party platform forbidding any more slavery in US territories, nobody in the South would vote for him. Indeed, if he turned out to win the presidency nonetheless (which of course he did), there was very likely to be serious trouble, yet it was hard to think of any alternative scenario by which the presidency could be won by any of the other candidates, each of which were politicians backed by yet-narrower sections of the country. Likewise, there was precious little of any “national” nature to be celebrated in Belgium on its “National Holiday” yesterday, even as one can assume that any similar implicit prospect of violence does not apply in this modern case.

When last we left portly, avuncular old King Albert II, he had received Prime Minister Yves Leterme’s resignation but had yet to decide whether to accept it. (more…)

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Belgium Again in Crisis

Tuesday, July 15th, 2008

Don’t look now – but Belgium is once again in a governmental crisis. Prime Minister Yves Leterme yesterday evening (Monday, 14 July) submitted his resignation to King Albert II, after having served in that capacity for thirteen months. You’ll recall that Leterme – leader of the Flemish political party Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams (CD&V) – had been the compromise candidate for prime minister in the first place, voted in by the kaleidoscope of Dutch-, French-, and German-speaking parties of the Belgian political landscape pretty much in desperation after nine months of haggling after the latest national elections of June, 2007. July 15 (i.e. today) was the deadline he had set to be able to present a new plan for re-structuring Belgium’s governmental structure. It seemed that the deadline was coming up fast and little to no progress on forming such a plan had been made. So Leterme resigned. The Economist weblog “Certain ideas of Europe” is keeping on top of developments with an summary entry Time to dissolve Belgium?. (more…)

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La Libre: Neither Clinton nor Obama Will Yield an Inch

Monday, March 3rd, 2008

The French-language Belgian newspaper La Libre Belgique (on-line it’s just La Libre) takes a look the US presidential race, Democratic side, in its article The Democrats Think About After 4 March. (Admittedly, it appears that the ultimate source for this report is the French news agency, Agence France-Presse.)

In the view of things propounded here, the situation doesn’t look particularly good for the Democratic Party: “[t]he Democratic claimants to the White House seem to be prepared for a terrible war of attrition beyond 4 March,” whereas on the Republican side John McCain can relax and look forward to Tuesday’s results mathematically making him the official Republican Party candidate. (more…)

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Sex Crimes Trial Finally Begins in Belgium

Friday, March 5th, 2004

Marc Dutroux: Does that name mean anything to you? A little over 59 years ago in Belgium, in the southern Ardennes where the Battle of the Bulge was raging against Nazi forces, American checkpoints would ask suspicious-looking soldiers in American uniforms to identify Betty Grable as a touchstone to prove their nationality. Today the name “Marc Dutroux” could function in the same manner to identify Belgians. Outside that country little has been heard about the prosecution of Dutroux, which only started at the beginning of this week, other than some mention in the French and Dutch presses. Inside of Belgium, however, a full-fledged media storm is now raging over Dutroux’ crimes and those of his accomplices, and over their belated prosecution.

It is a huge case, with many facts, crimes, and personages involved. Naturally, the Belgian on-line press is also covering it extensively, and I’ve found the that the best special collections of past and current articles on the subject are provided by Antwerp’s Dutch-language De Standaard (but most articles here require an on-line subscription) and the French-language La Libre Belgique. Perhaps the best summary of what has gone on here is that a full seven-and-one-half years after their arrest, a band of criminals is finally being brought to trial in Belgium for gruesome crimes of abduction, sexual abuse, and forced imprisonment of young girls – and that all along the way the police, court, and investigative authorities have bumbled along in a manner that has severely tested Belgian citizens’ confidence in these institutions’ ability to fulfill their fundamental protective functions. (more…)

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The Failed Brussels EU Summit

Sunday, December 14th, 2003

The decisive EU summit in Brussels this weekend to work out a final text of a Constitutional Treaty failed to achieve that aim. As had been expected, the principal stumbling-block was the question of the voting regime to be used for passing measures within the Council of Ministers by a “qualified majority”; both Poland and Spain stuck firmly to their demand that the current voting system, inaugurated by the December, 2000 Nice Treaty, be retained, while other states – principally the EU’s two biggest players, Germany and France – were equally as adamant that a new “double majority” system, proposed in the new Constitution, be implemented. But there were other points that had to be left for later resolution as well, as we’ll see. (more…)

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Belgian IGC Play-by-Play

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

Yes, I’ve managed to kick my recent Danish fixation. And yes, that EU Constitutional Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) got underway this past weekend, starting with a one-day EU summit meeting on Saturday attended by heads of state and/or heads of government of all 15 current EU members, the 10 members-states which will join the EU at the beginning of next May, and 3 other states slated to join somewhat later as well (namely Romania, Bulgaria, and Turkey). They were welcomed by current EU President Silvio Berlusconi, who called for an “act of will” from out of the assembled delegations, to come up with a version of the Constitution acceptable to all by Christmas. As President, Berlusconi got to speak first, and got to speak a little longer, and he was followed by five minutes’ remarks from European Commission president Romano Prodi, then European Parliament president Pat Cox, then from leaders of each of the 28 national delegations. “After everyone had spoken, basically nothing had been said, much less discussed,” comments Die Zeit’s article on the proceedings, Strength-of-Will, At Least up until Christmas, which, although I’m indebted to it for many of the above details, I found otherwise disappointing in its low quotient of actual analysis.

Maybe it was just too early to be able to say anything truly profound. Those heads of state/government couldn’t hang around for long – they’re a busy bunch of Euro-men and -women – meaning that it was their representatives, generally the foreign ministers, who were left behind to roll up their sleeves and start getting into the details. I’ve found good coverage about this part – the rest of the story, so to speak – in a series of articles from the Belgian on-line Gazet van Antwerpen. (more…)

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Belgian General Speaks His Mind

Saturday, August 16th, 2003

Belgian Lt. General Francis Briquemont: Ever heard of him? Quite probably not, for although he did emerge onto the international stage in the early 1990s, his appearance there was brief – in fact, briefer than anyone could have expected. He was placed in command in July, 1993, of 12,000 multinational troops constituting UN forces in the former Yugoslavia – in the middle of the period of inter-ethnic conflict in Bosnia-Herzegovina – for a tour of duty of one year. Yet he resigned this command after only six months, in early January of 1994, claiming that his job was impossible in view of the “fantastic” gap between UN rhetoric about Bosnia and what it was actually prepared to commit manpower and resources to accomplish.

So General Briquemont speaks his mind, and backs it up with action. Now retired, he is back again, “thinking outside the box” – to put things mildly – in a pair of thoughtful articles in Belgium’s La Libre Belgique that step back and examine the implications – and the fall-out – from the Anglo-American drive last spring to go to war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, and the divisions exposed by the EU’s (failed) attempt to formulate a unified response. (more…)

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Belgium’s “Universal Competence” Law Finally Dies

Tuesday, July 15th, 2003

Belgium finally has that new government, after a month of negotiations between the various political parties following the general election of mid-May. And one of its first acts has been to put forward legislation which would replace the “law of universal competence” about which so much has been written in these web-pages – a somewhat extraordinary law which, back during its strapping youth, could be used by anyone, from anywhere, to bring suit in a Belgian court against anyone, from anywhere, for alleged genocide, violations of human rights, and that sort of thing. While it lasted, it provided for great political theater – with personages such as Ariel Sharon and Donald Rumsfeld wondering whether it was safe for them to even set foot on Belgian soil, and Belgium’s hosting of NATO headquarters thrown into doubt – but it has finally met its end – at least so it seems. (more…)

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“Law of Universal Incompetence”?

Sunday, June 22nd, 2003

Remember that “genocide law” in Belgium (formally known in English as the “law of universal competence,” and which EuroSavant first commented upon a few weeks ago here)? The one that allows anyone, from anywhere, to take to court in Belgium anyone, from anywhere, whom they wish to accuse of committing violations of human rights and/or of the laws of war? It has by no means gone away; indeed, lately Belgian-American tensions have risen to new highs. (more…)

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Tommy Franks Accused in Belgium

Thursday, May 15th, 2003

EuroSavant is back, and so back on the lookout for interesting items out of the European news that you won’t find reported in the Western Hemisphere. Before embarking again on an examination of some larger theme – that “old favorite” of US-European diplomatic relations looks like it may be a good candidate to be taken up again, given Colin Powell’s arrival tonight in Berlin – here’s a tidbit out of Belgium, where a criminal complaint has been filed in a Brussels federal court against War in Iraq commanding general Tommy Franks for having permitted war crimes to be committed by soldiers under his command in the recent conflict. (more…)

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The Concorde’s Not Dead – It’s Virgin!

Monday, May 5th, 2003

Did you think that the supersonic transport Concorde was going the way of the dodo bird, now that both the airlines that sponsored its development and ran trans-Atlantic Concorde flights for years (Air France and British Airways) have announced that they are retiring the plane? Not so. (more…)

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The EU Gang of Four – Part II

Thursday, May 1st, 2003

Belgium provided the locale for this week’s meeting of the German, French, Belgian, and Luxembourgian heads of state to discuss the new European defense initiative. What do the Belgian papers have to say? (more…)

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War Brands

Saturday, April 12th, 2003

Which phrases has the War in Iraq added to those which will resonate down through history? “Shock and awe,” surely, for one. (more…)

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