Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

EU/Switzerland Brexit Divorce Court

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

Here straight out of left field, unnoticed and unmentioned by all who are supposed to be in-the-know, is something with direct influence upon how the Brexit saga is going to unfold in the coming weeks and months. Yes: even though it is out of Switzerland. (And, once again, here the underlying article is in English, so you can click through and judge it for yourself, if you so desire.)

BrexitSwiss
You see, the anti-immigration bug also bit into the Swiss voting public, but a while back, namely in February 2014 with the “Federal Popular Initiative Against Mass Immigration.” It won – with but 50.3% of the vote, but that is enough as long as it also wins in a majority of the Swiss cantons – and thereby expressed the Swiss electorate’s desire for a system of quotas to be placed upon those outsiders seeking to come to live in Switzerland.

“Much like those who voted “Leave” in the recent UK Brexit referendum would like to do,” you might think. Still, such quotas have not yet been implemented by the Swiss government, which has until next February – that is, three years after the referendum itself – to do so.

What’s the problem? Well, it’s a similar one to the one facing the UK in the wake of the Brexit vote: Switzerland also has a close relationship with the EU – although not member-state status, of course, and in fact the Swiss Parliament last month voted to formally withdraw the application to join the EU that had been submitted back during happier times in 1992. (Note that it did this before the Brexit vote.)

Nonetheless, the Swiss continue to enjoy close economic relations with the EU (e.g. 56% of Swiss exports go to EU countries), whose trade and other provisions are expressed in a collection of treaties negotiated over time between the Swiss government and the EU as a whole (represented by the Commission). Unfortunately, these treaties made a condition of such close relations that the Swiss allow free movement of EU citizens to Switzerland. For example, as the article points out, “300,000 people cross the border each day to work there.”

So the “people” – or at least the referendum – want quotas limiting immigration to Switzerland, including by EU citizens, while the treaties with the EU do not allow any such thing. Indeed, last December Commission President Juncker rejected an attempt by Switzerland to assert that it was allowed to introduce immigration quotas under some sort of “extreme situation/Act of God” provision in the relevant bilateral treaty.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government has been tying itself up in knots trying to come up with some sort of quota-that-really-isn’t-a-quota that would satisfy both sides. Good luck with that! And this is a situation whose final resolution, in whatever form, will be painfully obvious to all no later than next February!

Given new developments with Brexit, and in particular the continuing delusions on the part of the many Leave advocates there (to include Boris Johnson, in his one post-Brexit Daily Telegraph column) that somehow it will be possible to limit freedom of movement into the UK while retaining all trading privileges with the EU, how enthusiastic do you think EU officials will be to cut the Swiss a break? Not very, one can imagine – also, because whatever is agreed (if anything) to solve this one EU/sovereign nation impasse could of course be applicable as a precedent to apply to the EU/UK situation.

In a (small) way, this development is a boon to the UK government: they don’t need to try so much any more to get the EU to negotiate before they invoke Article 50 (if they ever do) in order to try to get some foretaste of what an ultimate “divorce” settlement with the EU would look like. (And so far the EU has refused any sort of pre-invocation negotiations, in any case.) No, if they like they can just keep a close eye on Switzerland and wait until February of next year.

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EU Parliament Gold Digger

Tuesday, July 5th, 2016

So now we have this latest Brexit casualty:

Farage

“[M]y political ambition has been achieved,” the accompanying Al-Arabiya article quotes Farage as saying. Elsewhere, he is quoted as now wanting to “take my life back” just as before the poll he had urged UK voters to “take your country back.”

Actually, Nigel, your political ambition has not been achieved – unless that amibition was limited to the “Leave” vote itself. But that is hard to imagine: You really want the UK out of the EU, right?

Well, as recent developments on both sides of the English Channel show, that hardly is yet a done deal. Indeed, Brexit may never happen at all, despite the winning “Leave” vote, for a variety of reasons – which might very well mean that there remains an essential watchdog role for Farage, keeping up the political pressure on whichever UK ruling establishment emerges to actually carry through what a majority of referendum voters seem to have prescribed.

Is he supposed to do that as a newly minted private citizen, having seized “his life back” – or rather as the famous and (unfortunately) influential head of a minor but seemingly influential UK political party? Really, Farage’s blatant abandonment of responsibility for a cause he purported to spearhead is even more egregious than that of Boris Johnson, who was without official position and gave up pursuit of that, rather than discard the influential political position he already held.

Even worse: Farage is not willing to extend “taking back his life” to the point of shucking off the requirement to spend some more time in his hated Brussels – he intends to retain his status as a Member of the European Parliament! What rank hypocrisy, from a man who prompted a political earthquake aimed at removing Britain entirely – including its full delegation of MEPs – from all EU institutions! As you will have heard, the one UK member of the EU Commission, Lord Hill, did the right thing and was quick to resign after the Referendum results became known. I’m not saying ALL British MEPs should resign – until if/when the UK does leave the EU, of course – but certainly all of those representing UKIP there, with Nigel Farage at their head!

But no, the MEP perqs and the pay are simply too lucrative for a greedy hypocrite like Nigel Farage to turn down! (The latter amounts to €84,000 per year.) What’s more – and although I am not sure about this for MEPs – compensation earned for working for the EU tends to be entirely tax-free.

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Merkel: No British Raisin-Pickers!

Tuesday, June 28th, 2016

German Chancellor Merkel This AM Before the Bundestag, according to AFP:

AFP_Brexit

We will ensure that the negotiations will not proceed along the à la carte principle . . . those who leave the family cannot expect that that all their duties will disappear and that their privileges will be maintained.

At least that’s the French translation. If you check up on her actual words in German – such as reported by Munich’s Süddeutshe Zeitung, for example – you see that she used “the Rosinenpickerei Principle” rather than à la carte – that is, “picking out the raisins you like [from the loaf] and leaving the rest.” In any case, we all get her point.

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Brexit and the Conditional Perfect

Friday, June 24th, 2016

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?

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Making Sense of China News

Saturday, May 9th, 2015

Making Sense of News: Isn’t that what we all want to be able to do – those of use (probably a minority) who are interested in news in the first place? Now there’s a free MOOC (= “massive open online course”), available on the edX platform, with that title.

MakeSense

Look closer, though: this is a MOOC with a difference. “The University of Hong Kong”! Teaching us how to “Make Sense of News”!

This six-week course will help you identify reliable information in news reports and become better informed about the world we live in. We will discuss journalism from the viewpoint of the news audience.

I know that the course is not restricted to the local audience – it’s a MOOC, it’s accessible to anyone with a computer who can access the edX.org website – but what sort of “news audience” do they have there in Hong Kong in particular? An audience that for 150 years had little trouble accessing reliable news sources – until 1997, when the expiry of a long-standing treaty with the UK meant that the People’s Republic moved in and made Hong Kong its “special administrative region.”

Things have gone downhill from there, despite various guarantees made by China when it took back control. Dissatisfaction by Hong Kongers reached its peak with the extensive street-protests of late last year. It’s true that those were prompted mainly by violations of promised electoral law; the media there is supposedly mostly free from Mainland interference.

But for how long? Again, this MOOC (starting on May 19) cannot be your usual online course, just because of where it comes from and who offers it. Imagine a MOOC entitled “Making Sense of the Entire Range of News Available to You” offered by Saint Petersburg (Russia) State University. Another difference with this one: Usually edX promotes its upcoming MOOCs on its Twitter feed, but I see nothing of that for this course. I do see a MOOC addressing climate change denial which edX is happy to promote that way:
Nonsense
But not this one from Hong Kong. There might be a degree of nervousness involved here from edX.

Indeed, this is a MOOC one could well imagine that will be shut down before it is supposed to end, due to outside pressure. Alternatively, perhaps it is some sham MOOC that delivers People’s Republic-approved pablum that really doesn’t help anyone to move beyond the restricted approach to gathering news that Peking prefers its citizens to take – but I really doubt that, it doesn’t make sense, and for me edX is much too credible a platform to allow that.

“Making Sense of News” must be legit. Will it be accessible through the Great Firewall? Will it even be accessible to those in Hong Kong? Stay tuned. I’m signed up. You can be, too.

UPDATE: Uh-oh, trouble already, and the course hasn’t even started! What has happened is that the course instructors have issued a couple of e-mails with links to a number of video-previews, to give a foretaste of the lectures.

But there has been a problem and, yes, it involves China. From the latest e-mail:

After sending the e-mail with the course outline yesterday, we’ve received a few inquiries about the preview clips on YouTube from China where the video streaming platform is not accessible.
. . .
Please rest assured that this only affects the preview clips. All the actual instructional videos within the course should play back smoothly no matter which country you are from.

“[S]hould play back smoothly.” We can only hope so.

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Euro-horse Already Out of Barn

Monday, March 9th, 2015

The tweet reads “High time for a parliamentary investigation into the euro.” Could they be talking about Greece?

DDSEnquete
For indeed, doubt was thrown on Greece’s continued membership just yesterday, by Finance Minister Varoufakis, in the event that Eurogroup ministers refuse to accept Athens’ own ideas about how to deal with its tremendous burden of sovereign debt. This despite that fact that there is no mention in the treaties underpinning the Eurozone for any member leaving it, much less any prescribed procedure. Still, there is neither any authorization nor prescribed procedure for, say, giving birth during a transcontinental airline flight, yet that does happen from time to time; if/when the emergency arises and Greece just has to return to the drachma, they’ll surely find some way to do it, with or without formal EU treaty provisions.

In any event, this tweet (from the right-wing Dutch political blog Dagelijkse Standaard) does after all call for a parliamentary inquiry, and cuts closer to home. This is a petition directed to the Netherlands parliament, initiated by a group of political commentators led by a certain Thierry Baudet. Still only in his early 30s, Baudet already has a string of publications to his name, most of them in a Eurosceptic vein, decrying the threat to the nation-state posed by the super-national European institutions. More directly relevant, he also succeeded back in 2013 in having a referendum submitted to the Dutch Tweede Kamer – that is, he gained more than the 40,000 signatures required to put it to the attention of the parliament – which was to be “concerning the future of the Netherlands within the European Union.” The Tweede Kamer did duly consider the proposal, then rejected it.

Unsurprisingly, the group behind this latest proposed referendum has its own website, complete with a dedicated page to “Why a parliamentary inquiry over the euro?” Key to their argument is their assertion that it was assumed Northern European lands would allow themselves to become responsible for the fiscal failures of Southern European lands.

Despite what was claimed later, this perverse mechanism was amply foreseen by politicians. As Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission at the time when the Maastricht Treaty was concluded, said, “The difficult moments were predictable. When we created the euro, my complaint as an economist was (and I discussed this with Kohl and with other heads-of-state): how can we have a common currency without shared financial, economic and political pillars? The answer was: for now we have made this leap forward. The rest will follow.”

And:

It continues to surprise us how it could have been possible for such a radical decision to be paired with such little critical debate. What role did the government play here? How is it possible that politicians did not take more care over the financial stability of our country? What did those involved know precisely about the risks? And what did they not know? . . . Did people realize that this euro eventually would make necessary a very great transfer of power over to Brussels – such as the banking union, the stability pact and the upcoming budgetary union?

So they want the Dutch parliament to look into such questions, obviously with a view towards taking further concrete measures should unsatisfactory answers be revealed.

First of all, again, there is no explicit procedure available for any country now using the euro to ditch it for another currency – although, granted, that procedure can be made up on the fly, but surely not with great accompanying financial and economic chaos. More importantly, although this conservative group can probably once again get their 40,000 signatures to bring this measure before the Tweede Kamer as well, the question of the Netherlands in the euro is surely settled for now. There is no sign at all of any truly widespread political rejection by the Dutch populace of the common currency.

Indeed, economic analysis has tended to show that the euro has greatly benefited those Northern European lands heavily involved in trade and able to keep their labor costs in check – such as Germany, especially, but also the Netherlands, both of whom have seen their terms of trade steadily improve since the introduction of the euro in 1999 against Southern European lands with less ability to hold costs down. This widening gap between those advantaged and those disadvantaged by the euro contributed substantially towards getting everyone in the sovereign-debt mess we find ourselves in now – well, except for Germany and the Netherlands (again), plus a few other Eurozone countries (and Denmark) who find that they can actually ask borrowers to pay them to take their money on loan these days, rather than actually pay positive rates of interest.

This initiative must therefore be counted as merely a cry from out of the Dutch conservative wilderness. To the extent anyone takes it seriously, it is surely not constructive, in that doubts concerning any Eurozone member’s commitment to the euro are not useful just now as that grouping has to decide what to do about Greece’s new governing regime and its demands to cut down austerity. It’s rather the Greek people who need to examine the depth of their commitment to the euro, and thereby their level of support for future negotiating maneuvering by their Syriza government which we can surely expect more of in the near future

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Netherlands Imam Gala Under Threat

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

Eagle-eyed Telegraaf journalist Alexander Bakker sends us advanced word of an interesting event happening next March 8 in Rijswijk (a suburb of The Hague), check it out:

Rohamaa
As you can probably make out, it’s going to be a sort of imam-extravaganza: the smaller-type bits there just under the date speak of “Readings | Films | Live translation | Anasheed* | Child-care.”

I won’t be there, unfortunately, but I hope that doesn’t mean that I can’t remark how the poster Bakker retweets reminds me too much of some WWE event; much better is this one:

Rohamaa2

I found this one, naturally enough, on the website for the event’s main sponsor, the Rohamaa Foundation (Rohamaa = رحماء = “merciful”). That second poster, just like the first one, takes care to note that there will be separate lecture-halls for males and females. The two posters also share the prominent slogan Zij Hebben Recht Op Ons or “They have a right to us,” meaning “They have a right to our help,” for it’s clear from their website that Rohamaa is mainly a charitable foundation channeling financial contributions and other assistance to hot-spots in the Arab world (and, Allah knows – Syria! – these places do stand in need).

The thing is, I feel quite confident in saying that the staging of such a clearly Islamic public event would not per se excite notice in the media – i.e. this sort of thing is normally “dog-bites-man” by now. But no, there is a problem: three of the headline imams are of the sort of reputation that the Dutch authorities have denied them a visa to come. In turn, this has prompted the local Rijswijk authorities (civil government, police, courts) to confer on the issue; the local government spokesman is unsure “whether there will be a decision.” What sort of “decision” could we be talking about here? The Telegraaf article does not say; but what could it be otherwise than to disallow the event?

Back to the Rohamaa website, and if you scroll down you can read (again, in Dutch) a press-release of two days ago telling of how the Foundation is “indignant” at the decision to deny those visas – apparently after they first had first been routinely granted, with no indication of anything untoward. Even more annoying: the top Ministry official in charge of the decision stated on TV that he knew nothing about the dossier.

Then this:

We fear that such decisions merely contribute to an increasingly polarized climate in the Netherlands. One could conclude from this that things in the Netherlands are measured by two different standards: freedom of expression is a great societal blessing, requiring guarding at all times, except when it has to do with certain minorities. This feeling has prevailed now for some time and is by this merely confirmed and enlarged.

Hear, hear! Vrijheid van meningsuiting, people! Freedom of expression!

* Anasheed is basically Islamic vocal music, mostly a capella.

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Talkin’ Turkey? Turkey Talkin’?

Friday, January 16th, 2015

Hopefully my readers are willing to indulge me today as I depart from usual custom to address an article I came across written in English. As EurActiv reports, the Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu visited Brussels yesterday.

Turkey
Of course, my eye was caught by that headline: “Holy Roman attitude”! Here is the paragraph from Davutoglu out of which that came:

Nobody can tell me “we Europeans” and “you Turks” […] But we are part of European history. And we are part of contemporary Europe. There are 45 million Muslims living in Europe and more than 6 million Turks. […] We have to have an inclusive European identity. But if you have a Holy Roman-German-Christian type of understanding, then Europe has ended, sorry.

We can all rest easy now, right? We have this Turkish, Muslim official from outside of Europe standing by ready to tell us when Europe has officially “ended.” But he is right with that “we are part of European history” part: Tours, 732; Constantinople, 1453; Vienna, 1529 and 1683. For those with lesser background in European history, those were dates at which Europeans tried (mostly successfully) to beat the invading Muslims/Turks back, out of Europe.

What kind of “inclusive European identity” can there be that includes the Turks? Our civilizations are based on totally different philosophical/moral foundations: the European, on a Judeo-Christian basis; the Muslim, on the Koran and sharia law. Yes, Turkey is a country that directly borders on Europe – it is not part of Europe, geographically speaking, other than an insignificant piece of land to the West of the Bosphorus – and close trade relations, to include as-low-as-possible tariffs, would be a good thing. But not EU membership, not suddenly handing the 77 million Turks living in Asia (note!) Minor the power to co-determine all the many other aspects of life that we now look to the European Union to regulate.

Admitting Turkey to the EU makes about as much sense as – and is a very analogous idea to – admitting Mexico as America’s 51st state. But regular readers (Hi, Mom!) will already know that I delved much further into this point in a blogpost of quite a while ago. And that is even when you’re dealing with a squeaky-clean, smiling, democratic Turkey. That’s hardly what we have now, and the mass-arrests of journalists in that country of last month and the brutal response to the Taksim Square protests in Istanbul are just a couple of available data-points that make that only too plain.

(Now, to give it credit, Turkey has put in super-human efforts to accommodate the flood of refugees coming to it from across the Syrian border, and remains the world’s foremost enemy to that bloodthirsty dictator and child-torturer Bashar al-Assad.)

Yet more:

The Turkish Prime Minister made ironic remarks about the lack of political stability in EU countries, saying that at a NATO meeting in his previous capacity as foreign minister, he was the only [sic] to have been in office for four full years. Another country which he didn’t name had changed seven ministers in the meantime, and some others six or five.

Yes, isn’t that something? National governments that actually reflect the popular will! Not so easy to find in other lands where the government even blocks Twitter (or tries) to try to keep its public uninformed about allegations of widespread corruption within it – as was the case not so long ago in your country, Mr. Prime Minister.

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Where’s the Ka-CHING?

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

You would hardly know it – I write this on a sunny Netherlands 1 November Saturday afternoon with outside temperatures at roughly 18°C, a new historical record for the date – but a new speed-skating season is about to start here, as reporter John Volkers of the Volkskrant notes:

speedskate
Still, check out Volkers’ particular take on the subject: that Tweet-text translates to “Gold does not translate to money [in Dutch: goud/geld; the similarity is etymological] for skaters.” And from the lede:

Barely eight months after overwhelming Olympic success, the conclusion is already dawning that gleaming gold has brought little to sport-skating.

I must have missed it – because, frankly, I didn’t care and didn’t want to give Putin the satisfaction – but the Dutch really tore up the speed-skating events last February in Sochi. Six individual medals, four team medals. Nonetheless: “Rich is what the skaters have NOT become from that success.”

Because, as we know, sports today are basically just another career choice, so that if you are really good at something then you go do it, and train hard to keep doing it, just to earn some substantial coin, right?

Now, it seems that speed-skating was a more reliable source of big money in the past, according to this piece. You see, much like professional bicyclists, skaters would join competitive teams that would gladly be sponsored by publicity-hungry commercial enterprises and/or entrepreneurs.

But that is no longer so much the case; old sponsors have withdrawn and insufficient new ones have come to take their place. More ad hoc paths to riches – and again, that’s apparently what it is all about – have to be found. Like that of Sochi Olympic champion (team pursuit) and current 1500m record-holder Koen Verweij who, although he continues to race for a sponsored team, also has picked up some lucrative TV gigs. But that is not so surprising, for as anyone who wants to click on the various links to photos of him I’m scattering around here can attest, he is unusually handsome – think a long-haired blond shark. Plus, he of course has the physique required of a champion speed-skater, featuring thighs that can be classified as “redwood.”

His less-photogenic victorious colleagues from Sochi, though – like that pair up there in the Twitter-picture, eh? – are having a rougher time of it financially. And to think they all could have simply studied hard and become accountants instead, and where would they be today – right?

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Thoughts on Team Juncker

Friday, September 12th, 2014

It happens only once every five years, so I’m willing to describe as a pleasure yesterday’s eye-squinting, fast-research exercise in tweeting out the announced composition of the new EU Commission under President Jean-Claude Juncker. A couple of conclusions did come to my mind as a result – conclusions which I think you might find as outside the mainstream.

But first the one proviso that should always be kept in mind on this subject. The US and EU government are of course very different in their structure and their powers, but perhaps it would be useful nonetheless to remind ourselves of the nearest analog in Washington DC to the Commission. It is of course the President’s Cabinet, a collection of administrators appointed (and confirmed) to head executive-branch departments in widely different fields of expertise (Foreign Policy; Agriculture; etc.).

Naturally, it is strongly assumed that those Cabinet secretaries will operate solely with the national interest in mind, and not any interests of the particular state or region that they come from. That is the going assumption for EU Commissioners, as well – yet, incongruously, there a system persists whereby each EU member-state gets one of its own on the Commission! The US counterpart to that – just to show how ridiculous the practice is – would be an insistence that each of the 50 states (and Washington DC, Puerto Rico, etc.) have a representative taking up some function in the President’s cabinet.

It’s supposed to be about expertise and administrative ability, not about where one comes from. Truth be told, it is unlikely that the number of jobs there are to do can really be stretched to equal the number of all member-states: there has to be some degree of duplication and/or “make-work” assignments to artificially inflate the quantity of posts available. (For example, Andrus Ansip, Digital Single Market; Günther Oettinger, Digital Economy). I understand the Brussels powers-that-be are well aware of this consideration, and that they made an effort in connection with the Lisbon Treaty to address it to some degree by introducing a cut-back regime in which it was NOT true that every member-state would be guaranteed a Commissioner. However, I also recall that squelching that was one price Ireland demanded for finally voting the “correct” way in its umpteenth referendum on Lisbon.

1) Right, with that out of the way . . . consider the following, typical of the general tenor of tweets in reaction to yesterday’s announcements:

henhouses
It’s snarky, it’s maybe a bit superficial – but it’s also a clever point. And I would simply like to add to it the name of Tibor Navracsics, the former Hungarian Foreign Minister who has been assigned the portfolio for “Education, Culture, Youth & Citizenship.”

How Hungary gets a Commissioner at all is something beyond my understanding; more to the point, how it is getting €22 billion euros in economic assistance from the EU is really beyond my understanding. For make no mistake, with its almost-total government control over the press and now its assault on NGOS, Hungary currently resembles no other polity so much as Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and is heading even beyond that to a final destination which is that of Alexandr Lukashenko’s Belarus. (more…)

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It’s Euroelection Time!

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Yes, voters in the Netherlands and the UK go to the polls today to elect their Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). Looks like it’s been mostly a rainy Thursday in much of the UK – not good for turnout! (More precisely: Only the fanatics can be counted on to make it to the polls, here meaning the anti-EU, Tea Party-like UK Independence Party.) The weather in the Netherlands, in contrast, has been pretty good.

Ireland and the Czech Republic join in tomorrow, while most of the rest of the 28 member-states get this done on Sunday, the 25th. And that’s when you can expect the results, i.e. after the 25th; it’s been reported that the Brussels authorities are at pains not to let the early-voters release their election results early, and so possibly influence the attitudes of later-voters.

Here at €S, as usual, we’ll cover these Euroelections as the spirit moves us – if you’re really interested, your best bet is probably the @EuroSavant Twitter-feed since this is not, of course, a Euroelection-dedicated site.

One that is, is a site called transform! from the European Network for Alternative Thinking and Political Dialogue.

Transorm
Actually, you’ll have the choice there of reading in English (from transform! europe proper), German (from the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation) or French (from a site called Regards.fr). Those of you with a nose for these things will have detected already that these sites will largely be reporting – again, from Sunday – on the MEP election results from a Left point-of-view, but it is clear that they have a structure in place to provide comprehensive and multi-lingual coverage. They also have a Twitter-feed: @transform_ntwrk.

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Happy (Not Pharrell Williams)

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Noted in today’s NYT:

“It’s sad, but stuff like what happened here is part of being in Detroit,” Sam Daniels said from his post at the register behind bulletproof glass at Happy’s Pizza.

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Jobs for the Cavaliere

Thursday, April 10th, 2014

What a handsome, if somewhat aged gentlemen! Is there something he can do for you?

Cavaliere
As you can see, this is Silvio Berlusconi, better known in Italian circles (and beyond) as Il Cavaliere, the Knight.* Let me be clear, when I write that he “can do” things for you, I do not mean in the manner of a Mafia don, or even a leading Italian politician.

Berlusconi’s current job-title is better described as “convicted criminal,” convicted for fiscal fraud in connection with his media and broadcast company Mediaset. Verily did he struggle long and hard to avoid this fate – aided considerably by his repeated tenure as the Italian premier, which made him temporarily invulnerable to prosecution as well as even able to change the laws in order to protect himself – but the dreaded day finally came.

But by that time he was already in his late seventies, so he caught some breaks. He was originally sentenced to four years in prison, but it’s clear that was never more than for show. That was soon reduced to just one year, and to community service rather than any time behind bars.

So that is just it: what will be that community service?

In September 2013 the Cavaliere repeated that he would not submit to carrying out community service “like some common criminal who needs re-education,” but he finally accepted this option, that notably permits him to benefit from a further reduction of his sentence by three months [from the one year] in case of good behavior. Shelter for the homeless, retirement home, where will he carry out his community works?

That is just what a Milan court will start to decide today. There had been wild speculation that Berlusconi could find himself “cleaning the toilets at the main train station,” but it seems at least that is unlikely. Still, it’s sure to be spectacular in some way: working in a drug addict treatment center, at a retirement home and the like are real possibilities. That Milan court’s task is complicated extremely by considerations of personal security for Mr. Berlusconi and, of course, by the tremendous press interest that will ensue no matter what he finds himself doing.

One thing he won’t be doing, at least, is opening his mouth in any way: no speeches, no public statements are allowed under terms of his sentence. Then again, another option for him to “serve” his sentence is, in effect, house arrest. About that, this piece declares that “this scenario remains very improbable and concerns above all persons who are judged to be ‘dangerous.'” I sadly predict that is what the Milan judges will go for, turning that criterion on its head by citing the possible “danger” to Berlusconi himself if he actually has to carry out his community service in public.

* And as you perhaps can also see, this is a piece out of the French Huffington Post. There’s little doubt there is coverage of the issue out of the Italian edition as well, but I found this one expressed the dilemma best.

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Church Disco in Amsterdam

Tuesday, August 14th, 2012

This post deviates a bit from the beaten track to which EuroSavant readers are accustomed in that it does not take as its jumping-off point any sort of news article. Also, it has to do with something in Amsterdam, my home-base but nevertheless someplace to which I try not to give any special prominence on this site merely because of that fact.

No, it wasn’t a news article that got me thinking, but rather an e-mail from Vrij (Dutch: Free), which is basically one of the many party-impressario organizations in town – you know, they find someplace to hold a party, promote it, arrange for the equipment, DJ, security, bar staff to be there, and then make their money from tickets and drinks sold minus those costs. And the latest groovy venue they have found, for their party coming up on Friday evening, 14 September, happens to be the Oude Kerk or Old Church – Amsterdam’s oldest surviving building, dating from around 1306 and, well, basically a church.

I admit: this isn’t the first time they have done something like this. I recall receiving e-mailed tidings of at least two previous parties held in the Westerkerk – a different Amsterdam church, not as old of course, but still a plenty old church (1631, if you must know), with the city’s highest churchtower, where Rembrandt is buried (but anonymously, because he died indigent, so we don’t know exactly where), etc.

Maybe I didn’t take a close look at those Vrij communications back then. Anyway, the latest e-mail about the Oude Kerk 14 September event can really take you aback. (Its content is repeated exactly on a webpage on the Vrij site – in Dutch only, of course). (more…)

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Join Google+ – On Me!

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

I’m pleased to assist any of my devoted EuroSavant fans in signing up to Google+!

Here’s the link.

Oh, and here’s my own profile on it: http://www.eurosavant.com/+. I’m not suggesting any necessary connection between the two, and you’ll see anyway that I am far from adapting my Google+ to fully represent EuroSavant, if indeed I ever do so. For now, I mention most – not all – of my posts there, with links to the post itself and to the (main) foreign-language article inspiring it.

UPDATE: Come to think of it, Google+ does offer another forum for readers’ commentary on EuroSavant posts, as a supplement or alternative to our Facebook fanpage. I have to tell you, I’m more likely myself to see what you write on Google+!

(And no, I’m afraid it’s not I who thought of this – thanks to reader “bwsmith” for his/her suggestion!)

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Is Belgium Next?

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

The brief of this EuroSavant weblog, as all familiar with it know, is normally pieces from the European press written in some language other than English. Then again, there’s always room for the rare exception. Consider:

For four months Belgium has been without a government, its public debt is approaching 100% of GDP and the spread of Belgian 10-year bonds over the German benchmark is today three times as high as at the beginning of this year. Is Belgium the next country with a sovereign debt crisis?

As if the EU needed another such problem! Nonetheless, with the political system there seemingly unable to form a government, with a national split-up now a real possibility – the option is now being discussed in Walloon (French) circles as well as Flemish ones – who’s going to take care of payments on its ever-expanding sovereign debt?

The analysis, by Susanne Mundschenk and Raphael Cottin for EuroIntelligence, is a couple weeks old but still definitely worth a (belated) mention, as is the accompanying 10-page PDF document that goes into even more detail. All are in English.

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Batting 1.000

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Regular readers will know how reluctant I am to intrude in this weblog with posts of an administrative (or anything other than a content-providing) nature. But maybe such a transgression is justified in this case: my WordPress counter tells me that this is the one-thousandth post I have produced here, starting from EuroSavant’s humble origins (and different blogging software, and rather different look) way back in April, 2003.

For what that is worth . . . the main point is to fulfill the promise I made to several e-mail correspondents to notify them when the time came. Otherwise, I don’t get too sentimental about things like this, or much of anything (as is evidenced by another notable personal milestone recently attained). I just carry on, usually . . .

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FIFA Loses the American Market

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

Remember the Hand of Henry? You do if you’re Irish. That refers to the blatant handballs committed by star Barcelona striker Thierry Henry, playing last month on the French national team in a World Cup playoff game, that enabled the winning goal to be scored and sent the French to South Africa instead of the Republic of Ireland. These fouls were evident enough to the millions watching the match on TV, but not to the crew of officials actually in charge of the game, and this result which robbed the Irish of their World Cup 2010 participation was allowed to stand.

Now down in the Southern Hemisphere, the French team isn’t doing very well and will probably fly home after only the three games of the tournament’s first round, but that is not the point. The point is rather the continued refusal by FIFA officials (i.e. from the international football organization in charge of the World Cup) to install any sort of modern technology (e.g. televised replay review) to ensure that officiating travesties like what happened to the Irish can never happen again. This only ensures, of course, that such a thing will happen again, at least one more time, and this during that organization’s signature event that draws the sustained attention of billions of spectators from all over the world – a substantial portion of whom tune in to cheer on their own nation’s team.

Sure enough, another such travesty has come along on cue, namely the denial yesterday to the United States team of a perfectly-valid third goal which would have capped a tremendous rally from a 2-0 deficit by half-time with a glorious win. Instead, the US team earned a 2-2 draw, which gave them a mere one point towards advancing further in the tournament rather than the full three to which the victory they deserved would have entitled them. (more…)

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Madame (Muslim) Minister

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Aygül Özkan: Ever heard of . . . Well, wait! In the first place, is it a he or a she? (No fair looking at the title. And don’t worry, I won’t ask you to try to pronounce the name; I can’t hear you from here anyway.)

Unless you live in Hamburg or in Lower Saxony, you probably don’t have a clue. Aygül Özkan is a she, 38 years old, of Turkish descent. And, as it turns out, she is the choice of Lower Saxony state president Christian Wulff (CDU) to be the Social and Integration Minister in his new cabinet. (She’s also rather pretty, check out the picture – but I’m not allowed to say that about Muslim women, is that right?)

Ah yes: as the profile in the FAZ by Frank Pergande is careful to explain, Ms. Özkan is Muslim, or at least nominally so, the daughter of parents who both emigrated to Germany in the 1960s from Turkey, of which the father has long run his own tailor-shop in the Hamburg suburb of Altona. As it turns out, the “C” in that “CDU” that describes the party of which both she and her boss Wulff are members stands for Christlich, or “Christian”; it’s the mainstream party of the conservative Right that is also in power (under a coalition arrangement) at the federal level in Berlin. It’s the party of Chancellor Merkel – indeed, the Bundeskanzlerin certainly knows who Aygül Özkan is, and a picture of them together has appeared in the press, including in Germany’s leading Turkish newspaper Hürriyet. (more…)

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New Facebook & Expanded Twitter

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

I know that my readers don’t tune in to this weblog to read “meta” blogposts about the blog itself. So I keep those to a bare minimum, and “bundle” such announcements into one such post whenever possible. That’s what I’ve managed to do this time. Astute readers will have noticed the recent accretion of a number of physical changes on this blog’s layout, so now I’d like to point them out – and the additional features and capabilities they make available to you – explicitly.

I’ve had a Twitter-feed associated with this blog for more than a year, but up until recently its function was limited to echoing the titles and (shortened) links to the blogposts. It still does that, but as of a few weeks ago I have also started posting unique Twitter content (the last five “tweets” of which are echoed on the homepage) that fishes from the same broad pool of European non-English-language sources to alert readers to developments for which 140 characters (including link to the original) provides sufficient room for discussion. Such tweets are distinguished by the abbreviation of the information source at their very beginning. Or else the re-tweet source: In something of an analogy to what I do with my regular blogposts, I also often re-tweet news items from other foreign-language Twitter-feeds, discussing them in 140 English characters with original link.

I realize that many of you simply read my blogposts via your RSS reader and so may not be aware of this new Twitter feature; I think that it does offer a new dimension of information, so you should check it out, at least by taking a look at the current last five on the EuroSavant homepage.

Also, I now have a EuroSavant Facebook fan page. You’re encouraged to visit that – just click on the icon towards the top of the right-hand column – especially if you are on Facebook yourself. In particular, this affiliation with Facebook marks a change to my previous policy of not displaying readers’ comments to my blogposts; such comments can now be made when and as you like on the “Wall” of that fan page, and I might even respond. (Direct e-mail is still always welcome.)

In a related development, I have also registered EuroSavant with NetworkedBlogs, an application that enables Facebook users to subscribe to blogs within Facebook itself. Feel free to “follow” EuroSavant to make use of that; you’ll find the widget that provides one way to do so in the right-hand column of the EuroSavant homepage as well (although you’ll need to scroll down; it’s just below that big alphabetical tag cloud).

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Translator, Translate Thyself!

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely stray from the functional description given in its tag: “Commentary on the European non-English-language press.” Naturally, I make this assertion as the prelude to one rare instance where I violate that mandate. In mitigation, though, it should also be fairly obvious how close to the functioning of this blog issues of translation are, which moves me to bring up for discussion the “I, Translator” article by Princeton Translation Program director David Bellos published in last Saturday’s New York Times.

As you might expect, the growing capability of machine translation (with the translation facilities provided for free by Google in the vanguard) presents me with a number of fairly challenging questions. Did I simply waste all that time of my past, of my precious youth, learning the various languages that I claim to be able to use at present? (And am I wasting it now as I continue to study others? I’m afraid I can’t stop myself.) Are the translation assignments I occasionally get to earn a bit of money fated to dry up? Is there indeed any point anymore to a weblog supplying “Commentary on the European non-English-language press” when anyone can now plug any given article into Google Translate and read it? (I still don’t believe that last part is actually true.) With these worries in the back of your mind, you expectantly click on an article like I, Translator, one that purports to defend human translation and foreign language capabilities, hoping for a encouraging ego-boost for the home team, for your side, for those who master foreign languages the old-fashioned way. I mean, hey, this is from a Princeton guy!

Did anyone else suffer as bitter a sense of disappointment at what the article actually turned out to say as I did? As for you, Mr. Bellos – Did it have to be so hard? All you needed to do was provide a convincing listing (and explanation) of machine translation’s disadvantages vis-à-vis human translation, maybe with a few disadvantages in the other direction thrown in at the end to preserve an even-handed, judicious aura. What we got instead was almost the opposite. Machine translation (although from Carnegie-Mellon, not Google) saved lives in the Haitian earthquake! Google should be OK “for maybe 95 percent of all utterances,” probably even for use in translating lower-quality literature that “employ[s] only repeated formulas” in its language.

Damn, Mr. Bellos, you’ve given away most of the store by this point; what’s left, if anything, that human translators would be able to do better? True “literary translation” is what’s left, “works that are truly original – and therefore worth translating,” although even then “human beings have a hard time of it, too,” i.e. will still be liable to get things wrong. Gee, thanks. Of course, three paragraphs previously we already learned that there’s no need to use machines for literary translations anyway, since there are more than enough humans ready to do that work. Bellos seems to lose sight of the fundamental consideration that, although there are more than enough human translators available, all or most of them will demand to be paid for the work, while machines will not.

Add in the various other sloppy elements here – “two important limitations” to statistical machine translation are announced, but it’s never clear what the second one is; there’s a brief history given of machine translation, but one of doubtful relevance especially when space is at a premium in a high-profile column like this – and one comes to the end desperately hoping that Bellos did actually deliver a convincing treatment of the whole translation question but that it fell victim to brutal disfigurement at the hands of a human editor prior to publication. (It does not seem to have been fact-checked, in any case; see the appended error correction about Warren/William Weaver.) As it stands, with public advocates like this, those of us who remain exponents (and practicers) of human translation certainly stand in no need of any more detractors.

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But Who Will Pay for Quake Victims?

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Hope you’ll forgive me for going off-(blog)topic here. The last time I visited the US, one task on my list was to go to a doctor’s office to get a physical check-up. But the way the receptionist answering the phone at the first place I called went immediately and without invitation into a long introductory spiel about which insurance schemes they accepted and which they didn’t (I was a foreigner: I was simply ready to pay cash) put me off so, that I gave up on the whole idea.

Now we read on-line in the New York Times (Cost Dispute Halts Airlift of Injured Haiti Quake Victims) how US authorities have stopped evacuations of critically-injured Haitian earthquake victims to American hospitals because of a dispute about who will pay for their care. One doctor in charge of a nonprofit foundation assisting in Haitian relief efforts is quoted as calling this delay potentially catastrophic for these sufferers.

Ladies and Gentleman, I give you: Health Care Provision – American style! Cut out this crap: Send them on to Canada, or else over to France, where I am (sincerely) sure they will gladly be attended to properly.

But wait – who’s gonna pay for the extra fuel and aircraft wear-and-tear involved in diverting the medevac flights that way? Well, I’m sure there are some French planes there at Port-au-Prince as well, or could be if the American authorities in charge of the airport will allow them to land.

UPDATE: A subsequent NYT article of Sunday, 31 January 2010 now states that the primary reason American medevac flights from Haiti were suspended is because US facilities for treating these patients – mainly in Florida – were simply being overwhelmed. Nevertheless, it does mention Florida governor Charlie Crist mentioning specific financial considerations in a letter he wrote about the situation to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

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This Blog’s Direction

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

The renowned Reuters finance blogger Felix Salmon was so kind as to answer the question I put to him about whether this weblog would be more valuable as just a “link blog.” In case you’re a bit late to this, trying to take a look at his answer which has scrolled way down, you can search on the phrase “I read 10+ European languages,” but let me save you the trouble, here’s what he opined:

Linking to foreign-language articles is tough — but the eurointelligence.com daily news briefing is good, and something along those lines but done on an intraday basis would be fantastic. Give it a go, see if it’s fun and if it works!

I’m indeed inclined to give that a try, as you will soon start to see on this website, perhaps accompanied on occasion with the longer-type articles I have tended to write this far. As always, reader feedback by e-mail is welcome. (Yes, I suppose I also need to start think about offering an alternate EuroSavant version for reading on the smaller screens of mobile devices!)

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Valuable EuroSavant Supplement Now On-Line

Monday, June 1st, 2009

If you are at all any regular reader of this weblog, then you presumably are interested in what is going on with and what is being written about in the European press. And, as of Tuesday of last week, you’re in luck! For no less than the European Commission (working together with a “media consortium” which I assume is called “Courrier International”) has since that point had on-line a new European press site called presseurop.eu.

You can read presseurop’s somewhat bureaucratic editorial charter here, but the basic idea seems to be to pick out a selection of interesting articles from a wide spectrum of the European press and – rather than commenting on them and printing translated extracts as needed (if any) – instead actually translating them in full into a wide range of other European languages and then making them available on the website, on separate pages for the separate languages. For the record, those languages, beside English, are Czech, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, and Spanish, and all you need to do to adjust the language with which you view the website is go to the drop-down box in the upper right, underneath the “RSS feeds” link. (more…)

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“Who” Copy-Edited “Whom”?

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

Did the New York Times editors really begin a paragraph in a collective editorial on the website today with “Whomever [sic] the recipients are, they should be investigated . . .”? It appears that they did (it’s the eighth paragraph down).

Shocking! Look, my intent here is certainly not to fire a rhetorical volley against the mainstream media (MSM), of which the NYT is of course the foremost representative. (That would anyway be outside the remit I have set for this weblog, namely “Commentary on the European non-English-language Press” . . . oops, looks like it’s too late for that now!) It’s clear that EuroSavant critically depends on the MSM, although usually its foreign-language variant, for the very justification of our existence. (I would expect that the relationship be viewed as commensal rather than parasitic.) I definitely wish the NYT and all its MSM brethren well, whether they are of direct use to this weblog or not. It’s just that one defense of their continued existence has been their higher standards, of reporting, of accuracy – of proofreading, too. Yet on this evidence it seems that cutbacks on staff at the Grey Lady have reached the point where they don’t even have a copy-editor available to review their leaders, or at least one familiar with the difference between the subjective and objective cases.

(Hat-tip to Talking Points Memo, who nonetheless either did not feel it incumbent on themselves to insert a “[sic]” after the offending “Whomever” or else somehow also did not notice it.)

UPDATE: Aha! I just happened to look again at the offending NYT editorial a week later, on Tuesday 10 March, and that “Whomever” has been corrected! Of course, there is no indication anywhere by the NYT editors that they actually changed anything in this piece after it first appeared on their website, other than that vague statement at the bottom that “A version of this article appeared in print . . .” BTW, just in case you don’t believe me that “Whomever” was there originally, you can check out the quotation of that editorial in Talking Points Memo, where it remains.

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Consider A Few White Pointers

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Happy Australia Day, mate! It’s the down-under version of, say, the Fourth of July, and because of the topsy-turvy character of Southern Hemisphere seasons those characters down in Oz get to celebrate it in the same nice hot weather we Northerners usually get to celebrate the Fourth, Bastille Day, etc. Nonetheless, it’s perfectly possible to celebrate Australia Day here in Amsterdam (just not in anything even resembling warm weather) and I hope to be able to get away later on to do that.

Yet, as always, we like to be somewhat contrary here at EuroSavant, so that – even though this lies admittedly outside this weblog’s usual remit – I have below for your consideration an interesting video (English-language) I came across on Reuters. Check out the title. I know: it’s hard to believe. The mere thought of such a ban seems so very contrary to the associations we usually attach to the concept of “Australian,” no? But the brief interviews recorded on this clip should leave you with the impression that it all is but a tempest in a teapot. (“Tempest in a C-cup”?) And the beach footage is inspiring.

Anyway, this just gives me the excuse to try an embedded video, something this site has never tried before. Oh, and if you don’t get the reference in the title to “white pointers,” then you’re obviously just not Australian.

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As the Bush Administration’s Lights Go Out . . .

Sunday, January 18th, 2009

So now Israel has unilaterally decided to stop bombarding the Gaza Strip. Gee – why just now? Could it have anything to do with the inauguration of an entirely-new American administration on Tuesday? And could the timing of whole episode from the attacks’ very beginnings on 27 December be somehow connected to a desire to take advantage of the “hands-off” attitude of top American leaders while Israel still could?

For all the evident excitement about Inauguration Day, people need to stay on the alert on Monday, tomorrow: Pardon Day. That is the last day of George W. Bush presidential power, and so surely the day he will issue a set of shocking and unprincipled pardons to protect himself and his underlings from, among other things, war crimes charges. Isn’t this clear? Doing so at any point before would have spoiled the effect of (and probably increased the volume of flying shoes at) his rather pathetic “farewell tour” of self-justifying interviews and press conferences. So stay tuned.

Oh, and Obama has a fresh foreign policy crisis waiting for him as soon as the inauguration euphoria winds down. Yes, it’s Gaza too, but I’m referring more here to North Korea’s new “all-out confrontational posture” towards South Korea (the latter’s military is now on high alert) together with its claims to have procured enough plutonium for four or five nuclear weapons.

UPDATE: Well now, on the question of further pardons it looks like I was wrong!

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Coffee-OPEC to buy Starbucks?

Wednesday, November 26th, 2008

It’s a cliché, but oh-so-true: as we all try to make our way in these hard economic times, it’s those little luxuries that have to fall by the wayside. (And all on-line content has to start showing banners or Google-ads or start eking out revenue some other way . . . oh wait . . .) One of the most (in)famous of those “little luxuries” on the American scene over the past two decades has been Starbucks’ offerings of lattes, frappuccinos, and the like, and, accordingly, that flagship American coffee-chain has lately been taking it squarely on the chin in financial terms, and recently announced plans to close 600 of its shops in the US.

That fiscal trajectory, from top-of-the-mountain to down-in-the-dumps is all-too-familiar in these times – does it remind you, say, of Citibank? Perhaps it won’t be too much longer before even Starbucks will stand in need of an espresso-bailout.

That may very well be on the horizon, in fact, and this time from a private and foreign source, as we read on the on-line site of the German weekly Focus: Coffee-farmers want to buy Starbucks. (more…)

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Get Thee to Church, Obama!

Monday, November 24th, 2008

The website Politico came out yesterday (fittingly, a Sunday) with an article noting that President-elect Obama has yet to attend church – any church – since he won the election. His two predecessors did manage to do that as they waited to take office – George W. even headed to services while the 2000 election results were completely up in the air in recounts and litigation, poor fellow – but Obama has instead chosen to spend his Sunday mornings at the gym.

A Dutch paper this morning picked up on this story, and naturally it was the Nederlands Dagblad, an explicitly Christian newspaper: Obama waits on going to church. (No sign of the story, though, on the website of that other Dutch Christian newspaper, the Reformatorisch Dagblad.) Their coverage (from the “foreign editor”) for the most part repeats that of Politico, although they also obliquely justify why it might be that the Obama’s have not yet found their new church-home, by mentioning that which church they might choose is currently the subject of feverish speculation equal to that which attended the choice of Sidwell Friends as their daughters’ new school. And they quote an unnamed Obama staff-member reassuring us that “The Obama family attaches much worth to religious experience in a church.”

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Pimp My Golfcart

Friday, August 8th, 2008

Pimp it purple!

Pimp it purple!

Yesterday we had occasion to examine the delightful article from the Frankfurther Rundschau by Dietmar Ostermann about the Hummer SUV. Sad to say, Ostermann could not avoid the conclusion that this Monster Car’s days seem to be numbered. But fear not! Hope for resurrection is at hand, as we learn today from Der Spiegel (With the Hummer to the Putting Green) – if you can accept a cut-down model designed to roam on the manicured grass of golf courses, and with electric drive, that is. (more…)

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