Sure is Cold

Eastern Europe is currently enjoying its coldest weather since 1979. Temperatures in Moscow have been below minus 20 C (that’s minus 5 Fahrenheit for our American readers) for a week straight now, with regular visits to minus 30 (minus 22 Fahrenheit). In Bucharest, where we live, it’s currently minus 9 Celsius; that will drop to minus 14, or about plus 8 Fahrenheit, later tonight. To give some perspective on that, you should know that most of the houses in our neighborhood have arbors full of grape vines, and roses were blooming in our yard at the beginning of December.

It’s cold. Over 100 people have died in Russia. I’m in Pristina, Kosovo at the moment, and it’s right around minus 15 as the sun goes down. I won’t even convert that to Fahrenheit — it’s too depressing — but there’s a stiff wind blowing sinister little arcs of snow around the roads, and I’m really not in a hurry to go outside again.

The weather is coming from a cold air mass with sharply defined edges. Just a couple of hundred kilometers south and west of me, Tirana (Albania) is enjoying a balmy +3 Celsius. The cold air has been gradually creeping westward, so right now the edge seems to be somewhere in Germany; Prague and Berlin are getting whacked, but France is still pleasantly warm. It’s possible that the whole thing may dissipate without reaching further. In which case it won’t ever be much of a news story because, you know… Eastern Europe.

Ah, don’t mind me. Weather like this makes me paranoid. Because Mother Nature is trying to kill me…

Who else is sitting under that blue-white splotch on the map? Consider this an open thread for weather talk.

Sure is cold

Eastern Europe is currently enjoying its coldest weather since 1979. Temperatures in Moscow have been below minus 20 C (that’s minus 5 Fahrenheit for our American readers) for a week straight now, with regular visits to minus 30 (minus 22 Fahrenheit). In Bucharest, where we live, it’s currently minus 9 Celsius; that will drop to minus 14, or about plus 8 Fahrenheit, later tonight. (To give some perspective on that, you should know that most of the houses in our neighborhood have arbors full of grape vines, and roses were blooming in our yard at the beginning of December.)

It’s cold. Over 100 people have died in Russia. I’m in Pristina, Kosovo at the moment, and it’s right around minus 15 as the sun goes down. I won’t even convert that to Fahrenheit — it’s too depressing — but there’s a stiff wind blowing sinister little arcs of snow around the roads, and I’m really not in a hurry to go outside again.

The cold is coming from a cold air mass with sharply defined edges. Just a couple of hundred kilometers south and west of me, Tirana, Albania is enjoying a balmy +3 Celsius. It’s been gradually creeping westward, so right now the edge seems to be somewhere in Germany; Prague and Berlin are getting whacked, but France is still pleasantly warm. It’s possible that the whole thing may dissipate without reaching further. In which case it won’t ever be much of a news story because, you know… Eastern Europe.

Ah, don’t mind me. Weather like this makes me paranoid. Because Mother Nature is trying to kill me…

Who else is sitting under that blue-white splotch on the map? Consider this an open thread for weather talk.

A Brief Note…

from our internal discussions. I recently remarked to Edward that for much of the US government’s foreign policy apparatus, Russia is still Not Europe. This view is a legacy (still) of the Cold War period in which most of the decision-makers and working-level staff were trained and gained experience. It shapes basic reflexes toward Europe and the post-Soviet space, and knowing the background may at some level help outsiders understand this or that about official US approaches. (There are of course many levels of complexity, not least Congressional politics, commercial interests and ethnically based politicking, but this is meant to be a brief note.)
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Chirac goes nuclear: addendum

This post serves as a small addendum to Edward’s post Not Amused about Chirac’s threat to use nuclear weapons if necessary. This addendum will hopefully broaden and continue the discussion his statements generated. I won’t be talking about the possibility of nuking Iran or other rogue states here, that element has been covered extensively by Edward’s post, especially in the comments section.

As to Chirac’s nuclear threat, yesterday’s Ouest France suggested Chirac made the statement to reaffirm France’s position as a serious player after having lost credibility with the EU constitution referendum. After the non-vote several commentators suggested that France had been demoted to a second-degree country. From Ouest France:

Jacques Chirac entend ainsi montrer qu’il dispose encore d’un atout européen, alors que la France est l’un des deux pays membres responsables de la panne actuelle de l’Union. Au demeurant, plus que par des nécessités stratégiques, le discours de l’île Longue est dicté par la volonté d’un président affaibli d’exercer son autorité jusqu’au terme du quinquennat. En réaffirmant le seul pouvoir que personne ne peut lui ravir : la maîtrise du feu nucléaire.

Short summary/interpretation: Politically weakened Chirac is reminding himself and the French that they still have balls. He is also repositioning France as a first rate power in Europe.

Furthermore, he also used the threat to justify the costly maintenance of France’s nuclear arsenal. By stressing the overhaul of the arsenal, focussing on smaller weapons, he did away with the WMD threat as its sole raison d’être. Smaller nukes on submarines can target terrorists instead of complete nations, hence: ”We still need nukes, but different ones. We are adapting to new circumstances.” Or, if you will: “We can turn Tora Bora into a nuclear wasteland if we want to.”

Another possibly very important thing about Chirac’s speech:

Par ailleurs, le chef de l’Etat élargit la notion d’intérêts vitaux aux « approvisionnements stratégiques » et à la défense des pays alliés. La dépendance énergétique de l’Europe, révélée par la crise gazière entre la Russie et l’Ukraine, explique, pour une part, cette évolution.

France’s vital interests are being extended to include « strategic reserves » and the defence of allied countries. Europe’s energy dependency, as exemplified by the gas crisis between Russia and Ukraine can explain, at least partly, this development. Dear commenters, fire away!

Ukraine: The Tension Continues

A state-of-friction seems to have gotten a grip on relations between Russia and Ukraine, and it doesn’t look like it is going to go away anytime soon:

Ukrainian state authorities seized the Yalta lighthouse on January 13 from Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and a Ukrainian student organization is picketing the Russian radar station in Henychesk around the clock since January 15 with tacit approval from Kyiv authorities. The Ukrainian government wants Russia to agree to hand over by February all the 35 coastal installations (outside Sevastopol’s bays) that Russia’s Black Sea Fleet is using since 1997 without a legal basis.

Meantime as more details of the recent gas deal have emerged, President Yushchenko (with elections looming) stubbornly sticks by the agreement, while his prime minister – Yuriy Yekhanurov – doesn’t seem to agree:

In contrast to the president, Yekhanurov now acknowledges that Kyiv has been blackmailed into signing, and that the agreement is not binding after all. While defending the government’s decision to sign it on January 4 regardless of the flaws, Yekhanurov has begun unveiling some of the agreement’s murky aspects. In a televised interview he recounted some moments of the negotiations in Moscow: “The whole of the pipeline from the Turkmen-Uzbek to the Russian-Ukrainian border is filled by Gazprom’s contractor RosUkrEnergo. We were offered a choice: either this, or [sarcastically] ship gas by train. Thus, we had no choice.

Spain’s Immigration

As Spanish commenter Pepe would probably say, ‘hot labour’ is moving into Spain at a nifty clip: 2% of the total population per annum. In 2004 the number increased by 700,000. Last year, although we don’t have the numbers yet there was probably the same number or more. Here is a story from El Pais which was linked-to in the IHT based on this press release (in Spanish). Note that these numbers are for 1 January 2005, we still have to add 2006.

The number of immigrants in Spain rose last year to the equivalent of 8.5 percent of the total population as of January 1, 2005, according to figures released on Tuesday by the National Statistics Institute (INE). Of the total 44.1 million people registered as residents, 3.7 million were non-Spanish. The total population rose 2.1 percent from the year-earlier figure, while the number of immigrants rose 23 percent from the figures released on January 1, 2004.

The regions that registered the largest rise in population were Catalonia, Andalusia, Madrid and Valencia, largely due to immigration. Only in the North African enclave of Melilla did the population decrease, the INE said.

The largest immigrant group hails from Ecuador with 475,698 residents, followed by Morocco with 420,556, Colombia with 248,894, Romania with 207,960 and Britain with 174,810.

For towns with more than 10,000 inhabitants, Rojales in Alicante boasts the largest percentage of foreign-born residents. Of the total population of 13,807, 65.3 percent are immigrants, the INE said. Rojales, about 35 kilometers from Alicante, is a popular spot for British citizens to buy vacation and retirement homes.

In November, the Center for Sociological Research (CIS) released a survey showing that three out of every five Spaniards responded that there are too many immigrants in Spain. Immigration also was shown to be the second-most important problem for Spaniards (40 percent) after unemployment (54.1 percent) and ahead of terrorism (25.3 percent).

Nevertheless, the same survey showed that nearly 61 percent of Spaniards feel immigrants should have the right to vote in local elections, while 53.4 percent would extend that right to national elections.

Not Amused

The Financial Times reports this morning that:

Jacques Chirac, France’s president, has threatened to use nuclear weapons against any state that supported terrorism against his country or considered using weapons of mass destruction.“.

According to the FT Chirac’s actually words were:

“The leaders of states who use terrorist means against us, as well as those who would consider using, in one way or another, weapons of mass destruction, must understand that they would lay themselves open to a firm and adapted response on our part,” he said. “This response could be a conventional one. It could also be of a different kind.”

Now these words were not just any words, and the speech was not just any speech, since as the New York Times indicates, the Élysée Palace explanation is that M. Chirac’s speech reflected changes that had been adopted as part of a routine review of nuclear doctrine, a review which is carried out every five years. So not only is this a policy statement, it was also

the first time that a French president had publicly spelled out the possibility of nuclear retaliation for state-backed terrorism. In the past, France has said nuclear weapons could be used if its “vital interests” were at risk, while deliberately refraining from identifying those interests.

“In French doctrine, nuclear weapons are meant to deter attacks against ‘vital interests,’ to create uncertainty among potential attackers about what these interests could be,” said François Heisbourg, special adviser at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris. “But here, things get defined. That’s a change.”

Not only could this change of policy not have come at a more sensitive time in view of what is currently taking place in Iran, it could not, in my opinion have been more barbaric, since (and surely M Chirac must know this) the victims of nuclear attacks are not states, but people, normally innocent ones, and if he doesn’t know this he should try asking the relatives of the former inhabitants of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Hopefully such threats will never be acted on (which doesn’t do anything to rescue the ethical standing of those who issue them), but the more immediate potential economic consequences that upping-the-anti with Iran in this crude fashion could have are outlined both here and here.

Culture Bleg: European Webcomics

I came to the webcomic thing late. But living in Bucharest, I can’t easily get US newspapers. So there was a niche waiting to be filled: the three or four minutes I used to spend every morning, flipping through the Washington Post’s excellent comics pages, chuckling over Boondocks or Doonesbury.

These days that niche is filled by a dozen or so webcomics. And, truth to tell, I like ’em better than most of the comics in the dead-tree papers.

(Oh, most webcomics are just dreadful. But with a bit of effort, it’s not hard to find ones that you, personally, are going to like.)

So I’m pretty regularly clicking on Achewood, Rob and Elliott,, and various others. Which is all fine, except… one day I noticed that they were all, without exception, American. (And about half seem to be from California, but never mind that now.)

So, the bleg: good European webcomics?

— I can read French and, slowly, German. But never mind that; let’s make this a more general inquiry. Italian, Dutch, Estonian, doesn’t matter. What’s out there and good?

… and the cross is a symbol advocating crucifixions

You will all recall, I’m sure, that Germany had a problem with nazis sixty or so years ago. After this problem had been cleared up (primarily by non-Germans), the Germans resolved that they didn’t want that sort of thing to happen again. And towards that end they enacted some laws.

One of those laws is § 86a of the Criminal Code. In pertinent part it reads:

Mit Freiheitsstrafe bis zu drei Jahren oder mit Geldstrafe wird bestraft, wer … im Inland Kennzeichen einer der in § 86 Abs. 1 Nr. 1, 2 und 4 bezeichneten Parteien oder Vereinigungen verbreitet oder öffentlich … verwendet.

(Any person who, on German territory, distributes or uses symbols of a party or association listed in § 86 para. 1, 2 and 4, shall be punished with imprisonment of up to three years or with a monetary penalty.)

The parties and associations in question include what the statute somewhat coyly calls ‘the former national-socialist organisations’.

Though nobody decent likes a nazi, a prohibition against displaying their symbols on pain of criminal penalty does rub rather against the liberal grain. Still, this is Germany, and one can understand why Germans feel they need to take a sterner line against this sort of thing than would, say, Americans.

Now you have all heard about the annoyance of skinheads and other excrescences of neo-nazi yoof culture in Germany. What you might not know is that there is also a countervailing and at times rather, ehh, exuberant anti-nazi cultural stream. This ranges from admirable young students acting earnestly against racism and xenophobia to beersodden neonhaired neopunkers who (one sometimes suspects) know as little about what they oppose as their fuzzy-skulled adversaries know about what they espouse, save that it pisses off their opposite numbers. Wherever on this spectrum of seriousness Germany’s young antifascists fall, many of them are united in the use of certain popular symbols to express their disdain for the brown. These symbols are typically displayed as buttons or on patches sewn (or quite often, safety-pinned) onto one’s bomber or biker jacket. You’ll find some pictures below the fold.

Whether idealistic antifascists or mohawked louts, these are not the sort of people, surely, that § 86a was meant to sweep up. Yet as the Frankfurter Rundschau reports, a few German prosecutors have been using this law against them, and some German courts are handing down convictions.

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