The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'belgium'
The latest bounty from Wikileaks: an exposé of the Saudi royal welfare system, a system of government finely tuned for meeting certain criteria (i.e., keeping an ever-expanding ruling class in caviar and luxury cars, and maximising the number of palaces per capita; they even have palace-building grants). Alas, even the generous stipends bestowed upon Saudi princelings sometimes fall short when it comes to maintaining a lifestyle worthy of one of such stature, but the beauty of living in the top tier of an absolute monarchy is that there's always more for the taking:
Then there was the apparently common practice for royals to borrow money from commercial banks and simply not repay their loans. As a result, the 12 commercial banks in the country were "generally leary of lending to royals."
Another popular money-making scheme saw some "greedy princes" expropriate land from commoners. "Generally, the intent is to resell quickly at huge markup to the government for an upcoming project." By the mid-1990s, a government program to grant land to commoners had dwindled. "Against this backdrop, royal land scams increasingly have become a point of public contention."
The confiscation of land extends to businesses as well, the cable notes. A prominent and wealthy Saudi businessman told the embassy that one reason rich Saudis keep so much money outside the country was to lessen the risk of 'royal expropriation.'"Meanwhile, in Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich West African country most of whose children don't live to their fifth birthday, it emerges that the son of the President had commissioned the world's second most expensive yacht, costing $380m, or three times the country's combined health and education budgets.
And in Belgium, Prince Laurent has incurred the wrath of the parliament (does Belgium have a parliament now?) for attempting to fly business-class whilst only having an economy-class ticket. The prince and his wife were asked to move back to cattle class, and apparently kicked up a disgraceful tantrum for being treated like commoners, refusing to pay for drinks.
It's somewhat heartening to see that Belgium, whilst nominally being a monarchy, is a Northern European "bicycle monarchy", in which rank hath little if any privilege, and monarchy is tolerated as a constitutional eccentricity and little more; certainly, it doesn't entitle one to demanding free travel benefits from local airlines, and any princeling who thinks otherwise won't get treated any differently than a drunken footballer would. I wonder what would happen in the UK if, say, some minor baronet occupied a first-class seat on a train or aeroplane without the appropriate ticket. Would they be told to move on as Prince Laurent was, or would the (privatised, of course, as per Anglocapitalist values) carrier swallow the cost or invoice the public purse?
Hasselt prison in Belgium, like most such institutions, requires all visitors (including lawyers) to pass through metal detectors, and remove any items of clothing that set it off. Interestingly enough, their metal detector is particularly sensitive to bra straps, with the sensitivity going up depending on the attractiveness of the visitor:
"The metal detection checks seem very difficult to carry out when a pretty, young lawyer or visitor reports to the prison gate. And then it becomes a little something to amuse the guards," he told the Het Nieuwsblad newspaper.
Mr Rowies has told the prison authorities that he is receiving at least one complaint a month from furious female barristers. “It always strikes me that the younger, and the more babe-like, a lawyer is, the more difficult the device becomes,” he said.Belgium's prison authorities deny there being a problem, on the grounds of the metal detector not having malfunctioned in isolated tests or when a female visitor was accompanied by a senior prison service official.
The Belgian government has proposed a law requiring all cats to be sterilised, with the exception of a few very rare (and expensive) breeds, from the start of next year.
Initially, all cats in shelters will be sterilised. The next phase imposes neutering on cats from breeders and sellers. Finally, all cat owners will be obliged to have their pets sterilised and registered, costing about €130 (£108) for a female cat and €50 for a tom. Breeders and owners of Siamese, Abyssinian and other special pedigrees will be exempted from the new regime.I can see such a law making sense in Australia, where feral cats are an ecological problem; Australia, also being far from other countries and having a famously strict quarantine system, could also prevent the importation of cats causing F. domesticus to become extinct within the country. Perhaps, if a government with authoritarian tendencies needed to burnish its green credentials and "cat people" fell on the wrong side of a politically expedient culture war (in the way that "inner-city latte sippers" and enthusiasts of foreign arthouse films did in the Howard era), it might happen.
After Czechoslovakia's amicable split in the 1990s, and talk of Scotland seeking independence from Britain, now there is talk in Belgium about splitting the country into French- and Dutch-speaking halves:
Another [barrier to separation] is the future of Brussels. The Belgian capital is a bilingual oasis in Flanders and, despite being the seat of the Flemish parliament, has a largely Francophone population. Its role as home to the EU and Nato has led some to suggest that it should become a kind of Brussels DC for Europe. Proposals unveiled this week to consolidate the European Commission estate with an ambitious new building programme have added to suspicions that the capital’s authorities are preparing for such an eventuality.
Talk of separation has ignited interest in France, where a columnist in the newspaper Le Figaro suggested that President Sarkozy should welcome Wallonia as a new province if wealthy Flanders broke away. France, however, has shown no interest in annexing a population of 4 million with 15 per cent unemployment.
Things aren't going well for the Church of Scientology; now, a Belgian state prosecutor has branded the church as a "criminal organisation", and recommended that it stand trial for fraud and extortion.
In what could be another poke in the eye for the Washington Consensus, the Belgian parliament has voted to legalise the personal use of cannabis; sale within Belgium will still be illegal (though importation from the Netherlands probably won't be that difficult).