Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

Spengler, Byron, and Towards a European Patriotism

by Alexander G Rubio Tue Oct 17th, 2006 at 05:03:37 PM EST

Ruins of Ancient Rome by Cornelis van
Poelenburgh, c. 1608, Musée du Louvre
(Click for larger image)
These days we tend to use the word 'Civilisation' as simply the sum total of what we see as the good life, indoor plumbing, electric lights, and good, or at least passable, manners, and a thing somehow indestructible, and once attained, eternal.

But civilisations, plural, are something more. They are the living growing embodiment of a certain set of values and a shared view of life and the world. And as they are born from the minds and the toil of those who gave them form, so can they pass away, for a number of reasons.

There's a poem from the beginning of the last century by the Greek poet Cavafy, which imagines the scene in some city in late antiquity. Long since bereft of any true hope for the future, and existentially bored, they are waiting for the barbarians to come.

Then a messenger arrives. The barbarians have moved off to sack some other city, or gone back whence they came. And there is an air of disappointment. The barbarians at least would have been something.

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Banker for the Poor Muhammad Yunus Wins Nobel Peace Prize

by Alexander G Rubio Fri Oct 13th, 2006 at 06:14:47 AM EST

Muhammad Yunus
The Nobel Peace Prize this year was shared between Bangladeshi economist and banker Muhammad Yunus and the bank he founded in 1976, Grameen Bank, for their pioneering use of microcredit to alleviate poverty.

Grameen's strategy is to offer minuscule loans to very poor people, many of them women, giving them much needed start-up capital they would never otherwise have had access to, and a means of working their way out of poverty.

It all began in 1976, when a Yunus, then economics professor at Chittagong University in Bangladesh, lent $27 out of his own pocket to a group of poor craftsmen in the nearby town of Jobra, sparking the idea for what would become a bank proper and the concept of microcredit, which would eventually spread throughout Bangladesh, Southern Asia, and the rest of the developing world.

Since that time Grameen has given out millions of loans, amounting to billions of dollars in credit to people no other financial institution would look at twice.

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Turkish Novelist Orhan Pamuk Wins Nobel Prize in Literature

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Oct 12th, 2006 at 08:40:59 AM EST

Orhan Pamuk
Renowned Turkish novelist and essayist Orhan Pamuk, who, in the words of the jury, "in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures," has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Pamuk (b. 1952), who has stirred pride and controversy in equal measure in his native Turkey, was born into a prosperous, secular middle-class family. After studying architecture and journalism, he then turned to writing, using as his main theme, the clash, and melding, of cultures in his native country, and city.

He will formally receive the award, and 10 million Swedish kronor (north of €1 million), along with all the other Nobel laureates (except the winner of the Peace Prize, which by the wish of Alfred Nobel is awarded by a committee elected by the Norwegian Parliament) at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on December 10 from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.

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Turkish Novelist Elif Shafak Acquitted of Insulting Nation

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Sep 21st, 2006 at 11:48:23 AM EST

Elif Shafak
Elif Shafak, the Turkish novelist charged, under Article 301 of Turkish law, with "insulting Turkishness", was acquitted today, at the behest of the prosecutor.

Had she been found guilty, the author, who was unable to attend the court in person, having given birth to her first child on Saturday, would have faced up to three years in jail for a crime committed by one of the characters in her books "The Bastard of Istanbul", who referred to the massacre of Armenians in the first world war as genocide, which, although widely accepted internationally, is still vigorously denied by the Turkish state.

Her case mirrored that of novelist Orhan Pamuk, who stated that "a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey," in an interview with a Swiss newspaper in 2004, for which he was put on trial. An international outcry and diplomatic pressure from the EU probably played a part in his ultimate acquittal.

Promoted by Colman. Note that it's calling the massacre genocide that's denied, not the fact of the massacres, though there is argument about the actual numbers involved.

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Mad as a Turk: Pregnant Novelist on Trial for insulting Nation

by Alexander G Rubio Tue Sep 19th, 2006 at 06:20:25 AM EST

Turkish novelist Elif Shafak
When I was young, whenever my grandmother, now passed away, talked about someone about to blow their top, she'd describe them, in her rustic dialect, as, "Sint som en Tørk," or, translated from backwoods Norwegian, "Mad as a Turk."

The word mad, in this context, was, of course, meant to mean angry. But there are times, when the other interpretation seems appropriate.

Turkey has been working for ages now towards the goal of membership in The European Union, complaining bitterly at every set-back or bump in the road, that they are being treated unfairly by European nations that doubt their cultural affinity with the rest of the Union. Then they go off and do things like this.

When the Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk stated that "a million Armenians and thirty thousand Kurds had been killed in Turkey," in an interview with a Swiss newspaper in 2004, he was promptly charged with the crime of "denigrating Turkish identity" and put on trial.

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Scream and Madonna by Munch Recovered UPDATED

by Alexander G Rubio Fri Sep 1st, 2006 at 09:33:46 AM EST

By Alexander G. Rubio and Gisle Tangenes

"Scream" and "Madonna" by Edvard Munch
(Click for larger image)'

Just before noon on the 22th of August 2004, masked and armed robbers rushed in to the Munch Museum in Třyen, Oslo, in Norway and made off with two of the most iconic works of modern art, The Scream and The Madonna by Norwegian expressionist painter Edvard Munch.

But this morning Norwegian police of the organised crime unit recovered the paintings in a raid in Oslo. According to police spokesmen, the artworks have probably been hidden in Norway all this time.

Promoted by afew, so there!

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Nobel Prize Winner Naguib Mahfouz Dies

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Aug 31st, 2006 at 09:46:16 AM EST

Naguib Mahfouz
The only Nobel prize winner in literature that the Arab world has thus far produced, Egyptian Naguib Mahfouz, passed away at 94 on Wednesday.

His life had almost been cut short at 82 when he was attacked by a fundamentalist muslim wielding a knife, inspired by a fatwa for blasphemy  against one of his earlier novels, 1959's "Children of Gebelawi". The cleric issuing the fatwa, Omar Abdel-Rahman, was apparently inspired by the Ayatollah Khomeini's fatwa against Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" in 1989. The attack left him partially disabled, and made writing in longhand, as he was used to, difficult.

The novelist had been admitted to hospital with a head injury about a month ago, but he went into a sharp decline due to a bleeding ulcer and died this morning with his wife by his side. He and the family had declined offers of treatment in The United States.

He was politically engaged and critical towards US foreign policy in the region, but was a staunch moderate. And unlike the majority of novelists, writers and artists, Mahfouz has been a supporter of the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel since it was signed in 1979.

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The Death of Science?

by Alexander G Rubio Sun Aug 27th, 2006 at 04:13:17 PM EST

This has been making the rounds on the net. I first came across it on the blog of one "Jon Swift", whose commenters seem to have a knowledge of literature, and a radar for satire, which leaves something to be desired.

According to Mark Noonan at the blog Blogs for Bush, which either has a very hard sell-by-date, or knows something we don't, science is dead. Well, to hear Noonan tell it, it's actually been pushing up daisies since before 1850. It seems Darwin did it in (bludgeoned it to death with the jawbone of an ape perhaps?).

[...]science is dead. We have reached the end of the Age of Science - what will come after, I don't know, but I don't think that we'll ever again have a time when Science is enshrined as some sort of god-like arbiter of right and wrong.

And good riddance to bad indoor plumbing! He then goes on to diagnose who the culprit was. And it wasn't Colonel Mustard in the pantry with a candle-stick.

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Aurelius and The Art of Poo

by Alexander G Rubio Fri Aug 18th, 2006 at 11:19:11 AM EST

Your very own poo in a box!
Early on when I started writing poetry, I read a quote somewhere, by I know not who, which went something like this: "If it can be said just as well in half a page of prose, it's said better in prose."

It goes to what something is, and what it isn't, in its nature. A  poem which adds nothing to the purely literal and abstract content, is strictly speaking not a poem, at least in the post-Poe, post-Romantic era understanding of the word.

What does that have to do with art, and Marcus Aurelius?

Well, I happened to stumble across the webpage of Belgian conceptual artist Wim Delvoye. Mr Delvoye is the creator of the Cloaca Machine, a work (or rather works) of art which emulate the human digestive system. You stuff food in one end, and get poo out the other. Said poo is then packaged, branded, and sold as nifty works of art in their own right.

So what is art? And what is poo?

From the diaries ~ whataboutbob

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Athenian Idol: Alcibiades and the Sicilian Expedition**

by Alexander G Rubio Wed May 31st, 2006 at 08:19:54 AM EST

Some time ago an army was dispatched over seas under the banner of crusading democracy. Not only would it break the back of tyranny, it would also secure untold riches and resources in the process, the politician in charge promised.

The year was 415 BC, the expeditionary force hailed from Athens, its destination was Syracuse in Sicily, and it was the brainchild of Alcibiades.

Athens was at war with her rival for supremacy in the Greek world, Sparta, in an internecine bloodletting which was to range across the Mediterranean and would rage on for a generation. Men would fight in this war who were not born when it first began. When it ended, both victor and vanquished would have reason to rue its beginning.

**From the front page ~ whataboutbob

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Sir David Attenborough: Nature's perfect Gentleman turns 80

by Alexander G Rubio Thu May 11th, 2006 at 07:15:32 AM EST

Sir David Attenborough
"Granny, your telly's broken."

I must have been something like five or six years old, and I couldn't understand why everyone was laughing. Not being avid television viewers they still hadn't upgraded to a colour TV.

The reason the telly was turned on that evening was that NRK (Norsk Rikskringkasting), the Norwegian public broadcaster, was about to air the first episode of "Life on Earth", Sir David Attenborough's natural history series produced by the BBC.

Prior to this program, which charted the origins of life on earth and its individual place in present day nature, I had, like most young boys been somewhat fascinated by nature and science, but it was on the level of "T-Rex rules!" (the dino, not the band; that was more the domain of my older sister). But watching the splendour and colour of nature, in glorious black and white, that evening was something akin to a revelation.

From the diaries - whataboutbob

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Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Ayn Rand's 'Atlas Shrugged'

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Apr 27th, 2006 at 03:18:56 PM EST

Ayn Rand
There are very few books that actually enrage me. There are of course works such as "Mein Kampf", by everyone's favourite moustachioed mad man, and "The Protocols of the Elders of Sion". But in such cases you know going in, that you're dealing with historical documents by fruit cakes and loons.

And then there are those books which come highly recommended by a vast number of seemingly sane and educated people, but turn out to be either loony or borderline evil. Such a book is "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand.

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Economists foresee no let up in Oil prices

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Apr 20th, 2006 at 06:41:16 AM EST

Knut Anton Mork
Norway, being one of the major oil producing countries outside of OPEC, has seen a record financial windfall the last couple of years, as oil prices have shot to ever higher levels, most recently above $72 per barrel, prices not seen since Hurricane katrina shut down part of the Gulf of Mexico off shore production. Economists are now of the opinion that crude prices in all likelihood will remain high for the foreseeable future.

On the financial site N24.no (Norwegian text) chief economist at Handelsbanken, Knut Anton Mork, is quoted as saying he and his colleagues expect the price to hover around $70 per barrel through 2008, and then $65 per barrel through 2013. He believes prices would retain their level even were it not for the rumblings of conflict with Iran.

One of the main reasons is the growth in demand from the Asian economies in recent years. But perhaps more important is the disappointing production numbers coming in from the non-OPEC countries. Not enough new fields of any heft have been struck or come online to supplement the ageing fields in the Middle East. "Peak Oil", a subject covered at length by Jérôme, might well be upon us.

Promoted and lightly edited by Colman

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Peak Oil makes for 'Black Monday' at the Movies

by Alexander G Rubio Sat Mar 18th, 2006 at 01:16:26 AM EST

"They've got our oil! Exterminate!" (Donald
Sutherland doing the pod-people howl in the
1978 "Invasion of the Body Snatchers")
It's always fascinating to try to discern the patterns of how Hollywood reflects what's moving in the zeitgeist.

Angst about nuclear power and weapons was transformed into mutant blobs and monsters set on infecting or ingesting the population. Fear of Communism was made flesh in pod-people, who would suddenly act and think differently and subversively, while still looking like their old selves.

So what fear is rising up to the surface of the dark waters of our collective unconscious today, like some Leviathan of the deep? What clammy nightmare jolts people awake in the middle of the night drenched in the sour sweat of panic? Judging from "Black Monday", a new movie that's being rushed into production, it might be sticker-shock at the petrol pump.

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Muslim Protesters want Voltaire Banned

by Alexander G Rubio Tue Mar 7th, 2006 at 05:35:46 PM EST

Detail of a statue of
Voltaire, by Jean-
Antoine Houdon 1781
The controversy that was ignited, or at least brought to light, by the Danish cartoons of the prophet Mohammed rages on, and has now enveloped one of the core texts of European secularism.

The Enlightenment movement of the 18th century, centred around the person of Voltaire (aka François-Marie Arouet), laid the foundation of the modern social contract, one of the most important parts of which is freedom of speech. "I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it," is a maxim more or less correctly ascribed to Voltaire.

As the case of the Danish cartoons, and the conviction of Holocaust denier David Irving in Austria recently, shows, the principle of free speech is by no means universally accepted, even today. Now we can add Voltaire himself to the growing number of cases in which that principle has come under attack lately.

His play "Fanaticism, or Mahomet the Prophet", which once riled up the clergy of his time, is once again creating a ruckus.

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Göran Sonnevi wins the Nordic Council Literature Prize

by Alexander G Rubio Sat Feb 25th, 2006 at 08:24:17 AM EST

Göran Sonnevi
The Nordic Council Literature Prize for 2006 has been announced, and this year's winner is the Swedish poet Göran Sonnevi, for his 400 page volume of poetry, "Oceanen" ("The Ocean"). He has been nominated for the prize on no less than five previous occasions, though "The Oceans" was his first book in seven years following "Mozart’s Third Brain" in 1998.

Born in Lund on 3 October 1939, Göran Sonnevi has published fifteen individual books of poems in addition to three collections, and he has translated the poetry of Ezra Pound, Paul Celan, Osip Mandelstam and others into Swedish.

His early poems from the 60s and 70s carried their politics on their sleeves, influenced as they were by the radical movements of the time and the Vietnam War. And while the political is still in evidence in his recent works, such as globalisation and Iraq, it is far more integrated into the personal and less overtly didactic.

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A Pig and an Admiral on China as Superpower

by Alexander G Rubio Thu Feb 23rd, 2006 at 05:46:27 PM EST

He's an enemy of the state.
Oh, and he's a pig too!
The Powers That Be in China takes a dim view to people carrying on with cartoon characters or talking pigs. The same country could have ruled the waves, but didn't. What does the one have to do with the other? Read on, and you might find out. Or, you might be left holding a pig's ear.

So let's go way back to the 15th century, to a time when European explorers had done little deserving of the name. A couple of Portuguese sailors had steered their glorified fishing boats a cable's length or two down the African coast, but that was it really.

But on the other side of the world the story was quite a different one. Under the command of the brilliant eunuch admiral Cheng Ho the Ming dynasty equipped a gigantic fleet that explored the pacific and the coasts of Africa, decades before Columbus or the Portuguese mariners ever braved beyond sight of the coastline. Cheng Ho's fleet was 250 times the size of Columbus', and the Ming navy was many times larger and more powerful than the combined maritime strength of all of Europe.

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Do Deficits Matter? Do the Deficit Disco!

by Alexander G Rubio Wed Feb 8th, 2006 at 10:15:57 PM EST

Back in the early Christmas shopping season of 2002, when most Americans were starting their annual quest for cheap Chinese produced clothes and CD players to bag and stack under the tree, armed with rectangular plastic cards, then Treasury Secretary of The United States, Paul O'Neill knocked on the door to the office of his old friend Vice President Dick Cheney.

He had a problem with the budget, he said. Deficits were piling up at an alarming rate. If something wasn't done about it, he said, it might well leave the public purse saddled with more debt than it could service, while still performing its tasks and making good on its obligations, creating a risk of a financial crisis.

According to O'Neill's later statements, Cheney looked him in the eye and said, "You know, Paul, Reagan proved deficits don't matter." This level of spending was their due after their good showing in the recent congressional elections. And with that he dismissed him from his office. A month later he dismissed him from his post in the cabinet.

In many ways it would seem that the years that followed have borne out Cheney's, and those who see increased deficits and looser credit as the cure for comparatively slow European growth's, view of things. So do deficits no longer matter?

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The Atlantic Rift

by Alexander G Rubio Wed Feb 1st, 2006 at 02:41:14 PM EST

Robert Kagan
Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the advent of the Iraq war in particular, but really predating those events by at least a decade, there's been a perception that the Atlantic powers have been drifting apart, and, on the American side, that Europe has grown complacent and unwilling to stand up in defence of itself or its principles. This notion was famously popularised by Robert Kagan in his phrase, "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus".

The same attitude underlies historian Victor Davis Hanson's "Letter to the Europeans", published in The National Review Online on January 6 of this year, decrying what he saw as European failure to live up to their heritage.

Victor Davis Hanson
It is safe to say that I took exception to some of Mr Hanson's statements. And on January 8 I wrote a response to his open letter (published at Bitsofnews.com and The European Tribune). Following its publication there have been some replies directed at my mail-box, most of them a tad heavy on the expletives. But that is after all the nature of the internet beast, irrespective of whether the question under debate is war and peace, or the virtues, or lack of said, of someone's favourite television show.

But there is room for reasoned debate, and honestly held differences of opinion, so when I received a well written letter from Mr William Bichteman in defence of Mr Hanson, I felt honour bound to respond to it.

With the kind permission of Mr Bichteman, his letter is reproduced below, along with my reply.

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Man against History: Epaminondas and Thebes

by Alexander G Rubio Sun Jan 29th, 2006 at 11:17:55 PM EST

Yes, it's more European history lessons, and more blasted Greeks...

Oedipus and the Sphinx
5th c. BC Attic cup by Douris
Why is it worthwhile to consider the Greeks? Well, for good and ill, they were the first to try out a lot of ideas. Or, more importantly, they were among the first to leave behind extensive records and histories documenting their doings for posterity to learn from.

When people look back to ancient Greece, it tends to be to the victory of the underdog story of Marathon, Salamis and the Persian wars, the golden age of Periclean Athens, the internecine carnage of the Peloponnesian war, or the late last flowering of Alexander's conquests. But Between the fall of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war and the rise of the hegemony of Macedon, there was a brief interregnum. This was the short lived heyday of Thebes.

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