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Polarization in Poland: A Warning From Europe - The Atlantic

Unlike Marxism, the Leninist one-party state is not a philosophy. It is a mechanism for holding power. It works because it clearly defines who gets to be the elite—the political elite, the cultural elite, the financial elite. In monarchies such as prerevolutionary France and Russia, the right to rule was granted to the aristocracy, which defined itself by rigid codes of breeding and etiquette. In modern Western democracies, the right to rule is granted, at least in theory, by different forms of competition: campaigning and voting, meritocratic tests that determine access to higher education and the civil service, free markets. Old-fashioned social hierarchies are usually part of the mix, but in modern Britain, America, Germany, France, and until recently Poland, we have assumed that competition is the most just and efficient way to distribute power. The best-run businesses should make the most money. The most appealing and competent politicians should rule. The contests between them should take place on an even playing field, to ensure a fair outcome.

UK without London

Matt Klein has put forward a fun claim: “Take out Greater London—the prosperity of which depends to an uncomfortable degree on a willingness to provide services to oligarchs from the Middle East and the former Soviet Union—and the UK is one of the poorest countries in Western Europe.”

Leaving in hordes: Emigration from Hungary – Hungarian Spectrum

It turned out that the number of Hungarians who since 2006 have tried their luck in the richer countries of the European Union is much higher than earlier estimated–close to a million. Determining how many subsequently returned home is close to impossible, but according to numbers provided by host countries of immigrants from Hungary, about 600,000 Hungarian citizens might currently be working abroad.

Why Italy’s new populist government collapsed before it even began | Coffee House

The populist coalition’s plans to hike public expenditure and slash taxes and sod austerity and if necessary – in the name of the popolo – to break EU rules on fiscal continence and maybe even abandon the single currency itself prompted the German press in particular to become hysterical and accuse the Italians of being ‘scroungers’ and ‘clowns’ and worse even than beggars because ‘at least a beggar says thank you’ – and of wanting to cause a ‘horror show’ for the EU.

Piketty Thinks the EU Is Bad for Eastern Europe. He's Half Right. - Bloomberg

A billionaire owner of a private German company might stash them in an investment account in some offshore area or they could be reinvested in the Polish subsidiary that made them, pretty much from anywhere. What matters for a country is its ability to tax these profits adequately. In their race to be competitive foreign investment destinations, most eastern European countries don't overburden the corporations. And, given the prevalence of foreign companies -- as Piketty points out, they account for more than half of corporate assets in eastern Europe -- the foreigners end up contributing less to the construction of east European social safety nets and infrastructure than they do in their own countries. Instead, the local populations, who already earn less because relatively low wages are what attracts investment to the region, contribute more than people in wealthier countries in the form of consumption taxes.

The Cultural Axis | by Robert O. Paxton | The New York Review of Books

The word “international” acquired a special meaning in its usage by Nazi and Fascist cultural officials. The Allies’ international cultural associations had rested on a set of liberal democratic assumptions: that works of art and literature should be evaluated by universal standards of quality; that masterpieces were the product of individual creativity; and that no national culture deserved hegemony over another. The Nazi and Fascist dictators reversed all of these assumptions. They measured the merit of works of art and literature by their significance within unique national cultural traditions. Masterpieces, in their view, grew out of community roots. And national cultural traditions were ranked in a natural hierarchy, with the German and Italian ones at the top. Hitler concerned himself with cultural matters as soon as he became chancellor of Germany in January 1933. He purged the German section of PEN International of “leftist” and Jewish writers. When PEN International protested, Hitler dissolved the German section altogether at the end of 1933. During this dispute the president of the Italian PEN club, the provocateur Futurist intellectual Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, supported the German position. Thus from the earliest days, Nazi cultural projects proved capable of enlisting foreign support.

There Never Was a Real Tulip Fever | History | Smithsonian

The Dutch learned that tulips could be grown from seeds or buds that grew on the mother bulb; a bulb that grows from seed would take 7 to 12 years before flowering, but a bulb itself could flower the very next year. Of particular interest to Clusius and other tulip traders were “broken bulbs”—tulips whose petals showed a striped, multicolor pattern rather than a single solid color. The effect was unpredictable, but the growing demand for these rare, “broken bulb” tulips led naturalists to study ways to reproduce them. (The pattern was later discovered to be the result of a mosaic virus that actually makes the bulbs sickly and less likely to reproduce.) “The high market price for tulips to which the current version of tulipmania refers were prices for particularly beautiful broken bulbs,” writes economist Peter Garber. “Since breaking was unpredictable, some have characterized tulipmania among growers as a gamble, with growers vying to produce better and more bizarre variegations and feathering.” After all the money Dutch speculators spent on the bulbs, they only produced flowers for about a week—but for tulip lovers, that week was a glorious one. “As luxury objects, tulips fit well into a culture of both abundant capital and new cosmopolitanism,” Goldgar writes. Tulips required expertise, an appreciation of beauty and the exotic, and, of course, an abundance of money.

The mathematics of music history: Patriotism in music is expressed through use of speech rhythms from the composer's native language -- ScienceDaily

Together with colleagues from London and Amsterdam, MIB postdoc Niels Chr. Hansen, analysed thousands of musical themes composed by French, Italian, and Austro-German composers living in 1600-1950. During these years, rhythmic variability in French music was initially low -- just like in Italian music and language. Later on, it increased towards the natural equilibrium for Austro-German music and language before the rhythms of French music finally diverged into two separate stylistic schools of composition.

Italy must choose between the euro and its own economic survival

Italy needs root-and-branch reform but that is by nature contractionary in the short-run. It is viable only with a blast of investment to cushion the shock, says Mr Tilford,  but no such New Deal is on the horizon. Legally, the EU Fiscal Compact obliges Italy to do the exact opposite: to run budget surpluses large enough to cut its debt ratio by 3.6pc of GDP every year for twenty years. Do you laugh or cry? "There is a very real risk that Matteo Renzi will come to the conclusion that his only way to hold on to power is to go into the next election on an openly anti-euro platform. People are being very complacent about the political risks," said Mr Tilford.

How Islam Created Europe

Islam did much more than geographically define Europe, however. Denys Hay, a British historian, explained in a brilliant though obscure book published in 1957, Europe: The Emergence of an Idea, that European unity began with the concept (exemplified by the Song of Roland) of a Christendom in “inevitable opposition” to Islam—a concept that culminated in the Crusades. The scholar Edward Said took this point further, writing in his book Orientalism in 1978 that Islam had defined Europe culturally, by showing Europe what it was against. Europe’s very identity, in other words, was built in significant measure on a sense of superiority to the Muslim Arab world on its periphery. Imperialism proved the ultimate expression of this evolution: Early modern Europe, starting with Napoleon, conquered the Middle East, then dispatched scholars and diplomats to study Islamic civilization, classifying it as something beautiful, fascinating, and—most crucial—inferior.

The Finnish educational model and current Hungarian reality

The Finnish system is radically different from the Hungarian one, especially as transformed by Viktor Orbán in 2011. One difference is that in Finland parents can’t choose the school to which they will send their children. All children attend the school maintained by the local community closest to his or her home. Moreover, there is no tracking like in the United States. Proponents of the Finnish system claim that the success of this model lies in the uniformity of education provided. Thus, there are no “elite schools” but there are no markedly inferior schools either, such as one finds in Hungary. The Hungarian system exacerbates the divide between the haves and the have-nots and stands in the way of social mobility. While the current government made it compulsory for children to attend kindergarten for three years, beginning at the age of three, and to enroll in first grade at the age of six, Finnish children start school only at the age of seven, preceded by a voluntary preparatory year. Children must attend school between the ages of 7 and 16, but almost all of the graduates continue their education. About half of them attend gymnasium, which is a three-year course of study. The other half attend basic-level vocational schools. The choice of trades is great: a Finnish 16-year-old can choose among 119 programs. There are 17 universities and 27 colleges in Finland, where the competition for admission is fierce. In 2011 out of 66,000 applicants to universities only 17,000 gained acceptance, while out of 70,000 applicants to college only 22,100 were accepted. Finnish higher education is free. According to OECD’s “Education at a glance,” Finland has one of the highest levels of educational attainment among the OECD countries: 84% of 25- to 64-year-olds have completed at least upper secondary education (against an OECD average of 75%) and 39% hold college or university degrees (OECD average: 32%). A few more facts about Finnish elementary education can be found here and here. The same “Education at a glance” of the situation in Hungary points out that although a large number of people finish high school, only 23% of young people are expected to complete university studies. The OECD countries’ average was 39% in 2014. “Moreover, this rate has considerably decreased since 2010, by almost 9 percentage points.”

Obscure German Tweet Helped Spur Migrant March From Hungary - WSJ

On Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 1:30 p.m., a government agency in the southern German city of Nuremberg posted a sentence on Twitter that would change the lives of tens of thousands of desperate people. “We are at present largely no longer enforcing Dublin procedures for Syrian citizens,” said the note, posted on the account of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.

Car makers buy mapping company from Nokia

BMW AG, Audi AG and Daimler AG will buy Nokia Oyj’s digital-map unit for 2.8 billion euros ($3.1 billion) to gain technology for connected cars that will eventually be the basis for self-driving vehicles. The world’s three largest makers of luxury cars will each acquire an equal share of Nokia’s HERE division, and the transaction is expected to be completed in the first quarter of next year, they said Monday. Nokia said its net proceeds on the sale will total slightly more than 2.5 billion euros. While there has previously been limited cooperation on auto parts, a joint acquisition on this scale involving BMW, Volkswagen AG’s Audi division and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler is unprecedented. The deal underscores the German competitors’ push for self-driving systems independent of technology giants such as Google Inc

Berlin airport's non-so-swift fire solution

Confronted with the fire system fiasco, Rainer Schwarz, chief executive officer of Flughafen Berlin Brandenburg (FBB), the airport company owned by the city of Berlin, the state of Brandenburg, and the federal government, downplayed it. Schwarz and his staff told the airport’s board of oversight, as well as Stephan Loge, the commissioner of Dahme-Spreewald County, who had the final authority to issue the airport an operating license, that they were working through some issues, but that the situation was under control. Schwarz also appointed an emergency task force to propose solutions that would allow the airport to open on time. In March 2012 the group submitted its stopgap: Eight hundred low-paid workers armed with cell phones would take up positions throughout the terminal. If anyone smelled smoke or saw a fire, he would alert the airport fire station and direct passengers toward the exits. Never mind that the region’s cell phone networks were notoriously unreliable, or that some students would be stationed near the smoke evacuation channels, where in a fire temperatures could reach 1,000F.

Thomas Piketty: “Germany has never repaid.”

Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

Roman rubbish dump reveals secrets of ancient trading networks - Telegraph

They are calculating the huge quantities of olive oil and wine that Rome imported in order to supply its civilian population as well as its vast legions as they pushed the boundaries of the Roman Empire ever further outwards in the first and second centuries AD. Some of the amphorae were used to transport “garum”, a smelly sauce made from fermented fish blood and intestines that the Romans relished as a condiment. The inscriptions even identify the makers of the amphorae and the names of the traders who imported them to Rome.

Orban: GLBT community has a right not to 'provoke' straight Hungary

Hungary is a serious country. It is fundamentally based on traditional values. Hungary is a tolerant nation. Tolerance, however, does not mean that we would apply the same rules for people whose life style is different from our own. We differentiate between them and us. Tolerance means patience, tolerance means an ability to coexist, this is the basis of the Hungarian Constitution which clearly differentiates between a marital relationship between a man and a woman and other, different forms of cohabitation. We are going to keep this. By the way, I am grateful to the Hungarian homosexual community for not exhibiting the provocative behavior against which numerous European nations are struggling and which results in an outcome that is the exact opposite of what they want to achieve. I believe that in Hungary, even though the constitution clearly differentiates between marriage and other forms of cohabitation, the people with lifestyles different from our own outlook on life are safe, they are given the respect of basic human dignity that they deserve. I believe that . . . foreigners don’t feel that in this respect Budapest is a dangerous city. This is good, this is how we can live together. If we … make more stringent regulations or the community of homosexuals starts being more provocative, I think that the current peaceful, calm equilibrium will be no more. No one would benefit from this. Everyone benefits from being able to coexist. I believe that as we now are, we can live together.

Greece Saunters Across the Autobahn

In the new Greek finance minister's (pretty great) macho bluster, in the new Greek prime minister's condescending lectures to the German people, in the unquenchable Greek thirst for magazine cartoons of German leaders in Nazi uniforms -- in all of it you see the soul of the Berkeley pedestrian. It's only the source of Greek self-righteousness that is obviously different: The Greek people think the German people should feel shame for the sins of their past, and an obligation to expiate those sins.

Hungary loses 700 billion in EU funding because of rigged project bidding?

It was not the system the Commission criticized but the specific requirements stated in the tenders. They were formulated in such a way that for all intents and purposes only one company could fulfill all of them. So there was no competition. Moreover, the projects were grossly overpriced, on average by 46%. […]The auditors came to Hungary in November and randomly chose not thousands but only 55 applications, out of which they found 16, or 29%, unacceptable. It would take too long to report on all the individual cases, so I chose two I found especially outrageous. One involves Közgép, Lajos Simicska’s company, that won the tender to build a harbor on Csepel Island for 3.6 billion forints. The tender was written in such a way that only Közgép could compete. The government demanded several previous accomplishments that were totally unnecessary to accomplish the job. It wasn’t enough to show that a company had earlier built at least a 2,000 meter network of street lighting; it had to have been done on an “industrial site.” The same was true about a 5,000 m² basalt-concrete facing. The construction of a three kilometer asphalt road also had to be accomplished in an industrial setting. As if there were any difference between roads or lighting inside or outside of an industrial park. But the best was that, in order to get the job, the company had to have built at least 2,000 m. long railroad tracks. There were no railroads anywhere near the harbor. The fine in this case alone is 633 million forints.

Italy can't be translated

Catholicism’s great allowance for human frailty has translated into a great propensity for forgiveness, as evinced in the Italian justice system, but also resistance to the notion of accountability. It’s a word, Hooper adds, that has no counterpart in the Italian language.On the other hand, Italian employs a number of words that express distinctly Italian concepts foreign correspondents have struggled to translate for their readers. Hooper offers some illuminating samples, from menefreghismo (not caring a damn) to lottizzazione (the distribution of power among political parties) to dietrologia (“literally,” Hooper writes, “behind-ism,” a conviction that nothing is ever as it seems). There’s also mammismo, the propensity of young Italians to remain too closely tied to the maternal apron strings.

Apple to Spend $1.9 Billion Building Two Europe Data Centers

Apple Inc. plans to spend 1.7 billion euros ($1.9 billion) building data centers in Ireland and Denmark in its biggest-ever European investment[…] The centers, located in Athenry, Ireland, and Viborg, Denmark, will be powered by renewable energy[…] The project lets Apple address European requests for data to be stored closer to local users and authorities, while also allowing it to benefit from a chilly climate that helps save on equipment-cooling costs.

Evidence for rising intolerance in France

Nearly 7,000 French Jews moved to Israel this year, more than double the figure from the previous year.

Hungary leveraging its EU membership to raise money?

how do tiny, tiny little countries, like little islands in the South Pacific that have only 10,000 people but they’re members of the United Nations… they have nothing to sell, no natural resources… how do they support themselves? He went off and he interviewed members of those parliaments, people in the governments, and what he discovered is that these little countries joined every single international organization that they can.  And then they sell their votes in these international organizations to the states that will pay to keep their governments going. I read this thesis and thought what an interesting model for government finance! I can’t prove that this is what Hungary is doing, but then what does Hungary have that it can sell? I mean, pálinka is great, Tokaji is divine, I mean there are a number of things that Hungary has that it can sell, but not enough to hold up the whole government.

Alexander Grothendieck, Math Enigma, Dies at 86

Alexander Grothendieck, who for an unknown reason was named Raddatz at birth (not Schapiro, Tanaroff or Grothendieck), was born in Berlin on March 28, 1928.

Pianist asks The Washington Post to kill a concert review (below) under the E.U.’s ‘right to be forgotten’ law

Some of the pieces, such as Chopin’s Scherzo No. 2, sounded less like light solo piano works than an attempt to rival the volume of a concerto with full orchestra. This scherzo became cartoon-like in its lurches from minutely small to very, very large. It’s not that Lazic isn’t sensitive – or profoundly gifted. […] he can do anything he wants at the keyboard, detailing chords with a jeweler’s precision, then laying little curls of notes atop a cushion of sound like diamonds nestled on velvet. […] The sheer technical ability was, at first, a delight.
"There's no such call," Klinsmann said, when asked how he would respond if Loew telephoned him to request a mutually beneficial tie. "Jogi is doing his job and I'm doing my job. I'm going to do everything to get to the round of 16. That's what I'm going to do. There's no time to have friendship calls. It's about business now."