The Indian Express, a Delhi daily, put on a world-class show of histrionics last week when it gave over its entire front page to a report of fears in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s office of an attempted coup by the Indian Army. “The January Night Raisina Hill Was Spooked,” screamed the banner headline, referring to “panic” in the district that houses the major government ministries on Jan. 16 when two armored units rumbled their way toward the Indian capital. It was a routine exercise to test their mobility in nighttime fog. By coincidence, the movements occurred on the very day the Army’s chief of staff, a disgruntled general who is battling to extend his tenure, lodged his case with the Indian Supreme Court. The excitable Express, for whom 2 and 2 made 6 (if not 8), saw in all of this clear evidence of military mutiny. The prime minister’s office dismissed the story as “bunkum.”
A Type 45 class of air-defense destroyer—in plain English, a seriously nasty naval ship—is sailing for the Falkand Islands as part of Britain’s “defense diplomacy.” Anticipating Argentine hysteria, a spokesman for the Royal Navy was quick to stress that HMS Dauntless would be making only a “courtesy visit” to the British colony in the South Atlantic. Unfortunately, another spokesman torpedoed that narrative by pointing out to the British press that “a Type 45 is capable of wiping out the Argentine Air Force in a day if they were foolish enough to take us on.” That, if it were to happen, would make the ship’s visit very discourteous indeed.
Grass on Fire
“Why did I wait until now at this advanced age and with the last bit of ink to say: The nuclear power Israel is endangering a world peace that is already fragile?” These lines by Gunter Grass, published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung and described, somewhat eccentrically, as “poetry,” resulted in a major blitz of outrage in Germany and Israel. The very un-Rilke-like poem, titled “What Must Be Said,” also calls for “unhindered and permanent monitoring of Israel’s nuclear potential and Iran’s nuclear facility through an international entity that the government of both countries would approve.” The Israeli Embassy in Berlin responded in prose—OK, make that drama: “What must be said is that it is a European tradition to accuse the Jews before the Passover festival of ritual murder. Earlier, it was Christian children whose blood the Jews allegedly used to make their unleavened bread, but today it is the Iranian people that the Jewish state allegedly wants to annihilate.”
What, and where, is Azawad? Answer: it is the name given to the breakaway territory controlled by Tuareg tribesmen fighting to secede from Mali and comprises the northern half of that country. In other depressing news from war-torn Mali, Sharia has been imposed on the fabled city of Timbuktu by Islamist rebels. It’s the full, unsavory package: compulsory veils, amputated hands, death by stoning for adulterers.
France may have—as Charles de Gaulle once famously enumerated—246 different kinds of cheese, but not one of them, we learn, will be served henceforth at the Élysée Palace. President Nicolas Sarkozy, a dapper type much given to worry about his waistline—who once chided Angela Merkel for cutting herself a second wedge of Brie—has decreed that there is to be no fromage at French state dinners. Sarko is also a teetotaler, which should give his opponent in the forthcoming presidential elections a handy slogan on the stump: “He drinks no wine. He eats no cheese. Can he really be a Frenchman?”
A Day Off? Revolutionary, La!
Singapore is on the verge of becoming a slightly less terrible place to be a maid, of whom the hothouse city-state has more than 200,000—mostly from Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Although maids currently work a pitiless seven-day week, Parliament has passed chivalrous legislation to give them a weekly day of rest—starting in January 2013.
The Twitter account of the Harakat Al-Shabab Al Mujahideen (HSM), the Somali Islamist group best known as the “Shabab,” put out this bloodcurdling tweet last Wednesday: “HSM will hunt down & execute [government] officials who are slavishly serving & helping the invaders brutally massacre the innocent Muslims of Somalia.” (Query to Twitter: is this sort of death-dealing tweet really allowed?)