A Friday night out in Europe.

It’s Friday afternoon, and if you, gentle readers, should want to leave the gloomy reality of a world in economic crisis behind you for a night out in Europe, you may be interested in having a look at a new web service called Happenr for hopefully useful suggestions about what to do.

According to a techcrunch review by Erick Schonfeld, Happenr is a new search engine, operated by a Belgian company, that currently collects information about events in Germany, Ireland, Belgium and the continent’s most important cities by scouring tourism, town, and cultural websites. While the review author sceptically remarks that “event databases are a dime a dozen,” he also mentions that “Happenr thinks there is still room for a comprehensive events search engine in Europe, and it believes it has a better way of indexing events automatically.”

Well, see for yourself. I for one actually found something I might do later on.

“No need anymore to try to look Canadian”?

Garrison Keillor is an old American radio personality. As is often the case, he used to be a lot funnier than he is now. But once in a while he can still bring it:

The French junior minister for human rights said, “On this morning, we all want to be American so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes.” When was the last time you heard someone from France say they wanted to be American and take a bite of something of ours? Ponder that for a moment.

The world expects us to elect pompous yahoos and instead we have us a 47-year-old prince from the prairie who cheerfully ran the race, and when his opponents threw sand at him, he just smiled back…

I just can’t imagine anybody cooler. Look at a photo of the latest pooh-bah conference – the hausfrau Merkel, the big glum Scotsman, that goofball Berlusconi, Putin with his B-movie bad-boy scowl, and Sarkozy, who looks like a district manager for Avis – you put Barack in that bunch and he will shine…

Even if you worship in the church of Fox, everyone you meet overseas is going to ask you about Obama and you may as well say you voted for him because, my friends, he is your line of credit over there. No need anymore to try to look Canadian.

Okay, some gushing here. And I’m not sure the American backpacker should pick off that maple leaf patch just yet.

On the other hand, “district manager for Avis” — ouch.

In other news, it’s cold and grey in central Germany this evening. How are things where you are?

Inflation Is Dead In Spain, Fasten Up Your Seat Belts For A Sharp Dose Of Deflation

As Barcelona-based property consultants Aguirre Newman publish a report that suggests Spanish property prices may need to fall by at least 23% for the market to return to any kind of normality, we learn today that Spain’s annual inflation dropped almost a full percentage point to 3.6 percent in October, according to data from the Spanish National Statistics Office. This was the lowest level in a year as energy and food costs fell and the real economy slowed dramatically. October’s figure, in line with estimates, was down from 4.5 percent a month before, but this piece of information obscures more of Spain’s current inflation dynamic than it actually reveals. Continue reading

Odd Moments in Political Economy

I’m beginning to think that our neighborhood grocery store here in Tbilisi could be an interesting source of stories about the politics and economics in the Second World. The tastiest corn chips come from Turkey, the cooking oil brands are almost all Russian (though with relations being what they are, I don’t know if the products themselves come directly from the neighbor to the north), the peanut butter from China looks too suspect to buy, and a fair amount of the pasta is Italian Barilla. Stocks sometimes still seem a question of what the store can get, rather than what the customers want. There are a whole bunch of fancy-looking Dutch cheeses just now, but they seem to be going for about EUR 16 a kilo, which is an awful lot for here. Particularly as I think behind the nice packaging they’re probably pretty ordinary, rather than actual super-artisan stuff that might command the price. And some of the choices are just odd: of the main shelving (the display area in the middle of the store) fully one-twelfth is given over to nothing but ketchup. Ketchup is the perfect condiment, but still. Further, the 750-ml Heinz regular in a squeezable plastic bottle with a label in Dutch is about 7.50 lari, while the the 750-ml Heinz regular in a squeezable plastic bottle with a label in French is about 9.50 lari. This does not look like a rational market. Maybe someone in management speaks English and I can find out why.

One Hour, Four Minutes and Ninety Years Ago

The guns of Europe fell silent as the Armistice took hold.

Not everywhere, of course. Fighting continued in revolutionary Germany and Russia, in the remains of the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires, and in other places whose history I don’t know well enough to cite here.

Death and destruction were meted out on a scale that is still difficult to fathom. On the columns of the memorial at Thiepval are carved the names of more than 70,000 Allied soldiers who fell in the area between July and November 1916, and who have no known grave. I was pointed to the photo by Teresa Nielsen Hayden, whose excellent posts on successive Armistice Days are moving, full of informative links and followed by astute commentary.

Though the events themselves are passing from living memory, the world shaped by the war is still all around us.

Update: Two more from TNH, 2002 and 2008.

Rotten Potato

As if the time in power for Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party had not provided enough comedy, a backbencher has been quoted saying something so far out of the potato patch that even the party’s leadership has condemned it. Not only did Artur Gorski claim that Al Qaeda was rubbing its hands with glee at Obama’s election, he added that “The black messiah of the new left has crushed the Republican candidate John McCain, and America will soon pay a high price for this quirk of democracy.” Not content with those sage remarks, he said “Obama is an approaching catastrophe. This marks the end of white man’s civilisation.”

According to Reuters, “Foreign Ministry spokesman Jacek Paszkowski said normally he would not comment on remarks of MPs, but added: ‘In this case we feel obliged to express our disapproval of MP Gorski’s address.'”

Really Sick Buildings

The bell, Olympiastadion, Berlin

The bell, Olympiastadion, Berlin

An artefact is an ideology made manifest. The bell in this picture is the one made for the Reichssportfeld in Berlin, installed in the bell tower you can see behind it, brought crashing down when the damaged tower was demolished shortly after the second world war, repaired, and eventually rededicated as a monument “against war and violence”. But it’s not only that.

The bell was forged by the Gussstahlfabrik in Bochum, the heart of the Krupp steelworks, and the plant which made the Prussian and German armies’ gun barrels. Its owners and top managers were a crucial influence in German politics, from the turn away from Bismarckian conservatism in the 1890s all the way to 1933. It was there that the revolutionary centrifugal casting process – spinning molten steel from a tube turning at thousands of RPM outwards like candy floss – was invented in the 1930s, that made the Nazi army’s 88mm long-range antitank guns. Ordering the bell from them was political architecture in many ways – not only did it please the heavy industry lobby, it explicitly reminded everyone of the real sources of the state power the whole master plan was meant to celebrate. The bell tower itself grows out of a war monument; but the bell grew out of the military-industrial complex.

Even its later history is telling. Despite the RAF bombing, which damaged the structure, it was still standing when the Olympic stadium was taken over by the British army, just as the bombers could never really finish off the steelworks that made it. The British blew it up for fear it would fall down unpredictably. Later, in the 1960s, it was restored – by none other than Werner March, the original architect of the project. No wonder people worried about faschisticher Kontinuitat. The bell itself was then, rather uneasily, plonked in its current position with its new and vaguely glib, but undeniably well-meaning mission; it’s hard to escape the feeling that it’s been a lot like Germany.

Strangely enough, the Reichssportfeld is the only stone building that scares me. All my associations for it are wrong; I’m used to the stuff as a material which weathers, grows moss, turns black with industrial smoke, gets sandblasted back to its original colour by ambitious mayors. Although the stadium is limestone, like a Yorkshire hill, it’s still terrifyingly perfect.

Not much light

Not much light

Barack O’Bama

Apparently a great-great-great grandfather of his came from Ireland, and at least one visitor reports that this is all the rage right now.

From the chorus: “O’Leary, O’Reilly, O’Hare and O’Hara/There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama.” The verses are pretty funny, too.

Laurent Cohen-Tanugi: The Shape of the World to Come

We live in interesting times, but where exactly will those times lead us?

French intellectual Laurent Cohen-Taugi addressed this question when he presented his latest book The Shape of the World to Come, charting the geopolitics of a new century to the Carnegie Council in New York City last month. David Stewart at The Columbia University Press Weblog has published videos of the talk Laurent Cohen-Tanugi gave at this occasion. Teaser:

In Laurent’s analysis, the West has lost influence in multilateral institutions since these institutions are out dated for today’s world. The notion of democracy promotion is also challenged in many quarters, such as Russia and China, says Laurent. Laurent is courageous and correct in saying that today’s multi-polar world is not just more equal but also more unstable, contrary to the European hope of equalizing relations with the United States. Nationalism is returning and we are “moving away from the post-modern ideal of global governance,” and we are witnessing a return of “nineteenth-century geopolitics.”

I haven’t had time to delve into this myself since Cohen-Tanugi’s book and Stewart’s blog post were only brought to my attention today, but I invite our readers to go and have a look and share their first impressions. In the meantime, I’ll ask Columbia University Press for a review copy of The Shape of the World to Come. Looks really interesting.

Banks or Pensions?

That’s the difficult choice which faced Hungary as its international support package was put together in the last couple of weeks.  One thing that happens between the initial announcement that a package has been agreed and its final endorsement by the International Monetary Fund’s board is that we get to find out a lot more about the specifics of what has been agreed.

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