Belgian Crisis: Waiting For White Smoke

“We’re still waiting for the white smoke”, one member of the Swedish delegation laconically remarked to me one late evening some time ago, as we were waiting for a meeting of the European Union’s Agriculture ministers to conclude. The same can be said about the current Belgian crisis right now, for we are all as much awaiting any sign that the conclave has reached a decision in its meetings behind firmly shut doors as those who gather outside the Vatican whenever it is time to elect a new Pope.

The difference is that right now, you could certainly speak about there being two parallel conclaves in Belgium; one currently lying fallow as it awaits the outcome of the other set up by the king. The latter will see its sovereign today, but there is little to indicate that it will have reached any progress. As has happened before, there have been signals that there might be a government in place before the turn of the year, but as I indicated, that is something we have heard before, and we have to see it to believe it.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks on, and it is tempting to start advocating a similar solution as when the Catholic world had been without a Pope for three years; then, the inhabitants of Viterbo, where the conclave was held, locked the cardinals in, served them nothing but bread and water, and took the roof away from over their heads. That resulted in the election of Gregory X in 1271, as well as the decision to keep the cardinals locked in during every papal conclave ever since.

But as for now, the only one locked in is me, for my kids have a day off from school today and my wife came down with the flu this morning, so I am trying to work while keeping things together here at the same time. Hopefully it will be a little different by tomorrow so I can go se what the Brussels meeting of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) was all about.

Or at least find time to have a shower.

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“Converts To Rasta”

This is getting worse and worse.

After writing yesterday’s blog post, today, what do I see? A press release about two companies who have decided to, quote, “convert to Rasta”.

Well, not quite. The full heading reads – translated from Swedish –  “Maritemi AB and Provobis Holding AB convert to Rasta shares.” And, for those of you who thought that our dreadlock friends have floated their faith on Nasdaq or so: Rasta, in this case, is actually the name of a Swedish roadside restaurant chain. (Which does not serve any Ital food, by the way; the name is derived from the Swedish word “rasta” meaning “to rest”.)

That’s probably a fine illustration of how you can derive a totally misleading message from a sentence, if you do not understand the context, the social and cultural setting, the background, and so on. As has happened, sorry to say, with many interpretations of the Bible, as a prime example.

Not least by Rastas, who have founded an entire religion on such misunderstandings.

Jah Provide De Bread

I started this day wallowing in my latest download from iTunes – “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. (The version with the Wailers. Great tune. Full roots reggae at its best.)

And then came the most surrealistic SMS (text message) imaginable on my cell phone , just a minute ago: “JAH Pressbriefing on Monday 11 June 2007.”

Now, if I had been a Rastafari devotee (which, thank Goodness, I am not), I would have considered this above and beyond a sign from above; rather, something close to an invoked Second Coming.

Especially if I had been indulging in such substances that Rastafaris tend to indulge in (which, thank Goodness, I never have and certainly never will. Drugs are the devil’s work, period.)

However, it turned out to have a full terrestial explanation, rather than the Almighty meeting the press: JAH is an EU acronym for Justice And Home Affairs, the ministers of which are meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The sender, consequently, was the German EU Presidency, which thankfully bombards my cell phone with information on this and that every day.

An excellent service which I will not complain about, that is. But maybe the EU should consider revising some of its acronyms a bit.

Imagine this message reaching the wrong cell phone: Hordes of dreadlocked pot-smokers stampeeding towards the EU Council building, playing Marley at full blast, dancing and prancing in religious ecstasy about getting to meet their Maker in person. (And imagine the riots when they discover that all they meet are little middle-age men in grey suits. All the ganja in the world wouldn’t have convinced even the most liberal Haile Selassie worshippers that their god had incarnated as a German civil servant.)

I have a small suggestion: Justice And Home Affairs should actually be JAHA. That, in turn, would have been extra hilarious, as “Jaha” means “oh, really” or “so what” in Swedish.

Which, in turn, might have added the extra benefit of being a more accurate description.

Euromyths, Part 2 (Long Overdue)

Yes, I did promise a few more juicy myths about the European Union quite some time ago, but hey, I’ve been working. 🙂 Anyway, here’s an old favourite:

Myth: The EU headquarters hosts a multi-storey super-computer, called “The Beast”, which tracks the movements of all people on the face of the Earth. This is a predecessor of the forthcoming Antichrist rule of the world.

This is a myth that has only started to fade, probably to the improvements of technology, which has by now made most people realise that there is no longer any need for any multi-storey computers; the computer you use to read this is probably more powerful. Nevertheless, it is still put forward as truth, as I noticed when doing some quick research for this blog entry, and was pretty widespread for many years among many of my fellow Christians who believe that the EU in some way will be either the personification itself or a vehicle for the anti-Christian rule of the last days foretold in the Book of Revelation.

I shall deal more in detail with the idea that the EU has such a function in a forthcoming Euromyths blog entry, because it deserves some attention in itself. However, let’s get past this computer stuff first.

This is actually a myth whose origins, unusually enough, can be traced.

It all started with a novel, Behold A Pale Horse by Joe Musser, published in 1970; a fictionalised account of the last days as foretold in the Bible, in the same genre as would later be popularised by the Left Behind series. As the account goes, there was a mention of such a computer in that book, which was later put to graphic depiction when the book was made into a film, The Rapture. The film was marketed with some mock newspaper-like publications running “the story” about the super-computer.

Apparently, the disclaimer on these fake papers was either too obscure or not prominent enough, and the story was picked up as fact and passed on. Joe Musser himself is said to have been shocked that his fiction was being reported as fact, and has tried to refute it, but to no avail.

It is easy to see why this fiction was so readily believed by so many. Remember, in those days and for many more years to come, computers were very unknown and very scary. They were usually seen as anonymous threat, often possessing some kind of human-like attributes. When I grew up in the 1980s, for instance, there was a very real and vivid public debate about how the computerisation of society would increasingly steal people’s jobs, if not making humans obsolete altogether in one area after another. The whole Terminator film series builds on this very premise, and “The Computer” was named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year in 1982, further cementing its status as bearing human qualifications.

For generations, Christians have read the last Book of the Bible with varying degrees of fear and awe, anxiously trying to identify the various characters there in their own time. Come the early 1970s, suddenly things would have fallen into place: ‘Of course… the Beast won’t be a real human… it’s a computer.’

Add to that the general ignorance of what computers were in those days, as well as the limited possibilities to check urban legends during the pre-Information Age, and you have fertile ground for computer lore.

One might think that the idea would have fallen on its own unreasonability, to anyone who would stop and think. In those days, the then Common Market that would later evolve into the EU only had six member states, becoming nine in 1973. Violently gigantic chunks of the globe were outside of the Common Market’s reach; not only the Americas or Africa, but the entire Communist world, which certainly would never have fed the Western world any details of its inhabitants!

To make things even more complicated, not even the member states themselves had much track of their citizens; Britain, for instance, one of the new members in 1973, lacks a central population register to this day. To imagine that there would be any interest, capacity, or even resources within the Common Market of a few Western European nations to go out and e.g. identify inhabitants of remote tribal villages in Borneo’s jungles or Australia’s outback is so outrageous that it should have made even the most hardened conspiracy theorist stop and think.

Satellites were rare and certainly not commercially available, wireless communication clumsy, and digital technology in its infancy – the sheer logistic and technological problems of such a scheme would have been impossible to overcome. And then there is the question of who on Earth would have been prepared to pay for such a venture, bearing in mind how picky member states havd usually been about not paying one penny more than necessary to the Common Market/EEC/EC/EU and getting as much as possible back.

As readers of this blog know, the most commonly named location for this machine – the famous Berlaymonster – was gutted between 1991 and 2004. There are no records of any such technology being either found or transported from that site, nor has anyone who would have worked at the site come forward with any such revelation. And mind you, they have come forward in other contexts, most notably to complain about the hazards they were exposed to when tearing out all the asbestos in there.

And, once again, needless to say, computer technology of the 1970s won’t exactly let you play your favourite PlayStation games.

It is true that the EU has traditionally been quite advanced in terms of databases – for Community legislation and the like; in the same way as we now take for granted that most official documents produced by any government are available over the Internet.

If ever I come across any suspicious-looking computer equipment at the EU, I promise you’ll be the first to know. Until then, you can safely assume that this is a myth.

(Footnote: To avoid all misunderstanding, maybe I should add that I have not taken any of the above pictures at any computer centrals in any EU buildings. In fact, I have not taken them myself at all, but happily gleaned them from Wikimedia Commons’ Historical Computers category. They depict, from top to bottom, the SAGE AN/FSQ-7 at the American air defence NORAD; Harvard Mark I; an R2-D2-looking tin can from the now defunct Datasaab – believe it or not, called Datasaab D2!; and the ENIAC.)

Monday Sermon

Take some time off and listen to the full twentysomething minutes of this, won’t you:

(click to play… for those of you reading this via feed, you probably have to click yourself to this blog post on my site first)

Don’t Mention The C-Word

Still no name in sight concerning who held the pen when putting the Berlin declaration into text. Bah, I knew it! It was probably the product of a committee, or written by Frau Dr Merkel herself. Just when you thought it was going to get entertaining.

Anyway. As always, it’s a fun sport to sift through the layers of political science nonsense to see what is not in the text.

One such thing is to read the penultimate paragraph in the declaration and see how they wriggle around trying to avoid using the word “Constitution”. Germany wants one, the French, Dutch, British and other assorted people do not, and the general sentiment in most other countries seems to be “let’s not ask” for fear of getting the wrong answer.

Having a Constitution for the EU is the final nail in the coffin for national supremacy, and the cradle for a European superstate, the reasoning behind that goes. (I’m not quite sure how something can be both a nail and a cradle at the same time, but that’s beside the point.)

So, in order to make everyone happy, Ms-Dr-Merkel’s-secretary-or-whoever-the-unlucky-fellow-was-who-had-to-write-the-final-draft had to try to write “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009” without actually writing “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009”. The resulting euphemistic acrobacy can be enjoyed ->here<-.

Christianity was also deined access in the final round, in spite of heavy lobbying on its part by especially the Poles, at least for a mention.

I’m a Christian by choice and deepest convincement, but still quite divided on whether or not Christianity should be in such a declaration as this. True, Europe is founded on 2,000 years of Christian ethics. This is an historic fact and nothing to try to hide, and then Turkey can rant as much as it likes about the EU being a ‘Christian Club’ to divert attention from its chronic inability of learning to spell the legend h-u-m-a-n r-i-g-h-t-s.

On the other hand, throughout those last 2,000 years, every attempt to impose Christianity from the top in society has ended painfully. The simple reason is that true Christianity lies in the heart of the believer and cannot be commanded forth. And my freedom to advocate and exercise my faith can only be guaranteed in a society that also guarantees others the freedom to refrain from doing so. Freedom, by definition, involves the right to make one’s own choices.

“One Nation Under God” works in the US, where a large number of people voluntarily confess some sort of faith, and there is no history of religious oppression. But in Europe, I’m afraid a similar statement would only provoke a generally negative counter-response. And that is exactly what I, as a Christian, want to avoid.

In other words: If you want to reach Europeans with the Gospel, you’d better avoid conjuring up collective memories of state churches controlling all aspects of life, memories of which lie just beneath the surface.

Not to mention that the true Gospel includes the freedom of option for each individual to reject it.

Two Choices

Some time ago, I enjoyed a great sermon in my church along the lines of “You’ve Got Two Choices”.

Before saying anything else, I should add that my church is NOT into whacking people over their heads with simple fix-all solutions. (I would run for the door if that would ever happen, let me assure you.) Rather, its preachers usually draw upon their own experiences, pains, struggles and joys to help and encourage.

Anyway. I remembered this as I realised that I could choose to look at my life right now in two different ways.

Either:

1) Ten years ago this month, I was living in Brussels, I was cold and soaked, I was broke, I felt I had accomplished very little in life, I had no idea about the future, and I was driving an old automatic gearbox car that cost a lot of money in repairs. Today, I am living in Brussels, I am cold and sometimes soaked, I am broke, I feel I had accomplished very little in life, I have little idea about the future, and I am driving an old automatic gearbox car that costs a lot of money in repairs.

Or:

2) Ten years ago this month, I was living in a crummy, run-down shambolic useless excuse for an apartment, which my then girlfriend Y could hardly visit for fear of the neighbourhood, I had no job, no family, precious little food, and no education. Today, I am living in a beautiful apartment, my girlfriend Y now having become my wife, in a neighbourhood which is as safe as it gets, I have a great job, two wonderful children, food on the table, and a BA.

Both ways of looking at the last ten years are equally true factually speaking. The entire difference is in what we journalists would call “the angle”, or, to put it into the context where I started, which choice I make when thinking of things.