European Leaders Stun European Importance

The EU is now officially headed by an aubergine, and a turnip. It’s actually two people, really, and I am sure they are worthy of all praises, but the fact that their notoriety was strictly limited to local phone directories and the immediate family suggests that 27 European leaders can only agree on names nobody will ever be satisfied with (and never mind they look like Gary Larson’s characters too).

The end result will be two-and-a-half years in which hundreds of millions of European will be represented on the world stage literally by Nobody. Could anybody please tell me who is ever going to listen to “Nobody”?

Expect 30 months of European daze.

Congratulations to all those not selected, as it indicates they were candidates of some importance. And please do keep the President of the EU away from the President of the USA, as in terms of charisma they are the respective antiparticle. If they’ll just shake their hands, they’ll annihilate!

On The Rise Of Far-Right Parties In Europe

Recently I have been a panelist on TV talk-show “Forum”, presented by Andrew Gilligan on PressTV. I have been invited as London Media Officer for Silvio Berlusconi’s party, “The People of Freedom”.

One of the other panelists was Mary Honeyball MEP (Lab). The below is my reply to her blog “The Lure of the Bright Lights“:

One of the points made during the programme is that the far-rightists take advantage of the divisions among mainstream political parties. I am afraid you are perpetuating those divisions. I can assure you that Silvio Berlusconi’s party, “The People of Freedom” (”Popolo della Liberta’”) is on your “same side regarding the far right”.

In fact, there is no Party in the Italian governing coalition that could be described as belonging to the “far right” by any stretch of the imagination.

We, just like the European People’s Party as a whole, have the fight against all forms of fascism of old and new as one of our foundation stones. And let me be proud of the fact that throughout all recent elections all Italian far-rightists have been losing voters to the point of effectively disappearing from the political spectrum.

Why are things looking different in the UK? This is not something one can answer in a blog’s comment area. Because it takes time to analyse, then to understand what is peculiar about British politics and society. Such a strong and long-standing Parliamentary Democracy as yours, truly the envy of the world, still manages to inspire the rise of absolutely nasty and repugnant parties like the BNP. Why?

Likewise, Europe is a big place, and there is no chance to fight back at the ugly racist and neo-nazi ideas being banded around without having a good look at the peculiarities of each country’s political system and society.

I therefore urge you and everybody else interested in European politics to make the effort to understand the particular circumstances that regard each country. I know it is a huge effort, there’s now 27 of them.

But the last thing we should be doing is mindlessly sticking labels around. By making sweeping statements, sometimes based on what is summarily reported in the media by distracted journalists perhaps with a particular précis to follow, the risk is to create artificial divisions among what is an overwhelmingly anti-fascist electorate, effectively presenting tens of millions with the choice between feeling disenfranchised, and voting for the racists.

ps personally, I do not think there is anything to discuss with the BNP’s representatives. I am sure you will agree that it is impossible to change the mind of a Holocaust denialist on any subject. If I were a British politician, what I would be more interested into would be to share a platform with BNP voters. It is them, the ones we should all be working to welcome back to our world.

British Workers First! Down With Foreign Labour!

I will show my support for the British strikes against the use of foreign labour by leaving the country the day after…getting back all the taxes I have paid in the UK since Nov 1, 1997.

It’s your chance, Gordon, to free up yet another workplace for a native of Albion. And for a relatively minor amount of money too!!!

A Novel Idea for Obama Against Recalcitrant European Politicians

Some worries on The Economist about what the Europeans will make of the upcoming new relationship with President Obama, admittedly a very open question as the interests of the United States very seldom perfectly coincide with anybody else’s.

There is one big difference with Obama though. I think especially in Europe, he enjoys such a vast popularity, all he’ll have to do is show up on TV and make direct appeals to European public opinion.

Local politicians, each one of them no doubt already praying to be the First One To Be Photographed With Barack, will simply declare their concordance with whatever the White House will propose regarding Iraq, Iran, Israel, Russia, NATO, and the choice of hypoallergenic dogs.

Belarus, Just a Tad Less Hopeless

Surprisingly upbeat news report on BBC Radio4 tonight about the upcoming elections in Belarus (Sunday 28 Sep).

President/Dictator Aleksander Lukashenko is still the dominating force but his Government is at least pretending to be more democratic than last time around. In all likelihood, these overtures will result in an organized opposition, leading to a new round of repression and/or the end of Lukashenko’s Dictatorship.

ps rumor has it that Belarus is just trying to woo the EU, in order to have a little more weight in its relationship with Russia…

Thirty Thousand Attempts to Keep Turkey Out of the EU

I was attracted at first to UCLA History Professor Perry Anderson’s contribution to the London Review of Books (LRB) in the 11 Sep 2008 issue (“After the Ottomans”, also titled “Kemalism”) by four peculiarities.

First of all the topic: the discussions about letting Turkey in the European Union are obviously helping define what the “European Union” actually is (or is not). The history of modern Turkey occupies an important spot in the debate, and Anderson’s article promised to deal with that in great detail.

In fact (and here lies the second oddity about “After the Ottomans”) it was a very long piece, running to a total of more than 14,000 words.

This is not a good or bad thing per se: but the vast majority of LRB articles are much, much shorter, little more than a couple of pages in print and less than 5,000 words (2,700 words for Rosemary Hill‘s “Making Do and Mending”, 25 Sep 2008; 4,700 words for Sheila Fitzpatrick’s “Like a Thunderbolt”, 11 Sep 2008) .

Longer pieces are not common; for example the 15,000 words for John Upton’s “In the Streets of Londonistan”, 22 Jan 2004). Actually, the fact that authors are given a restricted space to express their opinions, does set the LRB apart from, say, the New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Third, LRB articles usually sport very peculiar titles (check the examples above): Anderson’s was very uncharacteristically just a pure statement of fact.

Fourth, as it appeared obvious from the start, Anderson was not going to review any particular book: “After the Ottomans” was an essay in political history, with more than a whiff of polemics about everything Turkey.

Imagine then my surprise (or lack thereof) when the very next issue of the LRB hosted yet another Perry Anderson article on Turkey (“After Kemal”, 25 Sep 2008).

Once again the unimaginative title, the lack of any book to review (rather than simply quote and mostly, summarily dispose of), and the huge amount of paper devoted to it: 10 full pages, 16,000 words, of course mostly with very little of positive to say about Turkey.

So we got all of 30,000+ words on the single topic of post-Ottoman Turkish history: perhaps a record for the LRB, perhaps not. But it was all natural that I started wondering what was behind the LRB Editors’ choice to deluge their readers with enough words to fill up around 15 “standard” articles.

Now, I am not going to dwell into the “truth” of what Anderson has written about, from the end of the Ottoman Empire to today (it would be nice if a counter-article were to appear, perhaps on the LRB itself).

Who am I (who is anybody) to be able to reply to Anderson’s finely detailed history of Turkey, without risking getting buried by hundreds of pieces of information that only a lifelong study of a subject can provide?

And still: the two bits I dare considering myself rather familiar with, the conditions leading to the 1980 coup and the preparations and aftermath of the 1974 invasion of Cyprus, I do not remember them as clear-cut as described by Anderson, with the Turks invariably playing the “baddy” roles.

In truth, “After the Ottomans” and “After Kemal” do not read as works of scholarship as much as political-journalistic polemical essays, like a pamphlet of old, with an underlying “discourse” that keeps both articles together and absolutely consistent throughout. Oh, and all scholars that disagree with Anderson, each single one of them, have sold their souls to the Devil, I mean, the Ankara government.

In Anderson’s Turkish history everything is explained and neatly falls in place within the “narrative”. Even what shouldn’t follow that pattern (like the end of Menderes’ rule after being described as economically and politically strong) is classified as “part of a cycle” common to all centre-right Turkish governments: a cycle whose existence and reasons are however not truly explored.

Therein lies my biggest critique of Anderson’s double anti-Turkish whammy. Readers are being offered a partial and partisan representation of history, dressed up as the one and only truth, with no a single doubt expressed to it.

Turkey, they learn, is invariably on the wrong side of history (Turkish leftist politicians aside, apparently), behaving rather badly and with little in common to the rest of Europe, apart from a relentlessly-pursued (by Anderson) list of all that makes successive Kemalist and post-Kemalist governments in Ankara a sort of heirs to the Nazis.

That may be so: but why devote 30,000 words to it right now? Well, Anderson does actually provide an unwitting explanation to that: ironically, by making a very strong case for Turkish EU membership:

The conventional reasons for which it is pressed within the EU are legion: militarily, a bulwark against terrorism; economically, dynamic entrepreneurs and cheap labour; politically, a model for regional neighbours; diplomatically, a bridge between civilisations; ideologically, the coming of a true multiculturalism in Europe. In the past, what might have been set against these considerations would have been fears that such an elongation of the Union, into such remote terrain, must undermine its institutional cohesion, compromising any chance of federal deepening. But that horse has already bolted. To reject Turkish membership on such a basis would be shutting the door well after there was any point in it. The Union is becoming a vast free range for the factors of production, far from an agora of any collective will, and the addition of one more grazing ground, however large or still relatively untended, will not alter its nature.

In Turkey itself, as in Europe, the major forces working for its entry into the Union are the contemporary incarnations of the party of order: the bourse, the mosque, the barracks and the media. The consensus that stretches across businessmen and officers, preachers and politicians, lights of the press and of television, is not quite a unanimity. Here and there, surly voices of reaction can be heard. But the extent of concord is striking. What, if the term has any application, of the party of movement? It offers the one good reason, among so many crass or spurious ones, for welcoming Turkey into the Union. For the Turkish left, politically marginal but culturally central, the EU represents hope of some release from the twin cults and repressions of Kemal and the Koran; for the Turkish poor, of chances of employment and elements of welfare; for Kurds and Alevis, of some rights for minorities

Is it this then: with his essays, is Anderson trying to weigh in to keep Turkey out the EU unless certain conditions are met, exactly because there is an overwhelming list of reasons for Turkey to be accepted right now? It is telling that the listed “hopes” for the Turkish left, the Kurds, the Alevis form for Anderson some of the reasons for impeding Turkey’s “accession process”: thereby killing those very same “hopes”…

One last point: Anderson has been provided a pulpit by a major publication. Is the LRB in the business of torpedo-ing the chances for a European Turkey?

I do think the LRB Editors should come out honestly about it, explaining their own reasons for allocating a large amount of magazine real estate to…a pamphlet. A pamphlet unlike any other LRB article.

Kosovo: Good Guys vs. Bad Guys?

Letter to the International Herald Tribune

Dear Editors, dear Ms. Dempsey

Can anybody seriously describe the ongoing Kosovo crisis as a good-guys vs. bad-guys conflict, as attempted in Ms. Dempsey’s “Letter from Europe“, June 11, 2008, published on the IHT as “Deadlock in Kosovo risks Balkan instability“?

The articles is a relentless attack on everything Russia and Serbia have to say about Kosovo, with the EU depicted as the poor victim of a machination intending to deprive Kosovo of true independence, by keeping the UN around.

We are even treated to the classic “It is not for lack of trying by the Europeans or the United States to reach an agreement with Russia over Kosovo“, about the aborted Ahtisaari Plan.

Well, Ms Dempsey is well aware and even describes in the article the situation in Northern Mitrovica: could she please then try to explain on what basis would the Ahtisaari Plan free Albanian Kosovars from Belgrade’s rule, while effectively imprisoning the Mitrovican Serbs under Pristina’s?

Neither the EU nor the USA have shown much interest in upholding the rights of the minority Serbs in Kosovo, all too focused in promoting the rights of the minority Albanians in Serbia. This is no recipe for a lasting and peaceful settlement, with or without Russia: and in fact to this day there is no lasting peaceful settlement in sight.

It is also too easy for Ms Dempsey to push aside the legality question. It is not just a matter of Vladimir Putin “claiming that Kosovo’s independence had no international legal basis“. In fact, like Ms Dempsey, also the EU, the USA and legions of international legal experts still have not found any legal basis for Kosovo’s independence.

The best they could come up with, it’s a “sui generis” clause, hoping that all problems will evaporate if everybody agrees that Kosovo’s is a case unique in history, never to be repeated again.

That’s no legal explanation for bypassing the United Nations in order to create a new State in Europe.

Does anybody believe the situation is better today than before “independence” came to Kosovo, with the EU’s “undermined security ambitions” also thanks to its deep divisions on the topic, as correctly pointed out by Ms. Dempsey?

Are we any better down the path of Balkan stability, a “region where the slightest misunderstanding or provocation can lead to violence“? I for one am not sure about that. But if we want to be serious at dealing with this problem, that’s not just a question for Russia to answer.

regards
maurizio morabito

The Moral Equivalence of Hamas and Israel (and us)

Another day, another series of reports on tens of dead, dying and injured people in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

I’ll leave the sorting out of who’s to blame to anybody wishing to waste their time.

Sure, there are more victims on the Palestinian side than on the Israeli, indicating an overwhelmingly disproportionate response as if the value of human life really depended on nationality (a consideration unfathomably shared by the Palestinian leadership too: prisoners exchange usually involve a handful of Israelis to tens of Palestinians).

On the other hand what purpose can it be in the launching of aimless rockets by Hamas, randomly towards civilians? Apart, that is, from killing if not terrorizing them on purpose, because they are civilians: as if that has ever won anybody’s war.

The height of mutual stupidity is that people in charge on the two sides are determined to brutalize each other. At the same time, retaliation after retaliation, they have kind of abdicated all hopes of recovering their own humanity…to the sudden appearance of virtuous behavior in the other camp.

It’s fairly obvious that whatever the causes of their madness, they are all directly responsible for untold miseries that will befall on their own children.

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What should be done to bring peace to Israeli and Palestinians alike? It’s more than obvious, it’s actually boring. Stop wishing the others could go away. Realize the land is for the two of them, and for the rest of humanity as well. Decouple Israel from the messianic undertones, by getting it into the European Union.

But that doesn’t look like in anybody’s interest. The main hope is that the situation has worsened since the quasi-agreement with President Clinton in 2000, because when everybody knows peace is tantalizingly near, everybody rushes to settle the last scores.

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But that’s still too easy an analysis.  

Who else is brutalizing civilians in the futile attempt of getting a military and thus a political advantage in a never-ending war, worsened exactly because and by that brutalization?

It’s us from NATO.

The civilian victims are in Afghanistan, nowadays, and likely but less evidently in Iraq.

And it’s no novelty. Leaving aside the famously useless killings of tens of thousands in Dresden during World War II, just fifty years ago the French Government tried almost casually to defend the bloody bombing of a Tunisian border village, in the Algerian war.

Despite our illusions, things have not changed since. We are still eliminating fellow human beings without much of a thought. Here’s NATO proudly using American and European taxpayers’ money to kill road building workers. Never, or almost never, big news in our media.

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It is high time we leave aside idle discussions about other peoples’ business to mind about our own idiocy.

Serbia: Trapped in the past…by the EU!

I find the IHT’s Feb 25 Editorial on Serbia and Kosovo rather disingenuous (“Trapped in the past“, IHT, Feb 25).

They state that “Every effort has been made by NATO, the United Nations, the European Union and the United States to accommodate Serbian fears and sensitivities” but then undermine that very claim by decrying Serbia’s lack of “any willingness to negotiate the province’s independence” (as if this were a fait-accompli from the very beginning: so much for “accommodation“…).

They also accuse Belgrade of having “never demonstrated any remorse for the carnage unleashed by the former dictator Slobodan Milosevic“: thereby forgetting how young the Serbian democracy is, and its obvious innocence with respect to the crimes of a past dictatorship.

Serbia and the Serb may have a lot of soul-searching to do having lost pretty much everything and some in their misguided attempts to restore national pride by way of armed conflicts. But nothing, almost nothing has been done by the EU in primis, and by the USA, to help them out of that trap.

Actually, it is apparent that Kosovo has been recognized by some States, and not by others, only as part of a wider USA/Russia geopolitical game. What trust should Serbia put in such a process, is anybody’s guess.

If that can be the basis against “triggering wider conflict“, it’s very much doubtful.

Go Serbia!!!

Let’s hope the news don’t change through the night.

This is just a step towards uniting Europe (the really big push forward can only come from the EU itself: sadly, the Netherlands of Srebrenica memory are among those refusing to play fair, at the moment, together with Belgium and its inability to do much about the Rwanda genocide).

Still, a Tadic victory goes (would go) in the right direction.

Lessons to the World from Union of Otherwise Inconsequential Nations

I wrote a few months ago: “As a sort of grass-root United Nations, the EU could then become the first gift to Humanity by a more peaceful, re-born Europe“.

And there it is: “Emulating the EU, countries join forces to speak with power and focus” (Stephen Castle, IHT, January 22, 2008):

“Europe’s attempt to weld 27 disparate nations into one bloc is being imitated around the globe, from Asia to Africa, as countries experiment with new ways to maximize influence.

[...] the European experiment with integration is being copied most successfully by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, [aiming for] a single market by 2015.

The African Union, conceived in 1999, while bigger and more unwieldy with 53 members, also borrows from EU structures, including its most influential bureaucracy, modeled on the European Commission and known as the AU Commission. The Latin American dream is to have something like the EU. [...]“

There are some comments in the article along the lines of having a more centralized EU structure to achieve the goal of continental thinking.

I do not see that as a must: what is important, is for all the EU (and AU, and ASEAN) members to realize each of them is too small to be of any consequence compared to the Powers called USA, Russia, China, India, maybe even Japan.

Co-operative behavior will then be a natural consequence of that realization, without any need for cohercion.

I still believe that is the main reason why the British are reluctant to fully enter the EU: because that will mean them accepting that the days of the Empire are really a thing of the past.

What Did They Kill One Another For?

The Croatian Parliament on Saturday backed the new government of Prime Minister Ivo Sanader [...]. Serb official Slobodan Uzelac [of the Independent Democratic Serbian Party (SDSS)] was designated a deputy premier.”

During the wars that dissolved Yugoslavia in the 1990′s, more than 140,000 people died, and more than a million were displaced. And the Croatian War of Independence, fought mainly between Croatian and Serb ethnic nationals living in the present territory of Croatia, was “striking for its brutality and intensity“.

Global Warming May Be Just European

Readers of the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report – Working Group 2 (AR4-WG2) may be forgiven to think a colossal misreading of available data may be at the foundation of contemporary Climate Change/Global Warming scares.

That report contains a map of “significant changes” (SC) already observed around the world. It is repeated throughout, and you can see it in the Summary for Policymakers, page 10, Figure SPM.1.

A total of 29,459 SCs are reported. An impressive number, at first glance.

Only, 96% of those changes regard just Europe.

The IPCC itself could not list more than 1,225 SCs not related to Europe.

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This enormous geographical bias does not get better when we count how many of those SCs are actually “consistent with a warming world”.

Planet-wise, there are 26,285. Of those, 96% are in Europe. Actually, 25,022 are European SCs related to “biological systems”.

That’s 95% of the total.

That means that outside of Europe, the IPCC could not find more than 1,150 SCs “consistent with warming”.

Compare that to the number of European SCs NOT-”consistent with warming”: 3,100

We have twice as many changes that are INCONSISTENT with warming in Europe, than CONSISTENT with warming in the rest of the world.

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Note also the distribution of the other “observed changes”. Only 7 for the whole of Africa, 114 for Asia, and 144 for the Polar Regions.

But what is most notable is that in the whole of North America (where, one would expect, a lot of researchers reside), only 810 SCs have been reported. Of those, 752 are consistent with warming.

That’s 3% of the total.

So for a summary: 96% from Europe. 3% with North America. Almost nothing for everywhere else.

How global can that be?

About The Christian Roots of the Enlightenment

As then-Cardinal Ratzinger once said, “The affirmation [about] the Christian roots of Europe [...] relates, first of all, to an historical fact that no one can seriously deny“.

And obviously not just of Europe, but of pretty much everything European, including of course all that has been born from European minds. Including, that is, the Enlightenment.

Why can’t anybody seriously deny that? Because philosophical movements cannot appear out of thin air. Of course, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and the others could not use Shinto or Zoroastrian ways of thinking, but Christian ones, because they were educated by, were thinking like and had to always confront themselves with Christian culture(s).

There are six sections dedicated to The Soul in Voltair’s Philosophical Dictionary. None to the Buddhist concept of Nirvana. QED.

Check the answers to my series of blogs on Atheism. All too often, all too tellingly people nominally “without-a-god” reply with a frame of mind that actually implies a personal, omnipotent God.

That is, the Christian God.

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One thing I don’t understand is why something as obvious as the above should be controversial. Or perhaps I do understand: simply, the people that will shout the most against Christianity are bound to be the ones that despite claiming Atheism are actually Christian through and through, and they hate themselves for that.

Little hope to have a serious discussion with them.

But what does the above mean? Have we discovered the Last Stand for the Children of the Enlightenment? Should they be forced to honestly admit their roots are Christian?

I’m afraid not: because if Europe has Christian roots, those are not the only roots (Jewish and Islamic roots should be added of course, and that’s mentioning only the religious side…).

And if everybody should accept that the Enlightenment has (also) Christian roots, then everybody should accept that Christianity has (also) Pagan roots.

An enormous amount of time has been dedicated by people in the Church(es) to reconcile Jesus’ thoughts with Greek Philosophy, from the Gospel of St John onwards. Just as for the Enlightenment, the “new message” of Christianity had to be communicated by people to people.

The only way to do that was and is by using contemporary imagery, ways of thinking, categories of thought and historical philosophical arguments. Many of these were (“Pagan”) Greek at the time of Jesus, and so in our part of the world Christianity had to be built from Pagan Greek roots. QED once again…

Burma, Myanmar, India and us

Are we going to let India lead us by our noses once again?

In these hours not that dissimilar from that night on 3 June 1989, hours before the Tian-an-men massacre in Beijing, it may be difficult to think of how to realistically support the demonstrations in Burma, apart from sending more and more appeals for calm to a Military Junta probably second to none in matters of bloody-thirsty repressions and the political and economic strangling of a country.

Still, it is possible to perform three not-just-symbolic gestures:

(1) Categorically refuse the use of “Myanmar” in place of “Burma”.

Even if “quasi-etymologically correct”, “Myanmar” is the invention of the Military Junta, forced upon the country in 1989 with no democratic process at all. If the Burmese will want to change the official “foreign” name of their country to “Myanmar”, they will be able to do so after getting their country back from the usurpers.

More: a couple of years ago the Foreign Minister of Burma protested for the use of “Burma” by the US State Department: all more the reason not to use “Myanmar”.

(2) Let’s publish the names of the dictators.

For way too long the Military Junta of Burma has been treated as a shapeless entity, not as a group of ferocious dictators (humanity-free to the point of denying Aung San Suu Kyi the chance to meet her dying husband for one last time).

Here then some of the persons who should be answering charges in a court of law, instead of commanding Burma against the will of its people:

General Than Shwe – President
General Soe Win – Prime Minister
General Major Nyan Win – Foreign Minister

If we force as much publicity as possible on the names (and pictures) of those in charge of Burma, they won’t be able to hide themselves with the anonymity they have so far much cultivated.

(3) And finally, we should not let India lead us by the nose once again.

Not only many European Governments have underplayed the scandal of the Dhruv helicopters, built also using European supplies and then supplied to the Burmese Junta against every EU embargo rule. It’s worse than that: while outside the Burmese monks were demonstrating, Indian Oil Minister Murli Deora was busy signing a US$150-million agreement for natural gas research in Burma: a clear sign of support of the Junta on the part of a “democratic” Government.

This behaviour is part of New Dehli’s strategic myopia, with India so scared by rebellions in the Northeast to the point of propping up the Burmese Military Junta to get their help in preventing an escalation of those conflicts. And it is based on the apparent impunity when a State goes against rules established by other democratic countries.

If that way of thinking would be intolerable when done by communist China, all the more so for India.

Foreign and International Trade Ministers from all the EU countries (and elsewhere) have a clear duty tonight to apply all possible pressures: including a protest against the present Indian acquiescence, and possible future complicity with the Burmese Junta, before things turn to the worse.

(link to the AVAAZ petition “Stand with the Burmese Protesters”)

What Hope for European Soccer?

The soccer/football season in Europe has just started, but violence is already in full swing both off and on the pitches.

With fans too ready to misbehave with knives in the best of circumstances, players to kick each other rather than the ball, managers to whine, and referees and football authorities clueless if honest, there is almost absolute certainty of several persons dying for nothing really, outside the stadiums.

Can it get any worse? Let’s just hope no footballer will get killed on live TV.