About Guy La Roche

Dutch translator and subtitler living in Brittany with his three cats. Has also lived in the Flemish part of Belgium. Speaks English rather fluently and in a former life used to have a decent command of Spanish. Knows swear words in German and Russian. Not quite francophone yet, but slowly getting there. Vaguely centrist observer of the world around him, extremely naive and, sometimes, rather proud of it. Writes Venale Pecus.

Greek voices…

Behind all the raw financial data there are always people. Here are two very human voices talking about the current crisis in Greece.

First up is a passionate call for action on Sturdyblog, called Democracy vs Mythology: The Battle in Syntagma Square. One quote:

I know it is impossible to share in a single post the history, geography and mentality which has brought this most beautiful corner of our Continent to its knees and has turned one of the oldest civilisations in the world from a source of inspiration to the punchline of cheap jokes. I know it is impossible to impart the sense of increasing despair and helplessness that underlies every conversation I have had with friends and family over the last few months. But it is vital that I try, because the dehumanisation and demonisation of my people appears to be in full swing.

And then there is Regarding the Greek situation by Eugenia Loli-Queru. One quote (emphasis mine):

In the 1920s, the bureaucracy had become so big that the public sector grew not only in numbers, but also in power. A law was enacted where from the moment you became a civil worker, you effectively couldn’t get fired.

This quickly created a two-tier citizenship in Greece. The powerful civil workers (who retire early, some of them work few hours, some of them working in offices are indeed lazy etc), and the private sector, which remained very underpaid, very hard working, and who’d retire at the age of 65. When Europeans today complain about the lazy Greeks, they must understand that Greece has a virtual cast system, and that not everyone is equal in it.

I kindly invite our readers to go and read both posts. Hat tip for the first post goes to Sargasso.

FIFA, South Africa 2010 and white elephants

If you have some time, please go and read Player and Referee, Conflicting Interests and the 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM), a monograph from the pan-African Institute for Security Studies, on the conflicts of interest surrounding the organization of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa at the expense of local socio-economic development. Two quotes:

At the ceremony in May 2004 announcing that the 2010 World Cup would be held in South Africa, FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter gushed to a crowd including Nelson Mandela that ‘the victor is football, the victor is Africa’. Had he wished to be accurate, however, Blatter would have lauded the real victor as FIFA and its cozy network of business associates, who have together sucked the marrow out of recent World Cups with far more success than the host countries. The South African event perpetuates this trend. At the forefront of the queue of FIFA’s business associates is a shadowy company called Match Event Services, which has been appointed as FIFA’s exclusive official accommodation provider to the World Cup. While the company officially warns accommodation providers to keep room rates low because tourists are ‘sensitive to pricing’, an investigation by the author has confirmed that tourists will have to pay Match 1000 per cent more than they would normally pay for accommodation in certain cases, such as for units at South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

The staggering cost, in other words, of the decision to ‘buy’ Cape Town one to three extra matches was R2,83 billion (Green Point minus Athlone) or R3,37 billion (Green Point minus Newlands). This is the price of 56 642 or 67 390 low-cost houses at R50 000 each: homes for a quarter of a million people and more.

South Africa 2010: Let the football craze begin!

Being too lazy and uninspired to write a decent World Cup post myself, I shall point our readers to a truly funny column by Dave Barry, in the Miami Herald, on football-related activities. One quote:

I truly believe that, even though many Americans say they hate soccer, if they gave it a fair chance — if they took the time to actually watch a World Cup match or two — they would still hate soccer. I don’t know why this is, but apparently it’s not going to change. I’ve given up arguing with guys who tell me how boring soccer is, but will happily spend four hours watching a baseball game in which 97 percent of the action consists of batters calling timeout.

Feel free to use this post as an excuse to share your own football-related witty comments, predictions, pet peeves, vuvuzela imitations, etcetera.

Dutch Parliamentary Elections Updates

First impressions.

PVV (Geert Wilders‘ Party) is the big winner. JP Balkenende is now definitely out. His CDA took a fair beating. As did the Socialist Party. D66 (from 3 to 10) makes a nice comeback, GreenLeft could be a factor of some importance when it’s time to form a government coalition (possibly purple). Turn-out is estimated at 74%.

Rita Verdonk’s Party Trots op Nederland (Proud of Holland) did not make the cut. Populism doesn’t seem to work for everybody. Do check out the linked vid with English subs for some Dutch right-wing Zeitgeist.

Nice fait divers for expats like myself (hat tip Sargasso). Half a million Dutchies living abroad have the right to vote (representing about eight seats in Parliament). This year 46,396 of them registered to vote. One of their main worries? Finding a red pencil…

The face of the new Prime Minister? Or is this the one?

Thursday 03.00 am, Rutte on tv: “It’s the economy. And immigration too.” He congratulates Femke Halsema (GL) and Alexander Pechtold (D66) with their scores…

Wilders on tv (earlier this evening): “As the country’s third party we cannot be excluded, we want to govern.” Is willing to compromise in order to be able to govern.

03.26 am Mark Rutte (VVD) on tv calling it, tentatively, for the VVD. Lauds JP Balkenende. Keywords: Economic recovery, security, immigration. Believes he is the obvious candidate for Prime Minister.

Live commentary (in Dutch) and footage can be found here.

Here is a link with election updates. Just choose the number 443 and press “gaan” (go).

Situation as of Thursday 03.38 am with 96.5% of the votes counted:

VVD 31 (conservative-liberal, up from 22 in 2006)
PvdA 30 (labour/social-democrats)
PVV 24 (Geert Wilders’ Party, up from 9)
CDA 21 (Christian-democrats, down from 41 and now behind PVV!)
SP 15 (Socialist Party, down from 25)
D66 10 (social-liberal up from 3)
GL 10 (green left)
CU 5 (christian union)
SGP 2 (christian party striving for theocracy)
PvdD 2 (party for the animals)

Calling it a night. PVV, VVD and D66 win big, CDA en SP lose big. Mark Rutte will probably become the first liberal Dutch PM in modern history.

History of the Mafia by Salvatore Lupo

Seeing that the Italian Mafia has been generating headlines again, this may be a good opportunity to let our readers know about a new book by Columbia University Press: History of the Mafia by Salvatore Lupo. The book was first published in Italian in 1996 and has now been translated into English by Donzelli Editore. Even though I find the book a tad too ‘academic’ at times, it is really useful in understanding just how the Mafia operates, where it comes from and how it continually adapts itself to new circumstances. It soon becomes clear that you cannot understand the whole Mafia phenomenon without a proper understanding of Italian history. And, as Lupo adequately explains, you can forget about the myths that both Hollywood and the Mafia itself are tyring to uphold; there is no ‘good Mafia’:

“Valachi, Gentile, Bonanno, Buscetta, and Calderone all portrayed themselves and their friends as wise men who applied the rules, who sought to mediate conflict, and who avoided illegal violence, turning to bloodshed only as a last resort, in order to apply the rational and carefully weighed deliberations of the organization. At the same time, they depicted their enemies as treacherous individuals, unwilling to respect the laws of (their own) society, always ready to engage in betrayal, killing at the drop of a hat, and verging on the brink of sadism and insanity. We can believe that the self-portrayal of the pentiti is a sincere one, yet if their adversaries were to speak, they might well tell the story from a diametrically opposed point of view. (…) In reality, such internal conflict – such as the contrast between the old Mafia and the new Mafia – is an integral part of the Mafia’s ideology. It is an expression of a mediocre and obscurantic vision of the world.”

I haven’t read the entire book yet, so I’ll just refer you to the book’s pages at Columbia University Press for more quotes and information.

Alain de Botton on ‘success’

Just a small post to direct you to an interesting and entertaining lecture by Alain de Botton on career crises and the psychology and sociology behind ‘success’ (hat tip BNET):
One quote: “It is not the material goods we want, it is the rewards. (…) The next time you see someone driving a Ferrari, don’t think this is someone who is greedy, think this is someone who is incredibly vulnerable and in need of love.” I suppose this could be another way to look at the bonuses in modern banking…

Not Being God, a collaborative autobiography of Gianni Vattimo

I was a bit hesitant when, a few weeks ago, I accepted to write a review of Not Being God, a collaborative autobiography (or non-auto-autobiograpy as I like to call it) of Gianni Vattimo, published by Columbia University Press. The book is officially called a “collaborative autobiography” because, even though it was written by Piergiorgio Paterlini, it adopts the style of a first-person novel. Basically, the written text is Paterlini’s but the voice you hear is that of Vattimo. The reason for this is given in the introduction, where Paterlini states:

”(…) because I wanted to do it (long live subjectivity) and because Gianni Vattimo agreed to do it with me. But above all, because this necessary (auto)biography is something he – who writes so engagingly, unlike many of his colleagues – would never have written.”

And I must say the approach worked. After a couple of pages you forget Not Being God is not written by Vattimo. It is beautifully ‘subjective’ in all senses of the word.
The first thing that struck me when I embarked upon the book, was that it almost reads like a lifeblog. The chapters, 64 of them, are a bit like short stories, mostly chronological, on different aspects of Vattimo’s life. The format makes for easy reading and allows the reader to put down the book from time to time for a moment of reflection without losing track of the story line. This is very useful, for instance, when you are reading about Vattimo’s philosophical thought and need to do some googling, like I had to. I am a notorious Philistine when it comes to ‘higher culture’. Sure, I like art and philosophy and literature, but I am about as highbrow and erudite as a rent boy in Turin’s Valentino Park. This is the very reason why I hesitated to write a review on Not Being God. To make things worse, I had never even heard of Gianni Vattimo! Well, it turns out my ignorance was not really a handicap. On the contrary. It allowed me to focus on the man behind the philosopher. And the book really is highly enjoyable. And so is Gianni Vattimo. You have got to love this gay man who wanted to have a normal family life, taking the view that “sexual specialization is impoverishing”, and who is endearingly candid about his personality:

”On one hand, faced with an attack full of gratuitous hatred, I think, with childish surprise: How can they not be fond of someone like me? On the other, I always think that I’m incapable of winning over anyone, of deserving anyone’s affection. If someone does show me affection, simply and naturally and without expecting anything in return, I almost wonder how it’s possible.”

Furthermore, the book whisks you through a few decades of Italian politics and history and even gives you an inside look on the way the European Parliament works (according to Vattimo):

“At Brussels I always used to say, “Give me a report, even a rapporto protetto.” Because, since they can’t decide anything, members of the European Parliament try to win a name for themselves by attaching their name to a report on some topic or other. The Commission sends you a measure they wish to take, you study it and write the whole thing up, then take it to your group and present it. Even if the Assembly does vote it down, the Commission goes ahead with it anyway, because they’re utterly indifferent.”

Philosophy takes, of course, a prominent place in Not Being God, but the philosophical passages are easily digestible and Vattimo (through Paterlini) explains them well enough. And there are several interesting ideas that even a layman like myself can understand and appreciate:

”I’m convinced that not much can be done about the uniformization of the world, in the current situation at any rate, under a sole empire, the United States. But tomorrow it might be someone else. If there’s a way out – with the end of every absurd claim to absolute objectivity – it’s for society to become the place where truth signifies accord among interpreters, not the claim to demonstrate how matters stand.”

So, to summarize, Being God is a delicious mix of philosophy, history, politics, ‘gayness’ and the personal experiences and thoughts of an interesting man, thinker and political activist with an extraordinary life. It is thoroughly enjoyable, well-written (and translated, by William McCuaig) and, at times, enormously funny. It should appeal to everyone and, especially, to those who already know Gianni Vattimo or take a keen interest in Italian culture, its recent politics and history. And do not worry if you know little about Italian politics. All the Italian abbreviations that are used in the book are translated and explained at the end. Also, there is a handy index in case you want to research the tons of names that are mentioned in this autobiography.
The book’s official Columbia University Press webpage is here, more excerpts from the book (about Vattimo’s concept of “weak thought” and death threats among other things) can be found here and Gianni Vattimo’s very own weblog (in Italian) can be found over here. Enjoy.

A small fairytale in times of economic malaise

Just check this out. The Dutch baseball team beat The Dominican Republic in the WBBC. Not once, but twice! This is like the football team of Luxemburg beating the Brazil squad twice in a row. I like the comment of Dutch coach Delmonico:

“I don’t have big names, but I’ve got some long names,” Netherlands coach Rod Delmonico joked.

And what about this:

Even with all the controversy swirling, the loss to the Netherlands was improbable. The Dutch team has just one major league player on its roster (Marlins pitcher Rick VandenHurk), and he didn’t even play Saturday. Its most celebrated player, five-time Hoofdklasse (Dutch major league) pitcher Cordemans, has never pitched professionally in the United States. As the Hoofdklasse’s highest-paid pitcher, Cordemans earns just $40,000 a year, less than half of what Rodriguez earns each day.

Reminds me of the US basketball Dream Team at the Olympics…

Well, I suppose the WBBC fun will be over soon enough for the Dutch. But, hey, this rocks!