Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Hedged Funding

July 7, 2017

Wait, is that an actual hedge or a virtual (Photoshopped) hedge in the background of this photo? Perhaps only Yonhap’s photo editor knows for sure.  It doesn’t really matter: the underlying message is the same either way.

 

Large-scale and green: we should expect forthcoming news of YUGE clean-energy investment deals between Siemens and KEPCO.  Moon has promised to reduce Korea’s reliance on nuclear power plants by adding cleaner electricity generation capacity.  Wind, tide and solar are obvious candidates to augment hydroelectric and thermal power stations.  Furthermore, significant job creation would be necessary to build and operate new energy infrastructure. This project is gonna get green-lighted (using dis term in da trad Hollywood vernacular, not in da bogus interwebs ish).

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WWII All Over … Again

July 3, 2015

The fix is in: for the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII those canny Swiss ‘neutrals’ at FIFA have orchestrated a distaff rematch of Axis-vs-Allies in the semis and final of the Women’s World Cup.  United States v. Japan for world domination.  England v. Germany for consolation prize.  Was it in the script all along?

8-v-8

The referees played their usual solid supporting roles, with a penalty kick here and a penalty kick there … together with a few strategic non-calls along the way. We can probably expect more of the same in the final.  FIFA officials seeking to avoid extradition to the U.S. Department of Justice may tip the scales toward a Hollywood ending for the neon yellow Nike hose of the good ol’ USA.  Let’s just wait and see.

Meanwhile, in the Andean fringes of southern Mercosur, the beautiful game will be played at its pinnacle by slightly less beautiful players than in Vancouver.  Chile and Argentina will be ignoring their mutual history as post-war havens for the losing team, and will instead emphasize themes close to the heart of a certain former Porteño — Jorge Mario Bergoglio:

“Chile and Argentina are brother countries, we have to show mutual respect,” said Argentine defender Javier Mascherano.  “Sport is about trying to be healthy and having fun, not a war.  If we stoop to aggression and violence, we lose that message of respect.

His Chileno counterpart Jose Rojas agreed: “Argentina is strong but nothing is impossible.  We have hunger and desire to achieve something important for our country.  We are playing at home, with our people behind us, and we have something to say.  You have to throw all the meat on the grill,” Rojas said.

AR_bbq

Meat on the grill?   Sounds like an appeal to San Lorenzo!  On Saturday we’ll see who’s really running the barbeque in Sant’Iago.  I’m thinking it’s gonna be Lionel Messi.

San_Lorenzo

The Ugliest Duckling

March 27, 2015

Recently I had the good fortune to attend a book talk by Dutch sociologist Abram De Swaan (born January 8, 1942). The topic was one that many people would find disquieting, perhaps distasteful, or even repellent: the “modern” phenomenon of mass murder.  But American mass media wouldn’t be very interested in his message, because Mynheer De Swaan isn’t studying mere penny ante schoolhouse slaughter like Sandy Hook or Columbine.  Instead, his attention is focused on organized, large-scale atrocities perpetrated by armed political movements or government regimes, mostly in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries.  Rwanda. Cambodia. Bosnia. The Final Solution. The Cultural Revolution. The Soviet Purges. And so on.  These episodes have generally occurred in the context of widespread social upheaval and generally at the instigation of a regime or state.

A-De-Swaan

De Swaan recommends approaching the mass murder phenomenon while bearing in mind (at least) four levels of social analysis:

  • long-term, perhaps dormant, trends in social transformation occurring at the time
  • political movements and state policies
  • interpersonal interactions in everyday social life
  • psychological/sociological patterns of individual interior “life-of-the-mind”

From this perspective, the groundwork for future atrocity is laid when latent social tensions are redefined by political actors to

  • accentuate social differences and divisions,
  • demarcate boundaries of “compartmentalized” social categories,
  • enact physical/spatial separation of these newly defined social fragments,
  • and accelerate psychological processes of self-identification, projection, internalization, fervent “othering” (and so on) within increasing numbers of the citizenry.

Once these ideological/political projects have achieved an as-yet-undefined level of cultural ubiquity within society, mass murder and atrocity become not only possible, but perhaps likely.

Just to keep the scorecard tidy, De Swaan has proposed four principal categories of mass murder:

  • the victor’s frenzy [ Sri Lanka, Japanese Imperial Army after the conquest of Nanking, etc. ]
  • regime by terror [ Soviet Purges, Cultural Revolution, Khmer Rouge, Hussein Iraq, Assad Syria ]
  • the loser’s triumph [ 3rd Reich after 1942 ]
  • pogrom [ Armenia, 1948 India, Rwanda, Bosnia ]

He’s willing to consider two other possible candidates for mass murder:

  • intentional famine [ is he thinking of Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China and Kim’s North Korea? ]
  • air war: “strategic” bombing campaigns [ is he thinking of Germany unto Britain, USA/UK unto Germany/Japan, USA unto Iraq, Israel unto Lebanon and Gaza? ]

My_Lai

However, even with such a neat academic typology, mass murder is a messy business.  When confronted with gory horror of truly massive casualty figures, a common human reaction often seems to be one of incomprehension: “How could people do such a thing to their fellows?”  This question is exactly the starting point for the many researchers who have previously examined cases of attempted genocide, mass extermination, and wholesale slaughter.  De Swaan has reviewed the existing academic literature (such as it is) and found it lacking.

The initial wave of research in the 1950’s (understandably) concentrated on the notorious German case (then quite recent) and reached the comforting but none-too-rigorous conclusion that these “evil deeds” were perpetrated by evil men, or at the very least by men in the tenacious grip of “evil”.  Such men must be monsters, and as monsters must be eradicated.  Thus, the Nuremberg trials.  But De Swaan notes that this analysis relies heavily on the concept of “evil” without adequately exploring the full dimensions of what “evil” is understood to be.  Despite the fact that the term “evil” –in the European cultural context– is heavily freighted with a nebulous range of religious and moral meanings, early writers on the topic of mass murder generally limited themselves to defining “evil” as encompassing the perpetrators’ use of intensely cruel and painful methods of torture and killing on a large scale. This approach left the theological-moral/psychological dimensions of mass murder largely unexplored, and thus failed to adequately explain how nominally Christian people (in the German case) were able to engage in these types of behavior.

Soon enough, researchers came to understand that available evidence contradicted the sweeping claims of the “evil monster” thesis: many of the minor cogs in the vast killing machines were demonstrably less than monstrous, and in fact greatly resembled –and behaved like– the average Johan or Jurgen on the street corner.  They were still guilty, but they weren’t monsters. But what, then?

A decade or so later, thanks to the psychology research of Stanley Milgram and others, a slightly more nuanced view emerged: the claim that “ordinary men do extraordinary things in extraordinary circumstances.”  Under social pressure, under conditions of psychological stress, two-thirds of otherwise peaceable, law-abiding citizens may participate in heinously cruel activities.  Guantanamo. Abu Ghraib.  According to this thesis, you or I could well be given a gentle push down the slippery slope … to become torturers and killers.  Ya nevah know…

As a social scientist, De Swaan is still skeptical:  what about all those people –the thirty-three percent– who wouldn’t go along with Milgram’s experimental program of participating in torture unto death?  How are they different from those who join the parade?  For De Swaan, this is still the preeminent open question.  But empirical data about non-participation doesn’t exist, so it’s necessary to look at the question from the opposite point of view.  Until better evidence becomes available, De Swaan has proposed what he calls a tentative conjecture about the types of people who do participate, drawn from psychological studies of former low-level German functionaries conducted after WWII. What type of person allows himself to become involved in situations where mass murder occurs?  According to De Swaan, many of these men exhibited a set of characteristics that may be related to their participation in mass murder. They were:

  • obedient
  • loyal
  • highly devoted to their families
  • low in their sense of personal agency
  • low in empathy

The gloss above, the earth below.

Reflecting on the personal traits summarized by De Swaan, I was first of all struck by the observation that low agency and obedience are not merely present in these men by simple coincidence –they’re mutually reinforcing states of mind.  If you have a low sense of personal agency, you may well be more inclined to follow the lead of someone else.  But secondly, I was intrigued by De Swaan’s portrayal of these vanquished German warriors as devoted family men.  On the one hand it seems entirely plausible that men of a defeated nation would retreat from public engagement into refuge in intimate family life, but there’s also a much more significant dimension of this mundane observation … hiding in plain sight.  Obedience, deference, loyalty, surrender of personal agency and emphasis on the nuclear family are –in Europe and beyond–  all features of patriarchal culture and ideology.  Time for a causal loop diagram.

Coercion-Domination

So then, could it be that men more deeply invested in patriarchy –with identities and self-perceptions strongly centered on their roles as fathers and patriarchs– are somehow more likely to become participants in organized mass murder when the occasion arises?  More likely to be obedient? More likely to defer? More likely to outsource personal agency to their “superior” in the social hierarchy?

In this context, perhaps it is intensely relevant that patriarchy’s stratified edifice rests on a simple, secret, almost implicit bargain: in exchange for obedient deference to the authority of the state, employer and social patron, patriarchy promises the lowly man a virtually unlimited dominion over his wife and children.  In return for the personal agency he surrenders in the workplace and polis, the petty patriarch is thus enfeoffed to be master of all he surveys within the walls of his domicile.  Were he alive today, renowned patriarch John Dalberg-Acton would undoubtedly take this occasion to remind us that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Even at the nanoscale of an otherwise insignificant individual household within a much vaster society.

Should we then consider the possibility that the system and culture of patriarchy itself inexorably contains the seeds of mass murder?  Or should we instead, based on these indications, infer the persistent presence of repeatedly replicated social groups –networks of like-minded men– which use the techniques and mechanisms of patriarchy to maintain a privileged status within society and thereby command a correspondingly disproportionate share of social resources?  Perhaps these are men who are willing to deploy patriarchy’s fundamental tools of coercion and domination to their logical limit: the extinction of human life itself.

Reflect deeply upon this.  It needn’t be a binary choice.

 

Offensive Lyin’

February 16, 2015

As noted previously, during the Year of the Goat the Grand Duke (Tai Sui) will be presiding over earthly affairs from his cosmic throne in the South-Southwest. He likes things quiet and peaceful (and who doesn’t, after all?), so mere mortals are well advised to avoid disturbing the serene harmony so prized by Tai Sui.

But even after several millennia of object lessons, stupid humans never learn. Here’s a quick look at who’s offending the Grand Duke these days, and why:

Saudi Arabia — Sectarian conflict in Yemen is merely the latest manifestation of blowback from the Cheney-Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Sunnis and Shiites have been skirmishing for centuries in Yemen, in the mountains and on the plains, but this time it’s part of the larger proxy war between Persians and the Sauds. Yemen’s location at the south-southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula means that this noisy, un-civil war is gonna offend Tai Sui in the Year of the Goat. That’s not good news for King Salman.

Sana_Yemen

 

Russia — Don’t worry about General Winter: Comrade Bear has just a few more days to wrap up his attempted conquest of Debaltseve before all that noise and clamor in the south-southwest of Eurasia disturbs the limited patience of Tai Sui.  It’s probably too late, because the Grand Duke has undoubtedly been getting an earful from his predecessor about the terrible decline of courtesy in the neighborhood. Economic sanctions will be the least of Comrade Bear’s problems if things don’t calm down in a hurry.

Kondratyevka

 

Brazil — The party’s almost over, and I’m not talking about carnival in Rio. Through no real fault of its own, Brazil is going to suffer from the uproar to its south-southwest: Cristina Kirchner‘s intriguing media circus will catch the ear of Tai Sui and the consequences won’t be pleasant for Mercosur neighbors. Paraguay may escape unscathed (for once), but Uruguay and Brazil appear to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carnival_Masks_2015

 

Mexico — First Michoacan, then Guerrero.  President Peña-Nieto may need to follow the example of Comrade Eleven in cleaning the Augean stables of Mexican government.

Guerrero_022015

 

United States? — So far things are looking pretty good in the south-southwest: Mexican wolves are making a comeback, the clang and clamor of Eagle Ford shale oil drilling rigs is decreasing in the Permian Basin, and a measles outbreak in New Mexico, Arizona and southern California may quiet some of the noisier residents of the region.  But …

Plains All American LP will build two new crude oil pipelines in far West Texas and New Mexico to move Permian Basin production to markets. The company will extend its Avalon pipeline in Loving County 32 miles into Culberson County with a 12-inch line.  Plains All American also will build a 60-mile, 16-inch State Line pipeline to connect Culberson County output to Wink, Texas, along the Texas-New Mexico state line.

Avalon pipeline? Uh oh!  Since “moving earth” and major construction projects in the Grand Duke’s south-southwest realm are surefire ways to irritate the year’s cosmic ruler, this will definitely not turn out well. It’s clear that the U.S. petroleum industry will have to learn its feng shui protocol the hard way.  Which reinsurance provider is currently holding liability policies on Plains All American LP?  Time to double-check your risk management posture!

Eagle_Ford

 

Israel — Gaza.  Really, need I say more?  Benny Netanyahu will be getting a frigid reception in Washington from everyone except the Republicans on Sheldon Adelson‘s payroll.  In his shame and frustration, he probably won’t be able to resist (once again) turning Gaza rubble into even smaller rubble.  The man suffers from a Masada Complex compounded by chronic funnel vision.  Tai Sui is already annoyed.  It definitely won’t be good for the Jews.

Gaza_beach_2015

 

There are probably many other examples around the world where upheaval in the south-southwest during 2015 could lead to retribution from the Grand Duke.  F’rinstance, what does Switzerland mean for Germany this year?  Those listed above are just a few top-of-mind candidates that any feng shui soothsayer would love to point out.  It will be interesting to see what else develops during the Year of the Goat.  Probably a good idea to stay away from SouthbySouthwest this year.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Tales of Brave Ilissos

December 7, 2014

Late last week, the Greek government took a brief break from its usual pastime (running budget deficits) to launch a bitter tirade against the world’s original bourgeois imperialists:

The British Museum [secretly shipped] one of the world’s most hotly disputed artistic masterpieces to Russia for a loan on Friday, causing an outcry in Greece, which says the priceless 2,500-year-old statue was looted from Athens and must be returned.  It was the first time any of the Elgin marbles had left Britain since arriving two centuries ago.  The decision was not announced until the statue –a headless, reclining nude sculpture of the river god Ilissos— was already safely in Saint Petersburg, where it goes on display as part of an exhibition to mark the Hermitage’s 250th anniversary.

Greek anger has been intensified by the fact that this ain’t just any old Elgin Marble torn from the Parthenon’s western pediment:

The Ilissos is a river in Athens, Greece. The stream drains the western slopes of Mount Hymettus, and originates from multiple converging seasonal creeks. During antiquity, it ran outside the defensive walls of Athens: the river was one of the borders of the ancient walls. Its banks were grassy and shaded by plane trees, and were considered idyllic; they were the favored haunts of Socrates for his walks and teaching.  Ilissos was also a demi-god, the son of Poseidon and Demeter, and was worshiped in a sanctuary on the Ardittos Hill.

In response, the British Museum’s director offered some bland, all-too-predictable platitudes.

“This is the first time ever that the people of Russia have been able to see this great moment of European art and European thought.  A huge new public can engage with the great achievements of ancient Greece. People who will never be able to come to Athens or to London will now here in Russia understand something of the great achievements of Greek civilization.”

“The British Museum [is] the most generous lender [of art] in the world, making a reality of the Enlightenment ideal that the greatest things in the world should be seen and studied, shared and enjoyed by as many people in as many countries as possible.”

Not everyone in Britain agrees:

David Hill, chairman of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures, said the loan to Russia was “highly provocative” and a “very rude gesture.”

Right you are, Dave … but not for the reasons you think.  In my view, the nation being rudely provoked is not merely Greece –it’s Russia.  Why?  Because multiple cultural subtexts are silently flowing beneath the rippling surface of Britain’s seemingly magnanimous gesture.  Instead of engaging in open conflict with Comrade Bear, perfidious per-Phidias Albion has chosen to make art, not war.

1. Achieving EU consensus on intensified sanctions against Russia depends upon persuading Germany to act against its own economic interests.  Looted art is a “wedge issue” that Germans understand only too well: as the Nazis did unto Western Europe during WWII, so the Soviets did unto defeated Germany. Thousands of German artworks traveled East at the end of the war, and many are in the collections of the Hermitage Museum.  They’re never coming back.  Britain’s art loan to Russia is intended to remind Berlin of its darkest hours.

2. It’s also an attempt to damage Russia’s relations with Greece and Turkey, two countries that Comrade Bear needs to keep somewhat neutral in the Black Sea/Balkan region as he prepares to ingest Ukraine.  Will the Greeks request that Russia “return” the sculpture to Athens?  Would the Hermitage comply despite its contract with the British Museum? Lawyers are already sharpening their pens.

3. Lastly, the loan of Ilissos to the Hermitage should be understood as a personal insult directed at Comrade Bear himself.  Of all the Parthenon marbles available for loan, the British Museum trick (or bribe) the Russians into accepting a buff –but headless– reclining male nude.  This is a sculpture that, for almost two centuries, has been ogled by successive generations of effete, limp-wristed, tea-sipping British public school aesthetes (if you know what I mean).  The limeys are practically daring Comrade Bear to show up in his own hometown museum for a photo op with Ilissos.  Priceless.

VVP_Ilissos_20141205

Somehow I get the feeling that there’s gonna be a new director of the Hermitage Museum sometime next year.