International Papers

Burning Bush

The international press offers Bush no honeymoon. The nomination of Gen. Colin Powell as U.S. secretary of state led several papers to predict rough going between their countries and the Bush administration. El Tiempo of Colombia foresaw a “cooling down” of “the romance with the United States,” quoting an analyst who says Bush will “take actions that produce immediate, palpable results. Actions that represent successes that help clean up his image and solidify his presidency. Colombia isn’t the best scenario to accomplish that. Narco-trafficking, paramilitary guerrillas, the peace process, an economic crisis, and human rights violations aren’t problems you can solve overnight, so it’s better to avoid them.” La Nación of Argentina pointed out that in his 35-year military career, Powell had very little experience with Latin America—other than Operation Just Cause, the invasion of Panama to overthrow Gen. Manuel Noriega, which happened a month after he joined the Joint Chiefs of Staff in November 1989. Ha’aretz of Israel compared Powell with the two former military chiefs turned secretaries of state—George Marshall and Alexander Haig—and decided, “Powell is precisely in the middle, not so hostile that he will advance American interests only in the Arab world, not so enthusiastic a friend that he will lend support to Israeli military escapades or to ‘a new order’ in the Middle East.”

In a piece published before Gen. Powell was nominated, the Daily Nation of Kenya declared that for many Africans, “Because of Bush’s linguistic deficiencies, inability to grasp complex intellectual issues and a deeply right-wing disposition unlikely to favour Africa and other Third World regions, they are not excited that he has been declared the next President.” Toronto’s Globe and Mail said China was “wary” of the new administration because Bush supports legislation that would help Taiwan maintain its “defensive military advantage to fend off a Communist invasion.” Beijing is also concerned that Bush will proceed with plans for a nuclear missile shield.

Britain’s Guardian announced, “[T]here is little doubt in Europe that the continent will increasingly be left to its own devices by a Bush administration.” Its compatriot, the Observer encouraged Tony Blair to “be frank” with Bush:

Instead of being a mute, London should be a candid friend to the US about the dangers of Bush’s enthusiasm for the colossal expense of National Missile Defence. Our refusal to participate in this lunatic scheme may prevent America making a mistake which will harm others and itself. That is what true friends are for.

Guilt tripping? Just two weeks after the white-dominated Democratic Alliance opposition party enjoyed unexpected levels of success in South Africa’s municipal elections, the nation’s white community is once again divided over apartheid. While a group of prominent white South Africans—including actors, judges, journalists, academics, and most of the national rugby team—used the occasion of Reconciliation Day to sign a statement of collective guilt acknowledging that they had “derived unjust benefits from apartheid,” leaders of the Democratic Alliance publicly rejected the “Declaration of Commitment by White South Africans” and refused to participate. Former President F.W. de Klerk also declined to sign; he told South Africa’s Independent “he had already apologised in front of the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and that ‘group judgment’ would cause ethnic tension and prejudice.” (To read the statement, scroll to the bottom of this page.) An editorial in South Africa’s Sunday Times declared the document to be flawed because it was drafted by “well-meaning white people who did more than many black people to help bring down apartheid,” and who didn’t consult the leaders of the opposition parties and other “figures who really matter in white society.” It continued:

The fact that we as a nation are still debating whether whites benefited from apartheid is proof that we have not begun to deal with our past. … This mood of rejection in the white community needs to be turned around. And those leaders with standing in this community have a responsibility to lead white society out of this valley of negativity and encourage it to be part of the project of creating a new society.

Word power: It warms a copy editor’s heart to see how fashionable spelling bees seem to be these days. Britain’s Sunday Telegraph covered the Groot Dictee (Great Dictation), the annual war of words between Flemish-speaking Belgians and their Dutch neighbors that attracts a TV audience of millions. Apparently, Belgium is so teeming with spelling clubs that there is a national spelling circuit with its own ranking system. A former Belgian Groot Dictee contestant told the paper: “Champion spellers enjoy superstar status in Belgium. They spend endless hours in training and use techniques to improve their concentration levels, which requires meditation, the right diet, and good physical fitness.” Belgians claim last year’s Dutch victory was tainted by the inclusion of two words that are not used in Flemish, and they vowed to exact revenge in this year’s contest. In Colombia, El Tiempo described the pre-bee preparations of 18-year-old Michelle Suárez, who last week won the First Hispano-American Spelling Bee over competitors from 20 Spanish-speaking countries: Her secret was writing out 12,000 words and affixing them to the walls of the family apartment.

Language Zeitgeist: The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung announced the Society of Germany Language’s unanimous choice of the “word of the year” for 2000: Schwarzgeldaffäre (slush-fund scandal), which “has dominated reports about the Christian Democrats’ financial scandal from the past year.” (The German word of the year Web site, which compiles the choices from 1971 to 1998, provides a fascinating walk through history, from 1971’s “heiße Höschen” [hot pants] to 1998’s “Viagra.” Limited English translations are provided.) Meanwhile, the Sunday Telegraph provided a glossary of Texas colloquialisms to help those not born in the Lone Star state understand President-elect Dubya:

She’s got tongue enough for 10 rows of teeth.—My goodness, that woman can talk.It’s so dry the trees are bribin’ the dogs.—We really could use a little rain around here.This ain’t my first rodeo.—Don’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.Big hat, no cattle.—All talk and no trousers.