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Tag: Brussels

Down with Article 13, which is now Article 17!

Saturday, 23 March, 2019

The EU, despite its enormous bureaucracy and budgets, has singularly failed to produce an Apple, a Google, an Amazon, a Facebook, a Twitter, an Instagram, a Microsoft, an Adobe, a Whatsapp, a Reddit, a Procore, a Wikipedia…. The list goes on and on and on and on and on.

Despite its enormous budgets and bureaucracy, though, the EU is very good at one thing when it comes to technology: the shakedown. If it’s not European tech and it’s really popular, fine it. That’s the thinking in Brussels, and this has turned out to be a rather nice little earner over the past decade.

The latest scam is a proposed reform of EU of copyright law (PDF). Brussels claims this would force internet platforms to share revenues with artists by forcing the likes of Google and Facebook to pay publishers for displaying news snippets and removing copyright-protected content from YouTube or Instagram. The platforms would have to sign licensing agreements with rights holders such as musicians, performers, authors, publishers and journalists to use their work online. To do this, the platforms would have to install filters to prevent users uploading copyrighted material, but these algorithms might not see the joke in Hitler’s comments about Boris Johnson. And the filters are seen by many as the thin end of an EU wedge to throttle free speech and impose Brussels-like dreariness upon a creative continent.

The European Parliament is set to have its final vote on the proposals next Tuesday and protests against the legislation are scheduled across Europe today. The demonstrations are being organized by the Save Your Internet campaign, which has labelled the legislation “a massive threat to the free exchange of opinions and culture online.” So, sign up, hit the streets and sing along.


Chesterton on Rome and Brussels

Tuesday, 29 May, 2018

“Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” So said the English novelist and poet G.K. Chesterton, who was born on this day in 1874. It is hard, however, to imagine a Chesterton of our era saying, “Men did not love Brussels because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.”

In Rome, the feeling of love that was once directed towards Brussels, the seat of the European Union, has increasingly turned to hate. This is because the two Italian populist parties that won a majority of votes in the 4 March elections were prevented from forming a government by President Sergio Mattarella because they reportedly oppose the euro, and this heresy is regarded as the most grave of sins by the currency prelates in Frankfurt, Berlin and Brussels. As a result, Italy is about to become the battleground for two fierce tribes: The people who voted for populism and the elites who have prevented the elected populists from taking power. What happens in the coming days and weeks of their conflict will affect the future not just of Italy but of Europe.

 G.K. Chesterton


Zuckerberg vs. Europe

Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

During Mark Zuckerberg’s two days in April before the House of Representatives and the Senate in Washington, the criticism from the opposite side of the Atlantic was loud. The questioning politicians were uninformed, old, laughable and, to boot, American. If only urbane Europeans were allowed to get their hands on the Facebook CEO, the truth would out and the ruffian would pay the reckoning.

Well, yesterday the European Parliament had its moment when Mark Zuckerberg appeared in Brussels. And the outcome? The format was totally unfit for purpose and Zuckerberg didn’t make a single substantial pledge to change the way Facebook operated. Sure, he said he was very sorry about how his platform has been used by disreputable people for reprehensible purposes, but was that a sufficient piety for getting him to fly across the ocean? Fine words butter no parsnips, say the Eurocrats in the Berlaymont, before they order another bottle of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru.

The reality is that Zuckerberg was never under pressure yesterday and Facebook has nothing to fear from the European Parliament’s toothless tigers. What’s more, just a few hours before the Brussels “grilling”, Jake Kanter had a story in Business Insider titled “The backlash that never happened: New data shows people actually increased their Facebook usage after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.” Snippet:

The Cambridge Analytica data debacle was billed as Facebook’s biggest crisis, but it looks like it didn’t even leave a scratch on the company.

Facebook weathered the worst of the storm and usage actually increased, according to a client note from Goldman Sachs, citing ComScore figures. In other words, the #deleteFacebook backlash never really arrived.

Goldman Sachs said Facebook’s US unique users on mobile rose 7% year-on-year to 188.6 million in April, when the scandal was biting hard… The findings, coupled with a full recovery in Facebook’s share price, completely undercut other research, which suggested that people’s trust in Facebook has nosedived since mid-March, when whistleblower Christopher Wylie first helped reveal that 87 million users had their data compromised by Cambridge Analytica.”

The MEPs in Brussels and the Senators in Washington can huff and puff as much as the like but they’re not the smartest people in the room when dealing with Mark Zuckerberg. Moreover, he’s not afraid of them. So where does that leave the rest of us? We are on our own and we must live with the complex reality created by these powerful platforms.


Evil is neither awful nor tragic. It is the enemy.

Tuesday, 26 July, 2016 0 Comments

Another day, another dreadful deed: Nineteen residents at a Japanese care centre for people with mental disabilities killed in a knife attack. Police have arrested a former employee. He is reported to have said he wanted people with disabilities “to disappear.”

The number 19 was central to another report, one equally dreadful, which went under-reported at the time, perhaps because the source was the Iranian Shia Ahlolbayt News Agency. “ISIS burns 19 Yezidi girls to death in Mosul” was the headline. After reading it, William Dalrymple, the English writer and historian tweeted yesterday, “This is so awful and tragic.” His choice of words was criticized by some who felt that “awful and tragic” were timid synonyms for such a monstrous crime.

Quite simply, “awful and tragic” do not cut it when we’re talking about deeds that “constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” So said the late Christopher Hitchens in The Enemy, his meditation on the death of Osama bin Laden.

According to Hitchens, “this force”, the one we have seen at work recently in Sagamihara, Ansbach, Nice, Mosul, Orlando, Brussels, Paris… “absolutely deserves to be called evil.” Here’s the full quote:

“I thought then, and I think now, that Osama bin Laden was a near-flawless personification of the mentality of a real force: the force of Islamic jihad. And I also thought, and think now, that this force absolutely deserves to be called evil, and that the recent decapitation of its most notorious demagogue and organizer is to be welcomed without reserve. Osama bin Laden’s writings and actions constitute a direct negation of human liberty, and vent an undisguised hatred and contempt for life itself.” — Christopher Hitchens, The Enemy

UPDATE: In Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, two IS adherents murder Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, by slitting his throat while he was saying Mass. Evil is now ascendant in Europe.


Occupied: Cold horror

Sunday, 22 November, 2015 0 Comments

Present: Norway supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports and 10 percent of its crude oil imports. Future: The US is no longer a member of NATO, fossil fuel reserves are running low and a new Norwegian Prime Minister has decided that his country will switch from oil and gas to alternative energy options. Faced with this crisis, Brussels turns to Moscow for muscle and thus Okkupert (Occupied) begins.

Conceived by Jo Nesbø, the best-selling Oslo-based writer, Occupied is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Norwegian and it is excellent. The scenery is cold, the colours are cold, the occupiers are cold and the horror is cold. With winter at hand, Occupied forces us to ask ourselves what we would tolerate to stay warm. The dismemberment of Ukraine? By the way, Nesbø had the idea long before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, but the story reveals the unease that many of Russia’s neighbors feel. It’s cold up north. Occupied is now showing on Arte, the Franco-German TV network.


Millions of migrants are on the march

Tuesday, 1 September, 2015 0 Comments

“It is projected that sub-Saharan Africa will have 900 million more inhabitants in the next 20 years. Of these, at least 200 million will be young people looking for work. The chaos of their countries of origin will push them further north.” So wrote Massimo Nava in Corriere della Sera a week ago.

The European Union is deeply divided about how to deal with the massive migration crisis that’s unfolding on its shore, in its mountains and at its train stations. Border controls are being blatantly ignored and policy is being made up on the fly. The proverb becomes reality: “Every man for himself (and the devil take the hindmost).” Example: A law aimed at discouraging refugees from settling in Denmark comes into effect today.

The plight of millions of human beings, exploited by traffickers and terrorized by religious fanatics, is distressing and only a person with a heart of stone would deny refuge to the exhausted and the traumatized, but beyond the individual and group suffering there’s a bigger challenge that demands an urgent, global response. The mass migration we are currently witnessing is a consequence of the real-time disintegration of states in the Middle East and North Africa. If this is not addressed, these endless waves of the displaced will erode the stability of the host countries. Such instability would turn Europe into a very disagreeable place, for both natives and migrants.

Those who find this kind of scenario apocalyptic, should note that countries and federations that wish to protect their sovereignty and citizens (the real purpose of government, after all) must control their borders. This does not exclude sympathy for those fleeing failed states, but the solution is to stabilize and rebuild failed states, not accept massive, unplanned shifts in population.

If the citizens of Syria, Libya, Eritrea, Bangladesh and all the other places that people are fleeing from cannot have decent lives at home, they’ll try to find better ones abroad. Unless Brussels, Washington, the Arab League, the African Union and ASEAN co-operate on this emergency, the situation is going to get much more frightening and Raspail’s fiction will become fact.

Syria


La recuperación del Calvario

Friday, 3 April, 2015 0 Comments

Sometime between 1455 and 1464, probably in Brussels, the obscure Netherlandish artist Rogier van der Weyden painted a notable crucifixion scene on fourteen planks of Baltic oak. It is housed now in the royal monastery of San Lorenzo del Escorial, northwest of Madrid and, recently restored, it is on exhibit in the Museo del Prado until 28 June.

Good Friday

“Christmas and Easter can be subjects for poetry, but Good Friday, like Auschwitz, cannot. The reality is so horrible it is not surprising that people should have found it a stumbling block to faith.” – W.H. Auden


What has the transatlantic relationship done for you?

Friday, 16 May, 2014 0 Comments

In these tense times, it’s not surprising that the outgoing NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has been contemplating the meaning of the transatlantic relationship “and how we can preserve it and make it even stronger for future generations.” In response, the German Marshall Fund of the United States is holding a blogging competition to explore the current state of the relationship and its future.

The author of the winning post will receive a round-trip flight to the 2015 Brussels Forum. Submit your entry by sending it to [email protected]. Posts should be between 300 and 500 words and they’ll be judged on the criteria of relevance, breakthrough ideas and web traffic. Humour is not one of the requirements, but it’s the essence of virality, as Monty Python proved, and it does get the message across.


Fack ju EU

Monday, 10 February, 2014 0 Comments

The comedy Fack ju Göthe premiered on 29 October in Munich and by the end of 2013 it had become the first film in six years to sell more than five million tickets in German cinemas. It’s about an ex-con forced to take a job teaching at a school located over the spot where money from a robbery is stashed so that he can dig up the cash. What’s made the film such a hit is the language. Ostensibly, it is the language of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, but it’s actually American Hip-Hop that’s been remixed with German by immigrants from Turkey, the Maghreb, Russia and the Balkans. The result is a pidgin that allows its speakers communicate by dropping articles, mashing up prepositions and disregarding the genitive, the dative and the conjunctive. And central to it all is the word “fuck”, or “fack” as it’s enunciated by those who find \'fək\ difficult to pronounce.

The word was in the mouths of Germans again at the weekend, but this time the establishment was voicing it, thanks to Victoria Nuland, the US Assistant Secretary of State whose F-bomb was secretly recorded and dropped on YouTube (apparently by the Russians). The impact was felt from Berlin to Brussels.

Fack ju EU

Although Ms Nuland could have been more subtle, her analysis is fundamentally correct. This was proved in another Russian-recorded conversation, this time between Helga Schmid, a representative of EU High Commissioner Catherine Ashton, and Jan Tombinski, the EU Ambassador in Ukraine. Snippet:

Helga Schmid: “I just wanted to tell you one more thing in confidence. The Americans are going around and saying we’re too soft, while they’re moving more firmly toward sanctions. […] Well, we’re not soft! We’re about to issue a very strongly worded statement about Bulatov!”

When was the last time that Putin lost sleep because of “a very strongly worded statement”? No wonder Nuland is so contemptuous of these people. Putin has no intention of going down in history as the Russian tyrant who lost the Ukraine and he’s not going to let statement typists stop him, either. He knows that the US and the EU have more power than the Russian Federation does, but he also knows that they don’t have a joint approach to Ukraine. Brussels and Berlin prefer to busy themselves drafting “strongly worded statements” and, as with Syria, the Obama administration keeps sending out signals that confirm Putin in his belief that he can bully the Ukraine without paying a price.

Fack ju EU, indeed. But it’s not just Victoria Nuland who’s saying it.

This just in: Switzerland goes there. It’s said Fack ju EU, too.

Denglisch


Kasparov checkmates Putin pawn Snowden

Friday, 4 October, 2013 0 Comments

It’s heartening to see that the grandmaster Garry Kasparov has more than 50,000 “likes” on Facebook. Not surprising, though, when one considers the quality of his posts. Take the 1 October one about the repulsive fact that the leaker and fugitive Edward Snowden has been shortlisted for the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament. As Kasparov points out: “…his providing cover to the Putin regime should disqualify him from any award bearing the name of the great Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.” And for the useful idiots in Brussels and across the West in denial about Putin’s police state, Kasparov adds: “The next day, the Russian Communication Minister announced that the Russian FSB (KGB) can listen to ANY conversation, read any email or text or any other form of communication with no warrant or special permission. I imagine Snowden will have some strong comments about this!” Doubt it. Pawns don’t speak.

https://www.facebook.com/GKKasparov/posts/10151918633533307

Note: The word “pawn” is often used to mean “one who is sacrificed for a larger purpose”. Because the pawn is the weakest piece on the chess board, it is often used metaphorically to indicate outright disposability: “He’s only a pawn in the game.”


Kissinger dials Brussels, gets bickering Babel

Tuesday, 28 May, 2013 0 Comments

“Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” That’s what Henry Kissinger is supposed to have said a generation ago and the persistence and the popularity of the anecdote can be attributed to the fragmented state of the Brussels-led union. Yesterday, the old rogue celebrated his 90th birthday and among the congratulatory tweets was this one:

If you’re wondering about the author, the Twitter account @eu_eeas provides the “Latest news from the European External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s Foreign & Security Policy Service led by Catherine Ashton.” Set up in 1 December 2010, with an initial budget of €9.5 million, this body, which is meant to act as the foreign ministry and diplomatic corps for the EU, offers the budding Kissingers of today, in desperate need of a number, a website with a choice of 23 different languages. To be fair, upon clicking through and after finding the Contact page, one is presented with +32 2 584 11 11. Some might regard this as a modest return, given the body’s huge 2012 budget of €489 million, a fat-cat salary of €286,580 for “High Representative” Baroness Ashton and a staff of 3,500.

Stepping off the gravy train for a moment, we find that 12-hour talks in Brussels concluded yesterday with European foreign ministers unable to reach the unanimous decision required to extend the current Syrian arms embargo. According to this news report, “analysts say Assad will be playing much closer attention to voices from Washington and Moscow, rather than the bickering Europeans.”

What’s that number again?