jcbrunner's history annex (3)

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jcbrunner's history annex (3)

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maj 10, 2014, 12:47pm

Amsterdam is a wonderful city with too many bikes. What a mess of bikes!

Last Thursday, there was a wonderful concert here on Vienna's central Heldenplatz (Heroes' Square) in commemoration of VE day. Beethoven's 5th with its signature di-di-di-do motif was an excellent choice, given that this stands for the letter V in Morse code. Like many Austrians who have stood enchanted on the Heldenplatz in 1938, Beethoven was a big admirer of Napoleon, having dedicated the 3rd "Eroica" to him (well before his commercial sense made him switch it).

The second part of the concert was dedicated to the French composer Massenet. French culture in Vienna will take a hit soon, as will cut back its cultural programs in Vienna (and sell of its palace) - a result of austerity. Switzerland has already sold of its grand embassy and leased bland office space for the embassy functions and Austria closed its cultural center in Paris. It is really sad that the growing European integration is accompanied by the closure of the first points of contact with other cultures (foreign language book stores, cultural institutions). Naturally, these institutions only cost money and provide little to no ROI but they establish relationships and introduce other countries.

By the way, your Piketty copy was not the last in Europe. The ÖGB Austrian trade union's book shop has six Pikettys on display in its shop window at 41 EUR (as a trade union is always pricing out of the market).

This evening will be the Eurovision song contest and Austria is sending a bearded lady. May the best Balkan or Scandinavian country win! Austrian Public Broadcasting is in dire financial straits and a win would be devastating.

maj 10, 2014, 6:30pm

The bearded lady wins! The Netherlands in second place ...

Redigerat: maj 22, 2014, 8:10am

All of Europe is a mess of bikes. Not all of them ring their bell when they are coming up behind you while they are barrelling down the sidewalk. I've had to leap out of the way several times over the last few weeks and my leaping days are really behind me.

We did see the news about the bearded lady while we were there. S/he was pretty impressive.

Redigerat: maj 23, 2014, 10:39pm

I am not generally a big fan of Eurovision, having been trapped one night long ago in a hotel which had non-functioning heating system, in a blizzard, in the Alps, with nothing to do but huddle under blankets and all the towels in the room with my mum, watching Eurovison. But who could not love Conchita? Even though her beard reminded me a little of Silvio Berlusconi's hair (why is it so suspiciously flat and such a solid block of colour?).

maj 25, 2014, 4:02pm

The Eurovision Song Contest has recovered from its nadir in 2000 and has turned itself into a funny spectacle enjoyed by millions in Europe and around the world. It is only partially about the music and best enjoyed by additionally listening to an alternative (i.e. non-official) commentary and reading internet comments. Europe needs more shared cultural experiences.

Conquita Wurst's victory sent shivers down the spines of bigots around the world.

There are different philosophies about honking and ringing a bell. In Asia and parts of Southern Europe, this results in permanent noise. What I really hate about staying in US city centers is the sound of police sirens during the night. Lights are usually more than enough to act as a warning of car's approach. In Vienna, fortunately, ambulances and police cars only use the sirens in concrete delicate situations.

In biking, ringing a bell should be used as a warning sign - to get a pedestrian's attention and usually to freeze. A biker usually can easily maneuver around pedestrians, leaping is usually not the best response as it increases the unpredictability of behavior. Vienna has opened up an extended "shared mobility area" which works quite well with a mix of low speed (10-20km) cars, buses, bikes, Segways and pedestrians but it is a fairly wide boulevard with good visibility and plenty of space. Amsterdam, at least in my recollection, often has quite narrow roads and many intersections.

Vienna has recently increased the number of free bike stations which are excellent for intermediate range trips of 2-3 km. One of the main problems is what to do with the bike once you arrive at your destination. Parking and locking bikes is quite a hassle. This public bikes for hire mean that you can just return the bike and one does not have to take care of the bike any longer in the city. Naturally, this doesn't work for commuters who all want to use the bike in a single direction only. As Vienna's underground stations are not as dense as those in Paris, the bikes are really convenient and faster than waiting for a bus or tramway connection.

Having just visited the new exhibition about the Vienna World Exhibition of 1873 (not the museum's site), I noticed that the trade union's bookshop now has 20 Piketty bricks in its shop window (still priced at 41 EUR, while Amazon is asking for 31 EUR).

The first attacks on Piketty by the paid pipers of the plutocracy ("Marxist", "class struggle") were so intellectually vacant and lame that it was pitiful to behold. The new attack by the FT is at least based on reading and checking the book and its data. While he might have made some small errors and questionable assumptions, the main lesson I get in reading it is that there is a wide disconnect between the architecture of production (fairly constant over time) and distribution. Over time, capitalism worked in quite different institutional frameworks (including slavery which constituted most of the wealth in the Southern United States) with the same underlying plumbing. Capitalism works with 5 weeks of mandatory vacations (Europe) or none (USA).

The key but formerly rather obvious message of Piketty's book is that it is all about political economy. (Re-)distribution is politics. A simple application of the concept of marginal value would show that Mitt Romney's marginal million is better used in providing food to hungry American children than gold-platting Mitt's car elevator.

It should shock the conscience of the United States that the math skills of its children is on average in the range of Turkey and Romania. In Alabama 26% of children are food insecure (hungry) and 17% obese, both states very detrimental to learning. It is really sad how the better off in the United States are willing to ignore the plight of their fellow citizens (both black and white).

While Ta-Nehisi Coates's essay is mostly targeting black poverty, the USA desperately needs a Rooseveltian development plan. It is really a shame that Coates is not given an op'ed spot at the rapidly declining NYT. Krugman excepted, the roster of the NYT op'ed writers looks similar in age and quality to the Soviet politburo.

maj 25, 2014, 5:43pm

Everyone is talking about the hot new boy... How readable is he to the layperson with inherent antagonism to economic voodoo talk?

The NY Times is ridiculous. Did you see they have some Catholic blogger now, poking at dancing angels' backsides with single-hair tipped brush. Who on earth do they think can be bothered.

The US would have to change its political system before it could begin to pay reparations for the fallout of slavery.

Redigerat: maj 25, 2014, 6:43pm

Piketty is very readable if a bit boring. He explains everything in a good didactic manner (using examples from Austen and Flaubert). It was quite a spectacle to see those rabid attacks on a very dispassionate expert who like Krugman is in no way a revolutionary. The 250 pages I have already read could have been condensed to fifty pages too. You can read parts of it on Amazon.

The NYT has been rapidly declining in quality since the 1990s (Chomsky would probably say since the 1960s) as did The Economist. Most of the times, they can't even get their Latin right. Apart from Krugman, I have given up on most of the NYT as their reporting is often not fact-based (mostly by omission of the important stuff). Had the NYT been up to professional standards, the Iraq War would not have happened and George W. Bush would not have been re-elected if the American people had known that Bush & Co. listened in and recorded every single one of the their phone calls.

A great if nasty essay The Italian Disaster about Europe's corrupt leadership was published in the LRB by a Marxist English import to America, Perry Anderson (whom I did not know before). He is a bit harsh by including Helmut Kohl whose 2 millions of black money is not quite in the same league as French, Spanish and Italian corruption. If he wanted to include German corruption, he should have had a look at the Bavarian amigos (most recently the president of the football club Bayern München, Uli Hoeneß who was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for evading taxes of more than 30 million EUR).

nov 18, 2014, 8:30am

I saw jcbrunner was active again with his read-along of ancient Chinese literature, so I thought we may want to resurrect this discussion also. I had enjoyed this chat, and apart from that, I fear that I am getting out of tune with mal-researched pundit opinions if jcbrunner doesn’t expose them. Embarrassingly, I consume such opinions mostly through newspapers and internet articles, rather than from the books I read. Lately, I have had a craving to do create something myself as opposed to consuming other people’s work through reading. Consequently, I have dallied a bit in photography and even had my first group exhibition. In Rome, no less.

I realise it was me who entered the slack into this discussion, for which I apologise. And I hope varielle had a pleasant time in my sleazy hometown.

Even the books I purchased this year are mostly photography books. I did however finish most of Capital in the twenty-first century, that is everything before he started talking about a global tax. Piketty has had quite some impact here, with various books with summaries and criticism of the FT’s Business Book of the Year. I quite enjoyed his historical overview of income differences (which I did not find boring at all), although I have more of a problem with r > g in the long run. There’s Galbraith’s criticism , but I enjoyed the more readable version in this article (unfortunately in the langue de Vondel) better.

One of the “issues” with economics is the moral component. It does not just affects Marxist economics, but all economic theories proposed so far. This is perfectly logical, because every economic policy has (re-)distribution effects and moral hazard in one way or another. In (some of) their core theories Keynes and Hayek seem to have been relatively immune to this. If it ever was, Ordo Liberalismus no longer is:

For example, German ordoliberals simply refuse to acknowledge the presence of a liquidity trap where the central bank becomes powerless in affecting market interest rates. Ludwig Erhard, Germany’s revered economics minister in the 1950s, once tried to explain the Great Depression in terms of cartels. It was an ordoliberal attempt to bring something into their mental framework for which they have no obvious explanations. Erhard’s successors repeated the mistake in the eurozone crisis.

On the subject of city marketing and tourism, I am certain that museums are part of the marketing proposition of cities like Amsterdam, London or New York. E.g. the Van Gogh Museum is a “content partner” (page 2) that should help Amsterdam to increase international visitor spending with 20% and increase the number of international companies in the city with 25%. At the same time, subsidies for more locally oriented cultural organisations like the city’s Anthropological Museum have been cut. In a latest bid, the name of Amsterdam is now used for destinations 20 km away from the city proper, by calling the ugly beach town Zandvoort “Amsterdam Beach” and the Medieval castle Muiderslot “Amsterdam Castle”. Tourists however remain attracted to the “coffeeshops” (there are even celeb coffeeshops), Red Light District, party bikes and other nuisances to the locals. People who never ride a bicycle do so in large numbers in the city, with no idea of the various unwritten rules. People walk three next to each other on narrow pavements and cross streets without looking out for faster traffic, enthralled by yet another clothes or cheese shop. The city has never resembled a Venice of the North as it does today. Vienna is probably a bit different. Surely, the city’s Sissi image attracts a more sedate public than Amsterdam. I expect mild mannered middle aged Japanese eating Sachertorte and hoping to bump into André Rieu.

As for city bikes, I like the Paris system. Bikes are everywhere on the (wider, 19th century) pavements. Amsterdam has more bikes than inhabitants, leading to a mess of (almost scrap) iron everywhere. If bicycles are so readily available as in Paris, there isn’t much need for people to own their own.

nov 18, 2014, 6:01pm

Hello, I heartily agree that Amsterdam Castle is a much better name than the poor man's Chenonceau of Muiderslot which Google steadfastly wants to transform into "murderslot". Osprey is selling the battles of Quatre-Bras and Ligny as Waterloo (1) and Waterloo (2) - fitting as Waterloo itself was picked for marketing purposes.

Viennese tourism makes its business from freely spending Russian and Arab oligarchs shopping in the center of the city and increasingly groups of wealthier Chinese tourists. in 2013, there were 120.903 Chinese tourists to 144.888 Japanese. While the Japanese number has been stagnant (no wonder given its growth rate), the Chinese one has been increasing by about 20.000 annually, so 2014 could be the year where Chinese tourists are more numerous than Japanese. The largest group by far, however, are still Germans (more than 1 mio. visitors).

The bike system is quite good in Vienna. The most trouble I had with it, is getting rid of a rent bike in the center as there seldom are enough free slots to drop off a bike - well, except on days like today where it has been raining cats and dogs.

The Kunsthistorische Museum features a Velasquez exhibition of the numerous paintings of the tremendously ugly Spanish Habsburgs that they sent to their Austrian relatives. The beautiful dresses Velasquez painted are of little help to their rather ignoble faces - or as the Jewish joke from Prague goes: Strolling on Wencelas square in Prague, one man points out to another that the two richest young heiresses are walking just in front of them. The other man runs up in front of them to have a look at their faces and returns to his friend saying "God is just".

Ordo liberalism unfortunately was never popular with either the powerful nor the masses even though it would provide superior solutions to both of them. I have read a very interesting book Aufstand der Pfeffersäcke Bürgerkämpfe im Mittelalter about the growth and struggles of German medieval cities fighting for more independence from local rulers (bishops, counts, dukes) and the upper middle classes against the merchant/noble class. In the longer run, the oligarchy won every time, making concessions at first that are then slowly reverted - not unlike the present case in the United States and England where the plutocrats are slowly undoing social advances and democratic practices.

Congratulations to your Roman exhibition, At least on TV, the Italian mess seems to be getting worse. Not much is happening in Austria except the former interior minister has started his prison term for corruption and been assigned to the prison library. Perhaps he could share some book recommendations?

nov 21, 2014, 3:43am

The Muiderslot is an excellent name, if only because its function has been different from Chenonceau. The Muiderslot is in the small town of Muiden and acts as a fortress in the defence line around Amsterdam against money hungry French heads of states (what’s new, Holland needs to pay almost 700 million euro to fund the France, after their economic malperformance of the last few years). The castle’s role as a residence was to a bailiff who happened to be a Renaissance man, not one of the wig-wearing landed gentry of Chenonceau. I have only visited the Muiderslot as a child and I mostly remember the painting of the Eelko baker: if you were not happy with the looks or the content of your head, this baker could get you a new one. During the operation, a cabbage would be put on top of your neck.

You are so lucky with the tourists you get in Vienna. Russian and Arab oligarchs will stay in five-star hotels and visit a few shops with the brands du jour. You will hardly notice them. On the other hand, I doubt their contribution to the local economy. I have never seen a calculation of how their shopping really supports the local economy. They buy branded goods from international, often French or Italian conglomerates, for which these tourists pay no VAT. The goods are made in places like Italy or Morocco (Louis Vuitton maroquinerie). Much of the costs are marketing and shop design. The healthy profit margins go to tax havens. Local profit is the rent paid to the owner of the real estate and the shop girl, hardly a well-paid job. At least they reconstruct their shop every few years, which may benefit a local contractor or two. And Holland is one of the conglomerates’ favourite tax havens (Prada Asia is located in a canal house on the Keizersgracht 313 on the 3rd floor, for example), so at least some money ends up in the Dutch state coffers.

Amsterdam’s foreign tourists mainly come from Britain (13%), America (11%) and Germany (7%), although there are also large contingents of Frenchmen and Italians. The Brits come in large numbers on Easyjet for stag and hen parties. They are drunk long before the pubs close. Unfortunately, not all remain in the red light district. Americans seem quieter, probably because of their interest in coffeeshops (and Anne Frank). Tourists seem to be more of a burden for Amsterdam’s sedate burghers, but at least tourists’ limited expenses benefit small and medium sized enterprises.

I have no data for the number of Japanese and Chinese that visit Amsterdam, but the Chinese already outnumber the Japanese (11% vs. 6%) on a national level. Both rarely venture beyond the Amsterdam region, so I suppose that ratio is quite accurate for the city too. Surely the larger number of Chinese tourists has everything to do with the rising levels of wealth in China vis-à-vis stagnant wealth in Japan. There is a large demographic component here: Japan is aging very rapidly. Still, since 2000 growth in GDP per person of working age has been significantly above that in the US. Tokyo is still growing, and quite rapidly also. In the streets you see far more toddlers than in Hong Kong. It is the countryside with its aging population that is “dying”. With terrible consequences:

Japan is suffering from a serious butter shortage, raising fears among consumers that they will have to forgo their Christmas staple of sponge cake.


But it is not entirely the cows’ fault. Ageing farmers have been forced to cut production amid falling demand, while rural depopulation is also taking its toll.

More seriously, Richard Koo’s latest newsletter is on my reading list for the coming week. I follow the vicissitudes of Abenomics with increased interest. After all, some economists make the same analysis for Europe as for Japan. If you need to trust practitioners of the dismal science is another matter. Take Belgium, that darling of the Keynesians, whose weak government applied the medicine of increasing salaries with inflation and “delayed” government expense cuts. The economy is tanking:

The country is caught in a debt compound trap, much like southern European states. The toxic mix of near-zero growth and very low inflation is automatically causing the debt trajectory to ratchet upwards.


The debt ratio will reach 107.8pc by 2016, and warned that it could spiral much higher if there is a deflationary shock. Indeed, it came out worse than Italy in the stress test scenario. Belgium weathered the early phase of the Great Recession in better shape than much of Europe. It is one of the few eurozone states to have surpassed its pre-Lehman peak in output, yet there has been a slow rot beneath the surface. "The economy has been losing competitiveness due to higher labour cost and lower productivity growths than peer countries," said the International Monetary Fund. Belgium had a current account deficit of 1.7pc of GDP last year despite flat consumption and a drastic 10.3pc contraction in public investment. It has almost completely halted purchases of military equipment, running down its old stock of tanks, aircraft, and communications equipment. The IMF said Belgium's unit labour costs have been rising faster than those of France, Germany, or the Netherlands since 2005. This is partly due to "gaps in innovation and education", and to slippage in the "knowledge-intensive sector". New patents have been declining since the late 1990s.

It seems difficult to escape beggar-thy-neighbour policies if you are an economy with lots of international trade. What may work in the land of Krugman may not work elsewhere. At the same level, the problem with the domineering Germans is that they want to describe one medicine to a set of national economies with rather disparate issues.

Velazquez is great, but for painting textiles, nobody beats his compatriot Zurbaran. Unfortunately, Zurbaran mostly painted saints and other religious figures, making his paintings rather boring. In that sense, nothing beats German and Low Countries’ art from before 1850.

nov 22, 2014, 6:02am

Reading the Wikipedia page of the Muiderslot , it seems to have served mostly to generate tax revenue on the trade between Amsterdam and Utrecht. No need for the French. Militarily, the castle was outdated by the 15th century (thus my association with the pleasure palace at Chenonceau).

The economic malperformance in France is unfortunately matched by dismal Dutch (and German) ones too. It is truly a sad austerity race of the blind and lame. Europe's idle resources could and should be used in public investments in infrastructure (energy efficiency, better transportation and communication infrastructure). I am very happy that the city of Vienna just built "Ohrwascheln" (ears) to further constrain the car traffic flow in the already one-directional street and added two trees, turning it into an almost semi-pedestrian area, increasing the value of residential areas. It is really a good policy of both still allowing car traffic and giving it lower priority than pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

I would not be nostalgic about Japanese agriculture which, like the Swiss, is one of the most inefficient and government assisted of the world. Sustaining rural communities is a huge drain which the cities further have to pay for by backward and self-punishing voting behavior of rural areas.

Re the Double Dutch deals, I hope that at least some money ends up in the Dutch state coffers. For fun, I had a look at the leaked Amazon Lux filings. The Lux tax officials were really, really keen on Amazon not having to pay anything. In contrast to the Swiss practice of bargaining with mega-rich residents to create a tax deal ("Pauschalbesteuerung", to be voted on by the end of this month) beneficial for both sides, the benefits for Lux of these deals is hard to understand as it robbed huge amounts from the other states without generating hardly any income for Lux.

I had a bit of a Zurbaran shock when I first discovered him in Sevilla which has a massive collection. Just like my recent visit to the museum of the 20th century Austrian Catholic blood and entrails artist Hermann Nitsch, exposure to an overabundance of works is not always beneficial.

The Hemingses of Monticello has been in my partially read pile for years and I am finally getting to the latter parts. It is interesting how "white" the Hemingses already were. "Dusky Sally" as Thomas Jefferson's enemies labeled her probably was already quite light in complexion (3 of 4 grandparents were white and her children passed the color line). As with photos of Barack Obama, it is interesting to see what colors are used in pictures in the media. If you look at the Goolge image page for Velasquez' Portrait of Juan de Pareja, the palette ranges from clearly black to a light Spanish/Italian hue.

nov 26, 2014, 6:59am

The Muiderslot has been part of the ring of defences around Amsterdam, although partly as storage. I cannot really find a good website about it. You may like this map, I hope. I haven’t been there since I was a child, but if I am not mistaken newer fortifications are just outside the castle.

You are right that France is not alone in its mismanagement of the economy. The issue is rather that countries (or in the case of Italy and Belgium parts of countries) have different problems and that most gurus and pundits describe one simple elixir that would make everybody healthy, happy and smiling. These gurus and pundits are quacks. Additionally, other partial solutions, like beefing up the banking sector took too long, because every country protected its national champions. The formation of the eurozone has taken away an important instrument that would have helped France and Italy adapt. They could have simply reduced the exchange rate of their currency. Strangely, a Dutch guilder should have gone up against a French franc and Dutch households should have felt wealthier. Instead the low interest rate is impoverishing everybody, because it affects pension funds more than the various asset bubbles that the ECB creates. This generates an increased need for savings. A substantial part of labour cost increases have gone to increased pension premium payments or increased household savings instead of increased consumption. Overall, we should not underestimate the consequences of aging societies on their economic flexibility:

The third means by which demography can influence growth and interest rates is through saving. Individuals typically borrow heavily in early adulthood to pay for education, a house and babies, save heavily from middle age onwards, and spend those savings in retirement. Coen Teulings of Cambridge University has calculated what various countries’ collective savings should be given their demographics. Higher population growth and shorter retirements require less saving; older populations more.


The simultaneous effort by so many countries to save for retirement, combined with weak investment, slowing potential growth, fiscal retrenchment, corporate cash hoarding and inequality (which leaves more of the national income in the hands of the high-saving rich) is depressing the “equilibrium” interest rate that brings investment and saving into balance. There is, however, at least one obvious policy fix. “A higher retirement age reduces saving,”

On the other hand the Germans are cannibalising their infrastructure, after getting used to it when they propped up the former German Democratic Republic. They have a far greater need for increased public spending than the Netherlands. The Dutch economy would certainly have benefitted from a shot in the arm, preferably through reduced taxes for consumers/incomes, and balanced by some reduced government spending. The Belgians tried the first half of the solutions, but it failed without the reforms the Belgian economy needed. In the Netherlands the tax increases and government budget cuts led to lower tax income instead of more. A clear sign that the cuts were counterproductive.

But you are right if you consider the eurozone’s Excessive Imbalance Procedure a deflation machine. And they realised this in the case of Greece, I understood from a TV-interview with the former Dutch finance minister. The deflation machine is the result of distrust in the management of some countries in the zone (Greece, Italy, France, Belgium).

Some distrust of an inflationary policy is legitimate. Look at Japan: the currency is going down, financial assets are going up if you can hedge the currency “risk” and taxes are also going up. Wages are not going up very much, at least not as much as inflation. The average Mr. Watanabe gets poorer, the smart money richer. I wonder how happy Mr. Watanabe is withthe simple medicine from America:

Beispiel des Radsports zu bleiben, auch hier gibt es einen Dr. Eufemiano Fuentes, den berüchtigten spanischen Sportarzt, der den Radsport lange Jahre mit Drogen versorgt hat. Das Pendant in der Wirtschaft ist Paul Krugman. Der Princeton-Ökonom reist derzeit in der Welt herum, um die Politiker vom Nutzen des Gelddruckens zu überzeugen. Es habe in den USA funktioniert, deshalb werde es auch in Japan, China und Europa klappen.

Americans’ desire and talent for proselytising is unmatched. And often accompanied by a profitable campaign to sell books, seminars or services.

On my recent trip to America I skipped Monticello when crossing the Appalachian Mountains. It was too far south and quite expensive to visit. It has always surprised me that you are considered “black” if you are not 100% white, but institutional discrimination must have played a role here. Under apartheid, one of the tests of whiteness was to put a comb in the tested person’s hair: if the comb was stuck, the hair was considered Afro and the person “coloured”. Sillier than “black” is calling someone “African American” if he is of mixed race. Inspired by proselytising Americans, some people in subsidised circles here speak of “Afro Surinamese Dutchwomen”. The often mixed background could often be more correctly described as “Lusitan Hebrew Afro Surinamese Dutchwoman” or “Scottish Afro Surinamese Dutchwoman”. It is a game on guilt and income flows. I much prefer the Southeast Asian ideal of mixed races. You would be surprised by the number of mixed racial middle class couples in Bangkok.

Every country, or better every ethnic groupto get to grips with its black community:

For every dollar in assets owned by whites in the United States, blacks own less than a nickel, a racial divide that is wider than South Africa’s at any point during the apartheid era. The median net worth for black households is $4,955, or about 4.5 percent of whites’ median household wealth, which was $110, 729 in 2010, according to Census data. Racial inequality in apartheid South Africa reached its zenith in 1970 when black households’ median net worth represented 6.8 percent of whites’, according to an analysis of government data by Sampie Terreblanche, professor emeritus of economics at Stellenbosch University.

I can hardly believe that this is true. On the other hand, Europeans used to say that America was the “land of unlimited possibilities”. That could go both ways.

There are some reasons to be nostalgic about Japanese agriculture, e.g. the quality of grapes for 25 euro a bunch. The taste and juiciness are absolutely superb (I once tried one in a supermarket in Tokyo). But otherwise you are right. The Japanese political system favours the countryside, just like the American system favours the Midwest states. That does not mean that Tokyo is not growing rapidly: the lure of the big city is as strong as elsewhere in Japan. It has the best education facilities and the head office jobs. All the money brings some glamour to the Japanese capital. Lots of the post-bubble financial injections went to bridges to nowhere in the countryside. The social disadvantages of such helicopter money (increased corruption, destruction of the Japanese landscape, museums without art to fill them, etc.) are nicely documented in Dogs and Demons by Alex Kerr. What I just meant to say was that deflation has been pretty benign to the Japanese so far. The country is still safe and wealthy and functions like a clockwork (well, except for its nuclear power plants). Young people see a normal rise in salaries and wealth. The debt overhang however is scary for an aging society, particularly under deflation.

nov 27, 2014, 10:39am

The Dutch have been very proficient in building Vauban style fortifications, in turn based on Italian design concepts ("trace italienne"). A more offensive part of Dutch history will be featured in the cinemas next year: Michiel de Ruyter, sold to US audiences simply as "The Admiral". The same title for the same audience is claimed for Korea's Yi Sun-sin: The Admiral: Roaring Currents (2014).

The Danish TV history drama 1864 about the Danish-Prussian war has been underwhelming (at least in my listening to and reading of Danish) as they failed to create compelling characters interacting with meaningful events. Perhaps it was not the best idea to pick a topic about which Lord Palmerston quipped: "Only three people have ever really understood the Schleswig-Holstein business—the Prince Consort, who is dead—a German professor, who has gone mad—and I, who have forgotten all about it."

I don't think that the characterization of Krugman advocating printing money is fair (and accurate). Given the existence of a liquidity trap, printing of money is futile anyway. What Krugman primarily wants is investment in public infrastructure which is shockingly rotten in the United States. Instead, US politicians debate whether to transport dirty oil all across the continent (Keystone pipeline). Krugman's recent victory dances are premature. The patient has not yet received the medicine.

While the Japanese have just experienced the not surprising negative effect of consumption tax increases on consumption, Austria's vice chancellor is thinking about doubling VAT on essential products such as food and housing which would not only be highly regressive, it would also produce government mandated inflation. It is strange that economics 101 has such a difficult stand to get into politicians' minds.

There will be a public lecture by a Dutch professor here in Vienna about the recent troubles of Zwarte Piet. Switzerland's Santa's assistant "Schmutzli" as the name indicates is also dirty and can be covered in soot too but is politically correct as it not related to skin color but to hell and dark forces.

I am greatly enjoying Reiner Stach's final volume of his Kafka biography, this time his youth. His presentation of the protestant experience in Prague during the Thirty Years War and the restrictions put upon the Jews (numerical ceiling of household numbers in Bohemia and Moravia) was very enlightening.

Redigerat: dec 1, 2014, 2:02pm

I am no expert on Dutch fortifications, but I think many are older than Vauban. The Flanders born mathematician Simon Stevin was very influential in developing fortifications. He also developed ideas for optimal city planning, where cities had an oval form around a central square with streets in a checkerboard pattern. I would not prioritise Dutch historical drama. Usually they are pretty disappointing, often translating the story to modern situations. Now this happens in Chinese drama too (too many men and pretty women being astonishing martial arts experts), but you expect it less from Europeans, I presume. As I thought I noted in the trailer for the film on De Ruyter the sets also leave a few things to be desired. The only thing interesting is that such a small country makes such films nowadays. American historical drama is known through television programmes and cost cutting journalism that copies articles from American sources. But who knows about Willem Barentsz or Kenau Simonsdochter Hasselaer? Such films cannot be exported so easily. I watched a part of the film about Kenau while I was stuck in an economy class seat on a plane, but quickly asked for some whisky to doze off to sleep.

Zwarte Piet is also such a case. Some indeed the case that Piet is linked to ancient European folklore, probably from the same source as Schmutzli. Zwarte Piet however seems a 19th century invention. Earlier neither Piet nor Santa Claus ever made a physical appearance on or shortly before the festive day. The scene in Jan Steen's painting tells a story every Dutch child will still recognise, but note you may note the absence of the saint. More interesting again is how Santa Claus is molded into a more modern form. Zwarte Piet used to be the servant who would give presents and sweets (nice), but also collect the naughty kids for a spanking with a birch or transportation to Spain (scary). Now public television has promoted Piet to a kind of senior vice president who coordinates tasks for the forgetful old man with the beard. Supposedly this year the steamer had some problems, but Piet refused to repair it. He was no longer a servant and he told the Saint to do the repair himself. It is also interesting how the loss of Piet's colour is developing. First of all, the organiser of the Piet protests comes from the Antilles. There the locals seem to have little issue with Piet's skin colour. You can't play Piet without black make-up. Then there is the division between proponents and opponents of the change here. Roughly speaking, elite areas embrace multi-coloured Piets, but not the more working class areas. Last but not least there is the wonderful world of retail. They place their orders in China long before such a discussion was finalised, so why not do without Piet in the first place? Then there is no risk to profit.

Inflation is an interesting subject. I understand that lower petrol prices reduce the chance of inflation and that therefore we need more stimulus. I would say lower petrol prices are good inflation, just like more powerful computer processors for the same price. Lower petrol prices are financial stimulus right in the pockets of consumers (and corporates) and just what the European economy needs. But the government "helping" inflation forward by increasing the "reduced" VAT rate (because that is what evil eurocrats call it) seems rather silly. Standardising the tax rate however would be a good thing. A product can now be made up of multiple elements with different rates that create an administrative burden that is inefficient. That said, what remains of inflation in Europe is often caused by governments. The Austrian vice chancellor probably desires a German Bundesverdienstkreuz.

You are right about Paul Krugman: he wants public investment, something that should not be a waste for the American economy. You could argue if a reallocation of resources towards such investment would not be better than increased debt. The consumers need to be supported to start the economy and investment infrastructure is a way to do it (although maybe not as effective as outright income tax reduction). But in Europe the situation is more complex. Italy has been supporting its economy by running up debt for over a decade. There structural reforms seem more of a solution. Spain has deflated labour costs, but still has a debt overhang. Here stimulus and bank restructuring would be required. Krugman should crusade in America and not elsewhere. I think about buying the booklet Sparen is geen deugd that argues that the aging of so many societies is to blame for under investment and under consumption. Societies like Holland have saved so much that it is no longer a virtue/deugd/Tugend, but counterproductive. The author's arguments seem to be as internally consistent as any pundit's, but I am interested in the supporting metrics.

Another interesting read could be a certain Klaus Brake, who in a book called Contemporary Perspectives on Jane Jacobs describes the transformation of our cities to the modern service economy. Given the importance to American style coffee shops in such cities I wonder if the many splendid coffee houses in Vienna have any relationship to the Double Monarchy's infamous bureaucracy. After all, bureaucracy creates many "bullshit jobs" right now, which is supposedly the subject of David Graeber's next book. Regarding city planning, the Guardian ran an interesting article"recently:

All of the five districts in the study have major roads with high betweenness centrality along their borders, but not through their centres. These roads provide good connections to the rest of the city without disrupting the neighbourhood. Smaller “local main” streets penetrate the district, providing easy access, but not noise or danger. “It’s this balance between calmness and urban buzz within easy reach that is one of the conditions for gentrification,” says Porta.

dec 1, 2014, 6:01pm

Yes, the fortification reconstructions started all over Europe in the 1500s (triggered by 1453 which showed the potency of the new artillery). The flatness of the country made the Dutch castles even more vulnerable to artillery as many traditional castles were awarded a grace period by their elevated location that could not yet be targeted by the modern artillery due to the low trajectory.

These Dutch films look very interesting to me even despite their low IMDB rankings. Zembla has many Nabokovian connotations and I am eager to learn more about a Dutch aspect. The Dutch mixture of Marianne and Wonder Woman is fantastic (even though they mess up the Spanish: A halberd is a two hand weapon which you can not use at the same time as a shield). I don't believe that such an unironic heroic statue of her and Ripperda could today be unveiled in Austria, Switzerland or Germany.

"Sparen ist natürlich eine Tugend." In the sense that it promotes investing in the future instead of (over-) consumption today. The American trend of spend, spend, spend leads to shortchanging the future and makes a society more vulnerable to shocks.

The low interest rate world we currently inhabit, though, breaks long established pattern. Austria has a strange custom of Weltspartag (World Savings Day) where children bring their pocket money to the banks and receive a cheap present for the act. It used to be that the banks paid out some low interest to consumers for a savings account. Currently, this is below 1%. Given that Mr. Taxman automatically takes another 25% of the interest, anybody still depositing money in a basic savings account is mad. Austrian public broadcasting still continued to old propaganda spiel congratulating the kids about their "business sense" (perhaps in the 1931 Creditanstalt tradition?).

Austria's coffee house tradition was built on an absence of sufficient living space. The coffee house provided many with a (heated) living room where they could spend their leisure time outside the family's watchful eye. Think about Franz Kafka who lived at his parent's in a self-inflicted miserly small room (as a vice department head in an insurance company he should have easily been able to pay for his own place).

In modern times, coffee house economics is not good business unless it is made for take-out. Starbucks and McDo want you to go away (in the recent tragedy about the death of the Turkish girl in Germany, apparently McDo employees were unwilling to provide free water - though this is may be an urban legend in the making). Coffee houses are only really profitable if they have a steady supply of tourists to milk who are willing to pay double for subpar products (There was a recent article in Vienna about the inferior quality of coffee served by most businesses as apparently the customers do not notice the difference except in the price).

The number of independent coffee houses in Vienna has been in steady decline as few are willing to work the long hours for little return as the rent paid for good locations eats up most of the profit. The ubiquity of coffee machines and coffee to go disintermediates their business even more.

Redigerat: dec 30, 2014, 9:19am

Dutch fortifications were of course helped by the many waterways and polders that could be inundated. If fortifications of this era interest you and your Flemish is up to it, you might enjoy the new biography of Simon Stevin. Unfortunately, I have no idea how good the book is, it appeared in my Twitter timeline today. Stevin delivered the theoretical foundation for the study of fortification construction at the University of Leiden. Above all, Stevin was an all-round genius, who invented among others the daily use of decimal fractions. Kenau’s statue might be unironic, because it was made by a French sculptress and was ordered directly by the city council without any interference from the local arty-farty chattering classes. Actually, I had never noticed the statue until you brought it up.

Aber natürlich ist Sparen eine Tugend at the micro level. Kann denn Sparen Sünde sein?. Yes, at a macro level saving can be counterproductive for the economy, particularly in countries where households have large balance sheets and interest rates are artificially low. The Netherlands is a particular example, but the same applies to countries like Britain, Denmark, Australia and to a lesser extent America. Switzerland might be a victim, but it does not apply to Germany and potentially Austria. People here have relatively large mortgages. This is partly due to regulation of the housing market, but also due to relatively large pension incomes after retirement. These pension incomes are funded from financial market investments, which are sensitive to interest rate movements. The liability side of pension funds is hit hard if interest rates fall. Americans have solved this issue by accepting low “coverage rations” and optimistic income calculations, but the Dutch are more conservative. Coverage ratios fall and to repair them pension premiums are up and pension payments cut. Both directly reduce spending power. The same applies to falling real estate prices. Many newer mortgages are “under water” (a Dutch expression I now find regularly in the FT) and encourage people to reduce the principal with again reduced spending. Mr. Fransman combines this with demographic trends. A lower birth rate and lower immigration automatically reduce the growth rate for the economy. Just like in Japan, demographic trends and the balance sheet recession cause a strong liquidity trap, where corporates have little inclination to invest, again strengthening the effect of that trap. Corporates are hoarding unprecedented amounts of cash, which governments should tax, according to Mr. Fransman, a card carrying member of the Dutch conservative party. I look forward to reading his book. If Mr. Fransman is correct, various countries will be hit differently by these issues. Germany has no pension funds, but horrible demographics and a serious level of government debt. Like France, a country with worse debt and greater entitlements, it has a pay-as-you-go system. At least the ever so pessimistic French still breed children. Mr. Fransman somewhere advocated to buy a house and quickly pay down the mortgage, invest in local businesses and to have three children as the best hedge against future financial uncertainty. It sounds like better advice than what Paul Krugman gave Japan:

Japanese drew down savings for the first time on record while wages adjusted for inflation dropped the most in almost five years, highlighting challenges for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as he tries to revive the world’s third-largest economy.


A higher sales tax combined with the central bank’s record easing are driving up living costs, squeezing household budgets and damping consumption.

By the way, talking about financial certainty, 25% off interest income is a pretty good deal! Here the tax man takes 1.2% off capital, no matter how much income was generated. Money in savings accounts (which is sometimes mandatory, e.g. for apartment coops) thus brings in a negative return, unless there is deflation. The Dutch government is as good at bleeding the middle classes as the CEO’s of multinational companies are.

It would really be a pity to see the Viennese Kaffeehäuser disappear. Lingering endlessly with a newspaper and viewing the grumpy old waiters would be my main reason to revisit the k.u.k. capital. Starbucks has not yet had much impact here in Amsterdam, because it restricts itself to tourist areas and railway stations. Things are different with its local copycat Coffee Company. Coffee Company outlets are seen as symbols of gentrification: flat prices increase where Coffee Company opens a new branche, Few people do take-outs at Coffee Company. Or as stated here:

“Highly educated people want to live close together, have drinks together, meet, and exchange ideas”, explains city planner Errik Buursink. It caused a demand for spaces like Coffee Company: shops in the city centre, used by freelancers as their mobile office.

And for shopping women, I would like to add.

On the brink of the new year, you may like this anti Fukuyama/Ferguson article:

As we enter 2015, it is not useless to look backwards in order to try to guess the trends of the future. I would argue that the age that we are, to some extent exiting now, and which extended from the early 1980s, can be called the “second age of imperialism”--the first one, in the modern history, having been the age of high imperialism 1870-1914.


Neo-imperialist international balance-sheet is even worse. It has produced unnecessary and, apparently, endless wars, tribalization of nation-states, the rise of violent and most retrograde forms of religious intolerance, all of that having been, at the origin, justified by “the end of history“ and the nebulous doctrine of “the right to protect” which togerher played the same role as the ideology of the European “civilization” of other continents did in the late 19th century. The latter gave us King Leopold and the Congo; the former, George W. Bush and ISIS. The second age of imperialism leaves the world in the year 2014, in a state, in many ways reminiscent of the one in 1914, and in a turmoil that may produce either another religious One Hundred Year war or World War III…or both.

dec 30, 2014, 5:51pm

Calling it Neo-imperialism is unfair to the first era that truly invested in the colonies, built up infrastructure and sent its sons and daughters out to "civilize" the world.

The Southern Netherlands then were truly a hotbed of scientific discovery, especially cartography (Mercator). While I am quite familiar with the Belgian fortification belts, I know next to nothing about the Dutch ones. Thanks for the links. My Dutch is weak but I will explore it. Visiting pre-modern fortresses is odd though, as they are often hugging the ground closely, so that the view of the surrounding areas is restricted. Standing and walking on extended grassy mounds offers limited potential for enjoyment. The beauty of the geometry isn't really visible at ground level.

Xmas brought me The Imjin War and Korea's admiral Yi Sun-sin which is finally available as a reprint by a general publisher. Previously, I had unsuccessfully tried to get it from the Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch as they would not accept my credit card and shipping costs would have been almost as high as the (competitive) book price itself.

Also Jill Lepore's weird and wonderful history about the minds who created Wonder Woman: The Secret History of Wonder Woman. The past was a truly strange place. She wrote the probably best article of 2014, utterly destroying Christensen's hyped concept of disruptive innovation in the New Yorker.

Physical newspapers are dying right and left. In Vienna's Kaffeehäuser, the stiff wooden newspaper holders built for thick issues currently hold the pathetic few pages of the current issues. Even the grand old dame of Swiss newspaper, NZZ, is in a big leadership and positional crisis. It will be interesting to see whether the combination of Austrian managers and McKinsey purging and reorganizing will heal or kill her. The traditional supporters of the newspaper, Swiss liberal CEOs, have internationalized so much that they have outgrown the reach of the newspaper. 99% of the business news part in the paper are never read by their readers according to tracking analyses they made ...

There are currently 17.000 diplomats accredited in Vienna, a respectable number, considering that the Vienna Congress of 1815 featured 100.000 guests. Meanwhile, Udo Jürgens will be buried in a special grave at Vienna's Zentralfriedhof. A great chansonnier with a very interesting family history in Russia, Germany and Austria. His Austrian charm was matched with a key eye for the German market: Aber bitte mit Sahne - not Austrian Obers! The Viennese Tourist Agency will want to have the grave ready for the tourists coming to the European Song Contest in May 2015.

As an interesting case study of globalization and localization, Disney's Frozen has been released in 41 foreign-language film versions. While almost every European language is present in multiple versions, there is no Hindi or Urdu version.

The Dutch and German version is sung by a Dutch singer (singing both Anna and Elsa parts with a slight accent) while there is a special Flemish version. The translation quality is atrocious and the meaning of the text changes considerably between the versions. The German text is unnecessarily bad, transforming "Let it go" into "Lass jetzt los" instead of the more valid ""Lass es los". Jetzt combines a hard to sing voiceless alveolar affricate with a voiceless alveolar stop and ends in a closed syllable instead of an open one. At least they avoided turning it into an ode to flatulence which I suspect is one of the reasons the Flemish sing twice "Laat het los" while the Dutch sing "Laat het los, laat het gaan".

Meanwhile, I am looking forward to the BBC's take on Wolf Hall.

jan 2, 2015, 4:40am

I do not know that much about Dutch fortifications, but I suppose the practice of inundating land when enemies invaded may have influenced the height of defences. Medieval castles like ”Amsterdam castle” or Slot Loevestein were quite a standard European height. On the other hand, most fortifications I have seen in Africa and Asia, often built in the 16th and 17th centuries, were also quite low. According to 1000 jaar Amsterdam, the city walls were not considered extremely important for the defence of Amsterdam. The grounds were mainly used for leisurely walks. The city tried to keep the countryside free of buildings, but the city’s leprosy hospital was in the fields about 4 blocks from that same wall. I doubt however if a hostile army would set up camp in such a place. The Hague did even have city walls which may have been a deliberate choice: the centre of government should not become to powerful. So overall, my bet for an explanation of the lower walls would be military technology. As an afterthought, The Dutch Republic : Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall mentions the continuous conflict between Holland and Zealand versus the other united provinces. The latter wanted to invest in the army, the coastal provinces in the navy.

It seems that the moment in the sun for the Southern Netherlands was even shorter than that moment for its northern brethren. In the 16th century it was indeed a hotbed of scientific and artistic innovation, a kind of northern Tuscany. We learned that the decline came the moment that the Dutch closed access to the Scheldt, which was the economic reason for many traders and scientists to emigrate to the north. If you look however at the houses built around that age in Brussels and Antwerp and the art of Rubens and Van Dyck, then they must have remained pretty affluent for quite some time.

Have you developed a new interest in Asian military history? After all, the next conflicts could be about access to resources between the Asian giants, or between Asia and Europe and/or the Americas. China is making great inroads in Africa (but also in Suriname, north of Brazil) and asks no questions to dictators about governance. Kamikaze: History's Greatest Naval Disaster is still on my to read list.

I do not make new year resolutions, but I really intend to read more again and spend a bit less time on my photography. I am currently reading Sparen is Geen Deugd, which is great fun. The “report” reminds me very much of Richard Koo’s bestseller The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics in its use of accounting to explain the effects of debt. As such it is a great complement to David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. The effects of demographic changes are an eye-opener (and apply to all developed countries), although the 140-page book lacks a bit in supporting statistical evidence.

I am really bad at looking at TV-series, I suppose the only one I have seen in the last 5 years was Californication, which was kind of fun if you had a busy time in the office. But even Mad Men is too schematic to my taste. I prefer the 1.5-3 hour length of a film in the cinema. I think that in the last 4 months I turned on the television only once, to watch a documentary about the euro. Otherwise I watch an occasional programme on my computer. I do not think we had Wonder Woman on the telly here. My wonder woman was the gorgeous Emma Peel. As far as I can tell from photos, Wonder Woman is no match for Emma.

Newspapers used to be much thinner until the 1980’s. I recall people in New York going straight to the dustbin after they had bought their Sunday New York Times to throw away uninteresting supplements. And rightly so, travel supplements etc. are mostly useless stories recycled from other papers and magazines. A newspaper should not be thicker than the Financial Times without that silly luxury magazine. I read the NZZ occasionally on my aging Blackberry. I quite like that newspaper: old-fashioned quality articles that are decidedly shorter than in German newspapers. On the weekend, I do like to read newspapers in a café, which is somewhat like the Viennese Kaffeehaus, although the grumpy waiters are mostly students here. A newspaper is no more than a brand that gives you an idea of the quality and political orientation of the articles. If you want a diversified opinion, you have to read more than one paper, and the Kaffeehaus supplies them. Blendle (which counts Axel Springer and the New York Times among its shareholders) now offers an e-variant on the Kaffeehaus, but I still prefer reading on paper to reading on a screen. As for CEO’s, why would they still bother with a national newspaper. Such decision makers mainly read the same limited papers and magazines that their peers read. And these are not in German.

Udo Jürgens, I think few people here remember him. I recall Griechischer Wein, which one would nowadays consider an interesting set of clichés, that documents that age quite nicely.

jan 3, 2015, 1:00pm

Even better than commercial entities like Blendle are the services provided by libraries combining their wide range of subscriptions with easy offsite online access. Commercial entities usually try to lock-in the content whereas I often want to share some snippet or image from an article.

You link to quite a strange 8 minute version of a 2 minute song. Udo Jürgens made important contributions to making Germany a more open, less narrow-minded society. Griechischer Wein (1974) informed about the plight of immigrant workers long before this entered public knowledge. Günther Wallraff's classic report Ganz Unten about the dreadful life of Turkish workers in Germany was only published in 1985. The Dutch cover by Joe Harris seems to sanitize most of the immigrant plight by singing about red wine and undefined brown-eyed men with dark hair longing about home: Drink rode wijn.

Neither Emma Peel nor Wonder Woman during my childhood on TV. I am part of the Knight Rider, MacGyver to Baywatch crowd. I like world-building series with good acting and stories such as Game of Thrones, True Detective and Fargo. Apart from news, political discussions and sports, I have completely shifted to internet/computer-fed TV watching.

A new interest in Asian military history? Rather rekindling an old interest. I have been reading about samurai since my father's first visit to Japan where he brought me back both a small samurai sword and one of the first walkmen? walkmans?. Asian military history is barely treated if no white man is present. As soon as white men are involved, books abound. But even big shot events such as the Chinese wars of the three kingdoms do not have booklength serious accounts. The Chinese scholars are not helping either with their disinterest in things military, though an abridged translation into English of the ten volume military history of China would certainly find a few readers.

Unfortunately, the disinterest of all things not US and UK is great. Joachim Remak's wonderful little study of A Very Civil War: The Swiss Sonderbund War Of 1847 is already out of print even though it makes a great parallel case for the American Civil War. If Lincoln had truly wanted a de-escalation, he might have followed the Swiss model.

Closing off the Scheldt is probably one of the most shocking mean acts of history. Like the Cuban embargo, it just hurt the Southern neighbor. Both Dutch investments in navy and army were futile given its bigger neighbors. The balance of power of the European powers saved the Netherlands (and Switzerland) not its internal military powers of deterrence.

Paul Krugman linked to a great article about global income growth, though I find the emergence of a globalized 2008 single peak in figure 5 from a double peak 1988 even more fascinating. It will be interesting to see in which directions the curves bend in China and the other countries from 2008 to 2018.

Redigerat: jan 5, 2015, 4:22pm

I am happy to hear that Udo Jürgens helped to make Germany a less narrow minded society. And he may have succeeded in doing the same in Vienna. When I had to go flat hunting in Vienna in the 1980's I saw multiple places (or a few too many, to be more precise) with Mein Kampf still on the bookshelf. One of my current colleagues has a Viennese girlfriend and does not recognise this. So three cheers für den Udo. Otherwise, it seems you try to force me to defend a long forgotten Dutch singer with an horrific dress style and a very limited talent. I do not think the translation of Griechischer Wein is that bad. First of all Griekse Wijn is one syllable shorter than in Goethe's language and changing the title to drink rode wijn is quite an elegant solution to fit the text to the melody. Secondly, people at that time did not see Gastarbeiter along the lines of Günter Wallraff. In the 1970's Gastarbeiter lived without their families, often in compounds or barracks. One in Amsterdam named after Atatürk had regular belly dancing nights for the men. Only later were they allowed to bring over their families and with age they became more religious. This brings me to the next point: countries have different groups of immigrants. In Holland there were very few gastarbeiders from Greece and Italy. Most Dutch men survived the Second World War in tact and there had been a greater baby boom after the War than in Germany (not in the least due to a Catholic Reconquista). Hence the need for immigrants appeared later and the sourcing came from different countries, most notably from Morocco and, on the insistence of our American allies, from the Turkish hinterland. Consequently, Dutch audiences of the time won't have recognised the Greeks as migrant workers as easily as German audiences.

Oh, I only had vague memories of the Avengers, and I may have seen the series from repeat broadcasts (Joanna Lumley became the star in later episodes, but made less of an impression on me). I would consider myself mostly of the Miami Vice generation, which may explain my lack of profundity. And from Germany we had Derrick, of course. I think that by now Harry, hol mal den Wagen is far more popular as a quote than, say, "Hier stehe, ich kann nicht anders".

You are such a lucky men, receiving such interesting souvenirs from your father. I am not so surprised that Asian military history is not that popular. Military history seems a particular Anglo Saxon interest. American and British bookstores always have a big bookshelf on the subject, but try to find that in Europe or elsewhere. Secondly, few Asian countries have been militarily successful in the last few hundred years. The only successful Chinese campaign since the Ming was Mao's and that is celebrated extensively in China. Particularly the fight against the Japanese brings endless entertainment to Chinese television screens, e.g. in the form of sexily clad female spies seducing sleazy Japanese commanders in comedies. Or at least I think I recall seeing that on my visit to China in 2012; they also had serious drama about the same subject. Japan could be another subject, since they fought some successful campaigns, but unfortunately for you, most Japanese shun the military and their history almost completely:

Asked if they would fight for their nation in the event of war, only 15.3 percent of Japanese said yes, compared with 57.7 percent of Americans and 74.2 percent of Chinese. By age, 9.5 percent of Japanese under 30 said they would be willing to fight, as did 20.3 percent of pollees older than 50.

Most other areas may not have the archives to produce much beyond what the various East India companies documented. They simply lacked the states required to archive documents. Still, the Thai have produced quite a few films about their wars against the Burmese. The Moghuls of India might be an exception. Otherwise, the various anti colonial guerilla leaders wrote memoirs, notably Vietnam's Vo Nguyen Giap and Indonesia's Abdul Haris Nasution. I have seen interviews with Nasution, he was quite a character.

What is so bad about closing the Scheldt? When it started in 1585 the war against Spain was almost total, so during the remaining 63 years of the war it would be a normal military action. Of course the closing bled Flanders, but so did the religious policies of the Spanish Netherlands. The Spanish Netherlands did not try very hard to end the blockade during negotiations of the Peace of Westphalia. They even taxed the trade involving Dutch ships from and to the harbour of Antwerp. The Spaniards never tried to end the blockade militarily and the Austrians tried only once, and not very hard:

The only shot fired hit a soup kettle.

Flanders still had the harbours of Oostende and Dunkerque. You cannot compare this so directly to Cuba.

I have finished Sparen is geen deugd and I would recommend it to many people with an interest in macro-economics and sufficient knowledge of the Dutch language, and not in the least to those of the Ordnungsliberale persuasion. On a theoretical level, Mr. Fransman argues quite persuasively that there is a maximum to the percentage of GDP of the domestic and external savings a country can have efficiently. Many Northern European countries seem to be beyond that level. One example is the value of driving down wages to create a surplus on the balance of payments. Mr Fransman quotes research about the cumulative Dutch foreign trade surplus between 1987 and 2013. That surplus should have been EUR 647 Billion. In reality it is only 300 Billion (interesting knowledge if you know that Holland currently runs a surplus of 10% of GDP). You can only create a surplus on the balance of payments if you lend the outside world the money to buy your products. However, by definition you lend to economically weaker parties if you have such a surplus. Almost all countries with a balance of payment surplus makes losses on these claims (which makes you wonder what the data for Germany will be; they were prime investors in US mortgages in 2008 and prime investors in dotcom stocsk in 1999, so much that Alan Greenspan made jokes about it).

Mr Fransman also shows how money flows in case of domestic borrowing by showing the various zero sum games. And he looks into the financial effects (more than he profoundly analyses) of globalisation, the aging of society, energy prices and the lack of wage rises in much of the developed world. Mr. Fransman substantiates his ideas with various reports from the IMF, the ECB, the Ministry of Finance and other such institutions. That I find one of the weaknesses of his book: there are no metrics that specifically support his "thesis". But each chapter is easily as interesting as any column by Paul Krugman. The Krugman article you mentioned is quite common knowledge. Even Piketty dedicates a few paragraphs to this.

My other reading material is The origins of sex : a history of the first sexual revolution, which promised to analyse the changes in attitudes towards sexuality in the Western world. It seems an interesting subject in the days when ISIS throws homosexuals off roofs and forces women to veil themselves. It is interesting to see why Western nations mostly got beyond such dark and Medieval behaviour. Unfortunately, the book is rather disappointing in this manner, because the author equates the West with Britain. Europe is hardly mentioned. He even says that certain ideas cannot be verified, because they came from Europe. Galant behaviour, seen as the course for the suppression of female sexuality in the 18th century, came from France and thus requires no further analysis of its root causes. What the book does describe rather nicely is how ideas about sexuality change through time and how much they influence scientific conclusions. Rarely do we escape our age's myopia, but that is rarely a new insight.

jan 6, 2015, 5:55pm

You are not doing justice to the term "medieval" in this case as the Middle Ages were quite open-minded to nudity, body activities and sexuality. Privacy did not exist then. Many supposedly medieval ideas are inventions of a later age such as ius prima noctis and chastity belts. Medieval life was to brutal and short not to enjoy the moment to the fullest. The absence of a banking system made saving and investing hard and much wealth was squandered in festivities (cf. Johan Huizinga).

I would say that Austria has made great strides in becoming a more pluralistic and liberal society. Comparing it to Germany is difficult as Germany contains multitudes of liberal and conservative regions as well as the usual urban - rural split. The old Nazis die off - unfortunately, the new right-wingers still have odious but less murderous opinions. Odd Nazi ideas sometimes creep up, even to the surprise to most Austrians. Austrian voyeuristic documentary filmmaker Ulrich Seidl caused a collective jaw drop with his trailer to his film In the basement about weird secret or not so secret activities going on in some Austrian basement, among them local conservative politicians singing and drinking under and among Nazi memorabilia. Like in the case of the US Republican local politician running around in Waffen SS uniform on his weekend, the two Austrian politicians quickly found themselves to be former party members.

Imperial Austria unfortunately severely mismanaged its economic power centers such as the Spanish Netherlands, Lombardy and Bohemia, draining it of funds to invest in the poor and rural East and South. As Austria needed the Dutch as potential allies against the French, it could not push hard to liberate the Scheldt. Oostende was and is a rather dreadful place and lacked true access to a river network.

As the railway link from Vienna to Bratislava is still extremely poor compared to the proximity and possibility, Air Berlin is now offering connecting flights from Vienna airport to Bratislava - a distance of 47 kilometers and probably the shortest international flight. Most of the time will be spent waiting for permission to land.

The savings paradox is well known and I think not the culprit. What happened was an asymmetric liberalization of capital flows and an increase of returns demanded on the one side and insufficient regulation and risk management on the other side. Savings banks that had lived with 5-10 percent returns suddenly had to get ROE of 15-25%. The easiest way to do this was to buy riskier assets, especially as those were often criminally mislabeled and sold as "investment grade".

A Grexit would probably be beneficial to both Greece and the EU. The key question, however, is Italy that is again on the brink of governmental stasis. At the moment, they try to deal with the devil to stay afloat. Hopefully, we will not see an oil price re-appreciation soon. Both the low Euro and oil price help Europe's economy much more than Juncker's junk investment initiative.

Harry, hol mal den Wagen, by the way, is a fake quote. It would have been rather demeaning to his junior colleague to transform him into Derrick's chauffeur. I actually watch hardly any crime stories (such as Tatort) as I find the predictability of procedurals rather boring (especially if the murderer is the episode's guest star). Wikipedia informs me that I must have seen a severely crippled version of Miami Vice as they first broadcast it at 10 pm and then rebroadcast it later in the afternoon (with most violence cut out - except for its brutal fashion statements).

jan 7, 2015, 3:51pm

Have either of you seen Der Alte with Siegfried Lowitz? I think it's better than Derrick. But not as good as Der Kommissar.

I actually watch hardly any crime stories (such as Tatort)

When I was sick for a month a few years ago I took to watching krimis on YouTube and saw several of first Tatorts, from 1971 or so, and found them excellent, but they are not whodunnits. They are real time capsules now. There was one filmed partly in the DDR, with some DDR actors, and the plot hinged on border crossings. I was surprised at how casually this was treated. I suppose the police on both sides had to have a certain amount of contact and cooperation, but one just doesn't picture such ordinary everyday problems when thinking of history.

Which brings me to the problem of how to relate everyday life, the details, the truth of everything that happens, to the later more general retellings that constitute historical narratives. The double knowledge of facts, and experience, is there any connection between them? I am feeling pessimistic today and I say, bitterly, no, none at all, we know nothing and we can know nothing, just convince ourselves that we do.

jan 7, 2015, 4:09pm

It is indeed a sad day for Europe and the world. And will not be the last as France has a large poor and alienated Muslim minority.

At least in Austria, the integration of the Muslim immigrants (mostly Turks) is making progress. After two decades of mostly ignoring all problems, politics has accepted the necessity of action. Thus it is now possible to choose Turkish as a main foreign language in school (which combats the phenomenon of a generation that is unable to speak both proper German and proper Turkish). Then, there will be a mandatory Austrian education for Islamic preachers. Up to now, they have been paid and imported from Saudi Arabia and Turkey - preaching dismal anti-democratic and misogynistic stuff. Healthcare services are actively informing people that marrying your cousin is not a winning genetic strategy (Austria's Habsburgs provide splendid illustrations for this). In sum, there will be a lost second generation (growing up 1990 to 2010) but the current ones will be better integrated, quite an achievement given that Turkey sent its most backward and rural villagers to work abroad (Erdogan supporters are very strongly represented in Vienna).

jan 7, 2015, 4:44pm

One wants to hope... I can't decide whether it's odd or predictable that Austria would/could prove a case of successful assimilation.

jan 7, 2015, 5:01pm

Assimilation is probably too strong a word for the current state. It is more a commitment to end existing parallel societies/ghettoes and provide support to immigrant communities to a better integration. It is only a tiny minority of immigrant children who manage to go to university. Compared to Germany, there are fewer political representatives with an immigration background. A lot needs to be done to achieve a similar level of integration as the Slavs or Hungarians in Austria.

jan 7, 2015, 5:13pm

>25 jcbrunner:

Or as Germans in Slavic lands, like my father's ancestors. :)

Redigerat: jan 26, 2015, 12:09pm

You are absolutely right about my misjudgment of the Middle Ages. I have Huizinga’s book on my to-read pile, so I should take it out and read it this year. Thanks for the incentive!

But I agree less with you on savings. Yes, Keynesianism knows savings, it is part of the IS-LM model. But what I remember from macro-economics a few decades back is that it did not do much with it. You had stimulus and with the Phillips-curve you could estimate the improvement in employment. Monetarists stressed the temporary effect of this once inflation had taken its course (or that is what I recall of it). There were probably more sophisticated models than the ones discussed in the books I had to study, but I recall no description of how savings worked out on a “meso-economic” level, and then particularly after decades of monetary expansion. You still see that in the way Krugman writes about macro economics. Hyman Minsky at least had worked in finance and understood how monetary policy affected balance sheets. Maybe it is also just me. I love such “meso-economic” description like Mr. Fransman provides (or La France sans ses usines). Mr. Fransman looks at balance sheets in our globalised and aging world. Of course there is more behind the crisis than the elements you mention. Middle class income growth ceased long before the built-up of the 2008 crisis. The American part of the crisis even has its cause (but not its root cause) in the financing of mortgages of people who could otherwise not afford them. On top of them came ill-understood financial risk management policies, corrupt practices made more rewarding by deregulation and lower taxation, the philosophy of shareholder value as the only thing that should concern boardrooms and a long list of other silly concepts. The European crisis is different: inefficient government policies and incompetent financiers of the garlic zone allowed for some growth in northern Europe that should not have been there, given that the debtors could ill afford the required borrowing. Lacklustre growth without excessive credit is what both crises have in common.

Anyway, we shall see what the extra regulation you advocated brings, because that is really flooding the financial sector. It makes running a bank more “rule-based” instead of “principle-based”, a development I seem to see everywhere, as craftsmanship is displaced by formalized control cycles, procedures, SLA’s and other wonders of modern bureaucracy, peddled by parasitical consultancy companies. Maybe I am too negative, and I should consider it simply a sign of the times, where multinationals allocate cash and contracts around the world, rather than that they are interested in the products they sell.

And of course we have Mr. Draghi’s Dicke Bertha, which actually supports quite a few of the bad practices discussed above. Last week I still had euros in my wallet, but on Friday I woke up and I thought they looked more like the old French franc, and then hopefully the one after the 1960 redenomination. In a televised interview yesterday the president of the central bank here had few positive things to say, besides that it brought the exchange rate down and that it was legal. We shall see if quantitative easing will bring more than bigger bonuses for banksters (has Krugman ever disclosed his own investment portfolio?), a debasements of your and my savings (unless you had all your money in Swissies) and a further reduction in pensions. In a time when salary increases at best match inflation, you may very well see a reduction of purchasing power and consumption, the real problem of the European economy at the time. Of course the apostle Paul already had da solution to this problem”:
So, Draghi’s big announcement seems to have raised expected European inflation by one-fifth of a percentage point. That’s actually a lot to accomplish under the circumstances, but it’s also far too little to turn Europe around on its own. Great work, Mr. Draghi, but it’s going to take a lot more than this to save the day.
In the mean time, I shall increase my savings (already far above a Swabian level, unless you consider the purchase of a Mercedes as a prudent investment) and place them in more risky assets than before. With the support of Krugman, this bet cannot go wrong. And although this morning the French francs in my wallet seemed more like pesetas, I actually have more hope in Syriza than in Draghi. If somehow economic demand can be stimulated against reasonable costs, then that would be a big step forward. Tax reform is an issue that Syriza would have to realise. He probably has a better chance and a greater willingness to do so than his predecessors. Otherwise I would not know how Greece could manage without a Grexit or a continuation of the current painful deflation course. I don’t see northern Europe paying subsidies to the Mediterranean for decades.

All in all these are indeed interesting times in Europe. We have terrorist attacks, QE and a Greek landslide political change all in one month, enough to get many sensible people glued to their Twitter accounts. As for integration of Turks, teaching them (and others) in their own language has been tried before. Here they have stopped that, because it was thought that it delayed integration. Equally, there have been issues with setting up a university programme for imams, in line with that for a protestant minister. There is now an unrecognised Muslim university in Rotterdam whose Turkish rector thinks that the protests against the Turkish government where the work of “atheists” and “people with a Western lifestyle”. Here you go. The city of Amsterdam even subsidised the construction of various mosques (one building with an entrance to the left for Moroccans and to the right for Turks or the other way around). Despite all efforts, the situation here isn’t any better than elsewhere in Western Europe. To my surprise nobody looks at cases of Muslim minorities that were successfully integrated in a Western society. In Suriname, the country’s largest mosque stands right next to the local synagogue and although some 12% of the population professes the Islamic religion headscarves and beards are a rare sight. It may have helped that the country has long been a bit isolated from the Muslim mainstream, but the difference to the situation in Europe is remarkable. Long exposure to colonial ideas may have helped. On another note, 63 percent of the Dutch population now thinks that religion "brings evil", or at least a bit more evil than good things. For whatever such polls are worth, it was measured in December, before the attacks in Paris. It made me wonder what the results would be today. I don't think many people distinguish Islam from Christianity and other faiths in this matter.

I have no idea how important the river link between the Dutch cities and the German hinterland were before the Industrial Revolution. Much of Germany at the time was a land of poor farmers and cheap labour to man Dutch ships and work as maids in Dutch households. As far as I know trade along the European coast line (Baltic, North Sea, Mediterranean) was more important than trade with the hinterland. Holland added value to its trade through its own industrial areas. The area north of Amsterdam was un plat pays that was perfect for hundreds of windmills. Why weren’t they able to recreate this near Oostende? And even if rivers were necessary, the flat land is ideal for making canals. Such civil engineering projects could be done as private enterprises, as the drainage of the Beemster proofs (the English Wikipedia page does not include the society set up by burghers to fund this project). There was no need for the government to organise or finance this. Money was plenty and cheap before the Industrial Revolution. Otherwise the economic history of the two Habsburg empires seem an interesting subject to read about. Come to think about it: “owning” Flanders, Lombardy and Bohemia and then still wasting your funds seems like quite an effort.

Ah, yes, I travelled from Vienna to Bratislava numerous times, even (accidentally) using a colleague’s passport. Before the Second World War the link was faster than when I first crossed into Czechoslovakia in 1987. If you see the excellent motorways going nowhere in Spain, you’d expect some EU funding would have been possible for this project connecting the capitals of two EU countries. But I doubt if this is the shortest international flight. I’d put my money on the Caribbean.

And I agree with Mme. Walser that old Tatorts are quite interesting time capsules, not unlike Bond films or William Eggleston ’s photographs of America. I was however greatly surprised when I compared some of my own photographs of America with those from the legendary Robert Frank. Of course I would not dare to compare my own work with this greatest of Swiss artist’s. The America he photographed is still recognisable, something you cannot say about his photos of London. Historical narratives, they often seem to be reflection of the author’s world. We cannot escape our own limited vision of the world and the fashions of our time. That is hopeful for everybody who bases his view of Austria on the work of Ulrich Seidl, otherwise an interesting storyteller. His film Import/Export is as sad as it is absurd.

jan 26, 2015, 6:32pm

The Swiss national bank opted out of the weak euro, making visits to the homeland even pricier. As the EU (and Euroland) transformed itself from a rich country club to a collection of mostly mid-level countries, the median goals of good government have changed too. Unfortunately the ECB is buying old government bonds and providing liquidity to banks that have little effect on the real economy. It would have been much better in providing loans à fonds perdu to municipalities and individuals for ecologically and economically sane projects. I fear the current policy will just weaken the euro without lifting growth to a much higher level.

"Evil" is hard to operationalize, as it is both subjective and situational. The monasteries built in the forests of Switzerland in the first millennium restarted economic development after the Roman collapse. By the high medieval period they had become a burden. Was Henry VIII's liquidation of monasteries good or evil? He broke thousands of contracts (some of the wealth of the church was given in exchange for reading perpetual mass for the soul of the benefactors). My opinion is that religion should be a pure private matter without any public privileges. Most religions,however, want to control also the behavior of others. The modern state should accommodate harmless behaviors but be firm in others. Given the ubiquity of rivers and lakes in Switzerland, everybody should be taught to swim. Likewise with the anti-vaccination nuts in the United States that have revived measles.

I have started reading the impressive Guantanamo Diary. Some of it just leaves me speechless about the utter stupidity of totalitarian systems. A Forrest Gump-like "guilty by association" person is still kept behind bars at Guantanamo simply because it would make the United States and its allies look bad and reveal both moronic and sadistic behavior. It is probably one of Obama's worst decisions to stand with the torturers instead of ending Bush's mess.

Oostende mostly lacked the population and enlightened bourgeoisie to effect a take-off.

Import/Export is the worst of his films I have seen. I don't think he even tries to document reality. It is closer to a form of shock theater performance about the ugly aspects of life.

The big difference between old and modern pictures from the United States are the lean people then and the fat and obese ones in the present (27 % of Americans are obese - by their own self assessment). You are probably already aware about the pictures taken by Vivian Mayer, a documentary about her has been nominated for the Oscars.

Flights between Vienna and Bratislava have been delayed to late summer as demand will only pick up when Slovakia takes over the EU council presidency. There is currently no direct flight between Bratislava and Brussels and without an additional stop in Vienna, the plane is unlikely to be full. Bratislava to Vienna would be the ideal candidate for a high speed rail connection. Politics unfortunately prevents this. The EU is too weak to knock the Viennese, Lower Austrian and Slovakian heads together. It took 5-10 years to complete a bicycle bridge across the March border river and the Slovakian bicycle paths can only be labeled "adventurous".

Alain de Botton has found his medium. His YouTube clips are quite nicely done, e.g. the latest about How to Make an Attractive City which rehashes some of the findings of Christoph Alexander. Or the remedial public service announcement for Americans and some Englishmen: How to Improve Capitalism.

feb 5, 2015, 5:16pm

A short detour to Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City. I quite liked Russell Shorto's earlier history of Dutch New York/Amsterdam. This book is not quite as enjoyable as it suffers from the difficulty of separating the history of Amsterdam from Dutch history. Just as histories of Paris tend to turn into histories of France, the focus is constantly shifting. The French/Burgundian history is barely covered thus the huge shift north in both population increase and wealth from the Southern to the Northern Low Countries remains unexplained apart from the religious effect. Michael North's short Geschichte der Niederlande provides a bit more background information.

Secondly, Shorto's book is trying to fit Amsterdam's history into a US-centered neoliberal framework which is a big no-no for historians as people in the past were naturally unaware about future events. His framing also breaks down repeatedly as those liberal and tolerant Amsterdammers then kill and burn heretics and those freedom-loving New Amsterdammers rely on slave labor (which he does not mention). The curious mixture of US conservative and neoliberal ideas taints the book and is probably not necessary to explain the country to Americans. It also causes a strange double-take of the best country (USA! USA!) with an even better system (Amsterdam) if that system were in some aspects closer to the US system. Bloomberg New York with pot and bikes.

The book's great discovery were Spinoza and Jan van der Heyden. Shorto calls the latter a Dutch Leonardo, while I think he is closer to Benjamin Franklin, creating street lighting and fire brigade systems. Incidentally, it took until 1800 and a French invasion, to get Zurich to adopt street lighting.

In other news, Reza Aslan's Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth does not really offer much new stuff for those who have seen Life of Brian but is a brisk fun read about the era.

As The Secret History of Wonder Woman mentioned the 1914 suffragette attack on the Rokeby Venus that is currently here in the KHM Velasquez exhibition I took a closer look at her backside but the damage caused has been very well restored and barely noticeable.

The BBC's Wolf Hall is nice to watch in terms of accurate historical costumes and props, though it lacks action. Thomas Cromwell as the viewer/reader's stand-in is too passive and meek (compared to the real power broker).

Redigerat: feb 8, 2015, 7:00am

I never had the idea that Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City was an interesting book to read. The comparison to America on the back gave me the idea that it was a book targetting the tourist market. And it seems a bit odd to compare a city of 200-750 thousand to a country of 350 million. Also, almost all improvements Dutch society came up with were incremental, and that makes any claims in terms of “most” and “best” something that sounds first and foremost… American. But there are other arguments: some of the post-war liberalisations are becoming more and more debatable: regulating prostitution proves difficult with Europe’s open borders (attracts human trafficking and loads of tourists), regulated soft drugs attracts hordes of tourists (”if you’re lying dead drunk in the gutter wearing a tutu, you just aren’t a nice guest in Amsterdam”), etc. I think only gay marriage is commonly accepted as something positive among mainstream society. That you were not aware of Spinoza surprises me. Jan van der Heyden was indeed a reasonably interesting character, but his age was still full of such “Renaissance men”. It must have been an exciting time to live in. There were lots of scientific and geographical discoveries made and cities were small enough to meet the discoverers and get a first-hand explanation if you lived in Amsterdam, London or Paris. Plus science was still so simple that it seemed reasonably feasible that you could make interesting discoveries even if you did it besides your job. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek is another interesting example in this case: a draper, tradesman, politician, optician and biologist, all in one life. It is envious making.

Coming back to the acceptance of gay marriage, it is interesting to see the areas of Dutch society were acceptance is low: conservative Jews, conservative Calvinists, Muslim minorities. It is one aspect why I think that the average Jan thinks religion brings more evil than good. Ever a country of compromises, for a while some rural areas had so called weigerambtenaren, who refused to register homosexual marriages because of religious grounds. This right to refuse has since been revoked. Practicing, church/mosque/synagogue/temple visiting folks are rapidly aging and the knowledge of religion is quickly fading into obscurity. The average Dutchman mainly reads about sexual abuse in the catholic church (some 800 priests were registered by the commission that investigated the matter), Calvinists who don’t inoculate their children, an orthodox rebbe wanted by Israel for sexual abuse, whose followers camped in playgrounds, cross streets without looking left or right, etc., Muslims that hassle women in miniskirts and in the most extreme case want to throw bombs. If you take a legal perspective, the basic right to practice your religion clashes more and more with rights of equal treatment, and the latter are dominating society in most European countries. You are right to say that religion once played an important role in the development of science and art, but it seems an outlived concept nowadays (Arvo Part’s music being a notable exception). One positive aspect of Christianity is still its willingness to help the poor. One of my Indonesian friends collects money and goods for an orphanage in her home town. In her own country s he is regularly asked if she is Christian. She is not, she is a Muslim. But it is striking: if you want a mosque with noisy loudspeakers, there is plenty of funding from the Middle East. But to improve the lives of the people in other ways, you always get the cold shoulder.

America is different here, particularly in the sweet water states, but really almost everywhere, and your compatriot Robert Frank shows that much better than Vivian Mayer. Surely, Vivian Mayer shot some nice photographs, but she was nowhere near as original or influential as Robert Frank. Vivian Mayer is mainly an interesting case in how a single person can still create a global hype in the art world. Frank, a buddy of Jack Kerouac, showed America that it was a much grittier place than its self-image. Frank did so in a new visual language that we now take for granted. Obesity is indeed mostly absent in his images, but what surprises me is how much landscapes and people still look stuck in the 1950’s. You see the same cheap construction in buildings and quite often the same shabby clothes.

Thanks for the Alain de Botton videos. There was little news in his video about capitalism, except maybe a somewhat dubious selection of statistics. But the video about making attractive cities gave me the shocking realisation that I am an utter barbarian. We have a suburb here in the old docklands that more or less tries to follow these rules, and I still consider it utterly dull. Hong Kong however, or certain parts of Tokyo or Bangkok are far more to my liking. Said more eloquently:

Since the triumph of the market economy in the late 1970s, architecture no longer expresses public values but instead the values of the private sector. It is in fact a regime – the ¥€$ regime – and it has invaded every domain, whether we want it or not. This regime has had a very big impact on cities and the way we understand cities. With safety and security as selling points, the city has become vastly less adventurous and more predictable. To compound the situation, when the market economy took hold at the end of the 1970s, architects stopped writing manifestos. We stopped thinking about the city at the exact moment of the explosion in urban substance in the developing world. The city triumphed at the very moment that thinking about the city stopped. The “smart” city has stepped into that vacuum. But being commercial corporations, your work is changing the notion of the city itself. Maybe it is no coincidence that “liveable” – flat – cities like Vancouver, Melbourne and even Perth are replacing traditional metropolises in our imaginary.

Direct flights between Bratislava and Brussels seems more like a nice daydream for a bureaucrat, but will never be economical. Brussels airport is a charming little place. Two of Europe’s five largest airport are within two hours distance with excellent rail connections to the city. Why fly to number 23?

I found your remark that “the EU (and Euroland) transformed itself from a rich country club to a collection of mostly mid-level countries” quite interesting. But is it true? The part of mid-level countries certainly is, if you consider the expansion of the core club, first with the former Mediterranean dictatorships and later with former Warsaw Pact countries. Most of the former Warsaw Pact countries are not yet part of Euroland however. It depends a bit if you consider Spain a rich country or a mid-level country, so let us leave that one out of the equation for a moment, as we do with insignificant places like Malta or Cyprus. Then the weakest countries in Euroland are Italy and France, both original members of the European Coal and Steel Community and much more important economically than Ireland, Portugal and Greece. If Italy and France would have their house in order, their purchasing power combined with Germany’s would probably solve most problems except Greece’s rather easily. You could of course argue that Italy should never have been part of Euroland, just like Greece. Italy's political structure makes reforms nigh impossible. There was an interesting article by Michael Pettis that looks at Euroland’s problems more or less like Robin Fransman. Maybe I should read Mr. Pettis’ book too. In a clarification to parliament the president of the central bank explained that QE1 may increase inflation with 50 basis points, and 1.1 trillion a rather high price to pay for this. In the wake of the fall of the euro, we saw the price of petrol increase already. So far QE works as a transfer from consumers, who pay more for oil, to exporters, who do pretty well on a pan-European scale. Not good news for the indebted countries that need increasing consumption. Let us see what it brings for the debtors' cartel of Latin states and like-minded states .

Velazquez is a wonderful painter. Unfortunately, there aren’t any of his paintings in the Netherlands. I mainly see them on trips and then in top museums, when his works compete for my time with other great works. You are a lucky man living in Vienna.

feb 9, 2015, 1:12pm

Ah, I forgot to address the theme cinema. The Michiel de Ruyter biopic is out in the theatres after mixed reviews. What I recall is that the budget of 8 million for the film, already risky for an historical subject in a small country, isn't really enough to make varied, high quality action scenes. But you may enjoy it still for the values it promotes. Supposedly, the admiral's cozy family life is juxtaposed to the poof prince Billy and king James with his many harlots. And it promotes trade as a key Dutch value. Patriotism is what we need!

I have only seen two of Ulrich Seidl's films, Import/Export and Hundstage, both a few years ago. The characters in both films seemed like losers, with a nagging lady in Hundstage. It somehow fits Vienna. Equally, Import/Export brings together some sub-stories about the early period after the implosion of the Soviet Union that seemed feasible to me. They are just concentrated in two persons, which creates a certain hyperbole and a bleak one at that. Maybe I should view it again.

feb 10, 2015, 4:03pm

As far as Seidl and his colleagues' work is based on reality, it is often itself based on exploitation as his subjects fail to realize that they put their self-destructive behavior on public display and up for public ridicule. In contrast to the rich exhibitionists (Hiltons, Kardashians), the poor protagonists receive little to no compensation for their participation. If you haven't seen it yet, watch Mr. Turner instead which highlights 19th century British social structures.

Sad to hear that about Michiel de Ruyter. This makes an Austrian film start rather unlikely. Given that 1 hour episode of Games of Thrones used to be budgeted at 1 million USD, 8 millions should have been sufficient to produce some nice scenes. Modern directors unfortunately often over-do scenes and fill them up with extras (the George Lucas effect) instead of focusing on the hero and the drama.

Spinoza-wise, he was sandwiched between the more important Descartes and Leibniz and slotted into the Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer weirdo category with limited impact. It is funny that Spinoza's life completely destroys Shorto's liberal and tolerant city claim. He was driven out of Amsterdam (by multiple constituencies) and lived in smaller more tolerant places. That he earned his upkeep and ruined his health by grinding lenses for Huygens shows how small the world was then.

David Graeber has a new book(let) out: The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy. I don't believe that the hyped claims about today's overwhelming bureaucracy is actually true. We have long passed peak-bureaucracy. Switzerland, for instance, abolished its census as they already keep complete records and supplement it with micro-census data. You also no longer have to fill in forms in triplicate. When I arrived here in Vienna, my Meldezettel (resident permit stamped with a big red "Ausländer" warning) was issued with 6 copies. Four copies were sent somewhere in the administration while I kept the original and an attached copy (for purposes unknown to me).

We live in the Big Data era with indirect data collection, e.g. instead of filling in tedious forms, your home address (and thus your socio-economic environment) is used as the best predictor for your creditworthiness. Knowledge is often indirectly inferred not collected, e.g. the United States sent some to be tortured by their Middle Eastern allies only because the name of an innocent victim matched that of a terrorist.

As you mentioned airports, one of the Guantanamo torturers now plies his trade at O'Hare airport. While not particularly efficient, Brussels airport is quite nice and not one of the big monsters (London, CDG, Frankfurt) where transfers are a real pain and can end up in exhaustive foot races spiced up with security checks. When I flew to Edinburgh via London, I had to go through passport and customs check before boarding my domestic flight. Unfortunately, a plane full of Indians had just arrived and were absorbing the system's capacity so that I nearly missed my connection. Smaller airports are usually much nicer (except when shops and coffee shops are already closed in the evening or the weekend).

If the Netherlands had stayed within the Spanish Habsburg Empire, you'd have received some of Velasquez' court paintings at no charge. Given that their was no chance of marriage alliances, sending portraits to the Netherlands was quite pointless. A bit of Dutch blood might have prevented the Spanish Habsburg's rapid genetic decay. After the blockbusters of last year (Miro, Velasquez), cultural austerity will hit the exhibition circus this year. There are no blockbusters on the program. The commemorative exhibitions about 150 years of the Ringstrasse and the Congress of Vienna will not cost much as the objects are local and insurance cheap. Thus, Albertina features Cézanne and Degas drawings from the collection of the Musée d'Orsay (that have been relegated to the archives there) while KHM will put Albrecht Altdorfer on display.

Among the small discoveries is the ending exhibition about a Dutch-Swedish baroque painter, Martin van Meytens (the younger) who painted a nice portrait of the precocious 12 year old Marie Antoinette in whole cycle of archduchess portraits. Moonlighting, he produced also typically baroque but less official works such as the following double portrait of a nun - at a time when Maria Theresia persecuted both Jews and protestants.

I finally managed to have a look at Vienna's Madame Tussaud's which is still lagging far behind London in scope. At 30 GBP (to Vienna's still pricey 18 EUR given the limited number of figures), the London Tussaud's is a tourist trap. The Viennese/Austrian history section is rather small: FJII + Sisi, Maria Theresia, Figl + Raab, Kreisky, a bad Napoleon - and, an odd choice, Anne Frank. Vienna has no shortage of persecuted and murdered Jews of its own, but Madame Tussaud's is in the entertainment business. I did not know/notice that it has franchised out into many major cities all over the world in a McDonald's inspired global mix with a bit of local touch.

Taking a virtual walk through Java-eiland, it looks like a modern take on the fortress-like Gemeindebauten in Vienna. Christopher Alexander would say that it lacked an organic center out of which the structures grow. These are bland machines-à-dormir. They missed the chance of creating lovely public squares people like to stay in instead of rushing home.

Redigerat: feb 23, 2015, 1:26am

Despite some negative critiques, others liked the Michiel de Ruyter biopic. The advertisement in yesterday's newspaper claimed 400,000 visitors. Further on film, I did not realise that Ulrich Seidl used amateur actors. Still, you might proof to be a bit old-fashioned in your opinion about "exploitation" in the age of reality television.

Maybe times change a bit slower in Dreivieteltakt. My first reaction when I saw the Martin van Meytens painting was that I asked myself how many young Dutchmen would still understand this picture. I suppose quite a few will think it depicts some Turkish or Moroccan immigrants spicing up their marriage in a windy suburb. I had never heard of Van Meytens. Amsterdam has a large number of streets named after painters, but none bears his name. 18th-century art is not very popular here, although that "Wedding Supper" seems quite okay, particularly compared to the portrait of the queen of cakes. Scenes like the one depicting the nun used to be popular before and during the Reformation. Haarlem's Frans Hals Museum has a few works depicting such scenes, e.g. here and here. In Catholic lands the popularity of such portraits seems to have endured. Again, I find the link with Islam striking. In Indonesia, I was first surprised by the popularity of the Arab word munafik (hypocrite) among followers of Islam, until I learned that it is a religion of endless rules. You may find this description of a very "modern" form of Islam an interesting read for your Sunday evening. It seems that the Austrian court was more flexible for Protestants they found useful. The German lemma for Van Meytens states that he remained a protestant all his life (and a "bachelor", so modern prejudice says that he probably knew a few monks in the Biblical sense). I suppose the Van Swietens were also Dutch reformed or lutheran.

I always find blockbusters a mixed blessing. Yes, they give you the opportunity to see art works that otherwise would cost an expensive around-Europe-and-the-US ticket, but they also create endless crowds. What fun is it to queue for a painting? Here we still have blockbusters, e.g. Mark Rothko in the Hague and the Late Rembrandt in Amsterdam. Later we shall also get a Matisse exhibiton, but I have no idea if that will qualify as a blockbuster. I have skipped Mark Rothko, but I shall grudgingly go to view the Rembrandts. I think they allow double the number of visitors in Amsterdam compared to London. I hope it won't be as bad as a visit to Madam Tussaud, which its ugly statues overlooking the city's main square and screaming that this is a tourist trap (but tourists mostly don't care about where they are anyway). Filling a Viennese branche must be difficult indeed. There are few modern Austrians that are world-famous. At least Holland has royalty and football players. But Austria? Nikki Lauda and Ernst Happel are the names that I could come up with. But they should have an interesting Sigmund Freud depiction, I suppose.

I clearly recognise the growing bureaucracy in our society. I use a different definition of bureaucracy than filling in multiple copies of K und K forms, however. I blame standards set by globalisation and automation as well as the rise parasitic consultancy businesses. The welfare state surely plays a role too.

I experience this bureaucratisation mostly in the office. Our IT-department used to be a reasonable provider of systems and services, until new management came in and invited one of these famous international consultants. They of course claimed management was not "in control" and prescribed "procedures" monitored via "dashboards". The cool thing is that you can charge quite a good fee for such consultancy and only need some freshly graduated staff to do the work. They also advised new systems that have led to strongly increased costs. Users complain and try to arrange things themselves with outside providers, but management only sees the green coloured dashboards. What is worse is that a growing number of new staff is hired that loves this. Freshly out of school and university they are cheap, but lack any form of craftsmanship. Instead of analysing a problem and thinking up the fastest way to get to the solution, they now discuss what procedure to follow, because "if you follow the procedure things cannot go wrong". Simple operational responsibilities and tasks that were once described on a one pager now require 37 page process manuals and a monthly dashboard to "stay in control".

My contacts with the authorities show the same symptoms of ever increasing bureaucracy. Amsterdam real estate prices went up 6%, but the city estimated the value of my flat 35% higher than last year. This is the basis for various taxes, so now I need to file a complaint again. The basis for their estimation are some houses within a 1 km distance, but how can you compare that in an area where some houses are brand new and others 300 years old? Another wonderful new invention is the energy label now required for houses. It is mandatory to have this when you sell your house so as to "raise energy awareness". You would think that this automatically applies in a land with the highest taxes on petrol, gas and electricity, but there is always room for improvement, of course. No surprises that the label costs money for a "consult" to obtain. This also applies to various certifications that the coop needs to have and that are of dubious use. I shall soon become the manager of the finances of an ageing family member. This does not only mean that I need permission from the court for any payment of over 1,500 euro ("except for the use of paying taxes"), but also need to file a financial report on a yearly basis that summarises expenses in some 50 categories. It stops short of the requirement for a signed statement by a Big Four auditor. I can produce the report quite easily and understand the purpose, but what if you are a gardener trying to care for a family member? Or if you are a psychologist? I have years of writing management porn on my curriculum vitae, but others do not. Why does the government do this? Obviously to hedge the risk of abuse, but does a 50 category report really help here? Trust is replaced with bureaucracy, a trend you see everywhere in society and that gives consultants and bureaucrats an easy and safe income.

Lack of trust surely has to do with scale. Economies of scale are a strange phenomenon. There are huge diseconomies of scale when an organisation increases beyond the level where each staff's contribution becomes intangible. The longer I work the more I feel that the only real economy of scale is financing costs, particularly important in an era where Quantitative Easing is all the rage and CFO's "alllocate" millions around the globe on the basis of tax evasion rather than the availability of resources.

Game theory and (tax-)accounting are the most useful subjects you can teach in an MBA. Multinationals, large corporations and government organisations are excellent hide outs for people whose only craft is playing political games. Automation and "workflow management" have also created a new way of thinking. You just value the house and if its wrong, the owner complains, since you can tax him if he does not. No need to check if your new valuation makes any sense compared to last year. The project that created the systems for the valuation doubtlessly was already far over budget to include such checks. Control cycles are another such buzzword. Worst are the ones based upon questionnaires. The number of questionnaires one is asked to fill in is still increasing. I never do that. If the conclusion is "user satisfaction", it only leads to a higher bonus for the manager (not necessarily the staff), because he invented such a clever procedure. And if the conclusion is negative it only proofs that the manager is so much smarter than his clients/user, that he surely needs an extra bonus. There will always be a consultant that supplies you the necessary substantiation ("in which direction would you think we should look for a solution"). Various times I added remarks to such questionnaires, but I never received any feedback.

So I am sure that by now you can imagine that I am definitely going to read the new David Graeber, but I hope that his analysis is supported by at least an equal amount of metrics compared to ideology. Bureaucracy could mean the Untergang des Abendlandes in my humble opinion. I wonder for example if he will hold the welfare state accountable too. Ever more active media create ever more need for media time for politicians. Politicians need to proof that they are "on top of things" by demanding improvements and new rules. New rules create new procedures and data and new intrusions into our private lives.

On a different note, it seems that for the time being we can still pay our ouzo in euros for a few more months. My Twitter feed came up with this tweet about the pre- and post-bail out exposures. It seems the Germans were not as clever as they think. Certainly not as clever as the French.

feb 23, 2015, 6:31pm

Indeed, I find most reality TV abhorrent, grotesque and sad, as instead of celebrating the wonders and peculiarities of mankind in the manner of Studs Terkel and This American Life, the producers use and abuse their protagonists who do not quite realize that they are mostly exposed to public ridicule. Quality is expensive to produce while reality TV is dirt cheap and reliably produces the required eyeballs.

Martin van Meytens or in Dutch spelling that nobody else manages to pronounce correctly, van Mijtens is actually Flemish with little to no connection to the northern provinces. The Southern low countries were not a good place to be for protestants, so like some of my ancestors, these protestants packed their belongings and sought their fortunes elsewhere. As already his father had shifted his area of work to Sweden and Austria (while other family members produced for the English market), young Meytens lived an expat life. His paintings show that he had an eye for appreciating female beauty, thus I don't think that he was gay. He lived in era where artists were marginal servants to the wealthy. Haydn didn't marry either as musicians and painters were placed just a bit above actors and prostitutes on the social scale. Half a century later, Mozart and Beethoven still had to struggle to gain a social status. Only Liszt, Strauss, Wagner and Verdi managed to establish the artist as a star.

The Meytens exhibition, by the way, did not include his famous archiduchess portrait series I mentioned. Museal vanities and small-mindedness likely prevented the temporary transfer from Schönbrunn Palace to the Winterpalais. As van Meytens will not be showcased in Vienna for quite some time, it is sad to have such a major part of his work not included in the exhibition. Perhaps I have to buy one of the outrageous tourist trap tickets to Schönbrunn to see them there.

You linked to the same Rembrandt YT clip I wanted to select too. While I prefer Rembrandt to Rubens, I do not like his fifty shades of gold to brown. Vermeer's blues are more to my taste. What I love about Rembrandt are his drawings. He has such a strong clear line.

Timely to the discussion about bureaucracy, Alain de Botton presents a tame introduction to Max Weber. In German, there have been quite a number of new heavy biographies, one of which I should read but feel daunted by their size. Weber was such an interesting fellow and had such a fertile mind.

Your discussion made me think whether we will ever arrive in a post-bureaucratic age. We are currently still suffering from the failure of the "semantic web" to take off. Information is not yet productively linked. If I have a meeting planned in my agenda, Google? should automatically book driverless transport to the meeting and, in case of a traffic delay, inform the attendees about a late arrival. The "internet of things" is also promising much but tends to exploitation. Amazon, for instance, allows scheduled delivery of disposable products such as razor blades. Unfortunately, Amazon uses its leverage to sell at a higher price than the competition and blister packs are often priced at a higher per-blade mark-up than smaller packs (for once, the largest pack is indeed the cheapest at, but this is not usually the case.). Bureaucracy is often the result of a media or boundary break of information flow and clashing decision rules. APIs and intelligent bots will make our future lives much easier and bureaucracy will still be there but "under the hood".

HSBC with its origin in the Opium War continues to make news with being the bankers of druglords, gangsters and terrorists. Its current CEO has an interesting living and work arrangement. Officially a resident of Hong Kong, he is employed by HSBC Asia with its HQ in Amsterdam while working out of London. His money meanwhile resides in Panama and Switzerland (and probably some other places). This makes him unaccountable to almost everyone. One could turn the US motto around: No representation without taxation. The 1% paying fewer taxes as their secretaries (the Buffett rule) should be prohibited from making direct and indirect political contributions. When tax rates were set at a confiscatory level of 70-90%, some tax "minimization" was ethically justified. Today, however, the very rich pay little to no tax due to a truly perverse tax code.

While Vienna is currently battling against greedy lawyers and heirs who think they sold to cheap in the 1970s to keep Klimt's Beethoven frieze that would have crumbled to dust without the public money spent for its restoration, there is an interesting kitschy modern take for Vienna's themed Life Ball.

Finally, an interesting ad of a Chinese car company using the Swedish anthem. I love its line "Jag vet att Du är och Du blir vad Du var." (I know that you are and will be what you were.). Switzerland is currently running a contest to replace its awful anthem. My preference, though without any chance, would be the Beresinalied with its progression of sadness to joy (and sung by the Swiss soldiers during the retreat in the Russian campaign of 1812).

feb 24, 2015, 12:27pm

>32 jcbrunner:

What a splendid painting! *saving to naughty nuns file*

>34 jcbrunner:

the Beresinalied

Yes, beautiful sentiment. Probably too much rationality and not enough bombast to be anthem material.

>33 mercure:

Interesting what you say about bureaucracy. In countries like Greece and Italy, the public service sector may be the only one offering in quantity jobs with at least a semblance (or maybe "pretension to" is a better term) of middle-class dignity--white collar, secure, relatively well paid (relative, um, especially to unemployment). From a customer's point of view it's maddening, but if I were running a country, I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer ten clerks to every task, than eight of them festering in the twilight zone of un, under and mis-employment.

It's always the same question: are there too many people or too few jobs around? Should we aim to cull the job-seeking population somehow, or to provide jobs, even if they are partly (or largely) busywork? The latter may be interpreted as welfare, yes, but isn't its point preservation of peace and therefore, the survival of society? It could be more than that, it's also creating those blasted "consumers" capitalism can't live without. Where are Greek and Italian "consumers" going to come from, when barely a third of the total population works?

feb 24, 2015, 1:52pm

Perhaps you can swap pictures with Mitt Romney's binders full of women collection. In Europe, at least, nuns are dying off. In France, there were 50.000 nuns in 2000 and 29.000 nuns in 2011 (the French Catholic Church has no more recent update on its website). Austria does comparatively well with still 4000 nuns but an average age of nearly 70.

In other news, today I saw, for the first time, a woman wearing a brown burqa in my residential area in Vienna. Given Vienna's hosting both OPEC and UNO and a large Turkish community, seeing veiled women in the streets is a common sight. Passing a woman in a burqa in the street is a weird experience as there is no human part visible, not even the eyes. In contrast, a view on a 1910 unibrow in Iranian styling in the 20th century.

Paul Krugman on his blog and column pointed out the harsh statistics of stagnant to declining median wages for well educated people in the United States. There is no shortage in growth and wealth but there is a disparity in distribution and power.

Redigerat: mar 3, 2015, 4:01pm

Your ideas are firmly rooted in the 20th century, JC. Even your ideas about eye balls, I really wouldn't know if they still apply. I rarely watch television and certainly not reality TV, but I wonder if such programmes are still as grotesque as a decade ago. By far the most popular reality show here is Farmer Wants a Wife, which to my limited understanding should be a rather moderate subject. And this is the age of individualistic self expression, where you share your new tattoos with hundreds of people in your Facebook circle of friends and on Instagram for the rest of the world to admire. You just adjust your circle of friends to your favourite behavior. I also wonder how a country could select a national anthem nowadays. Interested commercial parties would definitely insist on "people's involvement" and a "democratic procedure", so I suppose it would be chosen in a variant on "Switzerland Has Got Talent" to find the song that has the "X-factor", or whatever they call it. I doubt if a song that sounds like this would make any chance. I suppose even the Appenzeller would want something more modern.

As for other forms of modernity, congratulations with seeing your first burka. Given that it took you so long to see one proofs that Vienna is still that same bastion of Christendom that it was in 1683. In Amsterdam, where Islam is the largest religion, I see them a few times a year on my strolls through cheap housing/immigrant areas. I always wonder if the women (or men, who knows) wearing them are recent converts or not. Burkas and chadors come from the Arabian Peninsula and West Asia, but fortunately not from the countries were most Muslim immigrants come from. I find them mostly irrelevant, because they are hardly popular. There might be about 10 people wearing them in Amsterdam. Compared to other claims of religious privilige (e.g. not willing to shake hands with women or unbelievers by civil servants, refusal to study the evolution theory in school or university, demands for female doctors in hospitals), they are not worth the time spent on them. And even that discussion has died down now.

So let us move over to art. It seems that painters and other artists had a far more privileged position in 17th century Amsterdam than in Vienna. They had their own guild, for example. Rembrandt had friends in high places and foreign dignitaries came to visit his workshop. Whether Van Meytens was gay is of course totally irrelevant, but an eye for female beauty is no argument in this, Mr. 20th Century: how many women just "luved" how Karl Lagerfeld, Gianni Versace or Yves Saint Laurent made them look. But turning back to Rembrandt, have his paintings been restored any time recently? Or do they still have old layers of varnish that make them look darker and browner than they were meant. Lots of 17th century art is much brighter after restoration to original colours. Which indeed means lots of yellow and gold and less brown than they used to have. Of course you may still prefer Vermeer's blue. I love Rembrandt for his way of using light and I take the brown for granted. And I love it how he used thick layers of paint to make his paintings three dimensional (although still not like Holland's most popular post-war painter). Rembrandt's drawings were nice, but I think I find his etchings even better.

Capitalism works best in Germany, Alain de Botton claims. Interesting. Nobody would have said that ten years ago. Anyway, for inspiration about an analysis of increasing bureaucracy I had been thinking of Norbert Elias, rather than Max Weber. Elias talks about European standards regarding violence, sexual behaviour, bodily functions, table manners and forms of speech were gradually transformed by increasing thresholds of shame and repugnance and internalised "self-restraint". Why not add risk avoidance as byproduct of our increasing wealth and welfare state? The welfare state is all about sharing and redistributing the risks of life and the wealthy have more to lose than the poor. We also invest loads of energy in protecting children from risks current grown-ups took for granted. America already had the first case where parents were fined for letting a nine year-old play outdoors unattended. If risk avoidance is increasingly internalised, then bureaucratic procedures with risks and mitigating measures are its logical consequence.

Besides short-sighted forms of cost reduction, the tendency to replace trust and craftsmanship with “Service Level Agreements” is at least partly a form of risk avoidance with horrific trade offs. One colleague of mine works for an international company. Changes to services take much longer after outsourcing, because every change needs extensive contacts with counterparties (sorry, “partners”) and checks with managers and lawyers to verify if they affect the SLA. This in itself costs money, but also affects company agility and alienates anyone with a getting-things-done mentality. Of course some manager must have received a bonus for designing this, doubtlessly advocating a cost reduction from moving jobs to areas with more competitive purchasing power parity data. Then the seagull moves on to the next project.

Filling in my tax form only consists of checking the data on-line that the tax office has collected from employers and banks. Then I authorise the state to take away all the money I toiled for from January until late May. Still, I hardly believe in a post-bureaucratic age with bureaucracy “under the hood”. The internet of things you talk about will not change bureaucracy, but just move it to different fields. You often see this with new information technology. Enterprise application software makes integrating systems and (parts of) business processes much more efficient. Hence it creates a new requirement of coordination, resource allocation and architectural design. Much of the gains of the software are lost in these new bureaucratic disciplines. Worse, the fact that the software is so efficient allows organisations to accept increasing sluggishness (and sloth) in these fields.

I think there are already enough of lolawalser’s “in quantity jobs” hidden in government and corporate bureaucracies. The greatest number of such jobs I ever saw was in Indonesia in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Every aisle in the supermarket had a bored but still super friendly salesgirl. These jobs have mostly disappeared with economic growth. It was a form of unemployment benefit, where the risk of unemployment was exchanged for ultra-low salaries and increased prices for consumers. This was however quite a benign form. It gets different if you want to give bureaucrats a sense of necessity. Then they start adding (electronic) forms, demanding more “source documents” and otherwise bother citizens. It increases costs for citizens, which could be considered a trade-off for peace in society. But it also reduces the ease of doing business, a creator of jobs. It also increases the opportunities for corruption, which is a social injustice and leads to misallocations. Greece and Italy are societies where the protection of some (or many, actually) have caused strongly negative effects for all others. How can you expect innovation in a country where the average age of a university professor is 63, as is the case in Italy? Greece and Italy fail, because they are not competitive. The only solution they have is to reduce their cost price of production, i.e. lower wages. Greece is now doing that the hard way, Italy and France are postponing this.

The fall in the number of middle income wage earners is indeed real and happening everywhere in the developed world. Automation and the internet are currently eating away many of the lower level service jobs, e.g. tellers and mortgage officers in banks or sales clerks in shops. It is worst in companies who do not apply modern technology or new business models. There is no escape from this. Improved taxation of higher incomes and corporates will help to reduce the tax burden on the middle classes and may even improve economic growth to some degree, but will not do away with these cause. Globalisation is another one, with service jobs following factory jobs to developing countries. India is not the only country where this happens: French companies have call centres in places like Morocco and Dutch companies in Suriname and South Africa. Call centre jobs could theoretically be protected, because they only affect the cost and price level in the country they are aiming at. So far, lower costs of call centres does not affect overall incomes in countries. But how would you do that, through licensing? That may help a bit, particularly in the generation of a new group of consultants that will help companies to circumvent the rules.

Redigerat: mar 5, 2015, 6:47pm

There were guilds in Vienna too in the 18th century but they were very restrictive (as newcomers who met the strict criteria had to buy into the era's social security system covering funerals, widows and orphans). Thus only about a third of artisans were members, another third were called "Störer" (intruders, interferer, disturber) and the rest were granted exception by the court. The Flemish and Italian painters were mostly part of the last group. The market thus was split.

Last Sunday, I was in Klosterneuburg monastery, Charles VI's unfinished Austrian Escorial after he had lost the struggle for the Spanish crown and had to make do with Vienna. As he stayed only two nights there and Maria Theresia preferred a more secular lifestyle at Schönbrunn, it was only a good investment in the spiritual sense of paying homage to the Babenberger saint and margrave Leopold. The house of Babenberg developed the border lands of Austria and gained independence from the Bavarians only to die out and be replaced by the Habsburgs.

The Habsburgs lacked a fine pedigree and thus were eager to adopt the Babenberg ancestry into their own. In the 15th century, they created a wonderful 8 m x 4 m painted pedigree of the Babenbergers whose history included not only noble deeds: Thus, one brother raped his sister-in-law while his brother was away. When the latter returned, he in turn raped his brother's wife. Curiously, the latter had to compensate the former as his crime of deliberation was considered worse than his brother's crime of passion. Family gatherings must have been rather awkward, though.

A millennium later and a continent further, the new BBC Storyville docu about rape in India is excellent and shocking: India's daughter. In it, they say that 250 of 800 Indian parliamentarians have open rape charges against them in stalled juridical proceedings. Even if some of them are used as a form of political defamation, it is a shockingly high number, given that these are actually charges set to be prosecuted. No wonder the Indian government does not want its own people to see this very powerful documentary. Has there been any era where social change has been pushed through on a global scale at such a rapid pace?

One battle in social change is about public and private data. Bruce Schneier's Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World is out - and David is unlikely to be winning. Collecting, processing and storing data has become just to cheap to effectively combat overreach.

In terms of e-government, I just completed my first e-vote transaction for which the Swiss government has designed a neat system with a paper-based security code that produces a pre-printed countercode to check that you are indeed communicating with the vote authority. The only thing you can't verify, is the tally of votes, i.e. that my vote are correctly stored and counted in the system. Hopefully, there are systems in place that check that the numbers and totals match. With the transfer to e-voting, another traditional social activity is transformed into a solitary computer transaction. While this helps to increase voter turnout, the feeling of political commitment and civic involvement does not feel the same.

Eugene Rogan whose book about the Arabs I quite liked has a new book coming out about The Fall of the Ottomans (1914-20) which covers the source of much of the troubles in the region. If only the decision-makers in the 1920s had been more enlightened. Then again, I would never have thought that politicians and economists would make the same mistakes as in 1929ff. It is sad what mankind could have done with all the capital spent in socializing the losses of the rich (even if it produces some comedy). In the latest instance of cleaning up the mess and corruption caused by the late Jörg Haider, Austria will have to absorb a further 7 billions of losses in the Hypo Alpe Adria disaster (even though it tries hard to get Bavaria to contribute about 2 billions). The sum is about equal to the proposed but pushed-back tax relief (actually just restoring inflation-triggered cold progression levels of the last decade).

While Vienna tops again the soccer mom's most livable city ranking, the rise of German cities is remarkable. Munich has become less provincial and is a great place to stay. I can't quite understand the attraction of Düsseldorf and Frankfurt but they offer an increasingly large numbers of expat jobs.

Delft's new railway station looks really nice. I really should have made a stop there during my trip from Rotterdam to the Hague and Amsterdam. Delft is in a great spot within easy distance of all three cities. It is truly remarkable how the city managed to preserve much of the Vermeer panorama, though probably easier in a backwater area.

In other Dutch news, this special Rembrandt viewing is a great if expensive send-off. For those who are able to enjoy Rembrandt for some time longer, there exists also the Simon Schama docu about the late R. In Brussels, meanwhile, Suleyman the Great has his own show (that will travel on to Cracow, and hopefully Vienna where much of the stuff of the exhibition comes from. In the mean time, we only get an appetizer.).

mar 8, 2015, 6:44pm

>37 mercure:

The welfare state is all about sharing and redistributing the risks of life and the wealthy have more to lose than the poor.

I'm not sure I understand the argument. What risks do you see as "shareable" with the poor? Any risk inherent in class status becomes automatically "shareable" on accessing that status, but not without it.

I'm also not sure whether it's true in every sense that the rich have "more to lose" than the poor. They have more things, but having more things (including more money) is also an insurance against loss, all kind of precariousness and danger. Losing a shack may cost less, in dollar terms, than losing a mansion, but in terms of existence the former could easily be worse.

mar 10, 2015, 5:35pm

>39 LolaWalser:

What risks do you see as "shareable" with the poor? Any risk inherent in class status becomes automatically "shareable" on accessing that status, but not without it. I'm also not sure whether it's true in every sense that the rich have "more to lose" than the poor.

You've got me, partially. Not so much about the "shareable" part, but about the obscenely rich. The risk sharing remarks are quite common in economic literature. How visible this is may depend a bit from country to country. Some countries have social security funds for specific purposes, but it works more or less the same if a country funds it all directly from government income. For me however it is easier to take the Dutch situation as a starting point. Here we have (or partially had) a few social security funds fully or mostly funded from specific taxes on labour income. These give income insurance to certain life events and work quite like insurances issued by insurance companies. E.g. we have a disability insurance that pays you an income in case you are considered fully unfit for any labour and cannot generate any income for yourself. Most people will not get into this situation but still pay for it. Hence, the risk is shared among the tax paying population. Equally, almost everybody here receives a government pension of 700-1050 euro per month from the age of 68 until death. Like a life insurance, a large part of the population could also safe for this itself, but you do not know at what age you will die and you do not know how much money you need to safe for this. The life insurance company or the government take over this "longevity risk" from you. This pillar one pension has interesting income redistribution effects. If it is paid for through charges to a fund, as used to be the case in Holland, it works as an income transfer from poor to rich and from men to women. The rich have a longer life expectancy than the poor and so do women compared to men. Given the difference in life expectancy these are serious income transfers. On the other hand, craftsmen ran a far greater risk of inability to earn an income, because of literally back breaking work. All in all, everybody wins some and loses some from all this mutual solidarity.

Of course the filthy rich do not need this protection. But few people are filthy rich, particularly not in countries like Holland with strong redistribution effects through taxation and a low gini coefficient (and now you know JCBrunner's little secret reason for living in Austria!).

One other great benefit for all is that social security is that you can carelessly buy a lot of books from your income. The most important reasons for an income shortfall are covered by the state, which is, at least in the short term, quite predictable. I would not want to be a Greek, now that the loony left government plunders social security coffers just to maintain face, but overall governments rarely go bankrupt and do not change the rules too often. But neither would I want to be dependent upon an American pension fund. Overall, middle income earners benefit in quite well from the welfare state, among others, because they are much smarter at exploiting some of its subsidies. Lower income earners may benefit somewhat more from tax dodging, but nowhere near as much as companies and their senior management (who call it "tax planning").

One other example: although the pillar two pension will be the most important source of income for the majority of the current working population, the 700-1,000 euro is still a serious source of income for most people when they have retired, not in the very least for middle income women who combined child rearing with part-time jobs. Holland is a champion in this field. Women here are not very ambitious.

And of course everybody profits from social calm (which is very good for business and bonuses!) and from the transfer of responsibility for family members to the state. Up until the 1950's people could sue their children if they would not give them income support when necessary, laws that still exist in places like Singapore and China.

Which they will have to do with the ageing of society. I am not going to get the care that the elderly here currently get, despite having paid for it most of my life. When I am old there are far too many people like me to pay for this. And the taxes I paid to support the current old folks reduced my opportunities to make the necessary savings myself.

Does this answer your question?

>38 jcbrunner:
I suppose you saw David Graeber's article in the Financial Times. Bureaucracy is all the fault of the Germans. And

The only real way to rid oneself of an established bureaucracy, according to Weber, is to simply kill them all, as Alaric the Goth did in Imperial Rome, or Genghis Khan in certain parts of the Middle East. Leave any significant number of functionaries alive and, within a few years, they will inevitably end up managing one’s kingdom.

I have not looked at my friendly neighbourhood bookstore if it already had his book, but I hope it is not full of ideological rhetoric.

E-voting here has ceased, because of data security risks. We now use a red pencil again. I am also quite weary about those lists of most livable cities. It seems about getting certain boxes ticked that meet certain enlightened middle class ideas. Getting stuck behind groups of blond school girls on my way to the office (these women can talk!), I am not at all happy with the popularity of cycling in Amsterdam. And I am also quite sure that a few people would rather live it up in Dubai.

Delft is really too small to make it to this list. You are right: it is a pity you did not visit this place already. First of all, that new station looks nice on the inside (except for the tunnel, which I have travelled through last Saturday, and the underground station is no match for even Pyongyang), but the new city hall on top of it seems an absolute eyesore. On the edge where the 17th century and the 19th century parts of the city meet, they have build another black glass box, personifying "transparency", a word so abused by 21st century bureaucracies and bureaucratic needs that no one even includes it in bullshit bingo anymore. At least on your Youtube film the black box contrasts with the surrounding brick stone buildings in a rather unpleasant way, if you ask me. Otherwise, Delft is a nice city, but firmly on the tourist trail nowadays. I do not know why Delft is particularly popular, but I suppose it has to do with Vermeer's fame and Delftware, and not with the local army museum. And although Delft houses one of the Dutch army museums, I suppose you would have preferred quieter Dordrecht or Leyden. Leyden houses Holalnd's oldest university and some museums related to it. These include an excellent antiquities collection, a museum with great science objects and soon Europe's first T-Rex, and lots more, all visible in quiet surroundings. Luckily, hardly anybody reads this conversation. This weekend I shall mingle with the hoi-polloi when I go to see the Late Rembrandt exhibition.

Redigerat: mar 10, 2015, 7:22pm

Yes, bureaucracy is German according to Graeber, that is way they use a French word for it - le bureau. The French learned from the Italians how to govern L'Etat and even the English adopted the practice - entrepreneurship and administration, thanks to French ingenuity. I have actually looked at and held in my hands hand-drawn forms for Radetzky's army in 1848. Some poor officer or orderly had to draw a new form every single day (until somebody developed the sharp idea to use printed forms).

The Intercept's scrolling page about US compensation events in Afghanistan offers a tragicomic glance at imperfect bureaucracy where identical case are treated unequally and where the level of compensation does not always seem rational (valuing one human life as highly as some goat or car parts: killed pregnant cow 674 USD, cracked windshield 874 USD, injured by US car 440 USD, killed cow 1264 USD, wife killed during US operation 1125 USD, run over and killed 5 year old daughter 20000 USD, ...).

Graeber's last book about debt has just been turned into a BBC Radio series. Robert Putnam, after the decline of social cohesion (bowling alone) and the state of religion (American Grace) has turned his glance towards Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis and learned that kids today live in a different world than he grew up in a white middle-class tiny city of 5.500 people and a Back to the Future Main Street USA. As he teaches at inequality central on the Charles, he might better educate some of his colleagues about the issues. Jill Lepore has a great article about US inequality in The New Yorker, so at least some at Harvard is learning.

Leiden sounds fun, another great stop for a NL tour. It already has an almost Austrian flag! And the Leiden jar. I did not know that Linnaeus published his works there in 1735 during his 3 years in the Dutch Republic.

Not a T-Rex fan. The acting range of its bigger colleague at the London National History Museum is severely limited. I prefer herbivorous dinosaurs - Stegosaurus, Triceratops or Brontosaurus. The concrete full scale model at the ecological show "Grün (19)80" in Basel which impressed me greatly has been replaced in 2005 by a Seismosaurus which later turned out to be just a larger Diplodocus. Concrete cantilevers are apparently not made for eternity (Falling Waters would also have fallen down without extensive restoration efforts).

The filthy rich have distributed their money all across the globe. Like the King of Spain, HSBC CEO not only stashed part of his money in Switzerland and Panama so that in case of an unlikely revolution, he could just take the chopper to the yacht and be gone. As the Dutch government just learned by having to return drug money to a drug lord in 2001, it is extremely difficult to trace laundered money back to its origins and owners. And when they manage to do so, as in the case of US HSBC, the money will have also bought good friends in office so that a naughty slap on the wrist is all the punishment they'll get (like the Dutch Greek general Betray-us). In Austria, the experts are displeased about the continued Greek corruption and have a hard time understanding why Austria should pay for the Greeks overpaying, e.g. some medical parts can be had in Austria for 200 EUR while the Greek government pays out 2000 EUR for the exact same product, just one of many easy savings that, for once, would hurt the deserving.

An interesting post on the FT blog about Engels' pause, wage stagnation from 1815 to 1850, as technological outran political change.

Redigerat: mar 13, 2015, 2:14pm

It seems the new David Graeber has still not arrived at my friendly neighbourhhood bookstore, which I like to support to keep our social infrastructure intact. It does already quote a price for the book, that isn’t altogether customer friendly, however. And if I compare it to it does not even have that much to do with the value of the liras, pardon euros, that I get paid my salary in. So today I am not going to read, but just sticking with admiring Super Mario Draghi for his bureaucratic ruthlessness: supposedly we Europeans can safely hide under the umbrella of a European Systemic Risk Board , that will spot future bubbles in financial markets. And guess who is the chairman of that institution? Yep, you guessed it right!: the man who is probably blowing this decade’s biggest bubble!

The prez of the central bank here, in some ways Super Mario’s subordinate, was again very critical about quantitative easing and warned against Mario’s bubble. It’s in Dutch, but you may find an interview with him here . As a foreigner you may ask yourself why you would be interested in what he says, but he stands for a new generation of Dutch economic bureaucrats that is rather different from the previous. Diplomatic, concealing language is no longer part of its skillset. Dijsselbloem, the head of the euro group, is the same. His doorstep interview sessions about Greece are a breath of fresh air if you were used to Juncker. They are factual and (mildly) nuanced. It just seems the world is not yet used to them. I had expected that from journalists that grew up in perfidious Albion, but even the schrofe Germans don’t like the Dieselboom.

The reasons for high Greek costs of medicines are easy to explain. And defended by that rock star bloke that now acts as Greece's finance minister “(Varoufakis: Because we’re dealing with a system of cronyism and corruption. That’s what we have to tackle. But, instead, we’re debating pharmacy opening times).” This article describes Greek health services as a “mafia of pharmacists and doctors”, all carefully protected by an all-regulating state. The result is that Greece has about 5 times as many pharmacists per capita as Switzerland. And they all need to eat, of course. Even if you consider this petty corruption, it seems easy enough to end such collusion. It makes healthcare costs cheaper for the population and gives an instant cash injection, just like lower oil prices. But maybe I forget something.

There seems to be a random factor in the compensation paid by the US military bureaucrats in Afghanistan, but maybe not as much as you think. I can imagine that the value of a pregnant cow is much higher than that of a wife or daughter. After all, daughters cost you a dowry and wives have little value in Afghanistan. They can cook and keep house, but in many areas they can hardly venture outdoors, let alone complement the family income. Consequently their value is very limited. When I roamed around the Omo Valley in Ethiopia in the 1990’s, some friendly gentlemen updated me about bride prices. They depended upon the beauty and the tribe of the woman in question. The tribe was seen as a proxy for a woman’s industriousness in the household. Such tribes were probably a tad more egalitarian than Afghanistan in terms of wives’ tasks and bride prices went from a few to about 10 cows (although a blonde would probably be worth nearly 100 hundred cows, “particularly if she’s fat”). Of course nowadays some women can also do the math.

Leiden must have been an excellent place for Linnaeus' interests. Leiden was an intellectual centre of the country that ran a successful global empire at the time with many mercator sapiens interested in moving science forward. Leiden was a city for rich kids, however, and Linnaeus got his doctorate in the quaint little town of Harderwijk (from where Arthur Rimbaud would later leave for the Indies). Harderwijk was much cheaper, but did not have a splendid reputation. Looking at Harderwijk's graduates in the Wikipedia lemma sort of convinces my prejudice that your alma mater does not really matter for accomplishing great things.

Also of interest in Leiden's museum Boerhave are the instruments of early 20th century Nobel Prize winners. They all look rather primitive by our standards, but were the result of a financial injection of the Dutch government into science. At that time a small country could still subsidise "big science" independently. Rather primitive looking machines could still accomplish a lot in our grandfathers' age.

mar 16, 2015, 6:30pm

I wonder how much they paid for the terrible stock photo images on the ESRB homepage ... How a compass should help in providing stability is not clear to me. A seismometer, for instance, would have made more sense.

The Wikipedia pictures about the exhibits in the Museum Boerhave look rather bare. I prefer technical museums that show and explain the machines and mechanisms like the Deutsches Museum in Munich or the Science Museum in London. Still, your link pushed me to read about the Van 't Hoff equation about entropy and energy in a system.

"Your alma mater does not really matter for accomplishing great things" is certainly true but without an ivy league alma mater in the US, the chances of tenure are small.

Yesterday, Varoufakis joined a German talk show in via satellite which did not go over well. Unfortunately, Europe is not ready for multilingual discussions. V.'s English was translated into German. The discussion would have benefited if the complete discussion would have been in English. The presence of a right-wing Bavarian CSU guy made a constructive discussion impossible but V. lacked answers to obvious questions about how he will tackle the tax evasion of the Greek plutocrats. German TV then used a childish clip of V. giving Germany the finger to distract from the real issues.

Europe as an insider party that cares little about the rest could be the title of the exhibition about the Congress of Vienna in the Vienna Belevedere Palace. The amount of gold kitsch produced for the event is stunning.

The somewhat unfortunately designed monument against fascism at Albertina has received a shocking but powerful improvement. The kneeling street-washing Jew statue is a bit difficult to read so that tourists often sat down to rest on the Jew's back what was quite contrary to the monument's intention (as are the often clueless tourists picknicking on the inscriptions of Sobibor etc on Judenplatz), so that they placed barbed wire on his back which kept the tourists off from the statue but destroyed the historical meaning. Now they have placed a video installation showing the actual event. The moving image of the gloating woman enjoying the degradation of the kneeling street-washing Jew is hard to forget. I wonder whether they have identified the woman.

In Monuments men, that cuts off way to soon, the Americans returning home with the job barely started and allowing the restoration of the stolen goods to be crippled, it is mentioned that the body of Frederick the Great was evacuated by the Nazis for safekeeping to Bad Aussee in Austria - a place Frederick didn't consider a likely home at all. Saddam Hussein's body meanwhile was evacuated too while his grave site was either destroyed by ISIS or Shia militia. Next week, England will rebury its wicked king Richard III while King John's tooth is on display in the Magna Carta exhibition.

This week I completed the outstanding 10 part MOOC China X. Each part awarded about 1500 certificates. I wonder how many collected all ten of them. 500? MOOCs are a great upgrade to the often too dumbed down TV documentaries. The multimedia approach allows for consumption at multiple speed and backing up statements with sources and further reading.

apr 23, 2015, 9:53am

Apologies for my delays in responding. One of the core reasons is that I am going to try to join the ranks of hopefuls who self-publish their own book. A bit of a hopeless action of course, but good fun. You learn on-the-job about editing, lay outs and bookmaking. And in my case it is for a good purpose. I am going to try to raise some money for a charity in the Philippines which supports the poor that were photographed in my book-to-be. The book will also contain a one page introduction to the area, including some facts from its history. It is a photo book, so words are necessarily short, but it was almost interesting to continue writing about certain political parallels between this country and its last coloniser.

In the early 1950’s, per capita GDP was almost as high in the Philippines as in Taiwan and Korea and about half of Japan’s. Nowadays the Philippines produce about a tenth of these countries, despite having a pretty good educational system and excellent English skills. The Philippines started to lag in the days of Marcos (the guy who paid Imelda’s shoe collection), after which economic and political power came increasingly into the hands of some 40 families. Hence it seems that in political terms, the Philippines is not such a laggard. The country was already the first with a modern revolution, when occupying the national television station was more important than military power. And these 40 families seem almost an abundance compared to the families that are said to be in pole position to supply the next president of the United States. Surely the staggering budget that it needs to be voted into office plays a role here. It really makes you hope the European Union will not integrate to become such an XXL state. The amount of money to be made by brokering things into someone’s direction in our modern law-based welfare states are recipes for corruption and other forms of sub-optimisation.

Corporations now spend about $2.6 billion a year on reported lobbying expenditures – more than the $2 billion we spend to fund the House ($1.16 billion) and Senate ($820 million).


Corporate America is buying a lot of talent with that $2.4 billion.

(love the discrepancy). It would be better to let every country sub-optimise to its own preference, while held in check by its neighbours.

Talking about Europe, it was a shock to learn that even ever so clever Swiss seem to run towards bankruptcy, or at least their pension system seems to:
Swiss pension schemes will be bankrupt within 10 years unless Switzerland’s government wins public support for a radical overhaul of the retirement system, experts have warned.
Now I understand why you have stayed in Vienna! It seems the Swiss have the same problem as the Dutch. Central bank wizardry may increase asset values, but your liabilities grow even faster. How much of that was myopia and how much is simply due to

Museum Boerhave is different from the Deutsches Museum. Museum Boerhave is a museum of the history of science, rather than a museum of how machines work. The one time I visited the Boerhave museum it was not particularly busy, particularly not with children. Amsterdam has such a museum. In the days before American business schools and European economics faculties introduced the concept of shareholder value, Philips used to have its own museum in this cool building, but alas, no more. The building last made the news as a location for a Kraftwerk concert.

Much busier than the Boerhave Museum was the Rembrandt exhibition in Amsterdam. The museum was so busy that it led to several complaints, but it will not change much. The director, who earns more than the public sector wage limit set by the prime minister’s salary, simply stated that if you want to see a Rembrandt in quiet, you should buy your own. Elite arrogance is not restricted to bankers. And I think I am going to give Matisse a miss.

Thanks for reminding me of MOOC. I should follow some of their lectures, although I am not really interested in certificates. Youtube and Vimeo have growing numbers of interesting documentaries and lectures too. They are serious competition to reading books, whereas watching television becomes more and more a matter for the elderly.

apr 23, 2015, 5:45pm

No worries. I too like to dabble in producing my photo books, though my snaps are charitable to look at and unlikely to raise any money. Professional book editing has seen a ridiculous increase in the division of labor: There is the German editor (who is actually the account executive who does not edit but commission the work), the German lector/corrector who does the intellectual editing/handling of the author(s), the Indian editing outsourcing services account manager and the Indian editing team who do the manual edits. Finally there is the German printer who supervises the Chinese who actually print the books. Edward Tufte's decision to self-publish his design books not only increased his control over quality but also made him a tidy sum of money.

The Philippines often serve as an example how Asia doesn't work in the recommended How Asia works (though for an old Asia hand, there won't be much that is truly new in it). His accounts of kleptocracy and nepotism are funny and extremely tragic at the same time. I still have a faint hope that the Americans demand novelty in the president and refuse the stale offering of the two familiar contenders. A closer look at where the millions of the Clintons have been coming from (cf. the new allegations about Uran pay for play) might torpedo her second running but risks another era of Bushian incompetence. During the first Gilded Age, the democratic system of the US was mostly gridlocked, says Eric Foner, so the US is just returning to what it used to be before the European follies of the 20th century.

German TV has produced a great and stylish report about the history of the Buchenwald concentration camp (unfortunately only in German).

New Zealand commemorates Churchill's folly, Gallipoli, with an outstanding exhibition with 4.5 m tall life-like figures and a 5000 miniatures piece diorama (all produced by director Peter Jackson). I'd love to see it. Austria meanwhile has decided to recognize the Armenian genocide by act of parliament which has enraged the Turks both in Austria and Ankara (recalling the ambassador for consultations). The level of bad faith argumentation from the Turkish side is astounding but no wonder as Austrian TV presented a few truly vile snippets from current Turkish school texts about the era. Indoctrination is easy in such a demographically young nation. As the great Austrian chancellor Bruno Kreisky said, "Learn more about history, young man", is as important as ever.

In Vienna, there are currently two great exhibitions that do just that, one about the neglected area of Galicia, Austria's "half-Asian" province at the end of the world combining the Polish areas around Cracow with the Ukrainian ones around Lviv/Lemberg. Control over the area even made Austria into the third largest oil producer before the First World War.

The other great exhibition presents the history of the Romani in Austria/Hungary. 10.000 of 12.000 Austrian Romani died during the Holocaust. Since the 1980s, Austria has made great progress in integrating the remaining Romani into society with development programs. One strange path to a successful integration was to "pass" under the radar as a Hungarian or Yugoslav foreigners. Much of the issue could have been solved by public assistance in the 19th century when the liberated former serfs were liberated but left out in the cold without money, property and education (similar to the failed post civil war reconstruction in the US). The European Union currently is trying to tackle a similar issue with the Romani in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania with rather mixed success.

Finally, Vienna has a new Austrian museum of literature (Literaturmuseum) in the former office of Austrian playwright Grillparzer. Literary museums can be dour places (such as Dublin's writer museum despite its great authors and characters!) but they have taken great care in producing attractive showcases and presenting surprising text snippets from known and unknown authors. They even have a cannon ball that landed in the archive during the 1848 revolution in Vienna. During this revolution, the war minister was lynched - as told in this ballad Moritat vom Kriegsminister Theodor Graf Baillet de Latour. Austria's current minister of defense has just used his chauffeured official limousine for a hare-brained private vacation trip to France. Oversight of the military bureaucracy has not improved over the centuries.

The Swiss pension system is not at risk in a pay as you go mode given that the Swiss population is said to grow from 7.5 to 11 million people in the next decades. While this would leave Switzerland still short of Asian city state densities, it would get more crowded in the third of the country that can actually be settled.

The weird economic policies of the European Union have constrained the investment universe of the Swiss pension system. There are hardly any real returns available for securities permitted by pension law. The best way would be to follow the Norwegians and create a sovereign investment fund with a global focus - though the constant appreciation of the Swiss Franc will be hard to beat without accepting huge risks. A win-win situation could be created by having the pension fund finance the necessary infrastructure investments necessary to accommodate the coming 4 million inhabitants (if this is politically feasible).

I currently enjoy a (very basic) introduction to linguistics Coursera MOOC by the University of Leiden. Human languages are weird and fascinating.

apr 30, 2015, 3:10pm

It seems even the process of making a book is now sliced into pieces that require cooperation across continents. Most curious seems the Indian editing of a text that I presume is in German. For my book I do everything myself, except printing, money collection and distribution, which is done in multiple locations around the world (US, Holland and Oz). And money collection hardly covers what is happening. Some 93% of the price will remain with the publisher. The other 6-7% goes to the charity. People who feel sorry for the people I photographed could better support the charity directly instead of buying into my vanity project. Although the quality of my photos seems quite okay. I showed some of them to the retired photo editor of a national newspaper here, and he said it was professional material that you could sell to a newspaper. I doubt that newspapers are still interested in photos of people living in a cemetery, because it contrasts quite dramatically with the pictures of wealthy baby boomer homes that normally illustrate the Saturday magazines (together with related advertisements). It seems wealthy baby boomers are among the last who want a dead tree delivered to their doorstep on a daily basis.

I had read two books by Joe Studwell, but I had missed the one you mentioned. Bill Gates’ glowing review (because Studwell’s text lacks subtlety) does not make me run to the bookstore for How Asia Works however. Explaining how Asia works is quite a chance from his gossipy but otherwise delightful book about Asian Godfathers.

Were do all these new Swiss taxpayers come from if the population is supposed to grow to 11 million people? What you want of course are net contributors to the state coffers, not net consumers. Consequently, I don’t think that Switzerland will volunteer to accept thousands of the people that set sail to Lampedusa these days. As far as I know, a large portion of immigrants nowadays are Germans. But finding good jobs at home should be no issue for Germans given its aging population. Low taxes are of course another matter, but that brings less money into the state coffers. And the Swiss National Bank no longer seems the reliable cash cow for cantons that it once was. 30 Billion in losses in one quarter is quite a lot of money. Luckily, a central bank cannot go bankrupt.

I think the weirdest constraint for the Swiss pension system seems to be the constraint set by Swiss law. Like American pension funds, Dutch pension funds invest in the complete universe of financial instruments, and they have done so quite successfully over long periods of time. Still, the weird policies of Draghi and his buddies are causing problems, because the value of liabilities has risen much faster than the value all those stocks, bonds, private equity investments, shopping malls, commodities and hedge fund style portfolios can generate (unless of course they had changed their interest rate hedging strategies in the early days of the crisis in 2008, which most did not; economic history is not a forte of Dutch university curriculae).

If the Austrians have successfully integrated the Roma/gypsies, then that would deserve a great compliment. It is one thing that the egalitarian Dutch welfare state is not good at. Even well educated immigrants still find it difficult to keep up with the Jansens career wise. Immigrants do strongly better, the closer their culture of origin is to Dutch culture. I think many other countries in Western Europe are not that different in this aspect. I once lived in a brutalist housing estate (and yes, I appreciated the architecture), where I did not even have a radio. When I wanted music, I just opened the my window for some salsa and other Caribbean sounds from my West Indies neighbours. Later on, they allocated two houses to gypsies. Their heavy handed Balkan sounds overpowered everything. Apart from their business of repairing cars in front of their doorstep, they seemed particularly busy with arguments and quarrels. Once I called the police when they were chasing each other with an ax. Not what you wanted in area where social structures were already weak.

maj 3, 2015, 5:32pm

The Indian book editing operation was a black box beyond an account manager able to write both English and German. I assume there will be a large team of different skill levels. To do many edits or better configuration, you do not need German language. As the publisher has the policy and engine to produce all formats (print, pdf, epubs, ibooks) out of a single master manuscript, a lot of manual customization has to make sure that the output works in all formats, e.g. the transformation of color to black and white produced badly legible gray scales and thus had to be re-calibrated or the resolution of the differently sized images has to be corrected - all tasks you need no language skills for and where the pay scale differential really pays off and you can scale up the task for fast parallel processing. Swissair used to have its accounting pre-processed in India for years for similar reasons.

A beautifully photographed tear-jerking photo story about plucky slum dwellers is actually something many magazines love as it makes their readers feel both better and concerned about the world. To promote your book, I'd consider doing just such a story in magazines in your target markets (US, Holland and Oz). Shipping books out of Holland seems to be extremely expensive (and people go to Germany to send their books into the world).

The new Swiss taxpayers in the German-speaking parts come from East Germany. Every year a small city of 50.000 quite qualified people moves from East Germany into Switzerland causing some of what has been called Dichtestress as Swiss infrastructure up to recently had not been planned for this huge expansion. There is actually a East to West migration conveyor belt going on: Ukrainians migrating into Poland, Poles moving into Germany, Germans moving into Switzerland. Perhaps the EU could settle Africans in the empty Ukraine to refill the population gaps there? The skill gap would be vastly smaller too.

Lifting the legal constraints of the Swiss pension system universe is probably unavoidable but very risky given how badly the near-government investors were burned in the last crisis. In Austria, the largest finance scandal of the republic is currently under discussion in parliament. The corruption and incompetence of the Jörg Haider dominated Hypolandesbank that used to do vanilla mortgages but expanded like a madman into swaps and investments in Eastern Europe. Because their basic banking system was unable to track their swaps and foreign real estate risk, it was decided to not track it at all. The people who pointed out this madness were either paid off with other jobs or sent packing. Deloitte showed courage - but its resistance collapsed after two days and what had been unacceptable was to be seen in compliance again. The number of people and institutions that averted their eyes from the burning trainwreck (that caused Austria's public debt to rise by % GDP) is breathtaking. As Carinthia is still on the hook for the liabilities of the Hypo Alpe Adria, the discussion is currently about how to avoid fiscal collapse of the Bundesland. The necessary savings naturally will hit the weakest most who in now way are responsible for the bad behavior of the local elite.

Meanwhile in Vienna, after the senior citizen of the SPÖ had their 1 May event, the much younger and much more engaged Turkish and Iranian communists marched on the Ring. Marching in Taksim square would be futile. Still, Erdogan and also Orban in Hungary are happy to see the opposition fragmented into tiny morsels.

The Viennese Ringstrasse is celebrating its 150th birthday this year with many upcoming exhibitions and a project to turn it into a more pedestrian area again. This will probably not work in most places as the Ringstrasse ownership graphic shows. Most of the buildings are owned by the government or corporations. In the evening, there are no attractors for the general public to go there. Therefore, there is not much traffic. Removing the cars, which would be nice, would not result in much additional pedestrian traffic. The sterile environment of luxury goods shops in Kohlmarkt has already deadened a formerly lively street near Graben. It used to have a book store with a very smart selection of titles - now replaced by a hand bag store for the filthy rich. One of the dead spaces on the Ringstrasse is the Saudi King Abdullah center for religious dialogue whereas dialogue means that Saudi Arabia is a cool place as whippings do not happen every Friday. Neither the Saudis nor Austria are happy with this institution solely created to provide a job for a former justice minister.

Have you seen the Asian and European city walking videos made by a walking Dutchman such as one about Amsterdam? It is more comfortable to use the YouTube interface to get an impression of the city than to use Google Streetview. Amsterdam is probably a bit cleaner than Vienna (though not as clean as Zurich), though there seems to be a big variance between different streets. Amsterdam seems to have much denser built up areas and less greenery than Vienna. Trees and green areas are concentrated around grachten and canals. There should be really a clean bike storage system. If cars can be stored in an automatic elevator system, the same should be possible for bikes. As these bikes clutter around attractors, these should be made responsible to provide bike storage too.

maj 18, 2015, 6:39pm

The UK election was quite a shock (similar to 2004 in the United States), even when taking the undemocratic FPTP system into account (that hands a majority of seats to 16% of the electorate or 24% of votes cast). The Conservative k.o. to the Lib Dems happened as expected (and had been previously executed twice in Germany and once in Austria): The Conservatives can take over most of the junior partner's vote if they manage to get the craven junior party leaders to agree on laws counter to that party's core values and promises.

The real trouble, however, was the absence of leadership shown by Ed Miliband who, like John Kerry, let himself be punched around by the press and the government. Excluding a SNP coalition government option to appease English nationalists was self-defeating, especially as he should have pointed out that Cameron had eviscerated his own smaller partner in government. I just hope that the same script of an uninspiring leadership will not lead to a Democratic defeat in 2016.

Like the US in 2004, the UK will now have to endure further Conservative mismanagement of the economy and cruel cuts in order to enrich Cameron's cronies. Like the Bourbons, they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing (see also the latest atrocity from Harvard's Laurence A. Tisch professor. That he does not know anything about economics should wonder no one but why would the Financial Times publish a piece that says in essence the economic version of that there is more light during the day than during the night?

Hersh's account of how Bin Laden was actually killed, once again shows the basic incompetence of the US media and the moral depravity of the US government. So Saudi Arabia paid either protection money or support to Pakistan to keep Osama out of US hands? And the dead Saudi king and great US ally receives a warm send-off from the US government while the Saudis continue to finance ISIS and other terrorists. Not providing support for hostile actions should be basic policy (like the German secret service should not have helped the US in spying on European companies and citizens.).

Yesterday, was the season finale of Mad Men which ended (SPOILER) with a 1971 Coke commercial where the identifiable youth of the world consists of 24 white faces and 8 ethnic ones but probably very progressive in the Southern city and Coca Cola HQ of Atlanta. Coke's globalization efforts often benefited from US wars and in 1971, the US was still exporting its message of love and harmony to Vietnam. Anyway, Mad Men was a great time machine of social history.

I've already praised elsewhere the excellent MOOC Lips and Teeth: Korea and China in Modern Times which fits nicely with my reading of a new book The China Mirage by the Flag of our Fathers author. It is interesting that FDR's Delano ancestor made his money in the opium trade. The US had a strange double policy of anti-Chinese policies and pogroms at home, combined with an idealistic missionary development policy abroad. This disconnect between domestic and foreign affairs seems to lead to the promotion of hucksters such as the Soong family and recently Ahmed Chalabi who are very presentable to US audiences but near strangers to their own people.

David McCullough's new book about the Wright brothers will be perfect summer reading. In his last book about Americans in Paris, he was a bit out of his familiar waters. This should be closer to what he does best, promoting the inventiveness and spirit of the United States.

maj 22, 2015, 6:46am

Apologies for being a bit slow in my response again. I spent some time in beautiful old Naples, a city that manages to defy many modern developments, particularly in the field of commercial exploitation by legitimate (big) business. Sometimes it feels like time travelling. Believe it or not, adolescent youth hanging around in the city’s picturesque Via Giovanni a Mare make circles around girls on their scooters, without ever looking at their smartphones. I even wondered if they had any. If am now looking for a good book about this city and its fascinating history. It may also be an idea to add parts of Italy to your “conveyor belt” plan for immigrants. It would be a kind of “handing back to the Saracens” areas that seem to function on a third-world level already. And Italy has the space for it: its birth rate is as low as its economic growth rate and its immigration policy does seem to be very successful. The rather large scale Chinese immigration does not seem to be much of an economic boost either. Most dabble in small shops that won’t generate the tax income the Italian state needs.

The Dutch have taken quite some time to open up their pension system to other asset classes. It seems their expertise has been sufficient to take on financial market exposures they can manage, unlike some banks, housing organisations and others. I suppose the niche of required business proficiency is quite specific in an asset management organisation. Keeping your pension managers at arm’s length from any government interference seems a no brainer to me. After all, it is deferred workers income, not taxes.

I think that if the Swiss would travel a bit more beyond their own mountain valleys, they could find an easy solution to house all these East Germans. Think China, that simply blasts mountains to create more land for housing. Or take a look at Hong Kong: it houses 7.2 million people on 1.100 km2. Switzerland has just 8 million people on 41K km2. Thanks to its architecture of density, most of Hong Kong land consist of national parks with excellent hiking. High real estate prices could also help move money out of the pockets of these East Germans and into the accounts of local tycoons, both through high land/flat rents, and through relatively expensive supermarkets (which the Swiss are already accustomed to anyway).

Equally, Vienna also has a golden opportunity to accommodate the tourism business while relieving the Kohlmarkt. As you said, locals have little reason to visit the Ringstraße, but its pompous buildings are an excellent setting for tourist attractions like high-end shopping malls, outlet centres and casinos. The Hofburg would make an excellent five-star hotel. And since many of our decisions are taken in Brussels, why do you need a parliament building anyway? Why don’t you transform it into a Vienna dungeon? A more entrepreneurial spirit can create extra income from and tourism and income tax!

The mess you saw in that video about Amsterdam was somewhat exceptional. The video was made on the day after King’s Day, the national holiday. The Dutch celebrate this by turning the city into one big “free market”, where everybody can sell anything in the street that is not food or alcohol. At the end of this carnival the city is usually a mess. Still, I doubt very much if Amsterdam is any cleaner than Vienna, let alone Zürich. Amsterdam’s 17th century centre is now packed 365 days a year. Most of these people come to have a good time, which does not necessarily mean that they care too much about using waste bins. Worst is Amsterdam’s venerable Vondelpark after a sunny day. Locals are as bad as tourists, with many stating that their parents pay enough taxes to clean up the mess they make. I cycle through the park to the office and often feel sorry for the cleaners. Amsterdam has indeed relatively few public greenery in its Medieval, 17th century and 19th century areas. This might be partly to blame on the city’s republican heritage. No kings lived here long enough to confiscate their palace gardens after a revolution. Amsterdam is a city made by man on peatlands, so there were no areas of natural beauty that you “automatically” wanted to preserve. Rather, it is expensive and labour intensive to create such a city of canals. Much of the greenery is (or was planned to be) in the gardens behind canal houses. If the elite wanted to flâner elsewhere, they used the city walls, whose defensive use quickly went into decay. But Amsterdam used to be greener. The city was planned to grow larger in the 17th century than was actually necessary after the Dutch Wars and the Peace of Utrecht. The land available on the eastern side of the city remained empty of houses and economic use and became a pleasure garden. Half of that garden still exists as the city’s zoo. Amsterdam’s modernist planners were very much aware of the lack of greenery. The post-war extensions, a poor era, saw the most extensive use of land in the city. On top of that, the planners reserved various green “fingers”, where parks and countryside hit upon the pre-war city. It never takes more than 20 minutes cycling from anywhere in the city to reach these areas.

The photos in my vanity project are not really tearjerkers. Most people look pretty confident, despite being poor. That makes Germany the best market for my photos. My photos are not sentimental enough to move Americans and otherwise only Germans seem somewhat interested in the Philippines. Few tourists visit this country. The Philippines lacks the feudal history of its neighbours, which translates into fewer sehenswürdige monuments (and whatever there was was often destroyed in WW2) and a rather dull cuisine for that part of the world. Books in Holland are indeed expensive. I doubt if that has to do with the costs of courier services that a global organisation like Blurb needs. I think it rather has to do with the relatively small a law-protected local language book market. It allows book shops and publishers a substantial mark-up for foreign language books.

I did not really follow the British elections, although I really hope that the Brits will stay in the EU. The Dutch perceive Britain as an important counterbalance against Franco-German Diktats and French-style government interference . Otherwise, the difference between Britain’s political parties might be smaller than election propaganda suggests. As I was taught decades ago through Modern Political Economy (Foundations of Modern Political Science), a two-party system should lead to convergence of programmes. After all, if you are on the left of centre you can win voters by moving to the right. Your counterparty on the right won’t move to the left of you, and so you meet in the middle. Or at least, that is how I recall it. In America this theory may no longer be fully applicable, because the parties’ nominee elections start in mostly ultra conservative states that hardly represent the national electorate. Success in these states does however influence candidate funding, which seems particularly a problem for the Republicans.

Equally, I do not really follow conspiracy theories, and Mr. Hersh account seemed just that to me. Although Saudi citizens may have loved Osama, I don’t think that love was shared by the Saudi government. Which does not mean that the last century of Turco-German-Franco-Anglo-American Middle East policies has not been rather messy, although we always got the oil we needed. I think that you can debate endlessly about the causes of the popularity of Wahhabism and other forms of Muslim orthodoxy. Those who blame it on the West only seem infected by the same crazy virus as socialists, neocons and the snake oil salesmen that call themselves HR-consultants (or HR business partner as I saw somewhere recently). Although such habits seem now quite the standard among modern masters of the universe:

A wife bonus, I was told, might be hammered out in a pre-nup or post-nup, and distributed on the basis of not only how well her husband’s fund had done but her own performance — how well she managed the home budget, whether the kids got into a “good” school — the same way their husbands were rewarded at investment banks.

I have just applied to follow your Korea course. It is a country I know very little about, although I have read the book of Hendrik Hamel, the first report written by a Westerner about the Hermit Kingdom. When I visited Korea, it seemed to me far more oriented on its former colonial master Japan than on China. Seoul looks far more like Tokyo than Beijing or Shanghai and if the Japanese invest heavily in cars or ship building, than the Koreans invest more. If the Japanese work hard, the Koreans work harder. It is the only place in the world where I saw people in a suit and tie in the metro on the weekend. You may also be filled with pride viewing some video infotainment about how influential Swiss boarding schools and Austrian architecture is in emerging Asia. Reading suffers from all those easy-to-watch videos.

maj 23, 2015, 10:56am

Italy is a weird disfunctional country. Its northern part is economically powerful with good infrastructure and buses and train that even (mostly) run on time - currently more so than the union strike-troubled Deutsche Bahn. I have written about my experience of Naples earlier in this thread. It was the first time I experienced the third world, the shocking poverty, the noise and the neglect and misallocation of resources.

What to do in Europe with all those unskilled young African men who arrive on its shores is the big question. Climate change and the still ongoing population growth makes this an important question to solve. The jobs that are plentiful in Europe for low-skilled workers (cleaning, care, gastronomy, retail) tend to be performed by women. In Switzerland, Tamil men have built up an excellent reputation for care, nursing and gastronomy (strangely combined with a high number of cases of intra-group violence). It is doubtful if the extremely traditional Muslim men can be successfully integrated without a deep makeover of their worldview. Europe should establish training stations in Turkey, Tunisia and Morocco (and perhaps in Egypt) where the candidates receive a basic assessment and education. There was a rather shocking interview with a Syrian refugee in Austria who only speaks Arabic, will not talk to any woman and hates the West. He is unlikely to integrate successfully and it would be better for him and Europe if he sought his fortune elsewhere. In contrast, they showed some men from Afghanistan refugees who already spoke a bit of German and were happy to pitch in and adapt to the new situation.

I read an excellent primer about a growing immigrant community in Vienna: Vienna Chinatown invisible. While it is not exactly surprising that there are more Chinese in Vienna than Swiss, it is amazing that there are now more Chinese in Vienna than Jews. Vienna currently does not have a proper "Chinatown" but a nucleus of a Chinese-dominated shopping street with eleven shops and a full range of professional services. 80% still are in the restaurant business of which there are about 1200 in Vienna (There are only 180 McDonald's in Austria). Recruiting from China has become more difficult, thus you see more and more Vietnamese and Thais working as waiters in Chinese restaurants. The Chinese community of 30.000 has created a complete support system (sometimes with competing Taiwanese institutions). Interestingly, the second or third generation Chinese most often understand, speak and read Chinese but lose the ability to write complex Chinese texts ("their syntax breaks down", as a local sinology professor called it).

The gods were in tears most of the week about the terrible music produced. From a touristic point of view, the weather could have been much nicer than the chilly rainy May the guests of the Eurovision Song Contest experience (also featured on Google's Doodle today).

Just before the Waterloo commemorations, I read a good intro book about next year's event, the Austrian-Prussian War of 1866, Bismarcks Kampf gegen Kaiser Franz Joseph Königgrätz und seine Folgen. I have not yet been to Königsgrätz or Hradec Kralove (just to Kolin and Kutna Hora). Bismarck was a masterful if evil gambler who took a large bundle of cash with him to Königgrätz in case his calculations turned out to be wrong. How he managed to align the intentions and actions of others to align just for one moment and then exploit it is incredible. Time and again, the Austrians, Bavarians, French and Italians acted in a way that made sense to them in the short run but benefited only Prussia in the long run. His successors, unfortunately, were not as apt in sustaining the spider's web.

Great timing was the main issue in the UK election, what the always perceptive Oxford professor Simon Wren-Lewis called "front-loaded austerity". The dirty secret of elections is to get the acceleration of economic growth just right. I remember a great lecture at the university of Zurich by Bruno S. Frey showing a slide of the pro-cyclical political actions to influence Israeli elections. Labour like the US Democrats unfortunately will conclude that success means adapting even more right-wing ideas instead of getting the median income to rise. Ed Miliband's former love Stephanie Flanders and another hack unfortunately prevented a great discussion between Martin Wolf and Thomas Piketty.

KHM Vienna has a fascinating exhibition about Coinage and Power in Ancient Israel. The website is probably better than the exhibition as these coins are tiny, tiny coins where you have to bend down to the display cabinet to have a closer look. Even the WiFi zoomed views on the smartphone are not as good as a full screen resolution. The Swiss National Museum offers a better solution by providing a full screen display to get a good look at the coins. This naturally only works if there are no crowds.

Anyway, it is really fascinating to consider what types of coins Jesus might have used in such a multi-coin environment. The 30 pieces of silver Judas received would probably weigh about a pound and be currently worth 250 USD today. Then, this would have been worth a lot more It is really fascinating that tiny amounts of metal were worth so much, even from a metal value point of view.

This coin features Anthony and Cleopatra, both well-equipped in the nose and chin department.

jun 2, 2015, 9:11am

The only legitimate function of the Eurovision Song Contest is that it proofs wrong that “East is East and West is West”. After all, the festival’s greatest fans seem to be in the former Soviet Union and its vicinity and among Western European gays. But since I belong to neither group, I can’t tell you anything about it. Life is too short to watch that nonsense.

So I have no idea how Switzerland did. I doubt if the Swiss singer(s) will ever be as beloved as Sepp Blatter, arguable your most famous compatriot du jour. More heart warming is the world’s surprise about Switzerland’s civilised ways when arresting the world’s rich or famous:

The hotel, which overlooks Lake Zurich, provided an unlikely setting for the apprehension of six global soccer executives who were arrested on corruption charges and now face extradition to the United States. The operation took less than two hours and was strikingly peaceful — no handcuffs, no guns drawn.

That seems a lot better than Austria, that seems to collect banking scandals by the dozens:

Consequently, as stated by the ÖNB in April this year, seven years after the 2008 crisis FX loans “continue to constitute a risk for households and for the stability of the Austrian financial system” – a risk well and clear in sight since Austria became one of the founding euro countries in 1999.

Front-loaded austerity, it is not a British monopoly. Rather, expect more to see of it in an environment with ever more political parties (e.g. in Germany). We see it here too. The Dutch coalition took a combination of useful and counterproductive austerity measures in the first two years after elections. The gamble is that the negative impact on employment and purchasing power will have dissipated by the time of the next election. This may work this time: the economy is picking up again and there is now more room for tax reductions and extra expenses. In the latest polls the government parties only have the support of some 30% of the electorate, so it is highly doubtful if the second part of the strategy, a return to popularity of the parties, will also work. Particularly Labour does very badly. Higher taxes and reduced welfare services was not what their voters had wanted. And with 150 seats in Parliament and no minimum threshold of 5% (like in Germany), there are plenty alternative parties to choose from. The rise of new parties, and some parties willingness to accommodate special interest groups also leads to a growing trend of MP’s leaving the parties they were elected for. This makes the whole political situation more unstable. You could also argue that frontloading unpopular measures is quite rational behaviour from both parties and politicians. After all, both’s primary purposes are to survive and prosper.

If Vienna has 30,000 Chinese, then it must be one of the largest Chinese communities in Europe. It is certainly far more than the few thousand Chinese you find in Holland’s major cities (which are less than half the size of Wasserkopf Vienna). Amsterdam’s Chinese community might be about the same size as its Jewish community, while Rotterdam’s Chinese community willingness is larger. Supposedly, there are some 70K Chinese in Holland, although that seems to exclude the substantial group of people coming from (former) colonies. Chinatowns may soon lose their appeal to tourists, since a “nucleus” of a Chinatown can be found in many secondary European cities (Antwerp, Marseille, Naples, Barcelona, to mention just a few). As far as I can tell there seem to be two types of Chinatowns. Some seem to be business and cultural centres for national or regional Chinese communities. Others seem to be hardcore business centres, mainly for textiles. Even Milan’s Chinatown hardly has restaurants. Apart from the odd triad murder the Chinese community here seems to function without many issues. The second generation studies hard and often escapes the restaurant business. Particularly women intermarry, but have fewer children than average. Chinese university graduates seem a good catch for ageing societies, albeit for just one generation. The small business traders from Wenzhou province you find everywhere in Italy may not be so useful given Europe’s demographic issues , but there children might be.

Africa’s lack of development is of course a great waste of talent for the world. I doubt however if the unskilled could be useful in the context of a welfare state under demographic pressure. Or at least the Dutch version of it. A single parent of two young children with an income before taxes of EUR 2,000 per month (i.e. below average) gets about EUR 2,000 in subsidies per month. This means that the income he earns after taxes is lower than what he gets in subsidies (which he mostly needs to spend on specific purposes, e.g. rent, the ridiculous costs of childcare, health insurance, etc.). such a society should only accept university graduates and labourers with specific skills. Or refugees, but only for humanitarian purposes. Giving unskilled African young men some training is not enough. Enough of them make it anyway. E.g. here in Amsterdam a large part of the dishes washed in restaurants is done by the well organised Ghanese community (churches are important nodes in their networks).

Redigerat: jun 2, 2015, 3:41pm

While also not part of either of your group, I think Eurovision is weird but one of the few venerable pan-European events Europe needs more of if it the ever closer union is to be achieved. The fun of Eurovision is the online meta discussion commenting on the commentators and protagonists. There is so much recent cultural history and also a showcase for Europe's soft power - Finland's Lordi and Austria's bearded Lady sending shock waves into reactionary countries.

The staying power of pocket villains is disappointing. Blatter no more. One week of real pressure and he is gone. This shows the real power in FIFA. As long as the corrupt peanut gallery restricted itself on receiving bribes and commands of the football big shots, the powerful and their sponsors did not care. Blatter's continuing support for Qatar broke the camel's back. Murdoch, Blatter and co. shows The "Law of Old Men" at work, outstaying their welcome. Der kleine Machiavelli that coined the law is a fun read if you ever come across it. The whole FIFA troubles also revealed that on average, the world is a very corrupt planet.

While the Swiss Francs FX loans in Austria are somewhat problematic, the real issue is not the currency but the underperformance of stock fonds. The model as sold relied on repaying the loan at end from the proceeds of the accumulated stock fonds. If stocks grow at 6% and interest paid is 3%, there exists a window of opportunity to repay the loan when the EUR CHF exchange rate is favorable - as long as the clientele is affluent enough to outlast temporary book losses. The other assumption that failed was a strong Euro that similar to the D-Mark would only slowly lose value to the Swiss Franc. As Austrian real estate has held up well in value, it is not yet a major problem.

The huge losses of the Austrian banks the Austrian government absorbed were caused by risky and shady investments in Eastern Europe. The banking and control systems in place were not suitable to manage such risks and the dangers of corruption and collusion. The main unsolved risk now are hidden losses from FX loans at the state and local level.

The Turks in Austria have up to now not been tempted much by ISIS (at least compared to Arabs, Afghanis and Chechens). Their authoritarian idol is Erdogan. Last week, there was a shocking revelation that 4% of Viennese 10-year-old school children are functionally illiterate and a quarter have serious reading deficiencies. As many young families settle in the suburbs (outside Vienna), half of Vienna's school children have a "migrant background". So a cup half empty/half full situation as half of these "migrant background" children have the necessary reading skills. Unfortunately, the other half does not, and a very large part of it has a Turkish background. The Chinese community is very open to education, the Turkish one unfortunately is not. Social change is hard work.

Meanwhile, I am enjoying Ian Mortimer's 1415, a chronological account of Henry V's Agincourt campaign based on English expense rolls. One could almost create work-breakdown-structures and Gantt charts as recruiting, supply and logistics require many month of preparation before the campaign start. Events at the Council of Constance are told as a sideshow. The upcoming 600th anniversary of the burning of Jan Hus on 6 July 1415 has not yet received much public attention.

The Swiss used the conflict between the Emperor and the duke of Austria caused by the flight from Constance of one of the three popes to conquer the Habsburg territory of Aargau which became the first province ruled/exploited jointly by the Confederates. It has been argued that this is the real beginning of Switzerland as hitherto it had been only a defensive alliance of independent cities and states. Now, they had a province to exploit that required joint governance. Aargau remained a province of the others until 1803 when Napoleon forced Switzerland into modernity and Aargau became a proper canton.

jun 2, 2015, 5:19pm

At least Mr. Blatter may improve America's self-esteem, at least in the eyes of my cartoon heroes tonight:

jun 2, 2015, 5:47pm

Funny but the wrong image for Blatter. He was aptly described as a Swiss hotel director or concierge acting on behalf of the corrupt national associations. The great task for FIFA is to find a new guy who looks clean and is still acceptable to the other crooks who elect him.

The wonderful website/app Duolingo has opened a new Esperanto course. What a weird language! It corrects much of the irregularities of Italian but then introduces German words (la hundo, la knabo), extra sexism (virino - woman, patrino - mother, knabino - girl) and weird special characters that only a Pole could love (ĉ, ĝ, ĥ, ĵ, ŝ, ŭ). Easy and complicated at the same time, perfect for the European Union.

jun 4, 2015, 9:20am

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story! I have to admit I did not pay any more attention to the Blatter case than to the Eurovision Song Contest. Given all the news about the world being on fire and my personal priorities, corruption in football seems no big deal. Who cares if Qatar bribes some Latin American officials? But you brought up a more interesting issue: isn’t a modern dictator quite like a Swiss hôtelier? The character of dictatorship has changed since the golden days of Brezhnev or Pinochet. Both of these men lived a rather comfortable life, but did not get filthy rich. Their children have no reputation as such. And neither did they care much about quasi democratic processes like elections, as long as there were enough labour camps or prison cells. Elsewhere, money already played a large role, think Soeharto or Marcos. Elections or public opinion were still relatively unimportant. But the world of Erdogan and Putin is different. Their own finances might be obscure, but their cronies are filthy rich (Erdogan’s success is based upon a collusion of politics and the construction business (see also here ): I would not be surprised if Turkey looks a lot more like Greece after Erdogan’s downfall). The main difference is the amount of manipulation they need to win elections. They take the democratic process seriously, albeit not as serious as the benign dictatorship of Singapore’s PAP. Erdogan’s latest PR-stunts now out-Putin the new czar of all Russians. While France blocks a two euro coin commemorating the battle of Waterloo, Erdogan reconquers Constantinople from the Greeks and calls for the conquest of al-Quds. Surely you chaps in Vienna were also shivering.

Despite all that rhetoric, I’d say that Turks identify themselves first as Turks, rather than as Muslims. This also makes them stick together more than members of other Muslim immigrant groups, and this fact is enthusiastically supported by the Turkish government. That only half of the group in Austria has the required literacy level does not seem a result that the government should be happy about. Surprisingly, I find it hard to find some Dutch data on this subject in a limited amount of time. Page 10 of this report shows the test results at the end of primary schools per major ethnicity. The Turks do worst of all, but they still score 60%, compared to 70% for the natives. You also see that smaller groups of non-Western immigrant children do better than large groups. It must have to do with the opportunities to stick together. There is a growing tendency towards “black” and “white” schools in cities like Amsterdam.

I knew you were a leftie, but an interest in Esperanto surprised me. I thought esperantists were a dying breed. To me, Esperanto seems the product of the bygone age of European imperialism: a mixture of European languages that would make the world a happier place fits an age when all the world except China, Japan and Thailand were dominated by European countries or, in the case of the Americas, had already adopted a European language. English has long replaced the need for Esperanto, although you see the odd use of French on Hong Kong driving licenses or in the sunset industry of postal services. And why a European language if we have Bahasa Indonesia is a fair candidate for a global language: a simple grammatical structure that you can further reduce to Bahasa pasar (bazar language), few funny vowels (in the days of SMS, Indonesians wrote words without vowels), no special characters, and a vocabulary that is for 90% a hotchpotch of Sanskrit, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, English and the odd word of Fukien Chinese. E.g. Indonesian has two words for marriage, “nikah”, which is Arabic, and “kawin”, which is Fukien. Unmarried relationships may be called by the Dutch word “samenleven” or the Malay “kumpul kerbau” (“living like the buffalos”). I cannot think of another language that beats that.

My reading is now getting competition from MOOC. Besides Korea, where I am still in week 2, I have just completed week 1 of the biology of ageing.

jun 4, 2015, 4:27pm

A leftie? What does this even mean, nowadays? My socio-liberal, ordo-liberal views place me among the bourgeoisie, good for 5% of total votes and thus no longer a relevant political force. Regarding Esperanto, I do not intend to deep into it (just completing the A2 course on Duolingo). While it is quite weird, it is not difficult to learn. In two weeks, I have amassed as many points in Esperanto as half a year in Turkish.

With 20% Dutch words, Bahasa Indonesia is even easier for you to learn (aardbei -> arbei or stroberi). Perhaps I will do so in the future but currently, there is no work I would want to read in that language. In Esperanto, I can at least browse in this scanned in 1906 Guide to the Bernese Mountain region.

The media in Germany, Austria and Switzerland were splattered with Blatter, so there was no escape. The new ultra corrupt US Santa Claus with his own Trump Tower apartment for his cats shows that the US establishment had been quite content to let the corruption and tax evasion slide. Perhaps Switzerland can return the FBI's favor for investigating corrupt FIFA by cleaning up the cronyism in the American Red Cross? The big truck that went by is a shocking account how the donations for Haiti were squandered by Westerners - with the Clintons and their pals in key roles.

1415 juxtaposes the two trials against antipope John XXIII and Jan Hus. The latter is presented in the book as a medieval Lawrence Lessig who thinks that corruption would stop if only the might learned more about it. The hypocrites judging poor Jan Hus know that they are equally guilty of the cleaned-up accusations they make to John XXIII:

"Pope John XXIII was and is a notorious simoniac, a notorious waster of the property and rights of the Roman and other churches, and of other pious institutions, and an evil administrator … By his detestable and dishonourable life and character he has notoriously scandalised the church of God and Christian people … Therefore, for these and other crimes … he deserves to be unseated, removed and deposed from the papacy and all administration, spiritual and temporal, as unworthy, unprofitable and dangerous."

The Council of Constance managed at least to end the schism and make a stab at cleaning up the Catholic Church but institutional forces proved stronger. Perhaps they could set up a new FIFA congress in Konstanz to mark the occasion - though the city is much too open. Better reuse the Bavarian hotel currently hosting the G7.

The population of Turkish migrants to the Netherlands are probably quite different from those in Germany and Austria. The latter two received immigrants from the most conservative and backward parts of Turkey. This continues to be a liability. An Austrian passport is a valuable commodity in Turkey, so that many Austro-Turks marry a bride from back home who is often barely literate. The key to a successful integration is educating the women/mothers. Unfortunately, the patriarchy is not enchanted by this idea. And the European Court for Human Rights has declared even minimal thresholds (such as knowing 200 words of German) to be too great a burden. The illiterate children who speak no language properly will continue to suffer until the modernizers among the Austro-Turks are willing to engage in a Kulturkampf for more women's rights. A vast majority of the Turkish community, however, are firmly in Erdogan's camp. It is harsh to see how Turkish secularism is slowly but relentlessly pushed back.

jun 21, 2015, 9:54am

Leftie... well, some of the political issues you care about (e.g. American hypocrisy) equal those of the left, I'd say. It's more about ethics than about economics. Otherwise, you seem certainly not profligate, but I would not expect that from a Swiss leftie anyway. Bourgeois, I would not mind being that, but I can't afford it. I do not run my own business with at least 10 staff and our tax system forces most of the middle class into a "bohemian" lifestyle at best. Sometimes I consider myself a hoofdarbeider. It is a long forgotten word, that I remembered when reading about Amsterdam's 1960's suburbs. These collections of rather small flats were built for handarbeiders and hoofdarbeiders, the first the craftsmen, the second the people who shifted papers in offices that looked quite like in the series Mad Men. The concept sounds almost German, but when I googled it, Handarbeiter and Kopfarbeiter did not seem to have been used in the German world, except for the German Democratic Republic. Somehow that seems to make a reintroduction of the word hoofdarbeider all the more relevant.

Yes, bahasa Indonesia has a lot of Dutch words, quite a few of which are quickly being replaced by American synonyms. Arbei is a good example in this case. Young Asians have little sense of history and like to be modern. I do not know about any other Asian languages, but in Indonesian linguistic fashions change quickly. The language is full of abbreviations, humorous word play and all kinds of modernisms. I find that fascinating. The majority of Indonesians are not rich and education is not the Republic's strongest point, but it does not seem to affect the language in any negative way. For you, the fact that 20% of the language is of Dutch descent should be an advantage. Most of these words are related to concepts and technologies brought to Indonesia by the Dutch. So every law student sighs about the rechtstaat in Indonesia and every car mechanic can communicate with his Dutch colleague. However, much of that technology was not invented by the Dutch and they themselves have imported these words from other European languages. Many words related to cars are French in origin, and so it is in Indonesian.

Bohemia and the Czech Republic is really beyond the Europe the Dutch watch, and I suppose that applies to Brits and Frenchmen also. In terms of cultural isolation, the Iron Curtain wasn't particularly important (or new). I wonder how that is in Switzerland. As for the papacy, I can have little sympathy for that institution. It fails far more consistently in realising the moral high ground than any American government, and that includes G.W. Bush's. And I would never allow any children to become an acolyte. When I was in Naples I still got angy on behalf of my ancestors 450 years ago when seeing the church's pomp and splendour.

You could not be more wrong in your expectations that Turkish immigrants in the Netherlands were from more developed areas, which are mostly on the Western coast, as even the last Turkish elections showed. The Germans started inviting immigrants to work in factories much earlier than the Dutch, which may be partly due to the loss of men in the Second World War. On top of that, the Dutch had a much stronger baby boom in the postwar period. The Neterlands were in the same league as then ultra-conservative Catholic countries like Spain and Portugal. Consequently, you have relatively few Gastarbeiter from countries like Italy in Spain here. The Dutch were also late in inviting Turks to come here and allowed Turks some years earlier to bring over their families and had more reluctant return migration policies. This study compares the situation in Holland to Germany. It claims that Germany had a far larger percentage of educated Turks among its immigrants, also because it included more asylum seekers. This also translated in better language skills. Plus German employers were more interested in craftsmen, Dutch employers in the cheapest possible labour. The consequences were visible again when you viewed the latest Turkish election results. A higher percentage of Dutch Turks voted for Erdogan than Saudi Turks.

When I tried to find source material for this, I also came across this government study of the status of immigrant groups. The relatively small group of Iranians do remarkably well in terms of education and women's labour participation, better than the natives. But they will be mostly asylum seekers.

By the way, given that this is the weekend we commemorate Silly Billy's finest hour during the Battle of Waterloo, you may enjoy this graph. More interestingly, will we see the end of peace in Europe if Greece leaves the euro, as some firebrands in countries that do not pay the Greek bills claim?

jun 29, 2015, 6:28pm

Traditional Austria, by the way, still makes absurd distinctions in the legal rights and obligations between Arbeiter (workers) and Angestellte (white collar employees). The latter naturally not to be confused with Beamte (civil servants), though those tend to be replaced more and more by Vetragsbedienstete (state employees with fewer rights and lesser pay).

I suspect that the situation in the Netherlands is similar to the one in Germany and Switzerland where Bürger is different from the French concept of mostly upper bourgeoisie meeting in salons and closer to the original meaning of citizen, an inhabitant of a city with political rights without the traditional division into working class, lower and upper bourgeoisie. It is strange that the social cohesion and classification of social groups is in flux, while at the same time, a new Austrian study has found that the social structure of today's students is similar to the one of 1860s, with few working class and (then Czech) immigrants taking up university and college studies.

There is an interesting exhibition going on about Austria's first post-WWII chancellor Leopold Figl in the Lower Austria state capital museum of St. Pölten. As a political operator of Austrian farmers during Austro-Fascism, he was prosecuted by the more virulent strain of Fascists, the Nazis and spent most of WWII in various KZs. After the liberation of Austria by the Soviets in April 1945, the reconstituted conservatives (ÖVP) who were the cadres of Austro-Fascism ruling Austria from 1934-38 were able to create effective organizations much more quickly than the Socialists who had been persecuted and driven into exile since 1934. The ÖVP consolidated this political advantage in early elections at the end of November 1945 it won convincingly. The story of Figl in 1945 is told well in "Leopold Figl und das Jahr 1945" by a party historian (who never mentions Austro-Fascism but calls it euphemistically an "authoritarian regime"). The last Austrian Austro-Fascist chancellor Schuschnigg, by the way, became a US citizen after WWII and taught law in Missouri.

Last week, Ian Buruma promoted the German translation of his book Year Zero 1945 in an event in the Wien Museum (that will be renovated soon and finally have permanent exhibits about Austrian post-WWI history. Asked what object the museum should display, Buruma said a toothbrush. A good choice that also highlights the enormous technological distance between WWII and the current era of plastics. It is really strange how these wooden toothbrushes looked.

The interior design installation in the Vienna Hofburg for the Vienna Congress exhibition about "the idea of Europe" looks about as well-designed as Europe's current border answer to the arriving waves of refugees. While integration works best when the arriving refugees are quickly split up into small groups of 1000 refugees) that prevent integration and drives up right wing votes. As this European population growth overview shows, Austrian rural areas would really benefit from more inhabitants. The authors unfortunately did not aggregate the local structures into similar units, thus the atomized French and Swiss communities.

In other news, the FT has published a huge list of summer reads. I plan to finish Piketty, read the Wrights Brothers bio as well as one about John Stuart Mill that has been on my TBR for far too long and serves as a corrective to the conservative propaganda of the political wonders of Wellington.

Finally, Greece, oh Greece. While the idea of a referendum would have been very smart a few months ago (getting political cover), the current nonsense question is apt to solve nothing. The big puzzle is why both sides were unable to do a Harvard negotiation method and get over the relatively small differences. As the banks in Greece are already on the brink, I think it would probably best to re-introduce the drachma, devalue and dance the problems away. The more likely outcome is political chaos when the Greeks vote for the EU course, triggering the demise of the current Greek government and a caretaker period until new elections can happen. Meanwhile, Erdogan apparently wants to conquer a bit of Syria ... Fukuyama's End of History does not look as promised.

jun 30, 2015, 8:41am

Apart from discussions about “honour” that I associate with the Balkan, Syriza reminds me very much of the squatter movements you could find in Amsterdam and Berlin in the 1980’s. Confrontational, willing to use violence, but in weaker moments always demanding protection from the authorities. Tsipras first act as a prime minister was to visit a memorial of Greece’s struggle against Nazi Germany. It proofs that the game theory it chose is the opposite of the Harvard proposition:

Usually when negotiating, people tend to get personally involved with the issues in question and preoccupied with their own positions. They consider attacks on those positions as personal attacks. The principle of separating people from the problem helps to reach a solution while minimizing damage to relationships.

Tsipras seems to think that a “no” in the greferendum gives him a better negotiation position than a “yes”, a curious idea. Jeffrey Sachs, one of Tsipras’ more famous advisors, even advocated to “stop paying debt and remain in the euro”. Well, the Greek state should guarantee the Greek National Bank, but it can’t if it is illiquid and insolvent. Not paying debt in a currency union is different from having your own currency. It also does not help that Greece’s foreign currency reserves seem to be only about EUR 2 Bn. Maybe the self-proclaimed heart of Europe can sell some of their oil reserves to raise cash, the same strategy applied by their hero Hugo Chavez. Note also that the largest private holders of Greek debt are American and British banks, the biggest advocates of debt relief. Let us see how quickly they apply their own medicine to Puerto Rico. Millionaires like Sachs and Krugman can easily afford it.

Yes, I do have some rather well defined ideas about the bourgeoisie, probably from watching too many films by Eric Rohmer and the like: copious plateaux de fruits de mer, a nice bungalow on the Cote d’Azur for 6 weeks in summer, and a government-paid appartement in the Marais, so that enough funds remain for a weekly 5 à 7 in a nice hotel, while my social responsibility is limited to a senseless Cartesian discourses with like-minded left-wing folks. In reality, my Bürgertum consists mainly of paying taxes and complaining about it, miserable as I am. Given the monopoly on power of the social democrats in Amsterdam, who long outlasted the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, no dissident opinions were needed anyway. As a consequence, I am probably more bourgeois than you. Chapeau to you !

After this relieving confession, how does Austria (still) distinguish between Angestellten and Arbeitern? What you describe about the ÖVP is probably in line with almost all leaders in former eastern block countries. After the regime change, it were former high bureaucrats who often ran the government. The job still requires bureaucratic experience. Few people are a natural Jean-Claude Juncker.

My own reading was restricted to Kleurrijke tragiek: de geschiedenis van slavernij in Azië onder de VOC , a book about slavery under the Dutch in Asia, given that slavery is the new apartheid: the one subject that we all agree about that it is/was very bad. A bit like a picture of yourself playing golf in your office if you are a senior manager. According to the author, slavery was bigger in Asia than in the Atlantic area, at least in the case of the Dutch. The East India Company was dependent upon slave labour to function, and income from slave trading was an important source of income for the Company’s employees. I don’t think this will change the slavery discussion at all, which is monopolised by the descendants of the Atlantic slave trade.

As a bonus, here is a rather hagiographic TV-documentary about Lorentz (and the paleoanthropologist Eugene Dubois). It is part of a TV-series about the way Holland changed in the 19th century that started very promising in its first episodes, but got weaker later on. Most interesting is how small “big science” was in those days.

jul 1, 2015, 3:24pm

Here is a short intro to the differences between Arbeitern und Angestellten. The spirit of the division seems to be to see workers as unskilled readily available shirkers. A worker can be fired the next day (if there are not union-industry agreements to the contrary) whereas a white collar employee has a right to a much longer period. Workers also receive less protection in case of illness and social security. It is very archaic and results in extremely complicated tax, contribution payments and accounting.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand on his voyage around the world in 1893 found the Dutch treatment of the natives generally much better than what he saw in British and French colonies (cleaner, more and better food, basic services for abandoned local Dutch bastard children).

Taking down the Confederate flag in Charleston was a great and well executed civil right action. A black man doing the same would probably just have been shot by the police. Generally, there has been over-reaction in the United States. The real cause of the mass shootings is the general availability of guns for nutcases. Instead of no longer selling Confederate flags, Walmart should stop selling arms.

I am in favor of removing the flag from prominent public spaces (with little to no connection to the civil war) but no commercial ban (executed by Amazon and Apple). Lindsey Graham will probably squeal with glee when he learns that the original battle flags were pink as the South lacked the necessary red silk. The Confederate flag expresses the ideas of the first American revolution, of the many slave-owning founding fathers. It was Lincoln who managed to start the second American revolution that has still not been fully completed, as the former Confederates won the political battle during reconstruction. As long as black children in the US have to go to much worse public schools than white children, the revolution is not complete. It is no coincidence that Barack Obama has no US slave ancestors.

Syriza unfortunately seems more like a headless protest movement than a team with a concept. Faced with the powerful Greek oligarchs, the over-sized army in the background, the old corrupt parties, an incompetent and corrupt bureaucracy and a broken economy it was no easy task to begin with at the internal level. Add to this multiple layers of often hostile EU and international organizations and the "wargame" becomes extremely complex to plan and execute.

The situation reminds me of the later stages of the French revolution, except that the Greeks can not sell of church property and print "assignats". The chaos in Greece has already cost the country a third of Austrian summer tourists who shifted to Croatia instead. I would have thought that Turkey would profit too but that is not reflected in the statistics (with a shift to the traditional countries of Germany and Italy).

All this trouble with tiny Greece crowds out more important issues. As a photographer you should be worried about the threatened loss of Panoramafreiheit in the EU. Lobbyists are hard at work in making the EU sell out the public domain for little to no commercial gain.

I finished Graeber's essay collection The Utopia of rules but was not pleased with the level of research and analysis. By chance, I stumbled upon a funny and fascinating social history of redheads (great cover): Red A History of the Redhead. I wonder whether Johann Nestroy's great comedy Der Talisman with Titus Feuerfuchs will make an appearance:

„Rot ist doch g’wiß a schöne Farb’, die schönsten Blumen sein die Rosen, und die Rosen sein rot. Das Schönste in der Natur ist der Morgen, und der kündigt sich an durch das prächtigste Rot. Die Wolken sind doch g’wiß keine schöne Erfindung, und sogar die Wolken sein schön, wann s’ in der Abendsonn’ brennrot dastehn au’m Himmel; drum sag’ ich: wer gegen die rote Farb’ was hat, der weiß nit, was schön is.“

jul 14, 2015, 9:14am

Odd and old-fashioned, that difference between Arbeitern and Angestellten. And it has nothing to do with my definition of hoofd- and handarbeiders, which is more like “wage slaves against bosses”. My economic history class consisted of a rather thin book with mathematic formulae, and about the only thing I recall is the Marxist concept of the exploitation ratio. In a 21st century context, the exploitation ratio should not only include the profit of senior managers and shareholders, but also the various tax and subsidy flows of the welfare state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Greece makes that same difference between Arbeitern and Angestelltenas Austria, I found out when I leafed through the original restructuring plan for Greece (page 23, high protection for white colar workers). In principle, it does not have to be negative for workers, since it leaves more freedom to negotiate sector or company specific collective labour agreements (although the article only mentions Branchenkollektivverträge). It is probably not how it works in practice. On the other hand, insider/outsider differences between temp workers and people on a fixed contract are quite common in Europe. It does not matter so much as long as most people manage to get a fixed contract if they want to, and if the pay for a fixed contract is lower than for temp staff. This is not how it works in times of economic stress and increasing ease to slice and dice business processes for outsourcing to low-pay countries.

Much of my time in the last few weeks was spent on following the news about the breathtaking developments in Greece. I got interested in the case years ago, because it seemed to become an excellent refreshment course in macroeconomics. The internet became my fluffy, non-mathematic source of knowledge: an unstructured MOOC-course that befits the status of the dismal science. Lately the time I spend on the subject increased a lot.

The spectacular failure that are Tsipras and Varoufakis is mind boggling. Essentially, if you look at per capita GDP basis, the country they inherited was still in a reasonable shape, more or less in line with that other former right wing dictatorship Portugal (at least, on the basis of these data, I haven’t checked this against world bank data). Portugal is not in the best shape possible, but not the mess that is Greece. Greece also pays less in interest on government debt than the Portuguese who subsidise Greece. At the end of 2014, Greece ran a primary surplus on its government budget, although not on its balance of trade, as far as I know. It was in a reasonable shape, even for a GREXIT. Five months down the road the great game theoretician and the protector of national honour and the downtrodden have caused a bank run and the need for massive extra funds. Which Greece receives. Personally, I (tentatively) favoured a GREXIT and a haircut, although a GREXIT would be highly painful currently. GREXIT would likely be better for the Greeks, since they have not been able to get their state finances in order for more than half a century (look at this graph with social benefit spending on rich and poor). A new drachma would restore an important economic instrument for them. A haircut would give Greece breathing space and would have put a cap on the money at risk of the euro zone, which has now increased with almost another 25%. It is hard to believe that the austerity measures required will all of a sudden create the economic growth required in the latest programme. The IMF report was quite clear about that. The structural reforms will certainly help, but slowly, and only if they are finally implemented. The EU already gave 100 mln for a land register in the 1990’s and it is still not there. It would have helped, e.g. in skimming some of the tax-free wealth of the Orthodox church. Perhaps this is where these 50 billion in assets could come from.

Even less palatable is that ordo-liberal asset, the euro. Without the political and fiscal (i.e. transfer) union, it works more like currency board. Given Europe’s historical, cultural and macro-economic differences, it becomes a currency board with the least possible flexibility, in practice like a gold standard that you cannot leave. Devaluations and budget deficits are a useful macroeconomic tools that even the Germans practice (even when it is forbidden; die Regeln des Spiels apply to small countries, not to France and Germany). The budget policy is deflationary and asymmetric, and evokes wage competition. Not a good thing in a developed economy. Devaluations if done responsibly (either occasionally if necessary like in northern Europe or the regular “credit haircut” of France, Britain or Italy) are also useful.

It seems Schauble is pretty interested in a transfer union with among others Austria and the Netherlands:

Übrig bleiben: Deutschland, Österreich, die Niederlande, Luxemburg, die Slowakei und, wenn möglich, Frankreich.


Diese neue Euro-Zone soll nach Schäubles Vorstellung eine echte politische Union sein: Transferunion, gemeinsamer Haushalt, ein Finanzminister mit allen Vollmachten, gemeinsame Einlagensicherung, gemeinsame Arbeitslosenversicherung und das ganze integrative Programm.

I cannot see the advantage of that. A transfer union Germany with its pretty high national debt, bad demographics, lacking savings, horrific banks (Deutsche is involved in every banking scandal on the planet and the Landerbanken in every loss making venture) and crumbling infrastructure would be a pretty bad deal.

As for the Confederate flag, I really prefer to have no opinion. It gets into the same area as the Black Pete discussion where I live. Reading a few newspaper articles is not enough to form an opinion about such a subject.

The Panoramafreiheit was saved, I read in the paper. More interesting is where the Panoramafreiheit is restricted in Europe. Basically in those countries that care more about dividing the pie than growing it: France, Italy, Belgium. And, yes, Greece.

Aux armes, citoyens!

Redigerat: jul 14, 2015, 12:13pm

Ah, I forgot to add Franz Ferdinand's trip to Asia. I had heard of it, but never seen any detailed information. I have no idea how the archduke was received by the Dutch authorities, and what both considered to be important to see or convey at the time. I also do not know enough about colonialism in British India and Indochine to compare the treatment of the locals. And of His trip took place in 1892-93, which was a transition period in the colony.

This was however a time when opinions changed from the raw exploitation of local farmers during the Cultivation System to the "Ethical Policy" that became official slightly later. During the Cultivation System, the only thing the Dutch cared about was the batig saldo (credit balance) of the colony. In other words, Dutch railroads and other infrastructural works were build from the labour of impoverished Javanese farmers. Criticism and changing economic conditions led to a more liberal age and the realisation that the colony and colonised needed more development. As of 1901 the yearly credit balance was invested in the colony. The Great Depression and the Second World War frustrated the process, e.g. the construction of European style social housing for the native population in Batavia. Again, changing economic conditions also played a role. Companies required more mid-level staff (clerks, etc.) that were best recruited among the educated native population.

jul 15, 2015, 9:48am

Small appendix to #61

I have to admit, that the checklist my analysis of Greece is far from ISAE 3402 compliant. A view quotes from Tsipras' TV-interview last night made me recall that Greece had no foreign exchange reserves (unless it could get hold of all these euros in foreign bank accounts and banknotes stuck in mattresses). Going it alone is almost impossible, unless some party pays their IMF-debt for the coming period and hands them some reserves. Of course they would also need a solution for all their forms of ELA-debt.

jul 15, 2015, 6:34pm

Poor, poor Greece, first exploited and ruined by the kleptocrats and now, in Paul Krugman's wording, at the mercy of the faithocrats. The stupidity of the measures demanded of Greece is shocking. Hiking tax rates? Greece is not suffering from low taxes but from tax evasion. Economics 101 says that increasing tax rates will further push the marginal Greek honest taxpayer into evasion. Then, they chose VAT and small business tax rates for the hikes. The whole package is about selecting weak targets to plunder and exploit. Especially the fire sales of airports, ports and public enterprises will benefit mostly foreign or (expat Greek) raiders, bankers and consultants

A better strategy would have been to use leverage against the powerful, as you mentioned, especially the Orthodox Church which owns huge parts of the land and does not contribute much in taxes at present. Returning some of the possessions of the dead hand to the public would be a good source of capital. The oversized Greek army could also be reduced and used for civil activities.

The Greek administration is probably a lost case. Re-engineering it would be the easiest case. Estonia is leading in e-government and has a similar GDP/capita level. Greece could use Estonia's e-technology to cut down on bureaucracy and corruption. The armies of inefficient Greek public servants could be transferred into a FDR work progress administration to complete public projects. There are plenty of open projects small and large to bring Greece up to a modern and ecological standard. Instead of paying for unproductive unemployed, a public safety net should provide Keynesian employment and use of all resources.

Unfortunately, European politicians have decided to continue the failed and self-defeating bleeding policies. The conditions of the Maastricht treaty were unfortunately discarded by Schröder and co. With Maastricht, the marginal Euro country would have been Belgium - not the Club Med. Schäuble is fighting to prevent a transfer union. Abroad, he seems to be largely misunderstood. Southern Germany (Swabia and Bavaria) already pay for Northern Germany as well as East Germany. The whole of Germany already carries a lot of the burden of EU finance. A transfer union would further burden Germany and lessen reforms in the badly governed countries (starting with France). A transfer union would create a new co-dependency like Italy's North and South. Schäuble thus shot the Greek dog in order "ne pas encourager les autres". On a European level, poor tiny Greece does not matter. Schäuble acts tough to prevent Spain and Italy (and France) from getting their own fix. Rescuing Greece which would have been the right and decent thing to do, unfortunately, would send the wrong signal to those countries.

That this message also helps Schäuble's conservative partners in those countries is only the icing on the cake. The corrupt Spanish conservatives are much helped when Syriza is publicly drawn and quartered to discourage voters from Podemos; "No, you can't." Did the destruction of the USSR create a second Biedermeier era in Europe with Merkel as Metternich?

The dismemberment of Greece reminds me of how Great Britain slowly took over bankrupt Egypt in the 19th century. Austria after the First World War was also governed by technocrats to restructure its finances (which they managed but the disruptions paved the way for Austro-Fascism). Incidentally, the technocrat in charge was the then outgoing mayor of Rotterdam, Alfred Rudolph Zimmerman. His right hand Meinoud Rost van Tonningen later head of the Dutch Nazis.

There is currently an exhibition about another Dutchman in Edinburgh, MC Escher. It must be difficult to curate an exhibition about him, though as his works are so well known and familiar.

Panoramafreiheit may have been spared this time but it does not look like we are getting closer to a modern intellectual property regime with the ability to use image and movie clip quotations and reduce the length of economically not valuable copyrights to sensible terms with paid limited renewals for valuable properties. TTIP unfortunately will insert many bad ideas into international treaties that will be almost impossible to amend later. Heightening the contradictions is not a nice experience.

jul 28, 2015, 6:37am

Poor Greece? Poor poor Greeks, is all I would say. Most Greeks have (ab-)used the system to their benefit in the past decades. Farmers who paid no or almost no taxes even if they were bigger in the hotel business than in farming, home owners who never finished construction and hence paid no taxes, small business owners (including doctors and dentists) who obtained large parts of their income undeclared, pharmacists protected by a web of rules, bakers whose produce is far more expensive than elsewhere in Europe, TV-newsreaders whose job was so “arduous” that they retired at 52: the abuse of the system was rampant and goes far beyond the privileges of the church, the military and shipowners. Even now Syriza re-instates public broadcasting to have an equal voice compared to more conservative parties, it re-instates not just one TV and radio channel, but seven TV- channels, even more radio stations, a choir and a symphony orchestra. That is patronage, not democracy. Just like this:

Syriza did change the makeup of the panels who evaluate corrupt officials, though: rather than judges, they now feature local union reps. And they did away with the rule that state officials found guilty of corruption could no longer work—now, those convicted can stay at their unit during the five- or six-year appeal process.

The continuous popularity of the euro among Greeks is no surprise to me, because it reminds me of my compatriots in the Antilles. They do not always have a favourable opinion about the mother country. They do not like to be lectured by Dutch uncles, nor do they like the nagging about good finance. But when they get the choice for independence in a referendum, they massively favour the current ties to remain (which is not shared by everybody here, but the only solution would be for Holland to leave the Kingdom and become an independent state). Their Dutch passport is seen as a kind of insurance policy against the corruption and dubious competence of the politicians they vote into office. The euro seems to play that same role in Greece.

The Greek administration seems to be a lost case indeed. Re-engineering it will take more trouble than implementing Estonia’s e-government, although good systems might be able to reduce corruption. It seems the troika has already taken such measures, as we learned from Varoufakis’ latest utterances to hedge fund managers (!). The Greek minister of finance is no longer in control of inland revenue or the systems used. Unfortunately, this does not yet give Greece a proper land registry, which could help Greece to a new source of tax income and would benefit foreign investment through secure contracts. However, only 20% of Greek land is administered in a modern electronic system, and adding the other 80% takes a lot of time and money (which was already financed by the EU two decades ago).

As for macro-economic measures, obviously reducing the debt burden would help. Somewhat. As a percentage of income the Greeks already pay less than Portugal. There were two highly readable articles about this from current- and former IMF-staff.

Meanwhile, the tier-2 sinners against structural reform Italy and France are asking for further integration, including a shared budget and unemployment benefit. The French minister of finance want that first for the founding nations of the European Coal and Steel Community, which he thought would be Italy, France and Germany:

Une « avant-garde » en laquelle croit aussi le premier ministre Manuel Valls, et qui doit selon lui être constituée par les pays fondateurs de l’Union, « la France, l’Allemagne, l’Italie », a-t-il affirmé dimanche à la sortie d'une réunion avec les intermittents du spectacle à Avignon.

Luckily, he forgot about the Benelux. A common unemployment benefit schedule can only be considered a transfer union for the benefit of Italy and France. Europe is indeed more and more becoming like one big Italy or Belgium. If America is our example (and Portugal might make a fine comparison with Arizona, albeit with finer food and music), the costs of such a transfer union could be substantial, according to Die Welt:

It would be more than the full surplus of countries like Germany and Holland, not to mention Austria. If that would be paid out of a tax increase, it would kill consumption and cause a depression.

By the way, thanks for informing me about A.R. Zimmerman. I had not heard about him or the role of technocrats after the collapse of Austria after WW1. Rost van Tonningen is an interesting case. He was a head of the Dutch Nazis, not the head. Coming from the Dutch East Indies he wasn’t even sufficiently Arian anyway. Rost van Tonningen was head of the Dutch central bank and facilitated the German heist of the gold stock that had not been transported to Britain in time. Some insist the Dutch should claim a few billion from Switzerland for this.

As for M.C. Escher, there is a museum dedicated to his art in the Hague, but I have never visited.

TTIP is another time-consuming issue to develop an opinion about, as it is fraught with ideological opinions.

jul 28, 2015, 5:07pm

The chart you included does not pass the smell test both for the EU and the US. Luxembourg as a main recipient and Florida as a contributor despite its senior citizens being huge social security and medicare recipients? That smells fishy. "Die Welt" is one of the walking wounded of the Digital Revolution. Its source is some US investment bank where I assume the summer interns Muffy and Chuck III have added some columns to produce a "research" report. A more serious article from the SF Fed.

The failure of Nice and Lisbon to formulate more than a bad compromise known as TFEU that did not resolve many issues. The EU has absorbed too many countries with only partially functioning and democratic administrations and now has to create reforms with the bad guys sitting at the table.

The main problem with TTIP is that it will be almost impossible to change whatever is adopted. All the bad deals lobbyists manage to insert (especially in terms of pharma rents) can never be revised again as it would require a democratic perfect storm of getting the US congress, the US president, the EU governments and the EU parliament to agree on a revision as well as other participating nations. The ratchet only works in one direction - thus TTIP wants to increase Canadian copyright length from 50 to 70 years, even though a sane copyright system would go in the other direction. At least, the clearly fraudulent "Happy Birthday" copyright squatters seem to have received a setback. But it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

The 600th anniversary of burning Jan Hus last month passed without much public notice. On TV, there was a four-hour Czech biopic (that was notably anti-German) and there were some articles but I had expected more international attention. The pope also acknowledged that it was a mistake to burn Jan Hus whose ideas were actually quite conservative. Konstanz 1414-1418: Eine Stadt und ihr Konzil is a short read about that European event in the German city on Lake Constance.

Never heard about a 'Dutch uncle' before which leads to a funny disambiguation page for Dutch wife. The American uncle is more familiar, especially in its crazy variant. As Jeb Bush is not quite as sharp as his brother (not a tough hurdle to beat) and failed to grasp the very basic concept of productivity, it looks like the Republicans are willing to go all the way with Donald the racist clown, the bodily fusion of John McCain and Sarah Palin.

The British MOOC provider FutureLearn will offer a course in September/October by the University of Barcelona on The European Discovery of China - Explore Chinese history through the eyes of Western travelers. During the counter-reformation, there were quite a few enterprising Austrian Jesuits who went to China and brought back fascinating tales.

The Guardian has a ghastly photo gallery with pictures of Chinese bound lotus feet. The remnants of the past are still with us.

Redigerat: jul 31, 2015, 2:49am

Die Welt might be a dinosaur, but the Guardian published the that chart too. And the Guardian seems to be on its way of becoming an anglophone global source of quality news from a left-of-centre perspective for Westerners. Still, thanks for the FED-article about interstate fiscal transfers. When you look at the graph there seems a limited correlation between income and net contribution in a state, which is not explained by the article. The net contributions can however be substantial. The Economist had a graph and a table, and if I interpret the data correctly, then the percentages are not that different from the graph from Die Welt. Only the states are different. I don’t think European countries could take such transfers from extra taxation. Almost all countries have debt levels above the target of 60%, so increased borrowing is no option either. I am equally curious how Schäuble’s common unemployment benefit pool would work. I presume he would want a 100% inflexible legal framework to support this. Even then it would lead to long-term transfers that could be substantial for quite a long time. I wonder how Schäuble is going to sell the necessary slashing of the welfare state in the net contributing countries. Selling it as “then the Italians can buy more Volkswagens” won’t convince many, I am afraid.

The EU has absorbed quite a few countries from the former Warsaw Pact with dubious ideas about tolerance and human rights. Interestingly, Hungary is the poster child for this mistake, although it was once the “happiest barrack in the socialist camp”. Of all the former dictatorships, Spain seems to be the only true success, both in terms of adopting Western-European values and the economy (despite their current economic woes and their corruption scandals). Adopting the euro has however a different magnitude than accepting countries like Italy and Greece in a currency union. Just a standardisation of the laws governing dismissal will not create the level playing field necessary to make this acceptable to an electorate and neither will government budget standardisation.

I know the critique on TTIP. I just wonder how bad it will be in practice. TTIP-like cases have existed for quite a long time without many problems. On a more abstract level, I wonder if it is all that useful to streamline free markets so extensively. The capitalist system is inherently unstable. Therefore we have introduced automatic stabilisers like social security or job security. These work on a national level, but can be frustrated by an international flood. Compare it to rivers. Once meandering they were straightened to facilitate shipping traffic. Now curves have been reintroduced to reduce the speed of water flows coming down from the Alps and other highlands. It is good if the American economy grows if the European economy is in recession. Diversification is the only free lunch. But then again, I have not given TTIP much thought.

The English language has a long list of expressions derogative for the Dutch and quite a few are still used on the British Isles>, an exception being the Kiwi expression Dutch rise. They seem to date mostly from the period of the Dutch Wars. The Dutch Wife (or usually Dutch widow) is a rather long pillow that the people in Malaysia and Indonesia hug all night. It also helps absorbing sweat, useful if you have no air conditioning. The fact that the Brits understand the function seems to indicate that the white man’s burden wasn’t always all that heavy to carry. The Dutch language does not have any reciprocal derogative words about the English, unless you would count Engelse ziekte or English disease, which is the common expression for rickets. Anybody who has ever had to eat a few traditional English meals would understand that this justified association, rather than derogation.

That MOOC-course about China looks great. So far I have failed to end them. MOOC-courses take up a lot of time to follow, and I think I prefer a normal documentary film or a traditional book to the combination of short videos and texts from MOOC. The little tests you need to make add little value. The Jesuits were heavily involved into China, hoping that by converting the emperor they could convert the whole country. That was not such a strange idea, because it had worked before in Europe, but also in some now Muslim areas further south. To improve the bait they sent over scientist-monks, with knowledge of physics and astronomy. I have never read any of their reports, but with such a background they could be quite interesting. I also wonder what can be found in the archives of Portugal. The Dutch East India Company considered its reports corporate secrets, which should not be shared with the outside world. Its archives are now rightly prized by UNESCO . Reading them can be quite tedious however. I have read a few pages of the diary from Formosa, which were mostly about slow and cumbersome negotiations with the local population. Reading the immensely popular travel literature of the time is a mixed bag also. Bontekoe’s immensely popular diary is mainly a report of how dangerous and troublesome sailing to the Far East was, and how he overcame all his troubles with the help of god. More interesting is Hendrik Hamel about Korea. Interestingly, pirated editions of his book were sold in Holland even before the man himself made it back home.

Then on other interesting Chinese habits, you may have heard of Thomas Sauvin’s Beijing photography project, a rather interesting mix of art, history and anthropology, in the video officially endorsed by Martin Parr. There is a new book out about the role of cigarettes in Chinese weddings in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Find some more sample photos here. China is quickly losing such habits and becoming a “normal” developed country. Hopefully that is good for the population, because it is certainly less entertaining.

Luckily for entertainment we still have the GOP. I am not going to bother about the Republican candidates in this stage, other than as amusement. It is the Greece of the New World, given yesterday's happy news from Athens:

Finance ministry issues new price list for public snack-bars

jul 30, 2015, 6:45pm

Your last link is borked.

In contrast to Die Welt, the Guardian chart uses the generally correct relationship of the blue states paying for the red states, though the Grauniad is not known for spending much on quality control. The media have long noticed that we are living in the age of "bullshitting": If it looks nice, it will air or go into print. The decline in quality control has been especially noticeable in the NYT and the Economist.

We live in an age of ever better technology of checking things and at the same time, complexity makes it ever more expensive in doing thorough checks. How could the auditors at Toshiba not have noticed the Potemkin villages erected by management? "The inflated figures were made possible by delaying the reporting of losses and underestimating project costs." IAS is well aware of how to deal with such issues. "A spokesman for the Japan Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the self-regulatory body for accountants, said it will investigate EY ShinNihon's involvement in the case." To really ram the knife in, Toshiba apparently underpaid EY for looking away.

MOOC still haven't found their niche. As multimedia engines, I find them superior to documentaries as their 5-10 minutes inputs are better for learning and the break can be used to present sources and texts (whereas the documentary simulates this by a white gloves and precious text sequence). Documentaries are also too action-driven and relentless whereas learning requires pauses.

Books and even multimedia-enhanced editions are not yet user-friendly enough. Reading biographies about David Bowie or Keith Richards with the book and YouTube open is a much richer experience as is getting Google Streetview up to virtually follow the action in situ.

I wouldn't want to join Thomas Sauvin in situ, though, as he seems to spend his time amidst Chinese garbage heaps. The madness of today's copyrights would prevent his work from publication as he does not possess copyrights and model releases (for privacy) ...

Redigerat: aug 7, 2015, 3:22am

The link has been corrected.

I don’t think Toshiba is a particularly modern version of bullshitting. Cooking the books must be as old as accounting, and senior management putting intense pressure on sales who antedate realised income or falsify results is nothing special. It is also not specific to capitalism. It happened on a large scale during Mao’s Great Leap Forward. And most Japanese companies squeeze auditors’ pay. It does not seem to lead to more scandals in Japan than in other developed countries, so I’d say that is an example to follow.

Bullshitting in general, as defined here

Bullshit, we learn, is different from lying. A liar knows what he is saying to be false. A bullshitter, on the other hand, simply doesn’t care whether what he is saying is true or not – it’s what he can get away with.

seems nothing new to me either. As the article states, in some areas the influence of bullshitters may even have diminished, think quacks and priests. It has been a long time since I read Tocqueville, and I wonder if he had anything to say about this. Freedom of opinion (and the quality of opinion) is a necessary element of democracy. At the most, the art of telling and promoting semi-truths has professionalised with public relations budgets and professional lobbyists. In that sense “improved” bullshitting is no different from other modernising sectors of the economy. And yes, the time-to-market for news has shortened quite dramatically with the ascent of the internet.

Saying what you can get away with is of course a core competence of parasitic consultants, greatly helped by the popularity of Powerpoint, dashboards, etc. What certainly helps them also is the "professionalisation" of the management skillset, with managers claiming that “management is management”, irrespective if you apply that to a biscuit factory or a government office.

Primary school children already download info from the web and produce assignments in Powerpoint. Checking data is cumbersome if you have never learned a lot of facts.

Probably I am particularly susceptible to bullshit, given how I read non-fiction or treat MOOC. I consume knowledge for sheer pleasure and therefore I don’t shy away from cherry picking. I read almost all books end to end, but often pick up just nuggets of knowledge. Frivolously as I am, I don’t read them to pass an exam to check if I understand what some other person thought to be important. It is indeed nice to use the internet to read an increasing number of text fragments or videos. And if I watch documentaries, they are usually interviews with or speeches of artists or 1980’s BBC-documentaries: “slow television”, rather than your average white shark documentary on Discovery Channel.

I would not mind joining Thomas Sauvin in situ. First of all, it must be exciting to observe the massive (and largely positive) social changes that China goes through and turn these observations into art. Secondly, his exposure to smelly garbage is pretty limited, because a lot of the tedious work is outsourced. Scavengers sell him the negatives, which are scanned by another freelancer. The images are catalogued by an assistant, who probably also helps with image selection. The book production seems largely outsourced too. So he is mainly involved in the image selection, book idea creation, supervising book production and marketing. An artist like Thomas Sauvin is more like a small entrepreneur than an artisan. Marketing is of course very important in an overcrowded market like the one for art, as I can proof now that my own book is finally on the (digital) shelves. In a way, I have applied all of what I remember from Philip Kotler's Principles of Marketing. By the way, his latest book sold out in two weeks’ time. Who in China cares about copyright?

Coming back to Panoramafreiheit, that might be secured in the European Parliament for now, but private enterprise can be just as much of a headache for the freedom of expression:

Granary Square joins a long list of places in London where photography is forbidden for all sorts of unreasonable reasons (London Eye, Gherkin, etc...).

Which all has to do with the privatisation of public space in the home of the Mother of the Free:

The power for corporate entities to not only impede certain activities but to bar the public access to “public” space

Luckily we have not yet had this in Amsterdam, as far as I know, although I see a link with the growing percentage of high income singles and families flocking to successful cities, which also leads to some interesting criticism of your beloved Jane Jacobs here.

Other luxury cores exhibit similar patterns. A 2014 recent Brookings report found that virtually all the most unequal large central cities—with the exception of Atlanta and Miami—are dense, luxury-oriented cities such as San Francisco, Boston, Washington, New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Although high-wage jobs have increased in these metropolises, the bulk of new employment in cities like New York has been in low-wage service jobs.

As urban studies author Stephen J.K. Walters notes, these cities tend to develop highly bifurcated economies, divided between an elite sector and large service class. He notes this is “the opposite of Jane Jacobs’s vision of cities” that relied on “transforming” poor people into the middle-class people.

I doubt however if this applies to Amsterdam, but Amsterdam isn’t a high density city:

Arguably Jacobs’s biggest miscalculation related to urban demographics. As H.G. Wells predicted well over a century ago, cities now depend in large part on affluent, childless people, living what Wells labeled a life of “luxurious extinction.” Jacobs’s contemporary, the great sociologist Herbert Gans, already identified a vast chasm between suburbanites and those who favor urban core living who he identified as “the rich, the poor, the non-white as well as the unmarried and childless middle class.”


At best, Jacobs’s compelling portrait from 1961 is something of an anachronism. Families in urban apartments today, notes Cornell researcher Gary Evans (PDF), generally have far weaker networks of neighbors than their suburban counterparts, a generally more stressful home life, and significantly less “social support.”

aug 7, 2015, 5:51pm

Greek snack prices: "The maximum prices snack bars can charge from now on are: 0.35 euros for a 500 ml bottle of water, 1.45 euros for a ham-and-cheese sandwich (toasted or not), 1.25 euros for a cheese sandwich (toasted or not), 1.20 euros for a Greek coffee, 1.30 euros for tea and filtered or instant coffee, and 1.45 euros for espresso coffee (hot or cold)." I can't really believe these incredibly low prices, especially in tourist locations where rip-off prices are the norm.

A bit to the south, el-Sisi played his own Aida (the Lady Liberty prop at the Bregenz Festival didn't make much sense). Apart from Monsieur Hollande, not many Western attendants. I hope the 12% coupon issue succeeds, as they sold it to the Egyptian population. The French population did not get a happy ending with its Suez financing 150 years ago. There is a big risk of the Egyptian generals siphoning off the profits.

Another opera, Turandot - featured this year in Bregenz (but crushed by a thunderstorm for its ORF TV live showing), is performed in the Vienna segment of Mission Impossible - Rogue Nation. A bit more attention to detail would not have hurt the production company much. Was it really too difficult to use the proper name of "Staatsoper" instead of "Vienna Opera", given that Vienna has two opera houses? The Austrian chancellor is also not the head of statue (a role performed by the Austrian president). The chancellor is also sitting in one of the cheaper seats at the side (though this is a cinematic question of framing. Placing him there allows to keep Cruise and the chancellor in the same shot). The preference of filmmakers for the ugly but modern Schottenring underground station is puzzling and results in Simon Pegg's teleportation to Karlsplatz. The opera sequence was quite fun in a film with a stupid plot that relies on the wackiest of security measures. Then again, NSA gave its sysadmin contractors full unencrypted access to all data.

I also had the chance to see Michiel de Ruyter with nice battle sequences. The actor playing the Iago-like Johan Kievit looked similar to Geert Wilders which was weird. As my understanding of Dutch history is quite sketchy, I had to read up about the poor brothers de Witt. Compared to this grizzly painting (NSFW), the film lets them die rather tamely. Should I read The Black Tulip ? Can the brothers de Witt be seen as the good guys who were unlucky in the rampjaar? The film certainly does not like William of Orange (who later ended the rule of the Lannisters in England).

In one of the countless digressions of the Swerve, there is a grizzly mention about a crazy self-flagellating 14th century nun from Zurich, Elsbeth von Oye. I actually picked up the book as a companion to my reading about the Council of Constance. Interestingly, the Council like most big multinational events was not profitable for the city, except for its richest citizens. The inflation caused by the visitors made the life of the poor much worse - and the Jewish community later had to pay the Emperor's tab.

I don't think that Jane Jacobs wanted to turn "poor people into the middle-class people". Her focus was on anti-urban actions that made the US cities depend on cars (and also segregate the place). The bifurcation is a choice of social engineering. Rich Americans enjoy their exploitative frivolities (such as shoe-shining or cheap maids). With a bit more of democratic participation, many ills could be reversed and the United States become, horror of horrors, more European. US soccer moms waste a good part of their time as private Uber drivers transporting their offspring from distant place to place. Well-organized, car-free urban spaces can be great places for kids with a wealth of attractions and services within short range but require political will and some central planning and regulation.

A MOOC I won't be participating in is Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought. In ChinaX, it was mentioned that the largest number of current social sciences grants go to those studying "Xi Jinping Thought" (whatever that means). China seems to be taking a turn to the dark side.

aug 27, 2015, 5:14pm

Today, 27 August 2015, is the 50th anniversary of the death of Le Corbusier: A Corbu 50 factoid list that also shows the 10 CHF banknote with his image that fortunately will be exchanged for a new and better looking banknote series.

Finally finished Piketty's great Capital in the 21st century that is especially valuable as a social history book whose key messages should be included in all curricula. I don't think that, despite the success of the 1% meme, the persistent high concentration of wealth has fully sunk in. I especially liked his presentation how economies of scale and risk pooling allows large fortunes to earn much higher returns. In contrast to the public discussion where reporters mostly mentions an unrealistic global wealth tax, I found that Piketty's book does include practical and local tax proposals, esp. estate taxes and special taxes on large fortunes (capital). A lot of Europe's agricultural subventions go to the ultra-rich. Prince Charles is one of the biggest recipients of EU largesse. In this older French interview, Piketty makes the sound point that Europe loses dynamic growth by enacting failing policies.

Also completed Heinrich Harrer's own account of the first ascent of the Eiger-Nordwand in the Swiss Alps in 1938. Some years ago, there was a well made German bio pic about a group of mountaineers killed there in 1936: Nordwand / North face. Harrer's account fails to mention the Fascist context of this race to the top: The German, Austrian and Italian Fascists saw this task as a struggle like the later space race. Harrer mentions that they suddenly received support from Germany, in fact the Nazi government was their sponsor and Harrer carried a Nazi flag in his bag to the top. An early Nazi he was fortunate to spend WWII interned in India (and later Tibet). In this 1958 edition, there still is a lot of völkischer ideology in the book below the mountaineering surface. Still a good read if one is aware of the context.

Another crazy travel journey through Sierra Leone and Liberia is told in Graham Greene's Journey Without Maps where he and his cousin Barbara Greene who wrote her own account Too Late to Turn Back, though Graham hardly gives her a proper credit. She is not a protagonist in his story, more a piece of baggage. The purpose of this masochistic journey into the wilderness and illness remains unclear. He was lucky to have survived this mad trip.

Dumas' The Black Tulip (la tulipe noire) is a nice but predictable romance, with a shocking brutal murder of the brothers Witt as a prologue.

The BBC's docu about India's busy railways made one feel for the poor Indian commuters who have to endure such journeys day by day. Switzerland meanwhile has completed the Gotthard Base Tunnel that is the world's longest railway tunnel. Neither India nor China has yet seen the necessity to dig such a long hole into one of their mountains.

Redigerat: sep 3, 2015, 4:52am

It seems indeed rather improper to keep Le Corbusier on banknotes, now that the story of his national socialist sympathies has resurfaced. Meanwhile, your dislike for modernist architecture seems a tad behind the curve. We are getting close to the moment where the chattering classes will lament the current demolition of modernist and brutalist architecture. E.g. Amsterdam’s coming Heritage Day highlights has quite a few modernist sites. In October I am going to go to London for the weekend, among others to say farewell to the Robin Hood Gardens. The photographer Craig Atkinson has some interesting sets about Modernist estates in Britain on Flickr. And just to quote you:

Well-organized, car-free urban spaces can be great places for kids with a wealth of attractions and services within short range but require political will and some central planning and regulation.

was exactly what planners try to accomplish with modernist estates. Siegfried Nassuth, the guru-ish planner of Amsterdam’s notorious Bijlmermeer envisioned an environment like his own youth in Pekalongan on Java. City people should be able to walk bare feet in the grass and flats should have plenty of public services. The government never had the money for them. You could say the central planning and regulation failed, because of financial terms. In some ways, the enormous estate was also ahead of its time. E.g. people complained about paying for parking in garages. Nowadays people may pay up to 200-300 euro per month for parking in the better areas of Amsterdam.

Piketty is used here to make wealth tax progressive, although wealth tax still starts at a ridiculously low amount of 25,000 euro (which is the price of an Opel Astra in this country). In line with Piketty, the government claims that anybody who is a millionaire can easily make 5.5% of income. In the current market that is a common expectation for a stocks only portfolio. But anybody with a limited time horizon should have diversified asset mix with fixed income instruments with appalling returns. Worse, capital will be taxed with a variable percentage, which are easy to manipulate if the minister of finance needs to balance the books. Meanwhile, financial capital is not the only thing that perpetuates itself. Political capital does so too. Particularly in developing countries political and financial capital is intertwined.

China is building tunnels, for cars, even in areas where traffic seems limited. I have been through various of them in the Tibetan areas west of Chengdu (by the way, for people infected with the bug travelling by the way needs to serve no other purpose than travelling itself). They usually consisted of one tube for both directions and even had forks underground. It does not give you a safe feeling. The Tibetan Plateau is scarcely inhabited. And it is huge. If you fly from Hong Kong to Europe your airplane follows the fringe of the Plateau towards Siberia. If you sit on the left side near the window, your view does not change for hours (before it hits the monotony of Siberia). The only dense population in the Himalayas is Kathmandu. The other ones near are all oriented towards the plains (Delhi, Calcutta, Chengdu, Kunming). China builds infrastructure quite wastefully. Even the desserts of Xinjiang have excellent motorways nowadays (it reminds one of Spain). The fact that they have done this in a very limited way in this region must mean it would serve almost no purpose.

The second Suez Canal makes more sense. Tolls from the Canal are about the most important source of foreign currency for this country of 85 million people:

The Suez Canal Authority (SCA) expects receipts from passage tolls to rise to $13.2 billion annually by 2023. This would be more than double the $5.4 billion recorded in 2014 and equal about one third of total services and income receipts in Egypt’s external current account.

Of all the countries I visited no place seemed as dilapidated as Egypt. Even in Cairo’s elite quarter Zamalek lots of buildings and infrastructure seemed to be falling apart. The New Yorker had an analysis of Egypt from a somewhat unusual source:

Here in Egypt, home to eighty-five million people, where Western development workers and billions of dollars of foreign aid have poured in for decades, the first plastic-recycling center in the south is a thriving business that employs thirty people, reimburses others for reducing landfill waste, and earns a significant profit. So why was it established by two lingerie-fuelled Chinese migrants, one of them illiterate and the other with a fifth-grade education?

Wu’s conclusion about Egyptian women workers is simple: as long as they lack a basic desire to escape the familiar, it’s unlikely that they will change anything fundamental about their lives.

Not all Greek islands attract lots of tourists. Some are too remote or uninteresting, which will often translate into low income for inhabitants. But few countries will solve this through a one-size-fits-all solution by capping prices of bottled water as Greece does. Imagine the civil servants assessing average income levels, costs per location, come to a fair assessment of the price of bottled water. And then the lobbying of water companies, the formal escalation procedures… there are some inefficiencies to be ended here.

I am not able to judge the De Witt brothers, unless in a simple schematic way à la Paul Krugman. The philosopher Baruch de Spinoza was deeply shocked by their murder by the hand of "het gepeupel" (which translates as Pöbel in German). In his doorstopper The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 Jonathan Israel presents the period of 200 years as an endless struggle between the Enlightenment (his specialism) and religion. Hence, I suppose you can view the De Witts as on the side of reason. However I have never read a biography of the brothers. They may as well have primarily defended the position of the trade cities they represented. Fundamentalism is not good for business. The De Witts were certainly very skillful politicians in a difficult, multi-polar political environment. And they were not afraid. Cornelis set sail with the fleet multiple times, e.g. when De Ruyter destroyed the British fleet at Chatham. During the Battle of Solebay against Britain and France he supposedly stayed outdoors giving orders even when most of his bodyguards had fallen.

I have finished quite a few books lately, but most were photography books. Watching pictures is quite rewarding. I am currently scratching my head if Todd Hido's work is great art or Kitsch (which is already in Moma and other such museums, so it seems like a reargard action on my side). Among the more amusing of my newspaper reading was this story of modern Asia about Okamoto Industries:

Few companies have benefited so spectacularly, it acknowledges, from having ‘Made in Japan’ stamped on products.

On a similar note but far more shocking for my Weltanschauung was this piece of research that competition alone will not eliminate discrimination.

sep 5, 2015, 7:42am

200-300 euro per month for parking would be a bargain in central Vienna (city government should actually tax car parking in the center much more. Cars should be used not owned.). The main problem of the social housing estates I see in the one shot planning. All the budget was spent in setting up a grand master plan, instead of having a growing and flexible structure. The architects in their visions also neglected key aspects of the way of life of many inhabitants. Great housing projects also act as social segregators. Red Vienna in the 1920s managed to push public projects in nice areas. Currently, according to a new study by a Dutch sociologist Maarten Van Ham of TU Delft, the trend goes into the opposite direction and social segregation is rising in Vienna.

Hasn't your Weltanschauung been influenced with practical contact with telecom companies? Oligopolistic markets of 4-2-1 sized competitors are common in many industries. Real markets are not really efficient and tolerate a lot of suboptimal results. The status quo is also not blind. The formerly men-only Wiener Philharmoniker now select new members via blind screen. The number of women in the orchestra remains tiny. Female board members of listed companies in Austria are still in the single digits. Mr. Market needs a strong nudge from Father State and Mother Civil Society.

Relying on Chinese quality control is dangerous, as tricking control measures seems to be a national sport (whereas security-oriented cultures such as Switzerland, Germany and Japan tend to go for too much costly quality). A recent documentary about China also pointed out how many Chinese regularly empty baby food shelves in Hong Kong. The documentary also showed how buildings are constructed for a 15-year lifespan and torn down, whereas in Europe, the usual time frame still is 30 years (though many concrete monsters from the 1980s appear very run-down too).

Finally, we are just witnessing the breakdown of another EU Potemkin structure: Dublin/Schengen. Like the Euro treaties, the mechanisms behind the common interior and migration policies proved to be a paper tiger. Like the US during Katrina, the federal (EU) level completely broke down, while the state and local institutions made futile, static interventions. The Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban, not the nicest chap in any case, was unable to reach the Austrian chancellor on the phone yesterday.

Today, 10.000 people will arrive in Austria (most continuing on to the holy land). Austria and Germany will be able to bear the burden. Germany at the moment pays 12.500 euro per migrant/year. So, the expected 100.000 extra migrants in Austria cost far less than what has just been wasted on a failed local bank. The main problem is that 80% of the young men do not even have a minimal education (and seem quite unwilling to adapt culturally). Austria actually has a huge demand for mid-skilled healthcare workers. Hopefully, they can quickly be trained to care for old and sick people. That, however, requires that they are willing to interact, listen and care for women. At the moment, perverse incentives reward those the most who break the rules and laws while it punishes those who enter the Regelprozess. Learning from other countries would be helpful too. Switzerland has set up a refugee assessment pipeline that offers a 48h decision (case management) whereas Germany currently needs 6 months to do the same. The success of the current wave rests on quickly getting these 100.000s out of the refugee camps and into training and jobs.

This also requires extra budgets as resources are squeezed, e.g. instead of renting a room to one student, landlords in Vienna have rented the same room to 4-6 refugees at triple the rate. The crowded out student still needs a room, while the government should protect the money it pays for refugees in ending up in the hands of middle men. Vienna will hold local elections in five weeks. Unfortunately, this crisis will be a boom for the right-wingers (financed by the plutocrats).

The successful Völkerwanderung in the style of the children's crusade will send a signal to Africa and the Middle East that Dublin/Schengen has been completely broken. Demography and climate change will result in huge pressure in Europe to accept millions of immigrants. Europe needs and can absorb a lot of people but not all that want to come. It is thus very unfortunate that the signal was sent that breaking all rules is the ticket to Europe. David Cameron's approach of picking up the refugees only in refugee camps near the problem areas seems a sensible solution that also cuts out lots of profiteers.

As most of the refugees are healthy young men, the ideal solution would be for Europe to train and form them into European mechanized infantry divisions with European air and artillery support to fight and re-establish order under European control in failed states (like the Romans used the Goths ...).

okt 8, 2015, 10:34am

200-300 euro per month for parking in a garage in Amsterdam seems a bargain indeed. I had only calculated the interest costs of owning such a parking place. On top come service costs (particularly if a lift is needed) plus of course real estate taxes which both together can easily double the costs. However, the costs are partly mitigated when the value of your parking spot rises, which here happens in perfect tune with the ever increasing charges for parking in the streets. So if you look at total costs/benefits of ownership, given the use of leverage (i.e. a mortgage), low interest rates and some tax reductions, you can reduce the costs of a parking space materially, all thanks to regulatory arbitrage. For now, at least. Personally, I hope that self-driving electric cars will deliver on their promise:

Imagine a fleet of shared AEVs, of varying sizes and purposes, that can be summoned with a smartphone app — dare I say it, an Uber, but for self-driving cars. (This is not Jetsons futurism; Tesla is already pondering it.) If right-sized transportation were available to everyone within minutes, there would be no need for every individual to own a vehicle that is parked 95 percent of the time.

Even if neighbourhoods are mixed, in practice there is still segregation. Half of Amsterdam is going through a process of massive gentrification (essentially this means that university graduate couples are now happy with housing built for workers decades ago). These new families visit different shops and pubs and send their children to different schools. It is one reason for the popularity of cargo bikes in the city. Whether the original inhabitants are of native or immigrant stock is not really important here. The original inhabitants may however benefit from improved services that new inhabitants expect. Estate corporations have been selling large numbers of flats to accommodate gentrification. I am not so sure if the size of estates is really such an issue. Rather, the largest estates were planned in the sixties but ready in the seventies, when there was a backlash against city life and people preferred the space of the suburbs (it was also a time when about every household in Europe had its own car for the first time). The appreciation of city life has since reversed. Another factor is how these as then unpopular estates were used. Basically they were used as dumps for immigrants. The philosophy of the time was also to place very few demands on such immigrants. Modernist estates like the Barbican in London or sleepy Buitenveldert in Amsterdam that were aimed at the middle classes can be considered successful areas.

My Weltanschauung convinces me mightily to try to deal with telecom companies as little as possible. And not just telecoms, but any business with a call centre. The slicing and dicing of business processes and outsourcing of key elements of a business’s product are almost always a drama for users of a service. Most countries have a competition authority and a consumer protection authority that might limit reduce negative outliners, but dealing with them is rarely a pleasant experience. If markets are optimal or sub-optimal depends upon your values. A market has no more values than its stakeholders. In terms of emancipation, I think the difficulties that the hurdles that people from ethnic minorities encounter are far larger than women.

Regarding China, I am finally reading a non-fiction book again. I have not finished it yet, but so far I love God's Chinese Son, about the Taiping Rebellion. Jonathan Spence is an excellent story teller and this odd era of earlier globalisation and the messy demise of the Ching dynasty are highly entertaining. There are of course plenty of Chinese factories with up-to-par quality control, but less so for the domestic market. Like elsewhere in East Asia outside Japan, price competition is particularly fierce, and short cuts are one of the ways to get an order. Add low levels of education, low purchasing power of domestic consumers, corruption, etc. and you get low quality standard market practices. And it leads to occasionally empty shelves in our stores, e.g. for baby milk powder. The Ebays of China are full of enterprising Chinese offering Dutch articles, often with the brand or shop name and sometimes with a photo of the shop where they buy them. In Hong Kong this has been so big that it has led to a backlash against Mainlanders and impoverished Honkies crossing the border multiple times a day. Citizens of Shenzhen are now restricted in crossing this extremely busy border post of Lowu. Tourism is now perceived as more of a problem in Hong Kong than here in Amsterdam, where the forces of commerce still lead the discussion. Nobody here called tourists "locusts" yet.

For Amsterdam, this might be an interesting hobby for you:

Smellwalking is an active practice, the whole body is involved as olifactors stoop, bend and stretch. Smell-hunting, they seek out olfactory possibility; road drains, keyholes, inside bushes, along park benches, materiality, humans, non-human animals and plants are all homes to scent.

The policy of the German government towards refugees has obtained a mixed reception here. It seems the Germans still cease to be rational when important decisions are taken. I really wonder why they opened the border so completely. Are they still feeling guilty about the Second World War, or is it Wiedergutmachung for nagging the Greeks in the months before? Large parts of the population here accept the moral duty to shelter a reasonable number of refugees from Syrian war zones, but basically nobody here believes in a positive effect on, say, the ageing of society or the affordability of the welfare state by an influx of refugees. Not unlike the comments of Germany's favourite garden gnome Hans-Werner Sinn, the Dutch think more about the costs. This is partly our own fault. Germany pays EUR 12.500 per refugee per year, Holland 28.000. These are however short-term costs. Once refugees get permanent residency they move on to standard welfare. These data are appalling. Of the Somalians, Syrians and Eritreans received in the 1990’s, 70, 60 and 50 percent are on welfare. The Yugoslavs who came to Holland were relatively successful. Or at least the young ones were, who got or continued their education here. The older generation’s use of welfare is roughly equal to that of Turks and Moroccans: only 48% of them worked. Where the average native Dutchman contributes about EUR 75K to the state coffers during his lifetime, non-Western immigrants cost 43K, the usually politically correct Volkskrant quoted the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis. This leads to painful questions about what country Holland wants to be in the near and longer-term future.

okt 15, 2015, 4:48pm

Despite the bad weather, the number of newly arriving refugees is not going down. Every day, 5.000 to 10.000 people cross the Austrian border. About 10% apply for asylum here, the rest wants to move on to Germany and Sweden. A bit worrying is that the number of people entering Germany does not match the Austrian ones, so that there are now thousands of undocumented people who have chosen to live in a parallel world (as practiced by many immigrant communities which crops up only if multiple persons share the same health care chip card to access numerous and incompatible services at the same time).

A great re-interpretation of an immigrant story is the new musical Hamilton who has been too much captured by conservatives recently. This offers a new twist. I am just waiting for a musical about another immigrant secretary of the treasury, Albert Gallatin.

The refugee crisis has shown that both on a national and a European level the immigration system needs an overhaul. Dublin clearly has failed. What also has failed is the classic immigration bureaucracy with its giant backlog. In Germany, the best case is a 6-month assessment for even easy Syrian cases. But even with this cumbersome process, those denied (currently 40%) are not sent back but are grudgingly allowed to stay after a miserable and wasteful battle of wills for both sides. Up to now, denied asylum seekers in Austria who the government had asked to leave the country were even allowed to bring in their family (which usually resulted in overturning the denied application thanks to the kids).

Ideally, there would be two systems. One for real refugees that would pay and provide safe refugee camps close to the afflicted area. This would be much cheaper (Austria will spend more for its 80.000+ refugees than the 2 millions cared for by the UN near Syria) and also take care of the integration difficulties as those coming from failed states usually lack the educational and professional skills for a developed country and become dependent on social services for decades. The second part would be an immigration application program like Canada's that selects candidates based on their skills and willingness to integrate. Europe is aging rapidly and can use many skilled immigrants. The current system, however, mostly creates welfare dependency at best and terrorist cells at the worst. Europe needs a pragmatic solution.

Unfortunately, what it will get is a quick fix in paying of Erdogan to play the role of mean gatekeeper and further muddling through. Austria's budget for next year includes 1 billion extra for the refugees, even though at least 2-3 billions are needed just for the minimum services. And the minimum services clearly are not enough. To have any chance at getting these 100.000 (and with their families soon 250.000) integrated into a nation of 8-9 million without creating additional ghettoes, a host of qualification programs are necessary.

It would also be helpful to stop dumb austerity programs such as cutting music and sport lessons for kids. This saves little money, is counterproductive and politically harmful as money is spent on language and other classes for refugees while the services for the population are reduced. At the moment, the necessary funding is not absorbed by higher taxes. Austria is currently not getting much revenue from very wealthy people (like the finance minister himself who shelters his money in Liechtenstein and elsewhere). A small wealth tax similar to the Swiss system would be a good way to make taxation fairer and raise needed revenue.

One shocking aspect of the refugee crisis has been how stark the media is manipulating the news. In the two weeks up to the Vienna local elections, the refugee topics simply disappeared from both TV and newspapers to below the fold and other news. We are living in a strange mix of corporate media and a cacophony of unreliable social media.

News and taxes were not handled better in the past. Juliet Barker's England, Arise: The People, the King and the Great Revolt of 1381 shows how raising a poll tax in winter time for a failed campaign in France can trigger a wave of Wutbürger. Strangely, nobody realized at the time that it would have been smarter to collect taxes to create a fund for next year's campaign instead of starting the campaign without cash at hand (thus making it very hard to procure stuff in time) and then try to raise enough taxes to cover the debts incurred. With revenue raised in a year, they then could have also planned a campaign that was achievable with those funds, instead of the usual out of reach goals of conquest most medieval kings wanted (hairy stretch goals!).

In Syria, at least, Putin is helping the West to bring the war to an end in some time. How the CIA has managed to give billions to Jihadists should be investigated in its own Iran-Contra panel. At least, Oliver North received a slap on the wrist before he became a talking head. The bipartisan support for stupid foreign policy adventures is hurting the US and the world. It is strange to see that Putin is actually the good guy with straight priorities. The big question will be who will speak for the Sunnites (after the defeat of both the rebels and ISIS) as real moderates willing to cut a deal currently do not exist but are necessary for a longterm settlement.

Last week, I heard a very interesting lecture about the Agra's garden palaces around the Taj Mahal. The city of Agra is not really profiting from the daytime tourists who take a look at the Taj and then return without spending much money locally. The current Indian government isn't keen on investing and preserving its Muslim heritage, so the attraction beyond the tourist core will continue to decay.

I've been slowly reading through Wendy Doniger's delightful if a bit long The Hindus : an alternative history. In the early centuries, the struggle seems to have been between vegetarians/animal welfare advocates and horse sacrifice champions. The various sediments of culture are fascinating. Roger Crowley's new book about Conquerors: How Portugal Forged the First Global Empire will fit in nicely in my India focus.

Regarding China, there is again an excellent MOOC on FutureLearn going on: The European discovery of China offers both a good recap of the country and its history as well as great links. They really should have sent the computer-animated Song scroll A Moving Masterpiece to Europe. I love panoramas and this computer-animated type offers a new breath of life for an art form many consider too static and boring. Creating digital models seems to be a real craze in China (as witnessed here in Vienna by a digital animation film of the recreated old summer palace in Beijing burnt down in 1860 by the British and Harry Flashman).

Another great China/South-East Asia read is Timothy Brooke's Mr Selden's Map of China. As a counterpoint to Hugo Grotius' Mare Liberum, John Seldon wrote, as a way to get out of prison, Mare Clausum about the sovereign rights of states to rule the waves, a question now disputed by China and the United States in the central part of the map at the center of the book.

The BBC has produced a good documentary about Roger Penrose's exchange and inspiration of M.C. Escher. A truly wonderful example of mutual inspiration. Gaming and animation companies today are similarly pushing the boundaries of physical models.

Jean Novel has made a short video about my favorite art museum: Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark.

Redigerat: nov 16, 2015, 3:15pm

I think the impact of the crisis in the Middle East on old Europe has reached a new level this weekend with the murders in Paris. The number of deaths is not as high as, say, the bombing in Madrid, but the act of going into a concert hall, emptying your AK47s and then blowing yourself up is a nouveauté I had not been waiting for. I wonder if that had been inspired by American style mass murder. Luckily, the bombs around the stadium mainly killed the terrorists. At the time of writing there are strong links to Brussels, where the Parti Socialiste burgomaster of Sint Jans Molenbeek long refused to accept growing extremism on his territory. Although Belgium has a long tradition of anti-foreigner parties (particularly in Flanders; they are as anti-foreigners as they are anti-Walloon), or because of that, the mainstream is still scarily politically correct. Earlier this year I made a day trip to Brussels and I had printed some suggested walks around the city. All very cheerfully talking about restaurants with exotic food, as if immigration isn't a mixed bag. A relatively large number of ISIS volunteers comes from the land of moules frites and beer.

With its colonial history in North Africa, France probably has the best integrated Muslim community in Europe, but also some of the worst. Although the state can hit hard after an act of terror, it does not really have tentacles and influence in the banlieues. I just wondered if the nations otherwise admirable laïcité does not play a role here. I shall visit Paris next weekend while on my way to the Caribbean Potemkin village of the Castro brothers. I wonder how it will feel. Also, voices to increase defence spending are increasingly vocal lately.

How this will influence opinions about the wave of refugees coming to Europe is another matter. Mutti Merkel plays a dubious role here, and fully in line with earlier actions of the German government. With her invitation to Syrians to come to Germany she aggravated a crisis in all the countries between Turkey and Germany, not unlike Germany's insistence to bail out German banks in the Club Med crises and the German decision to flaunt the deficit rules when it suited them. On a regional scale, Germany operates, well, quite like the Americans on a global scale. Also, I find it rather odd that a political leader can decide to grow the population with a million immigrants without even a political debate. A debate that would be fraught with political correctness and insider interests anyway. E.g. my local newspaper seems to find only hip, smart young talent among immigrants. If that is true, I don't know. The people I see hanging around the refugee centre don't look hip, and not all young or Syrian (interestingly there have been refugee protests, among others that they got the same food for breakfast and lunch; clearly Generation Y's smartphones lack a Lonely Planet app, because that is the standard here). You suggest that Europe funds refugee camps in the region. This would almost certainly be better for Europe, you may however wonder if that is all fair to places like the Lebanon and Jordan that already host so many refugees. They are also countries that are unstable themselves.

Meanwhile, the government here seems to have a policy to keep its refugee programmes less attractive than neighbouring countries, trusting indeed that they are indeed all hip, young people with smartphones and Facebook. They may well stay in Austria then: no wealth tax (here it stands at 1.2% for "wealth" over EUR 21K, which is about the costs of an Opel Vectra; try to find a savings account that offers 1.2% interest!) and early retirement (Holland is on the way to have both the highest pension savings and the highest retirement age).

It could be that tourists nowadays only daytrip to the Taj Mahal, but it would surprise me. When I visited I stayed 2 nights there, also to beat the crowds by visiting in the early morning and late afternoon. But that was a long time ago. There are now probably huge crowds any time of day, and you may want to give the whole place a miss. During last month's Golden Week in China, there were 70 thousand people in one place on the Great Wall, creating a "Wall of People". The Forbidden City now limits visits to 80K people a day. But all these 80K people want to see the throne, whose window is just 3 metres wide. Given that many visitors are survivors of the Cultural Revolution, you can probably imagine what that looks like. Meanwhile, the Rijksmuseum is explicitly luring Asian tourists with its latest exhibition. You may wonder if it isn't time to look at tourism the way we look at the influx of refugees (personal note: I would not object if the hotel across the street would house refugees instead of tourists).

I have read Wendy Doniger's The Hindus too, but I had mixed feelings about it. It is more one person's hobby horse than a full overview of Hinduism or a history of Hindus. There are better books about the subject. I am sure you are also eyeing some books about the economic history of Asia. They are interesting reading.

nov 16, 2015, 2:41pm

Due to Paris I forgot to report on my visit to various brutalist housing estates in London. They happened to be a mix bunch. There had clearly not been much maintenance to the soon-to-be-demolished Robin Hood Gardens. Construction standards may have been low too, but I am not the person to judge that. What was clear was the generous public greenery on the plot, in clear sight of the banking centre of Canary Wharf. The council will make great money by densifying the land use. Trellick Tower, the darling of brutalism lovers, is a more cuddly building and rather more peripherally located. If you want to make real estate more profitable and service the "professionals" that bring money to the cities, you can probably upgrade this building quite easily. Such an upgrade does not look necessary to the Barbican Estate, an estate within walking distance of the City that was meant from the start for the middle and upper classes. The city invested far more money into this estate than into its more proletarian sisters. As a matter of fact, even you may like it. There will be few estates in the Anglo-sphere that are so dedicated to Bildung, with manicured gardens, a museum, a theatre, a concert hall and a greenhouse on the grounds. And the inhabitants defend their privileges with great determination. You will be hard pressed to find more signs saying verboten (well, something equivalent in English) anywhere west of Berlin. Still, the Barbican comes closest to the ideas Modernist city planners had for neighbourhood development. Almost everywhere the cultural element was skipped, because it was too expensive. This lack of realism is a serious shortcoming of that era.

I recently chatted with a Japanese, who thought Modernist estates here in Holland looked wonderful: Licht, Luft, Raum. Indeed, Modernist suburbs are popular among Amsterdam's Japanese and Indian expat communities. Still, not all immigrants love the transparancy of the Modernists. Quite a few flats in London's Alexandra Road Estate seemed to be inhabited by immigrants with a need for more privacy. Again, this estate had gone through a long period of neglect, while the open plan made the estate particularly vulnerable to the wave of drug-related burglary European societies went through in the 1970's and '80's. It looks in reasonable shape now, however.

nov 18, 2015, 6:35pm

I am still in the early part of Doniger's history. The persistent twin predilection of vegetarianism and sacrificing horses in India is strange. It is equally puzzling how often horse is on the menu at feasts in the Chinese Water Margin novel. Lets put some horse on the barbie.

Talking about horses, Vienna has produced a nice Vienna tourist ad featuring a female Spanish riding school rider. Up to a few years ago, the Spanish riding school has been an all-male institution. Wonderful how fast cultural change can happen. Financially, they are in the doldrums at the moment as the bad economic situation has reduced the number of lucrative foreign tours while in Vienna, there is a battle between traditionalists (holding on to boring but difficult riding figures) and Disneyfication of the show to attract younger and larger audiences. I haven't seen a show in ages.

The Albertina's Welten der Romantik features its collection of Catholic Romanticism - a lot of bad art produced in the restrictive Metternich era. As nobody will want to see that, they spiced it up with a few German works by Caspar David Friedrich and romantic landscape paintings. Among the latter feature views of the Swiss Devil's Bridge (whose story unfortunately is not told to the Austrians, so it remains just a dramatic landscape).

London is too great a city to spend time in those atrocious brutalist structures. The basic concept of brutalist architecture is the bunker, a hardened defensive structure. Barbican is indeed an apt name and from the outside a perfect fit of a defensive shell - an anti-urban wasteland (that may contain a nicer core). As Stewart Brand, Jan Gehl and Christopher Alexander have been preaching, architecture is about living with and in buildings not just constructing them. Almost any structure can be adapted and made better for human use after the construction phase has ended.

Meanwhile, every day, 5000 refugees arrive at Austria's border and capacities in Germany, Austria and Sweden are getting stretched. In Vienna, refugees are mostly hidden away in unused former factories and office buildings. 1000 people sharing the luxury of one shower and a weekly trip to the public bath. For three months, they have been eating only a tomato-chicken meal twice a day. Granted, the target audience is not very open to food experimentation (and there have been food riots in Germany and elsewhere when the refugees were faced with unknown but halal food components). Still, three months of the same army ration without change is almost torture. Swiss army cooks at least try and know how to barter with local suppliers to spice up bland meals.

At a European level, it does not look like that we are closer to a solution how to deal with next year's larger waves from Asia and Africa. Treating and hosting refugees in Europe, and especially Western Europe, is ineffective and vastly more expensive than caring for them locally.

Refugees do react fast to signals and policies: As Afghans have become some of the largest migrant groups, Germany has sent out the signal that they will start to deport them. One week later, Switzerland sees 1000 new Afghan refugees coming from Germany, and Austria has seen a noted increase from Afghans coming from Germany too. As Austria grants easier access to minors, supply has adapted so that now most Afghans are in fact teenagers (or claiming to be teenagers) who are incredibly costly to the system and have only a tiny success rate in integration as most do not have the educational, cultural and linguistic background. One local recommendation was that Austria should only accept Afghan girls (and fly them in from Kabul). They could be trained as nurses, would not get pregnant as early and would trigger a cultural change as they would soon have a lot more economic power by the funds they send home. A lot of the failure in the Middle East and Muslim Asia/Africa is due to the subjugation of women and their lack of education and power.

Book-wise, I am reading a splendid new biography about Franz Joseph I Kaiser von Österreich und König von Ungarn. It is truly shocking how he made the same parallel mistakes in 1859 and 1914, even reusing formulations in his proclamations "An meine Völker".

Also funny is the publication of Max Frisch's own comments on his Swiss secret police file Ignoranz als Staatsschutz?. Now, as Lenin lamented, Switzerland's lefties are very comfortable bourgeois and no revolutionaries. The file about Max Frisch is mostly boring and incomplete. In fact, the writer revealed a lot more at that time in his published diaries. As is often the case, open and public information is more accurate and complete than the secret but wrong files of a scared bureaucracy.

Unfortunately, the terrorists are exploiting Schengen much faster than the different national police and security forces are willing and able to cooperate. It is really strange to see how hard it is for Austrian, Slovenian, Hungarian and Bavarian police to work together and develop some sort of common esprit de corps. Europe needs a lot more integration.

dec 20, 2015, 5:05pm

I could not tell you why horse meat is so popular in Water Margin. Donkey, I know. Donkey is good for a man's yang, as waitresses in China told me multiple times. Horses could not be bred in China, so maybe they were expensive and therefore something special. Nowadays horse meat is the cheapest meat around. Still, there are few butchers left that sell horse meat here in Amsterdam.

I can only congratulate you with Vienna's conservatism. Not that I see any relevance in not allowing women joining the Spanish Riding School (the Wiener Philharmoniker was also quite slow in accepting women), but the fact that Disneyfication is considered just an option is an asset of Austrian culture. Here in Holland rendementsdenken also applies to cultural institutions, city planning, restaurants, and what have you. This despite that our mercenary attitude does not make Holland any richer than Mitteleuropa, although the Dutch score slightly higher on the happiness scale than the Viennese.

Probably you visit cities for different reasons than I do. A city does not have to beautiful for me. I even have a sweet spot for the dynamic ugly ducklings of the Far East. And I like to see how cities change and how reality deals with all the concepts that stood at the basis of their design. Brutalism and modernism are interesting themes. If, as you claim, the basis of brutalism is a bunker, then the Brazil of Oscar Niemeyer must have quite frivolous defences. But you are right that brutalist buildings often cannot be changed easily to accommodate a new function. That is not by definition different from the latest waves of city planning I see here, or the starchitect glass office towers that mushroom in the City of London (glass is at least as boring as béton brut). All the brutalist buildings I visited stood in mostly modernist surroundings, but in no area did brutalism dominate. They could easily be integrated into the fabric of the city if they would be well maintained, and if optimising the income from land lease does not dominate the decision making process.

Syria was on my list of countries to visit before the civil ware broke out. Not only does it have an interesting history and architecture, but other people who visited the country raved about the people's friendliness and hospitality, two things that northern Europe is not particularly famous for. In such countries receiving hospitality is often also expected. Giving refugees tomato chicken for 3 months is kind of an insult of members of an honour culture. Actually, if all the Syrians that reach Holland turn out not to be the promised brain surgeons app programmers we were promised, then at least I hope there are lots of enterprising mamas among them that open restaurants around the country. Syrian cuisine is a lot yummier than the Spezialitäten your neighbourhood's friendly döner Imbiß has on offer.

My area gets a centre for some 350 refugees, but it will be limited to families, lesbians and homosexuals, women without partners, atheists and Christians (the "testoterone bombs", as we call the young men are called that are sent as quartermasters by their families, are dumped in cheaper, less popular parts of the city with less social cohesion). Gay and Christian refugees that tried to escape the narrowmindedness of their own culture find out they have made little progress in refugee centres full of their own countrymen. I find it odd that they think that families will be pro-lesbian and pro-atheist. Equally, you may wonder what the influx of refugees in Germany means for antisemitism in the country. We are living in interesting times.

Meanwhile I visited Cuba, where the sad exploitation of its citizens by the state is now complemented by citizens trying to exploit tourists (Marxism's "exploitation ratio" is one of the few things I remember from the book of formulae that was Economic History in my undergraduate programme). Otherwise Cuba is a great destination for people with a longing for the last century.

I had no idea what to read on my trip, so I grabbed Dubbelspel, a novel about Curaçao, another dominoes loving society in the Caribbean. It reminded me that a novel can be just as informative about a country or a society as a non-fiction work. Otherwise I read Alledaagse Macht, which portrays bureaucrats in 8 different countries. I originally bought it to for the photos by Jan Banning (his own book about the subject was printed in only 2,000 copies and expensive to get), but the text in this book pure pleasure and would deserve translation. It not only explains how the different ideas about the government is expressed in the photos, but also explained why you cannot expect much of bureaucrats in third world countries, who have no budgets for computers or even the furniture they have in their office. "Emerging Economies" are an enormous waste of human talent.

dec 24, 2015, 11:13am

I very much enjoyed Jan Banning's images presented in the German magazine GEO 08/2008 (which you can get on Ebay). I've seen similar amazing comparative series on kitchens, schools etc. Diversity in form follows function.

The mobile revolution has great potential in helping developing countries in catching up in bureaucracy, as the paper-based information gathering can be avoided by direct digital e-government (and also less prone to petty corruption). I've read a very optimistic book about The Great Surge of the third world, basically an extension of Jan Roslin's YT message. We need to change our mental image of developing countries. It is really fascinating to know that at the end of the 18th century, 94% of mankind lived in a state of extreme poverty (In one part of Switzerland, there was actually a famine in the late 19th century!). The book itself suffers from US myopia and severe sucking-up (that is a location-based Georgetown advantage). The author considers the whole gamut of available opinion from Harvard to Princeton. For good measure someone from Oxford is heard too as well as that extreme leftie Jeffrey Sachs.

In a totally opposite mood is Ilija Trojanow's short but striking essay Der überflüssige Mensch on the perils of automation for the human workforce. I am not as pessimistic. We are living in a time of change in the starting information age. Just like the industrial workers needed almost a quarter century to develop effective pressure group, the current generation has yet to find a lever to create countervailing power. Krugman's look back to the strong labor unions may alleviate some Walmart hardship but not an Uber-ized workspace.

"Emerging Economies" are an enormous waste of human talent. As local capacities have long been exhausted, Austria is currently housing the huge number of migrants in former factories and army barracks. The migrants essentially are forced to wait and waste their time. With 300 young male Afghans in an army barrack situated close to a 500 people hamlet, there is little chance of integration. Stress within the different tribes has already escalated into brawls. With extremely limited education and no language skills, these migrants have no realistic job perspective in Austria. A more honest and less wasteful approach would be to communicate this clearly and employ them in effective development projects in their country of origin. It is really sad that most development money is simply skimmed off by corrupt officials and contractors. The brain-dead US efforts in creating Syrian soldiers being exhibit 1. Not paying competitive wages, not even paying sustainable wages while wasting millions on buying overpriced equipment should really result in a few Admiral Byngs.

There is a nice exhibition about Austrian architect (and furniture designer) Josef Frank in Vienna's MAK. He presented a concept for the rebuilding of WWII bombed-out Stephansplatz. This is a square that does not work due to insufficient space. Frank's concept still had not enough room to work but would have been better than the current solution that breaks up the square into smaller areas. Red Vienna likely prevented a good solution as this would have given the Catholic Church (and the Conservatives) a prime showcase area.

I also learned that I live on a Viennese street aligned with the winter solstice sunrise. The axis of the Reichsbrücke is aligned with the summer solstice sunrise.

Meanwhile, they identified the location of Vermeer's Little Street in Delft. In Google Street View, the street was just under construction.

Fitting to the date, I end with the first Xmas story in German dating from 870: "In himilriches hohi / si gote guallichi, si in erdu fridu ouh allen / thie fol sin guates willen!". Merry Christmas - which will bring me closer to entering 3000 books in LT!

dec 24, 2015, 11:31am

they identified the location of Vermeer's Little Street in Delft

Se non è vero, è ben trovato. That sort of thing tugs at the heartstrings enough that one doesn't want to wonder unduly how many interchangeable façades there might be.

dec 24, 2015, 11:38am

It fits well with the explanation of laziness: Vermeer did not have to walk far to get there. Furthermore, he lived in a fairly modern era, so that cartography is really helpful in reducing the number of false positives. It is a lot closer to reality than the balcony of Romeo and Juliet ...

dec 24, 2015, 11:53am

>82 jcbrunner:

It is a lot closer to reality than the balcony of Romeo and Juliet ...

Ha, absolutely! But DON'T try to take away from me 221B Baker Street. ;)

Redigerat: dec 24, 2015, 4:29pm

Delft is one of the most popular tourist towns in the Netherlands, and an important stop on the Golden Century Line in the latest blur to increase "sustainable tourism", which sounds to me like a contradiction in terms, or more directly as conceptual bullshit from parasitical consultants. This could indeed raise skepticism about the claim that they found the location of Johannes Vermeer's Little Street also. However, the fact that they base it on tax records and notary records gives the claim some validity. Unless, of course, the location is a complete fantasy. The reason for the investigation was to find out if Vermeer used his fantasy or not. The art historians now think he did not. Find more details of the investigation here. I am sure there is no language barrier for either of you.

The Geo article about bureaucracy consists of excerpts from Alledaagse Macht, and I am happy you liked it. Jan Banning just finished a more or less equivalent project about prison systems in various countries. It seems Mr. Banning is pretty rigorous in his research. For his latest book he went to study at the Max Planck Institute, for example. However, I found the book somewhat disappointing, compared to the Bureaucracy project. Primarily, this has to do with the layout of the book, which is far less rigorous. Individually, the photos are of equivalent quality. Mr. Banning also made interesting projects about comfort women to the Japanese in Java, and about survivors of the Pekanbaroe Railroad in Sumatra. In August 1945 the Japanese kept their surrender a secret, to ascertain that the forced labourers and prisoners of war continued their work. More than 50% of them died. The railroad itself was used only once, to release the labourers, and later fell in disrepair.

And if you like such photography projects, you may want to browse European Fields, which uses amateur football matches as foreground for documenting landscapes across Europe. The book is a follow up of the even more famous Dutch Fields, which shows not only Dutch landscapes, but also the odd behaviour of the male species when he tries to be a homo ludens.

Development aid is often used to subsidise industries in the home countries, either for directly buying products, or to soften loans to buy services from the donor countries. In that way the Europeans are no different from the Americans, or their new and blunter competitors, the Chinese. Meanwhile we keep our markets closed for products from developing countries and subsidise exports from our own less efficient producers. There is some discussion here about the coming influence on employment and "employability" of robots. As usual with technological progress, jobs and services will disappear and new ones will appear. The distribution of income created by improved productivity is as yet unclear, but it would indeed be useful if it were more equal than the increases created by the internet and the latest waves of globalisation. Trade unions may not be the answer here, because they mainly protect their ageing, lower income members in established industries. But we do not know yet how all this will develop, and all you can do is speculate. Maybe more important is to get everybody up to speed for such new developments. Whereas it is now mandatory to fill in the Dutch tax forms via the tax office's website (even the duty to fill in tax forms is only communicated via email), Italian e-government is near absent. In general, internet use in Italy is only slightly higher than Morocco's. Germans seem quite reluctant to do electronic payments, I understand, but I cannot find the data so quickly. Europe, and particularly euroland, has an issue here. If such important countries cannot keep up, all we can do is devalue the currency again, which will affect overall competitiveness and wealth. We cannot all escape to Switzerland or Singapore.

As for Christmas, enjoy the holiday. Gift giving here happens on the evening before Saint Nicolas Day (and requires a lot more creativity than your Christmas gift giving), so the 25th of December is more about eating and drinking too much and the odd church visit. I pride myself in being slightly more tolerant of all that than these chaps, although I appreciate the energy such people invest in their sunrise prayers (this Dutch Facebook group has about 75 thousand followers). I'll spend the coming days reading Brussel Eurabia 1 en 2 : terug naar kalifaat Molenbeek, by one of the few people who forecasted that Brussels would become a centre of Jihadism, while drinking some heavenly nectar from Franschhoek.


dec 24, 2015, 4:50pm

I pride myself in being slightly more tolerant of all that than these chaps,

I kept waiting for the punchline! But no, the kooks are deadly serious, aren't they.

I'm all for enjoying the best of all religions, and "holiday cheer" is hardly among their worst inventions. Merry Christmas. :)

dec 25, 2015, 10:04am

In Austria, a few years ago, there existed a Catholic self-appointed "pornography hunter" who amassed one of the largest porn collections and attended probably more erotic fairs/conventions than anyone else in Austria. Similarly, the chap in the first clip used up a lifetime supply of his transgressive word "Merry Christmas". A truly messed up mind. Compared this to Thomas Jefferson's live and let live, as "Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to our God alone. I inquire after no man's, and trouble none with mine; nor is it given to us in this life ti know whether your or mine, our friends or our foes, are exactly the right."

Religions know how to mess up easy ethical decisions (e.g. Abraham and Isaac). Religion offers permission to judge and inflict pain on others. In a non-religious context in ch. 73 of the Chinese novel Water Margin, Li Kui is asked to solve a problem which he does in his unique style but then goes on in an extreme way in meting out cruel, unexpected punishment.

The huge wave of immigrants certainly unbundles part of the social contract, as the new arrivals have to first learn about European attitudes. The Austrian Interior Minister has, as a first step, created a leaflet that unfortunately ducks away from the hard questions: "Treat others with respect. For example, by being quiet at night." Quietness is a cultural concept that has to be explained. Some people think they are quiet when in fact, they are still loud (*cough* US cinema visitors *cough*).

"Violence is prohibited in Austria. Even in the family there must not be any violence!" The copious pictures of refugees hitting their own children were/are quite shocking to Western audiences, and probably not considered "violence" at all by the refugee parents, just like the tasering/shocking of the offspring in the second video (and qualify for battery or as a common assault).

Re Vermeer and Sherlock: I love such places (and quite liked the 221B Baker Street museum, ages ago) and also have quite a few books about Stefan Zweig's Vienna (minus the recent revelations about his indecent exposure habits in the Liechtenstein Park), Chopin's Warsaw or Kafka's Prague. Those Cicerones make one understand a city better. Some day, I hope to visit Downton Abbey's Highclere Castle too, as I haven't seen Winchester, Southampton and Portsmouth.

The small exhibition about Vermeer in the video looks wonderful (thanks for the link). I wish museums offered more of such smaller expositions and extensions of academic research (instead of mostly blockbusters). Unfortunately, these one or two room shows do not attract the now mandatory big crowds.

It is interesting to see the variations undertaken to make Harry Potter's Platform 9¾ at King's Cross Station in London tourist-safe but no longer actually next to the departing trains but with a Harry Potter merchandise shop.

In other news, I completed Duolingo's excellent Esperanto course and am now at a B1 level in a useless language. I intend to use it by reading an Esperanto essay about Jan Comenius and artificial languages written in Esperanto. Unfortunately, the library having the essay in its collection is only open from 9-12 Monday to Thursday. Apart from the over-complicated particles and gerunds, Esperanto is very well designed and would be worth a shot to be adopted by the European Union as a common second language after Brexit. Currently, I believe that the Conservatives will be unlikely to reign in their mad hatters and vote to stay in to their own economic benefit (Prince Charles is one of the largest recipients of EU agricultural subventions).

dec 25, 2015, 12:14pm

The copious pictures of refugees hitting their own children were/are quite shocking to Western audiences, and probably not considered "violence" at all by the refugee parents

I was reading this morning an article in the NY Times about a Syrian in Texas with four children aged 11 yrs-2 months (the last one born in the US) and a "chain-smoker's" reserve of Winston cigarettes in his SUV--I bet you anything in the world he smokes around children all the time. The ubiquitous smoking habit in the Middle East is something that, I imagine, poses major difficulty for these people in anti-smoking West. Just about every article on refugees in their new homes will have photos with cigarette packs somewhere if not people smoking. (Well--men. Women of course, especially Muslim, are not welcome to the vice.)

But that's just one aspect that makes my optimism kick in--it's not the least way moving to the West is better for their health!

So you think there's hope for Esperanto? ;)

Are there any good but free language courses online? Next year I want to tackle active use of Swedish, Danish and Norwegian.

dec 26, 2015, 8:09am

The West isn't actually as anti-smoking and smoke-free as I wished. The United States is miles ahead in this matter and experiencing smoke-free environments there was a joy. The number of outcast smokers lurking and smoking outside the entrance was also vastly lower than, say, in England or France. In Europe, there is both an West-East and North-South continuum (conforming to wealth too) with the heaviest smokers in the Balkans. In Austria which has still a surprisingly high rate of smokers, there was the shocking news that the rate of smoking teenage girls has actually gone up. A few years ago, bars and restaurants had to install isolated smoking and non-smoking zones, an expensive solution that did not actually work very well as opened doors sent the bad air from the smoking zone into the non-smoking area. Finally in 2018, all bars and restaurants will be smoke-free in Austria, at last.

Somewhere I read a good article recently that one must pay attention that lamenting the poor lifestyle choices (smoking, drinking, obesity) of foreigners and the poor is an easy way out of actually improving the vast inequality. A better station in life will decrease birth rates, obesity and other bad habits (while creating new urges, cf. the British elite's strange foibles).

With Duolingo Esperanto, at least, there is no a very easy way to get into Esperanto. If one speaks a major European language, it is really easy to learn Esperanto. Getting to B1 level in six months would be unrealistic for most learners without full immersion while doable with a daily regime on Duolingo. Over 200.000 persons have started the course, so that is a big boost to the language.

The main problem is, at least in Europe, that somebody inclined to learn Esperanto will also know one or several other foreign languages. In almost any situation, Esperanto is dominated by another language. I have the same problem in actually speaking Swedish. Swedes usually speak such good English and German that I do not want to trouble them in having to listen to my broken Swedish. In any case, I learned the language to be able to read more about the Great Northern War. Apart from a deluge of titles written during the Nazi era (when a failed Swedish invasion of Russia and the Abwehrkampf against Russian hordes became very popular), there is not much written about the Baltic area. My Russian is too weak to read history titles and I am certainly not going to learn Polish.

Duolingo features very good free intro courses for Swedish, Danish and Norwegian. Personally, I am clearly in the Swedish camp - Sweden and Switzerland share so much that they even launched a joint marketing website explaining the difference to the Chinese. In the United States I am usually typecast as Swedish (and have played along as a tall and blond faux-Viking). I do, however, prefer the air of a lush green meadow to the fishy smell of the sea so beloved of Swedes. Seeing a Stockholm park full of Swedes all wearing different-colored but otherwise identical H&M T-shirts also freaked out my Swiss individualism. It was no accident that IKEA and its standardization took off in such a small nation (in population).

For Swedish, I can also recommend the German provider, though you should look out for one of their half-price offers. Unfortunately, they do not add new content often to their courses, so a six-month option provides the best value. Then there are nice flashcard sites such as Anki, Quizlet and Memrise. In a Memrise course about Swedish swear words, I learned that the Swedes say "Vad i helvete!" for "What the hell!" As Helvetia is the Latin name for Switzerland, this has a nice ring in my ear.

Anyway, language learning is personal. One must test what works best, mix and match. The internet offers so many great tools. Kids growing up today have so many options. I remember my Communist-approved drab Russian textbook and also the US produced ones with vivid color illustrations but almost no learning content per page ...

dec 26, 2015, 12:11pm

Thanks very much, I will look into Duolingo, Babbel and those flashcard sites. It helps to get recommendations because there is so much apparently available online that digging around takes a lot of time.

I don't particularly expect to need these languages in conversations with natives, but it bothers me that I might ossify in bad habits acquired through passive use. With languages as related as Swedish, Danish and Norwegian there is a special danger of having them all run together in some "Skandi" mush. Active use imposes greater attention to differences and correctness.

Yes, the internet has brought wonderful ease to language learning--just the ability to hear them is fantastic. I remember as a kid endlessly playing an LP with a few Japanese children's songs, just to hear the language--there was simply nowhere and nohow I could hear Japanese in Syria in 1979.

dec 27, 2015, 7:48am

Language learning is hard and time-consuming too, so it really makes sense to test various sites and select those one is most comfortable with. I have enough trouble with getting en/ett words correct in Swedish to burden myself with further Scandinavian languages.

Then their are strange vocabulary choices, e.g. Babbel has a very weird basic corpus with key words missing but including outliers such as stepchild / Stiefkind - styvbarnet (which I memorise as the unfortunate Englishman Steve Barnet) whereas modern Swedish has coined the euphemistic "bonusbarn" (bonus child). Interestingly, Wikipedia informs me that 14% of German families and in 1990 30% of US families with the prediction that "by the year 2000 there would be more stepfamilies than original families." According to 2009, that seems to be wrong (only 10,4% of two parent families in 2009). The key issue in the US, however, are not stepchildren but children raised by single mothers (especially in black households) and the steady increase of children raised by grandparents (from 7% in 1991 to 11% in 2009).

Syria in 1979? Wow, another interesting facet about your life revealed. Reminds me of the pictures of westernized Kabul and Tehran from the 1970s I saw. A past now gone, as nationalism and religious tensions in the Middle East is destroying the former multicultural cities along the Mediterranean coast (Saloniki, Izmir, Alexandria, ...). It is only a matter of time before Egypt blows up too.

The 1980s were the Japanese decade. Thanks to my father's business trips to Japan, we had a very early Walkman. The Judo throws I learned all had (incomprehensible exotic) Japanese names and there were plenty of Japanese robot TV shows. One of my favorite toy purchases was a Japanese fighting robot that could shoot off its fists, bought in Milan near the Cathedral, as such frivolous toys were not on sale in Switzerland.

Redigerat: dec 28, 2015, 2:56pm

I find that the really hard part in language learning comes after a certain mastery has been achieved--that of maintenance. This becomes critical with age. Even I have been forced to admit that it's happening ;)--my memory simply isn't what it used to be and never can be again. So every initial effort/time-cost I make in learning a language later on gets quintupled if I want to maintain it (especially if there are other languages to take care of too... Sure, you can buy a pony or twelve but can you feed and ride them all?)

We were in Syria from 1975-1981, living mostly in Latakia after a year in Damascus. Syria is part of the Levant and the culture on the coast is not that different from what one gets in Greece or the neighbouring Cyprus (with which Latakia had almost daily connections via air and the sea). The degree of conservatism in religion varied and there was a large class of extremely poor, uneducated, mostly rural people who depended very much on tribalism for their survival. But besides this there was a hopeful urban middle class, an open mixed education system, and a "modern" sense in how things are done, what's in fashion etc. among Christians and Muslims alike. None of my Muslim friends, for instance, wore religious covering--I mean those old enough to do so, not even their mothers, older sisters etc. Niqabs were associated with an older and prevalently rural population, and scarves with uneducated little housewives--not something for the up and coming modern girl.

From my friends' news, the "modernising" thrust of development was only getting stronger over the years since we left. My father went back several times--last time in 1993--and always reported of amazing changes.

Until the fallout of American adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, roughly.

we had a very early Walkman.

We had a very early Betamax VCR! I swear it must have been something like the third or fourth to roll off the assembly line, since watching videos was a staple of in-house entertainment for years. Now this is the kicker--there were not one but several video clubs in this poky little Arab town in 1970s. Were they or their fare legit--who knows--but they existed.

And I can report, from ferreting illegally through my parents' "forbidden" stash, that you could get things like Emmanuelle too. :)

Redigerat: dec 31, 2015, 11:14am

Being more of a child of the eighties, I actually have never seen a Betamax VCR in the wild only PAL/SECAM VHS. Instead we had an uncompetitive gaming console Philips Videopac G7000, though some games such as the linked Gunfighter were great fun. Prior, there was a Pong console that actually still worked in the early 2000s. Video games illustrate the huge leap in technological progress during the last decades. Kids today are rather underwhelmed about the graphics of yesterday. A good game like Tetris, however, depends more on the concepts and mechanisms than the bling. A Pong match can be quite as much fun as a modern egoshooter duel.

Movies are a great incentive to learn languages. Switzerland was in a blessed position during the era of national TV channels. Besides the three Swiss ones (German, French, Italian), there were 2 Austrian, 4 German ones, 2 Italian ones and 3 French ones, so there always had been quite a selection to choose from - if one understood the language (though the Italian RAI programming was and is a intolerable and puzzling mix of old men joking with scantily dressed women, musical numbers and game shows).

The Swiss-Italian TV station (RSI) was always one of the first to broadcast recent US movies, as the Italian pirate stations forced the producers to release their material earlier in the distribution cycle to make any money in the Italian market. A great tool to promote Italian language skills (as there was no option then of dual audio channels). France showed off its local films on Mondays and Tuesdays. I don't think that they broadcast Emmanuelle but one of if not the first more revealing ones was L'amour braque with the gorgeous Sophie Marceau, star of La Boum - which would be like Emma Watson starring in a Basic Instinct-like film, with the added difference that Emma Watson is "Hollywood-ugly" while Sophie Marceau is one of the true beauties of the century. Basic Instinct, by the way, was an accidental discovery which I saw in Paris knowing little more than it was a new thriller with Michael Douglas. I went to see it twice.

Language maintenance is tough. One has also to keep up with the reference system. Tarantino's newest film The Hateful Eight (German title The Hateful 8) is promoted in France as Les Huit Salopards which recycles the bastards theme. In Quebec, it is called Les Huit Enragés. Is salopard (LaRousse: SALOPARD Péjoratif. Individu sans scrupule qui agit envers autrui d'une façon ignoble) not in use there or is the term seen as too vulgar? In Spain, the difference between rage and hate is taken into account: Los odiosos ocho, while in South America, the hate alone is not strong enough and the haters become the hated: Los 8 más odiados (also in Russian, if I get the gist right). Personally, I prefer Hitchcock to Tarantino - violence sequences work best if they are subtle. Tarantino distributes the ketchup too freely.

I saw the biopic Suffragette about the early English efforts to quite violently push for equal voting rights about which two recent books I read informed me à la bande and quite unexpectedly: Jill Lepore's quirky The secret history of Wonder Woman includes a good portion about the early US and English struggles to abolish or change the now ludicrous laws and practices of the day. Adam Hochschild's To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (which is quite deceptively marketed as a general WWI history in German) interweaves the resistance to war by the various splinter groups with the fight for suffrage and equality. Unfortunately, the film Suffragette suffers from the presence of a strong central character interacting with the audience-stand-in Carey Mulligan. Meryl Streep's Emmeline Pankhurst is only a guest appearance.

Michael Palin's BBC Xmas documentary about the Italian Caravaggist painter Artemisia Gentileschi, The Quest for Artemisia, was very interesting too.

So ends 2015 and soon the New Year will start. Happy 2016!

dec 31, 2015, 12:19pm

Obviously Canadians, even the Québécois, are way more polite than the French! :)

Marceau is incomparably lovely. She's some years older than me and I remember the hero-worship La Boum (the sequel was one of the first movies I saw on returning to Europe--hardly any cinema-going in Syria and Egypt) incited in the masses.

All the Swiss I met so far were polyglots, some more formidable than other, but never less than competent so I take it for granted. But I understand that regional dialects can be devilish hard to understand, is that true?

the Italian RAI programming was and is a intolerable and puzzling mix of old men joking with scantily dressed women

Le velineeee! I love to hate this about Italian culture. Also the fact that hardly a single issue of L'espresso and similar political magazines can omit naked boobs from the cover somewhere---argh!, I just googled to test this claim empirically on the latest issue and yes of course it's there--justified of course by a "serious" story about Islam, "Sul corpo delle donne"--such feminists.

2015 cannot leave a moment too soon! Happy new year!

jan 1, 2016, 4:02pm

Well, 2016 arrived with the traditional Neujahrskonzert in Vienna in commemoration of 200th years of Salzburg becoming a part of Austria in the clean-up operations of 1815 (as Geneva joined Switzerland). The kick-off with Robert Stolz' March of the United Nations made me look up who else composed for that body, e.g. Shostakovich and Pablo Casals (Hymn to the United Nations with lyrics by W.H. Auden, though I find them stilted, perhaps due to the fact that it was written in only three days).

About Swiss dialects, there are three main groups with Wallis/Valais probably the hardest to understand, though once one has gained some familiarity the dialects unlock themselves. One develops an ear and remembers different vocabulary and vowel and consonant switching. The push towards the large metro regions has also bled many of the smaller dialects dry (as hick dialects carry a certain stigma). The huge influx of (East) Germans into Switzerland (about 50.000 annually - equal in number to the refugees Switzerland absorbed in 2015) has led to an increased "germanization" of Swiss German (replacing Swiss German words with the general German one). The number of Germans working in the tourist and service industry is huge. If you go to a shop, it is likely that you will be served by a German.

Generally, I'd say that language skills have actually declined in Switzerland. Everyone's English skills are vastly superior to what they once had been (mostly by better educated English teachers no longer forcing wrong pronunciations on their pupils). In contrast, German, French and Italian language skills have suffered as once customary internships in the other parts of the country have been replaced with stays in the United States, Australia and other favorite destinations. While foreign language skills are still much better than in most other countries, many of the Swiss German federal chancellors were hard pressed to hold their own in French language political discussions (though that is a very hard task as not only the arguments but also the way these are presented count to score political points).

In school, foreign language ambitions have been cut back recently, as Switzerland was hit by a wave of immigrants from educationally deprived backgrounds. The ambitious program of starting to teach Swiss German-speaking 7-year-olds both English and French was shipwrecked by the addition of large numbers of pupils who had first to pick up German as a second language and could not at the same time learn two other languages. The program was re-scaled with a preference towards English, so that the cultural bond between the different parts will be weakened into next to each other instead of intermingled among each other. The growing use of Swiss German in all media has also made many Swiss Germans less fluent in speaking proper German freely (which is not helped by Austrians and Germans regularly adding subtitles to Swiss speakers even though they are not speaking Swiss German but actual German with a Swiss accent).

Learning many foreign languages is either a time-consuming hobby or a necessity for many immigrants. The most amazing polyglot I have encountered was a Portuguese concierge in Geneva who effortlessly shifted between numerous languages which he spoke fluently without a trace of an accent.

Re Italy's old men and scantily dressed women, I am less puzzled about the presence of sexy women (catching eyeballs - even US children's TV sexes up its female hosts, cf. the career of Katy Perry) but the abundance of the geezers. Why are there not more younger male presenters in Italian shows? It really is a gerontocracy in bunga-bunga-land.

Nudity on magazine covers can be tastefully and even artfully done. While I don't like its content, the covers of the German magazine Der Stern are often great (and promptly banned by the Apple ayatollahs - the funniest censorship I witnessed in New Orleans where a copy of Michelangelo's David was neutralized by a very flashy scarf draped around the loins). The current cover of L'espresso uses two of advertisements attention attractors - nudity and exotics. Selling magazines in Italy is also tougher than elsewhere due to the chaotic nature of its sales-points where one can buy all kinds of other products and magazines are regularly bundled (CDs, toys, etc.). General literacy in Italy is a quite recent phenomenon. There was a Swiss TV series informing the audience about the plights of illiterate Sicilian immigrants in the 1970s.

A drastic illustrations how war turns out the lights comes from these satellite pictures of Syria. The Russian intervention and the Kurds will hopefully defeat ISIS in 2016, so that a political arrangement between the less-fundamentalist Sunni, the Kurds and the secular/minorities coalition around Assad or his replacement can happen. Europe, meanwhile, should play an active foreign policy role in promoting a secular Turkey, e.g. by financing Turkish schools promoting European values.

From the Xmas haul, I am enjoying very much a Dutch translation of a book by an Amsterdam surgeon Schnitt! Die ganze Geschichte der Chirurgie erzählt in 28 Operationen, though I would have kept the original title Onder het mes which exists in German as well ("Unter dem Messer"). "Schnitt" (cut) is associated with film directors. Any way, a great look back at a bloody trade and rise in status of the "heelmeester" (surgeon) in comparison to the "geneesheer" (doctor). In military service, surgeons used to be called "Feldscher" (field cutter) before they became noble Chirurgen (which combines the Greek words for hand and work - hand worker).

From Taschen's new cheap small reissue of their larger books, I picked up Chinese propaganda posters. While developing countries seem to be still fond of such idealistic paintings, they have been put into the dustbin of history in the West. I am tempted to buy the Taschen Monet and van Gogh, though in the larger two volume editions that present the paintings in larger format while not breaking any wrists.

Redigerat: jan 4, 2016, 12:07pm

Best wishes for 2016 to both of you, and to any lurkers we still have.

The Swiss as individualists? I have never thought of them like that. But I have dealt with only one professionally, who was clearly convinced that only solutions developed by the Swiss in general and more specifically by himself could work, despite much evidence of the opposite. But that is not individualism. I think individualism itself is independent from nationhood, although the expression of individualism has cultural, political and financial elements. That the Swedes all wear t-shirts for H&M may be caused in part by Swedes’ relatively limited spending power (see lowest chart in this article. Collective wealth does not always translate into citizens’ wealth, even if you correct for goods and services that are sometimes paid for by the state and sometimes by the individual (health care, education, etc.). One person who studied dress styles more extensively is Hans Eijkelboom. You may have seen his book People of the Twenty-First Century (not mimicking Piketty, but August Sander’s famous Menschen des 20. Jahrhunderts). Mr Eijkelboom thinks that most people try to be part of a subculture. Being part of a smaller tribe can hardly be considered individualistic. Probably, the elderly Italian show masters can also be explained quite easily. Public broadcasting stations in much of Europe offer excellent job security. The same applies to German public television. I don’t know if weekly TV guides (magazines) still exist (I am not old enough to still watch television), but in the case of Germany, you could easily use the same magazine as 25 years ago. The same talking heads, just greyer and, in the case of men, balder.

Just like in Switzerland, foreign language proficiency is falling here in Holland. Although 3 – 5 foreign languages are still mandatory in secondary schools, the younger generation is only interested in English. German and French are skipped at the first possible convenience, although they are still important for the products and services that Holland exports to neighbouring countries. Otherwise it is a rational choice. Even in Paris most people are now happy to use their English on you. And most of all, Europe is becoming less important. More people than ever go on holidays on other continents. Economically, our economy is turning away from lethargic Europe. Exports to “emerging economies” are increasingly important for the Dutch economy, now that the Club Med countries are no longer growing. From Lahore to the east, the lingua franca is now English. You could also say that learning languages other than English is more of a hobby than an investment, given the low status and payment of teachers here. Even the number of university students of Dutch is falling drastically.

All these elements also make it a really bad idea if the European Union would force Esperanto upon us. It would proof for many here that the European Union is becoming a super state, that wants to dictate our lives. For that same reason we want Britain to remain in the European Union. We need a liberal voice against French étatisme and German Diktats. For Esperanto sources, you may also want to check out the Universala Esperanto-Asocio in Rotterdam, which has a mail order book service. Personally, I am challenging myself by reading my first fiction book in French in decades. It’s one of these Gerard de Villiers spy novels. It is quite a challenge, because it requires a vocabulary that is rather different from the few newspaper articles I occasionally read. Also, words like bandant were not (yet?) taught in school at the times. Equally challenging is the rather boring, hard boiled content and style. So far not recommended.

I am really envious of Lola’s years in Syria and her exposure to quickly disappearing Levantine culture. I recognise some of what she says from my own visits to Indonesia, where Islam became increasingly public and activist. Many of the factors are probably the same as in Syria: increasing levels of education make people want to learn about their religion, the moral bankruptcy of nationalism and socialism in these countries, money flows from Salafist organisations on the Arabian peninsula, and dictators that accommodated Islam to sustain their grip on power. Those dictators have somewhat surprised me. Islam also had a social component that colonial governments were keenly aware of. The Indonesian Index in the early 1990’s consisted mainly of Islamic treatises, rather than raunchy films and magazines. That surprised me then, but not anymore now. The demise of multicultural cities in the Levant is a real loss. The fun of such a society is joining in each other’s religious feasts, including watching exotic rituals and eating interesting food.

On the other hand and to say something controversial, we should probably be a bit more understanding when refugees practice (very) mild forms of domestic violence, even if that conflicts with the rule of law and what we think is right. Although Europeans now sometimes may go as far that no scores are kept at football matches for young children (although I remember that we were very competitive in that age group), that is a relatively recent phenomenon. As late as the 1970’s, the Mirandabad swimming pool in the middle class south of Amsterdam had a separate pool for women. Rape within marriage only became a criminal offence in the early 1990’s. We cannot expect escapees from war-torn areas in stagnant or even retarding societies like those in the Middle East to appreciate our codes upon arrival:

“I will take them and go back to our region,” he said. “I won’t allow one of my daughters to have a relationship with a young man under the guise of friendship. And I can’t imagine myself sitting in the spectator chair if my son decides to drink alcohol. Everything is allowed there, and I can’t possibly go on like this.”

On the other hand, we should be very strict on intolerance of homosexuality, Christianity and Judaism (they should be a reason to expell the offenders), as well as any standard crimes, reluctance to learn the language and otherwise to prepare for jobs. The Dutch use the word schipperen for compromising. The verb, of the same provenance as the English “skipper” seems like an adequate metaphor.

I also recently picked up a book about Chinese art for another utilitarian purpose in the ramsch corner in one of my friendly local bookstores. Concubines and courtesans : women in Chinese erotic art by Ferdinand Bertholet is quite a delight. The same collector also made a book about artifacts related to another Chinese sin of the past, opium smoking. Mr. Bertholet must be a real 鹹濕. As for Taschen, it recently published a book with all Vermeers, which you may want to peruse. And you can soon enjoy your love for biopics with a new film about Han van Meegeren

Redigerat: jan 4, 2016, 12:59pm

The demise of multicultural cities in the Levant is a real loss.

Yes. Of course, it has been happening for a very long time--over the entire 20th century at least--but it is not for that less serious a sign of deterioration of these polities (and a great loss and pity in itself). I was just a kid and my memories are by and large limited, personal and disorganised, but even so in retrospect they build up to the experience of something extremely valuable, to be cherished.

We cannot expect escapees from war-torn areas in stagnant or even retarding societies like those in the Middle East to appreciate our codes upon arrival

I don't think the point is to get them to "appreciate" them, as to observe them. "Appreciation" comes later, and is much dependent on having experienced the observation.

we should probably be a bit more understanding when refugees practice (very) mild forms of domestic violence, even if that conflicts with the rule of law and what we think is right.

Why? They should, of course, be informed as to "what goes" and what doesn't--there's been an interesting article about Norwegian efforts in this regard (Norway Offers Migrants a Lesson in How to Treat Women). The programme described is something one would hope every citizen everywhere, male or female, immigrant or not, might go through. But, I don't see how it would be possible, or why it would be desirable, to tolerate infractions of the law--if that's what you mean by being "more understanding".

I also find it deeply distasteful to imply that violence against, presumably, women and children is something one can "tolerate" in any degree.

If someone can be taught not to break the law in regard to homosexuals, Jews etc. they can also be taught not to break it in regard to women and children.

jan 4, 2016, 2:55pm

If someone can be taught not to break the law in regard to homosexuals, Jews etc. they can also be taught not to break it in regard to women and children.

I was thinking more of a corrective tap to children (as was practiced in certain British schools a decade ago) than beating up your wife. Even a corrective tap to the wife should lead to an up close and personal discussion with the authorities. By the way, I have not read about a link between sexual violence and refugees or immigrants in general. This despite that Eritreans are the second largest group of refugees (after Syrians) here.

And I find this rather silly. Simply don't mention ethnicity:

Hero Norge’s teaching material studiously avoids casting migrants in a bad light and instead presents a fictional character called Arne, a native Norwegian, as a model of predatory behavior. The main immigrant character, a 27-year-old called Hassan, is, by contrast, introduced as a “good man” who is “honest and well liked.”

jan 4, 2016, 3:07pm

>97 mercure:

Good point. I presume naming the characters and giving the immigrant the role of the "goodie" makes the material more approachable, more relevant?

As for what goes on in immigrant communities, ever since I collaborated on a study that looked at cancer in some of them I've wondered just how much we in the general public, know of what goes on and how these people live. I'd prefer the media not to focus on the negative, but unfortunately many problems come to light only after something particularly scandalous happens... in the end, no one cares much if it's all kept quiet.

jan 4, 2016, 3:27pm

98 LolaWalser

I've wondered just how much we in the general public, know of what goes on and how these people live.

I think that also applies for parts of the native population. Our societies also become more segregated, with Librarything users among the "winners". And it is certainly an issue among a part of immigrants coming from the Maghreb. Strict order and hierarchy at home, old-fashioned ideas about proper behaviour of the sexes (among others based upon Islamic tradition), and denial of what children do outside the house are mixed with a permissive society outside the home. Many of these parents would probably love it if the police would give their offspring a serious beating after misbehaviour. That is how it works in their home countries.

Redigerat: jan 4, 2016, 6:02pm

The internet is a wonderful place to learn French slang. Ages ago, I had to learn certain expressions from a specialized dictionary, and even cataloged here on LT back in 2006: Le dico français. Using swear words and slang in a foreign language is an acquired art that tends to go out of fashion very fast. Textbooks usually avoid it as much as possible. One Italian textbook used an extremely mild Italian expression and translated it in German as "verflixt" which is nowadays mostly used in the media to mask actual swear words but no longer by regular people. Italians and the French are much greater verbal swearing artists. I was quite shocked to hear an elderly Belgian aristocratic lady use a cascade of French swear words which would have been impossible to say in German both from a class and gender perspective. It is also funny to see how many US "fucks" are either dropped or replaced by less intense expressions in German versions, as a US style filthy language just does not work in a German context. There was a great article some years ago about a linguistic swear word researcher who pointed out that German swearing is fecal (Scheisse, Arschloch) whereas Englsh and French swearing is mostly sexual (though there is an overlap and a cultural importation of English-style swearing into German).

I should read more French books, though not French retro pulp. And also finish Houellebecq's soumission. Up to the middle, it is all about a typical Houellebecqian old sad sack who nevertheless can't keep the young fawning women away. The controversial Islamic part has barely begun. The recent regional election in France has shown that the system still keeps extremists in check. The beefing up of the French regions into something similar to the German Länder is interesting, though currently the regions mostly duplicate what lower level institutions already do. It would be politically hard to cut down both the central government's power and truly delegate to the regional level and at the same time cut down the huge local bureaucracy and appointments of the mayors and departments. In a true European Union, the regions of 6-10 million would fully replace the national level as the base unit.

Administrative structures still mirror the early 20th century when people actually lived in rural areas. Thanks to increasing urbanization (Australian case), that is very inefficient. Change is happening but only slowly. In Austria, they are finally phasing out district institutions from the monarchy that were once intended to keep the democratic/popular structures in check (similar to the also abolished split between gendarmes and police).

Regarding the integration challenge, I think we are currently witnessing the final stages of the Thatcherian "there is no society" neo-liberal approach to cultural matters. Restricting the state to negative liberty and interference has opened up society. At the same time, there is no longer a sort of "Leitkultur" or national consensus. The current fragmented society does no longer require consensus as self-segregation into convenient sub-groups allows for the parallel existence of very different lifestyles and communities.

This becomes difficult if some of these communities start to play by different rules. There was a documentary on German TV about the Turkish arbitration where problems are solved by "fixers" instead of using government institutions. While all the clients interviewed had been very happy with the problem resolution, the "fixers" did never explain how exactly they resolved issues and a sort of omertà reigned. The self-appointed spokespeople, unfortunately, are often not representative of the overall community and tend to be not open to actual integration (e.g. the leader of the Austrian Turkish community was able only to state that stoning should not be currently practiced, and naturally, a woman should always obey her father, brother or husband).

Immigrants with a clear Western perspective tend to be pushed out or marginalized, such as the great Turkish-German Necla Kelek whose dark truths about arranged marriages, honor killings and the increasing genetic risks of continued marriage among cousins made her a persona non grata among German Turks. Change has to come from within (shown for instance by the current revelations about jihadi kindergartens in Vienna, uncovered by a Muslim researcher, while Austrian officials failed to notice and failed to understand the jihadi words spoken in those kindergartens). Too often, it is easier to pass out of the community like in The Human Stain than stay in and fight the hard and thankless Kulturkampf, especially as the other side is very willing to use violence to silence even mild criticism.

In Austria, it does not look like government used the short breathing space to develop effective measures. It looks likely that poorer areas (and their already worse schools) will have to absorb most of the integration work with barely increased resources. On a European level, some sort of Marshall plan would be needed both to get the Club Med back on its feet and to turn the immigrants into productive members of society while at the same time, increasing spending on social measures to combat rising inequality. What a strange world we are living in.

The BBC showed a great documentary about Sergej Rachmaninoff who, like Richard Wagner, owned a beautiful international style villa in Switzerland at Lake Lucerne: Villa Senar. Until recently owned by the family, it is now under the direction of a foundation. I hope I can visit it once. Putin apparently wanted to buy the property for the Russian government, certainly a better investment than his Ukrainian ventures.

BTW, German TV moderation has changed a lot, especially in terms of gender. The two most prominent ARD and ZDF moderators/political talkshow hosts are actually women.

jan 21, 2016, 5:43pm

January 21st 2016 marks my 10th LT anniversary. LT is one of the oldest continuous accounts I have on the net (apart from Amazon, Ebay, Gmail and email providers). 3000 books, 900000 pages, 1.7 tons, 7.5 bathtubs. Instead of the calculated 22 IKEA Billy cases, there are only 17 (non-Billy) ones, though many double-stacked and using my high ceilings of 3.4 m - yay for Vienna's old lofty buildings. My library also is growing at a remarkably constant linear pace as I try to actually read all the books I buy (an impossible task).

My LT Talk word count is 374,994, much of it due to my read-alongs of three Chinese classic novels. The anniversary also reminds me of re-starting the entry of Nietzsche's legacy library as well as finish the wonderful double biography of Nietzsche und Wagner which starts with the comical encounter of the concerned young Nietzsche trapped for the night in Wagner's love nest at Lake Lucerne, having to listen to the adulterers' loud love making and worrying about the reputation impact on his tenure review at the university of Basel.

The BBC is embarking on a Russian trip with the wonderful Lucy Worsley in pursuit of the Romanovs. In the episode about Peter the Great, she ventured on board of the modern replica of his ship Shtandart with great drone images of the ship under sail. While I have already taken a trip on a galley, a Viking ship, a medieval cog and other sailing boats, I have never been on a ship of the line that was not anchored. The ship is currently in the Mediterranean Sea and the cost of a trip is not expensive (though I am not a fan of the 4h watch cycle they are running the ship on. 4h of rest at a time leaves me semi-demented in the wake phases. I prefer at least 6h cycles).

The BBC is also broadcasting a new War and Peace TV drama though these Russians are incredibly English. The actors also are dressed in Empire wardrobe which the Russians would not have picked up s quickly in 1805. It was probably too expensive to pay for 1805 and 1812 wardrobes. I have actually yet to read the novel.

My last post was on January 5th when I was still unaware of the complete horrors of Cologne. Now, the story has somewhat settled and it will become a poster case for manipulation by the media and politics. It is really sad to see so many people who know better trying to hide, rationalize and excuse rape and crime, as well as blaming the victims ("keeping an arm's length away" as the (female!) mayor of Cologne advised who should have known better as she herself had been stabbed by a right-wing nutcase just before her election to the office). The perpetrators were fully aware that their acts were not legal. The gender awareness education campaigns that are now being put in place will be futile as long as crime is not punished and perpetrators quickly deported.

One contributing factor is that the area around the station and the Cathedral in Cologne is a known architectural disaster that attracts crime. After WWII, there was this idea that concrete Überplattung, a lifted floor for pedestrians while trains and cars would drive below in tunnels would create an urban wonderland. Unfortunately, these areas remain deserted as nobody normally wants to stay in these windswept open places (see also Vienna's Donauplatte). In Belgium, they constructed the center of the new university city of Louvain-la-Neuve on this principle, after the Walloon students were driven out of the Flemish city of Leuven in the 1970s. The underground car (park) level is a dark world of rape and crime. Would you park your car here by daylight, even though this is just below the main square. Any Cologne tourist guide will warn you that the station is overrun by pick-pockets and petty crime. The local police is left helpless as the petty criminals they arrest are immediately let go again by accommodating judges and social services. One mistake the police made was to assume that on New Year's Eve, it was just business as usual, a night of petty crime.

The mass immigration has created a neo-Dickensian world of uneducated, poor, non-integrated people who are exposed to the ills of the 19th century: Alcohol, gambling, debts, illiteracy/lack of education, crime. The large and growing number of migrants is straining social safety nets and institutions. Open borders and strong welfare systems are not compatible as the welfare systems are only sustainable if an overwhelming majority of citizens does not rely on them. The shock of Cologne at least has shattered the press tacit self-restriction of not reporting on criminal activities by migrants. The propaganda is still strong however. In Austria, for instance, the Arbeitsmarktservice (unemployment agency) claimed, quite implausibly, that the refugees were even better educated than the local Austrian population, a statement eagerly picked up by many newspaper and the foreign press. How do you get to such a claim? 1. You only select refugees that arrived before 2014. 2. You use a non-representative convenience sample of refugees who actively ask for an assessment of their education competence. 3. You do not check their claimed level of education in any way (self-assessment). 4. You consider diplomas equivalent based on their name, even though PISA has shown that a Syrian high school diploma lags 5 years behind a German one.

The problems can only be solved by tackling linked system failures. Unfortunately, politics still tries to sit out the events by having the weakest in society shoulder the burden of increased crimes, unruly neighbors and worsening schools. Migrants receiving public aid are automatically driven towards poorer districts as only there they are able to pay the rents with the meager subsistence assistance. In these clusters, naturally, integration is not happening. One of the victims of these policies are foreigners/recent immigrants having to compete for already scarce resources. The crazy cleaver terrorist who was shot by a policeman was registered under 7 different identities in Germany. German institutions did not care that he decorated his room with ISIS flags. Germany currently also uses a Chinese Wall between asylum and police data which leads to a lot of double entry and favors criminal behavior as crimes currently are not taken into account when assessing applications.

Under the lenient German law in place, Germany could not even deport convicted Cologne rapists. Activist judges, in any case, would further reduce the number of deportees (In Switzerland, a judge ordered the stop of a deportation of a criminal because it would disrupt his family life, disregarding the fact that he was divorced). Even if everything worked on the European side, the originating countries such as Morocco and Algeria have managed to drag their heels. Germany and the EU really need to follow the US example in taking out the big stick to make these countries comply. Unfortunately, inept politicians still fake-threaten to cut development aid to these countries and then quickly backtrack as soon as the first picture of a sick child is presented in the media. The elite in these countries do not care about their poor. Otherwise, they would enact different policies. The EU needs to target the interests of the richest in those countries. Then they will change behavior as quickly as the US did when the EU came down hard on Florida citrus product farmers who had the recalcitrant Republicans in their Rolodexes.

While Austria has now announced a Potemkin upper limit and hopes Macedonia and Serbia will do the dirty work of keeping migrants in Greece, the madness of the current system can only be cured by a complete overhaul. Europe just does not have the jobs for the millions of uneducated young men who want to come. Europe should provide refugee assistance close to the conflict areas and create a Canadian style immigration system for qualified migrants who want to be and can be integrated. It is incredibly costly and futile trying to integrate illiterate Afghans into 21st century Europe. Providing them a headstart in Iran or Pakistan makes much more sense.

jan 21, 2016, 9:19pm

I think you underestimate how au courant was the chic of imperial Russia. ;) Sergey Bondarchuk's adaptation of W & P, for example (there are older but I can't search now), also shows the high-waisted female Empire fashions:

(I don't recall much about costume from the book but I do remember Tolstoy repeatedly going into rapture over the beauty of naked shoulders, necks etc.)

I agree with everything you say about Cologne. The ineptness of the police response was a huge shock, and the idea that the law is inadequate to deal with something like this makes it even worse. Some big changes are necessary... Although, it is a puzzle what to do with paperless individuals who commit crimes. I'm afraid it looks as if the prison population of Europe is set to grow...

Redigerat: feb 1, 2016, 6:17am

The government failure is indeed huge. It is truly shocking how the justice system does offer little protection to the most vulnerable in society and prevents the execution of existing laws. The media fortunately is starting to wake up and actually report the facts again. In Austria, they just reported the court case of an 17-year-old Afghan refugee raping a 72-old Austrian woman. The judge made sure to convict the Afghan only to 20 months (of a possible 60) so that it will be next to impossible to deport him. The judge said he lowered the sentence because the Afghan had admitted his guilt (after DNA had already proved it). This is a poster case however of migrants abusing the offer of their host country.

In another case, a long-time 21-year-old Turkish resident in Vienna was convicted for repeatedly extorting Muslim teenage girls he had raped to keep the rapes a secret. Again, he will not be deported later, even though one can hardly imagine a more evil person. He preyed upon the most vulnerable. Minor Muslim girls who know that admitting being raped is risking family honor and, in extremis, even their own life. As in the Rotherham scandal in England, the police and justice system was all too willing to leave victims unprotected because it is difficult to prosecute crime in migrant communities. The perpetrator had already three convictions for similar crimes and three cases where he was only admonished. The most recent case did not need to have happened at all if he had been imprisoned as the previous verdict demanded. For unknown reasons, that was not done and he could engage in a further cycle of rape and extortion. The poor girls whose life expectations have been shattered at such a young age!

In Switzerland, there will be a vote next month about getting tougher on deporting criminal foreigners (Durchsetzungsinitiative. The initiative actually is much too harsh (and probably can't be really applied in practice) but the current laws are torpedoed by (leftist) judges who even decide contra legem. As the criminal is the beneficiary of these decisions, the public only learns about the judge's strange decisions when the criminal is caught again. Generally, mandatory sentences are stupid as they fail to ignore the circumstances of each individual case. Unfortunately, in most European states, the people who want to be judges in social and criminal law matters then to put the interest of migrant criminals above those of their victims (often foreigners themselves).

These are tough complex problems that require government task forces to engage in a multi-pronged approach. Most European cities, for instance, are currently suffering from groups of Northern African/Moroccan pick-pockets. European governments have for too long accepted impolite stalling behavior of the Moroccan, Algerian and Tunisian embassies, letting thousands of cases in Germany simply unanswered for months. It seems that European states are finally starting to react and solve this relatively simple problem of deporting these petty criminals.

At the same time, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia need some kind of EU Marshall plan to quickly find work for the huge number of uneducated idle young men. The EU could for instance finance solar power stations and infrastructure improvements. It is much better to spend Euros there than to waste them in effective refugee assistance (which currently acts like start-up finance for pick-pockets).

One of the most pernicious effects of the migrant crisis is the rapid erosion of public trust and civil society. What used to work by self-regulation has more and more to be protected by new government employees as the new arrivals do not want to comply with the rules (such as not entering female dressing rooms in public swimming pools - back to the old Eastern European tradition of having some granny sit in front and check that no man is entering). In Vienna, the crisis has resulted in adding 1000 new social workers and 1000 new policemen. These extra costs will have to be paid for in taxes.

At the same time, the budget for migrant integration of 1000 EUR per person seem to be much too low. A basic (i.e. non-medicine) university student costs government around 4000 EUR per year - educating the migrants will certainly require more funds, as they mostly lack both prior education and language skills. Government unfortunately is bad at spending effectively. In Vienna, there is currently a fraud scandal about Islamist kindergartens where the bureaucracy was too incompetent to notice that the same building was said to host 200 children and paid for those kindergartens' banking charges of more than 10.000 EUR. While many are well-meaning efforts, NGOs tend to waste a lot of money and become part of the problem instead of solving it.

Different approaches how society and government should be ruled is discussed by Edward Slingerland in the edX MOOC Foundations of Chinese Thought. The Chinese concepts of wu-wei and de are fascinating. I wish that his book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity would go deeper than the MOOC instead of being sort of the script for the MOOC.

BBC is currently showing national treasure Michael Wood's beautifully shot The story of China. I especially loved the flipped classroom situation of enthusiastic Chinese students explaining a Chinese poem by Du Fu to the Westerner. While it probably would not have popular appeal, I'd love to see this done for many nations, e..g. let Mongolian kids present a famous Mongolian poem/song and explain it to a Western audience.

BBC Radio 4 meanwhile has a good introduction to anthropology From savage to self which after a somewhat rocky start is now progressing lively. I also saw Werner Herzog's biopic about Getrude Bell, the Queen of the Desert which reminded me most of >Gorillas in the Mist. Restricting the film to Bell the explorer and not Bell the administrator cut short her actual contribution and influence. The two amateur explorers with their pet projects, Bell and Lawrence of Arabia, have created quite a mess in the Middle East.

In other news, I was quite surprised to see a giant Swiss flag fly in the center of Vienna's Hofburg last week. Did Austria surrender, this time to Switzerland? No, just a diplomatic visit by Switzerland's new president (a purely representative position that is rotated annually among the seven person Swiss executive committee).

The Swiss National Museum has now completed its brutalist building expansion. Fortunately, the new wing is oriented toward the former industrial area and not visible to the average visitor. I fail to understand why people like to build dark ugly bunkers as exhibition spaces.

feb 1, 2016, 12:45am

When I lived in NYC, I loved checking out (on my route) the flags The Plaza hotel would put out every time they had a foreign dignitary staying.

Wasn't Gertrude Bell (also) a spy? Well, I suppose anyone who travelled in the region could serve as one, by default. The recruitment of T. H. Lawrence is interesting in this regard, how casually the old boys roped in the new boys.

Those young immigrants who get off with light sentences for such things as rape seem to me more to profit from pre-existing system failure than indulge in knowing abuse of the law. It's scandalous that, as I've read in several places now, Germany doesn't criminalize sexual harassment. Or that every Oktoberfest the police know there'll be hundreds of rapes, but only about ten will even get reported (prosecuted and punished? Who knows...)

I'm not defending those men by any means, but it must be recognised that Western societies send mixed messages on the status and treatment of women. Here, for instance, there's a bookshop where one day some years ago a couple of "Middle Eastern" looking men, seeming very "fresh off the boat", began to stare and whisper and then follow me around as I tried discreetly to get away from them. Finally I just left, earlier than I would have normally and not happy about the incident, but I'd had so many similar experiences in life (although far less in Toronto) that I was neither particularly furious about this one (mild, as such things go), nor did I think about it, then. But just recently, with all these news, I did start thinking about it because right across from that bookshop there's a strip club with giant advertisements of women as nude as possible without being completely so--one gigantic figure on top, lighted, and six-eight posters framing the doors. The bookshop sells porn DVDs and magazines in the back--I forget about that section, but it's visible partly from the "regular books" sections.

If I HAD tried saying something to those men or any such men, in those circumstances, it would have been rather difficult to persuade them that in the West we respect women.

feb 1, 2016, 4:49pm

Switzerland is flag central for flying plenty of flags on buildings - national, regional, city, trade or association flags. Bland buildings just look a lot nicer and dynamic if a flag is flying in the wind. Compared to other city beautification measures it doesn't cost much too. Here are the flags of Switzerland and Geneva (displaying its history as a former imperial city and seat of a bishop).

KHM Vienna has put a lecture by Wim Pijbes, the Dutch director of the Rijksmuseum, online. Apart from his strict stand on authenticity, I like his messages very much. I wish KHM would follow the Dutch example in terms of offering digital images in high quality for free. Only a short time ago, their terms and services stated that even linking to their website required prior written permission, so I hope he will help them progress into the present. KHM is still quite stuffy. The public funds for building a giant underground entrance level under the Maria Theresia square for the two museums KHM/NHM has not yet been found.

The Oktoberfest case has been blown out of all reasonable proportions (to excuse the inexcusable). While crime happens at any million people event, the focus of the Oktoberfest is on drinking and socializing in groups. Comparing it to the events of Cologne is beyond crazy. It is truly astonishing how far some authors have twisted themselves in knots only not to admit that there are bad apples too among the migrants.

Austria is currently discussing tougher laws against sexual harassment. The problem is that evidence standards make a conviction extremely hard ("he said, she said"). In serious cases, prosecution as assault is already possible. Minor sexual harassment cases (groping etc.) only risks clogging the courts without getting actual convictions. It is already hard getting rapists convicted. Ultralight sentences are an insult to the victim.

While we are still living in a man's world, it is slowly changing. Today, the news revealed that girls performed much worse than boys in the Austrian Matura final exams in both math and English. This is actually a statistical effect of different populations. Whereas half of the girls attempt a Matura, only a third of the boys do so. The under-performing girls are highly concentrated in a lower quality Matura institution called BORG where the failure rate rises up to 24% among girls.

The real problem, however, is what is to happen about unqualified brawny young men. In the new issue of an Austrian magazine they examined the world view of Muslim men in Austria. There they revealed that Muslim girls dreamed about becoming doctors and lawyers whereas Muslim boys wanted to work in construction or, in second place, live from public assistance! Unfortunately, most of the migrants fit the profile of uneducated young men the economy does not need anymore. Combined with an ultra-conservative worldview, this will not brighten Austria's future. The migrant crisis unfortunately uses up too much attention while Austria's macroeconomic situation deteriorates and important reforms fail to be undertaken (Austria for the first time now has 500.000 unemployed to which soon 40.000 unemployed refugees will be added in a few months.).

feb 1, 2016, 5:16pm

I don't know whether you are referring to some specific Oktoberfest incident; I meant the statistic about unreported rapes I've seen in several articles. What I took from it wasn't that that somehow excuses the immigrants who break the law, but that there is already an atmosphere in which such crimes are downplayed and ignored.

There are special problems related to sex crimes (most related to victim-blaming mentality), but I don't believe it should be such a problem to prosecute sexual harassment, unless we think all the victims are liars. Nobody is likely to make such accusations lightly.

Yes, what to do with those men is a big question--you suggested investing in their home countries. That's what I'd do, invest in projects there for which they can be trained in the guest countries and then offered jobs and repatriation.

feb 2, 2016, 5:40pm

Oktoberfest has more than 6 million event visitors. The absolute number of unreported (i.e. also unverifiable) crimes circulating sounds shocking but relatively it is a very safe event (considering the large number of drunk reckless people there), with the organizers trying to reduce binge drinking and making it even family friendly in the European sense. I consider any outdoor festival much more dangerous.

Prosecuting sexual harassment is cumbersome in Austria. The new proposed paragraph speaks about "nach Art und Intensität einer solchen vergleichbare, der sexuellen Sphäre im weiteren Sinn zugehörige körperliche Handlung" - which is a lawyer's dream of ill-defined you-know-it-when-you-see-it terms. Society is fortunately changing much faster than the law. The times are thankfully gone when Austria's former social affairs minister (who was responsible for the matter) was publicly known for groping any woman within reach.

Europe needs immigrants and immigrants need Europe. Europe should start a system similar to Canada's where qualification and fairness are assured in an application process. The current system favors those most that comply the least. Google and other companies have to fight extremely hard to get US or Indian employees into the EU whereas the current system imports thousands of people completely unqualified and without any chance of ever becoming a net contributor to the system.

Apart from infrastructure investments, the EU should set up schools and academies in Africa and the Middle East where the top candidates receive automatic entry into the EU (with the intention of returning home after ten years in the EU), sort of like the Napoleonic military academies or the colonial schools. The key to prosperity in the developing countries is educating girls and women. Europe also needs a Voice of Europe abroad.

Unfortunately, the current leadership of the EU is terrible, witness the total surrender in the data privacy agenda. The United States will now sign an annual letter and provide an ombudsman - even though the US administration has repeatedly and shamelessly lied to Congress in the same matter. The EU totally failed to use its leverage.

In the great annual Taschen sale, I managed to get the abridged/best-of Frank Lloyd Wright book that I already ogled in a bookstore but found it too expensive and too heavy. At half price, it was a steal. I also picked up the Euclid. I must confess when we did some of the proofs in school, it was "pearls cast before swine". Sunt pueri pueri puerilia ...

feb 2, 2016, 10:04pm

I got the jumbo Bosch. Wonderful. Someone linked to the upcoming exhibition in Den Bosch--Jheronimus Bosch--Visions of genius running from Feb 13 to May 8 and now I'm racking my brains for a scheme that would let me steal a week in-between... alas and alack, this year is particularly difficult for impromptu travel...

feb 3, 2016, 4:56am

These jumbos are just too big for comfortable reading or browsing for me, and mess up storage. I wait for a smaller version of the complete Vermeer (though I already have too many books about him). Vienna offers two Bosches: Christ Carrying the Cross in the KHM Vienna I wouldn't call a masterwork and has probably not even been painted by him personally, whereas The Last Judgment is a classic.

A one week trans-Atlantic trip does not entice me much due to jetlag. I usually need a week to get my system working properly again.

In other news, Swiss chemical group Syngenta that just battled off a merger with Monsanto is being taken over by Chem China, a Chinese government owned group. The merger with Monsanto would have created a too dominant player in the agribusiness sector. Will the Chinese be willing to a hands-off management or will they try to position Syngenta to reduce the global influence of Monsanto?

feb 9, 2016, 2:00pm

Although we only recognise 12.5 year marriage jubilees here, congratulations with your 10 years with Librarything. And congratulations with your tasteful choice not to store your books in a Billy in a flat with posh high ceilings. I envy your (and LolaWalser's) perseverance in reading so many books for such a long time already. I have to admit that my attention has slipped to other subjects, although I could also blame it on the time I shift papers in an office, which is time I cannot dedicate to reading. The Dutch are as stingy as the Swiss, so I also intend(ed) to read all the books I bought, but by now there are piles of books-to-read of about two yards in total stored next to my couch and that pile isn't getting any smaller. Plus that I have made a second miscalculation. I first thought that photography would be a cheaper pastime (you buy a digital camera, what more do you need?), but it happens to be another good reason to stock up on books. Heck, you even start to make your own books! I seriously need to expand my stainless steel bookcase with another 5 yards of shelf space.

I share your worries about the handling of the refugee crisis by our elites and their lack of any empathy with the common folk who oppose this (and which is shared by some journalists on the ground in Greece and Turkey). The greatest gaffe here was a mayor who forbade the presence of the press during an informational meeting about a refugee location. The village had already 1,400 refugees and after the expansion it would have more refugees than other inhabitants. Every year the left-leaning Volkskrant newspaper draws up a list of the 200 most influential people in the country. This elite of business people, politicians and NGO-leaders was in favour of more refugees, who, as the newspaper already concluded, would live quite far from the homes and schools of said thought leaders. They are also not the ones who will compete for estate housing, unskilled jobs and social security, nor will they experience the consequences of lacking integration. Rather, some may even benefit financially from the tax money that will be thrown at refugee support.

The horrors of Cologne have made a great impression here. At first I did not believe it to be true. A couple of cases of groping and perhaps one case of rape would have been bad enough already. That the authorities were hiding the facts from their people was worse than I had expected from the Germans (although what surprised me most of all was the lack of any buzz in the social media; it would be impossible to hide something like this in Holland, given the use of Facebook, Twitter, etc., and not to mention the Indonesians with over 820 thousand tweets, mostly defying the Islamists). Given domestic cases of information release planning by the authorities and the oh so independent media, distrust has risen materially in the Netherlands. Although the populist right may still be small in Germany, here in Holland they have no more important supporter than Angela Merkel.

As you mentioned the Silvesternacht also brought to light the lax handling of petty crime by the Germans, which seems to be on par with the monitoring of Muslim extremists in Brussels. It must have been in the early days of Nokia's dominance of the mobile phone market that people last checked their phones and wallets when a Moroccan entered Amsterdam's tram line 5. Not nice for all these other Moroccans. The ECB with its support for refugees in a time where it forces countries to cut deficits is also rather odd. Rather, the FT ran an article not substantiated by analysis about how the refugee crisis is blowing up the celebrated Swedish welfare state. None of this helps genuine refugees from the war in Syria. And quite a few genuine refugees from the war don't help themselves either with the many anti-gay incidents in asylums. Despite a restrictive acceptance policy, the Dutch police now spends 10 percent of its time on asylum seekers.

It is interesting you mention the “gender awareness campaign”, something LolaWalser mentioned earlier. Giving it some extra thought, I hardly believe in it anymore. It reminds me of how corporates think they can make staff effective by giving them a 3-day course to improve “management skills”, etc. Procedural skills and knowledge can be transferred within short periods, but in case of personality deficiencies it cannot. It takes a lot of time and attention if it is attainable at all. A "gender awareness campaign" is a bit like the neocons bringing democracy to Iraq. By any standard, including the standards of the countries these people come from, the offenses committed here out of the ordinary. A Durchsetzinitiative would probably even increase support for refugees in general.

A Marshall Plan for the southern Mediterranean sounds like a nice idea, but I doubt if it would fly. Actually, if it would fly, we could have benefited from increased prosperity in these countries if we had implemented it decades ago. The Marshall Plan worked fine for the areas ravaged by the Second World War. Money was given to economies that had the skill sets of developed economies but needed the money for construction and machines to repair what had been neglected, bombed or stolen. This is not the problem of countries like Syria, Morocco or Mali. Although the level of education might be a tad higher than the countries’ economic performance, general backwardness, political incompetence, crony capitalism, etc. seem more of a problem. Such institutional changes are not solved by investing a few billion euros, for which we have the World Bank already. What might help would be trade instead of aid. Think of Ethiopia’s impressive growth. The former symbol of undernourishment now grows over 10% p.a. In part this is due to capital-intensive investments in dams and power plants and the like. Growth is always easy via the construction. But at least as interesting for the average Mengistu are the many jobs in manufacturing, now that China moves some factories to lower-wage areas. Opening our markets (probably at the expense of places like Portugal and Eastern Europe) could create opportunities without wasting billions. And no need for a Voice of Europe either: Europe used to have multiple Voices of Europe, e.g. the BBC World Service, the Deutsche Welle, Radio France and Radio Netherlands. But most of these services were cut or even stopped on the claim that the internet makes them superfluous.

Obviously, my cultural exploits were mainly in the field of photography, but I also visited From Bosch to Bruegel in Rotterdam’s cozy Boymans Van Beuningen Museum. Unlike the Landesmuseum, much of the Boymans still consists of old-fashioned cabinets with natural light floating in. That also makes it rather inflexible and that I suppose is the main reason why so many modern museums consist of big concrete boxes. The interior can be changed easily to accommodate the necessary blockbusters, plus you can hang gigantically sized modern art easily. Concrete boxes offer flexibility.

From Bosch to Bruegel was an exhibition about the introduction of common life in European painting in the 16th century, which combines great drawings and paintings with an interesting historical theme. As usual in the Netherlands, the number of visitors was much too high for comfortable viewing on the Saturday afternoon I went there. And again, the majority of the visitors were retirees who could come any day of the week. I really don’t understand why they don’t increase the ticket price for people over 66 years of age during weekends, so that wage slaves like I do not have to queue a few minutes for every single drawing on show. The exhibition had also “brought home for the first time in 450 years” Hieronymus Bosch’ Haywain Triptych. I think I had to wait over 10 minutes to make it to the front line. Consequently, although Bosch has been one of my favourite painters since I was a child, I think I am going to give the big exhibition in 's-Hertogenbosch/Herzogenbusch/Bois-le-Duc a miss. And if LolaWalser is keen to see all these paintings, the exhibition will travel on to Madrid, which will at least offer some comforting distractions like nice weather, fino, tapas and jamon Iberico. And Spain’s nightlife nicely matches Canada’s daytime hours.

The Boymans’ exhibition catalogue looks quite nice, but I found the conclusion that the introduction of common life in European painting was caused by rising wealth a bit weak. After all, a kind of greater Flanders (an area roughly from Amsterdam to Brussels to the German Rhineland) was not the only area with increasingly wealthy artisans and bankers. The same applied to Italy, but Italian art remained stuck with Madonnas col bambini. The exhibition also mentioned that the16th century gave us the Reformation, which was more influential north of the Alps, but half this "Greater Flanders" area remained solidly Papist until deep into the 20th century.

I am sure that Wim Pijbes basks in the respect you give him, or better, he probably expects it. Mr. Pijbes is the arrogant mandarin who stated that if you want to see a Rembrandt in quiet you should buy your own. He is one of the few government officials who earns more than the prime minister, the official highest income standard of the civil service. In the mean time, the museums cannot afford administrators and looks for volunteers. Mr. Pijbes gets quite nicely paid for organising exhibitions that promote tourism, e.g. the last exhibitions to attract more Asians to Amsterdam. Again, a theme that would interest me, but that I rather gave a miss.

More quiet and at least as satisfactory was my visit earlier this month to Charleroi, the Belgian Hochburg of the steel industry and a city in long decline. Some years ago it was voted to be the world's ugliest city by a Dutch newspaper, but I found that quite unfair. Charleroi looks in much better shape than Detroit or certain areas of Chicago that I visited (Kill Town, for example). And I am not the only one who thinks like that, given the many Bulgarians I saw around the city. A few years have passed since Charleroi's selection and you see some rejuvenation activities. I doubt however if investing in shopping malls is such a good investment in this day and age in a tier-3 city at 25 minutes from Brussels. But then again, what do I know?

feb 10, 2016, 1:04pm

>110 mercure:

That's useful to know, that the Bosch exhibition will travel, but I feel nothing else will do when compared to the possibility of catching it in the town where he lived and worked! Foolish as it may sound, I have a very strong passion for... not sure what to call it, the combination of abstract and real in history, the knowledge that I'm touching something or existing in a space previously inhabited by some person or event of interest to me... well, it's nothing mystical but difficult to describe--although anyone who ever made a point of visiting someplace because of something that happened there centuries ago (and may no more be in evidence now than whatever might yet happen in centuries to come), knows the feeling. It's Den Bosch or nothing! ;)

If you're by any chance inclined to feel bad about accumulating books of photography, you at least can have the consolation of knowing that, apart from their inexhaustible aesthetic pleasure, they are probably unique (in the category of contemporary widely commercially available books--widely available and affordable at least during the window of first publication), in keeping and frequently gaining respectable monetary value. Soooo, if worst comes to worst... ;)

feb 11, 2016, 2:45pm

I think I know what you mean. If you walk out of Haarlem's Teylers Museum and into the nearby shopping street you see the same kind of faces as on the group portraits from 3 centuries ago. But I doubt if you will find that same experience in 's-Hertogenbosch. Hieronymus Bosch painted relatively few "real people". Originally, the paintings often contained portraits of Bosch's clients, but these were later painted over. The people shown now are mostly figurants in an exuberant scene. 's-Hertogenbosch is a provincial capital, a relatively small but prosperous town. Although the old centre still has most of the same streets, the same main square where Bosch lived and the same cathedral, I don't think it has much of a Medieval atmosphere. If you are looking for that, you'd better view paintings by Bruegel (and Bosch) in the museums of Antwerp, Bruges, and Gent, particularly during Carnival. And, Spain, which modernised only recently could actually be a pretty good alternative.

Yes, I know, some photography books fetch impressive sums of money nowadays. Had I known that in the past, my book collection would have been worth thousands of euros. Mostly, I buy these books to learn, to improve my own photography. Which also means that one book per photographer is usually enough. That has proven not to be the best way to accumulate paper wealth, I am afraid.

Redigerat: feb 11, 2016, 5:03pm

Still available for another 10 days, a documentary by Dutch public television about authenticating Bosch paintings, the politics of organising blockbusters, and transporting masterpieces by boat in Venice. It contains subtitles (in Dutch) when the gutteral tones become incomprehensible.

Redigerat: feb 11, 2016, 6:14pm

Thanks for the link to the Dutch documentary which is unfortunately geoblocked.

You might be interested in MOMA's new Coursera course Seeing Through Photographs. The short clip about the (famous) photo time series of the Brown sisters is appetizing. I hope that the current troubles at Yahoo will not create further havoc with Flickr (especially the commons).

Seeing art in situ can be time-consuming if those places are off the beaten track. Many more people could see the Bayeux tapestry if exhibited in Paris than in Bayeux. Fortunately, there is the internet, with an animated version of Bayeux and the outstanding interactive Bosch of The Garden of Earthly Delights. Looking at the details of the Bosch in the Akademie is quite tiring as one can not sit down and still see the details. Books and the internet are more comfortable. Taschen has just sent an email out announcing the enticing A4 version of their Bosch book. I still await the publication of the large Taschen TV series companion book Mad Men - the framing, color and period sets was phenomenal.

Quiet or sleepy is the word that fits Charleroi best during my visit. One noticed that a lot of public funds had been spent in restoring and upgrading the infrastructure of the city, without triggering a entrepreneurial recovery though. I liked the stained glass and glass work on display in the Fine Arts museum. In general, though,, I prefer the Belgian cities with a medieval background. Reading in Wikipedia about the city's origins, I learned that the Charles in Charleroi is actually the last Spanish Habsburg king of Spain, Charles II. The revolutionary name of the city, Libre-sur-Sambre, is snappier. Population-wise, it would probably make sense to combine the three small Walloon provinces of Namur, Luxembourg and Walloon-Brabant into a single one that would be in line with the other Belgian provinces of around 1 million inhabitants. This would, however, break the numerical parity with the five Flemish to now three Walloon provinces (Switzerland should also merge many of its tiny cantons into reasonable units).

Attracting Chinese visitors to the Netherlands is a smart strategy - and has great potential: Only 250.000 Chinese visited NL in 2014, whereas over a million went to Switzerland in 2014. Granted, a stop in Switzerland is easy to arrange on most Europe in 15 days trips whereas NL is off the main route.

My idea for the migrants would be a four weeks boot camp that teaches basic Western life skills (like using a European toilet) and test whether a migrant is willing to integrate himself. A lot of the current troubles is caused by migrants who do not want to integrate into a Western lifestyle. Read this (German) account of an Afghan migrant, who has truly arrived in Germany and its customs, complaining about the uncooperative and disrespectful behavior of the other migrants in the refugee camp. A successful integration is highly unlikely. The real problem is not migrants entering but not getting criminal and non-integrating out of Europe. Austria, for example, has now a large group of non-integrated fundamentalist Chechens with Austrian passports (who constitute 40-60% of "Austrian" Jihadists) which leads to recent headlines that Austrians commit a lot more crimes against foreigners. The large increase is actually caused by a bloody drug turf war between newish Afghan migrant gangs and older Austro-Chechen gangs.

The current migrant crisis is revealing that the police does not care or interfere in matters happening in poorer areas. As long as crime is happening among the migrants themselves or against poor Austrians, the police is not interested in engaging in the futile and time-consuming task of prosecuting criminals (especially as leftist judges are all too willing to be understanding and swat away real punishment). In Vienna, there is currently a scandal exploding how the police did not care about getting a (Macedonian) rapist arrested (despite CCTV views) so that he could recently commit more than a dozen assaults/rapes while living for more than a decade as an illegal in Vienna.

Given the stuttering politics in Tunisia, there was a report that the country currently fails to produce 100.000 jobs for the cohort leaving school. Many if not most will end up in Europe where their low skill level and lack of entry-level jobs will not produce good outcomes for most as well as for Europe. Your arguments against a European Marshall plan are convincing. I doubt that trade will be a large enough engine for local growth though. In the middle of the 19th century, self-made men like Karl Ludwig von Bruck in Austria and Alfred Escher in Switzerland created institutions and infrastructure in quite poor areas and laid the foundation of wealth for the next generations. Poor Karl Ludwig von Bruck as Austrian finance minister was driven into suicide by false corruption accusations triggering a dismissal by the small-minded Emperor Franz Joseph - just a few months after von Bruck had prevented the collapse of the public debt caused by the first of Franz Joseph's lost wars.

feb 11, 2016, 6:55pm

>112 mercure:

lol!--just about the only thing from Bosch's paintings I wouldn't mind running into in real life is one of those giant strawberries--ripe, sweet, and ready to be bitten all over! :)

>114 jcbrunner:

Funny cartoon. Cute how they sat Vienna apart from the rest!

I can imagine (but would rather not) the conditions the Afghan guy describes--I don't suppose these men have ever had to clean after themselves. What surprises me, though, is that there doesn't seem to be any initiative to self-organize and pull their own weight a bit. It can't be fun for anyone to wade through a beshat toilet or dirty bathrooms and kitchens.

Don't they get some discipline at least in the army? I thought cleaning the latrines was a universal basic method of teaching character.

feb 12, 2016, 2:04pm

A lot of the Syrian young men fled precisely not do military service, so escaping those teaching moments. Likewise the young Afghans unlikely to have served in Afghanistan. I am not terribly surprised about the uncivilized behavior of young men. Anyone who has experienced kitchens or baths in student housing or flats will be familiar with the free rider problem in joint-responsibility without hierarchy. Adding women helps to discipline many of the slobs. The huge gender imbalance among the migrants creates a huge problem.

It is a constant struggle to educate the new arrivals from Eastern/Southern Europe, Africa and Asia not to litter, to behave in public (stop spitting, turn down the volume on the car stereo/phone, offer the seat to old ladies ...). Hotel staff are faced with the constant challenge of guests flushing tampons and menstrual pads down the toilet. Or in the case of the migrants, shaving their beards in the shower, clogging the drains. That's way I'd advocate a boot camp where people learn how basic plumbing works and how the equipment is to be used.

Baumol's disease, however, makes teaching expensive. The government is unwilling to fully commit the necessary resources, e.g. in Austria's main refugee processing station, the migrants get supervision for only 40 hours a week for cost reduction purposes and are left alone during the rest (except for a basic security layer). The vacuum is filled by anarchy and mischief.

It is really sad to see how the Western open society is currently being degraded and reduced. The economics university library, for instance, has introduced student card checks in order to limit the presence of thieves. After a sharp increase since the arrival of the new guests, this measure has greatly reduced the thefts, even though the 3 EUR day ticket would not impact a thief's calculation much as the iphone or laptops stolen should easily absorb the three extra euros. The average visitor, however, can no longer just go inside and read a book without registration. The thieves have reduced the open society. Europe is becoming more American, separating the haves from the have-nots by technical, financial or social hurdles.

Many migrants are eager to learn and integrate. It is unfortunate that politics and the administration is not willing to effect a triage and remove the unwilling and the criminal, concentrating the resources on the eager and promising ones. The current rules are full of crazy self-limitations such as the Vienna police's practice of only arresting foreign drug dealers when they have been caught dealing three times on the same day. The dealers are not stupid and just take a time-out after they have been caught two times, so no arrests take place and a fairly open drug trade is degrading a promising migrant resident ghetto area.