George Sarant

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Posts Tagged ‘Europe

FIFTY YEARS IN A FLASH

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The Beatles arrived in the US fifty years ago, as hard as that is to believe for those who were around at the time. The years seem to have flashed by progressively faster, as they inevitably do as we age. Somehow what seems like a long period of time just doesn’t feel like it. Curiously this is not because things have changed so much, but rather because they have changed so little. There is a surprising degree of continuity between now and then. For example, people still listen to the music of the Beatles, whereas in 1964 few people were still listening to the popular music of 1914. Where there is a virtually seamless connection between today and 1964 for most people in the West, the fifty years prior to that time are like a huge chasm of discontinuity. 

 

Consider the year 1914. Then, for the broad public everything was new, from electricity to movies, automobiles, airplanes, appliances, telephones, recordings, etc. Although most of these things originated in the late 19th century, they did not reach most people until costs tumbled due to mass production early in the 20th century. In contrast, apart from the Internet, medical devices, and electronics generally, there is not much in the way of things with comparable fundamental impact on daily life over the past fifty years. Thus, a person from 1964 could fit in comfortably in 2014  (apart from wondering where all the space travel and robots are), whereas a person from 1914 encountering the world of 1964 would be flabbergasted.  

 In geopolitical terms 1914 was the apex of the civilization of the19th century and the old order of Europe, which disastrously exploded into war in August of that year. Thus began, one hundred years ago, the biggest disaster in modern western history, subsequently referred to as “the Great War,” or World War I as we now call it today. There was worse to come, but most of what followed was a consequence of that war. Had it not happened the map of the world would be very different today, and more dynamic powers would still exist in Europe. Today it is hard to imagine countries sending off millions of their young men to war, largely as cannon fodder, ultimately all for nothing. It is equally hard to imagine European countries gripped by patriotic fervor and clamoring for war as some did at the time. The United States only entered the war three years after it began, so military deaths of 116,516 were far less than the 416,800 in World War II. But for European countries in the west the losses were almost incomprehensible. Thus the Great War still resonates in Britain, which lost 908,371 versus 303,800 in World War II or France, which lost 1,357,800 soldiers in WWI versus 200,000 in World War II. On the other side Germany lost 1,773,700, Austria-Hungary 1,200,00 and all of these are only battlefield death. Total casualties were several times more. In the east Russia lost 1,700,000 before leaving the war after the 1917 revolution.

The German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empire, (which controlled much of the middle east at the time), all collapsed as a result of the war, followed by years of turmoil that led directly to WWII and the further consequences of that war. An imperial civilization vanished, and in some ways Europe has yet to fully recover from what began in August 1914.

Clearly most of the seminal events occurred in the first half of the 20th century. The years between 1914 and 1964 constituted a period of great discontinuity, in contrast to the curious continuity between 1964 and 2014. Although we have been led to believe that we live in a time of rapid change, the truth is things haven’t changed all that much, and that is why the years seem, even more so, to have gone by in a flash. As the saying goes, “the more things change the more they stay the same.”

 

 

Written by georgesarant

February 23, 2014 at 7:29 PM

G-7, G-8? CANADA, US, & EUROPE

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The west again has a leader with vision, courage, and resolve. Too bad he’s not an American. He is Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, who had the fortitude to directly call out Vladimir Putin for his bad behavior, particularly with regard to Syria, where Russia continues to provide vital support for the Assad regime. At the “G8” summit Harper boldly stated that there is no G8. He stated that instead “this is the G-7   plus one. Let’s be blunt, that’s what this is: the G-7 plus one,” basically giving up on Russia ever behaving like a normal country. 

The G-7 was originally a group of the world’s leading economic powers with a shared democratic government and market economy. Membership consisted of the US, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain, and Japan. Then Russia was invited in in 1997 to encourage the continued transformation toward democracy, political and economic freedom. Unfortunately Russia has instead reverted to an authoritarian tradition that goes back centuries. It is nowhere near as odious as the Communist Soviet Union was, but it has consistently been at odds with the west on issue after issue. Part of this is Putin’s illusion of being a great power, which is achieved by opposing anything the US does. He is basically disruptive of the G8, as Harper suggested, and is not suitable for participation. This doesn’t necessarily mean expelling Russia, if only for the Russian people, and the hope that they will eventually produce a less thuggish regime instead of one headed by a clown who cannot be taken seriously. 

Leaving this aside the US is also negotiating a free trade agreement with Europe, which would be a tremendous plus for the economies of all participants as well as the whole world. Obama deserves credit for pursuing this opportunity, which if consummated, will be the major achievement of his administration. Notwithstanding very justified criticism on the domestic front, when the President does something good in foreign affairs he ought to get credit for it. One of the principle roadblocks to completing the agreement has been put up by France,which wants some exemptions and protections for its cultural institutions. In this instance I sympathize with the French, in trying to maintain their national culture and not be overwhelmed, i.e.  by Hollywood. They do not want their culture ruined the way Hollywood has ruined ours, with mediocre productions, offensive material, and monotonous left-wing themes. I hope that they can be accommodated and that other countries will follow suit, in order to maintain their distinctive cultural identities. For that matter it would be nice if Americans rediscovered their own identity, which has been trampled not only by Hollywood, but by a dysfunctional education system. 

Written by georgesarant

June 17, 2013 at 7:21 PM

EUROPEAN TRAVEL NOTES & RANDOM REFLECTIONS

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Returning home to New York’s JFK airport from abroad continues to be a major embarrassment, after leaving a shiny modern airport in Europe. You exit through a dingy corridor to customs, immigration, and baggage retrieval, to find transportation. You have to haul your baggage across a busy thoroughfare to reach the cabstand. Then you’re treated to a bumpy ride into the city over bad roads through dismal surroundings. Welcome to America 2013. There is no possible excuse for the way our infrastructure has deteriorated. It is nice to hear the administration talk about improving this but you have to wonder where all those billions of stimulus funds went, when there’s not a single project of any note being undertaken anywhere. 

Another embarrassment is Times Square, especially insofar as it is largely populated by tourists, wandering about what is a joke of a pedestrian mall. Having just left countries with beautiful piazzas with fountains, etc. the plaza created on Broadway is laughably bad in comparison, consisting of junk outdoor patio furniture and baffled visitors milling around. It desperately needs some creative architecture. Perhaps Bloomberg will donate a fountain, but then again he would probably want to plaster his name all over it.

                                        *  *   

Everywhere you go in Europe now there are huge crowds of tourists at the most visited sites. If you want to see anything important you really have to arrange it in advance these days by booking a time slot via the Internet, as far ahead as possible. That’s the only way to avoid long lines when you get there. Much of the continent has become a museum. What is really striking is how anywhere you go there is a church or cathedral that is the major feature of the city or town. But almost all the visitors are tourists in the overwhelmingly secular Europe of today and few of the locals go to church. 

This loss of faith has profound consequences, and I say this as an agnostic, but one who is sympathetic to religion. First there is nothing to replace it, resulting in a kind of nihilistic fatalism. Second, there is no faith in the future, only living in the present, and as a result the population is not growing and there are not enough people to pay for all the benefits they have promised themselves. Third, without Christianity, which is a crucial part of their cultural DNA, they are disconnected from a rich heritage. This is symptomatic of a long decline that began with the monstrous disaster of World War I, which I believe to be the seminal event of modern history, considering the impact and all the consequences that flowed from it. 

A century ago, just prior to the war, Europe was on top of the world and the epicenter of western world. The war destroyed too much of that civilization, and this was compounded by the second world war, which was a direct consequence of the first. The continent has yet to recover its cultural vibrancy, if it ever will, as it is now under American influence more than ever. 

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Two decades ago in any European city you could pick out the American tourists due to their casual, if not sloppy dress. Nowadays that is impossible as everyone looks the same, no matter what their origin. I’ve written on this in more detail here.  We are more alike than ever, especially the young, who everywhere use the same Iphones and Ipads, due to the now ubiquitous Internet. But some things are not the same. Today the single greatest difference between Europeans and Americans is space. In America we have a lot of it, even in less affluent homes. In Europe space is at a premium and private spaces tend to be much smaller. Anything from a hotel room to a car is smaller, due having a larger population in a smaller territory.

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Much of the traveling on this trip was done on a cruise ship. Apart from people from all over the U.S., there were many others on the ship, notably Australians, French Canadians, and people from the Netherlands, where the ship is registered. It is a hell of a trip from Australia to Europe, but a lot of them do it. The French Canadians are a lot more jolly than the people in France, and actually speak better French. 

 

That was a fairly diverse population, but it wouldn’t be for a left-winger. I picture one defining this as a boatload of predominantly older white people served by a third world population, (never mind that they are genuinely happy in their work). Since the left sees any grouping that happens to be overwhelmingly white as illegitimate, I get the impression they don’t cruise much, otherwise they would have shitted it up the way they have ruined everything else by politicizing anything they come into contact with.

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As I prepared for this trip it occurred to me how much we depend on things going right in our lives every day,  i.e.  that the plane will land safely, on time, and that we will get our luggage,  that no one will break into our homes while we are away, etc. (Although they could have been enticed, thanks to the Post Office, which again bungled a hold-mail request while we were away and allowed it to pile up). Fortunately most of the time, we go through life expecting that other people will do the right thing, and get angry when they don’t, i.e. in traffic. Whatever problems there are here, there is still a high level of interpersonal trust, which is one of the best features of this society. Nevertheless, things do happen, and it is wise to always expect the unexpected in life. 

 

Written by georgesarant

May 22, 2013 at 4:41 PM

TOLERATING THE INTOLERABLE

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One indicator of the degeneracy of European liberalism is crime. Many countries where crime was once virtually unknown now have a serious crime problem, albeit mostly of the petty variety. Visitors and tourists are often the primary (and easiest) targets, so as I prepare for another European trip I find it necessary to take certain precautions that never would have even come to mind in the past. Moving around the United States, Canada, or even Mexico you don’t think much about pickpockets and street scams, but in many European cities they are thriving. New York City, where I live, was once caricatured by Europeans with mock stick ups and the like, but is now the safest big city in the US and one of the safest in the world, thanks largely to Rudy Giuliani and Ray Kelly. 

Why is Europe experiencing this crime wave? The answer is what we in the US call “liberalism” (though the term has a different meaning there). Many countries have allowed themselves to be invaded by people up to no good due to liberal asylum laws and ease of admission. Where stricter laws exist they are barely enforced. But what is most striking is how lax the laws are. In Spain for example, pickpockets get all of three days jail time and a fine, no matter how many times they are caught. For the pickpockets and street hustlers it is just part of the cost of doing business so there is basically no deterrent. The result is that cities like Barcelona have become pickpocket heaven. These criminals are virtually all foreigners, as are many of their targets, i.e. tourists. The change is just mind-boggling from a few decades ago. It is as though the country has gone to the opposite extreme from the austere strictness of the Franco era. Similar conditions have led a country like Greece, where crime was once nonexistent, to now have a problem with it.

At the root of this problem is tolerance pushed to a loony extreme. In the contemporary western world the worst thing one can be is intolerant. That being the case, people go to great lengths to avoid being labeled “intolerant,” or “racist” as in the United States. To avoid this one must be nonjudgemental, no matter how rudely something violates a sense of propriety. This means there can be virtually no standards, which ultimately means that anything and everything must be tolerated. It warps the idea of tolerance, which in moderation is a moral principle, into circumstances where there can be no moral principles. 

A corollary to this is when a society loses belief in itself. When there is no sense of common good there is no hope for the future. All that matters is getting the most one can out of the present, and thus basically assenting to how anyone else gets theirs. But common sense should tell us that the more you tolerate crime the more likely you are to become a victim of crime. The US has not yet succumbed to this lunacy but the trajectory is heading that way, as moral principles once commonly held fall away, and the notion of tolerance is skewed to provide cover for the most morally indefensible kinds of behavior. A society that does not have the conviction to defend itself is doomed to fail, and it is truly sad to see what is happening to our European cousins.

 

 

 

Written by georgesarant

April 6, 2013 at 5:37 PM

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THE FUTURE OF EUROPE

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In the course of little more than half a century Europe has managed to swap 6 million Jews for 20 million Muslims. The former were assimilated into European culture, and their murders were an incalculable loss as well as a monstrous crime. The latter are largely unassimilated, and due to “multicultural” encouragement will continue to remain so, while outgrowing the declining European population. In many countries they have the audacity to aggressively assert their cultural autonomy and are out of control in the most tolerant countries, i.e. Britain and the Netherlands.

The only ones who have really gotten it right so far are the French. There the state encourages assimilation, considers everyone French, and does not maintain ethnic, religious, and racial statistics for nefarious purposes as the US does, and officially insists upon a single standard for everyone. Unlike Obama, and for that matter, Bush, they discourage Muslim headscarves and other outward signs of religion in public institutions. The downside of this fastidious public secularism, which dates back to the French revolution, is that the traditional Christian culture of Europe gets lost in the mix, but is offset by a cultural nationalism that is peculiar to the French. There the damage done to much of the western world by self-hating leftists has been mitigated by an appreciation for and encouragement of French culture. This can sometimes be overdone with a silly degree of chauvinism* when it comes to language and new terminology, but they at least have developed policies that will ensure the survival of the nation, including family-friendly policies to support a sustainable birth rate.

Virtually every other country in Europe is facing a disastrous combination of population decline, unassimilated immigrants, and low growth. The only hope for Europe is the populist right, and gains in the recent elections show that the Europeans are beginning to seriously consider their predicament. For it is clear that to have a future European countries must again believe in themselves- in their history, culture, and way of life.

*A term that is originally French, originating with a19th century man named Chauvin who was known for extreme, over-the-top nationalism. Parenthetically I saw a comment by a young airhead referring to a man as a “shovinist” without a clue as to the real meaning of the term. How things degenerate over time! .

Written by georgesarant

June 12, 2009 at 10:06 PM

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