Monday, June 21, 2004

All in the same EU-Boat, Part II 

Welcome to another Euro update, where we parachute behind the enemy lines and check out again what our stylish, cultured, and morally superior betters have been up to recently (for the previous installment click here).

Dear Europe, face it, you're just like the rest of us, only older.

As you're probably aware by now, the elections to the European Parliament were held recently (for my other commentary see here and here) and the result is pretty clear: "Apathy wins in EU polls." It's not certain as yet whether Apathy will be able to form the government in its own right or whether it will have to rely for majority on one of the smaller parties. It is understood, however, that in exchange for its support, Appeasement is quite keen on the position of the Euro Foreign Minister.

The turnout for the elections was pretty low despite the fact that many Europeans discovered they could vote twice: in their country of origin and their country of residence. And in case you were wondering how our favourite Euro candidate had fared, the Czech pornstar Dolly Buster was turned away from the polls having failed to register to vote in time. Her party received only 0.7% of the vote.

Not satisfied with being a world economic superpower, some in Europe are now planning the next step: "European UFO fans have devised a currency to show extraterrestrials that trade between earthlings and ETs is possible." According the group's spokesperson, Kiril Kanew, the Galacto, as the new currency is called, will help bridge the inter-galactic gap:

"Just imagine you're an extraterrestrial civilisation and you want to contact a country on earth. That would be unimaginable, because all countries have opposing interests, and there are so many conflicts. The Galactos should give them a common currency to trade in."
And watch the invaders from space get bogged down in EU red tape. Speaking of EU red tape, prepare to be shocked by the revelation that "Brussels will miss its target of cutting the body of EU legislation by 25% before the end of this year."

But in other areas Europe can breathe easier; its very own prisoner abuse and torture scandal has been declared not as bad as previously thought:

"The Vatican has published a new study on the abuses committed by the medieval Inquisition and come to a rather surprising conclusion - that in fact the much feared judges of heresy were not as brutal as previously believed. According to the 800-page report, the Inquisition that spread fear throughout Europe throughout the Middle Ages did not use execution or torture to anything like the extent history would have us believe. In fact the book's editor, Professor Agostino Borromeo, claims that in Spain only 1.8% of those investigated by the notorious Spanish Inquisition were killed."
Expecting the official American report on Abu Ghraib out in 2521. Meanwhile, just to prove that it's only "ghoulish" and "insensitive" if the Americans do it, enterprising Bosnians are now organising war tours for curious foreign tourists. According to one of the tour operators, some of the attractions include "the market place where the infamous mortar attack took place in February, 1994 ('Sixty-eight were killed, 200 wounded')" as well as "the town of Srebrenica ('the scene of the worst atrocity of the war') and... Radovan Karadzic's house in Pale." And speaking of that Euro poster boy for war crimes, Radovan Karadzic

"Nato-led forces in Bosnia hunting the indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic have placed adverts showing a one-way ticket to The Hague in local papers. The adverts, timed to mark the Bosnian Serb fugitive's 59th birthday, remind readers that he is wanted by the international war crimes tribunal."
Why didn't the Americans think of this tactic to get Saddam instead of engaging in their senseless war? With a few strategically placed ads Saddam might have been in jail by now.

Speaking of the war on terror (not that there is any connection between Saddam and al Qaeda): in a better late than never victory in the war on terror, the governments of Germany and France have just signed an agreement "to boost their cooperation in combating terrorism, chiefly in exchanging intelligence about terrorist groups." "We must become aware at the earliest possible point about groupings and their plans for attacks," said the German Interior Minister, Otto Schily. The German authorities also passed onto their American counterparts information about Mohammad Atta, former resident of Hamburg, now believed to be planning attacks on American soil.

Alas it's not just the Germans and the French who are getting a reputation for misallocating their security resources, as in Great Britain "[a] group of Gurkhas who are veterans of Bosnia and Iraq are helping to tackle another of Britain's problems - a shortage of bus drivers. The 21 Army veterans have been recruited by a bus company in Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, because it struggled to find British drivers for its fleet of 108 vehicles." Unlike their Ukrainian counterparts, however, the Gurkha bus drivers won't face the prospect of the sack for playing Russian pop music while driving. Perhaps they should.

Returning to Germany, the country, alas, still suffers from an image problem:

"A study about Germany's image in Russia and the U.S. has found that 60 years after the end of the Nazi era, Adolf Hitler still remains the best-known German in those countries. He is followed by current Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and former chancellor Helmut Kohl in the U.S., while Russians named Johann Wolfgang Goethe as the next most well-known German after Hitler."
The problem is surely exacerbated by constant German flag-waving:

"A German flag that once flew atop the Reichstag building in Berlin and was auctioned on the website of the German Customs Administration has been bought by a bordello-owner in the state of Saxony-Anhalt. The giant black, red and gold flag, which fetched a price of [Euro] 3,350, will now adorn a brothel in Halle on 'special occasions' according to the bordello owner."
The story explains that "Flags on top of the Reichstag are changed every three months depending on their condition. The auctioned German tricolor was described as 'showing signs of wear and tear like frayed edges and stains'." Hopefully unlike its new venue's employees.

Reichstag flags are not the only cut-price items on sale in Germany: so is German weather. Weather people there have recently come up with a new and exciting way to get around budget cuts. According to Thomas Dummel of the Meteorological Institute at Berlin's Free University: "Just as people pay to adopt a highway or a dolphin, buy a plot on the moon or name a star, why not allow Germans to buy the right to name a high or low pressure system?" The question remains: why the hell would anyone want to have their name associated with German weather?

Moving from the low pressure systems over Saxony and towards the sunny Mediterranean, Greece, meanwhile, does its bit for religious freedom and tolerance. According to Mr Kakkavas of the Greek Society of the Friends of the Ancient and Followers of the Religion of the 12 Gods (GSFAFR12G for short), "Greece makes so much money out of our gods, but we are not allowed to pray to them even for free." Mr Kakkavas and his fellow pagans have been waging a (holy?) war for the past eight years to have their religious worship legalised in this 98% nominally Christian Orthodox country. In Great Britain, on the other hand, a new report launched in the House of Lords says that "[t]he British state education system is failing to meet the needs of Muslim pupils and parents" and calls for "special classes in Islamic subjects, more single-sex education and prayer rooms in secondary schools." Where's the British version of the ACLU?

In case you were wondering why Germany (yes, we're back in Germany again) remains on the cutting edge of Research and Development, sociologist Werner Habermehl of the University of Hamburg, in conjunction with GEWIS institute, has conducted research which clearly demonstrates that "regular sex can help university students pass exams and get better grades. [Habermehl] found that regular sexual activity significantly increased mental capability, but... celibate students found it harder to make the grade. As well as decreasing the length of time needed to complete a course, students with a healthy sex life also received better marks." Hopefully not by sleeping with their lecturers?

The Europeans are proving to be quite resistant to change - and yes, there is a connection between this and the above story. In the previous installment you would have read about a German village of Kotzen (Puke) which voted against changing its name. This week it was the turn of an Austrian village picturesquely named Fucking to vote against a name change:

"Spokesman Siegfried Hoeppl, said: 'Everyone here knows what it means in English, but for us Fucking is Fucking - and it's going to stay Fucking - even though the signs keep getting stolen.' He said the name came from Mr Fuck and his family who settled in the area 100 years ago, and added 'ing', meaning village or settlement. The villagers didn't find out about the English meaning of the word until Allied soldiers stationed in the region in 1945 pointed out the alternative meaning."
Those Americans, they just come over to Europe and the first thing they do (after liberating the locals) is to teach them to swear.

Belgium, meanwhile, is cracking down on alternative lifestyles: under the new set of rules to come into effect in September,

"tattoos would be banned for anyone under 18 as would pierced nipples or genitals. Sixteen to 18 year olds could have other parts of their bodies pierced provided they had clearly verifiable permission from a parent or guardian. Children under 16 would be banned from having any sort of piercing."
Seeing that the Belgian 16 year olds can otherwise legally use their nipples and genitals, it seems rather discriminatory to ban them from piercing the said body parts. Arguably, the Belgian health authorities should be more concerned about faeces found in domestic water supply in the town of Theux. "Tests are underway to discover the source of the faecal matter." I'm not holding my breath for that one.

In other Euro health and safety news, "Britain's health minister [John Reid] has come under fire for saying that smoking is one of the last pleasures left for the poor." Or as he put it: "What enjoyment does a 21-year-old single mother-of-three living in a council sink estate get? The only enjoyment sometimes they have is to have a cigarette." We've moved a long way from "let them eat cakes." And Italy, mindful of the 15,000 carnage of last year's "brutal Gallic summer", has a new plan on how to save the elderly from the heat: "Supermarkets and other air-conditioned spaces such as cinemas may be forced to offer refuge if temperatures soar." What about likely ill-effects of having to watch "Fahrenheit 911" over and over again?

Back among the weasels, "[p]olice chiefs in the Belgian city of Charleroi have tried to shrug of reports that up to 200 officers in the city are being investigated for fraud by saying that they are simply looking into allegations of sloppy management in their service." Meanwhile over the border, Germany's central bank finds itself having to explain "why the bank bought and built some 4,700 flats and houses for its staff." The story adds hopefully that "Germany's Government is on an austerity drive, and wants to avoid accusations of wasting taxpayers' money."

And in France, where the striking electricity workers have previously turned off the power to French government buildings, a new tactic to bring the system down: "French power workers who cut off the electricity at the Eiffel Tower for a few minutes overnight continued to wage a commando-style battle against privatization on Thursday by restoring supplies to homes with unpaid bills."

Elsewhere in France, "30 000 out of France's 575 000-strong Jewish community were considering immigrating to Israel" following the upsurge in anti-Semitic incidents. And that newest Old European, Spain, maintains its friendly attitude towards all things American, as "[t]wo would-be thieves tried to steal the mobile phone of President George W Bush's daughter Jenna as she sat having a coffee in a town near Cadiz." Yeah, show it to them Yankees.

In the previous installment you would have read about a Dutch magazine giving away to its readers cut-out voodoo dolls of German soccer players. I'm happy to report that this trend in building regional friendship and good-will through sport is spreading: a Swiss newspaper is now offering its readers a cut-out David Beckham look-alike with instructions to "rip this page out, pin it on the wall and stick in nails, needles and staples. If we believe it will work, then it will." Who says that the magic is gone from Europe? Meanwhile in London, a woman is divorcing her husband because he's too preoccupied with the European soccer championships. "The 56-year-old pipe-fitter has taken two weeks off work to go to the pub to watch the Euro 2004 championships with his friends." And we definitely don't want to read headlines like "Germans must attack better against Latvia." Even if it's not 1941 again.

Over and out for now. Thank you for joining us and see you next time.


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