European News

France a remis la Legion d'honneur à Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan un acteur indien a gagné la Legion d'honneur. Bachchan 'est une véritable légende vivante dans son pays avec quelque 140 films à son actif'. Aussi, Bachchan était le presenteur de कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. C'est le versionne indien du 'Qui veut gagner des millions?' Amitabh Bachchan, an Indian actor has won the Legion of Honour. Bachchan is a veritable living legend in his country with some 140 films to his credit. Also, Bachchan was the presenter of कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. This is the Indian version of 'Who wants to be a millionaire?'

(If there are errors in the French or Hindi, please let me know).

Non à 2008!

According to the BBC News website, protestors in Nantes spent december 31st protesting against 2007. "Now is better". They "called on governments and the UN to stop time's "mad race" and declare a moratorium on the future"

The tension mounted as the minutes ticked away towards midnight - but the arrival of 2007 did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm.

The protesters began to chant: "No to 2008!"

They vowed to stage a similar protest on 31 December 2007 on the Champs-Elysees avenue in Paris.

Further details (in English) and in French (1) (2)

Goat Challenge

There is a town in Sweden where every year they erect a giant straw goat, and every year, sometimes within hours, someone comes along and burns it down To my mind there are several solutions

1) Fireproof your goat 2) Stop putting up the goat (but then the arsonists win) 3) Embrace the tradition, guard the goat, and then have a goatburning party.

I'd go with option three, but they're going for option 1, this time making sure that the fireproofing is waterproof (in a previous year they fireproofed it, but it then rained and the goat burned down soon thereafter).

Unfortunately, rather than just quietly fireproofing, they've issued a statement:

"No-one is going to get our goat this year," says a local spokeswoman with confidence.

Is it just the way my brain works, or does that sound like someone is throwing down the gauntlet?

There is a goatcam - and as I write it's still unburned.

This is a goat with some serious bad luck though, on last year's article we get a brief history of the goat:

  • 1966: The first goat is burned down - beginning the tradition
  • 1970: It is set on fire six hours after being erected
  • 1971: Tired of arson, the project is abandoned. Schoolchildren build a miniature. It is smashed to pieces.
  • 1976: A car crashes into the goat
  • 1979: The goat is burned down before it is finished
  • 1987: The goat is treated with fire-proofing - but still goes up in smoke


On Jo's Journal, there is a post about the seatbelt laws, in relation to comments made by Boris Johnson. She quotes an article:

Oxfordshire MP Boris Johnson has come under fire from a woman who lost her son in a road accident after he described a new law on child booster seats as "crack-brained.”

The Henley MP, who was criticised last month for allowing his two sons to sit together in the front seat of a sports car, condemned the Government for forcing families to install safety seats for children aged up to 12.

This is my response:

Whilst it's always tragic that a misadventure ends in a death, that does NOT imply that any and all steps are taken to avoid those circumstances.

To use a different example:

Should eleven year olds be banned from crossing the road 'just in case'?

If such a law were introduced, would it be described as 'hair brained'?

Should someone whose child died whilst crossing the road be listened to when they 'slam' whoever describes it thus?

Risk is part of life, the issue is, is the cost involved proportional to the risk taken?

If one in a billion is affected, a 1 pound per person cost of offset the risk is too much. If 1 in ten is affected, a 1 pound per person cost to offset is a bargain.

I don't know how many children are involved in car crashes, but there is a cost in supplying all the child seats. At some level the cost outweighs the benefit (a tough call if it's your child - but nothing was stopping the use of a seat before). This is hard-nosed reasoning, but it's true nonetheless.

A thirty pound expenditure in every family to prevent one death is a lot... to prevent a thousand is probably reasonably. But where is the dividing line?

It remains true that for the individual concerned, any price is worth paying, but like it or not, that's not the basis of sound policy when making laws for a large population.

Reading Boris' article, he makes the exact same point:

OK folks: you do the maths. You think how many millions of car journeys are there involving children every day. You might decide that it is still worth installing booster seats for all under 135cm. But with odds like that it should surely be a matter for individual choice and not international coercion.

There are some really nice comments, such as this:

If an MP has to explain why he fought against the legislation then surely the parent who did not put the child in a booster seat, but then blames the lack of booster seat for the childs death has even more explaining to do.

.. and this one

I was standing in the bakery, waiting to buy a cornish pasty the other day. In front of me in the queue was a woman who was probably about 40 years old, but less than 135cm (4'5'' and a bit).

.... she will still be allowed to sit in the front seat, and will not have to sit on a booster. So basically [they've] decided that we don't know how to look after our kids until they are 12.

Bruce Schneier on terrorism (again)

Bruce Schneier has another good article on terrorism, essentially saying in an eloquent way what I've been boring anyone who'll listen with for the past couple of weeks.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

We're all a little jumpy after the recent arrest of 23 terror suspects in Great Britain. The men were reportedly plotting a liquid-explosive attack on airplanes, and both the press and politicians have been trumpeting the story ever since.

In truth, it's doubtful that their plan would have succeeded; chemists have been debunking the idea since it became public. Certainly the suspects were a long way off from trying: None had bought airline tickets, and some didn't even have passports.

Regardless of the threat, from the would-be bombers' perspective, the explosives and planes were merely tactics. Their goal was to cause terror, and in that they've succeeded.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if they had blown up 10 planes. There would be canceled flights, chaos at airports, bans on carry-on luggage, world leaders talking tough new security measures, political posturing and all sorts of false alarms as jittery people panicked. To a lesser degree, that's basically what's happening right now.

Our politicians help the terrorists every time they use fear as a campaign tactic. The press helps every time it writes scare stories about the plot and the threat. And if we're terrified, and we share that fear, we help. All of these actions intensify and repeat the terrorists' actions, and increase the effects of their terror.

Quite so.

Mont St. Michel

A traffic sign at high tideLe Mont St. Michel on a wet morningLe Mont St. MichelWork on the Mont St. Michel silting problem has begin Mont St. Michel is off the coast of Normandy (near the Brittany border) and silt has been gradually filling the bay it's in. The plan is to add a dam and filter the sediment from the water, so that as the tide retreats, clean dam water 'flushes' the silt away. The causeway is to be replaced by a bridge.

20 Years Since Chernobyl

It was 20 years ago today (1:26 am local time in Ukraine on the 26th) that the Chernobyl disaster happened. Chernobyl was not a nuclear explosion. It was an explosion due to a high pressure buildup, like a pressure cooker whose safety valve had stuck. The result was that radioactive dust was released.

Despite the hype which claims it was the Greatest Manmade Disaster in history, this simply isn't supported by facts. It may be the disaster with the longest after effects. It was certainly devastating for the people involved in the immediate aftermath. However, the number of fatalities is surprisingly low. (Though Greenpeace have recently said that estimates are too low)

The article itself says that 'Last year, a WHO and International Atomic Energy Authority-backed report estimated that of the 600,000 people across the Soviet Union exposed to high levels of radiation by the accident, 4,000 would eventually die.' - this undercuts it's leading paragraph of 'Two decades after the world's worst man-made disaster'

According to the World Health Organisation:

A total of up to 4000 people could eventually die of radiation exposure from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant (NPP) accident nearly 20 years ago, an international team of more than 100 scientists has concluded.

As of mid-2005, however, fewer than 50 deaths had been directly attributed to radiation from the disaster, almost all being highly exposed rescue workers, many who died within months of the accident but others who died as late as 2004.

Compare this with the number of deaths in World War 2, or in the attack on the World Trade Centres - and whilst it's bad, it's not objectively as bad as people first think.

The trouble with the human assessment of risk is that we notice tragic, but rare, events much more than the continuous background risk in our lives.

For example, there was a spate of train crashes in the UK a few years ago, and lots of people avoided the railways, preferring to use the roads. This is in spite of the fact that day in, day out, more people die on the roads per mile travelled than on the railways. The difference was that as railway crashes are rare, and bad when they happen, we notice them more than the constant rate of car crashes which only affect a few individuals at a time.

It's true that a lot of people were displaced - but this is also the case with other disasters in the world - wars, famines and so forth. The WHO report states that:

Persistent myths and misperceptions about the threat of radiation have resulted in "paralyzing fatalism" among residents of affected areas.

In other words, the psychological issues, which are completely understandable, can be more of a problem for the population as a whole than the radiological issues.

Whilst tragic for individuals, when deciding energy policy we must look at the overall risks in an objective fashion, from my degree course, I have a book entitled 'The Elements of Nuclear Power' by D. J. Bennet and J. R. Thompson. It's the third edition. On page 257 there is a table entitled 'Relative Risks and Costs of powe generation'. My print is from 1991. (sources cited: the CEGB. ETSU-R30 (1985). JH Fremlin, 'Power Production - What are the Risks?' by Adam Hilger, 1985)

The risks are in Deaths/GW-year, so the fact that different amounts of power are generated is accounted for.

Method of Generation Hazard or other problem Deaths/GW-year
Nuclear Routine Discharges c. 0.05
Reactor Accidents (Chernobyl) c. 1.0
Uranium Miners c. 0.1
Coal Cancers - general public c. 10
Miners - accidents c. 2
Miners - pneumoconiosis c. 8
Acid Rain ?
Global Warming ?
Draught Proofing Natural Radon from building fabric c. 100 Deaths/GW-year saved
Wind Unreliable -
Geothermal Limited Potential -
Hydro Dam Failure c. 10
Tidal Limited Potential -
Photovoltaic Inherently unreliable -
Wave Hazard to Shipping ?
Maintenance Accidents ?

Some items here bear explanation. Firstly the nuclear risks. Yes, a nuclear accident is bad when it happens, but this data averages over all the times when accidents do no happen. The data for coal reminds us that not only radiation can give rise to cancers, chemical pollutants can also be carcinogens. It's just that this 'constant background' is not noticeable in the way that a rare nuclear accident is. Think train crashes versus car crashes. Draught exclusion is one that surprises many people, it surprised me. Essentially it's due to using rocks which contain (naturally occuring) unstable isoptopes. These can decay into Radon, which leeches into the building. With better draught exclusion, Radon can build up. This is a problem in areas such as Cornwall, especially in buildings with cellers as the Granite produces Radon, and as Radon is heavier than air it collects in the cellers.

Note, the reason I put in 'natually occuring' isn't through any delusion that 'natural' is better than 'artificial' - but rather through the exact opposite point of view, not everything 'natural' is good for you!

To see what Chernobyl is like today, the Kid of Speed website gives a unique perspective.

Slobodan Milosevic Dead

Slobodan Milosovic has been found dead in his cell at The Hague

Other sources:

The Daily Kos

If this report is confirmed, it's going to look really bad for the Dutch. Last week a Serbian leader apparently killed himself in his cell AND they turned down Milosevic's request for medical treatment in Russia. Watch out for a major backlash. No word yet what the cause of death for Milosevic is. Source: Serbian Radio - B92

Focus English news

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has died, the UN tribunal said on Saturday, the Serbian Radio B92 reported Saturday. "Milosevic was found lifeless on his bed in his cell at the United Nations detention unit," the tribunal said in a statement.

Suburban Guerilla

Serbian Radio Reports Slobodan Milosevic Found Dead in Prison Cell.

The Jawa Report(!)

(The Hague) Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic was found dead in his prison cell at the UN Detention Center in The Hague.

Balanced News Blog

Former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic has died in jail at The Hague. Steven Kay, Mr Milosevic's lawyer, told BBC News 24 that he had been found dead in his cell on Saturday morning.

Mr Milosevic, 64, has been on trial at the UN war crimes tribunal for genocide and other war crimes.

The tribunal last month rejected a request by Mr Milosevic to go to Russia for medical treatment. He had high blood pressure and a heart condition.

The Huffington Post

Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president who orchestrated the Balkan wars of the 1990s and was on trial for war crimes, was found dead in his prison cell near The Hague, the U.N. tribunal said Saturday.

Milosevic, 64, apparently died of natural causes, a tribunal press officer said. He was found dead in his bed at the U.N. detention center.

Reply from the German Ambassador

I've received a reply from the ambassador...

... actually, from his assistant.

Thank you very much for your letter of 30th January 2005 addressed to the German Ambassador, Thomas Matussek, who has asked me to reply to you on his behalf

The allegation that in Germany unemployed women can now be forced into prostitution is, of course, absurd. The article you refer to has clearly distorted or confused the fact that prostitution has been legalised and is therefore now part of the official labour market.

However, the job agencies do not advertise or publicise job offers in this sector. Only persons out of work who specifically inquire about such job offers would be informed accordingly.

In any event, no one can be forced to accept such job offers, as any unemployed person still has the right to decline any job for moral reasons.

The new situation merely means that prostitutes are given more rights and are more protected socially than they used to be.

We hope that we have been able to resolve any misunderstandings deriving from this article.

Yours sincerely

Albert Luig

This all derived from this post and this article.

I have sent the following reply:

Sehr geehrter Herr Luig

I am writing to thank you for your response to my letter of 30th January. I had my suspicions about the article; however the consequences of it being correct were unthinkable, hence the letter. I am sure that you appreciate the natural concern expressed.

I am pleased to hear that the concerns were unfounded. Especially as it is possible to see many benefits to the German policy, not least of which being an improvement in healthcare.

I trust that you have clarified the situation with the newspaper concerned.


The story was updated to 'False' from 'Undetermined' on the Urban Legends page yesterday.

More on brothels

GeekKitten has pointed out to me that the German brothel story (original) has been referenced on Urban Legends. Like her, I think the 'undetermined' comment which is on the page as of 31st Jan seems a reasonable conclusion. Nevertheless, I want a definitive answer on the situation. If the story is wrong, I want to know it. If it's correct, then I want to know that too. I look forward to any reply I get.

Update: The reply has been received.

Letter to the German Ambassador

Following this post, I've drafted the following to the German Ambassador in London. I will send an email copy to the Today Programme (BBC Radio 4). I'm not the only one who has spotted this.

I've modified the letter slightly since first putting this on the site. This is the final version.

Herr T. Matussek
c/o Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany
Side Entrance
23 Belgrave Square

Sehr geehrter Herr Matussek

I was surprised to read in The Telegraph, that a woman in Berlin faces loss of benefit as she refuses to work as a prostitute in a brothel.

URL referenced

I understand the rationale behind the legalisation of brothels, for example improved healthcare and working conditions, yet I cannot believe that the German legislature believed that it would be "too difficult to distinguish them from bars".

Given that the businesses are legal in Germany, there is nothing at all wrong with the business advertising for employees. Nevertheless there is absolutely everything wrong with the state pushing people into this profession against their own moral code. Such action reduces the state to the position of "pimp" or worse.

I look forward to hearing your opinion on this matter, and I hope that you will pass this message on to the relevant authority in Berlin.


Update: The reply has been received.


There are moves to ban the swastika across the whole of the EU. There are already laws in Germany for a ban, due to its Nazi associations. To be honest, though it's 'only a symbol' it has such strong associations that I find it offensive in its own right - this doesn't happen that often over what is, after all, a mix of pigmentation. Indeed, although I am aware that it has a long history, that history has been all but eclipsed by it's 20th century associations.

Most people, I suspect, have a similar gut reaction to it - they may be surprised to know that in Hinduism it has kept its original meaning, and there is opposition to the ban on this basis. Some people think that the nazis have SO co-opted the symbol that the Hindus should abandon it. I am not at all sure, at the core, just what significance the symbol has in Hinduism, so can't really comment.

There are, of course, the usual ill informed vox-pops out there.

Additional: I've just spotted this insightful comment.