The salty, greasy taste of national unity


Things are looking pretty grim in Belgium right now. The elected prime minister has submitted his resignation after yet another round of talks failed to form a government that would bring together parties from the country's linguistic groups. It now falls to King Albert to attempt to cobble together some kind of fragile coalition that would hold the country together. Guy Verhofstadt, the outgoing liberal Prime Minister who was defeated 176 days ago continues to lead the government under an arrangement of dubious legality. The triumphant Paul Belien is making me eat my own words.

But wait, what's that smell? Is that the crackle and bubble of a deep fryer I hear? Why yes, national frite week is here! A week-long celebration of Belgium's national dish. The Telegraph reports:

Polling has found that 98.5 per cent of Belgians agree that the "chip shop is part of our cultural heritage of which we must be proud".

Indeed, Bernard Lefèvre, president of the union of chip-makers, believes that in a country so split along linguistic fault lines, only the chip is "typically Belgian".

"A chip shop is like Belgium in miniature," he said. "We are not a revolutionary people. The political problem still seems to be something above us - it is like watching foreign television. And even the most separatist of people would not dream of saying that fries are Flemish or Walloon."

For once, I think that the U.S. Congress in its infinite wisdom may have pointed the way. I propose that Belgium's parliamentary cafeteria begin serving "unity fries" immediately.


Teddy-bear kabuki

ISAM AL-HAJ/AFP/Getty Images

It's hard to avoid the impression that the teddy-bear imbroglio in Sudan was a piece of elaborate theater designed to give Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir a chance to magnanimously pardon the offender and thereby chalk up some brownie points with the West. Just scanning the headlines, one would have the impression that Bashir has courageously faced down the mob that was baying for the hapless schoolteacher's blood. Bashir's spokesperson is certainly cultivating that storyline:

There was a political risk in this decision. Although the pardon is a presidential prerogative, because of the rising feeling and tensions that have been generated many Sudanese will see it as unfair to them and that it might encourage others to do the same.The president considered the intentions behind the actions when he made this decision [to pardon]. 

The wise moderate in the midst of extremists—it's not a bad image to have as frustration grows over delays on Darfur peacekeeping.