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EU ponders: "When is a cucumber just a cucumber?"

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If you're trying to understand why many Europeans remain skeptical of European Union expansion despite its demonstrated economic benefits, look no further than the union's marketing standards for produce, which are being debated this month:

Consider the Class I cucumber, which must be "practically straight (maximum height of the arc: 10 mm per 10 cm of the length of cucumber)." Translation: A six-inch cucumber cannot bend more than six-tenths of an inch. Following 16 pages of regulations on apples (Class I must be at least 60mm, or 2 1/3 inches, in diameter) come 19 pages of amendments outlining the approved colors for more than 250 kinds.

As for peaches, "to reach a satisfactory degree of ripeness . . . the refractometrix index of the flesh, measured at the middle point of the fruit pulp at the equatorial section must be greater than or equal to 8° Brix."

Wikipedia informs me that Brix is a measurement of the level of sugar in a liquid. What this has to do with the refractometix index--a measurement of light--is beyond this liberal arts major.

The European Commission's agriculture comissioner wants to scrap the majority of the standards, arguing that it's ridiculous for stores to be throwing away perfectly edible food during a global shortage. This makes a lot of sense, but I suspect the real reason is that arguments over cucumber thickness and banana straightness give EU opponents such perfect fodder for mockery.

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Bush's Berlusconi blunder

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The White House is scrambling to contain a diplomatic fiasco after an official briefing book distributed to reporters at this week's G8 summit contained a not very flattering description of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and his country that was apparently culled from an online encyclopedia:

"Berlusconi was one of the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for governmental corruption and vice,'' reads the profile. Primarily a businessman with massive holdings and influence in international media, he was regarded by many as a political dilettante who gained his high office only through use of his considerable influence on the national media until he was forced out of office in 2006.''

The profile goes on to say that Berlusconi is is "despised by many but respected by some for his bella figura [beautiful image]."

We may have taken a few shots at Berlusconi around here, but obviously this is no way for the White House to treat the U.S.'s staunchest European ally. And if they must, at least do it right and make fun of his tan.