Andrew Klavan’s “Europe is for real” (or, as I would say, “the real Europe”)

The first minute and forty seconds of this video were “eh,” but they’re the set-up for the last two minutes and fifty seconds, which are worth every bit of your attention, because it’s as pithy a summary of modern Europe as you’ll ever hear:

EU silent about its motivation when it comes to manifest bias against Israel

Israeli flagWhen I was in law school, I applied for to myriad law firms for a job.  I had good grades (and ultimately ended up with offers from prestigious law firms), but what remains in my memory forever is a rejection letter I got from one rather insignificant law firm:

Dear Ms [Bookworm]:

Thank you for your inquiry about a position at our firm.  There are many reasons why we cannot hire you.

Sincerely….

Many of my classmates agreed that this won the award for rejection letter of the year.

I am beginning to suspect that someone at the European Union must have gotten a glimpse of that letter.  It’s certainly one way to explain the EU’s response when two scholars, one Israeli and one American, wrote to the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, asking why it was honoring agreements with Morocco that included extra-national territory it had occupied since 1975, while refusing to honor any dealings with Israel that include “occupied” territory:

Many Israelis have long felt that the European Union is biased against them. Two legal scholars – a former Israeli ambassador and an American Jewish international law professor — think they’ve found the perfect case to prove the claim: A new fishing deal, signed between the Europeans and Morocco, which applies beyond Morocco’s internationally recognized borders, taking in the territory of Western Sahara, even though Morocco invaded that area in 1975 and has occupied ever since.

The two scholars are now challenging EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to explain why the agreement, in not excluding Morocco’s occupied territory, doesn’t prove that the EU is holding Israel to a double standard.

The EU insists that any agreement it signs with Israel explicitly exclude the settlements in the “occupied” West Bank, the scholars noted in a letter sent last month to Ashton’s Brussels office. So why don’t the same constraints apply in the case of Morocco? This blatant inconsistency shows “an official double-standard practiced by the EU,” Professor Eugene Kontorovich of Northwestern University and Israeli ex-ambassador to Canada Alan Baker charged.

The EU’s response, written by one of Ashton’s minions, is identical in spirit to that long-ago rejection letter I once received:

The EU’s response, authored on Ashton’s behalf by the managing director of the union’s external action service’s Middle East and Southern Neighborhood department, Hugues Mingarelli, read: “With regards to the allegation of using double standards for Israel and Morocco, our analysis is that the two cases are different and cannot be compared.” No further explanation was given.

That is precisely the kind of rejection letter that comes from a bureaucratic entity that cannot bring itself to state the obvious:  “With regards to the allegation of using double standards for Israel and Morocco, the answer is simple:  we are both antisemitic and terrified of Muslims.  Thank you for your inquiry.”

Of Norway, petrodollars, free education, etc.

One of my old high school friends, an ardent liberal, posted the following on his Facebook page:

Norway smart - America stupid

Doesn’t that just make so much sense? Give free education and your nation will be wonderful.  Of course, both “Mr. Silhouette” and the friend who posted it suffer from no small amount of ignorance in making that assertion.  For one thing, I’m virtually certain that they don’t know that Norway can offer this free education, as well as a variety of other social benefits, in significant part because it’s floating away on an incredibly profitable sea of petrodollars.  Were Obama to allow the Keystone pipeline, we might be able to fund a few more educational opportunities in this country too.

The other thing that the cartoonist ignores is that Norway is a petite country (4,722,701 people compared to America’s 316,668,567).  More than that, Norway has a staggeringly homogenous population.  According to the CIA World Fact Book, the population breakdown for Norway is “Norwegian 94.4% (includes Sami, about 60,000), other European 3.6%, other 2% (2007 estimate).”  The numbers are a bit different for America:  “white 79.96%, black 12.85%, Asian 4.43%, Amerindian and Alaska native 0.97%, native Hawaiian and other Pacific islander 0.18%, two or more races 1.61% (July 2007 estimate).”  Even that’s misleading, because it’s just skin color (whites and blacks), and broad racial classification (Asian, Amerindian, Alaska native, etc.).  This breakdown utterly fails to take into account America’s cultural melting pot, with our genetic and cultural mix representing people from every corner of the earth.

The population differences between the two countries mean that, in America, it’s very difficult to convince everyone to do the same thing at the same time.  In Norway, on the other hand, people are practically born in lock-step.  (And don’t even get me started on Leftist educational trends in America that involve everything but education, or on the fact that we force non-academically inclined students into academic classes when they should be learning a trade.)

Finally, what neither Mr. Silhouette or my friend know is that Norway is having sufficient problems with its socialism — and that’s despite the fact that petrodollars are paying for the costly luxury that is socialism — that it is starting to turn right politically, away from socialism:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

This trend is occurring despite the fact that, so far, Norway’s economy has not only been stable, but it’s been growing at twice America’s 1.5% growth rate:

This country was transformed by the discovery of huge oil deposits off its shores in 1969. Although Norway’s state-owned oil company, Statoil, was quickly established to lead the development of the new oil discoveries, the industry has been open to private investment and participation on a scale seldom found outside the United States. That has led to an extremely efficient and profitable energy sector, which provides 36 percent of the national government’s revenue. The Government Pension Fund, into which much of the oil profits are channeled, had $445 billion in assets in 2010 and represented nearly 2 percent of the equity in European stock markets. The value of the pension fund’s assets approximately equals the value of all the real estate in Manhattan.

“Oil has turned Norway from a sleepy, largely rural economy into an economic powerhouse,” says Norwegian businessman Olaf Halvorssen. “So much money comes in to the government that Norway has largely escaped the trimming of the welfare state that many other European countries are going through.”

But more and more people recognize that the oil wealth won’t last forever, and a real debate is just starting in this country of 4.9 million people over what direction its economy should go. Norway will be holding elections for Parliament on September 9, just two weeks before Germany votes. If polls taken over the last year are accurate, the eight-year-old Labor-party government of Jens Stoltenberg is headed for a landslide defeat.

Please read more of John Fund’s article to learn about the sea change taking place in Norway.

Here’s what I’ve learned:  if my Leftist friends put up a snarky political poster on their Facebook page, it’s invariably factual deficient or logically flawed.

Getting nickeled and dimed to death in Europe

One of the things that’s striking about traveling in continental Europe is the way you have to pay up front for things that we, in the United States, take for granted should be free.  The most notable things in this regard is public toilets.  Everybody has to use the restroom sometime, but if you’re at a European theme park, open air museum, or shopping mall, you’d better be prepared to cough up as much as $2 for the privilege of relieving yourself at some place other than a roadside ditch.  Stores, the handy stand-by of the American with a full bladder, are also unavailable.  That’s not surprising with small boutique stores, which often don’t have public restrooms, but it is surprising with huge department or grocery stores, which either make customers pay for the privilege or that have no public bathrooms at all.

Rightly or wrongly, in my mind, the lack of free public restrooms ties in with yet another study showing that the caring European socialists are much less generous than their capitalist cousins in America:

A European either living off or managing a nanny state would say that Americans’ contempt for welfare regimes is based on greed. But if Americans are so selfish, how can they be so charitable?

In no European economy are the people more generous with their own money than the people of the U.S. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data, which have been thoughtfully assembled by Cato scholar Dan Mitchell, the total of Americans’ voluntary social spending reached 10.2% of GDP in 2009, the latest year for which numbers are available.

The only country that is remotely close in its generosity is the Netherlands, where the total was 6% of the nation’s economy. Only two other nations, Canada and the United Kingdom, exceeded 5%. The U.K. totaled 5.3% of GDP, Canada 5.1%.

The rest hardly even register on the chart. The French totaled a mere 2.8%, the Germans 2%. Greece, Italy, Norway and Spain all failed to break the 2% mark.

(Read more here.)

 

Oslo impressions

I liked Oslo. I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked it, but I liked it just as strongly as I disliked Stockholm. Go figure….

Part of the pleasure I took in Oslo was tied to the fact that the ship docked within one minute’s walk from the old fort/castle. I don’t have any literature to bolster my memory, so I’m riffing here when I say I believe it was originally built at the end of the 12th or beginning of the 13th centuries. It was substantially remodeled at the beginning of the Thirty Year War at the start of the 17th century.

It’s a lovely structure, with huge, gray medieval blocks of stone serving as the base, and smaller, golden colored bricks from the Scandinavian Renaissance completing the climb to small, but fairy-tale like towers.

Housed within the walls of the castle is the “Resistance Museum,” a very nicely put together exhibit that focuses on Norway’s fierce resistance to the Nazi occupation. I had forgotten that the word “Quisling” owes its origin to the disgusting Norwegian politician who welcomed the Nazis and was disowned by his countrymen.

The museum opens with a nice homage to Norwegian Jews who fought in the resistance. Throughout the exhibit, it reminds visitors that Norway’s Jews died at Nazi hands.

The museum makes it clear that it is a point of pride that the Norwegians sided against the anti-Christian, totalitarian ideology that wanted to subjugate the world and kill Jews. It is inexplicable to me that now, throughout the Scandinavian world — and particularly in Norway — it is a point of pride that they side WITH an anti-Christian totalitarian ideology that wants to subjugate the world and kill the Jews.

Norway, after all, is fierce in its condemnation of democratic, pluralist Israel, and slavish in its devotion to the Nazi-like Palestinian cause. Norwegians seem oblivious to the fact that not only do the Palestinians espouse Nazi goals, they enthusiastically threw themselves in with the Nazis during WWII and have never backed away from them allegiance.

From the Resistance Museum, we wandered through the city, heading to the art museum, which houses one of the original Munch “Scream” paintings. (We skipped the Munch museum, because it’s being remodeled, while the main museum has a seizable exhibition.). Along the way, we visited the City Hall, which, once again, I can’t date. It drives me bonkers that I don’t know the dates of the things we saw, but the rest of the family was moving so quickly, I never had a chance to stop and study the details of what we so.

In many ways, the town/city hall has that muscular look of Soviet architecture, so I think it was probably built in the 1920s or thereabouts. On the outside, it’s a rather forbidding brick structure. On the inside, though, you find yourself in a light, airy, spacious chamber covered with brilliant murals and mosaics. It’s a very attractive space.

As for the Munch exhibit, I wish we hadn’t wasted our time. Aside from the Scream, which had the virtue of familiarity, nothing Munch did appealed to me. In his early years, his art was derivative, with a little Seurat (spelling?) here, a little Picasso there, a bit of Gauguin for a change, followed by a dollop of Manet — none of it done very well. Munch then settled into his own style of drab colors and uninspiring graphics. Had it not been for the Scream’s fitting so well into the 20th century zeitgeist, I doubt many would have found him memorable.

After the museum, we headed back to the waterfront and took a short, lovely ferry ride to the Viking ship museum. It houses three Viking ships recovered from burial mounds. Two are in good condition, with the third in fairly good condition. They are, in a word, amazing. For one thing, they’re incredibly elegant, with their high, curved prows, and their swelling bellies. They are a beautiful combination of design and functionality. They also have that intricate Viking carving, with twining animals and Gods winding their way up the prow, and ferocious animal heads decorating posts and sledges.

The Viking ships are also surprisingly small — surprisingly, I say, because the hearty Vikings who traveled in them covered remarkable distances on such an unfriendly sea. They went as far south as the Mediterranean and as far northwest as Nova Scotia. Along the way, they terrorized and settled parts of England, France, Greenland, and all points in between.

So here’s a little factoid: At the Resistance Museum, we learned that the Nazis sent around 400,000 troops to Norway because Hitler believed that the inevitable Allied invasion of Europe would take place there. In fact, as we all know, the D-Day invasion took place on the beaches of Normandy — which owe their name to the Norseman who settled there so many centuries before. Hitler was right that Norse shores would be the landing point; he just picked the wrong Norse shores.

After admiring the Viking ships, we went to the nearby folk museum, which is an open air museum in which they’ve assembled buildings from all over Norway. My only regret is that we had too little time there, since we arrived only 90 minutes before it closed.

Ninety-minutes simply wasn’t enough time to see all the buildings and living history exhibitions. We saw weaving, a farm kitchen from 1959, a “stave church” from the 12th century, a tenement from early 20th century Oslo, a bakery from the 1700s — and only scratched the surface. I could have spent hours there. Not only was it fascinating, it was so very beautiful, as the grounds were covered with idyllic green pastures, log cabins with grass growing on the roof, half-timbered buildings, and brick mansions.

When the museum closed, we headed to the Vigesland park. Vigesland was a man who spent around 40 years in the middle of the 20th century creating dozens of granite sculptures for a single park. The sculptures are meant to show people in motion and people relating to each other — parents and children, men and women, old and young. The park itself is beautiful, because it is terraced, green, and spacious, with flowers blooming everywhere.

As for the sculptures . . . well, they weren’t my cup of tea. They’re crudely done and I found them unappealing. The kids were “creeped out by them,” especially the fact that all the figures are nude. They found it off putting to see a naked father frolic with his equally naked children. I think growing up in an era of high-profile pedophile cases made this seem very inappropriate to them.

What totally revolted me was the centerpiece — a tall column of writhing, entwined bodies of all ages, all presumably dead. It’s supposed to show the cycle of life. To me, however, it looked like nothing more than a photo of the bodies at Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen — all ages, all sexes, all nude, all tangled together.

The park ended the day’s sightseeing and it was a slightly sour note. Having said that, though, I still found the tourist part of Oslo appealing. Incidentally, Vigesland is in a less touristy part, and we saw innumerable Muslims and Africans there. Not a critical mass, by any means, but still enough to hint that the immigrants aren’t in the city centers but are, instead, in the outskirts of these major Scandinavian towns.

As for the natives, they were good-looking, friendly, and almost all spoke incredibly good English. Surprisingly, they spoke with American accents. Usually when one travels, those who speak English do so with a British accent. In Oslo, though, they sounded almost American. Their effortless bilingualism was very impressive.

And those are my Oslo impressions. We’re now heading north to Bergen. The sea is calm and the sky is clear. Although it’s already 10 pm now, the sun is still well above the horizon. We’ve been told that tomorrow, as has been the case since our vacation started, it’s going to be HOT. I still can’t believe that, after two summers of steaming not vacations (the Mediterranean and Japan), my hopes for a cool northern sojourn have been dashed by a heat wave.

More later.

Copenhagen, Part II

The ship stopped at Copenhagen to let off old passengers and take on new ones. We’re staying on for yet more travel, this time to North Sea ports, but we did take advantage of the changeover to spend another day in Copenhagen. What made it an exceptionally nice day is that we met up with old friends who live in the region.

Because they had seen it all, having visited Copenhagen frequently, and because we’d seen the tourist highlights at the start of our trip, we were happy just to toodle around town with them. We must have walked six or seven miles, just wandering through city streets.

The main highlight of this day was our visit to Christiana. Christiania was once a military base. Some time during the late 60s or early 70s, a band of hippies occupied the old base and essentially declared it a Republic of Hippie Freedom. The residents claim that they are a separate entity from Copenhagen, Denmark, and the EU. They steal utilities, including cable, electricity, and water, from the city of Copenhagen and boast about the fact that they are not slaves to capitalism. Drugs are legal. The smell of marijuana wafts through the air.

Christiana is quite picturesque, with large, artsy, hippie-style murals on every surface. It’s crowded with residents (the ones who look unwashed and, usually, old) and tourists (distinguished mainly by being clean). It would be a great place to take pictures. However, in one of those ironies that the residents themselves seem oblivious to, “free-spirited” Christiana is liberally festooned with signs posting rules, chief among which is “no photographs.”

I doubt there’s a commune in the world that hasn’t rather swiftly turned into a rules-run dictatorship. There’s something about “free-spirits” that inclines them to excessive bossiness when people fail to get with the free-spirit program.

Here’s something I’ve noticed in all the Baltic capital cities we visited — the town centers do not reflect the countries’ (alleged) demographic realities. Demographics say that these countries are failing to have children at a rate sufficient to maintain their populations — yet the city centers are crawling with children. Demographics also say that large parts of Europe, especially Northern Europe, are acquiring critical masses of immigrants, primarily from Muslim countries — yet I’ve seen fewer people in burqas than I usually do in Marin.

I’m not sure what this means. Either the statistical data about declining local populations and surging Muslim populations is wrong, or the central tourist areas are Potemkin villages that fail to reflect each countries’ changing demographic realities.

Here’s another unexpected thing — it’s hot! We’ve been told that the week before we arrived, the weather across Europe was dreadful, with lots of rain. We hit a heat wave.

I can’t say I’m thrilled. While touring with rain pouring down is inconvenient, Europe in a heat wave isn’t exactly my cup of tea either. I was looking forward to San Francisco temperatures, not Texas ones. Still, when we get back to the ship, there are cool showers and cold drinks, not to mention good ready-made food that I didn’t have to shop for or cook, and that I don’t have to clean up when we’re done. That’s pretty darn good in my books.

Tomorrow is Oslo, and I’m hoping for slightly cooler weather. Even if I don’t get my wish, I know it will be lovely. I’ll just resolutely ignore the Nobel stuff all over the place.

The Middle Ages were brilliant

One of the standard paradigms of modern Western culture is that the Middle Ages were a dark, primitive time.  While that’s true for the era between Rome’s fall and about 1,000 A.D., after 1,000 A.D. Europe enjoyed an explosive, intellectually vibrant time.  (To understand the groundwork for this intellectual explosion, I highly recommend Thomas Cahill’s completely delightful How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland’s Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, which tells how Irish monks, by preserving and spreading Christianity, set the West on its path to modernity.)

Interior Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Interior Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Recognizing that the Middle Ages were a splendid, dynamic isn’t just a matter of setting the historical record straight.  Every PC-educated school child will tell you that Islam is good because, during the Middle Ages, when the West was mired in filth and ignorance, the Islamic world was a paradise of tolerance, beauty and learning.  I’m not going to denigrate the medieval Islamic world.  Certain parts of the medieval Islamic world were indeed places were Jews and Christians, although second class citizens, were able to thrive intellectually and economically; the art and architecture were beautiful (one word:  Alhambra); and the culture was sophisticated and rich.  The medieval Muslim world should be accorded recognition for its achievements.

Alhambra, Spain

Alhambra, Spain

The problem is that PC education, to ensure Islam its proper place in the scheme of things, then dishonestly paints the Middle Ages as a primitive, ugly, antisemitic, misanthropic world.  This is true, but such a fragmented part of the truth that it distorts the whole.  The fact is that medieval Europe was different from, but just as bad as — and just as good as — medieval Islam.  Both were worlds of explosive intellectual growth, celebrations of God and nature, travel and conquest, artistic beauty, misogyny and antisemitism, religious bullying, and all the other stuff that makes medieval cultures fascinating and frustrating, enticing and off-putting.  The crucial difference is that the European Middle Ages were a springboard, whereas the Islamic Middle Ages were an apex.

With that as a brief and scrambled intro, you might enjoy this short video about the brilliant Middle Ages.

The Mayan Apocalypse and the end of the world . . . as we know it

Mayan Apocalypse

According to the much sneered at, and much feared, Mayan Apocalypse, tomorrow marks the end of the world.  I’m inclined to believe this is true.  I don’t, however, expect the earth to explode into a giant ball of cosmic dust or some plague rivaling the Black Death.  What I do see, however, is change on a massive scale, greater even than that which occurred when the Soviet Union collapsed.

The changes we’ll see began four years ago and will now accelerate.  They relate directly to Barack Obama and the three defining characteristics of his presidency:  fiscal irresponsibility, weak world leadership, and a realignment of American interests in Europe and the Middle East.

Going out of business

On the economic front, what we can expect in the future is continued American decline, with Americans expecting and accepting a constantly lower standard of living.  The Progressives have us on the road to regression:  little houses; little, unsafe cars; empty store fronts; increased homelessness; product shortages; and, of course, the social unrest the inevitably follows upon economic instability or decline.  In other words, the end of the American world as we know it.

Chinese military

Around the world, Russia, although declining in population and plagued internally by corruption and want, will do what it always does when things are bad:  attack.  It will continue to flex its muscles by making mischief.  It doesn’t care if it goes down, provided that America’s might precedes it.

China, for all its woes (unbalanced population growth, corruption, killer pollution, etc.) will continue its quest to be the world military power.  The world should fear this.  America used its dominant military power to spread individual freedom as much as possible; China’s power will be more imperialist in nature.

The EU, which was touted just a decade ago as the wave of the future, will collapse.  European states will begin feuding with each other over resources.  While that might feel like “same old, same old,” since Europeans have feuded for thousands of years, this go round will be different:  each state will have within it a Fifth Column that unites to bring all of Europe down and re-shape it into a new model.

And now, a brief, but important digression:

Karl Marx

One of the things Marx believed was that the great worker’s revolution he foresaw would transcend national borders.  Remember the slogan “Workers of the world, unite”?  Marx was certain that, within the industrialized nations, the workers would abandon national fealty and join with each other against their capitalist overlords.

Had Marx been correct, World War I would have been the worker’s moment.  Even as the great powers declared war against each other, the workers ought to have laid down their arms and embraced each other across the battle field.  This didn’t happen.  German, English, and French workers put nationalism ahead of everything.

The workers’ revolution Marx expected to sweep the industrial world happened instead in backwards, agrarian Russia.  Stalin then had to retrofit the supposedly “inevitable” industrial revolution by starving his independent peasant class to death, but that’s another story….

And now, back to the point of this post:

Muslim women London

While Marx was wrong about the 19th and early-20th century workers’ allegiance to their nation versus their allegiance, he was correct to envision a group that has loyalty to its unique identity separate from the nations in which its members reside.  This group, of course, is Muslims.

Over the past few decades, all of the European nations have invited tens of thousands of Muslims into their borders.  These Muslims have refused to integrate, living, instead, in segregated enclaves that have often become laws unto themselves.  Within these enclosed communities, the Imam’s preach jihad:  the violent overthrow of all world governments, followed by a Sharia world.

When the European pact disintegrates, the powers that be will discover that, even as Germany feuds with France over resources, the Muslims within both those nations form an allegiance that sees them turn against their host countries.  The result will be ugly and there won’t be a strong America to stop it.

Obama's bitch is Egyptian dictator

And then there are Barack Obama’s profound alignment shifts.  Both by inclination and calculation, Obama has decided that the old world order, the one that’s been in place pretty much since the end of WWII, isn’t correct.  America shouldn’t be palling around with Western nations, which he believes are responsible for Third World oppression.  Instead, Obama looks to the Muslim world as the wave of the future.  He cultivates increasingly Islamist Turkey; encourages the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise in Egypt; is assiduously neutral towards Iran, to the point of cooperation with its nuclear aspirations; and has cold-shouldered and isolated westernized, democratic Israel.

This is a volte face of staggering proportions and implications.  America has now become a prop for the worst kind of dictatorships.  Moreover, these are the dictatorships that will fund the Muslim Fifth Column in Europe.  Now that Obama has more flexibility, he will accelerate this trend.

Obama’s desire to nominate Chuck Hagel as the Secretary of Defense, although that seems to have stalled for now, perfectly reflects Obama’s New World Order, one that sees a weak America mistreating Israel and cozying up to Muslim dictatorships.

All of which leads me to say that the Mayan Apocalypse is on our doorstep.  We just didn’t have the wit or foresight to imagine what it would look like.

End of the world

To a hammer, everything is a nail; and to an identity politics fanatic, everything is racism

My father, alev ha-shalom,  had forgotten more about English — his third language — than most people will ever know.  In addition to reading novels and non-fiction for pleasure, he would amuse himself reading dictionaries, grammar books, and stories about the English language.  (In that last genre, my favorite was one called Word Origins and Their Amazing Stories, a book that, sadly, is no longer in print.)

One of my father’s pet peeves, going back to the 1970s, was the way the word niggardly had been banished from most vocabularies, because people assumed that it had the same root as a vulgar and disrespectful word for black people.  In fact, niggardly, which means miserly, or stingy, has an honest Anglo-Saxon etymology:

Origin:
1325–75; Middle English nyggard,  equivalent to nig  niggard (< Scandinavian;  compare dialectal Swedish nygg;  akin to Old English hnēaw  stingy)

This honestly rooted English word even shows up in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales:

We all desiren, if it mighte be,
To han husbandes hardy, wise, and free,
And secret, and no niggard, ne no fool,
Ne him that is aghast of every tool,
Ne none avaunter, by that God above!

Having now proven the word’s bona fides, let me step down from the soap box.  Given the two words’ auditory and spelling similarity, despite one being an Olde English word calling someone stingy, and the other a rude bastardization of a Latin word for the color “black,” I’m more forgiving than my father was when people express discomfort upon hearing the word niggardly.  It just looks and sounds wrong.

The question remains, though, how far a culture should go to challenge honorable traditions that coincidentally run afoul of modern sensitivities.  In Sweden, for example, modern sensibilities are chipping away at the traditional Santa Lucia celebration, which has seen children, since forever, parade around dressed up as stars, gnomes, Santa Lucia, or gingerbread men.  The politically correct brigade is now worried about those gingerbread men.  You and I think of them as tasty, spicy cookies that all sensible people love; the PC crowd knows that they have a darker symbolism (pun intended):

Schoolchildren in Sweden have been banned from dressing up as gingerbread men for a Christmas parade because their teachers fear the costumes could be considered racist.

[snip]

[H]eartbroken 10-year-old Mio Simiv was told he could not wear his gingerbread man costume to the celebration because it might be seen as ‘offensive’.

Angry mum Jenny Simic told local media: ‘I thought he had to have got it wrong so I called the school and they said people might find a brown gingerbread character offensive.

Mrs. Simic also went on to make a larger point, which is that the other costumes, when taken out of context, can be forced into equally ugly interpretations.  You see, those gnome costumes really don’t stand up to close scrutiny ….

‘I said, well then my son won’t participate. He won’t support some Ku Klux Klan procession – because that’s what the little Lucias look like when they all come in with white hoods and white dresses.’

Also, I’ve heard that gnomes are vertically challenged, so it won’t be long before the Little People start voicing their objections.  (I feel I have a say in this one, as I just learned that my statuesque 5 feet tall is a mere two inches above official Little People status.  Funnily enough, I’ve never felt short, and most people who know my are surprised to learn what my actual height is.  As one man told me, to my great delight, “You have the most beautiful posture I’ve ever seen.  You carry yourself like a queen.”  But back to my post….)

The Swedish school tried to backtrack by claiming the absence of gingerbread came down to student allergies, but I’ve yet to hear of someone being allergic to a gingerbread man costume:

In my experience, one of the best ways to get past differences between people is to stop focusing on them so obsessively — or at the very least, to stop focusing on the marginal things that irritate petty people, so that you have energy and credibility to deal with the things that really matter. Aesop knew that crying wolf is counterproductive.  After decades of backing down in the face of the Leftist war cry of “racist,” more and more people are looking in their hearts, recognizing that they’re not racists, and fighting back.  That’s the good thing.  The bad thing is that, in this swirling sea of “racist” caterwauls, the real racists will suddenly find themselves able to blend in with the crowd so that they can spread their poison.

Next time a European person scolds you for being a racist or “ugly” American, show that person this one

I’m finding some wonderful gems hidden in my inbox.  This one goes back to April, but is too good not to share now.  It’s a news story about the way in which the Swedish cultural elite — including the Minister of Culture — celebrate.  Here’s a hint about what you’ll see at the link:  even the KKK might have found this one a little bit over the top.

Greece will be Greece; or why the Germans shouldn’t bother bailing out the Greeks

Yesterday, I wrote that, given the Arab propensity for warfare, it doesn’t seem as if peace in the Middle East is likely any time soon.  Today, I looked over a post I wrote last summer while in Greece, and concluded that Germany would be foolish to throw good German money after bad.  Greece will be Greece:

Throughout our visit to Greece, there was a nationwide taxi strike taking place.  The air in Athens was unusually clear, thanks to the decreased traffic.  Transportation was slightly more difficult than it would have been with taxis, but certainly not impossible.  Everyone on the cruise ship seemed to manage fine using Hop On Hop Off buses (in Athens), private buses, private tours, cruise tours, and public transportation.  In other words, the missing taxis were inconvenient, but not an insurmountable problem.

As best I was able to understand, the taxi drivers were protesting the fact that the Greek government, in an effort to expand employment opportunities, was making taxi licenses more readily available.  In order to show their disdain for this maneuver, the taxi drivers stopped working during peak tourist season.  Let me rephrase that:  During a total economic collapse in their country, the taxi drivers walked away from the money.

[snip]

I know that, despite acting foolish, neither the Italians nor the Greeks are actually fools.  Instead, they are citizens of welfare states.  They know that, no matter how much or how little they work, they’ll still have medical care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions, retirement care, etc.  The money earned for work is gilding-the-lily money.  It’s nice, but one can survive without it.  In theory, this freedom from want (want of health care, want of shelter, want of food, etc.) is a wonderful thing.  In fact, though, it is a disincentive to productivity which, inevitably, creates less productivity.  The downward spiral keeps on going.  Less productivity means less government revenue.  Less government revenue means the government has less ability to provide the health care, housing, food, education, free museum admissions and so on.  Suddenly, you end up like Greece or England:  no money, no benefits, and a citizenry that’s forgotten how to work.

Yes, I recognize that these are overarching generalizations, and that causation and correlation are not the same thing.  Nevertheless, it does seem to me that there’s a pattern here of walking away from economic opportunities because there’s no risk.  Oh, wait!  That’s wrong.  The risk is that the economic opportunities won’t come back.

More on the European fairy tale, both at home and abroad

Yesterday, I wrote about European fairy tales versus American fairy tales.  Of the former, I said:

That’s the theme in the majority of fairy tales that originated in the old world:  be good, be passive, and some deus ex machina figure, usually magical, will come and rescue you.  Passivity is the name of the game.  In one fairy tale after another, the lead character, usually the youngest child of at least three siblings, prevails by virtue of being nice.

My own words popped into my head when I read David Pryce-Jones’ description of the way in which European leaders are coping with the EU’s economic collapse:

The level of unreality created by the masters of Europe is reaching new heights. It is like hallucinating to observe the politicians driving in expensive cars to meet one another, inspecting guards of honor, arranging for ministerial get-togethers, and all the while the construct that put them into office is collapsing all around them. These same politicians chatter extensively about saving the euro and the European Union, about bailouts and firewalls and fiscal pacts, as though words were deeds. No satirist could do justice to the sight of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and newly elected French President François Hollande shaking hands and vowing to work together to save the union and its currency. Insofar as this pair has any coherent ideas, they disagree. All they have in common is the precariousness of their position. Just trounced in local elections, Mrs. Merkel and her party are well on the way to joining the gathering crowd of electoral rejects. As for Hollande, he believes that growth comes from higher taxes and hundreds of thousands more state jobs, and all in arch-protectionist France. It can’t be long before such socialist illusion comes back to haunt that country.

Off they go, those little European fairy tale characters, being “nice” (leading parades, making speeches), all the while clearly hoping that some deus ex machina will come along and save them.  America actually did save them twice (three times if you count the Cold War as WWIII), but America now has a president who is also in thrall to the European fairy tale world view.  He’s waiting too.

Mitt Romney isn’t Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, or even Weems’ George Washington, but I think he has a much better grasp of the American fairy tale (stand tall and fight your own battles) than do the actual Europeans abroad or the faux European in the White House.