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  • Archive for the 'Europe' Category

    The Middle Ages: Dark….or Brilliant?

    Posted by David Foster on 3rd June 2013 (All posts by )

    Bookworm discovered and embedded a video by Professor Anthony Esolen, in which he challenges the common belief that the Middle Ages were a dark and dreary era with few redeeming attributes. Book adds thoughts of her own, and there is a good comment thread on the post.

    Pseudodionysius posted the same video at Ricochet, resulting in an extensive discussion thread…192 comments so far…which includes significant pushback against the Esolen thesis. The thread became pretty contentious…unpleasantly so, at points, but it includes some worthwhile discussion and useful links, especially on the comparison of Medieval with Classical technologies.

    Posted in Christianity, Europe, History, Judaism, Religion, Tech | 11 Comments »


    Posted by Jonathan on 8th May 2013 (All posts by )

    Translated interviews with young ethnic Norwegian men who live in parts of Oslo that are dominated by Muslim immigrants. Not encouraging.

    (Via Heartiste.)

    Posted in Europe, Islam | 3 Comments »

    Coming Soon, to Places Near You?

    Posted by David Foster on 5th May 2013 (All posts by )

    I’ve written before about Rose Wilder Lane, the writer and political thinker. In 1926, Rose and her friend Helen Dore Boylston, both then living in Paris, decided to buy a Model T Ford and drive it to Albania. I recently picked up the book Travels With Zenobia, which is the chronicle of their adventure.

    Acquisition of the car–a “glamorized” 1926 model which was maroon in color rather than the traditional Ford black–went smoothly. Acquisition of the proper government documentation allowing them to actually drive it–not so much:

    Having bought this splendid Ford, my friend and I set out to get permission to drive it, and to drive it out of Paris and out of France. We worked separately, to make double use of time. For six weeks we worked, steadily, every day and every hour the Government offices were open. When they closed, we met to rest in the lovely leisure of a cafe and compared notes and considered ways of pulling wires…

    One requirement was twelve passport pictures of that car…But this was a Ford, naked from the factory; not a detail nor a mark distinguished it from the millions of its kind; yet I had to engage a photographer to take a full-radiator-front picture of it, where it still stood in the salesroom, and to make twelve prints, each certified to be a portrait of that identical car. The proper official pasted these, one by one, in my presence, to twelve identical documents, each of which was filled out in ink, signed and counter-signed, stamped and tax-stamped; and, of course, I paid for them…

    After six hard-working weeks, we had all the car’s papers. Nearly an inch think they were, laid flat. Each was correctly signed and stamped, each had in addition the little stamp stuck on, showing that the tax was paid that must be paid on every legal document; this is the Stamp tax that Americans refused to pay. I believe we had license plates besides; I know we had drivers’ licenses.

    Gaily at last we set out in our car, and in the first block two policemen stopped us…Being stopped by the police was not unusual, of course. The car’s papers were in its pocket, and confidently I handed them over, with our personal papers, as requested.

    The policemen examined each one, found it in order, and noted it in their little black books. Then courteously they arrested us.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Europe, France, History, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy | 3 Comments »

    Book Review: Elective Affinities, by J W von Goethe

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd April 2013 (All posts by )

    Amazon: Elective Affinities


    Charlotte and Eduard were in love when they were very young, but parental pressures separated them. Twenty years later, they are finally able to be together, and now they live contentedly on Eduard’s large estate, somewhere near Weimar.

    Eduard is in correspondence with his long-time friend, the Captain, who is frustrated by his current inability to find suitable employment, and suggests to Charlotte that he should come and live with them on the estate, where his surveying and construction-management skills would be very useful. Charlotte, though, has the sense that bringing a third party into the mix will somehow compromise the happiness for which they have waited so long. She makes her case nicely but determinedly, drawing from Eduard the reaction that a woman like Charlotte is “quite invincible” in debate:

    First you are reasonable, so that it is not possible to contradict you; then charming, so that giving in to you is a pleasure; then full of feeling, so that a man wishes to avoid causing you any pain; then full of foreboding, which alarms him.

    Despite Charlotte’s persuasiveness, though, Eduard remains concerned about the Captain’s situation, and does not drop the matter. Finally, Charlotte agrees that the Captain can join them, but with a proviso: she would also like her adopted daughter, Ottilie–who is having some difficulties at bording school–to move in with them.

    The rather strange title of this book is taken from late-18th-century science, where it refers to the separation and combination of chemical substances…the Captain knows a bit about chemistry and shares his knowledge with Charlotte and Eduard after joining them at their estate.

    The story is primarily concerned with Charlotte, Eduard, Ottilie, and the Captain—the four “substances” in the chemical analogy, whose varying affinities for one another create the drama of the book. There are also a few other important characters. One is a strange man named Mittler, whose self-appointed calling it is to travel about, seeking out conflicts among people and attempting to help resolve them. Another is Charlotte’s daughter Luciane, a budding socialite whose extremely hyper personality I found rather exhausting even at a distance of 200 years.

    My description above may influence the reader to think that Elective Affinities is merely a rather trivial romance novel. And the stye of the book, the Arcadian setting, the unfailing courtesy with which the characters address one another…all these may at first seem to confirm such an opinion. But what Goethe is really dealing with here are the polarities of social structure versus passion and of free will versus fate.

    Charlotte, who like her kindred spirit the Captain is a very organized and controlled person, at first sees an absolute distinction between the blind, automatic affinities of chemical substances and the freely-chosen affinities of human beings. But a year and a half later, her views about her  degree of control over her own fate–and even her own feelings–have, as a result of experience, changed considerably.

    Really sort of a mix between novel and essay, Elective Affinities is a short book, easy to read, and emotionally involving if not emotionally overwhelming. I read the Oxford edition, with the translation by David Constantine…one reviewer at Amazon strongly recommended this in preference to the Penguin version.

    Here’s an interesting review of Elective Affinities  from 1885. It’s chock-full of spoilers, so if you plan to read the book, you may want to hold off on the link until you finish it.

    There is also a 1996 movie based on the book–made by Italian filmmakers and with the action transposed from Germany to Italy. I’ll comment on it in a later post.


    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, Human Behavior | 4 Comments »

    Christo Anesti! – Eastertime in Greece

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 31st March 2013 (All posts by )

    (This piece was part of a much longer essay about life in Greece when I was stationed at Hellenikon AB in the early 1980s. I posted it originally on The Daily Brief, and also rewrote much later to include in a collection of pieces about travel, people and history for Kindle.)

    Christmas in Greece barely rates, in intensity it falls somewhere between Arbor Day or Valentines’ Day in the United States: A holiday for sure, but nothing much to make an enormous fuss over, and not for more than a day or two. But Greek Orthodox Easter, in Greece – now that is a major, major holiday. The devout enter into increasingly rigorous fasts during Lent, businesses and government offices for a couple of weeks, everyone goes to their home village, an elaborate feast is prepared for Easter Sunday, the bakeries prepare a special circular pastry adorned with red-dyed eggs, everyone gets new clothes, spring is coming after a soggy, miserable winter never pictured in the tourist brochures. Oh, it’s a major holiday blowout, all right. From Thursday of Holy Week on, AFRTS-Radio conforms to local custom, of only airing increasingly somber music. By Good Friday and Saturday, we are down to gloomy classical pieces, while outside the base, the streets are nearly deserted, traffic down to a trickle and all the shops and storefronts with their iron shutters and grilles drawn down.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Europe, History, Holidays, Personal Narrative, Recipes, Religion | 3 Comments »

    RERUN–Author Appreciation: Rose Wilder Lane

    Posted by David Foster on 30th March 2013 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in February 2012. I don’t usually rerun posts that are this recent, but RWL’s thoughts are relevant to the recent posts by Jonathan and myself, and more broadly, to the issues of freedom versus control which dominate our current political debates.)

    Rose Wilder Lane, born in 1886 in the Dakota Territory, was the daughter of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the “Little House on the Prairie” books. Lane is best known for her writings on political philosophy and has been referred to as a “Founding Mother” of libertarianism; she was also a novelist and the author of several biographies.

    In her article Credo, published in 1936, she describes her political journey, beginning with the words:

    In 1919 I was a communist.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Civil Society, Europe, History, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy, USA | Comments Off

    Sixty Years after Stalin

    Posted by Zenpundit on 6th March 2013 (All posts by )

    Sixty years ago one of the greatest monsters in history, a mass-murderer of tens of millions many times over, the yellow-eyed, “Kremlin mountaineer”  breathed his last.

    We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
    Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,
    All we hear is the Kremlin mountaineer,
    The murderer and peasant-slayer.
    His fingers are fat as grubs
    And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,
    His cockroach whiskers leer
    And his boot tops gleam.
    Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders -
    fawning half-men for him to play with.
    They whinny, purr or whine
    As he prates and points a finger,
    One by one forging his laws, to be flung
    Like horseshoes at the head, to the eye or the groin.
    And every killing is a treat
    For the broad-chested Ossete.
    - Osip Mandelstam

    So great was the terror he had inflicted that many of his victims, dazed and bloodied by decades of fear, savage oppression and war, openly wept. The greatest fear of the late dictator’s closest henchmen and accomplices, who had more than likely escaped the conveyor belt of torture, gulag and execution only by their master’s death, was that the people would think that they had murdered their dear vozhd and would storm the Kremlin and tear them to pieces.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Biography, Europe, History, Leftism, Russia, War and Peace | 27 Comments »

    The Lost Boys

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 2nd March 2013 (All posts by )

    UPDATE: Here is one solution.

    This week Europe blew up. The media haven’t caught up yet, because they are what they are. But the markets are catching up fast.

    This is a huge event for the United States, because our political elite is bound and determined to turn us into Europe. Hasn’t the EU found the answer to war and peace and prosperity forever?

    Our Democrats believe it. Europe is their model. Every batty new idea they have is copied from the glorious European Union. Twenty years ago they still celebrated the Soviet Union, until that house of cards crumbled. Now they have shifted their fantasy paradise to Europe.

    Over there, fifty years of increasingly centralized control have made it impossible for voters to be heard. The political parties are stuck in GroupThink. Only the fascist “protest” parties agitate for reform. The ruling class doesn’t listen. They don’t have to — they don’t have to run for election.

    So European voters fled to the fascists to express their rage and despair. Imagine one out of four US voters going for Lincoln Rockwell, and you get the idea.

    Read the rest, as they say.

    Belmont Club has an unusually good post for yesterday. I could say that more than once a week, if truth be known. This one is quite to the point on Sequester Day.

    The NHS, which its creators boasted would be the ‘envy of the world’, has been found to have been responsible for up to 40,000 preventable deaths under the helm of Sir David Nicholson, a former member of the Communist Party of Britain. “He was no ordinary revolutionary. He was on the hardline, so-called ‘Tankie’ wing of the party which backed the Kremlin using military action to crush dissident uprisings” — before he acquired a taste for young wives, first class travel and honors.

    The NHS is dealing with the shortage of funds by pruning its tree of life, so to speak. He also does not tolerate anyone telling the truth about it.

    it emerged he spent 15 million pounds in taxpayer money to gag and prosecute whistleblowers — often doctors and administrators who could not stomach his policies.

    The public money spent on stopping NHS staff from speaking out is almost equivalent to the salaries of around 750 nurses.

    It has recently been noted that NHS staff no longer recommend their own hospital for family members. Also one quarter report being harassed or bullied at work.

    The other half of the equation involves the youth.

    The European Youth will remain outside the Death Pathways for some time yet. But they will spend the time waiting for their turn at affordable, caring and passionate medicine in poverty and hopelessness. With the exception of Germany youth unemployment in Europe is over 20%. “A full 62% of young Greeks are out of work, 55% of young Spaniards don’t have jobs, and 38.7% of young Italians aren’t employed.”

    Unemployment exceeds even our own Obama economy for failure. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Civil Society, Coolidge, Economics & Finance, Elections, Europe, Health Care, Leftism, Libertarianism, Obama, Political Philosophy, Public Finance, Tea Party | 11 Comments »

    Worthwhile Watching: Wish Me Luck

    Posted by David Foster on 1st March 2013 (All posts by )

    I recently discovered this British TV drama from the late 1980s, which is focused on British underground agents operating in occupied France during WWII. The series is based on activities of the real sabotage-and-subversion organization which was known as Special Operations Executive. I think it is quite good.

    The first agents we meet are Liz Grainger (acted by Kate Buffery) and Matty Firman (Suzanna Hamilton.) Liz is an upper-crust wife and mother who comes to the attention of the SOE recruiters when she responds to a BBC request for holiday photos of France to help in military planning…her excellent French language skills and experience living in that country make her highly desirable as a prospective agent. Matty, from a much less-affuent background, is of mixed French-British parentage (also Jewish) and is eager to contribute to the war effort as an agent, partly because she hates Naziism and partly because of boredom with the factory work she has been doing.

    Various newly-recruited agents and French local people make their appearance over the course of the series; continuity is provided by Colonel James Cadogan (Julian Glover) and his deputy Faith Ashley (Jane Asher) in London, in the roles that in real life were played by Maurice Buckmaster and Vera Atkins.

    Some reviewers have said that the series has too much of a soap-opera quality, and some have attributed this to the fact that it was created by two women (Lavinia Warner and Jill Hyem.) But people don’t cease to have personal lives when they go to war, and there are also subplots which could be viewed as soap-operatic in many male-written novels about WWII….Nicholas Monsarrat’s naval classic The Cruel Sea comes to mind. (See also Vera Atkins’ comment, at the above link, about a real-life British agent who fell inconveniently in love.)

    Wish Me Luck is available from both Amazon and Netflix.

    For those interested in learning about the real SOE, a good introduction can be found in Between Silk and Cyanide, the memoir of SOE Codemaster Leo Marks. I reviewed it here…the review also contains links to posts about several individual SOE agents.

    Posted in Britain, Europe, Film, History, War and Peace | 10 Comments »

    I don’t mean to be negative but….

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th February 2013 (All posts by )

    I know this is a cousin to stealing but you need to see this. I remember when those who warned of the danger were ignored or punished.

    Seventeen years ago, Bernard Connolly foretold the misery that awaited the European Union. Given that he was an instrumental figure in the EU bureaucracy and publicly expressed his doubts in a book called “The Rotten Heart of Europe,” he was promptly fired. Mr. Connolly takes no pleasure now in having seen his prediction come true. And he takes no comfort in the view, prevalent in many quarters, that the EU has passed through the worst of its crisis and is on the cusp of revival.

    As far as Mr. Connolly is concerned, Europe’s heart is still rotting away.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Europe, France, Germany, Politics | 8 Comments »

    The future of Islam or its absence.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 12th February 2013 (All posts by )

    Spengler has a new column that points out the coming collapse of Islam as a demographic entity. I have thought for years that Iran, if the population ever succeeds in overthrowing the regime, will abandon Islam as its first priority. Spengler points to a column by David Ignatius that belatedly recognizes a phenomenon that has been noted by others for years.

    Something startling is happening in the Muslim world — and no, I don’t mean the Arab Spring or the growth of Islamic fundamentalism. According to a leading demographer, a “sea change” is producing a sharp decline in Muslim fertility rates and a “flight from marriage” among Arab women.

    Nicholas Eberstadt, a scholar with the American Enterprise Institute, documented these findings in two recent papers. They tell a story that contradicts the usual picture of a continuing population explosion in Muslim lands. Population is indeed rising, but if current trends continue, the bulge won’t last long.

    The second class status of women in the Muslim world has led to important changes in their beliefs, especially about the religion that oppresses them.

    Eberstadt’s first paper was expressively titled “Fertility Decline in the Muslim World: A Veritable Sea-Change, Still Curiously Unnoticed.” Using data for 49 Muslim-majority countries and territories, he found that fertility rates declined an average of 41 percent between 1975-80 and 2005-10, a deeper drop than the 33 percent decline for the world as a whole.

    Twenty-two Muslim countries and territories had fertility declines of 50 percent or more. The sharpest drops were in Iran, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Libya, Albania, Qatar and Kuwait, which all recorded declines of 60 percent or more over three decades.

    The present fertility rate in Iran is about equal to that of irreligious Europe.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Christianity, Europe, History, Human Behavior, International Affairs, Islam, Japan, Middle East, Religion, Terrorism | 23 Comments »

    A Winter’s Tale

    Posted by David Foster on 25th January 2013 (All posts by )

    “It is so cold in here,” said Gretchen. “The fire is almost out.”

    “I will go to our woodpile and bring more wood,” said Hans.

    “There is none left, Hans,” replied Gretchen sadly. “We have used all our wood that we saved for the winter.”

    “I will go into the great forest,” responded Hans, “and bring more.”

    “Hans!” said Gretchen with alarm. “The forest wardens will take you! I have heard that there are more of them, and they are fiercer than ever toward wood thieves!”

    “Nonetheless, I must try, dear Gretchen,” replied Hans firmly, “for you and for the little ones.” He put on his thin overcoat, opened the door, and stepped outside into the icy, howling blast.

    A folk tale from the Middle Ages?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Energy & Power Generation, Environment, Europe, Germany, Leftism | 20 Comments »

    Our Broken Frame of Reference on Government Spending

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 11th January 2013 (All posts by )

    When I first traveled to Door County in Wisconsin I visited the various lighthouses and was given a tour by local historians. One of the points that stuck with me most of all was that these lighthouses essentially were one of the few elements of the Federal government that were locally present in the region.

    Today our government is ubiquitous at the Federal, State and local level, especially here in Chicago where Cook County is one of the largest counties in the country, with massive hospitals and criminal court facilities.

    I wrote about government influence and how it is all around us in posts aptly titled “We’re Barely Capitalists” here and here based on some (semi-humorous) local insights. It would be difficult to find substantial portions of the economy anywhere in a place like Chicago that wasn’t heavily influenced by government spending and allocations.

    This article in Business Insider reviews recent job growth and notes that 40% of it was subsidized by government.

    Consider our economy right now: about 17% of it is health care; about 6% in terms of GDP is education; and with some overlap, 15-20% is what we call government consumption–government activity, not just transfers. At all levels of government, including state and local. Add those all up, take out the overlap, and it’s a pretty big chunk of the economy, like 20-30%. Those are all sectors where there are massive subsidies, massive distortions of incentives, a lot of bad policy; and it’s hard to measure value.

    State and Local governments are poised to grow in 2013, according to this Bloomberg article.

    After slashing their workforces by about half a million in the past five years, state and local authorities will add employees in 2013… Their payrolls in the fourth quarter will be 220,000 larger than in the same period for 2012.

    Bloomberg then goes on to explain how this state and local government job growth is funded; by Federal US deficits at the trillion dollar+ level that then are passed down to the State and Local levels.

    States get about one-third of their revenues from Washington. The agreement Congress hammered out to avoid more than $600 billion in automatic spending reductions and tax increases –the so-called fiscal cliff — spared states from cutbacks, at least for now. (states received) approximately $519 billion…in aid last year.

    Don’t forget that, in addition to the US Federal debt and borrowings, the state and local governments are also deeply indebted. Not only are we borrowing to fund current needs, we are also accumulating pension and medical obligations that are truly enormous and growing, especially here in Illinois where recent pension reforms failed to get off the ground.

    Our frame of reference on all this government spending and debt, however, is skewed by our comparison group. We continually compare US spending levels to the “Industrialized Powers” which include Western Europe and Japan. Comparing the US to these countries, many of which are economic “basket cases”, is not relevant for a forward looking appraisal of countries where our actual economic competition is coming from – we need to look at China, India, and other rising powers that represent the future.

    One of the oldest shibboleths is the fact that the US doesn’t have a “single payer” health system, like the (broken) comparison group listed above. However, if you get sick in China, Brazil, India or other rising countries, there is a (small) safety net but you essentially have to pay substantially extra or have connections in order to get what we’d consider to be modern and effective medical care.

    Another point of comparison is greenhouse gases and various environmental practices, such as use of “green” power. Our broken “peer group” countries like Spain invested heavily in massively subsidized wind generation, as I document here, which recently collapsed the moment that these subsidies evaporated (which correlated with the country essentially going broke and being re-floated by the EU central bank. China and India continue to invest enormous amounts in coal power, since it is so effective and plentiful and is needed to power their growing economies.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Economics & Finance, Europe | 5 Comments »

    Western Civilization and the First World War

    Posted by David Foster on 5th January 2013 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt has been reading a lot about the 1920s, and–in a post which encompasses both Agatha Christie and Robert Heinlein–she does some thinking about the impact of Word War I on the twenties and on Western civilization generally.

    World War I was terrible, and for many reasons, including the prevalence of pictures and news, the fratricide/civil-war quality of it, the massive number of casualties.  It shocked an entire generation into … writing an awful lot about it, and into trying to tear down the pillars of civilization, believing that Western Civilization (and not human nature, itself) was what had brought about the carnage and the waste.

    A thought-provoking post, well worth reading, with an interesting comment thread. I very much agree with the comment by William Zeller:

    Here’s my quick version of the test I use to determine if a speaker is doing the WesternCiv teardown:
    If the argument begins with the phrase: “American…” or “America…” and proceeds to identify a horrifying cultural or political trait.

    Absolutely…and this happens all the time…people observing something bad and discrediting it to America (or, less frequently, to Western civilization as a whole) without making the slightest attempt to consider whether the bad thing they are talking about might be something like a cross-cultural human universal rather than something specific to Americans or the West.

    There’s no question in my mind that the First World War did do immense harm to Western civilization, as we’ve often discussed here.  Erich Maria Remarque’s excellent and unfortunately-neglected novel The Road Back, which I reviewed in this post, is very helpful for understanding just how powerful and malign that impact was.

    Sarah’s post reminded me of a particular passage in Remarque’s book.  Ernst, the protagonist, has returned to Germany after the end of the war that killed most of his classmates and fellow enlistees. He has accepted a job teaching school in a small village:

    There sit the little ones with folded arms. In their eyes is still all the shy astonishment of the childish years. They look up at me so trustingly, so believingly–and suddenly I get a spasm over the heart.

    Here I stand before you, one of the hundreds of thousands of bankrupt men in whom the war destroyed every belief and almost every strength…What should I teach you? Should I tell you that in twenty years you will be dried-up and crippled, maimed in your freest impulses, all pressed mercilessly into the selfsame mould? Should I tell you that all learning, all culture, all science is nothing but hideous mockery, so long as mankind makes war in the name of God and humanity with gas, iron, explosive, and fire?…Should I take you to the green-and-grey map there, move my finger across it, and tell you that here love was murdered? Should I explain to you that the books you hold in your hands are but nets in which men design to snare your simple souls, to entangle you in the undergrowth of fine phrases, and in the barbed wire of falsified ideas?

    …I feel a cramp begin to spread through me, as if I were turning to stone, as if I were crumbling away. I lower myself into the chair, and realize that I cannot stay here any longer.  I try to take hold of something but cannot. Then after a time that has seemed to me endless, the catalepsy relaxes. I stand up. “Children,” I say with difficulty, “you may go now.”

    The little ones look at me to make sure I am not joking. I nod once again. “Yes, that is right–go and play today–go and play in the wood–or with your dogs and your cats–you need not come back till tomorrow–”

    (emphasis added)

    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Germany, History, Human Behavior, Society, War and Peace | 58 Comments »

    They are all lying.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 23rd December 2012 (All posts by )

    I’ve tried to think about anything but the coming economic calamity but this column from the Daily Telegraph is too perceptive to ignore. Of course, the liars include most of the US media, press and TV. We have to get our news from the British media about American politics. The US media has become an arm of the Democratic party.

    Must we assume now that no party that speaks the truth about the economic future has a chance of winning power in a national election? With the results of presidential contests in the United States and France as evidence, this would seem to be the only possible conclusion. Any political leader prepared to deceive the electorate into believing that government spending, and the vast system of services that it provides, can go on as before – or that they will be able to resume as soon as this momentary emergency is over – was propelled into office virtually by acclamation.
    So universal has this rule turned out to be that parties and leaders who know better – whose economic literacy is beyond question – are now afraid even to hint at the fact which must eventually be faced. The promises that governments are making to their electorates are not just misleading: they are unforgivably dishonest.

    I have not believed that Romney’s problem was one of poor communication or salesmanship. Certainly, the turnout numbers show that Obama’s organization made the most of a very intrusive data mining system. The possibility that the system of the campaign will become part of the political party’s permanent infrastructure is worrisome. I don’t want to be an alarmist but one feature of totalitarian governments, after the French Revolution, was the intrusion into daily life.

    Of course, once in power all governments must deal with reality – even if they have been elected on a systematic lie. As one ex-minister famously put it when he was released from the burden of office: “There’s no money left.” So that challenge must be met. How do you propose to go on providing the entitlements that you have sworn never to end, without any money? The victorious political parties of the Left have a ready answer to that one. They will raise taxes on the “rich”. In France and the United States, this is the formula that is being presented not only as an economic solution but also as a just social settlement, since the “rich” are inherently wicked and must have acquired their wealth by confiscating it from the poor.

    I see no sign of any recognition of reality yet by Obama or his government. The “fiscal cliff” negotiations, if they can be called that, have been a farce. The Republicans have allowed themselves to be maneuvered into secret negotiations which have been demagogued and which have set them up for blame for what is coming. They would have been far better advised to insist on open negotiations, on C-SPAN if necessary.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Britain, Economics & Finance, Elections, Europe, France, Leftism, Obama, Politics, Public Finance | 30 Comments »

    Prefiguring the Hacker…and the American Surveillance Society

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd December 2012 (All posts by )

    Perhaps the first piece of fiction to feature a computer-systems hacker is Poul Anderson’s 1953 story Sam Hall. Anderson’s leading character, Thornberg, is technical director for Central Records, the agency that operates the computer system (“Matilda”) which a future U.S. government uses to maintain detailed information on all Americans.

    We see Matilda at work in the first paragraphs of the story, in which a typical citizen checks in at a hotel. With “an automatic set of gestures,” he takes out his wallet and his ID card, and inserts the latter into the “registry machine.”

    Place and date of birth. Parents. Race. Religion. Educational, military, and civilian service records…The total signal goes out over the wires. Accompanies by a thousand others, it shoots down the last cable and into the sorter unit of Central Records. The distorted molecules in a particular spool show the pattern of Citizen Blank, and this is sent back. It enters the comparison unit, to which the incoming signal corresponding to him has also been shunted. The two are perfectly in phase; nothing wrong. Citizen Blank is staying in the town where, last night, he said he would, so he has not had to file a correction.

    Thornberg has certain reservations about the totalitarian regime which is now running America, but he is not actively disloyal. His political awakening begins when Jimmy, the son of his second cousin, is arrested on suspicion of treason, and Thornberg remembers some of the forbidden history which he has read.

    The intellectuals had been fretful about the Americanization of Europe, the crumbling of old culture before the mechanized barbarism of soft drinks, hard sells, enormous chrome-plated automobiles (dollar grins, the Danes had called them), chewing gum, plastics…None of them had protested the simultaneous Europeanization of America: bloated government, unlimited armament, official nosiness, censors, secret police, chauvinism…

    In order to protect the career of his son Jack, an officer in the regime’s military…as well as his own career…Thornberg decides to alter Matilda’s records and delete any relationship with the arrested Jimmy.

    Thornberg toiled at the screens and buttons for an hour, erasing, changing. The job was tough; he had to go back several generations, altering lines of descent. But when he was finished, James Obrenowicz had no kinship whatever to the Thornbergs…He slapped the switch that returned the spool to the memory banks. With this act do I disown thee.

    Thornberg’s rising bitterness reminds him of an old English ballad:

    My name it is Sam Hall
    And I hate you one and all

    …and he uses his access to Matilda to create records for a fictional citizen by that name, a tough kid who has held a variety of unskilled jobs. Thornberg initially creates Sam Hall only as an outlet for his anger and to prove to himself that he can do it…but when a probably-innocent man is arrested for murder of a security officer…and Thornberg knows the man will be found guilty, whatever the true facts, in order to protect Security’s reputation for infallibility…he decides to establish a trail of records that will implicate the fictional Sam Hall as the murderer.

    This is the beginning of Sam Hall’s career of murder and mayhem, as Thornberg repeatedly alters records to identify his fictional citizen as the author of real crimes across the country. Sam Hall is soon promoted to Public Enemy Number One…and his exploits soon inspire a range of copycat crimes against the government, with the attackers identifying themselves as “Sam Hall.”

    The “Sam Hall” meme soon grows into a full-scale rebellion against the government. Thornberg helps things along by using his access to Matilda to spread mutual suspicion among government officials, turning the widespread distrust which is a feature of totalitarian societies against the regime itself.

    Eventually, the rebels triumph and the totalitarian regime that is ruling America is overthrown. It seems a happy ending. Thornberg looks forward to destroying Matilda (after she is used one last time on behalf of the rebels “to help us find some people rather badly want” and “to transcribe a lot of information..strictly practical facts”) and to retiring Sam Hall to “whatever Valhalla there is for great characters of fiction.”

    The story ends with the following sentence:

    Unfortunately the conclusion is rugged. Sam Hall never was satisfied.

    I wonder what on earth could possibly have reminded me of this old SF story?

    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, History, Privacy, Tech, USA | 1 Comment »

    Happy 500th Anniversary

    Posted by David Foster on 1st December 2012 (All posts by )

    …to the Sistine Chapel Ceiling. More about the ceiling here.

    When asked to undertake the project, Michelangelo at first demurred, saying that “painting is not my art.”

    The Vatican Library has put up a nice panoramic zoomable view of the entire chapel, here. Just click on the image and move around with the arrow keys; zoom in with the Shift key and out with Control.

    Also see Sgt Mom’s post on her visit to the Basilica of St Peter.

    Posted in Architecture, Arts & Letters, Europe, History, Religion | 5 Comments »

    The last Stalinist show trial

    Posted by Helen on 21st November 2012 (All posts by )

    The last Stalinist show trial took place in Prague sixty years ago this week. The defendants were Rudolf Slansky and thirteen other Communist ex-members of the government and former holders of senior positions in the hierarchy. Eleven of them were sentenced to death and executed on December 3. Three months later Stalin died and the Soviet Communist system changed irrevocably.

    I have written a long piece on the East European purges and trials on another blog but, just to get people interested, here are the first and last paragraphs of the article:

    One morning at the end of November, 1952 a five-year old Czech boy, Ivan, who was staying with cousins of his parents in Bratislava while his mother, who had seemed exhausted and unwell, remained in Prague, wandered into the kitchen, a little surprised and disappointed that the usual appetizing smells of baking were not noticeable. He found his grandmother’s cousin and her daughter sitting tensely at the table, listening to some boring official announcements on the radio. Ivan thought it was silly of them. Then, in response to something said by the boring official announcer, they exclaimed and clutched each other’s hands. One of them burst into tears. Ivan was puzzled. “I thought someone died.”- he said and the women looked at him in shock, then sent him away to play with cousins of his own age. About ten years later Ivan realized that what he must have heard was the announcement that his father, Rudolf Margolius, former Deputy Minister for Foreign Trade and one of the defendants in the last Stalinist show trial, the Slansky trial in Czechoslovakia, had been sentenced to death. Out of fourteen defendants, eleven received the death sentence, carried out on December 3.


    I started with Ivan Margolius’s reminiscences; let me end with my own from several years later, when the system was falling apart. As small children who started school in Budapest in the autumn of 1956 we knew that things were uneasy but failed to understand exactly what was happening. It was morning school on October 6 (mornings and afternoons alternated week in, week out as there was insufficient school space) and we were walking home at lunchtime. I knew my parents would be out and somebody was coming to look after my brother and me. It was a grey day with intermittent rain, which had stopped producing a sort of crystalline clarity with the droplets in the atmosphere making everything look sharper and brighter. There were black flags everywhere. We were talking quietly. Some of us had been told that this was the first time for some years that the Day of Mourning, the anniversary of the execution of 13 Hungarian generals in 1849, was marked. Others had heard another name connected with the day: Rajk. My parents had gone to the reburial of Rajk and those who had been executed with him. (Slansky could never have been reburied as his and his co-defendants’ ashes had been thrown out of the car onto an icy road.) They had gone and had stood through the macabre rain-sodden ritual because they knew that it presaged something bigger. Just over a fortnight later, on October 23, they went to another major demonstration. By the time they returned from that, the city was in the throes of an uprising.

    Posted in Europe, History | 7 Comments »

    Reports of the economy’s demise are premature, but not by much.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 18th November 2012 (All posts by )

    UPDATE: The publication of this column by Amity Schlaes adds a bit of prophecy to my concerns expressed here.

    Will 2013 be 1937? This is the question many analysts are posing as the stock market has dropped after the U.S. election. On Nov. 16, they noted that industrial production, a crucial figure, dropped as well.

    In this case, “1937” means a market drop similar to the one after the re-election of another Democratic president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, in 1936.

    If I could be more worried about the future, this column might do it. Read it.

    Russ Douthat’s column in the NY Times today points out a few problems with the left’s gloating about winning the election. I apologize for my pessimism but I can’t help looking at the facts beneath the surface.

    The first comment beneath this article confirms my belief that the left ignores economics and is solely concerned about social issues and “stuff.”

    The ideas that Republicans championed in the last election could have easily been heard at a segregated lunch counter in the ’50s. Suspicion about immigrants, fears about socialism, the subservience of women, back-of-the-bus-style racism, and disgust at the very thought of homosexuals were cornerstones of the Republican ethos. If there was an underlying wholesomeness in their belief in God, family, and tradition, I couldn’t detect it over the din of hateful, destructive rhetoric aimed at the majority of ordinary Americans.

    The re-election of Barack Obama has ended the possibility of a serious effort to deal with out of control spending and debt in this country. The “fiscal cliff” is coming soon and there is speculation that one side or the other will “cave” in negotiations. It doesn’t really matter as no serious proposal is under consideration. The tax rates on the top 2% of incomes don’t matter. It’s not worth the trouble for Republicans to defend these tax rates for a group that may not even vote for them.

    The whole world cartel of spending is coming to an end and it may not just involve national bankruptcy. It may be the end of an era, maybe of democracy which seems to be incapable of managing debt. An article in Der Spiegel sounds to me like a prediction of the future.

    In the midst of this confusing crisis, which has already lasted more than five years, former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt addressed the question of who had “gotten almost the entire world into so much trouble.” The longer the search for answers lasted, the more disconcerting the questions arising from the answers became. Is it possible that we are not experiencing a crisis, but rather a transformation of our economic system that feels like an unending crisis, and that waiting for it to end is hopeless? Is it possible that we are waiting for the world to conform to our worldview once again, but that it would be smarter to adjust our worldview to conform to the world? Is it possible that financial markets will never become servants of the markets for goods again? Is it possible that Western countries can no longer get rid of their debt, because democracies can’t manage money? And is it possible that even Helmut Schmidt ought to be saying to himself: I too am responsible for getting the world into a fix?

    The answer will not be pleasant to consider. We may have run the course on modern national financial competence. Japan, twenty years ago, was a warning we did not heed. Stimulus, as in spending billions on infrastructure, did not work. Japan had a real estate bubble and the response was to try to reflate the bubble. It failed.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Conservatism, Economics & Finance, Elections, Europe, Germany, Politics | 14 Comments »

    Some Views From Overseas

    Posted by David Foster on 14th November 2012 (All posts by )

    …on the US election results.

    Janet Daley, in The Telegraph: “So Europe got the American president it wanted – the one who would present no threat to its own delusions. The United States is now officially one of us: an Old World country complete with class hatred, ethnic Balkanisation, bourgeois guilt and a paternalist ruling elite. And it is locked into the same death spiral of high public spending and self-defeating wealth redistribution as we are. Welcome to the future, and the beginning of what may turn out to be the terminal decline of the West.”

    Melanie Phillips: “The greatest satisfaction today over the re-election of Obama is not being felt in the Democratic Party. It is not being felt among the media…No, the greatest satisfaction is surely being felt in Iran.”

    The Dissident Frogman: “Hear this final prophecy America: only one man can kill the Republic, and it isn’t Barack Obama. The one man who will kill your Republic is the one man who will last give up and renounce it. Don’t you dare be that man.

    Read them all.

    Also, here’s something interesting: Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, has been advising his associates to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1856 book The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

    Posted in Britain, China, Civil Society, Education, Europe, France, History, Middle East, USA | 56 Comments »

    Noor Inayat Khan Statue is Unveiled

    Posted by David Foster on 8th November 2012 (All posts by )

    A statue of this British-Indian woman, who served as an agent for the WWII British underground organization known as Special Operations Executive, has been unveiled in London. BBC story here. (Thanks to Lexington Green for the heads-up)

    I wrote about Noor in this post. Also:

    A review of a book by Leo Marks, who was SOE’s Codemaster

    Posts about other SOE agents:

    Violette Szabo

    Krystyna Skarbek

    Posted in Biography, Book Notes, Britain, Europe, France, Germany, War and Peace | 1 Comment »

    History Friday: Byzantine

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 19th October 2012 (All posts by )

    We bumptious Americans are always being reminded by everyone from Henry James on, that things in Europe are old, historic, and ancient. We are told that some places are piled thick in layers of events, famous people and great art, like some sort of historical sachertorte -  and to a student of history, certain places in Europe are exactly that sort of treat. What they hardly ever mention is that most usually, the most ancient bits of it are pretty sadly battered by the time we come trotting around with our Blue Guide, and what there is left is just the merest small remnant of what there once was. The sanctuary at Delphi once was adorned with statues of gold, silver, bronze - and they were the first to be looted and melted down (all but one, the great bronze Charioteer) leaving us with the least and cheapest stone, sadly chipped, battered and scarred. (My daughter at the age of three and a bit, looking at a pair of archaic nudes in the Delphi museum asked loudly, “Mommy, why are their wieners all broken off?”) The great Athenian Akropolis itself was half-ruined, many of the blocks of which it was constructed scattered across the hillside like gargantuan marble Lego blocks. In Rome, most of the ancient buildings had been stripped long ago of the marble and stone facings, leaving only the battered concrete and tile core to hint at what splendor had once been - and again, only the smallest portion left to us to admire, the smallest, cheapest portion, or that hidden away by chance. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Architecture, Arts & Letters, Christianity, Deep Thoughts, Diversions, Europe, History | 24 Comments »

    Sad and Disturbing, But Not Surprising

    Posted by David Foster on 8th October 2012 (All posts by )

    A report from Sweden:

    Annica Eriksson, a lunch lady at school in Falun, was told that her cooking is just too good.

    Pupils at the school have become accustomed to feasting on newly baked bread and an assortment of 15 vegetables at lunchtime, but now the good times are over.

    The municipality has ordered Eriksson to bring it down a notch since other schools do not receive the same calibre of food – and that is “unfair”.

    via Right on the Left Coast

    Posted in Civil Society, Europe, Political Philosophy, Society | 16 Comments »

    Spain and History

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 27th September 2012 (All posts by )

    As a history buff it was interesting to see “saber rattling” in Spain as regions consider leaving the central state, under pressure of an immense fiscal crisis. This article describes comments made by current or retired Spanish officers regarding potential independence for Catalonia:

    First we have the robust comments of Colonel Francisco Alaman comparing the crisis to 1936 and vowing to crush Catalan nationalists, described as “vultures”.
    “Independence for Catalonia? Over my dead body. Spain is not Yugoslavia or Belgium. Even if the lion is sleeping, don’t provoke the lion, because he will show the ferocity proven over centuries,” he said.

    The Spanish civil war of course began in 1936. While in the popular imagination of the world it featured a battle between the power of the Catholic Church and those demanding reform, and was a proxy war for the Germans and Soviets (both true), it also was a battle of the Spanish regions against Madrid. This third narrative is now on full display as Catalonia is calling an election, tied perhaps to a renewed independence drive.

    These problems are made worse by the fact that 1) Spain is broke and needs to go to the ECB for funding 2) much of the money and bills are handled by the regions. This BBC article summarizes many of the key elements of the current situation.

    Thus the Spanish central government effectively quieted the restive regions over the years by either crushing the revolt (the ETA) or by granting the regions fiscal autonomy (Catalonia). However, the buy-off was essentially done with borrowed money and now the regions need to come to terms with being part of the Spanish state and collectively work to solve their daunting problems or attempt to go out on their own.

    While Spain was a critical part of the world’s geography in the years prior to WW2, today Spain and Portugal are far on the periphery of the world’s economy, with a great tourist industry, agriculture, and a few competitive companies, but mostly an uncompetitive place with an over valued currency and massive structural unemployment broken only by “infrastructure” projects such as underused airports, ports, and the like.

    In other countries, the regions that have boiled and chafed under central government eventually left and found their own way. Look at the USSR, the Czechs, and many others. Spain was able to buy off their restive regions with EU largess over the years, but now the gravy train has halted dead in its tracks. It will be interesting to see how events play out in Spain, and whether the military really has the stomach for the types of events that are necessary to bring a restive region to heel. I highly doubt it.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Europe, History | 27 Comments »

    September 1, 1939

    Posted by David Foster on 1st September 2012 (All posts by )

    On September 1, 1939, Germany launched a massive assault on Poland, thereby igniting the Second World War.

    Britain and France were both bound by treaty to come to Poland’s assistance. On September 2, Neville Chamberlain’s government sent a message to Germany proposing that hostilities should cease and that there should be an immediate conference among Britain, France, Poland, Germany, and Italy..and that the British government would be bound to take action unless German forces were withdrawn from Poland. “If the German Government should agree to withdraw their forces, then His Majesty’s Government would be willing to regard the position as being the same as it was before the German forces crossed the Polish frontier.”

    According to General Edward Spears, who was then a member of Parliament, the assembly had been expecting a declaration of war. Few were happy with this temporizing by the Chamberlain government. Spears describes the scene:

    Arthur Greenwood got up, tall, lanky, his dank, fair hair hanging to either side of his forehead. He swayed a little as he clutched at the box in front of him and gazed through his glasses at Chamberlain sitting opposite him, bolt-upright as usual. There was a moment’s silence, then something very astonishing happened.

    Leo Amery, sitting in the corner seat of the third bench below the gangway on the government side, voiced in three words his own pent-up anguish and fury, as well as the repudiation by the whole House of a policy of surrender. Standing up he shouted across to Greenwood: “Speak for England!” It was clear that this great patriot sought at this crucial moment to proclaim that no loyalty had any meaning if it was in conflict with the country’s honour. What in effect he said was: “The Prime Minister has not spoken for Britain, then let the socialists do so. Let the lead go to anyone who will.” That shout was a cry of defiance. It meant that the house and the country would neither surrender nor accept a leader who might be prepared to trifle with the nation’s pledged word.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Europe, France, Germany, History, War and Peace | 17 Comments »