Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

The worlds inside our heads

July 31, 2015

Somebody once wrote that the most embarrassing of all studies was intellectual history, because it shows how the ideas that you take as simple common sense were once new and implausible, and the agendas of the people who argued for them.

This was my feeling after reading Charles Taylor’s  2004 book, MODERN SOCIAL IMAGINARIES, as part of an informal study group organized by my friend Paul Mitacek.

It is the story of how Western people once believed and then stopped believing that they were embedded in a divine hierarchy resting on the animal world and lowest human beings, and reaching up to Heaven in a great chain of being.

It also is the story of how Western people once believed and then stopped believing that society is something pre-existing, which people are born into and have to serve as best they can.

Taylor traced the steps by which we came to the present predominant believe, that society consists of separate and independent individuals and exists for their benefit rather than the other way around.

He calls these beliefs “imaginaries” because they form the background of how we perceive our world–a perception that only partly matches up to objective reality, but which we take for granted.

I found his book illuminating and disturbing because it showed me how many of the things I believe in are based on assumptions I can’t prove.

Taylor.Imaginaries978-0We modern Americans take for granted, for example, that religion has to do with individual morality and that each person has the right to choose their own religion.

But for the ancient Greeks and Romans, the worship of the gods was something they had to do to avoid the gods’ wrath and seek the gods’ blessings.  The gods didn’t care what individuals thought about them, only that they perform the rituals correctly.  That is why the pagan Romans couldn’t understand the Christians’ refusal to burn incense for the Emperor.

The Hebrew Bible has some teachings about individual morality, but nothing about individual salvation or an afterlife.  Israel as a whole either worshipped God or strayed after false gods, and the nation was rewarded or punished accordingly.

Christianity changed this.   Christians believed they would be rewarded or punished in the afterlife based on their individual faith and works, and that lip service to religion wasn’t enough.  Protestantism took this tendency further.  Then freethinkers and rationalists, rather than assuming morality came from religion, questioned religious dogmas and practices in the name of morality.

Many individual Americans and Europeans believe that the ultimate basis of morality is a transcendent religious belief, but American and European societies are not organized around this belief.  Taylor for this reason calls our society “secular”—not because it is hostile to religion, but because it is neutral to religion.

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The twilight of NATO?

March 15, 2015

27602NATO was formed as a defensive alliance in which the Americans promised to protect Europe.  It has become an offensive alliance for Europeans to support U.S. interventions.   This does not benefit Europe.   American leaders should not take European support for granted.  I question how long NATO can endure.

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Breedlove’s Bellicosity: Germany Concerned About Aggressive NATO Stance on Ukraine by the staff of Der Spiegel

NATO and the Two Central Conflicts of the Ukraine Crisis by Karel von Wolferen, a leading Dutch journalist.

The ebb and flow of Russia in Europe

February 26, 2015
Russia in Europe 1914

Russia in Europe 1914

Since 1848, the United States has been secure within its present continental boundaries.  That’s not been true of all nations, and particularly not true of Russia and its European neighbors.  I’ve collected a series of maps from Google Image showing the ebb and flow of Russian power in Europe.

What they show is why, on the one hand, Russia’s neighboring countries would feel in need of protection and why, on the other hand, Russia would fear any hostile military power along its border, especially in Ukraine.

The Baltic states, Poland, Belarus and Ukraine did not exist as independent countries a century ago.  People who lived in these regions during the 20th century would have lived under several different governments, including some of the bloodiest regimes in history, without having moved from the place they were born.

1wk_brest_litowsk_vertrag_karte

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The passing scene: Links & comments 2/21/2015

February 21, 2015

China pivots everywhere by Pepe Escobar for RT News.

EU Reeling Between US and Russia by Pepe Escobar for Sputnik News.

A couple of years ago, President Putin proposed an economic partnership between Russia and the European Union, which would have been to Europe’s benefit.

Now, with Germany caught up in the U.S.-lead conflict with Russia over Ukraine, this has been wiped off the blackboard.  Now Russia looks to China as its economic partner.  If there is any winner in the Ukraine conflict, it is China.

I have misgivings about linking to RT News and Sputnik News.  They are as much organs of the Russian government as the Voice of America is an organ of the U.S. government.

But I’ll make an exception in Pepe Escobar’s case, just as I did some years back with Julian Assange’s short-lived interview show. I think Escobar is both intellectually acute and independent.

Ukraine Denouement: the Russian Loan and the IMF’s One-Two Punch by Michael Hudson for Counterpunch.

A New Policy to Rescue Ukraine by George Soros for the New York Review of Books.

One of the sidelights of the Ukraine situation is the pivotal role of the wealthy speculator George Soros.  A major contributor to the Democratic Party, he has urged a $50 billion loan to Ukraine in order to fight Russia.

Michael Hudson reported that Soros’s funds are drawing up lists of assets they’d like to buy from Ukrainian oligarchs and the Kiev government when the International Monetary Fund demands they be sold by pay down Ukaine’s debts..

A Whistleblower’s Horror Story by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

It’s not just the federal government that shields wrongdoers while doing after employees that expose them.  Wall Street buys its way out of prosecution while blacklisting employees who reveal its misdeeds.  A case in point: Countrywide / Voice of America whistleblower Michael Winston.

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward shy guys wind up hating feminism by Arthur Chu for Salon.

‘I’m Brianna Wu And I’m Risking My Life Standing Up to Gamergate’ by Brianna Wu for Bustle.

Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire by Michelle Goldberg for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Man Biologist)

Harassment of women on the Internet is no joke, as is shown by this woman’s story of doxing (tracking down and publishing home addresses and other personal information), swatting (sending false emergency calls in her name) and death threats.

Russia turning down the gas on Europe

January 15, 2015

gas_to_eu_final_3

Russia cut natural gas shipments to Europe by 60 percent, and announced plans to eventually cut off shipments through Ukraine altogether.

The Urkainian route will be replaced with a new pipeline through Turkey, which will take a couple of years to build.  The European Union will need to build its own infrastructure to take the gas from the Greek border to the rest of Europe.

If the Europeans don’t get their new pipelines built in time, Russia will send its gas elsewhere, the head of Gazprom said.  Russia is working on gas deals not only with China, but with India.

Vladimir Putin is not a helpless victim of economic sanctions and falling oil prices.  He is willing and able to use Russia’s economic power to damage Ukraine and the European nations.

Nobody benefits from this cycle of tit-for-tat retaliation.  It’s an economic form of mutually assured destruction.

Russia Fires Ukraine as Natural Gas Transit for Europe by Michael Collins for Op-Ed News [added 1/16/2015]

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What’s the matter with us Americans?

January 14, 2015

Europeans think Americans have gone crazy.  Ann Jones, who has lived in Europe for decades, said her European friends once respected the United States, but no longer.  Here are questions she gets from her European friends.

  • Why would anybody oppose national health care?
  • How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba and why can’t you shut it down?
  • How can  you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty?
  • Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?
  • cia-loves-u-760208Why can’t you understand science?
  • How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?
  • How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?
  • How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?
  • How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?
  • Why do you Americans like guns so much? Why do you kill each other at such a rate?
  • Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up trouble for the rest of us?

She added:

authoritarianism9fd18cThat last question is particularly pressing because countries historically friendly to the United States, from Australia to Finland, are struggling to keep up with an influx of refugees from America’s wars and interventions.

Throughout Western Europe and Scandinavia, right-wing parties that have scarcely or never played a role in government are now rising rapidly on a wave of opposition to long-established immigration policies.

Only last month, such a party almost toppled the sitting social democratic government of Sweden, a generous country that has absorbed more than its fair share of asylum seekers fleeing the shock waves of “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.”

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Europe’s alternative to Putin’s oil and gas

October 20, 2014

gasSupplyAndDemand

Map: Global Research

Dependence of key European nations on imports of Russian oil and gas puts the European Union in weak position in relation to Vladimir Putin.

One way to get out of that position of weakness is to end the sanctions against Iran, and import Iranian oil and gas.  In the longer run, Europe would benefit from a new gas pipeline from Iran to Europe.

The European Union has no conflict of interests with Iran.  It is following the lead of the United States.  As far as that goes, the United States has no conflict of interests with Iran.  We Americans are merely nursing old resentments and following the lead of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

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Breaking Europe’s Putin addiction by Amir Handjani for Al Jazeera.

The interdependence of Russia and Europe

July 28, 2014

Europe Russia oil gas pipelines map chart

More Signs of Doubt in Europe About the Costs of Siding With Ukraine by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Beginning of an End of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance by Mark from Ireland for Ian Welsh.

Hat tip for the map to Vox.

Optical illusions on the highway

August 28, 2010

Karanvir Singh Sangha, a student in Moga, India, posted some astonishing photos on his Karansangha’s Blog, of semi-trailers on European highways that are painted to look like what they’re not.

I don’t know what I’d think if I were driving down the road and saw one of these coming in the opposite direction.

Look at the photos to see what I mean.

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