26 April 2006


BerlinBear avatarIt's twenty years today since the Chernobyl disaster, the world's worst civil nuclear accident. My, how time flies. I remember the news reports and the concern, even in far-flung New Zealand, as if it were, well, less than twenty years ago.

As you would expect, the world's media are full of retrospectives, commentaries and reports about Chernobyl. Here are a few interesting ones:

The BBC website today devotes an entire "In depth" section to Chernobyl, including an interesting On this day retrospective and a number of Where are they now?-type victims' stories. I also found the Q&A section on Chernobyl very informative.

The English website of the German current affairs magazing Der Spiegel also has interesting coverage. The media roundup column "The World from Berlin" offers a concise and handy run-down on what the German newspapers are saying about Chernobyl today, while Lessons Forgotten looks at Ukrainian plans to go nuclear once more and build 14 new nuclear reactors. Finally, "Accident or Catastrophe" appealed to my linguistic geekiness, in examining the different terms used in different countries to describe what went on at Chernobyl.

Deutsche Welle's English website also dedicates an entire DW-World Special section to Chernobyl, which includes informative Flash presentations of the chronology of the disaster and the nuclear fallout from it. Included in that section is an opinion piece entitled Chernobyl: an Insidious Legacy, which considers the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, in particular the political fallout from it.

Of course, there are literally thousands of other articles out there covering this subject today, but those are a selection of the pieces I found the most interesting and informative. If you've got any others to recommend, please feel free to post a link in the comments.

An anniversary like this one, especially against the backdrop of recent developments in Iran, obviously gives one pause to consider nuclear power, its pros and cons, its dangers and benefits. This is a topic I've given a lot of thought to, especially in recent years. Which is not to say that I have reached what I would consider a definitive stance on the issue.

In fact, my opinion on nuclear power has evolved considerably over the course of the past few years, from one of absolute and vehement opposition, to one of considerable concern but nevertheless the recognition that in some circumstances it may be a necessary evil, and even the lesser or two (or more) evils. In short, I would have to say I've developed into a bit of a nuclear agnostic. But that is a topic for another post, or a series of posts. Perhaps one day not too far hence I'll get around to it. No promises though.

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25 April 2006


BerlinBear avatarToday, 25th April, is ANZAC Day, the day on which Australians and New Zealanders commemmorate the disastrous failure of the Gallipoli landings on this day in 1915, as well as remembering and honouring all those whose have served and fallen in war. It's a day of solemn remembrance, and a day of recognition of the futility of war.

Last year on this day I was in Berlin and attended an ANZAC Day memorial service, which I reported on in detail here. This year, as I am currently in Trier, there is no service I can attend, so I will just have to recognize the day in my own personal way. For this post, I'm going to let the words of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the commander of the Turkish troops at Gallipoli, who went on to become the founder of modern Turkey, do the talking for me. I find these words very moving and poignant. They give me goose pimples every time.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives...
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours ...

You, the Mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries
Wipe away your tears;
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they
Have become our sons as well.

Kemal Atatürk, 1934


24 April 2006

Shoddy headlining

BerlinBear avatarOh dear! The BBC news website has been hit by the shoddy headlining bug which plagues so many newspapers as well. From this article's headline we learn the extremely dramatic news that all of Peru has been evacuated:

Volcano prompts Peru evacuation

it screams. Curious as to where all the residents of Peru had been sent, I read on, only to discover that in fact it's the residents of villages close to the Ubinas volcano, which is currently erupting in Southern Peru. While this is doubtless a very significant event in the lives of the people affected, it's not remotely what the headline says.

What they meant of course is:

Volcano prompts Peruvian evacuation

or alternatively:

Volcano prompts evacuation in Peru

A subtle difference, but an important one. It means the difference between the headline telling the beginning of the story or being complete nonsense. Come on BBC, pull your socks up!

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21 April 2006

Happy Birthday Queenie

BerlinBear avatarIt's New Zealand's Head of State's birthday today. She turns 80. How nice.

So, happy birthday to
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith
or, as we say in New Zealand, where she has a different title
Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
Much catchier, I'm sure you'll agree. Eighty, eh? Jolly good show.

Personally, I quite like the Queen. I don't think much of the rest of her family, with the exception of Prince William who seems a solid young man, but I do like the Queen. She has grace and style and she speaks a delightfully antiquiated and faintly ridiculous English. And she has stamina, and she doesn't meddle in politics or fancy herself a "political activist" like her son.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not a royalist, by any stretch of the imagination. But then nor am I a staunch republican (in the "let's become a republic" sense of the word, not in the make-me-and-my-cronies-rich-and-screw-everyone-else- especially-the-French sense of the word). Basically, when it comes down to it, I don't really give a stuff.

Sure, having the Queen of England as New Zealand's head of state is anachronistic and a hangover from an imperialist and colonial past. Sure, it's hard to explain to non-Commonwealth people that our head of state is not a New Zealander, has never lived in New Zealand, and only visits once in a blue moon. Sure, it's pretty crazy that, if she fancied it, an 80 year-old woman in a palace in London could dissolve our parliament just because she felt like it. And sure, it's hard to make German university students grasp that a country can be a consitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy at the same time. But on the other hand, it's very cheap to have a head of state whose upkeep you only have to pay for for about a week every seven or eight years, when she and her ridiculous husband come to visit. Also, as the last 150-odd years have shown, the current system works just fine. And, to boot, it's handy not to have to bother writing a proper constitution.

In other words, I'm not in a huge hurry for New Zealand to become a republic. It'll happen in due course, sure, and when it does I'll think it's a Good Thing. But I'd just as soon watch and wait for the Australians to ditch the monarchy and become a republic first, observe carefully for a few years, watching for the things they get right and the things they get wrong, learn from their mistakes and then do it better.

In other other words, if it's only a little bit broke, wait for the Australians to show you how to fix it. They seem to be in much more of a hurry anyway.

In case you're interested, in true BBC style, the BBC website has an entire feature section devoted to the Queen's birthday today.

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Bears in the news

BerlinBear avatarBeing a bear myself, I always take note when one of my kind pops up in the news. In the past week, a black bear from China keeps getting a mention. That's because said black bear was the reason why the first face transplant ever performed in China had to be undertaken. It was only the second face transplant in the world, the first having been performed in France last year.

The recipient of the new face, or more precisely a new cheek, upper lip and nose - all from the one donor, was Li Guoxing, a 30 year-old hunter and farmer. He required the surgery after being attacked by a black bear some two years ago. Chinese media report that he is doing well, though it will be two months before doctors can be certain that his body has not rejected the new face.

While it's undoubtedly great for Mr. Li to have had his mauled face repaired, spare a thought for the bear. Given that Mr. Li was a hunter, for all we know, the mauling may have been self-defence, a matter of life or death for the bear. Perhaps he thought to himself "if I just rip half this guy's face off, but let him live, he at least won't be able to use his gun properly" or something to that effect. Or maybe it was revenge. Perhaps Mr. Li killed the poor bear's brother, or mother, or partner. Who knows? Just thought I'd throw the potential other side of the story out there, because the media reports have been neglecting it.

On a more serious note, New Scientist has a more detailed report on the face transplant operation, including consideration of ethical issues and whatnot. It's worth a read, though be warned, it contains pretty graphic images of Mr Li's new face and his old one, or rather lack of one. Not for the faint hearted.

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16 April 2006

Happy Easter

BerlinBear avatarA very happy Easter to all who celebrate it.

12 April 2006

Teflon John has questions to answer

BerlinBear avatarAlso on the front page of BBC News today is a story about the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. Now, anyone who's been reading my blog since the early days already knows what I think of Teflon John. To say he is my second most disliked Western leader would be to put it mildly. Back in April 2005, I put it like this:
I'm afraid that this just further confirms my previously-held impression of John Howard as, frankly, an arrogant tosser. ... If I were Australian, I'd view him as an embarrassment to my country.
and this:
[John Howard is] an odious little man with an attitude problem and a misplaced desire to turn his country into a carbon-copy of the USA.
This is the man, remember, who unabashedly maintained that the recent race riots in the suburbs of Sydney, stirred up by white supremacists and violently targeting the Lebanese community (some of whom retaliated with violence also), did not in anyway reveal a racist underbelly of Australian society. Yeah, right! And yet he keeps getting re-elected. Go figure.

In any case, it would appear that Teflon John is in a bit of trouble over an Australian link to irregularities (= accepted bribes) in the UN-administered oil-for-food programme, which allowed Iraq to export a limited amount of oil to pay for food. He has previously publicly denied that he or his government had any knowledge that kickbacks were paid under this scheme.

There is an inquiry into this scandal going on in Australia right now. John Howard has already submitted a written statement to said inquiry, but now, as the BBC reports today, he has been summoned to appear before it in person tomorrow. Oops! Not a good look, especially since this will apparently make John Howard the first serving Prime Minister to face an official inquiry in Australia since 1983. Poor chap, my heart bleeds.

You know what they say: where there's smoke, there's fire. I'll be watching the results with interest, to say the least.

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New Zealand makes front page of BBC News: Bad news as usual

BerlinBear avatarToday once again, New Zealand graces the front page of the BBC News website. As ever, though, it's bad news.

It would seem that a young British chap had been missing in the Coromandel region, after failing to return from a tramping excursion, and now they've found his body. That sucks.

Robert Atkin, from Lancashire, was only 26 and was just 3 weeks into what was supposed to be a one year long holiday in New Zealand with his girlfriend. Poor guy, and for that matter, poor girl. My heart goes out to her, and to the young man's family. What a horrible thing to have happen.

The BBC article notes:
Rescue workers said Mr Atkin had experience of hiking in the UK, but not in New Zealand.

They said last week that he may have become disoriented by using northern hemisphere sun settings and inadvertently headed further into the bush.
As a personal aside, I would think that that is quite possible. I've lived in Europe for six years now and I still haven't got my head around the different movements of the sun - or the moon, for that matter - here, as compared with back home. What chance does someone in their first three weeks on the other side of the world have, then?


Italian election result confirmed and denied

BerlinBear avatarFurther to my post yesterday on the results of the Italian general election, there has been an, umm, interesting development. The official results are in, and Romano Prodi has been confirmed as the winner, by the narrowest of margins. But that's not the interesting bit. The interesting bit is that the incumbent Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, refuses to accept the result and refuses to concede defeat, citing voting irregularities and disputed ballot papers.

Strange. All I can think of when I hear that is: hanging chads. It'll be interesting to see how this develops, and whether Berlusconi actually has something concrete to base his claims on, or whether this is just some sort of last-ditch gambit designed to help him cling to power. From what I've seen of Berlusconi, my money would be on the latter.

BBC News and Reuters have all the details.


10 April 2006

My heart bleeds

BerlinBear avatarWere today a Saturday, this would qualify as a "good news Saturday" post: exit polls in Italy suggest that Silvio Berlusconi may well have been ousted in the general election. No results have bee confirmed as yet, but as the BBC reports:
According to exit polls, centre-left leader Romano Prodi is on course to beat Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

A Nexus poll shown on Italian TV put Mr Prodi's coalition on 50-54% in both houses of parliament, with Mr Berlusconi's coalition on 45-49%.
All reports seem to indicate that the turn-out has been particularly high, up in the 80-85% region. It remains to be seen whether the official results will confirm these early reports, and if they do, what sort of a coalition Romano Prodi will be able to form, how long it will last, and how effective it will be. Italian governments, of course, are notoriously short-lived. Berlusconi's goverment, which now looks to be coming to an end, is the longest-serving Italian government since the Second World War.

I for one will not lament Mr. Berlusconi's election loss, should it come. Perhaps once he is no longer in power, the Italian authorities can pursue the corruption claims against him, without being thwarted at every turn and having special dispensations and laws passed especially for Berlusconi. We can only hope.

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Still here, honest

BerlinBear avatarUgh!
I'm back in Trier for a few days. In my absence, they've had a change of state government. I'll try to knock a proper post about it together later in the day.
Well, that never happened, did it? I've been rubbish. You'd be forgiven for thinking this blog was moribund, but it isn't, I swear. You'll see.

Anyway, the Rheinland-Pfalz (and Saxony-Anhalt and Baden-Württemberg) state elections are so long past they hardly seem worth commenting on any more, except to say that in their different ways, all three state elections seemingly strengthened the hand of the "grand coalition" at state level. Three entirely different results, but all pretty good news for the coalition of SPD and CDU that is running the country as a whole.

The state election results, for anyone who's still interested, are here, but it's all old news I'm afraid.

Must do better.