Entre Nous / Musings of a Former Belgian
"History occurs twice, once as tragedy, the second time as farce." (Karl Marx)
"As best as I can tell, [antiwar spin] is a parody of Stalin: one person killed by America is a tragedy. A hundred thousand killed by Saddam, or a million by Pol Pot, are a statistic." (Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds)

Reflections of a former Belgian and "liberal mugged by reality" on politics, the US-European cultural divide, the conflict with Iraq, and the Israeli-Arab conflict.

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Wednesday, July 09, 2003
Exit Blogger, enter Typepad...

Entre Nous was picked as a beta tester for the new Typepad service. As Oscar Wilde used to say: "I can resist anything except temptation", so our blog is moving to:


All posts from the month of July have been replicated there: for the time being, the archives for March through June 2003 will stay on Blogger. Please make sure to update your bookmarks, and see you there!

Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Over the next couple of days Entre Nous will move to a new home. Pages may occasionally look weird as I muck around with export/import templates. Stay tuned!

Today's De Standaard [in Dutch], citing well-informed sources, reports that Washington is still not happy with the proposed "revision 3.0" of the "universal jursidiction" law, and wants the law abolished altogether. (Washington has refrained from commenting officially until an actual law is brought to parliament for a vote.)

If the law is to stay, the US would request scrapping the clause under which any Joe Q. Public can file a complaint under the law. The US also questions the role of the Chairman of the Court of Appeals, who is supposed to decide which countries are "democratic" and therefore competent (under the terms of the law) to judge their own citizens.

In this manner, as the newspaper puts it, the Belgian negotiators have been "sent back to square one" ("terug naar af gestuurd") for the second time.

The chairman of the Flemish Liberal-Democrats proposes attaching a immunity clause to the law under which citizens of EU and NATO countries (or other countries which are bound to Belgium by similar treaties?) would automatically enjoy immunity from prosecution under it. He also proposes handing the whole matter over to Parliament, which could save the Belgian government "loss of face".

Finally, the paper speculates that Belgian FM Louis "le nain jardin" Michel may be transferred to another ministerial post. The Flemish socialist Frank Vandenbroucke (who appears to be missing out on the Social Affairs portfolio) is said to come into the picture as possible Foreign Minister.

Monday, July 07, 2003
The Shark is again on a roll, and, moreover, has blogrolled yours truly.

Bush, stop beating around it Thus the Wall Street Journal enjoins the US President. One might hope they would have picked another title if the POTUS were a woman...

BBC eating it?
Instapundit rounds up coverage that suggests that the Biased Bull Commissars (as I've taken to calling the BBC) may finally be presented the bill for having degenerated into The Guardian's radio and TV branch.

Don't get me wrong: as much as I loathe al-Guardian, nobody obligates me to buy it or otherwise subsidize it. But you can't even own a TV in England without paying a hefty license fee that is basically used to finance the BBC. Under the cricumstances, I would probably have given up my TV. The following quote from the Times sums it all up:

[The recent confrontation with the Blair government] has left the BBC dangerously exposed. It has served as a catalyst, allowing diverse complaints about its news coverage to resurface simultaneously. The Beeb has been accused of, among other matters, fanatical suspicion of the motives of those in power and unrelenting hostility towards the Conservative Party. It has been attacked for a wholesale scepticism about capitalism, combined with a weakness for quack environmentalism and health-scare speculation over hard science.

Reporting the Middle East, it sometimes seems so remorselessly anti-Israeli that Mr Dyke might as well be open about it and allow his reporters to appear speaking Arabic, riding a camel, stopping occasionally to suck from a long pipe in a crowded souk.

Put bluntly, the BBC, a public sector bureaucracy funded by a poll tax, with a privileged status that looks starkly anomalous in an age of hundreds of television channels and thousands of radio stations, needs more friends. It is already detested by other broadcasters, derided by the print press for squandering its vast resources and damned by publishing houses for its increasingly aggressive marketing activities in their domain.

If the BBC wants to retain its privileged position when its charter is due for renewal in 2006, then it must construct a coalition of supporters broader than the Liberal Democrats, Friends of the Earth, Friends of Yassir Arafat, the sort of people who believe that taking an aspirin will inevitably result in limbs falling off and its own staff. It requires mainstream allies as well. . . .

The old consensus that Auntie [common BBC nickname, FB] should be preserved and protected is fraying; the contention that “something must be done” about the corporation is acquiring serious credibility.

Glenn Reynolds, in fact, argues that the problem is intrinsic to the BBC's very nature:

The likelihood that a major, state-subsidized entity with considerable political clout can actually be objective and fair over the long term is so small that it would seem better to drop the pretense, and to quit subsidizing the political views of the New Class under a threadbare cloak of public service that no longer fools anyone but the gullible.

UPDATE: Jerusalem Post editor Bret Stephens weighs in on the subject.

Witch hunt And speaking of modern witch hunts, here is a prime example. A white [ouch!] male [ouch2] Republican [ouch3] student (it doesn't say whether he is heterosexual [ouch4]) at Cal Poly had the temerity to... put up a flier for a speech by a black conservative, and may face dismissal for the "offense" he allegedy caused to other students by doing so. Freedom of speech, for me, but not for thee, unless thou agreest with me...
And these are the same kind of people who yell "McCarthyism!" when Joe Q. Public, after hearing Jane Q. Celebrity make an extreme statement that JQP disapproves of, uses his sovereign right to spend his hard-earned dollars on a CD by somebody else for a change. As the Dutch expression goes "may we go p*ke now?" ("en mogen wij nu gaan kotsen?")

Journalistic equivalence. Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal reviews the latest book by Ann Coulter, "Treason", in which she attempts to canonize "Tailgunner Joe" McCarthy. Calling somebody "the right-wing equivalent of Maureen Dowd" might violate the 8th Amendment of the US Constitution ("...nor [shall] cruel and unusual punishments [be] inflicted"), but I fear that it is a fairly accurate description of Ann Coulter.

Ms. Rabinowitz notes the bitter irony that some of those groups who must vehemently (and justly) decried the witch hunts and "blacklistings" of the McCarthy era are now deeply engaged in "thought policing" themselves.

For most people who use the term "McCarthyism" in and out of season miss the point of it entirely. McCarthy's crime was not that he went after "mythical" Communist tools and moles in the US -- they were there, all right, just as they were in Britain, other Western-European countries, and even in Israel (where the KGB suborned the deputy director of a semi-military research institute and actually succeeded in planting a deep-penetration mole [Israel Beer] as military secretary to David Ben-Gurion!). "Tailgunner Joe"'s crime was that he abused governmental powers for the whosesale destruction of careers and lives based on the flimsiest evidence, on 'guilt' by vague association, or mere hearsay. Tom Sharpe's wicked satire of the Apartheid-era South African security service ("He must be a Communist, because he went to college [...] and owns books with subversive titles like Red Riding Hood and Black Beauty") could have been written about McCarthy.

An autoritarian regime with a zero-tolerance policy on violent crime could decide to lock up everybody who ever said in jest or as hyperbole: "I'll kill [so-and-so] if he does that". Would the inanity of such a policy somehow exonerate real murderers and armed robbers?

UPDATE: even David Horowitz has had it with Ann Coulter (must-read!).

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Wim de Vriend sent me an article (in Dutch) from NRC-handelsblad about the latest report of the CPB ([Dutch] Central [Socio-Economic] Planning Bureau) [CPB press release, complete report in PDF format from CPB site].

One of the rationales often cited for the liberal Dutch immigration policy is that it would offset some of the negative consequences of the native-born population's inverted population pyramid (known as "vergrijzing", or population senescence, in Dutch). The younger non-European immigrants, with much higher reproduction rates to boot, would put more money into the welfare system (as social security taxes) than they would get out of it (as social benefits).

What happened is a textbook example of "the law of unintended consequences": in fact, the unemployment rate among this "allochtone" population is much higher than among the native-born. (Dutch society is not exactly known for racism, but there are only so many jobs that can be filled by people with limited education, and such jobs generally are among the lowest-paid and hence among those who pay the least social security taxes.) As a result, the social benefits systems is actually getting depleted faster than it would otherwise have.

The press release contrasts a "demand-driven" system of labor migration -- under which immigrant workers are only admitted if nobody within the realm is able or willing to fill existing vacancies -- with the "supply-driven" systems of traditionally immigration-based countries like the US, Canada, and Australia. As the social safety net in those countries (even Canada) is much less generous than that of the Netherlands (thus argues the report), supply-driven immigration (regulated by annual quotas or a "point system") may be a rational choice for these countries, but a "demand-driven" system would be more appropriate for the Netherlands.

A linguistic note to Wim: the "horrible" Dutch words "autochtoon" (native-born citizen) and "allochtoon" (immigrant of foreign origin) literally mean "[from] soil of self" and "[from] soil of other" in classical Greek. And they represent one of the rare occasions where "allochthonous" Dutch is in fact more compact than English :-)