The Baffled King Regretting “Hallelujah” . . .

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

. . . Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Hallelujah

Halle . . .
oh, STOP already!

That’s also the attitude now of the artist who originally came up with that (admittedly beautiful and profound) ballad, as we read in the Dutch De Volkskrant: Leonard Cohen: Stop covering Hallelujah! “It’s a good song,” as he’s quoted in the article’s first paragraph from last week, “but too many people sing it.”

Cohen goes on: “I read a review of the film Watchmen where Hallelujah is used and the reviewer said ‘Can we please get a ban on the use of Hallelujah in films and TV shows?’ and I think about it a bit the same way.” Then again, he can”t resist adding “The Sony record company didn’t want to issue the album that Hallelujah was on. [That was his Various Positions album, issued instead in 1984 by Passport Records.] They didn’t find it good enough.”

Even if you don’t read Dutch, you might want to click through to this piece anyway for, in good twenty-first century multi-media style, the YouTube videos of five different treatments of “Hallelujah” are embedded at the bottom: Cohen himself (of course), Jeff Buckley, John Cale, k.d. lang – and Lisa Hordijk (known simply as “Lisa”), recent winner of the Dutch “X Factor” and whose own treatment of “Hallelujah” spent eight weeks in the upper reaches of the Dutch pop charts this past spring. But this could also make you stop and ponder: Why did the Volkskrant editors include these? Did they do it without thinking – in effect, unwittingly substantiating Cohen’s complaint – or in defiance of his wishes, or what?

Another thing: You’ll find that the YouTube videos are arranged vertically, with at the very bottom the version of Cohen – The Master – and at the top (i.e. accessible with the least scrolling) . . . yes, Lisa. I guess here in the Netherlands we’re sometimes just . . . well, a bit provincial (we’ve got twelve of ’em, in fact).

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The IAEA Gets A New Chairman

Monday, July 6th, 2009

This news deserves more coverage in the US than Google News tells me it is getting; hopefully the fault is merely in the timing, namely around the 4th of July holiday. In any event, as the Dutch Volkskrant reports (in an article credited to Reuters and the AP), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) now has a new chairman to succeed Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei, who has occupied that post since 1997 (and who together with his organization won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2005). The new man is Yukiya Amano, currently Japan’s resident representative at the IAEA and who boasts a long record of service in the Japanese diplomatic corps, who last Tuesday (30 June) needed six rounds of voting among national IAEA representatives to finally (barely) gain the necessary two-thirds vote for selection to the post.

This has to be an important development, in the first place because of the vital importance these days of the IAEA, which is more-or-less the UN’s atomic power/atomic weapons supervisory agency. (It is formally an autonomous organization, but reports to both the UN General Assembly and the Security Council.) Just think of all the countries where possession/non-possession of nuclear weapons is currently an issue: North Korea, Israel, Syria – and then, of course, Iran. It’s also important because of the very troublesome relationship the US has had in the recent past with the IAEA, particularly under the George W. Bush administration (e.g. over whether the 2003 invasion of Iraq was really necessary), which actively campaigned against the re-election to the post in 2005 of Dr. ElBaradei.

Again, these days the main atomic trouble-spot is Iran (if only because, in North Korea’s case, the cat is already long out of the bag). So what is Amano’s view on the alleged Iranian ambitions for nuclear weapons? “I see no sort of indication of that in official IAEA documents” – that is, put him on the skeptics’ side (when even Dr. ElBaradei, in a recent interview with the BBC that the Volkskrant article cites, maintains that his “intuition” tells him that that is what the Iranians ultimately are pursuing). Amano’s attitude here will certainly go down rather poorly among most ranges of American public opinion but, again, it is the official attitude of the IAEA itself, i.e. of the impartial experts who are supposed to know (and whose expertise was blatantly ignored in the Bush Administration’s rush to war in 2003). For what it’s worth, it is also the long-held view of leading Middle East expert Juan Cole, who has also covered past American attempts to fool the IAEA into detecting an Iranian weapons threat by supplying it with forged evidence.

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South Korea to Get “Bunker Busters” from US

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

So reads this report from the Dutch daily De Volkskrant: the South Korean armed forces, starting in 2010, will take delivery of GBU-28 laser-guided bombs specifically designed to penetrate solid earth and/or concrete with their explosions. They have particular reason to find munitions like this useful – no, not to destroy hardened North Korean nuclear weapons sites (at least nothing like that is being publicly discussed) but rather to deal with the very many underground tunnels, most near the North-South Armistice Line, in which the North Koreans are known to be storing weapons and ammunition in support of any invasion of the South.

This development was recently revealed by an official at the South Korean Ministry of Defense. Of course, because of the recent North Korean nuclear explosion and rocket test-flights, and the accompanying heightened bellicose rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang, tensions are currently very high along that Armistice Line.

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Dutch Military at August’s Gay Pride

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

One distinct Amsterdam “happening” that we’ve been glad to cover previously in these pages is the “Gay Pride” festival, occurring each year the first weekend of August and with a crowded, often rather bawdy boat-parade along the outermost of the city’s famous set of concentric canals, the Prinsengracht, as its centerpiece. It’s always a blast for those who can hitch a ride along with one of the boats, or even get the funds together for one’s organization to sponsor its own such boat – as long as your organization does not mind the affiliation with the homosexual cause. These days, though, when it comes to Amsterdam it’s hard to think of many organizations that would mind, other than the Muslim ones.

Then again, up to now the Dutch military has also not been too happy with any sign of its presence at the Gay Pride parade – like soldiers floating along on the boats while in uniform, something that happened last year and led to some sort of uproar (presumably including sanctions against those military personnel). But now that has changed; the Volkskrant reports today (but in a story credited to the Dutch news agency ANP) that permanent Defense Ministry undersecretary (Staatssecretaris) Jack de Vries has announced, through a spokesman, that participating in Gay Pride in your uniform is OK – but that that should still in no way be interpreted as official Defense Ministry participation in, or endorsement of, the festival.

Perhaps the really interesting thing here is that this is not just some spontaneous decision from the Ministry, but rather is in reaction to encouragement from the Dutch lower house of Parliament (the Tweede Kamer) to make such a policy change. That, it seems, was ultimately among the more significant follow-on effects of last year’s controversy.

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Bodacious Nano, From Tata

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

tata-nanoIn the market for a new automobile? Didn’t think so, even though it’s the “world’s cheapest car” that I’m talking about here, reported on by the Dutch De Volkskrant. But the Nano, manufactured in India by Tata Motors and finally ready to be offered for sale starting today, is not really targeted at the vast majority of this weblog’s readers in any event: only a 625cc engine, hand-cranked windows like in the days of yore, not even any power-steering option. The price is $2,000 apiece (that’s presumably US dollars), and the whole idea is naturally to position the Nano as an “entry-level” vehicle for those parts of the world where vehicle-ownership levels still lag behind Western standards.

Reading the Volkskrant article, it’s hard to escape the impression that this whole project has been a bit star-crossed from the beginning – quite apart from the larger, and highly-debatable, question of whether the world in the year 2009 really needs a new variety of mass-produced, internal-combustion-engine-powered vehicle. Sales were supposed to start back last October; no, it wasn’t the storm of international financial chaos raging back then that held up the Nano’s unveiling, but rather the unexpected closing of a factory in East India that was supposed to assemble the things, as local farmers protested against the loss of agricultural land its existence entailed.

As things stand, the replacement factory – over in the west of India now – is still gearing up, so the supply of new Nanos is going to be limited for a while. Industry analysts quoted in the article estimate that it will take five to seven years before this new line will be profitable for its parent company. While even the presumed sales by that point will still account for only a small part of Tata Motors’ turnover, you have to admire the audacity of Ratan Tata, the Indian industrialist behind the Tata Group conglomerate: again, neither the short-run (in view of the world’s current economic condition) nor the long-run (environmental concerns over the burning of fossil fuels) would seem to favor this initiative.

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Tough Times Demand Cheap Food

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

feboIn the ongoing chronicle of winners and losers from the current economic difficulties, while there is an overwhelming preponderance of the latter, it is interesting to see McDonalds among the former, actually reporting increased sales over the past year. As the nutrition-professor’s quotation in that linked article says, “It’s cheap and full of calories, and you know what you are getting.”

The same thing is happening over here in the Netherlands, it seems – although not necessarily with McDonalds. As an article by Wouter Keuning now appearing in De Volkskrant puts it in the headline, Dutchman fights through the crisis with bitterbal and kroket. Not familiar with them? To cook up these two quintessentially-Dutch delicacies (found nowhere else) you essentially take blobs of animal fat (usually from beef) – and fry them! The basic difference is that the bitterbal is small – of 3-5 cm diameter – and the kroket is somewhat larger and more cylindrical in shape. The most notable manufacturer of these is the Amsterdam firm Van Dobben (which Keuning identifies as currently reporting particularly improved sales-figures, just like McDonalds), and you can check out their website if you still need help in visualizing what we’re talking about here. (That’s a kroket in a bun in the center there, and the bitterballen are those round things on the plate to the right. But watch out, because if you click to go further into the site you’ll find that everything is in Dutch.)

It has long been shown in opinion surveys that it is these two delicacies which Dutch people living outside Holland’s (or Flanders’) borders most miss from their lives back home, where in most cities you can usually quickly satiate any craving for them at a near-by fast-food-in-the-window-type outlet (such as pictured; photo credit Kees Jonker, from Flickr). But now it is also apparent that this is the sort of food that Dutch people still back home are down-shifting to financially, now that money for many has become somewhat too tight for a visit to a restaurant. And for the sheer comfort of it as well (perhaps recalling Mama’s bitterballen?): the financial director of Royaan, a firm which works with Van Dobben to distribute such concoctions, is quoted that “I think that people in these times are looking for a bit of solace in this sort of product.”

That’s one theory, but I can think of another. Obviously, these chunks of deep-fried pieces of fat are tremendously unhealthy to eat on any regular basis over the long- and even medium-term. Could their sudden increased popularity rather bear witness to a sort of widespread death-wish among the Dutch population, to some drastic loss of confidence in the utility of a long, healthy life? (And I pose the same question when it comes to McDonalds’ improved sales, for that matter.)

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“Better Prison Than House-Arrest With My Wife!”

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Ah, don’t we just know the feeling . . .

I picked up this story originally from the Dutch paper De Volkskrant (Rather in the cell than at home with spouse), but just a little work with Google News Italia brought me to an authentic Italian report of this case, with a bit more detail, in Il Messaggero (Better jail than wife. And he renounces house-arrest).

This 56-year-old guy in Viterbo, Italy, see, got himself arrested for standing on the railroad tracks at the station in the town of Orte. (This is in the Lazio region just north of Rome.) He was drunk at the time – and so compounded his original offence of interrupting a public service with resisting arrest and threatening a public official – and was sentenced by the judge to five months’ house-arrest. But he pleaded with the judge for mercy: “For me it would be impossible to spend such a long period with my wife. We constantly argue and I would not be able to leave the house to not have to hear her insults. I don’t know how I could make it to the end.”

The judge made a game attempt to convince the defendant of the merits of house-arrest, but quickly just gave in and let him serve his five months at the local prison. By the way, that facility is in Viterbo and is known as the Mammagialla prison. Mamma-GIAL-la!! – doesn’t that sound like it should be the name of a spaghetti or something?

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Ja, wy kinne!

Friday, January 23rd, 2009

Heard the latest? Barack Obama actually is descended from Dutch ancestors! And that word comes from a French source, namely Libération, which a few days ago, at the time of the inauguration, came out with Batavian rumor: Is Barack Obama of Netherlands origin? (“Batavian” is simply a historical adjective meaning “Dutch.”) However, that Libération article does make reference to an article from last November in the Dutch (tabloid-quality) newspaper De Telegraaf (The Dutch roots of Obama), which itself further references an even-earlier article in De Volkskrant (of February, 2008) as well as another investigation into the subject on a Dutch history website.

Fine, but what’s the point? The point is this: Barack Obama’s great-grandfather might have been a Dutchman resident in Kenya. The surname “Obama” is supposedly not really that common there in the land of origin of Barack Obama Sr. Indeed, it rather seems quite close to “Obbema,” a typical surname from Friesland, which is a section of the Netherlands along the North coast that still has its own language (Frisian), a different history, and even a slightly-different culture. This small detail prompted the family-lineage-researcher Koen Verhoeven to go discover records of a certain Jelle Obbema, from Friesland, who sometime around 1870 went to seek his fortune in Kenya, and in fact made it big there in the peppermint trade. While making all this money, Jelle still found time to chase the native women, but, as all these accounts make plain, “he took his responsibility,” i.e. to support those children he sired and to give them his last name. One of these was a son named Sjoerd-Bark, in the Frisian custom of giving children double names (as in “Geert-Jan”). The thought is that this Sjoerd-Jan was later connected to Barack Obama Sr. – the similarity of their given names (“Bark” – “Barack”) is supposed to make that connection.

To my mind, it is there that this tale loses its credibility, since “Barack” is well-known to be derived from the Arabic root for “to bless” or “to be blessed.” (Compare the president of Egypt: Mubarak. And remember that the transmission of Arabic influence into Kenya would have come via Swahili, that common East African language – an official language in Kenya, along with English – which gleaned much of its vocabulary from Arabic.) Still, as these Dutch articles point out, Jelle Obbema and the relatives he left behind in Friesland were all impressive athletes, although this in the field of ice-skating rather than basketball. And then there is inscription to be found under the Obbema family coat-of-arms: Ja, wy kinne!, which naturally means “Yes we can!”

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Dutch Give Dubya a Failing Final Grade

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

As we near Barack Obama’s inauguration, it naturally becomes time to look back and assess George W. Bush’s eight-year tenure as American president. (Check that: it’s time first to gather up one’s courage and brace oneself, and then look back in anger.) One such assessment that I can recommend comes in a 17-minute video from the UK’s Guardian newspaper. The Guardian is well-known for its political positioning somewhat to the left, and thus for its long record of hostility to Bush. Still, that video presents discussion from not only Mike Tomasky, the Guardian’s American editor, but also a couple of personalities you might find more credible, namely David Plotz, editor at Slate (on-line) magazine and Adrian Wooldridge, American editor for The Economist. (The fourth and final panelist is Sarah Wildman, from the New York Times. A quick consultation reveals that she is mainly a travel writer there, occasionally contributing pieces on the arts.)

But what about, say, the Dutch? Fortunately, we can now discover their valedictory attitudes towards George W. Bush, and that even from the “People’s Newspaper,” De Volkskrant (Netherlanders give Bush a 4.7).

That’s right, as a final over-all grade ol’ George gets a 4.7, but keep in mind that is on the customary Dutch academic grading-scale of 0 (worst) to 10 (best), where you usually need a 6 to pass. This comes from a survey among 500 Dutch respondents over 18 conducted by the firm Synovate, which further reveals the curious paradox that, while 73% are willing to characterize the departing American president as “friendly,” 71% call him “untrustworthy.” When it comes to free association (i.e. what immediately comes to mind when you hear a word), most of the respondents think “Iraq” at the mention of his name. It further emerges that you are a better bet to dislike him the more educated and older you are, and the more to the left you are on the Dutch political spectrum (also if you are female). Of the various policies associated with his name, these Dutch judge approvingly only his reaction to the September 11 attacks. Everything else they disapprove of, especially his attitude towards climate change.

Finally, the survey-participants were asked what sort of going-away present they would be willing to give. Among the responses: a course in self-knowledge, a week spent among the poor, and “a kick in the ass.”

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Flash: Al-Qaeda Endorsement Still Up for Grabs!

Friday, October 31st, 2008

It looks like I was a bit premature when I wrote in this space a few days ago about al-Qaeda’s “endorsement” of John McCain. (But the quotation-marks around “endorsement” were back in the original post, too.) From his weblog on the site of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, Bas Benneker informs us that, actually, Al Qaida has also not yet decided. (more…)

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The Witch and the Wardrobe

Friday, October 24th, 2008

The latest presidential campaign kerfluffle – a sort of “Vice’s New Clothes” story, no doubt you’ve already taken the measure of it yourself – concerns the $150,000-or-so that reporters for the site Politico revealed a few days ago has been spent by the Republic National Committee for the clothing, shoeing, coiffing, and make-up-ing of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. While the New York Times in a front-page article speculated whether $150,000 Wardrobe for Palin May Alter Tailor-Made Image, this latest tidbit about the American style of politics found its way out to foreign lands, provoking much comment there.

Within Europe, I’d have to select coverage on the US-elections blog of the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant as among the best (Palin went shopping with GOP credit card), mainly because blogger Bas Benneker suggests that all Palin was doing was taking full advantage of an opportunity that had fallen into her lap (or the lap of her Versace custom-fitted skirt) to pursue the American (Female’s) Dream: (more…)

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White Republicans Don’t Dance

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

So Hurricane Gustav, while bad, was hardly as bad as first feared. That means that the Republican national convention is now back on, as of yesterday, at full force – or at least at as full a force as they can muster while belatedly and unexpectedly putting things back in motion for what is now a three-day assembly. Philippe Remarque is there on the scene in St. Paul, MN for De Volkskrant (a Dutch newspaper, of course; yes, Remarque may have an ultra-French name, but he’s a Dutch reporter), and reports (Republican convention: more whites, less dancing) that the contrast he finds there with last week’s Democratic convention in Denver is like night and day. (more…)

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Palin by Comparison

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

John McCain has made his choice – and a surprising one it was, too, namely Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice-presidential nominee. As observers and interested parties made their way to Dayton, OH yesterday to witness her official presentation as Republican running-mate, even the most-experienced journalists were scrambling to find background material on someone who previously had been a peripheral candidate, at best, to join McCain on the ticket.

If those American journalists had that problem catching up with information on Palin, you can guess the problem was even more acute for the foreign press. Still, European coverage has risen to the challenge with an assortment of treatments of the Alaska governor’s naming – even if I nowhere saw any mention of the budding Alaska state trooper firing scandal that could bring some heavy rain on her parade later on. Anyway, let’s go check that coverage out – starting this time in Poland. (more…)

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Everybody On Board for the Parade!

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

I don’t like to talk about local affairs here except on rare occasions; this is hardly intended to be any sort of “Amsterdam blog.” One of the few things I’ll make an exception for is the “Gay Pride” festival occurring here every first week of August. It is known world-wide, to a considerable extent takes over the city, and features a unique “parade” on the Saturday (today!) that makes its way along the city’s canals (actually, mainly the Prinsengracht), not its streets.

It also enjoys a rather high level of public support. That was perhaps the main point of the article from Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza that I covered here on Tuesday, which noted that, for the first time, a national cabinet minister will be officially present in the parade (namely Ronald Plasterk, of Education, Culture, and Science) as well as an official boat from the police. But it turns out that Gazeta didn’t know the half of it (and probably did not want to know the half of it, in any case): this whole new politician phenomenon has mushroomed so rapidly that not only have plenty other national Dutch lawmakers scrambled to find a place for themselves for today on a Gay Pride boat, but questioning eyebrows are even being raised in the direction of politicians who will not be present. (more…)

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France’s Eye in the Sky

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Meet Elsa: she just celebrated her “coming out” party. Her choice of venue might at first seem strange to you – it was the Milipol Internal State Security Exhibition that was just held in Paris – but not when you realize that Elsa is not a sweet-sixteen debutante, but rather a French-made remotely-piloted, camera-equipped unmanned flying vehicle. She’s not so much into overseas travel – she has no plans to go visit her American-made counterparts in Iraq, for example, mainly because France had the good sense to stay out of there from day one. No, as the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant reports today (Unmanned Aircraft Against Rioters), she’s just a stay-at-home sort of girl – with “far away eyes,” as the Rolling Stones would put it – developed to help the French police keep tabs on evil-doers. (more…)

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“Greatest Dutchman”? You Might Be Surprised

Wednesday, November 17th, 2004

Yes, EuroSavant has been gone for a while. And what a time for such an absence! Just when the assassination of controversial Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh on the American Election Day touched off a wave of violence and counter-violence against places of religious worship here in the Netherlands, suddenly throwing into question in the eyes of the rest of the world this country’s reputation for tolerance. Have we been swept up too much over here in violent street-pogroms against local Muslims to find time to get to our computers to do a little blogging?

Nothing of the sort, of course; the absence has had more to do with unexpected delays in fully implementing a cable-to-ADSL Internet connection transition, which left me access-less for a while in the meantime. And just to make things perfectly clear: that “street-pogroms” phrase above was nothing more than exaggeration for effect. (Could we call it “blogger’s license”?) There’s been actually nothing more here than occasional night-time vandalism attacks on mosques and Muslim schools and churches. Nothing at all like mobs or a “pogrom,” although those incidents are certainly bad enough, of course, and do raise concerns about where this country is going with relations between various immigrant communities and native Netherlanders. At least rest assured that both the prime minister and the Queen herself are on the problem, paying visits to the right places and speaking calming and reasonable words.

Rather than try to follow the day-to-day incidents, I think mention of another happening, reflecting on the political background, is in order. (more…)

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Dutch Friendliness in Iraq Can Mean Vulnerability

Tuesday, August 17th, 2004

Late last Saturday the second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq was killed when the convoy of two vehicles he was riding in was ambushed near Ar-Rumaytah in the South of the country . . .

Stop right there, MAO, you interrupt. The second Dutch soldier to die in Iraq? Look, that’s part of the risks for any military contingent that is there. Are we going to get a bulletin on this weblog every time a Dutch soldier bites the dust, just because you happen to live in their country – this when the total of American dead is pushing 950 and counting? Why don’t you favor us instead with accounts of ten US Marines dying in one day (free registration required), but while on the attack – why don’t you give credit where it’s due for real pain and suffering on a somewhat more significant scale?

You certainly have a point, although articles like the one just linked to (reference thanks to Intel Dump) are in English, so you don’t need my help to know what they say. I really don’t intend to report every Dutch fatality in Iraq; hopefully there won’t be any more, but you have to think that that’s unlikely. More pertinently, though, this latest incident – definitely the most serious violent incident of the entire Dutch occupation presence (so far) – raises interesting questions about the rather different way the Dutch go about their military duties there. (more…)

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Of False Alarms and Attacks Missed

Thursday, July 22nd, 2004

Here in the Netherlands we’ve been on a heightened state of terror-alert for over a week – which is the first time that any EU state has warned its citizens against possible imminent attacks since the train-bombings in Madrid of last March 11. Alex Burghoorn of De Volkskrant takes time out from day-to-day news to examine the general European phenomenon of terror-alerts in the recent article Terror Alarm is a Political Balancing-Act. (more…)

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US Blocks Permanent UN Security Council Seat for Germany

Sunday, July 18th, 2004

I missed this in the Financial Times Deutschland on Friday, and so now the article has retreated beyond that pay-per-view barrier. But luckily the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant caught it in time, and so passes along the FTD’s report that Washington is blocking Germany’s desired permanent seat on the UN Security Council (and presumably the veto that goes along with that). (more…)

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The Netherlands Looks Ahead to its Upcoming EU Presidency

Friday, June 25th, 2004

Euro2004 Championships, sovereignty hand-over in Iraq, etc.: What many people are letting pass them by is the fact that, as of July 1, the EU’s rotating presidency goes to the Netherlands. Most of the on-line Dutch press has ignored this so far, too, but at least De Volkskrant is willing to devote an article to looking ahead at that: The Netherlands “Realistic, but Ambitious” as EU- Chairman. (Yes, it seems the Dutch also refer to the rotating “presidency” as the “chairmanship.”) This mainly reports the presentation Dutch foreign minister B.R. Bot and his state-secretary Atzo Nicolaï gave on Wednesday in Brussels which outlined the Netherlands’ plans for the upcoming six-month “chairmanship.” (more…)

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Dutch Troops to Stay in Iraq

Monday, June 14th, 2004

You’ll be glad to know that the Dutch government approved last Friday an extension to the deployment of that country’s around 1300 troops in Iraq, who otherwise would have packed up and left next month. You may recall that there were increasing doubts about whether having troops there was really such a good thing, especially after the first Dutch soldier was killed last month (coverage of that was itself covered, of course, here in EuroSavant). But now in fact what’s been approved is not the usual six-month extension but one of eight months, until March of 2005 – designed to have Dutch troops in place to help provide security for those Iraqi elections scheduled for next January, plus a safety margin of a number of weeks beyond.

What has made all the difference has been that United Nations Security Council resolution on the transfer of sovereignty back to Iraq that was passed unanimously last week, as an analysis in the NRC Handelsblad by René Moerland and Floris van Straaten makes clear (From Dilemma to Necessity – free registration required). (more…)

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Countdown to the Brussels Summit IV: Fear and Trepidation

Friday, December 12th, 2003

Going into the first day of the EU’s Brussels summit on Friday, the one that is supposed to result in an agreed-upon text for a new Constitutional Treaty, most of the European press is not in an optimistic mood that such an agreement can be reached. The word “miracle” (in whichever local language variant) – as in, what that will likely require – figures prominently in many headlines.

For a review of that European press coverage, I think I’ll just refer you to Deutsche Welle’s English-language “European Press Review” (a link that I myself found out about from the scottymac blog). At least they also cover Austria and Italy, which I don’t, but do allow me to mention the essential superficiality of that press review, in light of the comprehensive reading that I’ve already done of the treatment in today’s European press of the run-up to the summit. (more…)

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The Group of Death: Dutch Reactions

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2003

As many of you know by now, the drawing for the Euro 2004 match-pairings was held last Sunday in Lisbon. Nearly every such football tournament, whether it be for the World Cup or for the European Cup, can be counted on to produce in its run-up the so-called “Group of Death”: i.e. the matching of four national teams in a preliminary group which are of such a high quality that it’s a shame that only two of them will be able to advance further into the knock-out stages of the tournament. (The international football organizations that run such tournaments – FIFA and UEFA, respectively – do their best to pre-cook such drawings with “seeding” arrangements. These are supposed to ensure that each group has a proper mix of teams that are expected to do very well and teams that are not. Of course, one aspect of the charm of such events is that at least one team which, prior to the tournament, had not really been expected to advance, actually ends up doing so, meaning that at least one team that had been expected to do so does not. This generally results in national embarrassment and gnashing-of-teeth, and always in a coaching change.)

Sure enough, the Euro 2004 tournament coming up next summer in Portugal has its own “Group of Death.” Appropriately, that is group D (for “Death”), in which the teams from Germany, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Latvia will play each other in a round-robin arrangement. Germany was the runner-up in 2002’s World Cup competition, only losing to Brazil; and the Dutch and the Czech teams are both highly regarded. (That’s true even though, strangely, both failed to qualify to play in that World Cup tournament in 2002. But the Dutch recently sent the Scottish team packing in a playoff with a 6-0 score. And it was the Czechs who defeated the Dutch and sent them into that playoff in the first place.) For its part, Latvia comes in last in the list of countries expected to win the European Cup compiled by those experts with their financial derrières on the line, namely the book-makers. Still, Turkey was a team that was supposed to be at this tournament, and the fact that they are not is directly attributable to the Latvian team (who no doubt caused substantial losses for the book-makers with their remarkable feat).

As it happens, I have the familiarity with the languages involved to shed some light on the domestic reactions to that “Group of Death” drawing from Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Let’s head off to the Internet, shall we?, on the hunt for football insights which go beyond the standard line of “Yes, it’s a tough group; and we can’t afford to underestimate Latvia.” The Dutch press will be first on our list. (more…)

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Volkskrant Stories From Out of Left Field

Thursday, November 20th, 2003

In its continual quest for innovation, today EuroSavant reverses the matrix, so to speak. (No, not “Matrix” – there will be no more discussion here of that pseudo-philosophical, black-leather-and-Ray-bans film series). Usually I take a topic and go see what newspapers in a given national press have to say about it. Granted, occasionally it’s just “newspaper.” Today, though, I present you reporting from today’s Volkskrant on a couple of topics – a smoker’s responsibility, a singing trash can – mainly because, as far as I can tell, that paper is alone in staying on top of these vital issues.

To start with: Did you know that, when someone who has smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for most of his life dies prematurely from cancer, that is basically his own damn fault? You can read all about it in Gauloises Home-Free from Lung Cancer. (more…)

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An Interim IGC Evaluation: Buy Your Dollars Now!

Tuesday, October 21st, 2003

As varied as the individual details may have been, one theme clearly predominates the preceding accounts on this website, from the French, Dutch, and the Czech press, of the progress of the EU draft Constitution Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) so far. And that is, of course, that there has been virtually none – indeed, that there is even considerable dissatisfaction over the process currently being used to try to gain common agreement on an EU Constitution. (more…)

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Flood of Brussels Complaints in Dutch Press

Saturday, October 18th, 2003

If the Dutch on-line press is any indication, opinion in the Netherlands over the results of the just-completed European summit in Brussels (which was supposed to make progress towards a final European Constitution) is no higher than in France (covered in the following entry). Indeed, these articles offer some key updates to developments. (more…)

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Israel Said to Plan Strike Against Iran

Monday, October 13th, 2003

The current most-talked-about press-scoop about current conditions in the Middle East belongs to the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel. A search on Google News indicates that scattered English-language periodicals have picked up on its eyebrow-raising report from last Saturday. (I first became aware of it via the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant.) As before, when Al Gore cited in a speech a damning interview about the Bush administration’s economic policies in Der Spiegel by top American economist George A. Akerlof, EuroSavant is glad to step in to assist its English-speaking audience. (more…)

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The New NATO Secretary-General (For Next Year)

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2003

Open the envelope, and the winner is . . . Jaap de Hoop Scheffer for next Secretary-General of NATO! And so the Netherlands contributes its third Secretary-General in the history of the Atlantic Alliance, the first two (as only NATO trivia-buffs will know) having been Dirk Stikker and Joseph Luns. Me, I’m slightly disappointed since I was looking forward to seeing the Norwegian Defense Minister, Kristin Krohn Devold, named instead as NATO’s first female Secretary-General. The New York Times Magazine, in a hagiographical article about her that it published back on August 24, virtually promised that this would happen. (That article has by now retreated behind the NYT’s paid archives-access gate; if you think you might like to pay to see it, the link is here.)

No, its Jaap de Hoop Scheffer instead – and surely it’s time here for a survey of the Dutch press to find out how the thinking-class in Holland is reacting to one of its own being picked out for such a crucial international position. What sort of a politician is he? What qualities will he bring to NATO? What is Holland losing by having him (temporarily) plucked away from its political scene? After all, he is currently the Dutch Foreign Affairs minister; and he used to be head of the CDA, the right-wing, somewhat Christian-oriented (“Christian lite,” anybody? – as opposed to the more “hard-core” Christian parties EuroSavant has briefly discussed before) political party which is now the Netherlands’ largest and whose current leader, Jan-Peter Balkenende (the man who replaced De Hoop Scheffer), is prime minister. (more…)

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