Despotism That Can’t Laugh At Itself

Friday, May 2nd, 2014

While writing that previous post on the refugee camp in Jordan for Syrian exiles, the thought suddenly occurred to me: “What ever happened to @Syrianpresident? I haven’t heard from that guy for a while!”

Now, by no means do I mean the real Syrian president, that former opthamologist turned child-torturer, inveterate public liar and chemical-weapons aficionado, Bashar Al-Assad – I wouldn’t be interested in communications coming from his office, on Twitter or otherwise. Rather, where was the parody account under that Twitter-handle that for quite a while after the Syrian rebellion broke out (caused, you’ll remember, by the police simply shooting down marching demonstrators) brilliantly skewered the murderous pretentions and absuridites of the ruling Syrian elite? Al-Assad’s current ludicrous scheme to run for re-election while otherwise busy with an ongoing project of having his own citizens butchered, up to 4 million of whom have therefore left the country, would alone provide endless material to work with.

It’s easy enough to enter into your browser http://twitter.com/Syrianpresident. Result: Account suspended.

I wish I could give you some screen-shots here of the excellent observations and wise-cracks whoever was behind that parody site produced, but I didn’t think to do that at the time. And now that is quite impossible, because once you get “Account suspended,” that’s it – down it goes down George Orwell’s classic memory-hole. The result of a decision from a private company, let it be noted – an arbitrary decision. (more…)

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Distaff Defense

Sunday, February 9th, 2014

The yearly Munich Security Conference came to an end last week, and I wanted to be sure to pass along the following tweet that issued out of that, and especially the accompanying photo, which is said to have “gone viral.”

EuroDefMnstrs
It’s this article in the Guardian that claims that this picture went viral, and which provides a good English-language account for you about how this issue cropped up at that security conference.

At least we have here something in the way of continuity from the “male chauvinist pig” theme in my previous post about today’s election for Tokyo governor. For what we have is no less than four European Defense Ministers who are female, and the issue must be: What, if anything, does that mean?

The obvious jumping-off point here is the question of whether to allow females to serve as soldiers in combat units. Although hardly widespread (yet), there is an unmistakeable trend worldwide in that direction. A few countries do already allow women to serve in their militaries without restriction, including Sweden, whose Defense Minister you see there second from left. In the US, while the formal ban on women serving in combat was removed only as recently as January 2013, further institutional progress towards enabling them actually to do so is only creeping along. For example, while the first women (three of them) recently graduated from Marine Corps infantry combat training, they won’t be allowed to actually serve in infantry units (and that probably means “combat units,” of any type) for the foreseeable future.

Your friendly EuroSavant blogger here is himself a combat veteran, and I think that women serving in combat units is a bad idea, for reasons of unit cohesion and effectiveness. I am hardly alone in this – indeed, I’d want to tell you that any man who has ever actually been in combat will tell you the exact same thing, but of course I can’t know that. For what it is worth, the highly respected Israeli military writer Martin van Creveld is a prominent opponent of the idea, and put his case forward back in 2002 with his book Men, Women & War: Do Women Belong in the Front Line? (His answer: No.) Indeed, Creveld on this topic often shows a vehemence that jars even me, and he followed up that book last year with another one entitled The Privileged Sex. (Hint: It ain’t men he is talking about.) Prof. Van Creveld has also been quite willing to stand up for his ideas, even embarking last year on a lecture tour through Europe to debate the point against various female opponents. (more…)

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CCTV: “You Value Health Most When You Have Been Sick”

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Mark Espiner is a writer for the Guardian as well as a playwrite/director. He has had a new gig since last autumn, though, writing for the Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel. Obviously, comparison between the two great European capitals which that new position causes him to move between (by which I mean Berlin and London, where the Guardian is headquartered) is what his columns are expected to be about and, as a writer on the dramatic arts, it’s only natural that he has devoted most of his attention to cultural issues.

But not exclusively so. One difference between the two cities that leaps out him he describes in his latest piece, The eyes lying in ambush of the CCTV. He remembers back to his first visit to Berlin, a little over a year ago: what accounted for that strange feeling of freedom, of exaltation even, that he felt then while walking through the streets of the city center? Well, you already know the answer from his piece’s title. It was actually the absence of something that inspired such enthusiasm, the absence there of the closed-circuit TV cameras that, as he puts it, “bristle on every corner” in London.

To be sure, Espiner had previously rather perversely made use of his special journalist’s access to aggravate this hang-up of his: he managed to visit a monitoring center in London (a “dingy room, deep below the streets”), where he witnessed officials there using the cameras to zoom in – to a “scary” level of detail – on anyone who seemed “suspicious,” or else interesting to take a close look at for any other reason. Therefore, although coming back to Berlin he does observe a few more Video Überwachung signs than he noticed before, the apparent forebearance on the part of the Berlin authorities to spy on their own citizens is still quite refreshing.

The reason for all that is not hard to grasp: after all, as he does point out, some of those Berlin city authorities not so long ago lived under a Stasi regime, which itself followed a Nazi regime. Still, Espiner warns against any complacency – not necessarily in the face of officialdom suddenly changing its mind and deciding to bring in the cameras, but rather in the form of new private shopping centers and “gated communities” being built, which inevitably bring with them an associated bunch of such cameras, to provide “protection” and “security.”

Anyway, it turns out that you can check out his argument for yourself, as Der Tagesspiegel has taken to posting parallel versions of his columns in English. (No doubt the original English that Espiner wrote them in, of course; this one is called CCTV: Invasion of privacy.) I reveal that to you as a public service, even as it is an unwelcome development since you’ll no longer need the assistance of your neighborhood EuroSavant to read these particular columns from Der Tagesspiegel.

UPDATE: Please also be sure to see this: Spy Cameras Won’t Make Us Safer, from a renowned security expert, and including up-to-the-minute insights on the topic from the recent very professional assassination of that Hamas official in Dubai.

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Benedict XVI Feels Your Humiliation

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

Thanks to last Christmas’ “Underwear Bomber” more and more airports all over the world have started digging deep into their pockets to purchase those insidious “full-body scanners” for screening passengers – starting, unfortunately, with Amsterdam’s own Schiphol Airport, where they probably are still feeling the embarrassment of being the place where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab embarked on his ill-fated flight to Detroit. The awkward privacy and civil liberties implications of showing people virtually naked this way – in addition to these machines not being guaranteed to actually work as they’re supposed to – have given rise to a lot of fierce criticism, but with no tangible result so far in discouraging these expensive purchases.

But now, unexpectedly, and as Spiegel Online reports, opponents of these machines have a noteworthy new ally: Pope Benedict XVI, who over the past weekend took the occasion of a visit by a group of airline-industry representatives to try to bring his audience back to some elementary first-principles, like “the primary asset to be safeguarded and treasured is the person, in his or her integrity” and “it is essential never to lose sight of respect for the primacy of the person.”

Spiegel Online’s report actually was prompted by this piece in the Guardian that is even a little bit better (quite apart from being in English), in that it points out that the Pope is himself in that VIP-class of people who never need to worry about any sort of screening no matter how much they travel. Then again, one can also suppose that empathy is an important element of his job-description.

UPDATE: Could the revolution have already begun? The London Times now has this story about how two Muslim women, set to fly to Pakistan, refused to undergo full-body scans (by those £80,000 “Rapiscan” machines! Is “Rapiscan” pronounced with a long “a,” by any chance?) a short while ago at Manchester Airport. (I first found out about the incident, however, from the Nederlands Dagblad, which is itself a religious newspaper.)

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Aaaaaaaapril Foooooool!

Wednesday, April 1st, 2009

It has been a particular challenge going through the Danish press today: they seem especially gripped by (to coin a new term) “April-Fool-itis,” that is, celebrating this April 1 by planting remarkable “news” stories that turn out just to be a joke. Even if one is inclined to look favorably on the practice (e.g. as an amusing change-of-pace from the pedestrian nature of most news during the other 364 days of the year), Danish newspaper practice unfortunately waters it down substantially through the practice of frequently running the same articles from the Danish news-agency Ritzau in several of the papers at the same time. This naturally reduces substantially the amount of truly-original (as opposed to “echoed from Ritzau”) material. (Dutch papers also have this problem, i.e. of too many papers too often publishing the same article, by the way.)

Still, there are a handful of original joke-articles out there. But then the next problem arises, i.e. that the humor is too tied-in to the Danish cultural and/or political context to raise any laughs outside of the country. Anyway, let’s go looking for these jokes-articles and you can decide this for yourself. This exercise will also be valuable as a means to “innoculate” you against these tongue-in-cheek news-tales in case you later run across them within a context elsewhere that presents them to you as real. (more…)

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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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Deep Purple Funk

Friday, February 8th, 2008

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…)

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EU Constitution Or Else . . . Doin’ the Yugoslav Breakdown*?

Wednesday, April 20th, 2005

(Footnote out of the way first: * As opposed to doin’ the Foggy Mountain Breakdown, by Earl Scruggs – and folks, that link there actually takes you to a webpage showing the guitar fingerings for playing this timeless bluegrass classic!)

Prospects for a “Yes” vote on the proposed EU Constitutional Treaty are under pressure these days not only in France but also here in the Netherlands. Well, at least “Yes” is currently ahead of “No” by only about ten percentage points in the polls, which is taken to be a worrying sign. So cabinet ministers are swinging into action to tout the Constitution, including Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner who, as reported in the newspaper Trouw (registration required) has warned against the danger of war if the Constitution is not adopted.

War? Yes, war: Because without the more authoritative and more effective EU institutions that the Constitution will supposedly bring into being, Europe’s inherent “irritation, suspicion, and distrust” threatens to escalate out of control. Just like happened in the mid-1990s in the Balkans: “Yugoslavia was more integrated than the [European] Union is now, but bad will and the inability to stifle hidden irritations and rivalry led in a short time to war.” (more…)

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What A Difference A Date Makes

Wednesday, April 6th, 2005

Poor Charles and Camilla: their wedding plans have been beset by one problem after another. First of all, the Queen let it be made known that she did not intend to be there for the second marriage of her own eldest son. That ruled out access to every couple’s dream wedding-venue – Windsor Castle, naturally – and recourse instead to a garden-variety local town hall. The shine on the event had also quickly faded among the British public, who were noticeably slow to go after the usual commemorative souvenirs brought out for sale for a royal wedding – you know, teapots, coffee cups, dishtowels, that sort of thing.

Now, however, such souvenirs are flying off the shelves. It’s not so much because of the English reconsidering their attitudes towards the marriage of Prince Charels and Camilla Parker-Bowles, as it is due to another mishap on their path to the altar, reports Marianne Fajstrup in the Danish Berlingske Tidende (Wedding Souvenirs with the Wrong Date Hoarded). That darn Pope John Paul II, as sainted a guy as he was otherwise – I know, EuroSavant promised just yesterday not to cover him again – had to up and die on such a schedule that pencilled his funeral in for this upcoming Friday, just the day when the Prince of Wales was intending to tie the knot again. (more…)

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Freedom of Bathroom Information in the UK

Wednesday, January 5th, 2005

The UK has a new Freedom of Information Act. It used to be that you had to wait 30 years to get access to public documents, but now (or as of the beginning of the new year), in the words of Lady Ashton, the UK minister responsible for public records, “you will be able to request information and be given it as long as exemptions do not apply.” Those exemptions involve things you would expect, like national security or commercial secrets.

Now that access to public information in the UK has supposedly greatly widened, how are people taking advantage of that? The Guardian newspaper itself is pushing to get the legal advice given Tony Blair about whether Britain could join the United States in its attack on Iraq, according to international law, but indications are that request that will be blocked. And over Christmas, operatives of an opposition party, the Conservatives (these days it’s controversial whether they merit the label “the leading opposition party”), had great fun coming up with 120 “embarrassing questions” they want to pose to Tony Blair’s Labour government, i.e. to get information shedding further light on various awkward episodes in that government’s seven-year term in power such as its change-of-mind allowing a referendum on the EU Constitution when previously it had refused. (more…)

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Prospective Israeli Disasters

Monday, July 26th, 2004

Mordechai Vanunu was the Israeli “atomic spy,” the nuclear technician who in 1986 revealed secret information about Israel’s covert weapons program at the nuclear reactor at Dimona, in the Negev desert of southern Israel, in an interview with the London Sunday Times. For his troubles he was lured to Rome later that year and kidnapped there by Mossad agents, who brought him back to Israel and so to Israeli legal jurisdiction. In a secret trial, he was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for treason, which he finished serving last April.

Out of jail, it seems Vanunu still just can’t hold his tongue. (This profile in the Guardian mentions that, among other restrictions, he is obliged not to talk to the foreign press; at the same time, he is appealing to Israel’s supreme court for permission to leave the country again. Yet he recently gave an interview to the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat.) This strangely-stubborn behavior is probably something the rest of the world should be grateful for, at least for those who would prefer to be a little better aware of Israeli nuclear activities than the Israeli government would prefer, and the German newspaper Die Welt has picked up on his latest (Atom Expert Warns of a “Second Chernobyl” in Israel). (more…)

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A Typology of the Modern British “Lad”

Thursday, June 17th, 2004

Yesterday I ventured to suggest that the disorder being caused by English fans down in Portugal on the occasion of Euro2004 will stay within acceptable limits, among other reasons because of the authorities’ tacit policy of encouraging the substitution of alcohol consumption with dope. Later news reports make me not so sure anymore. In any case, there’s an excellent and entertaining description in the Guardian (and so in English: Man, oh man), by novelist Andrew O’Hagan, that examines the phenomenon of the societal cohort from which these folk spring, the British “lad” (a.k.a “bloke,” often “lout”), as observed especially through the prism of the “lads’ magazines” that have sprung up in the British press since the mid-1990s to cater to their attitudes and desires. (more…)

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Dope = Happy. Booze = Mad.

Wednesday, June 16th, 2004

The Euro2004 European Football Championships are now well underway, with the first set of games completed last night, and the usual fears of violence among national team supporters that accompany such tournaments so far proving unfounded. Yes, there recently was some sort of confrontations with the police by English fans in Albufeira, as well as a German attack on rival fans in Porto, but the Guardian reports that Portuguese officials are playing down the seriousness of such incidents. (The British Home Office supplied here a useful explanatory phrase: “typical of the alcohol-fueled disorder common in Mediterranean resorts rather than orchestrated football hooliganism.”) Such assessments could well mean that the incidents were truly not serious – or they could ironically mean in the case of the English fans that authorities are desperately trying to ensure that the bluff of the European football association (UEFA) is not called, to the effect that the British football team would be expelled from the entire tournament if British fans misbehaved.

But let’s take the optimistic view that the confrontations in the fields outside the respective Portuguese sports stadiums are going along fairly peacefully. This could very well be thanks to a new policy wrinkle taken up by the Portuguese police, and reported in the German weekly Die Zeit (Learn from Holland): a green light for smoking dope. (more…)

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A “Pim Fortuyn” for Britain?

Wednesday, June 9th, 2004

The every-five-years elections to the European Parliament will begin tomorrow (some countries vote on Thursday, others on the following Sunday), and polls in the UK are pointing toward a surprising result. The heretofore almost-unknown UK Independence Party (UKIP) stands to post impressive results, which could catapult it up into the company of that country’s main political parties (Labour and the Conservatives) and leave the Liberal Democrats back in a distant fourth place.

The reason why this is alarming to many is at the same time the reason why the UKIP seems to be gaining so much support, namely its call for a “friendly” but complete withdrawal of Britain from the European Union. Up until the UKIP, the most “extreme” position on this issue had been that of the Conservatives, who maintain a suspicious attitude about what goes on within EU institutions, and who don’t want any new European Constitution and certainly won’t give up the pound sterling for the euro, but who don’t go so far as to advocate withdrawal (upon which, in the UKIP’s imaginings, the UK would join the ranks of countries like Norway and Switzerland, who supposedly enjoy much of the trade benefits associated with the EU anyway without having to put up with all that quasi-governmental stuff).

Even if most or all of the new British Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) turn out to come from the UKIP, that would not mean Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But the worrying thing about that party’s seeming rise in popularity is that the British people’s attitudes towards the EU were supposed to get steadily more warm and chummy with time, guided by constant persuasion (propaganda?) from the bully-pulpit manned by a Labour government that has been in power since 1997. After all, referenda are now in store, eventually, on both the questions of switching to the euro and adopting a new EU Constitution (when/if member-state governments finally succeed in adopting one), and the hope had been that attitudes would have softened enough by the time those happen to ensure “Yes” votes. The UK is not obliged ever to adopt the euro – unlike, say, all of the ten new member-states, whenever they meet certain economic and fiscal criteria – but it’s possible (although still unclear at this point) that a “No” vote on the Constitution could indeed mean insistence from the other EU members that the UK withdraw its membership.

A key factor in the UKIP’s new popularity is said to be its new leading spokesman and candidate, Robert Kilroy-Silk, who had an interview show on the BBC up until earlier this year, when he had to resign after saying nasty things on-air about Arabs. There’s an entertaining portrait from the Guardian available, but I’m more intrigued by this analysis as to whether he might be the “British Pim Fortuyn,” from a source best-placed to judge such things: the Dutch newspaper Trouw. (more…)

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Eurovision Gerrymandering

Monday, May 17th, 2004

The yearly Eurovision Song Contest really should be, and deserves to be, ignored. A creation of the mid-1950s, when schmaltzy pop songs were still the thing, the Contest’s continued existence now into the 21st century makes no more meaningful cultural contribution than would an instruction manual on the proper wearing of the pantaloon.

So why is EuroSavant, now into its second year of existence, remarking on this yearly event for the second time? Could it be the well-known “car wreck” phenomenon: the campy songs, garish costumes, and ridiculous accessory acrobatics are uniformly awful, but you just can’t turn your eyes away? Or, given my own TV-less state, could it have something to do with the pretext the Contest provides each May for the lavish party thrown in Amsterdam by the leading Dutch recruitment/employment agency for international personnel, a party inevitably dominated by the huge TV screen broadcasting the proceedings? (This distraction, and the sheer volume of the sound, it must be said, pose considerable obstacles to the usual getting-to-know-you function of such a party, at least until on past midnight when the Contest is finally over.)

I prefer to try to excuse my coverage of something that I would rather never have to confess to even knowing about, much less seeing, by pointing to the political aspects that have crept into what is fundamentally supposed to be, if nothing else, a Eurofest of brotherhood and song. (more…)

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Get Your Campaign Dirt – From Poland!

Sunday, February 15th, 2004

Oh, the stories that have now sprung up about presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry! Calpundit points out that, while the infamous Matt Drudge first brought some of these stories to light, “the mainstream [American] media is too responsible to report this stuff.” He’s got a couple useful links to the British press for those who would like to follow these things nonetheless (the Guardian and the Sun: the first OK, the second one of those tawdry British tabloids whose “page 3 girls” are the only thing that ever interests EuroSavant, and which therefore I do not cover for this weblog – and you also don’t get the link from me, haha!).

Well, what about the Polish press? Good stuff there, too (although still exclusively from the two leading dailies, each to be cited in this entry). I guess that makes them “irresponsible.” (Or maybe it’s all OK when you’re passing on the reported dirt about people and goings-on which are, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, “far away, and of whom you know nothing.”) (more…)

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What Ever Happened to Mary Carey . . .?

Thursday, November 6th, 2003

You remember her: the porn star among the 130+ candidates this fall for the California governorship, whose platform featured such innovations as taxing breast-implants and planting webcams throughout the governor’s mansion.

Well, she’s back at work now, but putting her interesting experiences on the campaign trail to good use. Yes – I suppose it was inevitable – the Guardian reports (“Porn to Run“) that Arnold Schwarzenegger’s epic journey to the top of the California political establishment is soon going to be captured in an “adult entertainment” film. It will feature Carey (playing herself, and we wouldn’t want anyone else) and other characters with names such as “Stooge Cruztamante” – “believed to be based on current deputy governor Cruz Bustamante,” the article intones (good work, guys!) – and “Ernie Gropenegger.” (But I still prefer Doonesbury’s “Herr Gröpenfuhrer” – although pardon me for noting that there really should also be an umlaut on the “u.”)

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Princess Diana’s “Terrible Secret” – You Know It’s Irrepressible

Tuesday, October 28th, 2003

Surely you’ve all been following the latest to-do having to do with Princess Diana, formerly of the British Royal Family until she had an unfortunate, and lethal, auto accident along the Seine in Paris in late August, 1997? Her former butler, and apparent intimate, Paul Burrell, is in a revelatory mood and has written a book about her, spilling all sorts of intimate details to the point that he has provoked a confrontation with William and Harry, her surviving sons. For all he has revealed, though, there is one terrible secret he has held back, something so sordid, so dastardly, it is said, that it “could destroy the royal family.” Gadzooks! (more…)

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Maybe the Governing Council Can Tame Baghdad

Friday, August 15th, 2003

I do go look at the on-line Polish press from time to time – I promise! “Poles in Iraq” still lives! – but lately there’s been little that I’ve found about the ongoing deployment of Polish peace-keepers to Kuwait, for eventual transfer to the assigned Polish occupation zone in Iraq. They’re simply deploying these days – that’s all.

But Polish news organizations nonetheless can still come up with stories out of Iraq that are largely overlooked by the English-language press. For example, as Gazeta Wyborcza reports today (from the Polish Press Agency, but also from Agence France-Press), Rada Zarzadzajaca chce przejac bezpieczenstwo w Bagdadzie – “The Governing Council wants to take over security for Baghdad.” (more…)

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Democracy in Iraq

Monday, August 11th, 2003

Can democracy be established in Iraq? Would that then solve our problems, our “gripe,” with that country? Or do we really want democracy there at all?

Die Zeit On-Line is currently particularly rich with opinion pieces which address these issues, and so (in different ways) are natural sequels to Georges Suffert’s assessment in Le Figaro of the American efforts in Iraq which I reviewed here. For one, there is the article by Richard Herzinger which was the subject of my last post: Yes, things are going well in Iraq and democracy is being built, is his view. Anyway, even if they aren’t going well Europeans have their own obligation to help out to make sure that they do.

But then there are a couple of additional pieces sharing homepage-space on the current Die Zeit website which take rather more subtle views. Jens Jessen offers an interesting viewpoint in Die hilflosen Missionäre – “the helpless missionaries.” OK, our objective is to transplant our political system, democracy, into Iraq; it’s also to transplant our economic system (namely capitalism) there. The rationale behind these objectives is that successfully completing them will ensure that Iraq will become a friendly, reasonable sort of state that we can welcome back into the community of nations. (more…)

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Some Anti-Cynicism from Die Zeit

Monday, August 11th, 2003

A welcome antidote to the half-hearted support for Coalition (and particularly American) efforts in Iraq of Frenchman Georges Suffert, discussed in my last €S posting, comes from Germany, and specifically from Richard Herzinger writing in Die Zeit: Der Moralismus des Zynikers, or “The Morality of the Cynic.” The key fact so often overlooked by Germans watching from the sidelines, Herzinger claims, is that, slowly but surely, real progress is being made in Iraq. Rather than view events through “the eyeglasses of an anti-imperialistic resistance-romanticism,” as he accuses many of his compatriots of doing – or worse, actively hoping for failure there, so that German resistance to the war against Saddam Hussein can in the end be proved “right” – Germans (and all Europeans) have a duty to support the occupation authorities to ensure that Iraq is ultimately rebuilt as prosperous and democratic, a goal which lies no less in the interest of the Old Continent as it does of America. (more…)

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Manchester United in the United States

Tuesday, August 5th, 2003

Here’s a great article in the Guardian that should appeal to football fans (that’s “soccer” in the States) interested in the “Gulliver’s Travels” quality of Manchester United’s recent trip across the Atlantic to try to build up interest in the game there. Superstars like Ruud van Nistlerooy and Ryan Giggs able to simply walk out of their hotels and check out the city, unharrassed, because nobody over there even recognizes them! (Strangely, the most-recognized player on the Manchester United team was Tim Howard, the new second-string goalie who’s redeeming feature was that he happens to be American himself.) And about how, often enough, their “checking out the city” was highlighted by visits to the excellent local strip joints – just enough excitement and aesthetic reward, it seems, for the lads who otherwise had to suffer through a tour of four games (all won handily) in a country whose fans and whose journalists still, it seems, don’t really understand or appreciated their sport – and so, by extension, their team.

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French Comment on the UK’s Kelly Affair

Monday, July 21st, 2003

The big story over on this side of the Atlantic these days is the Dr. David Kelly affair blazing now in the UK. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has been under pressure for weeks for supposedly misleading Parliament into approving Britain’s joining the Americans in war on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, raising scary prospects of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which could strike Britain within 45 minutes. In particular, at the beginning of this month the BBC had issud a damning report, based on anonymous, inside information from a source within the government, that Blair’s administration had “sexed up” a “dodgy dossier” sent to Parliament to substantiate Iraq’s alleged WMD capabilities. (In other words, civil servants and/or politicians in Blair’s government had inserted language into that dossier that was much more alarmist than was justified, in order to bring Parliament around to Blair’s case for going to war – much in the same way that there has also been recent furore surrounding George W. Bush’s assertion in his State of the Union speech of last January that Iraq had tried to buy uranium from Niger, an assertion which it now turns out was not even accepted as true by most of the Bush administration at the time.) Blair was certainly looking forward to a recent trip to the US (among other things, to address a joint session of the Houses of Congress) as a respite, a stay in a land where he is much more popular than in the country where he is actually Prime Minister. But no sooner had he left the US (to continue on to the West on an Asian trip) than the official who had been recently picked out as the likely “mole” who enabled the BBC to make its report – British biological expert Dr. David Kelly – was found dead near his home in Oxfordshire.

For the longest time – for far too long – the authorities who should have known better held off in identifying this death as the suicide that it was, and so kept alive the horrible prospect that someone had done away with the doctor out of concern for what more he could say to the press. But now we know that’s what it is, and the most recent news as of this writing has been the naming of Lord Hutton, a distinguished attorney and magistrate from Northern Ireland, to head the independent government inquiry into this affair. Crucially, the inquiry will have the narrow focus of the circumstances surrounding Dr. Kelly’s death – not the broader one of the completeness and truthfulness of the reporting to Parliament in the weeks leading up to the War in Iraq of Blair’s administration.

Naturally, this affair has generated reams and reams of reporting and commentary, especially within the UK but also elsewhere. Indeed, the concern that the populations of the countries of the Coalition might have been misled by the leaders about the urgency of going to war against Saddam Hussein is by no means confined to the UK or the US or exclusively to the other countries of the coalition. (In fact, in some of those countries – e.g. Poland – people are not much worried about the prospect at all.)
The Guardian offers a good selection of what various English-language newspapers – in the UK and abroad – are saying. As is the EuroSavant way, we’ll leave readers with that for English coverage, and instead examine the French press. (more…)

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Berlusconi Takes It da Kapo at the European Parliament

Thursday, July 3rd, 2003

I was hoping to move on to other subjects than the fitness of Silvio Berlusconi for the European Union presidency, but his insulting outburst yesterday while in the EU Parliament to present his president’s agenda naturally keeps me on this subject. And I was hoping to move on from reporting on the German press, which I’ve covered a bit disproportionally in the past several weeks, but it only seems logical and fair to report on reactions from the country whose MEP (Member of the European Parliament) was the target of Berlusconi’s insult, a defamation that touched on Germany’s sensitive Nazi past.

The incident took place in the debate after Berlusconi had made his “inaugural” address to Parliament. (more…)

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Draft Euro-Constitution Stirs Up British Hornets’ Nest

Thursday, May 29th, 2003

Today’s subject is the new EU constitution, which was released to the public this past week in four installments, and specifically about the reaction in the country where that has been most vociferous – namely the United Kingdom. Yes, this once again means a weblog entry that belies EuroSavant’s self-description as “Commentary on the European non-English-language press.” But the unveiling of the EU Constitutional Convention’s draft constitution has converged with an outbreak of public discussion over British adoption of the euro – ahead of Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown’s speech scheduled for June 9 as to whether the country is at the stage where a referendum over the euro would be appropriate – to produce some truly noteworthy reporting and commentary to which I thought I would draw your attention. Even NATO does not escape unscathed. (more…)

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Eurovision: Turkey Tops, Great Britain Null

Monday, May 26th, 2003

Time now to switch from overtly political subjects – the lifting of Iraqi sanctions at the UN Security Council – to a phenomenon which may seem apolitical (in fact, it’s downright shmaltzy) but which contains within itself potentially very serious political implications. I refer here to the Eurovision Song Contest, which came to its conclusion on Saturday night by declaring the Turkish entry, “Everyway [sic] That I Can,” sung by Ms. Sertab Erener, the winner of the 26-nation competition. (Those of you from outside of the European continent who don’t know what I’m talking about – or, bless you, even those of you who actually live in Europe but still haven’t a clue – click here for an explanation.) That Turkey would win – and for the very first time in the contest’s 48-year existence – is serious enough. Really: serious. I’m working on an essay on the subject, to tell you what I mean. When I post its link to the left side of this website under “My Articles,” I’ll re-edit this entry to announce this and give you the link directly.

But right here I’d rather like to call your attention to the other end of the scale, namely the very bottom, occupied for the year 2003 by Great Britain whose entry, the song “Cry Baby” by the boy-girl duo JEMINI, came in dead last with zero points. (more…)

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