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Europe

Jupiter Falling: We Get Fooled Again and Again

Tuesday, 4 December, 2018

Last year, the European elites warned the “deplorables” of France, les sans-culottes, and their better-off relations in la bourgeoisie, that if they didn’t vote for the elitist candidate, they would have to endure le deluge. So, they did and thus was M. Macron elected president. He said he wanted to rule as a ‘Jupiter’, above the political fray, but les gilets jaunes have brought him down to earth, sharply.

All of this was foreseen in 1971 by the political savant Roger Daltry, who doubled as a vocalist for The Who. Peering into the 21st century, and anticipating the handover of power from the hapless Hollande to the oleaginous Macron, Daltry said: “Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss.”

“There’s nothing in the street
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
The parting on the left
Is now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight”


European Elites And African Babies

Monday, 22 October, 2018

Why are European elites worrying about African babies? Ross Douthat claims that the angst is being driven by what he terms “Macron’s Law,” which postulates that with wealth and education birthrates fall — and fall, and fall. In Fear of a Black Continent, he examines Western-supported population control efforts in the developing world:

“So why are they creeping back into the discussion? For three reasons: Because African birthrates haven’t slowed as fast as Western experts once expected, because European demographics are following Macron’s Law toward the grave, and because European leaders are no longer nearly so optimistic about assimilating immigrants as even a few short years ago… This trend would have revived a certain kind of population-bomb anxiety no matter what, but the anxiety in Europe is a little more specific than that – because over the same period, Europe’s population is likely to drop by about one hundred million. (Western Europe’s leaders are a vanguard here: Neither Macron nor Angela Merkel nor Theresa May have any biological children.) In the late 1990s Europe and Africa had about the same population; a hundred years later there could be seven Africans for every European. And the experience of recent refugee crises has demonstrated to European leaders both how easily populations can move northward, and how much harder assimilation may be than they once hoped.”

Bottom line: “But focusing on European fertility has at least one moral advantage over Macro’s finger-wagging at African babymaking: It’s the part of the future that Europeans actually deserve to control.”


Day of reckoning in Sweden

Sunday, 9 September, 2018

The polls have opened in Sweden’s general election and pundits predict that neither the governing Social Democrats nor the Moderate Party is likely to win a majority. The big story, of course, is the rise of the Sweden Democrats (SD), who may end up taking second place, which would be a huge shock for the Swedish and European establishments. SD leader Jimmie Åkesson says that Sweden had become “an extreme country in many ways, not least when it comes to immigration” and that his plan to take in fewer migrants should be regarded as “normal politics in the rest of Europe”. From Brussels to Berlin, from Rome to Madrid, all eyes will be on Stockholm tonight.

“Everything I read about the Swedish Social Democratic government of the last century suggested an organization that was driven by one single, overarching goal: to sever the traditional, some would say natural, ties between its citizens, be they those that bound children to their parents, workers to their employers, wives to their husbands, or the elderly to their families.” — Michael Booth, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia

UPDATE: The Swedish election has left the two main political blocs almost tied. With all ballots counted, the governing centre-left coalition is marginally ahead of its centre-right Alliance rivals, with around 40% each. The Sweden Democrats (SD) won about 18% of the vote, up from 12.9% in the previous election. A lengthy battle to form a working coalition now looks certain.


A German writes about Germany and Trump

Wednesday, 20 June, 2018

Jochen Bittner, a political editor with the German weekly Die Zeit, addresses the enormous hypocrisy of Europe and, especially Germany, in a New York Times op-ed titled What Trump Gets Right About Europe. Snippet:

“Mr. Trump’s anger at America’s allies embodies, however unpleasantly, a not unreasonable point of view, and one that the rest of the world ignores at its peril: The global world order is unbalanced and inequitable. And unless something is done to correct it soon, it will collapse, with or without the president’s tweets.

While the West happily built the liberal order over the past 70 years, with Europe at its center, the Americans had the continent’s back. In turn, as it unravels, America feels this loss of balance the hardest — it has always spent the most money and manpower to keep the system working.

The Europeans have basically been free riders on the voyage, spending almost nothing on defense, and instead building vast social welfare systems at home and robust, well-protected export industries abroad. Rather than lash back at Mr. Trump, they would do better to ask how we got to this place, and how to get out.

The European Union, as an institution, is one of the prime drivers of this inequity. At the Group of 7, for example, the constituent countries are described as all equals. But in reality, the union puts a thumb on the scales in its members’ favor: It is a highly integrated, well-protected free-trade area that gives a huge leg up to, say, German car manufacturers while essentially punishing American companies who want to trade in the region.

The eurozone offers a similar unfair advantage. If it were not for the euro, Germany would long ago have had to appreciate its currency in line with its enormous export surplus.”

What sort of lives do people/nations, who pose as being moral, lead? Jochen Bittner has posed the question and answered it, too.

Language note: The word “hypocrite” came to English from the Greek hypokrites, which means “actor” or “stage player.” Hypokrites is made up of two words that translate as “an interpreter from underneath,” and that makes sense when you know that actors in ancient Greece wore masks to represent the characters they were playing, and so they interpreted the story from underneath their masks.

Hypokrites took on an expanded meaning to refer to anyone wearing a figurative mask and pretending to be someone they were not, and this meaning was imported into medieval French and then into English, where it appeared with the spelling, ypocrite, in 13th-century religious texts to refer to those who pretend to be pious to deceive others. By the 16th century, hypocrite had gained its initial h-.


When A. A. Gill visited Monte Carlo

Sunday, 21 January, 2018 0 Comments

It was October 2001, actually, and he wasn’t impressed. But, first, some background. A. A. Gill was an English journalist who died of cancer in London on the morning of 10 December 2016, at the age of 62. He was born Adrian Anthony Gill and he was also an alcoholic who stopped drinking at 29. He followed an Alcoholics Anonymous “12-step plan” to recovery and, in tribute to the fellowship, began using the name ‘A. A.’ Gill professionally. His finest writing is collected in The Best of A. A. Gill and it covers his observations on food, television, life and travel. From “Monte Carlo”, which he visited to watch the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 motor race, a snippet:

“Monte Carlo is a money puddle. A cash delta. It is as if all the wealth from the rich northern European pasture has run down the Continent and found its way here, to form a sort of mangrove swamp of avarice before running into the Mediterranean. Maybe swamp is the wrong term. Maybe some of you like swamps. Perhaps sewage outlet would be a better description…

…As a human being there are many, many things you can feel ashamed of. Things that will leave a metallic taste in your mouth, make you promise to do better. Try harder. Reorganise your priorities. And physically and symbolically, every single one of them is here for one weekend a year.

Monte Carlo is a gaudy parable. A speechless Sermon on the Mount. But no one’s listening. And they couldn’t even here if they were. The noise has reached concrete-splitting levels. It’s the roar of selfishness, greed, vanity, avarice, addiction, lust and pointless stupidity. On the giant screen above the slurping ashtray, shimmering in the petrol haze, the start lights are flashing. Red, amber, green. And they’re off.”

A. A. Gill


Trump in Poland: The Three Seas vs. Nord Stream 2

Thursday, 6 July, 2017 0 Comments

The election of President Donald Trump was an existential shock for Poland’s liberal elites. And, like their pals the world over, they remain in grief and denial, unwilling and unable to comprehend what has happened to their certainties. That said, Poland’s conservative government didn’t appear thrilled by the change in Washington, either. Trump’s reputed admiration for Putin suggested that an emboldened Moscow would have a free hand to increase its intimidation of Warsaw, but the increasingly frosty climate between America and Russia has put that nightmare to rest. And that’s why President’s Trump speech today in Warsaw is so important, and it explains why Poland is greeting the US President as a hero. When the speech ends and Air Force One flies off to the G20 Summit in Hamburg, however, the success or failure of the visit will depend on President Trump’s position regarding the competing visions represented by the Three Seas initiative and the Nord Stream 2 project.

Poland

The Three Seas Initiative: This aims to unite twelve countries in Central and Eastern Europe by creating a North-South infrastructure, between the Baltic, Adriatic and Black Seas, in the telecommunications, transportation and energy sectors. The main goal is challenge Russian influence in the European energy sector, and prevent Moscow from using energy as a weapon against neighbouring states.

Nord Stream 2: This is a second pipeline being built by Russian energy giant Gazprom and Germany’s BASF and E.ON energy companies. It will run in parallel to the first Nord Stream pipeline, which was completed in 2011, and it will carry gas under the Baltic Sea directly from Russia to Germany. Adjoining states regard this as a move by Russia to bypass traditional transit countries (Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Belarus and Poland) and see it as part of a long-term plan by the Kremlin to exert political influence over them by threatening their gas supply without affecting supplies to Western Europe.

As one can see, some of Europe’s oldest fault lines are exposed here. By calling their project the Tree Seas Initiative, the founders have revived memories of the Intermarium — a Polish-led bloc in Central and Eastern Europe as a bulwark between Germany and Russia. Some also regard it as a challenge to the EU and an act of potential separatism. Anything the US says and does, therefore, will be seen as hostile by some in Berlin and Brussels but all those who have been crying “Isolationism” since last November might admit that keeping this US administration interested in the affairs of Central and Eastern Europe is of value.

But, but, but… Last month’s vote by the US Senate to expand sanctions on Russia has rocked the boat. Part of that expansion will target European countries that cooperate with Moscow’s efforts to build out its energy infrastructure in Europe and the most prominent target is the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The proposed sanctions would affect those who “…invest or support the construction of Russian energy export pipelines.” The Wall Street Journal has the details.

Europe and America. Russia and Poland. Oil and gas. It’s complicated.


The carnival of Nazaré

Sunday, 5 March, 2017 0 Comments

It is said that that the Portuguese town of Nazaré got its name from a wooden statue of the Virgin Mary brought to Spain from Nazareth by Christians in the 4th century. The statue arrived in Nazaré in 711, carried by a monk named Romano, accompanied by Roderic, the last Visigoth king of what is now Portugal.

Barcelona-born filmmaker Kylian Castells is more interested in surfing than statues. Here, he captures the black-and-white power of the Nazaré Canyon, which creates the “epics” that have made the town a hotspot for big-wave surfers like Garrett McNamara, Carlos Burle and Maya Gabeira. The music is by the Dark Jazz Trio.


Houellebecq on elections

Sunday, 26 February, 2017 0 Comments

Today is the birthday of Michel Houellebecq, the great French writer who dares to speak the savage truth about France, sex, politics, culture and the human condition. This is from his novel Submission, which was published on 7 January 2015:

“To be fair, when I was young, the elections could not have been less interesting; the mediocrity of the ‘political offerings’ was almost surprising. A centre-left candidate would be elected, serve either one or two terms, depending how charismatic he was, then for obscure reasons he would fail to complete a third. When people got tired of that candidate, and the centre-left in general, we’d witness the phenomenon of democratic change, and the voters would install a candidate of the centre-right, also for one or two terms, depending on his personal appeal. Western nations took a strange pride in this system, though it amounted to little more than a power-sharing deal between two rival gangs, and they would even go to war to impose it on nations that failed to share their enthusiasm.”

Houellebecq is terrifyingly honest, which is why people either love or hate him. There is not Third Way with Houellebecq. In a recent interview with the French magazine Valeurs actuelles he said, Les élites haïssent le peuple. Very Houellebecqian. Santé.

Michel Houellebecq


Fast forward thinking at ING

Tuesday, 4 October, 2016 0 Comments

Revolutions are turbulent, gory affairs. “The time to buy is when there’s blood in the streets,” said Baron Rothschild, who made a fortune in the panic that followed the Battle of Waterloo. This time around, it’s the financiers that are filling the streets, driven out by the algorithms in the battle to capture the smartphone customer.

ING Last week, Germany’s second-biggest lender, Commerzbank, said it was planning to cut 9,600 jobs over the next four years and end dividend payments for the first time. Yesterday, Dutch bank ING says it intends to cut up to 7,000 jobs in Belgium and the Netherlands over the next five years as part of a plan to save €900 million a year, speed up the adoption of new technology and “continue to lead in digital banking”.

“Customers are increasingly digital and bank with us more and more through mobile devices,” said ING chief executive Ralph Hamers in a statement. “Their needs and expectations are the same, all over the world, and they expect us to adopt new technology as fast as companies in other sectors.” Quote:

“In order to continue to lead in digital banking, we need to offer a better customer experience, that’s instant, personal, frictionless and relevant. From 2016 to 2021, we intend to invest €800 million in our digital transformation, building a scalable platform to cater for continued commercial growth, an improved customer experience and a quicker delivery of new products.”

Heralding the revolution at ING, Ralph Hamers titled his strategy “Accelerating Think Forward.” It’s kind of instant, but it’s certainly not frictionless for those giving way to the new technologies.


From Nice to Munich, humanity will prevail

Saturday, 23 July, 2016 0 Comments

The French filmmaker and photographer Fabien Ecochard made this “Hommage à tous les Niçois. Parce que Nice est et restera toujours Nissa la Bella.” Despite the Bastille Day terror on the Promenade des Anglais, “Nice is and will remain Nissa la Bella,” he says.

In the third attack on civilians in Europe in eight days, an 18-year-old German-Iranian killed nine people and wounded a further 21 at a shopping center in Munich last night before shooting himself. As in Nice, the victims were killed randomly, cruelly.

But like Nice, Munich will recover from this horror. Humanity will prevail.


Tyler Cowen: Why Brexit happened

Wednesday, 6 July, 2016 0 Comments

“This vote was the one lever the English were given for sending a message to their politicians,” says Tyler Cowen, the American economist, academic and writer. He describes himself as “pro Remain, and also generally pro immigration,” but he admits that the desire of the Leave voters to preserve the English nation “as English” was stronger than he had thought. Why Brexit happened and what it means is one of the more reasoned pieces written on the referendum and Cowen is to be credited for acknowledging a truth that many “Londonists” refuse to accept:

“Quite simply, the English want England to stay relatively English, and voting Leave was the instrument they were given. That specific cultural attachment is not for Irish-American me, no, I feel no sentiment, other than perhaps good humor, when someone offers me ‘a lovely biscuit,’ or when a small book shop devotes an entire section to gardening, but yes I do get it at some level. And some parts of the older England I do truly love and I am talking the Beatles and Monty Python and James Bond here, not just the ancients like Trollope or Edmund Spenser.”

Cowen is on the money when he notes that voting Leave was “the instrument” people were given for sending a message to the UK’s leaders, and many Americans, frustrated with their political system and how it has been corrupted by the political professionals, will have taken note, no doubt. Donald Trump is the instrument being offered to US voters in November for expressing their rage with Washington and some will choose it and use it despite many of the warnings being expressed by his opponents. Given the opportunity, those who feel excluded and ignored are sending the message.