International Papers

Failure To Take Off

The press commiserated over failure this week—of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to become something more than a diplomatic cocktail party, of Concorde to maintain its sterling safety record, of George W. Bush to do something bold, and of Germany’s new spelling rules to take hold.

At this week’s ASEAN summit in Bangkok the group faced down a year of disappointment in which it failed to resolve any of the region’s crises, such as the violence that followed the independence referendum in East Timor (see this Slate primer) or the haze from Indonesian forest fires, which, in the words of our dear friend the Khaleej Times of Dubai, “engulfed neighboring countries affecting residents’ health and tourism.” In a move to strengthen ASEAN, Thailand, the Philippines, and Singapore won approval for the concept of a “troika,” a rotating group of three nations empowered to deal with regional emergencies. However, what Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post called ASEAN’s “sacred mantra of non-interference in the internal affairs of others” limits the effectiveness of such an executive committee—since it would have no powers to set policy without the consent of all 10 member nations. The Straits Times of Singapore declared that ASEAN’s “wide differences in systems and progress have been its handicap” (members include Malaysia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, and Myanmar), while an op-ed in the Manila Times said that “before deeper forms of solidarity can happen between and among the ASEAN countries … they must become more transparent to each other.” The Financial Times took a positive view of North Korea’s presence as an observer at the meetings but stated that without “greater cohesion” among its membership, the group “seems unable to achieve much.”

Tuesday’s crash of an Air France Concorde was laden with symbolism for many papers. In an editorial headlined “Sonic Doom,” the Times of India showed remarkable sensitivity to Anglo-French attitudes. Concorde was “much more than just an aircraft,” the paper claimed, “The supersonic jetliner has come to symbolise the glory of France as much as its haute couture and fine cuisine,” and “Concorde is the one aircraft with which the Europeans were able to cock a snook at the Americans who have never been able to come up with such a jetliner.” Britain’s Guardian agreed, saying, “No aircraft has inspired such pride in its performance as Concorde, even among people without the resources to hope that they might one day travel in one.” The Daily Telegraph gave a patriotic sigh: “Where the Americans and Russians failed in their attempts to set up a regular supersonic service, the BA/Air France team pulled off a success which is unlikely to be replicated elsewhere,” while the Independent claimed, “Both visually and in terms of its technological achievement, Concorde remains a one-off.” (Coincidentally, Thursday’s Telegraph ran an obituary of Sir Philip Jones, the civil servant whose persistence “ensured the completion” of Concorde, despite politicians’ objections. His death was not related to the crash.)

George W. Bush’s choice of running mate received a remarkably unified reaction as papers across the political spectrum chose the same word to describe the naming of Dick Cheney: The National Post and the Globe and Mail of Canada and Britain’s Guardian and Times all used “safe” in their headlines. The Globe and Mail went so far as to declare that the choice “may be too safe,” and the Times said that it “might appear safe to the point of anticlimactic.” (A news piece in the Times called Cheney “a father figure” for Bush, without mentioning that he is only five years older than Dubya.) The Guardian made a swipe at Cheney’s service record: 

For a man with an uncompromising reputation as a military hawk, Mr Cheney’s own Vietnam era record is less belligerent. As a student he secured five successive draft deferments.

Word Wars I: The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung announced Wednesday that after a one-year experiment, it would abandon the use of new spelling rules in its German edition. The revised system, which was intended to modernize written German and to minimize mistakes that “purportedly revealed class differences,” cut the number of rules from 212 to 112. However, according to the paper, its publishers “determined that the new system was doing more harm than good.” An editorial claimed that rather than simplifying orthography, the new system has led people to avoid:

terms and phrases that might conceivably be subject to the new spelling rules. In other words, many people no longer write what they wanted to write. A new language, a language of avoidance, has been created, and it is not a pretty one.

Word Wars II: In the Times of London, Geoffrey Wheatcroft reflected on the new place names that South African cities have proposed to replace designations imposed by Europeans during the colonial era. Durban would become iThekweni, Port Elizabeth would gain three more syllables as Nelson Mandela Metropole, and Johannesburg would lose one as eGoli. To Wheatcroft, the African “rebrandings” are illogical because before the arrival of Europeans the region had no cities and therefore no city names. He claimed:

[T]he ability to accept one’s history is a sign of political and national maturity, and frenzied renaming a sure mark of insecurity.