Austere, moi?

June 30, 2010 § Leave a comment


Is France heading for a British style expenses meltdown? Maybe not, since this is the country where a C’est normal is as much a default reaction as a frothy mouthed Ce n’est pas possible. However, now that details of politicians’ expenses have replaced political debate across the Channel, it was inevitable it should come over here like rabies in reverse. Recently, satirical journal Le Canard enchaîné revealed that the Secretary of State for Development, Christian Blanc, had €12,000 euros worth of cigars paid for him by the nation’s indulgence, while Libération also reported that Rama Yade, Secretary of State for Sport, had €600 rooms for her and her entourage whilst in South Africa, and a minimum outlay of 45 big ones, while watching the French team make a show of itself. This is the same Rama Yade who only a few weeks back complained the French teams’ accommodation was far too ostentatious, while neglecting to mention that it was cheaper than her own. Clearly, in Ms Yade’s case, it’s a question of where the lower orders should sleep.

But these are minor deities compared to the king of the Republic, Monsieur Sarkozy, who looking into his deep heart awarded himself a 172% pay rise two years back, and which he apparently intends to keep while his government preaches the new voodoo of austerity. A note for non-French speakers here, since “l’austerité” is a taboo word here in government circles – only “la rigeur” will do. In addition to the rigours of a wage he awarded himself, he has also gone ahead with a new Airbus A-330 plane for himself valued at €180 million. With Monsieur Blanc aboard, one hopes there are sufficient extractors to remove the smell of his Havanas, since even the best cigars can have a cheesy, tooty waft to them betimes. I’m here reminded of a song appropriately entitled Blowin’ in the Wind, in which Bob Dylan asked “How many times can a man turn his head / Pretending he just doesn’t see?” Well, quite.


Break a leg, France…

June 11, 2010 § Leave a comment

As you can imagine many Irish people are still having trouble not feeling furious that during tonight’s World Cup in South Africa, France is trotting out onto the field instead of… end of objectivity starts here… us. But Ireland, whose history has been punctuated by defeats at the hands of the English, the spuds, and the quick, deft ones of Thierry Henry, can at least console itself with pizzas. Yes, it has been brought to my attention that Pizza Hut in Ireland, is offering a free “pizza” for every goal scored against France during the tournament. It suffices to sign up to the chain’s Facebook page to get one delivered to your door when a ball hopefully flies into the French net. Given the recent form of the French team, which limped past the mighty Costa Rica 2-1 in a friendly, and lost to the football genius of China, the Hut has put a ceiling of 350 orders. I’m surprised that the makers of unreal pizza should be that worried about financial health in an unreal country. Currently, the government is swearing blind the country has “turned a corner”. Indeed, it has. It has turned a corner into mass unemployment (13.7%) for the sake of better credit ratings. With corners like these, there should be a Thierry Henry at every one of them, saying ““I will be honest, it was a handball… It would have been better to do it in another way.”

Yes, Thierry, maybe you will be honest one day, but never mind. All Europe, apparently, is headed into this terra incognita, so in the spirit of solidarity, I would like to extend a warm European merde to the players of my adopted country. Pursuing this Latin fondess for things cloacal, I wish them in Spanish, a buena mierda, a good shit. I also take take my cue from Germany – Hals und Beinbruch, Poland – połamania nóg, that I hope they break a leg, or as in the Czech Republic’s zlom vaz, that they break their necks. Like a Romanian I wish them Baftă, or blind luck, with an emphasis on the blind bit. Or as in Holland, I will say Toi, Toi, Toi, as if I were spitting on them. Let it never be said that the Irish aren’t good losers.

Anti-smoking lobbyists, meet Ms Bacall

June 10, 2010 § Leave a comment reports that a Belgian judge has filed two complaints with the EU court in Luxembourg calling on the union to ban the sale of cigarettes in Belgium. If the tribunal finds the case admissible, and then rules in favour of it, this could “lead to a ban on the sale of tobacco products across the EU.” At least “in theory”, the EUobs thankfully points out. Said judge, who goes by the name of Baudouin Hubaux, a “Belgian anti-smoking campaigner” (this would sound really funny in French), is asking the court “to examine if the sale of tobacco products goes against the Lisbon Treaty, the Charter of Fundamental Rights and the UN’s 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child.” Mr Hubaux muses that “Future historians who will explore the 20th century will surely be surprised at the timidity of measures against smoking. If we fail to reduce consumption, smoking will kill 520 million people worldwide between 1950 and 2050, 10 times more than the Second World War.”

I’m more inclined to think that historians of the future will “surely be surprised” that people with university degrees like Judge Hubaux made the question of fags a human rights issue, with World War II as the ultimate moral authority. I have no recollection that the armies of Nazi Germany ran through France, bombed London, or besieged Stalingrad with cartons of Marlboro Red. Unless the historians of the 22nd century are stupider than us, then they’ll also be aware that industrial societies have a vast appetite for noxious substances that prohibition cannot curb. There’s an unwritten law to human behaviour that if you repress something it pops up somewhere else as something else. Let alone the social impact of a blanket tobacco ban on, say, midnight on the 31st December 2011 (the Obs says this case could take 17 months), and the ten of millions of smokers who might be somewhat irked, then ratty, then doing a nicotineless berserker on New Year’s Day 2012, the good Judge doesn’t seem to forsee that a black market would inevitably scoop up the resulting loss of revenue, estimated at €67bn, to member states. But then maybe he doesn’t get out enough. By the way, EU stats report that smoking costs the union less than 5% of tobacco revenues at €2.5bn annually in health costs, but the bottom line should be that as 100% of human beings eventually die, health care should be completely unconditional. But sadly, the pathos of the human condition is so lost on these joyless puritans that they pontificate over people’s consumption habits as well as make free with World War 2 metaphors. Using their own accountant’s logic, I’d love to know what kind of revenue they generate, and above all how much they cost? More importantly though, did they ever bring a fraction of the pleasure to the world that a smoking Lauren Bacall did?

Europhrenia – One law for Europe, another for Africa

June 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Africa Research Centre has just published a study by Dr David Hoile on the International Criminal Court. Coinciding with the ICC’s first ever review conference in Kampala, Uganda, its title, The International Criminal Court: Europe’s Guantánamo Bay? somewhat betrays the mood.

“While the ICC presents itself as an international court this is quite simply not the case,” the abstract runs. “Its members represent just over one quarter of the world’s population: China, Russia, the United States, India, Pakistan and Indonesia are just some of the many countries that have remained outside of the Court’s jurisdiction.”

The European Union provides the ICC over 60 percent of its funding. The study argues that with its independence compromised, the selection of judges, “some of whom have never been lawyers, let alone judges” is the outcome of horse-trading among member states. Plus “ICC’s own statute grants special “prosecutorial” rights of referral and deferral to the UN Security Council, or more specifically its five permanent members.”
Could this lead to some discrepancies?

The ICC has ignored all European or Western human rights abuses in conflicts such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq or human rights abuses by Western client states… Despite over 8,000 complaints about alleged crimes in at least 139 countries, the ICC has started investigations into just five countries, all of them African.” The report also accuses the EU of “economic blackmail in tying aid for developing countries to ICC membership.”

Hoile has been accused of acting as a propagandist for the Islamist Sudanese government. He was formerly a researcher for Conservative MP Andrew Hunter, described by the Guardian as a “hard-rightest”. Admitted, it’s in Khartoum’s interests not to be arraigned before the ICC for crimes in Darfur, but however unusual Hoile’s pedigree, he seems to have raised pertinent questions about European double-standards. As the undisputed kings of bodycount, our claim to teach the rest of the world lessons in justice is somewhat shaky.

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Europhrenia – Is satire the new politics?

June 4, 2010 § Leave a comment

Please find below a video of two Australians explaining the Eurozone crisis. One line that would stick in the mind, if not in the craw, if it weren’t so vast, begins “How can broke economies lend money to other broke economies who haven’t got any money because they can’t pay back the money the broke economy lent the other broke economy… ?” Never mind that in the midst of the stat swirl, the debts of Ireland, Portugal and Spain are exaggerated, the big question is – How come it takes two Aussie comedians to provide such essential instruction?

I write thinking of economist David McWIlliams’ recent paper in the Irish Independent in which he drops something of a bombshell explaining that Irish banks haven’t been able to borrow these last few weeks. “The market is now as good as shut to us as money retracts from risky countries like Ireland to safer locations like Germany. This pattern is unlikely to change any time soon as the financial world comes to the realisation that the bailouts of recent months are only postponing the day of reckoning.” Interesting to note here that McWilliams also has his own satirical show running at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. I suspect that if he just tells Ireland’s recent economic history straight, he’ll bring the house down. We usually assume that political satire relies on exaggeration for its effects, but political life has become so unreal that it looks like only humour can provide us with a reality check. I’m not sure this is an entirely welcome development.


Europhrenia – Tonight’s blog isn’t about Israel

June 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

The boffins at Eurostat have published figures for unemployment across the EU, which now stands at a 10.1% high, with obvious, if I may be so bold, “regional” variations. Without wishing to sound like a Eurovision, here are the results of the pear-shaped jury, and what a pear it is, with all sorts of non-standard lumps. And the lowest jobless figures go to The Netherlands and… welcoming Austria, at 4.1 and 4.9%, while right at the top we find Spain and Latvia at 19.7% and 22.5%. La Lettonie, vingt deux points! When you think that most states diddle their unemployment statistics, how much would we bet that there are many more than a nation-sized 23 million out of work across our fair union?

But a special mention has to go to Estonia. Estonia is a joy for journos, who of recent have been doing cartwheels over its e-government (you can vote online, hoorah) and 2011 accession to the Euro (whizz!). As one writer beamingly wondered over pints of beer (I’d say about at least fourteen) with an Estonian citizen – “How does he explain his country’s magical success and the self-confidence of his compatriots?” Well quite. In the first quarter of 2009 unemployment in Estonia was at an allahkhazam 11%. It now stands at a hey presto 19%. I know I said this blog wouldn’t deal with Israel, but I don’t even think the formidable Tsahal press machine, which all week has portrayed its crack troops as victim puppies in the clutches of the Gaza flotilla mob, could pull off a pitch quite as beer-goggled as the “magical success” of mass unemployment. Clearly, the land that brought us the parting of the Red Sea, the voice of God in the burning bush, etc, has a knack for tall tales, but for brass neck, Europeans are more than a match.

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Europhrenia – Why is Israel judged by different standards?

June 1, 2010 § Leave a comment

So far it seems that nine civilians were killed during the storming by Israeli commandoes of the aid flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip. And, as far as I know, some Israeli soldiers got a proper kicking. Seth Freedman in the Guardian can’t get over “quite how savagely numerous activists greeted the arrival of the troops on to the ship.” In an article helpfully entitled “Israel had no choice”, he fumes that the activists did not conform to the “cute and cuddly image of stereotypical aid workers.” Savage that I am, Seth, if soldiers armed to the teeth absailed onto my boat, ostensibly not for a round of gins and tonics (a hat doff to Sam Jordison), I’d probably like to take a swing of greeting at them as well.

In Europe, rage over the massacre has surged then trickled into the appropriate institutional channels. L’Humanité, the official organ of the dregs of the French Communist Party wants the EU to “immediately suspend its association agreement” with Israel. Flemish daily De Morgen deplores “the EU’s support for Israel’s recent accession to the OECD.” On Facebook, there is now an Irish group calling on “any decent people” to sign up in order to expel Ireland’s Israel ambassador.

EU and OECD member states mandated by the UN continue to slaughter Afghan civilians month in month out, with only a fraction of the screeching that Israeli atrocities produce. “Decent” people apparently believe that these same states and institutions that have overseen sixty two years of destitution for the Palestinians can somehow solve the Middle East conflict, rather than their being the instruments that have sustained conflict in that region for, let’s say it again, sixty two years. This can only mean that British, French and American atrocities, assassinations and spin come with some higher moral authority that makes their ambassadors so much less expulsable, their economies so much more OECD appropriate.

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