Category Archives: Europe

Impressions of “Exploring New Europe: A Bicycle Journey,” by Barry Wood

Recently I read Exploring New Europe, the story of the author’s trip from Estonia to Albania on bicycle. The trip occurs in several legs, of around a week each, between which the author returned to the United States to live and work. Unsurprisingly the easiest part of the Germany appeared to be on the modern and expansive biketrails created in the old East Germany… the hardest and most dangerous part of the journey was in Bulgaria, the “graveyard of cycling dreams.”

Most days the author journeyed between 45 and 50 miles, starting around 10 AM and finishing around 6 PM. This is a leisurely pace, and it’s inspiring to see how much of the world one can travel by bicycle. I personally appreciated the author’s use of almost no reservations in his travel — while AirBNB has changed this somewhat, the greatest adventures are the one’s you can’t find on google before hand.

Plus, the author released a youtube “trailer” for the book, which captures the spirit well:

This book was published after the recent elections, yet it feels out of time. It reminds me of the celebrations of globalization I read in the 1990s and 200s, like Tom Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999) and The World is Flat (2005). Long ago a called Friedman a genius, but Friedman and his followers have not transitioned to the post-crash world. There’s a breezy attitude toward “risk” that ignores optionality. Beyond “self-confidence” or “vision,” anyone whose experienced an old Empire crumble would be rationally nervous about the future of a new Empire

I’m sure [he] would have moved ahead if he owned by B&B. He would have gotten the needed permits and bank loans for development. [The actual owner], by contract, was just holding on. He didn’t have self-confidence or vision.

Likewise, the Euro-optimism doesn’t take into effect that the European dream is dying in the west, where Britain is soon leaving the Union, and the cause of dying in the East, and the War in the Donbas drags on

Some of the countries I crossed — Serbia, Macedonia, Albania — are still knocking on the door, and Kaliningrad as part of Russia is a special case. Make no mistake, the European dream is still alive.

I enjoy bicycling and liked this book of biking adventures. It was breezy to read and balanced discussing the countries with the authors own thoughts and some details on the biking. But it doesn’t match the current concerns of Europe, or even the feel of this period of globalization (if the world is still globalizing).

I read Exploring New Europe: A Bicycle Journey in the Kindle edition.

tdaxp predicted the Russian invasion of Ukraine

If Barack Obama and others had read my blog on October 29, 2008, they would have known that Russia will invade Crimea to turn it into a frozen conflict.

680px-European_Union_Ukraine_Locator_svg_crop

Russia is not a European country.  it is a Central Asian oil exporter that has invaded Europe — again. A variety of moves, from pushing renewable energy to helping Ukraine sign the Association agreement with the European Union, should now be made. Ukraine must join Europe.

Too bad I was ignored.

The “Free Parking” Analaogy in International Relations

In business strategy, it is common to subsidize a money losing business that in order to make a primary business profitable. This is called “free parking.”

For instance, McDonalds is one of the largest parking lot operations in the world. The scale of their investment in an international network of places to park your car is staggering, involving professional and operational employees and contractors all of the world.

But McDonalds is not in the parking business. They are in the hamburger business. But absent providing “free parking,” McDonalds would find the cost of customer acquisition painfully high and the economics of scale from its operations too small.

russia_mcdonalds
Of Interest to Parking Lot Operators

Likewise, the United States runs one of the largest carbon-economy rollback operations in the world. The scale of US investment in preventing the success of the carbon economies (from “King Cotton” in the late 19th century to “King Oil” in the late 20th century to King Natural Gas today) is staggering. This anti-carbon-intervention — from a massive climate science masquerade to military actions in the American South and the Middle East.

In most of the world most of the time, carbon-based economies are naturally despotic and authoritarian. These “hydraulic empires” exist because of the government monopoly over the infrastructure needed to extract wealth from the earth. This form of social organization can be internally stable but maintain considerable freedom of movement in international relations because rules do not need worry about complicated economic links that limit non-carbon economies. That is, they are warlike.

ukraine_pipelines_map
Of Interest to Carbon Extraction Operators

(Whether refers to carbon-economy rollback by that name, or says something about sustainable political-economic growth, or “shrinking the gap” or whatever, the meaning and the concept is the same: minimizing the political and military importance of carbon extraction throughout the world.)

Rolling back the carbon-based economy is to the US what free parking is to McDonlads. For McDonalds, free parking is the side business and selling hamburgers is the main business. For the US, carbon-economy rollback is the side business and selling security is the main business. McDonalds could not afford the customer acquisition cost, and could not enjoy the economies of scale, without subsidizing free parking for its customers and potential customers. Likewise, the US could not afford the country-acquisition cost of its military alliances nor enjoy economies of scale, without subsidizing carbon-economy rollback for its customers and potential customers.

My friend Dr. Samuel Liles thinks that free parking is a distraction, whether for McDonalds in a shopping mall or the US in the world political system. He’s wrong on both points.

McDonalds cannot provide hamburgers (in exchange for cash) without providing parking, for free.

The US cannot provide security (in exchange for power) without rolling back the carbon-based economy, for free.

Free Parking and Ukraine

May good friends Dr. Samuel Liles (who I had the pleasure of meeting in person the other day) has taken to twitter to advocate to an isolation response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea.

eu_tatars

Sam has written a tweeted a number of times, but this tweet is probably the most concise description of a pro-Putin line you’re likely to see in the non-lunatic West:

If you say “POTUS should do something” I’ll ask you why. Ukraine wasn’t in NATO or EU so NATO & EU shouldn’t do anything absent specifics.

I like Sam, he has a lot of cool stories and is a serious guy, but his comment is an exact analog to

If you say “McDonalds should provide parking” I’ll ask you why. Customers aren’t yet in the building so McDonalds shouldn’t spend money on them absent specifics.

The common thread in my friend’s Sam’s comments on Ukraine, and that crazy comment about McDonalds, is called “free parking.” Most successful enterprises, whether business or governments, provide subsidized or free secondary services in order to acquire customers for their primary services.

McDonalds runs one of the largest parking lot operations in the world, not because they are in the business of running profitable parking lots, but because the parking “business” is actually critical infrastructure to being successful in the restaurant business.

mcdonalds_parking_lot

Similarly, the US has traditionally supported the expansion of the European Union, not because the US is in the EU, but because the Eu is critical infrastructure to being successful in the security business.

The European Union, like the United States, has a political-military system that focuses on extracting taxes from producer surplus of the non-carbon sectors of the economy. An interesting result of this is that the EU and US focus on peaceful relationships with each other, as economic integration allows the economies of scale in multiple sectors necessary to increase the tax base thru increasing the producer surplus of the non-carbon sectors of the economy. Besides the first-order economic gains of this “capitalist peace,” this also provides second-order gains as the costs of the US of providing security are lowered.

Supporting the EU’s provisioning of that political-economic infrastructure throughout Europe is in America’s interests, in the same way that paying parking lot pavers is in McDonald’s interests. The US is not the EU. McDonalds is not a paving company. But McDonalds is in the paving business in order to provide free parking to its customers. And the US is in the business of supporting the expansion of the EU to provide free parking — access to the legal, technical, and economic infrastructure the EU provides — to its customers.

Remembering

On 11/11/1918 World War I’s armistice went into effect.

A good argument is that the European Civil War that was a part of actually ended on 1/1/1999, when Germany and France were united by a common currency.

The only leader who appeared to believe in democracy in World War I was the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Karl the Blessed. World War I helped drive him off his throne.

War is an important tool of policy in a system of international anarchy. But in the 20th century, which saw at its height Hitler, Stalin and Mao, the War that today commerates led to a man who might have been a Saint losing an Empire in the middle of Europe.

Pray for peace.

Review of “To Lose a Battle: France 1940,” by Alistair Horne

To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne (the author of A Savage War of Peace: Algeria 1954-1962) is (1) a logistics-heavy description of the Battle of France, (2) a description of the general incompetence in both the France and German High Commands, (3) a tale of France, a country that was not then and never became a western democracy, and (4) a history of the end of France and Germany as distinct states.

1. The Logistics of War

“It was time that was the vital element which — more than weapons, even perhaps more than morale — France most lacked in 1940.”

Horne’s focus on logistics, timing, supplies, and materiel is refreshing, especially given so much strategy-focused writing by John Boyd and William Lind. I am not in a position to evaluate the completeness of Horne’s account, but his manner of writing certainly has fans:

Some two years later, I encountered at a London publishing party Israel’s leading military analyst and former Chief of Intelligence, Chaim Herzog (He was later to become Israel’s President.) We had met some years previously in Israel, and he had now just published his own account of the 1973 campaign, The War of Atonement. (Weidenfeld, 1975). When I commented on the similarities to the Manstein Plan of 1940, he smiled knowingly and said something to the effect that, only recently, General Sharon had referred to it, acknowledging a certain indebtedness to To Lose a Battle. Herzog kindly signed a copy of his book for me, adding the laconic but meaningful inscription, “In appreciation.”

I’ve never read a clearer account of battle that focused on the vital appointment of having the right materiel at the right location at the right time. Horne deserves major props for this part of the book, as he does for flowing between the political and military dimensions of struggle in his last book.

2. The Incompetence of the High Commands

Poor decisions went up to the part. “During the course of the Second World War,” Horne writes, “Hitler committed half a dozen key blunders that were to lose Germany the war.” Though in fairness, Hitler’s consistent habit was to bluff as much as he can while being prepared to rapidly ceed ground at the first resistance. Even as late as 1939 Horne believes that a French attack on Germany (during the Nazi invasion of Poland) would have reached the Rhine within two weeks.

The French and German general staffs, however, were fixated on the strategy of an orderly defense, and as such both were hesitant to move rapidly or seize the initiative. These “wrong lessons learned” for World War I, however, reach comic levels with the French, who even move troops away from Paris and towards the Maginot Line near the end of the fight.

3. France, an Unstable Democracy

The best insight I have from reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is that France was never a stable western democracy. Attempts to view its behavior as analogous to what the United States or Britain would do in a similar situation are unfounded, because France had a unique set of interests. Specific elements of French political life that made normal politics impossible were

  • A lack of separation between the political and the military
  • A militant left-wing (which was purposefully crippled by Stalin)
  • A revolutionary right-wing (which was sympathetic to military coups against elected governments)

The pattern of both To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace is the old general, brought in from retirement, who oversees the death of the old Republic and faces resistance from an idealistic general

Philippe Petain v. the Third Republic and Charles DeGaulle
but then… DeGaulle v. the Fourth Republic and Roaul Salan

After reading both books, the solution is obvious: France is not a stable democracy.

Reading To Lose a Battle and A Savage War of Peace at first is strange, because the country appears to be a nightmarish version of the United States, but the U.S. is a democracy that has not had a new constitution since the the 18th century. France, by contrast, was never stable. Thus Petain, and DeGaulle, operated out the same frame: no stable government existed absent a strong leader, so a constitutional dictatorship was (for the time being) the only natural form of government for France.

The difference between Petain and DeGaulle was not between traitor and patriot (by our standards, they were surely both). Indeed, both recognized the unstable nature of French democracy, and sought to meld the French polity into Germany. Likewise, both (like Mao Zedong, Chiang Kaishek, and Wang Jingwei) differentiated between ‘diseases of the limbs’ and ‘diseases of the hearts’ — during their heights…

DeGaulle, unlike Petain, was an optimist as DeGaulle, unlike Petain, did not live with the guilt of overseeing a massacre. While other French commanders fled he attacked the Germans, achieving some pointless victories that did nothing to stop the German war machine. Thus, DeGaulle was willing to wait for a better time to commit his ethnic cleansing campaign and tie his country’s fate to Germany. Petain simply wanted to end the destruction of his country.

4. The End of France and Germany

The hosts of heaven allowed the sons of man to form two nations, France and Germany, in June 840. The mandate was revoked in June, 1940.

Before France and Germany western Europe was controlled by a transnational aristocracy. After June, 1940, such a world returned.

The end of the book has a “where are they now” section. There seemed to be no correlation between the side of a leader and how his future career unfolded. Both German and French generals suffered under Hitler. Both German and French generals were executed post-war. Both German and French generals would enjoy a sunny career in NATO. June 1940 appeared to be the last month where the fates of Germany and France were, truly, antagonistic.

For centuries it was impossible imagine a world without these two countries. Now, it is impossible to imagine one with them. Considering the inability of either France or Germany to establish stable national democracies, the accomplishments of the European Union are astounding.

To Lose a Battle is a brilliant history of one of the first fights of the Second World War. Highly recommended!

World Cup – America and England out

So in the most watched men’s soccer game in American history, America was bested by Ghana — because of geography.

As disappointed as I am,  I was at least as much anti-England as pro-America in this World Cup, so I am happy with Germany’s blow-out of England.

As I said to an incresingly dejected England fan (in a volume guaranteeing he would not hear and attack me)

  • Do you remember the stamp tax? You do now!
  • This is for the Boston Massacre!
  • George Washington died for your sins!

Take that, John Oliver!

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World Cup 2010: Into Africa – US Beats Algeria
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Team USA

The video, from Huffington Post

The write-up, by Dan Wetzl

And certainly not in those stands, where the American fans, half a world from home, continued to stand and chant and wave their flags in hope that the dream would be answered.

And when it was answered, when the improbable had been produced, they started charging. These aren’t college kids. These are grown ups. They are mostly well-heeled who can take time away from work on an expensive vacation. Yet the moment was so magnificent, the goal so perfect, that broke all security measures anyway.

After the game, they had mashed up against the fence in numerous places, screaming onto the field at the American players who were hugging and kissing and dancing. The players ran over to party with their people – Altidore even doing a mini-mosh pit leap into the adoring masses.

“USA, USA” went the chants, audible even over the din of the vuvuzelas. All was right here in the South African night.