Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cambodia?!

News sources of a more or less dubious calibre around the world are announcing that Belgium has beaten Iraq's record for the longest period without a working government. This article in De Tijd, however, tells a different story.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Belgium in the news #2


Brno Air Show september 2008
F-16 from the Belgian Air Component at an air show
in Brno, Czech Republic in 2008. (Source)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I don't exactly hate the trains in Belgium...

...but I do find pictures like this one, which I took at the Brussels South station today, highly amusing. Note that each red number represents a delayed departure.

(Click to embiggen.)


The only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to miss the train before.
- Gilbert K. Chesterton

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Belgium goes to war

I was hoping it wouldn't happen, but isn't hope one of the many casualties of war?

Nieuwsblad.be provides an overview of the Belgian forces that will assist in enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya. About 230 Belgian men and women in total will be involved.
'Our forces will be ready for deployment as of Monday,' says Claude Van de Voorde, commander of the Air Force. 'At this moment, the C-130s are being loaded with weapons for our F-16s.'
He explains that the six single-seat F-16s that have been assigned to the Libya mission are part of a larger group that was already on a training mission to Greece when the no-fly zone was established. 12 or 13 pilots will accompany the planes, making it possible to keep them in the air for twenty-four hours a day.

The Belgian Navy will also be involved:
In addition to the jet fighters, our country offers the services of the minesweeper Narcis, which is already in operation in the Mediterranean. The ship is manned by 32 officers, petty officers and sailors from the naval base at Zeebrugge.
M923 Narcis. (Source)

The article ends with another quote from Major-General Van de Voorde:
'We are not war heroes, only people who do their jobs. It is our task to carry out a political decision,' says the leader of the Air Force. 'There are already casualties on the ground. Our people understand that they will be in dangerous situations. We do not want unnecessary casualties. In Afghanistan we have six F-16's. So far we have had no cases of collateral damage (civilians slain in bombings, ed.).'
Here's to the Belgian Armed Forces maintaining their good track record.

You can read the full Nieuwsblad article (in Dutch) here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Manneken Pis goes green for St. Paddy's Day

For the very first time, the most famous inhabitant of Brussels joined in this year's Saint Patrick's Day festivities. Although he wasn't allowed any Guinness, Manneken Pis still smiled happily as he showed off his new flat cap, green trousers and a shiny green shamrock ribbon.


TV Brussel did a nice little story on it, with a couple of Irish people thrown in as well (so you'll understand at least some of what's being said). You can watch the clip here.

The entire wardrobe of Manneken Pis can be found at the Museum of the City of Brussels.

Please explain how Belgium could be going to war

Just when it looked like Japan would permanently divert the world's attention from the troubles in northern Africa, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1973, approving a no-fly zone over Libya. Everyone's talking about it.

The problem with a no-fly zone is that it takes a lot of military resources to enforce it. Several countries intend to provide military equipment and personnel, including Norway and two of Belgium's neighbouring countries, France and the Netherlands.

Belgium's Minister of Defense, Pieter De Crem, has made it clear that if requested to do so, Belgium will send some of its F-16s to Libya.

An F-16 of the Belgian Air Component.
So we know they've got them. (Wikipedia)

Foreign minister Steven Vanackere (CD&V) was more hesitant when interviewed by Radio 1 this morning. He said:
(translated from Dutch)
"We are a solidary partner, also with respect to the NATO. But when it's about sending people into a theatre of war, you must not rush things."
A wise thing to say. But should the Belgian government be considering this at all?

Belgium is ruled by a lame duck government while we wait for a government to be formed by the people that were actually elected last year. Until then no new laws can be passed. How can anyone be considering sending planes and personnel to the Libyan no-fly zone?

Put plainly, it looks like the Belgian government is considering going to war without the public support that a real government would have had. How Gaddafi is that?

Song of the week: Witloof Bay - With Love Baby

This one's for fans of a capella music and The Manhattan Transfer.

Witloof Bay is a vocal band formed in 2005. In May the band will perform their song "With Love Baby" in Düsseldorf as Belgium's entry in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest.

I don't hate the song, but how it can possibly win the hysterical party monster that the Eurovision Song Contest tends to be, is beyond me. My prediction: Bonus points for personality but not enough of the "shake your ass to the ethnic drum" factor that usually wins. And why is the band named after a vegetable?

Here's the official ESC video for "With Love Baby".


Read more about the Belgian entry at the ESC web site

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Belgians question their country's nuclear safety

As a reaction to the question of how scared we should be, Belgians have begun to wonder about the safety of its nuclear power plants.

Belgium has two nuclear power stations, one in Doel near Antwerp and one in Tihange near Liège. The 7 reactors have a total capacity of 5824  MW of electric power.

The Germans recently decided to temporarily shut down seven of their nuclear power plants. The German reactors that were shut down are of the same type as three of Belgium's reactors: two at the Doel plant and one at Tihange.

Belgian Interior Minister Annemie Turtelboom does not take the German decision lightly. Says she in this article:
This will have an enormous impact on electricity and energy supplies. It’s a decision that should not be taken lightly and certainly not unilaterally. If all European countries acted in this fashion energy supplies would be in jeopardy. A decision like this should be taken jointly by the Europeans.
Obviously, the Belgian government doesn't want any criticism for letting its old reactors - of the same type that the Germans were so quick to pull the plug on - run as normal.

Tihange nuclear power station. (Wikipedia)

The safety of Belgium's nuclear power stations has recently been questioned by Kristof Calvo of Belgium's green party, Groen!. He expressed particular concern over the Doel 1 and 2 and Tihange 1 reactors, the oldest in Belgium's nuclear 'family'.

In this article he says (translated):
"Take the evacuation radius of 10 km. This is an arbitrary choice. Scientists have been saying for years that 30 km would be better. In addition, the Chernobyl report of 1991 made it clear that the reactors and Tihange Target do not fully meet the requirements." 
"Incidentally, I am not the only one who thinks this. In late 2010 the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC) made a disturbing report. 25 safety problems were registered for the two oldest reactors at Doel; Tihange alone had 18."
Is that a lot or a little? I would think that anything above 0 is reason for concern. Maybe we should be afraid.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Divide between Flemings and Walloons deeper than we thought

Translated from this article at demorgen.be:
Flemings are farmers who know French but don't want to speak it. Walloons are lazy and arrogant bon vivants. That is roughly how we think of each other according to a detailed study from Mark Elchardus (VUB) and Olivier Servais (UCL). 
"We look at each other using clichés. And the negative ones are prominent. Thus, the language conflict is not a question of the media or politics. It's about common people. It's about sharp contrasts anchored in history. 
The survey 'Eén land, twee talen' (=one country, two languages) was ordered by the P&V foundation. It is not a quantitative survey, but was based on a survey of a panel consisting of 70 people: men and women equally, evenly distributed across age groups and regions. Different sessions focusing on different topics were conducted. The panellists were encouraged to tell 'their own stories'. 
Remarkably, more negative than positive stories were told. The stories in the latter category also tended to be less specific.
If Flemings and Walloons are going to keep looking at each other as if they were from totally different parts of the world - instead of inhabitants of the very same country - it's only a matter of time before we have two countries in place of one.

Read more at flandersnews.be

Belgium expands smoking ban, joins the club

This sign is instantly recognizable yet
somehow not always recognized.
Yesterday the top court of Belgium ruled to widen the country's smoking ban to include all indoor serving areas and casinos. When the ban takes effect on July 1, Germany will be the only Western European country without a national smoking ban.

Since 2009 smoking has been banned in work places, restaurants and pubs that serve food, while exemptions have been granted to cafés that only serve snacks such as crisps and peanuts. Now that's going to end.

I see one potential problem, though. Smoking rooms in restaurants and public buildings will still be permitted. In the case of some establishments, that's just as bad as if there were no ban at all.

I'm still going to be careful about where I eat. And I want to see some real results before I get on my knees and praise the system.


Today's question: How scared should we be?

From the front page of nieuwsblad.be:


Translation:
How scared should you be of the nuclear disaster?

How much fear should we have from the alarming situation in the Fukushima nuclear power plant? A clear answer to five pressing questions.
How scared do YOU think we should be? Post your suggestion on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is a casual shrug and 10 is running barefooted through the streets, screaming and tearing out your own hair. I'd also like to hear what good you think that would do.

Apparently there's a shortage of fear which Het Nieuwsblad are seeking to restore. Stephen Colbert would be proud.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

One step closer

I told myself that if I could find an illustration photo that perfectly expressed my current feelings, I would publish this post.


Today I completed level 2 of 6 of my Dutch course at the language centre at the University of Ghent. My final score was 90%. That, and a rare case of beautiful warm weather, makes this a great day to be A Norwegian in Belgium.

The preparatory year of Dutch is a six-month long preparation for foreigners who do not speak Dutch but still wish to study at the University of Ghent. When I've completed it, I'll be enrolling at the faculty of arts and philosophy to do a bachelor of language and literature in two languages. I've so far only made up my mind about one of these (English). The second one is a tougher choice. What would you go for: German, Italian, Latin, or Swedish? Please let me know what and why.

German would probably be the most tactical choice. Although only 71,000 Belgians speak German, the country has close ties to its neighbour Germany, where over 80 million people speak the language.

Latin, on the other hand, is a dead language. However, it has always been a fundamental part of Belgian secondary education. It's also very useful if you want to study ancient Rome. Once you're out of school, though, it quickly falls out of use. The only Belgians who use Latin in a professional setting today are lawyers and Bart De Wever.

If anyone has anything to say that might help me make the right choice - or any choice - please don't hesitate to do so. That's what the comments form is there for.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Jukebox Friday: Hooverphonic - Jackie Cane

Hooverphonic is one of Belgium's most internationally acclaimed bands. Originally a trip hop group at their formation in 1995, the band's sound has evolved into an eclectic blend of alternative rock and electropop. Their music has been featured in the film I Know What You Did Last Summer and on the TV shows Cold Case and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The newest shoot on the Belgian culinary tree: chicory beer

Chicory, or witloof as the Belgians call it, is the Belgian vegetable. Now someone's gotten the brilliant idea of making a chicory-flavoured beer.
The majestic witloof. (Source)

(Translated from De Standaard Online)
Belgium is famous for its chicory and its beer. "Why not combine them?" was apparently the idea of brewer André Janssens of the brewery Hof ten Dormaal in Tildonk (near Leuven). He has created the chicory beer 'White Gold'.

Brewer André drew inspiration from his childhood: His grandparents lived in Kampenhout, where the 'white gold' was a source for prosperity at the start of the 20th century. 'I've managed to separate the special bitterness of chicory and mix it into the beer', says he.
Janssens says that the beer is hard to come by in Belgium because 90 percent of the production is exported to the U.S., where the brewery's products are available in nearly every state.

I'm glad they're experimenting, but I think chocolate beer is still the best way to get people to come to Belgium.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The carnival in Aalst

Aalst (French: Alost) is a city on the Dender River, 19 miles northwest from Brussels. The city is at least 1100 years old and has approximately 80,000 inhabitants. The collective nickname for people from Aalst is ajuinen ("onions").

The city's most famous feature is its annual carnival festivities, the Carnaval Aalst, a celebration which dates back to the Middle Ages. It is held in the three days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Next to the Gentse Feesten, the Carnaval Aalst is arguably the most famous street celebration in Belgium, with thousands of people from all over Belgium coming to take part in the festivities.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Belgian of the week: Tom Van Dyck (the laughing "Dutch" interviewer)

Tom Van Dyck (b. 1972) is a Flemish actor and director. He's been in a slew of films and series, and I'm going to show you a couple of them through the magic of YouTube (or, as Eddy Wally would call it, "new tube").

Friday, March 4, 2011

Song of the week: Jan De Wilde - Een Vrolijk Lentelied

Jan De Wilde (b. 1944) is one of Belgium's most famous and infamous singer-songwriters. His popularity peaked in the 1970s, but he's been performing since 1962 and is still going strong. He has also worked with Urbanus, whose popularity would eventually eclipse that of his old comrade.

"Een Vrolijk Lentelied" ("A joyful spring-song") was first released in 1972. I put up the lyrics for anyone who knows Dutch. There's also an English translation for those who don't speak Dutch but enjoy quirky lyrics.

New poll: The path to a new government

There's a new poll up, and I think you'll like it. It's about fries and beards.

The poll ends on June 13, the 1-year anniversary of the general election, which incidentally is exactly 100 days from now. The countdown has begun. That goes for you too, politicians.

If you have a crazy idea and don't see it in the poll, please inform us in the comments!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Food poll results (YouTube overkill)

The food poll is over! Here are the top three Belgian foods, for your chewing pleasure.