Play Well Together

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

The deep societal divisions between the two different halves of Belgium have long ceased to be much of a secret. I mean here of course the Dutch-speaking Flemings on the one (North) side and the French-speaking Walloons on the other (South; complicated by the mostly French-speaking Brusselers as third party). This was initially a sore point due to the long dominance of a Walloon elite over the entire country – so that, canonically, French officers issued orders to Fleming soldiers during the First World War that they could not understand. But the fissure was aggravated after World War II when Flanders became the region that was not only more heavily populated but also much more prosperous – and thus contributing more to the common governmental coffers. It’s the “conservative” party (i.e. friendly to business) which nonetheles has set as its goal the eventual secession of Flanders from Belgium – the New Flemish Alliance party – which now dominates the political scene in the North.

With all that intercommunal tension, then, it’s good to see this:

VlamingenWalen
“Flemings and Walloons surprisingly positive about each other.” Good to hear! – although I do also wonder how it would feel to be called a “Walloon”: “You Walloon!”

Flemings and Walloons underestimate the sympathy and overestimate the anger towards each other. That is the result from a multi-university study.

(-snip-)

The negative feelings of the other were always overestimated, as it turned out. “So French-speakers think that the Flemings experience feelings of malice and frustration, while Flemings think that Walloons are frustrated and jealous.”

All very fine, except for one thing: This study was carried out in 2010 and 2011! Now, the leading researcher justifies that in the article by pointing out that that was the period when Belgium was stuck in a particularly grating political crisis. Just to spell it out: From 26 April 2010 to 6 December 2011, a period of 589 days that set the record among developed-world nations, the country was without a proper head-of-government because the kaleidoscope of Belgian political parties (ranged left-to-right by ideology, but also cross-indexed by language) could not agree on how to form a government and choose one.

So it’s true that was an especially exasperating period, and it is good to see that the separate sides of the country did not hate each other as much as everyone assumed. But that was then; this is now. Surveys like that of public attitudes can’t be expected to have much of a shelf-life, before they begin to smell from the rot of past-sell-date.

Why do we see this now, then? It must be for some sort of propaganda purpose. For what it’s worth, it’s in De Standaard, considered to be the paper-of-record (i.e. the “New York Times”) there in Flanders.

But don’t worry: that same head-researcher promises us a new study, timed for “the elections,” by which she certainly means May 25, when Belgians will head to the polls to elect not only their representatives to the European Parliament, but also to the lower house of their own federal parliament, the Chamber of Representatives. (And they will head to the polls: voting is compulsory in Belgium!)

Tell you what: Forget the surveys, show me a new Belgian prime minister being chosen reasonably promptly after the results of that federal election are known, and I will then agree with you that the Flemings and Walloons have learned to get along!

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Shocked at the Shock

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

The headline from this piece in Flanders’ paper-of-record De Standaard reads “Belgium, where the blind and babies with an open back* must die,” and its first sentence reads “That our land wants to broaden the Euthanasia Law to include minors is arousing incensed reactions outside the country.”

Yes, you’ve surely heard by now that, from being one of the few countries in the world to have legalized euthanasia (which it did back in 2002), Belgium is about to enlarge that to include requests to die from terminally ill minors (i.e. under 18 years of age).

There is certainly resistance to this measure from some Belgian political quarters, but all indications are that that extension of the law will be enacted. But this particular article has more to do with how the world at large has reacted to this – or actually, and despite that “outside the country” (in het buitenland) above, how certain elements of the American media have reacted.

For example, there is the “American news broadcaster” (not further identified) cited as decrying Belgium’s “culture of death” and comparing the new euthanasia law with good old King Leopold of the 19th century, “who in the Congo had the natives’ hands chopped off.” (BTW that last is true: the Belgian administration of the Congo as its colony was truly scandalous, but that really has nothing to do with this euthanasia debate.) The Christian Broadcasting Network is then named explicitly, with its outrage over “this shocking tale out of Belgium.”

The most notable instance, though, involves CNN, in particular that broadcaster’s celebrity reporter Christiane Amanpour. Check out this video – also embedded within De Standaard’s article – of her interview with a Flemish legislator involved in pushing the new law forward:

Wow – imagine if YOU were called upon to face such hostile questioning, broadcast to millions over one of the biggest worldwide news channels, unable to defend yourself in your native language! No wonder Belgians are feeling aggrieved by the attention!

* “Open back”: This apparently had to do with babies born with the birth-defect of some sort of cleft in their backs, allegedly then consigned to be disposed of in the manner of Biblical King Herod.

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RIP For The Castaway

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Oh, did he ever spend a long, long time stuck on that Pacific island, with prospects for rescue always so distant and remote. Still, he managed to hold out for many years, and all that while to be a source of support and strength for those stuck there with him, and perhaps that’s what we should recall now as we mourn his death.

Wait . . . you say you completely agree with me about the Professor? From Gilligan’s Island? Sorry, my friends, I know everyone – in the US, at least – is talking about Russell Johnson. But here I’m afraid you’ve run once again into one of the favorite tricks of any columnist, the Think-it’s-about-one-thing-then-it-turns-out-to-be-another gambit.

Stndrd_Japaans
Or, if you like:
DR_Japansk
The “islander” I’m talking about – and the Philippines are after all a bunch of islands – is LT Hiroo Onoda of the Imperial Japanese Army, recently dead of a heart attack at 91, who was one of that crazy band of left-behind soldiers who got the word much too late that Japan had surrendered, and who himself only stopped fighting and came out of the jungle some 29 years after the war’s end, in 1974. And even after he was discovered there by an outsider – the Danmarks Radio piece says it was by a Japanese “hippie” – he refused to actually lay down his arms until his superior officer in the War, a Major Taniguchi who in the meantime had become a bookstore-owner, came to the Philippines jungle to order him to do so.

This is quite a character, although take a look at the full head-shot featured at the top of the piece from De Standaard. Doesn’t he look like the kindly old Japanese granddad-in-law you always wanted to have? (more…)

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Naming Name(s)

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

OK, so you shouldn’t expect any new Belgian government just yet. That “breakthrough” I discussed in my last post still seems legitimately to have been just that, it’s just that a new government still has to be formed. The Constitutional Convention has done its work, you could say (by way of American analogy), but an actual government does still need to be cobbled together from a selection of Flemish and Walloon parties. That exercise should not present too much of a problem, now that the main issues that had separated Flanders and Wallonia have been dealt with.

That also means formateur Elio Di Rupo doesn’t have to be so diplomatic anymore. He seems a rather calm and patient man – indeed, such qualities were a prerequisite for making any progress towards resolving this intra-community stalemate – but even he couldn’t resist recently telling Flemish television – as picked up by the newspaper De Standaard – who he feels really got in the way of his work and made it take sooooooo long. No surprises: it was the Flemish N-VA party headed by Bart De Wever, a party whose stated goal is the eventual (and peaceful, and gradual) secession of Flanders from Belgium. Di Rupo claims to have gotten “zero results” out of De Wever during the long course of negotiations.

He also disputed De Wever’s claim that the new governmental accord serves to harm Flemish interests. After all, the other Flemish political parties* signed up to it. Surely four out of five parties cannot be wrong!

* If you’re interested, they are: Open VLD, SP.A, CD&V and Groen! Note that all punctuation, including Groen!’s exclamation-mark, is as found in the original name.

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Washing Belgium’s Dirty Linen

Monday, December 13th, 2010

Sorry to bother: Are you aware that Belgium last held national elections back on June 13 of this (soon-to-terminate) year, yet it still has only caretaker politicians in charge of its national government?

You might have a recollection of that somewhere in the back of your mind (unless you yourself are Belgian, in which case the memory is a bit more prominent). Yet why should anyone really care – unless, of course, they are Belgian? Maybe not even then: the country seems to run fairly well even without a formal national government in place and, indeed, currently carries out the duties of the rotating EU presidency. There’s really no threat of any sort of violence, despite the current high levels of frustration within the Belgian political establishment.

One reason is the enormous Belgian national debt, since one of the points of forming a proper government is to come up with a team willing to take on the responsibility of making sure it gets paid back, in the right amounts and on time. But a simpler reason may simply be fascination – of the pileup-on-the-highway sort – with the sloppy, sordid mess that the government-forming process has become over these long six months (so far).

Take the latest sensation, namely the interview given two weeks ago to Der Spiegel by Bart De Wever, head of the N-VA party that is the largest in Flanders (Belgium’s northern, Dutch-speaking part) mainly by virtue of its strong separatist tendencies. “Strong” I say, but apparently not “overwhelming” in that for much of the past six months (if not now) De Wever has consented to appointment by the King as bemiddelaar, i.e. the politician officially designated to try to form a new government. As the authoritative Flemish paper De Standaard points out today, however, the venting De Wever delivered to Der Spiegel clearly shows he is about out of patience with the whole charade:

If it were possible to set the necessary reforms in one Belgian state on track, I wouldn’t stand in the way. But that is not possible. The Walloons [i.e. the French Belgians], above all the Socialists as their strongest [political] party, are blocking all meaningful reforms.

And that is hardly all. The interview is entitled “The sick man of Europe” (Europas kranker Mann), an epithet applied by De Wever himself (along with een mislukt land, “a failure of a land”) to the country in which he is an elected politician, one which for that matter he is sure “has no more long-range future.”

Since it’s apparent he operates under the assumption that no one in the French-speaking half of Belgium has bothered to take up the German language, De Wever goes freely on to reveal other tasty tidbits. Like he expects his N-VA party to be voted out of power in Flanders in the next election if it does in fact ever enter any new national government – because N-VA voters clearly never voted for that, but rather for some sort of intelligent separation process! Like he doesn’t feel he can trust King Albert II, since his sympathies so obviously lie on the side of the Walloons.

But it turns out that politicians from Wallonia actually are able to access German texts one way or another. Newscasts from Belgian radio today (yes, including those in Dutch) are crackling with their indignant French-speaking voices pointing out – with justification – how all this “hopeless” talk is about the last thing Belgian state finances need now that international bond speculators are starting to shift their jaundiced eyes from Greece, Ireland, etc. to pick out other possible sovereign-debt deadbeats.

Oh, and they also point out how outright rude De Wever is, considering the recent government-forming efforts by the current bemiddelaar, Johan Vande Lanotte – another Flemish politician, with the sort of funky Dutch/French name you can only find in Belgium, but from a different party – seem to be coming along so well. Yeah . . . right.

(BTW De Standaard also includes a link to De Wever’s Der Spiegel interview itself, and in a Dutch translation – not only because of its Dutch audience, but also since anyone who wants to read it in the original German needs an on-line subscription to access it behind Der Spiegel’s paywall!)

UPDATE: Sure enough, now we have this entry on the FT’s Alphaville blog reporting how S&P has shifted its outlook on Belgium’s sovereign debt from “stable” to “negative,” namely for the unusual reason of “political uncertainty,” i.e. no government. It further threatens a downgrade to the country’s AA+ rating if there’s no such proper government in place within six months – or if that “proper” government nonetheless seems to be ineffective in addressing the state’s worsening fiscal issues.

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Dutch Keystone Kops/Kriminals

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I came across this amusing piece while surfing through the European press today and immediately realized that compressing the tale down to 140 characters to send out as a tweet would in no way do it justice. Note that it’s from the leading Flemish newspaper De Standaard; it’s about a Belgian guy, to be sure, but it’s also easy to see other reasons why that paper would want to write about something like this, since the Flemings and Dutch like to make fun of each other.

There was this Belgian guy, see, living in the Netherlands, just above the Belgian border in Roosendaal, and he found that he had lost his Dutch residence permit and so needed visit the local police station to get a new one. Bad move: he was, after all, wanted for questioning in connection with his alleged assault with a knife on his then-girlfriend back in August, 2008, something the police officer there discovered rather easily while looking up his records.

So the Rosendaal police got to chalk up an easy win, with a wanted suspect falling right into their lap, right? Not exactly: he was able rather swiftly to escape “via the garden” – aren’t police-gardens against regulations? – so that an arrest order for him was issued yet again. Easy come, easy go.

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Father of Dutch Queen Was Nazi

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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No Second Life for South Korean Three-Month-Old

Friday, March 5th, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Communist Poland Sheltered, Armed Palestinian Terrorists

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

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

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

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

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What, Were They Torturing Prisoners On The Moon?

Friday, July 17th, 2009

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

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

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

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A Better American Obesity Report? Fat Chance

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

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

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

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Iran Presidential Candidate Withdraws Election Fraud Complaint

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

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

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

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Smoked Nuts

Sunday, June 14th, 2009

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

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

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

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Have They Got Your €1.16 Million?

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

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

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

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

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Kadhafi A Jolly Roger for Pirates

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

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

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

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

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Sharp Eye on Obama from Flanders

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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Globalized Rot

Tuesday, February 3rd, 2009

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

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

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

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Air Force One à l’européenne

Monday, January 12th, 2009

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

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

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

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Mob Moves In on Facebook

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008

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

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

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Palin for Centerfold

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

Alas, it had to happen. You know how it goes, when an attractive American woman suddenly comes into prominence . . .

Yes, that’s right: Hugh Hefner wants Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin to pose for Playboy. Somewhat bizarrely, this tidbit of news comes up in two Flemish newspapers: in the leading newspaper-of-record De Standaard and in Het Nieuwsblad – as well as in OK! magazine, the American celebrity-rag to which Hefner originally contributed his comments. These include (translated back from the Dutch) “I can’t describe it exactly, but a beautiful woman with glasses simply has something special.” The Flemish publications dutifully mention to their readers that Palin finished second in the 1984 Miss Alaska competition, but I think most of us already knew that, having been reminded most forcefully by the recent surfacing on YouTube of Palin’s swimsuit-competition promenade during that event.

Note: The text about this in both Flemish newspapers turns out to be identical. However, it might be intriguing to note that De Standaard puts it in its Beroemd en Bizar section (“Famous and Bizarre”), while Het Nieuwsblad files it under “Glam & Gossip” (in English).

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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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Wave of Hagiography

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

I’m back – perhaps in a bid for small-screen immortality? But be advised that this is going to be a day-to-day decision – or, more likely, even week-to-week.

The timing is a bit strange, since I re-emerge onto the blogging scene, eyes blinking, into the blinding light of the story dominating world news: the Pope’s death, of course. Assenting to “go with the flow” for now, in fact turning into a glutton for punishment, I immediately resort to what is sure to be “all Pope news, all the time”: the Polish press. Continuing to take things to the limit, why not head straight to the leading Polish daily (long-time EuroSavant readers – if there are any left – will know immediately whereof I speak): Gazeta Wyborcza. (more…)

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Reflections on the Tidal Waves

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

The day after Christmas, Boxing Day – and suddenly the Earth moves violently just off the coast of Sumatra, giant tidal waves spread in all directions, and death and destruction are wreaked on all coastlines bordering the eastern Indian Ocean, with the toll of dead now up above 40,000. What more is there to say about such a devastating disaster – besides belated speculation about extending the tsunami early-warning system in the Pacific to cover the Indian Ocean as well?

Oh, you can be sure that there is more to say out there among the world’s commentariat. The question is rather whether there are further insights worth reading, but I think Bart Sturtewagen does a good job along this line, writing in Belgium’s De Standaard, with his commentary piece Metaphor for Fleetingness. (more…)

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High Tastelessness

Monday, October 4th, 2004

Heard of the latest new Russian pop music phenomenon? No one knows her real name; she’s known only as “n.A.T.o.” and is a self-professed “suicide bomber” musician, who performs in a full-length burqa (i.e. the all-covering Muslim female dress) and veil, singing in Arabic.

Yep, it’s apparently for real. I first got word of “n.A.T.o.” from Belgium’s De Standaard, whose De Kleine Parade feature always has short but noteworthy, even believe-it-or-not pieces of which I have made mention in this space before. But in this case there is thankfully even more extensive coverage available from an English-language source, namely Elizabeth Day’s article in Britain’s Telegraph. (more…)

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Invitation to a Beheading

Thursday, September 23rd, 2004

As the rash of hostage-taking and hostage-executions in Iraq continues, so does the making-public of these terrorists’ handiwork – generally in the form of websites, and often specifically as downloadable videos depicting the brutal act itself. But who in heaven’s name would at all be interested in viewing such things? Oh, vast audiences indeed, claims Isa van Dorsselaer in an article in Belgium’s De Standaard (Why So Many Internet Surfers Seek Out Pictures of Beheadings). (more…)

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The Republican National Convention’s “Big Tent”

Saturday, August 28th, 2004

Get ready: next week is RNC week! (“Republican National Convention,” in NYC, naturally.) You can be sure that most of the the European publications that I cover here will be taking a look, and, just as on the occasion of the DNC about a month ago, I’ll be passing along to you some of the most interesting coverage and opinions. (As for the official EuroSavant position, I was lucky enough recently to find it summed up neatly elsewhere on the Net: “If I can FAKE it here . . . “ – see August 26.)

Belgium’s excellent De Standaard has already gotten a jump today on what that paper promises will be its own extensive coverage of the convention throughout next week, with a preview-article by Evita Neefs that I found quite impressively enlightening (A Miss, a Democrat, and Some Blacks in Madison Square Garden). (more…)

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Suf-folk Have All the Luck! (Get It?)

Thursday, August 19th, 2004

It looks like this is “Take Cover!” Day here at EuroSavant. First thirty-one cows are fried from the sky (see entry below), and then 76-year-old Pauline Aguss of Suffolk, England, also finds herself targeted from the heavens, as reported in Belgium’s De Standaard. Mrs. Aguss survived, though; in fact, all she felt was a sharp pain in her arm while outside working in her garden, as she was hit there by what turned out to be a brown, metallic rock the size of a golfball.

It was a meteorite! Apprised of the incident, a spokesman for what De Standaard calls de Britse sterrenwacht (= “the British Starwatching Agency”; maybe the “Astronomical Society”?) admitted that such an incident was certainly possible, but that overall the chances of being hit by such a meteorite were “minimal.” (And now you may refer back to this entry’s title.)

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Dispatches from the Silly Season

Monday, August 9th, 2004

It’s the silly season, the dog days, cucumber time – take your pick. In any case, hot and sunny summer weather has finally arrived here in Northwest Europe over the past couple of weeks, and real news is hard to find.

Other than the usual, ongoing violence in Iraq, of course. But it’s been good weather for taking the Segway out for riding past diners at one sidewalk café after another, as I recently did over in Germany, in Bremen/Hannover/Oldenburg – that’s why I was away. But I’ll spare you the link to my other website to read about that; you always know where to find it anyway on the left side of this homepage. (more…)

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Don’t Wanna Live W/out That EK . . .

Sunday, June 20th, 2004

That’s what I’m talkin’ about! News of an almost-miraculous Swedish by-product of the current Euro2004 national football championship in Portugal comes to us from (of all sources) the Flemish newspaper De Standaard. On Friday, 11 June, the automobile of 85-year-old Sören Gellerstedt gave out in a stretch of wilderness near Jokkmokk, a town some 900km north of Stockholm. And so he was stuck there, without food or water, waiting for someone to finally notice that he hadn’t arrived where he should have, that perhaps something had happened with him. The authorities eventually did notice this and sent out searchers to look for him, with dogs and even helicopters. But they eventually gave him up for dead after he had already endured out there for three days, and called the search parties back in.

Fortunately, Gellerstedt still had power for his car radio, and it was on that very same Monday when they were giving up on him that he heard that the Swedish football team had beaten Bulgaria 5-0 that evening. “That victory kept me alive,” he said, and the next day he was finally found by family members who had been willing to keep on searching even as the city/state search assets had given up.

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