Live from Brussels

Musings from a bored analyst/project-manager.
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Saturday, March 08, 2003
 
More webcam fun

Right now I'm in the middle of an all-night coding binge with some friends: we're working on the website of Chiro, a Flemish youth movement a bit like the boy-scouts but different ;-)

(I'm the one with the beard wearing the red shirt)


Friday, March 07, 2003
 
CNN Cam

Since I'm not at home tonight, I'm leaving my webcam running and aimed at the TV while I'm away. I also increased the image size, so if this page loads slower than usual: it's just for a day or so...

 
Germany is Fooled

The German delegate is now speaking... He says the inspections should continue, as they are 'showing results'...
Seems like Saddam's deception is working again...

 
El Baradei III

Audio is back... Nigerian Uranium deals were probably fake. Some stuff about procurement being done which was prohibited... More investigations needed and ongoing...
His conclusion: inspections are moving forward, important progress made in assesment of Iraqi nuclear program. No resumption of nuclear activities found, no prohibited activities found, no attempts at importing uranium found, no evidence of aluminum tubes for centrifuges, no indication today that magnets were imported for magnetic centrifuge enrichment tools. No revival of nuclear program found...
Bet Powell's going to be p*ssed!

 
Damn!

Lost audio on the video stream... I can see he's talking, just not hear him.

 
El Baradei II...

The aluminum tubes: no evidence this was for nuclear purposes, but substantial evidence that they were to be used for conventional missiles, reverse engineered from foreign models.

 
El Baradei

Now El Baradei is talking: he claims that the Iraqi industry is in shambles and this is seriously hampering their nuclear program.

 
Blix II...

Hmmm, he concluded by saying disarmament could be achieved in months, with ongoing inspections, if Iraq cooperated.
In my opinion, twelve years has been enough time to achieve it...

 
Blix...

I'm watching a webstream of the new Blix report to the security council. I can't believe what I just heard: he actually quoted 1441, and pointed out that Iraqi cooperation had not, by the letter, been 'unconditional' or 'immediate'.
This should be enough for Powell... U.S.S. Serious Consequences should be underway!

 
Belgium's Ruling Coalition and Chickens

Last weekend, Peter Vanhautte, deputy for Agalev (the Flemish Green party),
was arrested during the preparations for a peace-protest. Well protest, there was a big possibility the 'protesters' were going to physically block the passage of U.S. military trains heading for the port of Antwerp in order to 'Stop the War'.

What makes this odd is that Peter's party Agalev is actually in the ruling coalition of Belgium! His party can stop these trains and kick the Americans out of Belgium (and Belgium out of NATO, consequently, and themselves out of the government) if it wants to.

Peter, it seems, would like nothing better: a few days ago he declared Belgium should kick out all American diplomats if a war breaks out in Iraq. With this extreme opinion he has bypassed on the left the already very leftist leadership of his own party. Luckily his comment was not given very much media attention and met with a lot of disapproval from the more right or centrist parties like CD&V and VLD.

But how is it possible that a Green Party with this kind of ideas is even in the ruling coalition?
It all has to do with chickens, and the way Belgium is organized. I'll get to the chickens later, but first I will try to explain Belgium to non-initiated foreigners.

Belgium has about 10.000.000 inhabitants, two-thirds of whom speak Dutch (and live in Flanders), one third speak French (and live in Wallonia) and a very small number speak German (and live in a few villages we took from the Germans after WWI). Now, there is a single Belgian federal government that rules all Belgians. But for each group, there is also a separate government to handle 'personal' matters (like culture, education, employment...). On top of that, there are also three 'regional' governments to deal with 'territorial' issues (road-works, industry, trade...).

To make things easier to understand (yeah, right), the Flemish regional and personal governments are joined together into one entity, while the territorial issues concerning the French and German speaking parts of the country are also handled by a single government entity. Brussels, which is the capital, has a separate territorial government (a bit like Washington DC).

For those of you still counting, that makes six governments for ten milion people (one federal one, and five regional/personal ones).
Now, tradition has always been that the ruling coalitions in all these governments should be the same if possible, to make inter-government issues easier to deal with. But here comes the knack: during the last election Belgium voted mostly for right of center parties (VLD, CVP, PRL, VB). But in Wallonia, the socialists are traditionally very strong and this time it was no different. By leveraging the power they had in the local government, they managed to force themselves into the national coalition by default.

For the past fifty years, the Christian Democrat party in Flanders had always been the biggest party in Belgium, so normally that would have been the end of the story: include Flemish socialists and Walloon Christian Democrats, and govern away... But just before the last election, something dramatic happened in Belgium... with the chickens!

A huge scandal had erupted over chicken feed polluted by oil which had gotten into the food chain, contaminating dozens of chicken farms and leading to the forced destruction of hundreds of thousands of chickens. This led to a distrust by the population of modern farming techniques, and led to a huge vote boost for the Green Party, and large losses for the Christian Democrats. The Christian Democrats even lost their status of biggest party to the VLD, an economically liberal but otherwise conservative Flemish party.

One thing led to another, and with coalition logic in Belgium being what it is, the new goverment was formed out of VLD, PRL-FDF-MCC (right of center), PS, SP (socialists) and Agalev,Ecolo (green). So despite more votes going to right of center parties, Belgium is now ruled by a center-left coalition, both supporting and condemning America at the same time.

All because of chickens...

Thursday, March 06, 2003
 
Palach Copycat Suicide

I just read this via the BELGA (Belgian press agency) newsfeed in Dutch which I get by e-mail: Czech man commits suicide in Prague square (link goes to a South African site, as this is one of the only two English language google news hits I managed to dredge up).
No reason is given in the article, but it does note that a suicide note was found nearby.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003
 
New Map

Via Little Green Footballs, an article by Thomas Barnett entitled: THE PENTAGON’S NEW MAP. Read it, as "IT EXPLAINS WHY WE’RE GOING TO WAR,
AND WHY WE’LL KEEP GOING TO WAR."


Tuesday, March 04, 2003
 
Yay!

Okay, like all the big bloggers, now I get to say stuff like: my latest is up at The Sprout.
Basically, The Sprout is a Brussels based web-magazine writing about the shenanigans of the E.U., and they've asked me if they could skim my blog for material about Belgium. And today they've put up the first edition of 'Flanders Slanders' (like that title).

 
Anti-Americanism Stinging Tourists

Just read this article about American having to deal with unfriedly locals in Europe, with a damning closing paragraph: USATODAY.com - Ugly sentiments sting American tourists
"Man, it was bad," says the Rat Pack-y star of Swingers. "These girls saw us and were kind of flirting, and they kept asking us if we were American. Finally we said, 'Yes,' and they just took off.
"One girl turns and says, 'We were hoping you were Canadian.' Canadian? Since when was it cooler to be Canadian?"
Me, I'll just pledge here to buy the first American I see at a bar a genuine Belgian beer... That is, if he or she isn't of the idiotarian persuasion ;-)

Monday, March 03, 2003
 
More Proof...

... that drivers in Belgium are speed-crazed love-freaks: Ananova - Dr 'Love' arrested for 110mph snog ;-)

 
Iranian News Agency on the Ball

One of the few foreign sources to have picked up this story:
Islamic Republic News Agency ( I R N A )HeadLines News
150 anti-war protesters released in Belgium

Brussels, March 2, IRNA -- The 150 peace activists who were arrested
by police in Belgium on Saturday for trying to prevent the transport
of American military equipment were released Sunday morning.
According to the Belgian RTL television, the 150 demonstrators
were taken into custody when they wanted to prevent the passage of a
train convoy transporting American military equipment in the Belgian
town of Melsele, in the Flanders region.
The police forces intervened even before the action began and
took all the protesters into custody.
The peace activists said they will continue their protests and
would try again to block the rail lines today.
The US military equipment that was transported from Germany to the
Belgian port of Antwerp by train was reportedly destined for the
Persian Gulf region.
In my opinion, police did go a bit overboard on this. There were even news reports of innocent bystanders getting arrested who just gathered to watch the protest. Stopping a direct action against a train is one thing, surpressing freedom of expression is another!
Although the head of the Flemish Green Party made a quaint statement about this affair: "It was a limitation of the 'freedom of action'". Freedom of action? What the ... is that?