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#Brexit: Wolff on Johnson and Trump

Wednesday, 22 June, 2016 0 Comments

On one side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson wants Great Britain to regain its post-war sovereignty, on the other side of the ocean, Donald Trump is promising to restore American greatness. The two are charged with opportunism by their opponents; of not believing in what they say. In the eyes of their supporters, however, the message is clear: It’s the real people against the elites. Well, that’s how Michael Wolff sums up the situation for USA Today in What the Brexiters and Donald Trump have in common:

“Both views, in addition to emphasizing national pride, also target as the enemy the superstructure of remote, seemingly soulless, modern governmental management. In the case of the Brexit campaign, the enemy is Brussels and the cold-blooded, unaccountable, ever-expanding, ‘bureaucratic leviathan’… In the case of the Trump campaign, the enemy is a political establishment of complex policy abstractions and self-interested bias that is not only embodied by Hillary Clinton but that has also hopelessly tainted most figures in the Republican party.”

Donald Trump is a political lone wolf, says Wolff, and “his hyperbolic and pugnacious retro views” may, in fact, “reinforce the technocrat’s uneasy hold on the uneasy status quo.” Boris Johnson, in contrast, is “a smart, popular, charismatic, as well as opportunistic, politician with wide support in his party.” If one ends up in the White House and the other in 10 Downing Street, there might be a meeting of minds on some matters, but the conceptual gap between the world’s sole superpower and a Britain that has turned its back on “global anomie” would be huge. Unbridgeable, perhaps.

Still, says Wolff, “there is a conservative message here of return, of cultural revanchism, of a search for national meaning, of a determined deviation from the modern norm, that has gone mainstream and that is not going away.” In the end, it all comes down to how people view their world. Does the future looks bright? Is life full of promise and do most people feel like they are doing well? Or does the future seem uncertain and prosperity and security more elusive? Voters in the United States in November and tomorrow in Great Britain must decide.

USUK


Glossolalia: Euro English

Wednesday, 18 May, 2016 2 Comments

It’s the week of Pentecost, which is associated (Biblically) with “speaking in tongues,” a phenomenon linguists call glossolalia. So, in honour of all things philological, we’re devoting this week’s posts to language. We began with Singlish, followed up with Valley vocabulary and we’re continuing with Euro English.

On Saturday night in Stockholm, 18-year-old Jamie-Lee Kriewitz became a footnote in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest by achieving last place for Germany with Ghost. This indignity has prompted Die Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (the Association for the German Language) to demand that Germany be represented next year in Kiev by a song in German. Making the case, the association’s managing director, Andrea Ewels, said that the Eurovision Song Contest does not reflect the linguistic diversity of Europe and that there are lots of fine German singers of German songs.

Note: The last year a German-language song represented the country was 2007, when the late Roger Cicero sang Frauen regier’n die Welt. It ended up in 19th place from a list of 24 entries. Germany last won in 2010, when Lena sang Satellite, in English.

Only three of the 42 entries in this year’s Eurovision Song Contest were not in English. Back in 1956, when the event began, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), which runs the contest, didn’t specify which language singers could use as it was expected that each nation would use its own. And everyone did until 1965, when Ingvar Wixell represented Sweden with Absent Friend. France protested. Charles de Gaulle, the French President, who had vetoed Britain’s application for EEC membership in 1963, argued that English “hegemony” would damage the cultural variety of the contest and the EBU was forced to stipulate that each country’s entry to be in an official language of that land.

The turbulent Swedes struck back in 1973 and persuaded the EBU to drop the “official language” rule, which resulted in a run of English-language winners, including ABBA’s Waterloo in 1974. The Élysée Palace was not pleased and Valéry Giscard d’Estaing used his power to compel the EBU to restore the language restriction in 1978 and it remained in place until 1999. Since then, only one non-English song has won the contest: Serbia’s Molitva in 2006. To show how far the wheel has turned, the French and Italian entrants this year had choruses in English and the Spanish song was totalmente in English.

In Paris, Rome, Madrid and Moscow, the reality that English is the language of global music has finally sunk in. International audiences want to listen to songs they can understand and they’re used to hearing songs in English, not in Russian or Ukrainian.

With an audience of some 200 million, the Eurovision Song Contest is the goose that lays golden eggs annually for the EBU. It’s now the most-watched non-sports live television event in the world, and Asia and America are knocking on the door. The idea that participating countries would compete with songs that cannot win, to satisfy a linguistic policy, is ludicrous. It’s an international song contest, sung increasingly in the language of popular culture. Competing nations are not being made to sing in English; they want to because they know the fate of songs that are not in English.

The Eurovision Song Contest is a success and its linguistic issue has been settled, but the debate about the role of English in Europe is far from sorted. On Thursday, 23 June, a referendum will be held on whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union. If “Brexit” were to happen, the 450 million citizens of the EU would find themselves using a lingua franca spoken officially only in the Republic of Ireland (population 4.6 million) and co-officially in Malta (population 450,000). How will this affect Euro English? More on this during our Brexit week in June.


The Austria-Italy border fault line

Sunday, 8 May, 2016 0 Comments

Temperature’s rising in the run up to the second round of Austria’s presidential election vote on 22 May. The first round was won by Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party and he’s riding a popular wave of opposition to immigration, Islam and Italy. But it doesn’t stop there. “Vogliamo un Tirolo di nuovo unito. Renzi e Merkel sono scafisti di Stato,” is the headline in La Repubblica and it highlights how Hofer’s party is dissing the Italian and German leaders, while pressing the old “Greater Austria” button of bringing the “lost” northern Italian province of South Tyrol “home”, as it were. Pictures of the violent clashes at the Brenner Pass between Austria and Italy yesterday are adding to the tension on the border and should play to Hofer’s advantage a fortnight from today.

South Tyrol poster


Occupied: Cold horror

Sunday, 22 November, 2015 0 Comments

Present: Norway supplies 30 percent of the European Union’s natural gas imports and 10 percent of its crude oil imports. Future: The US is no longer a member of NATO, fossil fuel reserves are running low and a new Norwegian Prime Minister has decided that his country will switch from oil and gas to alternative energy options. Faced with this crisis, Brussels turns to Moscow for muscle and thus Okkupert (Occupied) begins.

Conceived by Jo Nesbø, the best-selling Oslo-based writer, Occupied is the most expensive TV series ever produced in Norwegian and it is excellent. The scenery is cold, the colours are cold, the occupiers are cold and the horror is cold. With winter at hand, Occupied forces us to ask ourselves what we would tolerate to stay warm. The dismemberment of Ukraine? By the way, Nesbø had the idea long before Vladimir Putin annexed Crimea, but the story reveals the unease that many of Russia’s neighbors feel. It’s cold up north. Occupied is now showing on Arte, the Franco-German TV network.


Rejection to Brexit: from getting in to getting out

Thursday, 12 November, 2015 0 Comments

On Tuesday, British Prime Minister David Cameron sent a letter to the European Council President Donald Tusk about the the reforms London wants in its relationship with the EU. If these are not forthcoming, Brexit might go from neologism to reality.

Back in 1967, however, Britain wanted to join the European club but couldn’t get past the velvet rope, which was being held by the French. History: The European Economic Community (EEC) was created by the Treaty of Rome of 1957. President Charles de Gaulle of France vetoed British membership on the grounds that the UK was a Trojan horse for US influence. Following de Gaulle’s resignation in 1969, things changed and the UK joined the body on 1 January 1973. Upon the formation of the European Union (EU) in 1993, the EEC was absorbed into the EU framework and ceased to exist.

UK EEC


Give me the money or I’ll shoot!

Friday, 3 July, 2015 0 Comments

Intra-European affairs are fraught these days, given the dissent about Brexit, migrants and Putin. The Greco-German relationship is going through an especially rough patch right now thanks to lending/borrowing “issues” and the cover of today’s Handelsblatt, the daily financial paper published in Düsseldorf, sums up the fear and loathing.

Handelsblatt

Meanwhile, “Greek politics is short-term. The long term is for Germans,” notes David Patrikarakos in Politico. Problem is, Germans and Greeks are united by the euro. Still.

By the way, those taken aback by the Handelsblatt cover, should take a look at the depictions of German leaders in Greece. They’re not very subtle. Here is a referendum poster in Athens that shows the face of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and states: “He has been drinking your blood for five years, now tell him No.”

No


The art of currency: Stefanos, Banksy, Warhol

Wednesday, 1 July, 2015 0 Comments

“On the front of both series of euro banknotes, windows and doorways are shown,” states the European Central Bank. “They symbolise the European spirit of openness and cooperation. The bridges on the back symbolise communication between the people of Europe and between Europe and the rest of the world.”

That’s the view from Frankfurt. The Greek artist Stefanos says that the currency does not reflect the reality of our era and he’s hacking it to make his point.

In the spirit of the British street artist Banksy, who uses public spaces and property to showcase his messages, Stefanos is using money to make a statement about the dire situation in Greece. His altered euro banknotes depict mass hysteria, despair, violence and social collapse. To create his works, Stefanos draws human figures on the notes using a black ink ball-pen, scans the results, posts the images on his website and returns the notes into circulation. Their subversive message is then spread around the modern agoras by consumers.

As we move towards a cashless world, banknotes are on their way to becoming valuable collectables. Before they’re banished, however, there’s the pressing matter of a Grexit, which could make the euros of Stefanos worth even more than their defaced value. Andy Warhol would have approved.

Artistic note


Margaret Thatcher predicted Yanis Varoufakis

Tuesday, 30 June, 2015 0 Comments

It is fashionable for liberal/leftist elites, including feminists, to hate Margaret Thatcher. She was all that they are not and because she refused to play the glass-ceiling game, they despised her. The most obvious recent example of their rage is The Assassination Of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel, which was published to much acclaim last year. Gleefully, the BBC adapted it for radio.

What they cannot deny, however, is that Margaret Thatcher understood the nightmare potential of the euro and she saved Great Britain from getting entangled in its snares by voicing her concerns. This led to the “five tests” devised, allegedly in the back of a taxi, by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls in 1997 that kept the UK out of the euro for good. In The Path To Power (1995), Mrs Thatcher revealed that she had been under constant pressure since 1990 to accept the proposed EMU (Economic and Monetary Union). She wanted no part of it; she foresaw the inflation and competitiveness dangers, she knew her history and she understood human nature. Referring to EMU, she said:

“Under this, Germany and France would end up paying all the regional subventions which the poorer countries would insist upon if they were going to lose their ability to compete on the basis of a currency that reflected their economic performance. I also thought that the Germans’ anxiety about the weakening of their anti-inflation policies, entailed by moves towards a single currency and away from the Deutschmark, could be exploited in negotiations.”

Sure enough, Germany will not accept greater inflation, poorer countries are insisting on bailouts and Yanis Varoufakis knows a thing or two about exploiting his counterparts in negotiations. Those dealing with the mess now might benefit from studying this snippet from a lecture Margaret Thatcher gave at Hillsdale College in 1994:

“Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy. He judged that, in the end, more than they wanted freedom, the Athenians wanted security. Yet they lost everything — security, comfort, and freedom. This was because they wanted not to give to society, but for society to give to them. The freedom they were seeking was freedom from responsibility. It is no wonder, then, that they ceased to be free.”

Margaret Thatcher


Love at first sight: Fiware and the grantrepreneur

Wednesday, 8 April, 2015 0 Comments

“Some recipients of the EU grants have told this website that they were more interested in the grant money than in Fiware.” That perturbing sentence appears near the end of Peter Teffer’s EUobserver article, EU spends millions to make next Facebook European. The headline has a hint of clickbait about it as the story does not live up to the billing. There is no mention of how EU millions could create a global network with 1.39 billion members and a market capitalization of $212 billion. Still, the piece makes for interesting reading as it reveals quite a bit about the bureaucracy of start-up funding.

At the heart of the matter is a project is called Fiware, which is a combination of “future internet” and “software”. Critics, writes Teffer, “say the project, which is costing EU taxpayers €300 million, is superfluous because alternatives already exist.” Teffer quotes Jesus Villasante, from the department of Net innovation in the European Commission, who appears to have a very sanguine attitude to the spending of public monies. “We don’t believe that all the 1,000 start-ups will develop applications that will be successful in the market. There may also be some SMEs that play with Fiware, develop the product, but decide: this is not for me, I prefer to use this other thing. That’s fine.”

Really? Back to Teffer: “‘There are plenty of alternatives to Fiware that are also open source,’ said one entrepreneur who wished to remain anonymous.” Wonder why?

Anyway, five years ago Pingdom looked under the hood at Facebook and found, “Not only is Facebook using (and contributing to) open source software such as Linux, Memcached, MySQL, Hadoop, and many others, it has also made much of its internally developed software available as open source. Examples of open source projects that originated from inside Facebook include HipHop, Cassandra, Thrift and Scribe. Facebook has also open-sourced Tornado, a high-performance web server framework developed by the team behind FriendFeed.”

The list has expanded significantly since then. They prefer to use the other thing.

Urban Dictionary: grantrepreneur: “People who exist on and for public subsidies, also known as corporate welfare. They’re not business people, they’re just good at getting money from government.”


Greece as Zimbabwe or Argentina

Friday, 20 February, 2015 1 Comment

What will happen if Greece exits the eurozone? For starters, the banking sector will collapse as everyone tries to move their euros to German banks. Although word on the street is that most have done so already. Athens might consider reintroducing the drachma, but no one would want it, so people would just keep using the euro. This option is not without precedent. Back in 2009, Zimbabwe gave up the pretense of monetary sovereignty and the United States dollar is now the official currency for all government transactions. Just as Robert Mugabe has no influence over the Fed, Greece would no longer have a seat at the ECB but life goes on and there are reports that nightlife in Harare is picking up again.

Instead of going the way of Zimbabwe, Greece might become another Argentina and things won’t be as bad as the pessimists say. Given that what the Argentines call “viveza criolla” is very much at home in Greece, a tango-sirtaki morph may be on the cards. That being the case, here are some useful viveza criolla phrases:

Total, si no robo yo, robará otro.” (In the end, if I do not steal, another will steal.)
Hecha la ley, hecha la trampa.” (Made the law, made a loophole.)
El vivo vive del zonzo y el zonzo de su trabajo.” (The smart guy lives off the fool, and the fool lives off his job.)

Back on the 11th of this month, STRATFOR looked at the two countries in Greece and Argentina, Similar But Not the Same. Conclusion:

Even though Syriza used Argentina’s case as an example during the electoral campaign, and many Greeks are aware of the country’s history, Athens has considerably less room for action than Buenos Aires did. Many of Buenos Aires’ moves since 2001 have been ill conceived and poorly executed, but unlike Greece, Argentina was a fully sovereign country when it made them. Greeks elected Syriza to fix the country’s debt problem without leaving the eurozone and the European Union. Greece’s main problem is that it will be extremely hard for Athens to achieve both goals simultaneously.


The genius of Grexit

Tuesday, 17 February, 2015 0 Comments

The word “Grexit” combines Greek’ and ‘exit’ and it refers to the possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone. The term was coined by Citi economists Willem Buiter and Ebrahim Rahbari in a February 2012 note and it has spread rapidly since then. One sign of its genius is that it no longer needs translating.

German: Grexit-Wahrscheinlichkeit steigt auf 50 Prozent

Italian: Grexit, l’Italia rischia 61,2 miliardi

Spanish: Ni Grexit ni Grecovery

Dutch: ‘Grexit is niet te vermijden’

French: La fantasme du “Grexit”

Estonian: Repliik: Geuro ja euro või grexit

Portuguese: Grexit: como seria a saída da Grécia do euro

Swedish: Grexit dåligt alternativ för EU:s skattebetalare