Monday, August 09, 2004

All in the same EU-Boat, Part 5 

It's that time of the news cycle again to take a look at what our European cousins have been up to recently. It's that time again to find out why the Europeans, God bless them, are more intelligent and cultured, more fashionable and sophisticated, and more morally aware then the Anglo-Saxon riff-raff inhabiting the outlying continents and islands of the world. It's that time again to ponder on the stories below and say:

Dear Europe, get over it. You're just like the rest of us, only older.

broke with the tradition of the German head of state making France the destination of the first official foreign trip, and visited Poland instead. "Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski was delighted with the decision. 'This is a sign of how closer our relations have become,' the Polish leader said in an interview with Berlin's Tagesspiegel newspaper. In an article Köhler wrote for the Polish paper Gazeta Wyborcza, he stressed his biographical ties with Poland. Köhler was born in 1943 in the Polish village of Skierbieszow, but his family was forced to flee at the end of the war along with millions of other ethnic Germans. 'This means that I can help Poland realize its dreams and hopes in Europe,' said Köhler." It sounds like a diplomatic case of "treat 'em mean, keep 'em keen," but what will the scorned France think?

Meanwhile the German-British love affair seems to be a one way street, according to this recent study of
young people's attitudes conducted by the British Council and the German Goethe Institute. Overall, 50% of young Germans have visited Great Britain; "[they] view the UK as a successful multi-cultural society which is modern and future-oriented. Britain is also considered to be a country where important trends are set, for instance in the art and music scenes." On the other hand, only 37% of young Britons have visited Germany; "[Germany]'s not seen to be trendy, but most young Britons mention Germany's technological capabilities and its drive for perfection... Many young Britons still believe that Germans are not open-minded and - even worse - without any sense of humor." Long live the European Union of Stereotypes.

And in case you had any doubts, Spain has most definitely
ditched the New Europe: "In an interview with French daily Le Monde [of course - ed.], [Spanish Prime Minister] Zapatero said, 'France and Germany are the two decisive countries for the European construction and Spain should be there.' He acknowledged that Spain has re-joined the European family after the departure of his predecessor Jose Maria Aznar, who had 'one foot in Europe ... and one outside to slow it down'." Meanwhile, as the previously quoted story suggests, Germany thinks that Poland is the other decisive country in Europe, and Poland thinks it's the United States, so we're back to square one.

Speaking of Spain, its relations with Great Britain are rather strained at the moment over the decision of the Brit Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon to attend Gibraltar's celebrations of
300 years of British rule. In the words of the Spanish foreign secretary Miguel Angel Moratinos, "This commemoration of a past military event weakens the relationships with Spain. It turns out to be very strange that in this 21st century, the military occupation of part of an EU member-state's territory is commemorated by another member-state." The best response comes from the Conservative Party's Shadow Foreign Secretary Michael Ancram: "Grow up."

Lastly, this - about
strained relations with oneself: "Citing bad service and high prices, French residents are choosing other Mediterranean sites, such as Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Croatia for their holidays. 'This year I'm going to Barcelona because at least people there smile and are welcoming,' a senior Peugeot executive said." Something must be going right in the world when even the French don't like the French.

In the TRANS-ATLANTIC RELATIONS NEWS, the government of Austria is planning to honour their most famous expatriate son, Gov Schwarzenegger, with a 1 euro ($1.25)
postage stamp. "The stamp features a portrait of a serious-looking Schwarzenegger in a suit and tie in front of the U.S. and Austrian flags. It also bears his name, the word Austria in English and the number 100, signifying that it is worth 100 cents." Austrians, depending on their attitude to Arnold, will now be able to either lick or spit at his back.

German government has meanwhile brushed off reports that the United States is planning
to block Germany's bid to obtain a permanent seat at the Unites Nation's Security Council. "The German government stands by its position that the United Nations Security Council should be reformed... Germany is ready to take up its responsibility as permanent member of the UN Security Council." There's already four vetoes on the Security Council to every US action; the fifth one hardly constitutes a reform.

On the positive side, you might remember
Aage Bjerre, the Danish pizza maker and a passionate supported of the American invasion of Iraq. Last year, Bjerre was sacked for refusing to serve French and German tourists, as a form of protest against these countries' anti-American foreign policy. Bjerre also spent eight days in a minimum security jail for refusing to pay the fine for his offence. Well, Bjerre has just been fired from his new job, for again refusing to serve German tourists. Isn't it the time that the right-wing blogdom has finally honoured this champion of the American alliance?

And speaking of Europe's own Axis of Evil (the United States, Great Britain, Israel), who can forget the recent kind offer by French President Chirac
not to receive Israeli PM Sharon, after the latter called on French Jews to emigrate to Israel, following the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in France.

our friends the Germans are reportedly dropping the charges against a Hamburg-based Moroccan Mounir el Motassadeq, accused of aiding the September 11 hijackers, because of concerns that evidence supplied by the Americans might have been obtained through torture. "[The testimonies from America contain] no details as to where [the witnesses] were questioned, nor whether torture or other forms of force were used to make them talk," says a senior German intelligence official. Notice the reversed presumption: you have to prove that terror suspects were not tortured, but since that's too difficult to prove we'll just throw out the evidence altogether. This would be funny if it actually wasn't so serious. I can't say I'm surprised though, remembering the story I reported some time ago, about German military personnel refusing to take Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan because they would have to be turned over to the Americans who might in turn abuse them.

Meanwhile, as America had its own scare with
Syrian musicians, Spain is keen to learn from the experience. The Iberian authorities have now, without providing any reasons, denied entry visas to the Nokhchu youth folklore group from Chechnya. The group was to perform at the 16th International Folklore Festival. The Spanish decision is entirely understandable; after all, we've all heard of the dreaded suicide folk dancers of Grozny.

Somebody else, however,
hasn't learned from the recent American experience: "A German teenager faces legal action after faking his own kidnapping because he didn't want to finish his compulsory military service." Speaking of military service, in case you were wondering about the European military prowess, wonder no more: "A number of Finnish conscripts have been excused their full term of military service because they are addicted to the Internet... Doctors have found the young men miss their computers too much to cope with their compulsory six months in the forces."

In ECONOMIC NEWS, still more evidence why Europe is an economic superpower with a healthy, dynamic, flexible and ever-expanding private sector.

In Germany, Holiday Inn hotel near Dusseldorf airport has become the site of the country's first
"Sandpit Academy", where Germany's top managers are being sent to learn better management and leadership skills. "Organisers of the course say being in the sandpit will teach the managers to communicate with each other as they build sandcastles together." Surely, though, "building on sand" and "building sand castles" seem rather dangerous metaphors to impress on business managers when teaching them the best practice.

Also in Germany, Bernd Lamprecht, a 38-year old executive who have been unable to find work for the past two years, has
put himself up for an auction on eBay with a starting bid of 1 euro. Lamprecht is offering consulting services. Maybe he should start in a sandpit.

In France, an electricity industry worker Corinne Maier is facing a disciplinary action after publishing a book about how to survive inside the French corporate structure
without having to do any work. The book, "Bonjour Paresse" (Hello Laziness), advises readers to choose "useless" jobs such as consultants, advisers, or experts. It also contains gems of advice, such as always carrying bundles of paper to make oneself look busy.

In Belgium, "[a] move by the Brussels Transport Minister to make
public transport free could cost up to EUR 130 million, say critics." Because, as the rest of the world knows, somebody in the end always have to pay for the free things, and it's generally tax-payers.

Speaking of "free" things, "Spain's
state television is expected to chalk up record losses of EUR 757 million this year... Spain's new government wants to reform it and do away with the non-stop diet of bad South American soap operas, films you would never watch and late-night chat shows that is as a national joke." At least if the joke was funny maybe more people would watch it.

Meanwhile, after recent industrial actions involving buses, trains, planes, hospitals, universities, courts and security guards, Italians finally find
a strike action that goes too far: "For the first time, a federation of consumer rights' associations asked Italians to switch off their cell phones for two hours."

It's not all economic bad news, however, as French workers at a car component factory owned by the Bosch concern unilaterally and almost unanimously
voted to accept longer hours for the same pay, in defiance of France's 35-hour working week laws. Even the BBC notes:

"The idea of restricting working hours is based on what economists call the 'lump of work' fallacy - the idea that there is a fixed amount of activity in the economy which can be chopped up into smaller pieces, creating jobs.

"In fact, there is no such correlation. Over the past 30 years, the average working week in France and Germany has contracted by about one-fifth, while unemployment has, if anything, risen; in the US, employment has increased despite a sharp expansion in working hours."
French workers are obviously starting to understand basic economics; hopefully French politicians will eventually follow (to his credit, at least one is already: France's Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has recently said that "[t]he 35 hours have killed growth since 2000.") . Still, the Old Europe will have to wake up to these economic realities sooner rather than later: the Italian company Benetton is yet another concern closing up its factory in Spain and shifting its operations to Eastern Europe. The situation is the same in France.

In SCIENCE NEWS, German scientists at Bremen University have demonstrated yet again why their country is a world leaders in Research & Development and an industrial giant. The latest breakthrough:
blondes are more stupid after listening to blond jokes:

"The researchers submitted 80 students at Bremen University to a test of speed and accuracy, with 40 of the students blonde. The scientists then confronted half of the blonde test group with a negative stereotype about blondes before taking the test. The group that was aware of the negative expectations of blondes performed consistently poorer than the others, unable to answer as many questions in the allotted amount of time."
If only somebody in the 1930s told blond jokes to the Aryan blue-eyed blond beasts, we might have been saved the Second World War.

In EDUCATION NEWS, it seems it's not just the dumb Yankees who
don't know anything about their history - the British kids are catching on fast:

"A sizeable slice of younger Britons think Gandalf, Horatio Hornblower or Christopher Columbus was the hero of the English fleet's defeat of the Spanish Armada... Less than half identified Sir Francis Drake as a key figure in one of the most famous sea battles in British history, the poll for the BBC showed.

"A third of 16 to 34-year-olds did not know that William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, while more than a fifth of 16 to 24-year-olds thought Britain had been conquered by the Germans, the Americans or the Spanish."

In AVIATION NEWS, the management of the Irish budget airline Ryanair accepted the resignation of a senior pilot for allowing two off-duty cabin staff to fly from Spain to Ireland seated in the toilets. The cabin staff involved were sacked after they refused to resign. And from Russia, this story of reverse air rage, as drunken flight attendants on a domestic Aeroflot flight beat up a passenger who complained about their intoxication.

In HEALTH NEWS, German authorities have established another risk factor in their domestic
obesity crisis: geographic location: "More than half of the people living in eastern Germany are overweight, according to the statistics office in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania takes the cake, with 56 percent of adults carrying excess kilos." The state of Mecklenburg-Western Pommerania obviously takes far too much cake.

And from Great Britain comes new research, showing that the Scots are significantly
less healthy and happy with life than their English neighbours. "[The study] found that Scots are as miserable now as they were in 1973, despite incomes rising more than elsewhere in the UK. The creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1999 similarly failed to bring cheer." The relocation of Scotland to somewhere sunnier, drier and more interesting might do the trick.

British men, overall, are champion
couch potatoes who spend nearly half their free time in front of TV. Only Hungarian men, who spend 51% of their free time watching television, are worse than the Brits, whereas German and Norwegian men are the least likely to indulge in TV. According to another study conducted by Eurostat, the EU statistics office, French people spend more time asleep (over eight hours) than other nine European nationalities polled. The Swedes sleep the least. Must be those long arctic days.

Also in Sweden, an
innovative health awareness campaign: "The Swedish organization A Non Smoking Generation covered Stockholm in posters claiming that smoking stunts penis growth and that cigarette filters are filled with mouse excrements, along with other lies aimed at getting kids to stop smoking. 'We wanted to raise awareness about how the tobacco industry always promotes its products -- through lies,' head of the organization Anne-Therese Enarsson told AFP." Coming next to Stockholm: an anti-masturbation campaign.

In OPEN-MINDEDNESS AND TOLERANCE NEWS, the recent Norwegian trend in
public sex continues: "Police in Larvik, south of Oslo, received several calls Monday afternoon from startled passersby who came upon the couple [having sex] in broad daylight, just outside the public library downtown... [The couple] were clearly intoxicated." No kidding. "The man was fined NOK 8,000 while the woman was fined more, NOK 8,500, because she attempted to give police a false name." As all porn stars do.

The Brits, on the other hand, are encouraged to do it in private but screen it in public, with the
Xplicit British Film Festival requesting amateur couples to submit their home made movies. And in Croatia, a Member of Parliament was recently busted for watching a porn movie on his laptop during a parliamentary debate about road safety. Bad jokes about doing 69 in a 60mph zone spring to mind.

Female German politicians, meanwhile, argue that
it's alright to show your chest in public; if you're male, that is:

"[Members of Parliament] Evelin Schoenhut-Keil and Margareta Wolf started a campaign to give female fans the chance to see more of the men on the pitch.

"They got involved after watching Portuguese [soccer] star Cristiano Ronaldo get booked for whipping off his shirt during Euro 2004. After heading the goal which brought a 1-0 victory for Portugal against Holland, Ronaldo pulled off his shirt to the cheers of spectators. The referee, however, showed him a yellow card - saying Ronaldo's show of skin was 'unsportsmanlike conduct'.

"The Green MPs, who are members of the ruling coalition, decided to make a stand against the yellow card punishment. Thousands of German woman have already backed a petition demanding the rules be changed to allow hunky footballers to tear off their shirts and parade their torsos after a winning goal.

"In an open letter to the German Football Association, the MPs wrote: 'Get rid of the yellow card and instead let players show their athletic torsos.' Schoenhut-Keil added: 'We can't understand how the voluntary showing of a gorgeous male chest can be objectionable'."
It's encouraging to know that the German Greens really put their weight behind the issues of vital importance to the people of their country. I'm eagerly awaiting calls by male Green MPs for female beach volleyball players to take their tops off. Meanwhile, France, the birthplace of tolerance, has recently passed a law that would allow the authorities to expel foreign nationals who have called for discrimination against women. At least the American women should now feel safer in France. But, alas, not in Sweden, where the heiress and party girl Paris Hilton has been abused at a convenience store for being a "whore" and an American. No reports as to which quality the assailant considered to be worse.

In CULTURAL NEWS, English Heritage, the body which acts as a guardian of various historic sites in Britain, is advertising for a
court jester, a position which disappeared from the British job market in 1649. According to an add in London Times, the successful applicant "[m]ust be mirthful and prepared to work summer weekends in 2005. Must have own outfit (with bells). Bladder on stick provided if required." If only Michael Moore was thinner. And funny.

Meanwhile, the Swiss
miss out on the blogging epidemic that is sweeping the rest of the world. Even though Switzerland has 48 regular Internet users for every 100 people, only about 1,000 Swiss blogs are in existence. Martin Hitz, a journalist and himself a blogger explains: "The Swiss probably feel they have less of a need to talk to other people than the Americans. It's possible that our reserve stands in the way of a Swiss blog boom, because you have to expose yourself in a blog." We can only wish this modesty and reticence would spread across the border to France.

In (QUASI) RELIGIOUS NEWS, problems are reported at the
"shrine" of "Saint Diana": "Britain's troubled Princess Diana Memorial Fountain suffered another hiccup less than a week after it caused flooding -- this time running dry. Officials said the water flow was stopped Tuesday due to a pump blocked by fallen leaves -- the same cause of flooding shortly after the £3.6 million ($6.6 million) fountain opened eight days ago. But although bad weather was blamed, this time the sun was shining in London." The authorities, of course, blame visitors who throw rubbish into the fountain, including diapers, and allow their dogs to wander into the water.

In LAW AND ORDER NEWS, a Russian man was recently refused a new passport by the police, having been officially listed as dead in a terrorist attack two years before. The clincher is that his "body" has been originally identified by his wife. Who's blind.

And two court stories from elsewhere in the Eastern Europe. A Romanian man started
over 100 lawsuits against his former employer, all because he fell in love with the judge. "Sandu Gurguiatu, 47, says he kept starting new cases because he wanted to keep seeing Judge Elena Lala." Also in Romania, following in the proud footsteps of America's masturbating judge, Judge Florea Visan was forced to resign from the bench after he dropped his pants during an argument with his neighbours and mooned them. "He was also caught on camera urging his young children to shoot the neighbours. Judge Visan, who worked for the Tribunal in Bucharest, is said to have had personal problems." You don't say.

And from the other side of Europe comes the news that Spain, in the estimed company of Brazil, Mexico and Paraguay, is among the world's worst
pirated music offenders.

In REAL ESTATE NEWS, wealthy people with a taste for exotic seclusion are encouraged to buy their own
islands off the Croatian coast. Unfortunately the islands come without beaches, which remain the property of the Croatian government and have to be leased separately.

In SPORTS NEWS, Greek farmer falls
victim of the Olympic torch, as police helicopter accompanying for security reasons the torch relay on the island of Crete spots an illegal marijuana plantation. In other sports news, Germany has triumphed in the world boomerang throwing championships. Said Benoit Vincent, one of the directors of the tournament: "Germany took the lead at the start and never looked back," which is a generally unadvisable, considering that boomerangs do return. Another sporting gold, this time for the neighbouring France: "A French seaweed collector retained one of the world's lesser-known sporting titles at the weekend - that of champion snail spitter, propelling the tiny creature a total of 9.38 meters (31 feet)." Make that cheese-eating, snail-spitting, surrender monkeys.

In ANIMAL WELFARE NEWS, the Belgian government is planning to
ban circuses from having performing animals. "A circus without wild animals is not a circus," circus representative Alexandre Bouglione reacted angrily. "The public come to the performance to see the wild animals. Modern circuses that do not have animals are all subsidised because they are commercially unviable." Poor Mr Bouglione obviously forgets that subsidising commercially unviable ventures is never a problem for European governments.

The Italians are, if anything,
even more hardcore than the Belgians: "[Monza] has banned people from keeping goldfish in bowls. Giampietro Mosca, one of the council officials, said: 'A fish kept in a bowl has a distorted view of reality and suffers because of this... Also, this type of receptacle generally doesn't have a filter and doesn't allow for good oxygenation of the water, unlike in rectangular aquariums."

Please, can anyone let Europe out of its bowl?

That's all for today. See you next time.


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