Noted in today’s NYT:
“It’s sad, but stuff like what happened here is part of being in Detroit,” Sam Daniels said from his post at the register behind bulletproof glass at Happy’s Pizza.
Noted in today’s NYT:
“It’s sad, but stuff like what happened here is part of being in Detroit,” Sam Daniels said from his post at the register behind bulletproof glass at Happy’s Pizza.
One bit of news that mostly slipped under the radar earlier this week was the release of a report by leading Pakistani officials, said to be two years in the making, concerning how it could have been possible for Osama Bin Laden to have lived in Pakistan for so long – for around nine years, in fact – during a period when he was the world’s undisputed Public Enemy #1, with EVERY BIT of the humongous US intelligence establishment searching actively for him along with any number of allied intelligence agencies. Not to include the “allied” Pakistani intelligence agency, however, the ISI, the one that really would have mattered.
No, instead this report cites “culpable negligence and incompetence at almost all levels of government” for the failure of the ISI to realize that, for most of this period, Osama was holed up in a walled compound in Abbottabad, only 110 km north of the capital Islamabad and in fact the city where no less than the Pakistani Officers’ Academy (that is, the Pakistani equivalent of West Point) is situated!
It was a four-man commission that wrote this report, according to the New York Times account, namely a judge on the Pakistani Supreme Court joined by a retired police officer, army general and diplomat. In their report these eminent gentlemen “allowed for the possibility that some security officials had covertly helped Bin Laden,” stating at one point that “[c]onnivance, collaboration and cooperation at some levels cannot be entirely discounted.” The Washington Post account cites their conclusion that “[t]he failure was primarily an intelligence-security failure that was rooted in political irresponsibility.” Indeed, both news pieces state that this report from the so-called Abbottobad Commission was never meant to be made public, that the only reason we are hearing about it now is that al-Jazeera managed to get hold of a copy and publish it on their website.
That is all well and good. But all of us can understand how “secret” reports can ultimately and intentionally find their way to public exposure nonetheless. I’d like to suggest that that is what happened here: this is nothing but a whitewash, yet another distraction which has successfully kept the cruel truth from sinking in among the American public that a leading “ally,” to whom the US Treasury has paid some $18 billion in military and economic aid since the September 11 attacks, deliberately and systematically hid the main perpretator behind those attacks, and continuously lied in response to any and all enquiries. Here, I’ll let Jon Stewart explain, who as you’ll see had somewhat of a personal stake in the matter:
[Sorry, I removed this video – and took WAY too long in doing so, apologies – because it had the tendencey to “auto-play” when readers visited this page. The link is here, if you’re interested; the gist is that Jon Stewart remarks on how he had been lied to re: Osama Bin Laden when interviewing former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf on a past show.]
Fine, then, this Abbottabad report is little more than a 336-page steaming pile of misinformation. That doesn’t mean that it can’t have useful bits here and there. Human interest angles, for example – like it seems that Osama Bin Laden himself was stopped in Pakistan for a traffic violation, for speeding, “but the police officer failed to recognize him and let him go.” That last bit is from the NYT piece, but that’s about all there is there about that. And there is nothing about any traffic violation incident in the Washington Post account. (more…)
The New York Times recently featured a piece particularly interesting to those of us obsessed with cataloguing US-Europe cultural differences, one by Elisabeth Rosenthal headlined Across Europe, Irking Drivers is Urban Policy. “The methods vary,” Ms. Rosenthal writes, “but the mission is clear – to make car use expensive and just plain miserable enough to tilt drivers toward more environmentally-friendly modes of transportation.” Why, how dare they?
The article is datelined Zurich (sic; the place properly spells its name “Zürich”), and most details about this supposed pan-European conspiracy against the automobile do come from out of that city. But now Zürich has caught notice and offers a reply, in the form of this editorial by Martin Meyer in its flagship newspaper, the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, for which the headline writer – probably not Meyer himself – latches onto the available racy double-meaning to craft the snappy title “Zürich, Red-Light District.”
Goodness sakes – to paraphrase the way Meyer starts out his piece – Zürich is front-page news on the International Herald Tribune*! How come? Why, it’s because of the “torture” (Folter) we impose on our drivers! Making them stop repeatedly at deliberately-unsynchronized red lights! Slowing them down to a snails’ pace – when they’re allowed at all – near main city squares! He remarks on the behutsam empörte Verblüffung (“circumspectly indignant bewilderment”) of Ms. Rosenthal’s writing-tone, saying that “like Gulliver in the Land of the Giants, she gradually submits to a morality that, in the name of a philosophical superiority, knows what is right and what is wrong.”
Then again – is Zürich truly in the avant-garde when it comes to “transforming cold asphalt on-the-move into blooming zones of [pedestrian] comfort”? as Meyer asks elsewhere. His civic modesty here is touching, but he also has a real point: other European cities would have made better case studies. (You have to pay just to drive into Oslo, for example, or into London for that matter!) In other words, there was really no need for Zürich to gain this minor, but still probably undesired international notoriety in the eyes of the IHT’s/NYT’s affluent, influential readers.
* Yes, it’s strange that Meyer mentions the IHT when in reality Ms. Rosenthal’s article originated with the New York Times, which provides most of the IHT’s content! Was it just a mistake, or can it really be that the IHT name still carries more prestige in European circles?
Just like mushrooms popping up after spring rainfall (at least as they do here in Northern European climes) comes a new journalistic phenomenon: some pre-planned world-scale event occurs in China (e.g. the 2008 Olympics, the recent opening of the Shanghai World Expo) and is immediately followed by articles in the American press taking a bemused look at the stumbles of the Chinese as they try to come to grips with the English language, efforts that produce something usually termed “Chinglish.” The latest instance of this is a recent article in the NYT together with the almost-indispensable accompanying slide-show displaying some prime Chinglish examples (e.g. “Slip and fall down carefully”).
It’s often pretty funny stuff. Then again, another thought may come to anyone inclined to think about such things a bit more deeply. (And/or to those quick to take offense – or are these two cohorts actually one-and-the-same?) Could it be that the “paper of record” of one great civilization is, in effect, mocking the citizens of yet another for their well-intentioned struggles in navigating the former’s language? When, in fact, relations between these two great civilizations are of possibly the most crucial importance to world peace as well as progress on most other global-scale problems (e.g. environment, trade, financial regulation)? (more…)
Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely stray from the functional description given in its tag: “Commentary on the European non-English-language press.” Naturally, I make this assertion as the prelude to one rare instance where I violate that mandate. In mitigation, though, it should also be fairly obvious how close to the functioning of this blog issues of translation are, which moves me to bring up for discussion the “I, Translator” article by Princeton Translation Program director David Bellos published in last Saturday’s New York Times.
As you might expect, the growing capability of machine translation (with the translation facilities provided for free by Google in the vanguard) presents me with a number of fairly challenging questions. Did I simply waste all that time of my past, of my precious youth, learning the various languages that I claim to be able to use at present? (And am I wasting it now as I continue to study others? I’m afraid I can’t stop myself.) Are the translation assignments I occasionally get to earn a bit of money fated to dry up? Is there indeed any point anymore to a weblog supplying “Commentary on the European non-English-language press” when anyone can now plug any given article into Google Translate and read it? (I still don’t believe that last part is actually true.) With these worries in the back of your mind, you expectantly click on an article like I, Translator, one that purports to defend human translation and foreign language capabilities, hoping for a encouraging ego-boost for the home team, for your side, for those who master foreign languages the old-fashioned way. I mean, hey, this is from a Princeton guy!
Did anyone else suffer as bitter a sense of disappointment at what the article actually turned out to say as I did? As for you, Mr. Bellos – Did it have to be so hard? All you needed to do was provide a convincing listing (and explanation) of machine translation’s disadvantages vis-à-vis human translation, maybe with a few disadvantages in the other direction thrown in at the end to preserve an even-handed, judicious aura. What we got instead was almost the opposite. Machine translation (although from Carnegie-Mellon, not Google) saved lives in the Haitian earthquake! Google should be OK “for maybe 95 percent of all utterances,” probably even for use in translating lower-quality literature that “employ[s] only repeated formulas” in its language.
Damn, Mr. Bellos, you’ve given away most of the store by this point; what’s left, if anything, that human translators would be able to do better? True “literary translation” is what’s left, “works that are truly original – and therefore worth translating,” although even then “human beings have a hard time of it, too,” i.e. will still be liable to get things wrong. Gee, thanks. Of course, three paragraphs previously we already learned that there’s no need to use machines for literary translations anyway, since there are more than enough humans ready to do that work. Bellos seems to lose sight of the fundamental consideration that, although there are more than enough human translators available, all or most of them will demand to be paid for the work, while machines will not.
Add in the various other sloppy elements here – “two important limitations” to statistical machine translation are announced, but it’s never clear what the second one is; there’s a brief history given of machine translation, but one of doubtful relevance especially when space is at a premium in a high-profile column like this – and one comes to the end desperately hoping that Bellos did actually deliver a convincing treatment of the whole translation question but that it fell victim to brutal disfigurement at the hands of a human editor prior to publication. (It does not seem to have been fact-checked, in any case; see the appended error correction about Warren/William Weaver.) As it stands, with public advocates like this, those of us who remain exponents (and practicers) of human translation certainly stand in no need of any more detractors.
Hope you’ll forgive me for going off-(blog)topic here. The last time I visited the US, one task on my list was to go to a doctor’s office to get a physical check-up. But the way the receptionist answering the phone at the first place I called went immediately and without invitation into a long introductory spiel about which insurance schemes they accepted and which they didn’t (I was a foreigner: I was simply ready to pay cash) put me off so, that I gave up on the whole idea.
Now we read on-line in the New York Times (Cost Dispute Halts Airlift of Injured Haiti Quake Victims) how US authorities have stopped evacuations of critically-injured Haitian earthquake victims to American hospitals because of a dispute about who will pay for their care. One doctor in charge of a nonprofit foundation assisting in Haitian relief efforts is quoted as calling this delay potentially catastrophic for these sufferers.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you: Health Care Provision – American style! Cut out this crap: Send them on to Canada, or else over to France, where I am (sincerely) sure they will gladly be attended to properly.
But wait – who’s gonna pay for the extra fuel and aircraft wear-and-tear involved in diverting the medevac flights that way? Well, I’m sure there are some French planes there at Port-au-Prince as well, or could be if the American authorities in charge of the airport will allow them to land.
UPDATE: A subsequent NYT article of Sunday, 31 January 2010 now states that the primary reason American medevac flights from Haiti were suspended is because US facilities for treating these patients – mainly in Florida – were simply being overwhelmed. Nevertheless, it does mention Florida governor Charlie Crist mentioning specific financial considerations in a letter he wrote about the situation to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.
As those of us keeping track of such things know, the mild, non-binding agreement that emerged out of last month’s COP15 UN climate-change conference in Copenhagen was disappointing to many. Just imagine how much it fell short of the expectations of those island countries, like the Maldives, whose very existence is threatened by the rising sea-levels global warming brings!
But now one of those island nations, the Federated States of Micronesia (that’s who you turn to for your “.fm” Internet domain), has found a novel way to do something about it. I first caught word of this from the Some Assembly Required blog, which provided a link to an article in the New York Times sourced to Reuters (so it must be true, eh?). There you can read all about it: The Micronesia government is trying to intervene to influence the re-commissioning of a coal-fired power plant – one located in Prunéřov, Czech Republic, or around 13,000 km away! It has expressed this intention in two official government-to-government letters, one sent last month (while the Copenhagen conference was going on, apparently), and the second (laying out the technical details of what it objects to in the plant) just last week.
I’ve been able to find Czech-press coverage of this rather extraordinary episode only in that country’s main business newspaper, Hospodářské noviny. But that coverage is pretty thorough. There is a main article, telling the story: Micronesia: Prunéřov is [just] one of a thousand power plants, but it still is damaging us. In addition HN has an exclusive interview in a second piece (conducted by an unnamed reporter) with Andrew Yatilman, Minister of the Environment for Micronesia (We are fighting for our lives, Prunéřov is just our first act, says Micronesian minister).
Actually, in contrast to the impression of cool rage that that headline might give you, you’re really struck much more in the interview by how ad hoc this effort is on the part of the Micronesian government – how they are feeling their way as they go along in this legal initiative without precedent. For instance, Greenpeace (as you might expect) has had a big influence in this whole thing: it was protests carried out in front of the Prunéřov plant in question by Czech Greenpeace activists last month that inspired the idea in the first place, and Greenpeace has cooperated closely with the Micronesian government in providing both legal and technical advice. Will you be trying this with other plants, other governments? asks the reporter. For sure, Yatilman replies, although only after this episode is over and we have a chance to learn from the experience. (Note well that Micronesia is not going so far as to demand that the Czech government shut down the plant, it is only asking to be included in the process for granting it approval to re-open, so it can insist on a range of anti-CO2 emission safeguards.) Are any other island nations ready to join you in these efforts? I don’t know yet, Yatilman replies.
The interview concludes with a bit of unwitting comedy, as the HN reporter inquires whether Minister Yatilman is aware of the attitudes towards global warming of the Czech President, Václav Klaus. He is not; HN informs him how Klaus denies that global warming even exists, that he’s one of the world’s most-prominent climate change deniers. “Good that you say that,” replies Yatilman,
because we got a letter from the Czech Republic that purported to be from the president. But we didn’t really believe that. It wasn’t written on any letterhead stationery and it tried to find out why we were doing what we are doing. As if we weren’t a sovereign state. Underneath was some signature, but whether it was from your president, I don’t know. In any case we didn’t take it seriously.
Attention scriptwriters! It’s been almost seven months already: why have we yet to see any forthcoming screenplay about the four Uighurs (i.e. western Chinese Muslims) who were released from solitary at Guantánamo after seven years there (they were absolutely innocent of anything even resembling terrorist activities – goes without saying) straight to lovely Bermuda? Just consider this text from Erik Eckholm’s New York Times article:
In newly purchased polo shirts and chinos [har har!], the four husky men, members of a restive ethnic minority from western China, might blend in except for their scruffy beards. Smelling hibiscus flowers, luxuriating in the freedom to drift through scenic streets and harbors, they expressed wonder at their good fortune in landing here after a captivity that included more than a year in solitary confinement.
“I went swimming in the ocean for the first time ever yesterday, and it was the happiest day of my life,” said Salahidin Abdulahat, 32.
C’mon, I mean it practically writes itself! Call the film “The Four Uighurs”; Johnny Depp, in scruffy beard, stars as Abdulahat, who winds up working every day in a wetsuit training dolphins to undertake military missions for the Royal Navy from the nearby naval base. His three buddies eventually pool their earnings from work in private gardens and at popsicle-stands to open up their own seaside camping-ground, which they name Camp Delta. Trouble arrives in the form of a restaurant (originally called “Git Ma,” Chinese for “enemy combatant”) started up in the neighborhood by a pair of Cantonese immigrant families. In the end, though, through various hijinks and comic situations everyone learns to live together again in sun-struck island harmony – in fact, Depp even mentors one dolphin with a surprising aptitude for performing point-to-point coastal Chinese take-out deliveries. Take it from there . . .
Maybe you can’t handle writing about an island situation for some reason? Fine, then consider instead the story of another set of Uighurs from Guantánamo, reported on today in the Dutch newspaper Trouw, whom the Obama administration wants to release into yet another sort of strange, paradise-like environment, namely the alpine hills and valleys of Switzerland. This real-life story, alas, comes with no guaranteed happy ending. As Trouw reports, the Swiss are willing enough to accept the former inmates (two of them this time; completely innocent, of course) to try to get back in the good graces of the Obama administration after some prior trouble involving American demands that the Swiss give up their bank-account secrecy. But the Chinese authorities are objecting here, and have warned the Swiss government against taking them. They say that the Uighurs are legitimate terror-suspects after all, and the only place they should go henceforth is back to China for trial.
This scenario could well end up a tragedy, for you can well imagine the “trial” and generally-unpleasant reception the Chinese have prepared for these men. Unfortunately, the recent record of the Swiss of letting themselves be pushed around is not good: there is still an embarrassing dispute ongoing with Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, involving a public apology to Libya by the Swiss president and two Swiss businessmen still held in Tripoli and about to face trial there on trumped-up charges.
Too many articles from Germany have been brought up for discussion lately in this forum, I know. But I still want to briefly discuss the treatment by Thierry Chervel of Rupert Murdoch’s recent announcement that people will soon have to pay for access to his on-line journalistic properties. (And that treatment is to be found on the perlentaucher.de website – German for “pearl-diver” – that isn’t even any recognized newspaper but rather just an on-line “culture magazine”!)
Right then, Murdoch has announced he will be putting his properties’ content behind a pay-wall soon, and the New York Times is reportedly considering the same thing. You can cut to the chase and read Chervel’s summing-up of his reaction in a paragraph at the mid-point of his piece: “A few years ago the withdrawal of newspapers from the free Net would still have been painful, today one would miss a few sources, but the Internet has also developed sources and formats that would quickly compensate for that loss.”
He cites the New York Times and the Guardian as the best newspapers currently around. Why? Because they have so successfully woven together what’s on paper and what’s on-line. For example, you can read the Times’ review of a particular book in the paper edition, and then go on-line to read the free extract from that work itself (and then of course click on over to Amazon to purchase it, if you desire). Chervel is particularly enamored of the Times’ “Lede” news blog, which did in fact distinguish itself covering the Iranian civil demonstrations back in the second half of June. (more…)
Even as the remaining Somali pirate involved in last week’s dramatic hostage stand-off with the US Navy has arrived in New York to be put on trial there, further developments in the Indian Ocean have put the differences between the US and European approaches to the problem in stark relief. For last weekend the Dutch military and then the Canadians each captured a number of Somali pirates and then concluded that there was nothing they could do with them but let them go. As the leading Dutch daily the NRC Handelsblad reported in its coverage of the Dutch foreign minister’s visit to Washington at about the same point in time, these episodes contributed to some awkwardness in that encounter with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who noted that such actions were “not a good signal.”
I know you might be busy with your Easter holiday weekend – but any chance you have been keeping up with the latest pirate-saga going on just off the coast of Somalia? The news from there could get very exciting, very soon, since not only the US Navy but also the pirates are reported to be dispatching ships to the spot on the high seas where a lifeboat from the ship Maersk Alabama containing pirates and their hostage, that ship’s captain, Richard Phillips, currently is in a face-off with the US destroyer U.S.S. Bainbridge. Meanwhile, around last midnight Phillips tried to jump out of that lifeboat and swim to the Bainbridge, but was recaptured by the pirates. There’s plenty of coverage about all of this in the various European national presses, but the latest article from the New York Times provides a pretty complete account of what is going on there as well.
The second-order discussion here, of course, is over what can be done to eradicate these dangerous maritime nuisances, who since the latter part of last year have become particularly audacious. If you have any ideas and are looking to get into a discussion, then you can of course e-mail me at this weblog, and/or you can resort to fora from the New York Times or the BBC. In the meantime, though, the Danish legislature (the Folketing) has an official solution that it would like brought up before the United Nations, as reported in Berlingske Tidende (Danish proposal should go to UN).
It should be no surprise that the Danes already have a solution to propose, for at least two reasons: 1) The Danes come out of an activist, Protestant, we-can-change-the-world-if-we-try culture that finds it impossible to encounter a problem like this and just shrug its shoulders and move on, and 2) They are heavily involved in international shipping. Indeed, that container ship at the center of the current stand-off, the Maersk Alabama, is owned by a Danish conglomerate, the A.P. Møller-Mærsk Group. The Folketing’s plan was drawn up by the Danish Institute for Military Studies, and it’s a fairly simple one, that starts with the establishment of a regional coast guard for the Somali coast, with start-up costs paid for by the UN, that can serve to warn passing shipping about the specific presence of pirates. But the second essential element is the establishment of some sort of court, with a firm basis in international law to be able to try pirates for their crimes. For one glaring problem is that, too often, Western naval personnel who have actually captured pirates have basically had to throw them right back, like fish that local gaming regulations won’t allow you to keep. We’ve covered this particular problem before here, and this does raise the question about – even if some sort of international court is established to try the pirates – who will be responsible for ensuring that whatever punishment that court prescribes is actually carried out? That point still seems to be a hole in the Danish proposal.
Anyway, though, a parliamentary majority is in place in the Folketing to send it on its way to the UN, although some doubts were expressed by the defense spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, who worried that sending such a proposal to the UN was the quickest way to make sure it got stuck in bureaucracy and went nowhere.
If this is Saturday, and you’re the American president, then that countryside you see down below, outside of the windows of Air Force One, must be the Czech Republic. Yes, today Obama and entourage flies on to Prague, and Dan Bilefsky in the New York Times already has the details about how he has the tricky task before him of visiting a country’s capital while taking care to have very little to do with top leaders of the government there – and pulling all this off without seeming impolite or ungrateful for the hospitality. The first trick involves invoking a presidential desire for a night off in scenic Prague, to grab the chance for an intimate dinner with Michelle at a “secret location,” in order to avoid any extended encounter-over-a-meal with either Prime Minister Mirek Topolánek (who publicly labeled Obama’s domestic budget plans a “road to hell”* only a few days ago; is a rather stolid, apparatchik-type guy anyway; speaks little English – and, most vitally, is now but a “caretaker” prime minister after his government fell this past week) or President Václav Klaus (speaks excellent English, now is in whip-hand position to determine composition of the next Czech government – but who could also bring on an attack of extreme presidential indigestion, no matter how excellent the food served, with his outspoken and negative opinions about the EU and climate change; for more about this in English, from the Economist, see here). (more…)
Remember Tuzla Air Base in Bosnia-Herzegovina – where brave Hillary Clinton landed while under gunfire while trying to visit US troops in 1996? Except that she wasn’t remotely under fire, etc. Well, I’ve got bad news: Hillary’s on-again, off-again relationship with Truth is creeping back to the latter, if we can credit today’s New York Times article about the “gag gift” Clinton brought along to break the ice at her first meeting as Secretary of State yesterday with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov.
What it was, was a red plastic button labeled “peregruzka” (that’s presumably перегрузка), which was supposed to be a “reset button” for US-Russian relations, a phrase Vice-President Biden had used in that context a month ago at the annual Munich Security Conference. “We worked hard to get the right Russian word,” Hillary said as she gave it to Lavrov. “Do you think we got it?” To which Lavrov replied, “You got it wrong.” (more…)
Did the New York Times editors really begin a paragraph in a collective editorial on the website today with “Whomever [sic] the recipients are, they should be investigated . . .”? It appears that they did (it’s the eighth paragraph down).
Shocking! Look, my intent here is certainly not to fire a rhetorical volley against the mainstream media (MSM), of which the NYT is of course the foremost representative. (That would anyway be outside the remit I have set for this weblog, namely “Commentary on the European non-English-language Press” . . . oops, looks like it’s too late for that now!) It’s clear that EuroSavant critically depends on the MSM, although usually its foreign-language variant, for the very justification of our existence. (I would expect that the relationship be viewed as commensal rather than parasitic.) I definitely wish the NYT and all its MSM brethren well, whether they are of direct use to this weblog or not. It’s just that one defense of their continued existence has been their higher standards, of reporting, of accuracy – of proofreading, too. Yet on this evidence it seems that cutbacks on staff at the Grey Lady have reached the point where they don’t even have a copy-editor available to review their leaders, or at least one familiar with the difference between the subjective and objective cases.
(Hat-tip to Talking Points Memo, who nonetheless either did not feel it incumbent on themselves to insert a “[sic]” after the offending “Whomever” or else somehow also did not notice it.)
UPDATE: Aha! I just happened to look again at the offending NYT editorial a week later, on Tuesday 10 March, and that “Whomever” has been corrected! Of course, there is no indication anywhere by the NYT editors that they actually changed anything in this piece after it first appeared on their website, other than that vague statement at the bottom that “A version of this article appeared in print . . .” BTW, just in case you don’t believe me that “Whomever” was there originally, you can check out the quotation of that editorial in Talking Points Memo, where it remains.
Darn, I was enjoying this article from the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on the recent messy collision, 805 km up in space, of an American communications satellite with a Soviet communications satellite (the latter presumably inactive; then again, we also are all forced to presume that they were innocuous, civilian-type satellites when the truth could be different). And I was seized with this powerful EuroSavant-type urge to just blast off and tell y’all alllll about it!
But then I realized that the main source of information for the article was NASA. (Of course it would be NASA, who else? The Polish space agency? Jacek from Bialystok with the telescope set up in his backyard?) So why wouldn’t this news also be out already into the usual American channels?
I had to go check this out with Google News, and of course it was. You’d be much better off reading the NYT piece by William J. Broad, so go there – it’s alright, just go. Still, at the time I checked that NYT article was listed by Google News as appearing only “1 hour ago”!
The funniest sort of scandal erupted this past week in Brussels, in connection with the brand-new (and first-time) Czech presidency of the European Union. Have you heard of this? The New York Times has its account here. It had to do with a huge sculpture that the Czech government commissioned for erection at the building that houses the European Council, one that – as you would expect – was supposed to reflect in some way upon on the EU and its member-states. But the Czechs made a key mistake in entrusting the task to the (Czech) artist David Černý. As the sculpture was set up over the weekend, for completion by Monday, it soon became clear that there was something very wrong; by the time the dedication ceremony was supposed to happen on Thursday, yesterday (and it did), controversy was flying thick and fast.
What were the Czech authorities in charge of EU relations thinking? Černý, after all (whose last name simply means “black”), has always been notorious, it’s accurate to say, rather than just “famous” within the Czech cultural world, bursting onto that scene in 1991 by painting the tank constituting a Soviet war-memorial in Prague a shocking pink color in one daring night-time raid. Although he was briefly arrested for that, that pink tank became a metaphor for the wacky, world-turned-upside down ambiance of the Czech Republic, and Prague in particular, in the years immediately after the 1989 “Velvet Revolution.” Barely pausing to catch his breath, Černý went on to produce a series of additional eye-catching works of sculpture, a few of which you can appreciate on his Wikipedia page. Those “tower babies,” for example: you can pick them out crawling all over the gigantic TV tower, itself located in the Prague 3 district, from much of the rest of the city. And that “riding a dead horse” statue is mighty big and impressive in its own right – look for it at the internal shopping-and-movie-theater-area located within the Lucerna building at the corner of Wenceslas Square and Vodičkova Street (a magnificent building once owned by Václav Havel himself, built by his father – also named Václav Havel). (more…)
Presidential or Parliamentary? The question of which system makes for a more effective and truly representative government has engaged political scientists for many years, but make no mistake: it also has some serious real-world consequences. Right now, with the Bush administration headed towards the history books stained by torture, illegal wiretapping, Katrina, Iraq, financial collapse, a corrupt Dept. of Justice, etc., etc., the presidential model is most assuredly under some disfavor. (Oh, and the presidential system also results in excruciatingly-long lame-duck periods waiting for the new chief executive to take power that are really inconsistent with the speed of events in the modern day. See this recent New York Times article for a solution to that that was contemplated in the past, but which Bush has nowhere near the intelligence nor love-of-country to implement now.) But a recent article in the authoritative German daily Die Welt by Jan Dams (Financial crisis: Glos provokes Merkel and Steinbrück) reminds us of many of the defects of the parliamentary system, especially during economically perilous times. (more…)
These are weird times; governments around the world are doing some strange things, generally in response to urgent budgetary pressures. You might have read in the New York Times about how the Australian navy is about to let its sailors go off on a two-month leave – the report was even on the homepage of that newspaper’s website for a time. And now word comes from the Dutch newspaper Trouw: Athens government to free half of its prisoners.
(It’s true that articles of this sort referencing happenings in another European country would usually cause me to go to that other country’s on-line press to seek more first-hand reports there, but in this case all I can do is plead “It’s all Greek to me!”)
That’s around 6,000 convicted criminals that the Greek authorities are planning to release, pending approval by parliament, according to an announcement by Sotiris Hatzigakis, the Greek Justice Minister. But there may be another 1,500 added to that if he also is allowed to institute another measure reducing the allowable duration of what the Trouw report (credited to the ANP press agency) terms “temporary custody,” which I interpret to mean pre-trial detention – so at least many of those added 1,500 may not be actual lawbreakers.
Why do they want to do this? Overcrowding. If 6,000 is the half, then that means that there are around 12,000 inmates in Greek jails, which the article reports have an official capacity of only 7,500. And how can they be sure that the jails won’t just fill up to bursting again? Well, it seems that drugs laws in Greece are somewhat stricter than the EU norm. (Who would have thought it?) “In the long run,” as the Trouw article puts it (op de lange termijn), the parliament is supposed to take up the task of adjusting those laws accordingly.
It was heartening to read, from this European vantage-point, the article about Suddenly, Europe Looks Pretty Smart in the New York Times last Saturday, mainly describing the European “bailout plan that has now set the pace for Washington, not the other way around, as had been customary for decades.” At the same time, so far the poster-child victim of the financial crisis has been poor Iceland, a country that is rapidly running out of foreign exchange with which to pay for any imports and so is in contact with the International Monetary Fund for a rescue. But Iceland has gotten some company in the IMF petitioners’ ante-room recently from (among others, but just to name a European country) Hungary. The three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – are likely soon to join them there, although of course the European Union is also offering its own assistance.
So Europe may look “pretty smart,” but still European countries can suddenly find themselves in a deep financial hole in the present dire international conditions – yes, even EU member-states like Hungary and the Baltics. The one common denominator that seems to remove a European state from vulnerability, though, is membership of the Euro-zone, i.e. those 15 states out of the 27 member-states of the EU who use the euro as their common currency. Hannes Gamillscheg of the Frankfurter Rundschau recently picked up on this phenomenon (The guardians of the crown – alone) but from the point-of-view of a couple of those countries now outside the Euro-zone who in the past have explicitly rejected opportunities to come inside, namely Denmark and Sweden. (So the “crown” in the article’s title refers to the two different “crowns” that are those countries’ currencies.) (more…)
The big news today is the Bush administration’s proposed $750 billion+ plan to address current turmoil in the US financial markets by giving the Treasury Department authority to purchase bank assets. Even as this is being written, hearings are taking place before the US Senate’s Banking Committee featuring the two main agents of the American government’s rescue plan, namely Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke.
As befits this blog’s name, though, we like to take a Euro or at least international perspective on things whenever we can, and there are certainly such angles to this story. In fact, the two I can detect are attractively symmetrical. On the one hand, Treasury Secretary Paulson announced that foreign-owned banks active in the US capital markets will also be eligible to exchange faltering financial assets for American cash via the proposed “bail-out” facility. On the other, administration officials are starting to look to foreign treasuries to contribute funds towards this bail-out.
On this seventh anniversary-day of the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, the top news-story is probably the joint appearance at Ground Zero by the two main US presidential candidates. In addition to whatever they may have to say, the occasion will be worth savoring for the all-too-temporary respite it should provide in the ugly partisanship that has prevailed as of late (e.g. the utterly-contrived “lipstick-on-a-pig” contretemps). I hope to be able to cover foreign observations of and reactions to that Ground Zero ceremony in this space sometime in the coming days.
For today, though, I think that it would be suitable to turn our attention to the supposed ultimate source of that al-Qaeda attack, and also the first target for retribution by US forces in its aftermath. That is of course Afghanistan, or specifically al-Qaeda as embedded within a Taliban host environment. Actually, putting it that way shifts the proper focus a slight bit from Afghani territory per se to the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) of Pakistan lying along the Afghani border. These are hardly “federally administered,” they are in fact a region completely out of the control of the Pakistani government, where various varieties of “neo-Taliban” and Muslim fundamentalist forces are based (including, it is thought, what is left of al-Qaeda), and from which these forces sally forth to attack NATO forces in Afghanistan.
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…)
On Tuesday negotiations of the “Doha round” being held in Geneva by representatives of the world’s major trading nations, under the rubric of the World Trade Organization (WTO), resulted in a break-up of the meeting with failure to reach any new agreement. Olivier le Bussy, writing for the Belgian daily La Libre Belgique, tackles the question remaining on all observers’ lips: And Now What Do We Do? (more…)
The French weekly newsmagazine L’Express has taken up the new mini-dispute about whether the US press has abandoned its previous love for John McCain in favor of Barack Obama (John McCain, the Unloved One of the Media?).
(Bizarrely, the publication information at the article’s head indicates it was put on-line on Monday, which was before many of the developments that it discusses – such as the McCain campaign’s release of the mocking “Obama Love” videos – actually occurred!)
As the lede leads: “The Republican candidate for the presidential election, whose opinion piece about Iraq was ‘censored’ by the New York Times, is feeling unloved . . . Or at least less loved than his Democratic rival, Barack Obama, by the American media. In his latest campaign [film] clips he turns on some star journalists with derision.” (more…)
Some things in life are entirely predictable. The sun comes up in the morning to the East; bears carry out their excretive functions in the woods; the Pope admits to being a practicing Catholic; and, one after the other, riders in the Tour de France are caught and banned from the race for doping offenses. The latest two-wheeled transgressor, Riccardo Ricco – not to be confused with Cuban band leader and husband-of-redhead Ricky Ricardo – had actually already won two of the Tour’s stages; his ejection from the competition led his entire team, Saunier Duval-Scott, to voluntary withdraw from the Tour as well. (Oh, and I’m reminded of yet another entirely predictable thing by the line in that New York Times article linked to above that reads “On Sunday, after Ricco’s second stage victory, he angrily denied allegations that he had suspect blood levels or that there was any reason for him to be targeted by French antidoping officials.”) (more…)
Next Monday, 11 February, is promising to be quite an eventful day on the Gazprom front – that’s of course the gigantic Russan natural gas company, the largest extractor of natural gas in the world, of which the Russian government owns a majority stake. On the one hand, it’s the same-old same-old, what we’ve all seen before, for Monday is the day that Russia, speaking for Gazprom, will cut off all natural gas supplies to the Ukraine due to alleged non-payment by the latter of $1.5 billion. Curiously, Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko has been scheduled for some time to arrive in Moscow for a visit on Tuesday. At least he’ll be glad to be away from his native country and someplace instead where it’s actually warm inside the buildings, though one can imagine that the diplomatic talks he will engage in might still be rather frosty.
But that is all par for the course for a European winter; I can remember recently thinking to myself “Hmm, it’s already February – shouldn’t we have had the regularly-scheduled Russian energy cut-off crisis by now?” More interesting is that next Monday is also the evening of the going-away concert in honor of Dimitri Medvedev – Gazprom chairman now, but Vladimir Putin’s “recommended” candidate for president of the Russian Federation at the upcoming March 2 elections, and therefore also a shoo-in as the next Russian president. The concert will be headlined by the legendary English rock-n-roll band Deep Purple, and this was recently commented upon in the New York Time’s weblog “The Lede: Notes on the News,” by Mike Nizza, who notes that Putin himself will surely be present as well. (more…)
Oh, what might have been! . . . what might have happened on the coasts ringing the eastern Indian Ocean last Sunday, as the killer tidal waves launched by the undersea earthquake approached them, if there had been better warning! Yes, people would still have died, but it’s reasonable to think that far fewer would have than those enumerated in the ever-rising death-toll (now over 40,000, and still rising).
Many of you will have already seen today’s New York Times editorial on the subject, which quite reasonably points out that, while the Pacific Ocean has long had a tsunami early-warning system (based in Honolulu), the Indian Ocean has nothing like that. But Iver Houmark Andersen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has a bit more to add in Vital Minutes Were Lost. (more…)
How are things these days in Fallujah? – you remember, that hotbed of Iraqi resistance activity that needed to be rooted out by the USMC to clear the way for Iraqi citizens peaceably to go to the polls on 30 January? Oh fine, just fine now, reports the US military, even as it denies access into the city to Red Cross officials, not to mention to returning city-residents. The discerning reader is likely to feel rather less-then-fully-informed about the state of affairs there if this is all he has to go on; where is the alternative press when you need it?
It turns out that Jørgen Steen Nielsen of the Danish commentary newspaper Information has managed to cultivate some good sources in Iraq, so that his recent article (No Election in Fallujah) helps to fill in some of the blanks about what is really going on there one month after the massive US Army-Marine assault. (more…)
If you keep tabs with the major American press outlets – in this case I’m talking specifically about the New York Times, although the usual line-up of blogs have thoroughly linked to it already – you will have already seen this article on the latest pessimistic assessments from in-country CIA personnel in Iraq. Ultimately though, as President Bush has already pointed out in this context, these folks are just guessing, and their guesses are pretty much as good or as bad as anyone else’s.
But another “guess” you likely haven’t seen, unless you regularly read the Dutch-language NRC Handelsblad, is that of UN special envoy to Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, given in the course of a recent exclusive interview (UN Top Man: Elections in Iraq Not Doable Now) to that newspaper’s editor Robert van de Roer. (more…)
When I recently expounded my own evaluation of the settlement of the Najaf stand-off, naturally I was serious about presenting it “for . . . refutation.” You can’t escape that in this medium, anyway, and no definitive answer that I’m aware of as to “winners” and “losers” has emerged as of yet in any case, or may ever. In the meantime, an interesting contribution to the debate comes from “M.”, writing for the Danish commentary newspaper Information (Once al-Sadr, always . . .). (more…)