Journalistic Pluck

Monday, January 12th, 2015

Yes, there was that giant Charlie Hebdo march yesterday in Paris, as well as in many other cities, but times remain tough for newspaper staffs (in physical security terms, that is – quite apart from their long-term economic prospects):

ZalKnallen
“Le Soir, things are going to blow up on your editors” is what it reads there, which was followed down the telephone-line by “You guys don’t take us seriously!” OK, so it’s a bomb-threat, called in yesterday afternoon (Sunday) to the downtown Brussels offices of Le Soir (“The Evening”) when probably most of those present would have preferred marching in Brussels own Charlie Hebdo solidarity demonstration but had to work instead.

Can’t newspapermen and -women catch a break these days? I mean, the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost were also firebombed yesterday – yes, after that paper had reprinted some Charle Hebdo cartoons in a show of solidarity.

I don’t think Le Soir had done even that, but that seems not to have been the issue in that case. For as that De Morgen piece goes on to report, the police managed to arrest someone for that bomb-threat the same day, some fifty-two-year-old from out of the “extreme left” who in fact had been convicted for actually blowing up a telephone-booth (remember those?) in order to intimidate in Brussels back in 1999.

The good thing about this story is that the Le Soir staff, when ordered to evacuate on Sunday afternoon, simply took their laptops to a local hotel and resumed their work, as you can see from their tweet:

LeSoir

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Just Not Cricket!

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

Check out this photo, taken in Brussels, of a suspicious Muslim-type guy who for some reason is carrying under his arm what looks to be a rifle covered up in cloth. (Yes, I know that the surrounding text rather gives the game away, especially for those out there who can understand French.)

BrusselsTerrorist
There he was, waiting for a tram on a Sunday morning last August, on the Avenue Louise in one of the European capital’s most luxurious districts. This photo was taken out of the window by a security official at the Israeli embassy in Brussels who lives along the Avenue Louise, and who passed it on to the police – who in turn sent out an alert for the public to be on the look-out for this guy. (Wanted posters on post office walls and the like, one imagines, to the extent real-life post offices still exist in Brussels.) (more…)

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Father’s Lament for Conchita

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

You remember Conchita Wurst? She/he won the Eurovision Song Competition for Austria, held in Copenhagen two weeks ago.

Someone didn’t like that.

Conchita
“A girl with a beard. That is paganism unleashed.” This comes from Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Roman Catholic priest most known in Poland for the Radio Maryja station he founded and runs (yes, “Maryja” as in “The Virgin Maryja”), the voice of ultra-conservative Polish Catholicism: no divorce, no abortion, everything like that. (Still, you can listen to Radio Maryja on tunein if you like, it has 19,000 followers there! Be forwarned: It’s basically exclusively spoken-word in Polish.)

I seriously doubt Father Rydzyk was tuned in to Eurovision back on May 10. The result must have percolated to him slowly, probably further delayed by a wall of sheer incredulity. It’s still interesting to quote the good Father’s reaction here at length:

We must educate people, because look at what’s happening. Good Lord, we must educate people! Because look at what’s happening! This flood of paganism isn’t coming from this country. Really, look, is that normal, that a country-boy makes himself up like a woman, that boy there, I don’t know who he is supposed to be, with a beard, he performs and wins first place in Europe as a singer! Really, like he’s some Pavarotti!

Here Father Rydzyk had to pause: he was live-broadcasting these remarks to an audience in a church via a closed-circuit link, and everyone had started laughing. (more…)

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Camp Shangri-La

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

The Syrian Civil War is now more than three years old, the death toll by now is surely over 150,000, while estimates of those who have fled the country run from two to four million out of a pre-war population of around 22 million. Worst of all, there is no end to the carnage (including most recently chlorine gas used in the barrel-bombs dropped by regime helicopters on defenseless cities) in sight.

How strange, then, to come across a Syria-related news article that is actually upbeat! This was in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen yesterday, and you can get some idea of its strangeness from the headline, Wifi and pita bars: In the largest refugee camp in the Middle East.

ZaatariThe Palestinians can surely claim seniority when it comes to such tent cities, but the dire current situation in their home country means Syrians win on volume: that largest refugee camp is at Al-Za’atari, in the Jordanian desert just 12km from the Syrian border – in fact from the border to the Deraa region which, like Leipzig in the old East Germany, like Gdańsk in Poland, and indeed like Boston in the United States, will be able to claim pride of place as the cradle of that country’s revolution, if that revolution ever succeeds.

This piece by Gidi Heesakkers* cites the Jordanian proverb that “only the devil lives in Za’atari,” only promptly to controvert that assertion as she writes about the two-day visit a certain Dutch photographer recently paid to that teeming encampment.

Refugee camps, those mean long lines, rice and tears? Seems not. In the largest refugee camp of the Middle East you can find a great pita bar. Photographer Henk Wildschut enjoyed a tasty sandwich there, in a shopping-street smelling of waterpipes, where shoes, festive dresses, lipstick and TVs were also for sale. The camp has Wifi and two supermarkets, with special sales, competitions and shelves full of cola.

Wild, eh? And you may well want to click through and take a look at the photos there (not all by Wildschut): the children look healthy, well-clothed, and reasonably cheerful; and the supermarket aisles look orderly and well-stocked indeed. Credit-card payment is even planned to be made possible – for those carrying them – in about a month. (more…)

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No Pussyfooting In-Flight!

Tuesday, January 28th, 2014

OK guys: Get your minds out of the gutter, and rest assured that this piece from the Flemish paper De Morgen is entirely on the up-and-up.

Captain Pussy
Yes, that’s “Captain Pussy” (civilian name: Yvonne Cunha, 28 years old at the time, must be of Portuguese extraction) sitting there in the cockpit of a Boeing 707, in a picture taken forty years ago. Her sitting there is no joke, either: yes, it’s a publicity photo, but not one of some stewardess called forward to look pretty in the cockpit. She was the pilot! Sure, not the only pilot in charge of flying that airplane (for the defunct Trans European Airways – TEA), but definitely the first female commercial pilot in Belgium.

So this piece takes advantage of what is roughly the 40th anniversary of her becoming a pilot to look back on how times have changed. For one thing, the early 1970s were clearly a rather politically incorrect time: TEA had just started operations, and as a publicity stunt they were looking for “a woman and a black” to make into pilots. Still, it was very tough to fight against the prevailing stereotype that placed her to the rear as a stewardess rather than up front flying the plane. For one thing, when she finally became a pilot they had no uniform to issue to her: she had to make her own. And yes, when she finally had gained enough seniority to be in charge of flights, she became known far and wide as “Captain Pussy,” on her way to accumulating more than 25,000 flight-hours.

One thing she never did, though*, was fly as part of an exclusively female set of pilots in the cockpit. “The bosses said there had to always be a male co-pilot or captain present on any flight. With two females the passengers would get too nervous, they thought.” Nowadays – and perhaps you didn’t realize this, just as I did not – all-female crews of pilots are not uncommon at all.

* OK, another thing she may not have ever done – but who knows? – is join the “Mile High Club” – but I thought I asked you gentlemen right at the very start to keep your minds out of the gutter? Anyway, if you want to know about that, you’ll just have to get in touch with her.

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London To Lose 2012 Olympics?

Monday, November 21st, 2011

The World Anti-Doping Agency just yesterday added to the list it maintains of countries who do not comply with its guidelines . . . wait for it . . . Great Britain, which as we all know is no less than the host for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games! This word comes from an article in today’s De Morgen, a Flemish newspaper.

Now, at this point the report cannot be confirmed at source, namely at the WADA’s website. Yes, they do post the news there that the organization presented its “Compliance Report” to something called its “Foundation Board” yesterday (working on a Sunday; hmm . . .), at which point it also had its 2012 budget confirmed (frozen from 2011, apparently). But I could not find that Compliance Report available anywhere on that same website; it certainly is not on their “Publications” webpage, and there’s also no mention of who is now on the compliance blacklist and who is not on another page about something called the “Code Compliance Assessment Survey.”

The really remarkable aspect of this report – if true – is why the UK is now being put on this WADA blacklist – joining about fifty other lands – in the first place. It’s not that they have suddenly started to coddle athletes who cheat. Quite the contrary: the British Olympic Committee has voted to ban any athlete caught doping from competitions that it stages for life. In this it took up an idea from the International Olympic Committee – which the latter, however, never implemented after complaints from the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The British Committee, however, did; this ban is now in effect in competitions under its jurisdiction for anyone caught doping. But banning-for-life does not conform to WADA standards – as with the Court of Arbitration, it is too strict! So the British go on the blacklist; the article mentions that they could even lose their awarding of next year’s Olympic Games! Surely that latter prospect is purely theoretical, but WADA Chairman John Fahey still remarked for the press:

It’s a shame that things have had to come so far. To the Court of Arbitration’s decision we reacted in a correct manner and asked the British to review their viewpoint, but they refuse all discussion. It’s not for me to decide what must happen now. There are quite a few countries on the list and we will assist them all to come back into conformity.

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A Midsummer Night’s Toke?

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

Or maybe At the Toke of Midnight, anyone? As reported initially in the Flemish newspaper De Morgen, some South African researchers think they might have found a clue to one source of William Shakespeare’s inspiration, and it ain’t the evening sun descending on the Avon river: Scientists want to demonstrate that Shakespeare smoked grass.

That’s wiet in Dutch: grass, man, that Mary-Jane stuff. Oh, and cocaine as well. The evidence so far is a number of pipes found buried in 2001 in the garden of Shakespeare’s Stratford-on-Avon residence, which even after around four centuries still showed traces of both narcotics, and even a couple others. (“The results were in keeping with that of a modern crack-pipe,” was the rather cruel remark of one of the investigators.)

Now this research team from the underside of the Dark Continent has petitioned the Anglican Church for permission to get into the Bard’s grave, despite his clear instructions that that should never happen. (“[C]ursed be he who moves my bones” is part of his self-chosen gravestone epitaph.) But wait, they say, we don’t have to move anything! We just want to check a tooth – just one! – to look for any grooves that would indicate that he actually stuck those pipes in his mouth.

Besides, it’s right there in his Sonnet 76, line 6: “And keep invention in a noted weed.” So is that the smoking gun (so to speak)? Doubtful; other Shakespearean scholars think that a reference to clothes instead, e.g. “in a noted garb.” Click through to the article itself if you’d like a reminder (in English) of what that Sonnet is about, and a chance to judge for yourself.

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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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Warmer Faster

Friday, August 1st, 2008

Department of Confirmation of Things You Already Realized: The Belgian newspaper De Morgen has an article out today about how Western Europe is at the front of the Global Warming pack, with average temperatures here having risen since the 1950s at least twice as much as those in the rest of the world. (The article’s headling speaks of Belgium – Belgium Warming Up Twice As Fast as the Rest of the World – because De Morgen writes for its Belgian audience, but it quickly qualifies the area it is talking about as “the area from France to Poland.” You already knew that Belgium was a unique sort of hard-luck state – see for example the Dutch-French speaker dispute threatening to tear it apart – but even still, you didn’t really think that it could experience such temperature patterns all by itself, like it has some permanent black cloud of misfortune hovering over its territory?) (more…)

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