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Europe, explained

Cameron scandalEnlarge
British Prime Minister David Cameron was on a charity run yesterday when word of a serious Tory party fundraising cash for access scandal erupted around him. (LEFTERIS PITARAKIS/AFP/Getty Images)

UPDATE: Bowing to pressure, David Cameron has published a list of Conservative party donors who have had dinner with him privately.  Details here.

Just two weeks ago British Prime Minister David Cameron was riding high. He had learned everything there was to know about basketball at President Obama's side during a highly photogenic and successful trip to Washington.

Despite continued tough economic news his Conservative party's poll ratings were up.

Alcohol pricingEnlarge
There's plenty of ambulances out most nights in British towns as the heavy-drinking culture in this country leads to health emergencies and violence. (Matt Cardy/AFP/Getty Images)

British Conservative politicians rail about the "nanny state" all the time but that has never stopped them acting like nannies when they are in government.

Today the Conservative-led coalition government announced it would introduce minimum price rules on alcoholic beverages. The reason for the move is Britain's undoubted alcohol problem. Deaths from liver disease are up 25 percent in less than a decade.

Scotland cancerEnlarge
A hard drinking, hard smoking people, with a shockingly low life expectancy: that's the medical view of the Scots. Now Scotland will be the site of a major trial of a new early cancer detection test. (Jeff J Mitchell/AFP/Getty Images)

The bad health habits of the Scots has provided fodder for articles for decades. They are portrayed as a nation that drinks too much, eats too much fried food and collectively smoke like chimneys.

It is, of course, not true. But those who grow up in deprived areas of Scotland do fit the stereotype. Their life expectancy is shockingly low for a western country: 57.5 years for men and 61.9 years for women.

Youtube balletEnlarge
A rehearsal at the Royal Ballet in Covent Garden (Peter Macdiarmid/AFP/Getty Images)

Culture vulture alert:

Starting tomorrow morning (March 23) the Royal Ballet is live streaming its work day on youtube. The whole day. Cameras will be showing rehearsals and backstage preparations for the evening's performances. (I don't know whether they will show diva behavior and minor hissy fits.)

In any case, if you love ballet or are fascinated by the reality behind the make-believe, it might be worth a few minutes of your on-line day.

Extremist dataEnlarge
Demonstrations against neo-Nazis in Germany are important but quantifying the problem of extremism - in all its manifestations - is even more important. (ROBERT MICHAEL/AFP/Getty Images)

Mohammed Merah is dead. In France, in the press and in private, there will be much discussion about how many French Muslims share his extremist world view.

But think back to Monday, when the police said they were investigating the Toulouse murders on a twin track, looking for either a neo-Nazi or jihadi. Suppose the murderer had been inspired by Anders Breivik, the same question would be asked: how many Frenchmen share this extremist world view.


The 30th anniversary of the Falklands War between Britain and Argentina continues to cause rumbles. As I've mentioned here before, Sean Penn has weighed in and Prince William has recently been deployed there with the RAF causing Argentine hackles to be raised.

France chocEnlarge
Leaders of France's Jewish and Muslim communities met with President Nicolas Sarkozy today. The shootings in Toulouse at a Jewish school on Monday by Muslim fanatic has shocked the whole country and leaders from every level of society are trying to show solidarity. (Franck Prevel/AFP/Getty Images)

The suspect is cornered. As I write this it seems only a matter of time before he either gives himself up or ends things in a suicide by cop action.

But it is clear that this event is, in the words of French political commentator Agnes Poirier, "France's 7/7." July 7th, 2005 was the day jihadi suicide bombers killed more than 50 people in London.

Austerity budgetEnlarge
Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer heads for the House of Commons to deliver his budget speech (tucked away in the little red box.) (CARL COURT/AFP/Getty Images)

Budgets are inherently dull. Outside the Beltway do many Americans pay attention when the President sends his annual budget request to Congress?

But here in Britain, no mater how dull the details,  there are weeks of speculation about what the annual budget will contain in terms of taxes and measures to encourage this or that part of the economy. On the day itself, the 24 hour news stations go wall to wall with the story, statistics fly like a seminar in business school.

Toulouse manhuntEnlarge
Security is super-tight in Toulouse as the hunt for the killer of Jewish school children and immigrant soldiers intensifies. (PASCAL PAVANI/AFP/Getty Images)

France has been convulsed by the shooting yesterday of a Rabbi and three children at Jewish school. Schools across the country today observed a moment's silence.

Extra police and security personnel have poured into the area around Toulouse in southwest France as an intense manhunt gets underway.

Portugal healthEnlarge
European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs Olli Rehn (R) attends a press conference accompanied by the Portuguese finance minister, Vitor Gaspar (L) at S. Bento Palace, in Lisbon, on March 14, 2012. Portugal is swallowing the EU's austerity medicine in return for loans. It seems that medicine is not helping individual patients using the country's health system. (PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images)

This is a story I've been expecting to see for some time coming out of the U.S. and my thanks to The Guardian's Giles Tremlett for finding it in Portugal. Clearly the economic situation in the West since 2008 - crash followed by government imposed austerity measures - has been having a terrible effect on many folks' mental and physical well-being.

Now in Portugal comes a very specific set of data showing how devastating things are.