Latest activities of group #11 Europe Thinks – Will It Be?2012-05-18T19:39:48Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="The Crisis of the European Union" src="/s3/cache%2F57%2F0d%2F570d6be7fe96a0d2163b543436eaf772.jpg" alt="The Crisis of the European Union" width="371" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p>The Crisis of the European Union: A Response, by J&uuml;rgen Habermas, Polity Press, &pound;16.99, &euro;19.80.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Philosophy is a very refreshing exercise when meeting a great philosopher. As one of those great minds, Habermas has also kept his unique voice, using it load and clear. In his latest book, he confronts the factors threatening to derail the European project. &ldquo;The eurozone countries are heading toward a situation in which they will have to choose between a deepening of European cooperation and relinquishing the euro.&rdquo; While many people expect to see the end of the euro in the next five years, Habermas turns his attention towards the weak point of Europe: the intimacy of its relations with its citizens. After the failure of the Laken operation - remember the European constituent under the French presidency of Val&eacute;rie Giscard d'Estaing - the attempt to bring together citizens from the European policy-making spheres seems to have sunk into indifference. In addition, the fact that the theme of &lsquo;Europe&rsquo; does not sell well at local or national election contests, measures the sad opinion the average citizen has of Europe. So, we should rejoice that a philosopher like Habermas is not giving up, but calling the European elite to order. He sees an opportunity in the crisis. &ldquo;With a little backbone the crisis of the single currency can bring about what some once hoped for from a common European foreign policy, namely a cross-border awareness of a shared European destiny.&rdquo; On the other hand, is Habermas perhaps over-optimistic? Won't the &ldquo;little political backbone&rdquo; he mentions be, in reality, hard to find?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">-J.C.N.</span></p>Memoirs from Beyond the Grave2012-05-18T19:38:16Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="Gulag Voices" src="/s3/cache%2F13%2F04%2F1304c8c998890c741e1781ede1d7c450.jpg" alt="Gulag Voices" width="384" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p>Gulag Voices:&nbsp;An Anthology,&nbsp;edited by Anne&nbsp;Applebaum,&nbsp;Yale University Press,&nbsp;$25.00.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">A strange feeling of fascination arises from reading <em>Gulag Voices: An Anthology</em>, a well-chosen collection of excerpts from Gulag prisoners&rsquo; memoirs, selected and introduced by Pulitzer Prize winner and communist era specialist Anne Applebaum. In the thirteen accounts that reveal the subtler aspects of camp life, the authors invite the reader to safely penetrate an &ldquo;alternate universe,&rdquo; a &ldquo;different world,&rdquo; &ldquo;a place you&rsquo;ll probably never see.&rdquo; The world described is, as we expect, a world of cynicism and vice, cruelty and evil, where &ldquo;forgotten men&rdquo; exposed to constant hunger, humiliation, backbreaking work, and the &ldquo;disease of despair&rdquo; are transformed into &ldquo;wretched human tatters&rdquo; before disappearing altogether. But the journey we are taken on proves to be more complex than merely diving into a &ldquo;pool of filth, degradation and cynicism.&rdquo; It&rsquo;s a journey into an incredibly rich and sharp recollection of feelings and emotions, places and faces, mundane memories and spiritual thoughts, with room, restricted though it is, for encounters with morality, friendship, humor, joy, sex and even love. What&rsquo;s really fascinating, therefore, is the firsthand exploration of human reactions to life in an inhuman place, and the reflection about the permeability between freedom and slavery, between good and evil. The memoirs of these authors, all political prisoners with very different personal experiences, constitute primary sources that take the reader far beyond the duty of memory towards the dead, into the depths of the human heart where, as Solzhenitsyn disclosed when he wrote The Gulag Archipelago, &ldquo;the line separating good and evil passes.&rdquo;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;">&ndash;F.G.</span></p>Schizophrenia at the UN and State Level2012-05-18T19:35:15Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F62%2F96%2F6296c373d4d96f0cb1eebf9c6348b73a.jpg" alt="The Fight For the Right to Food" width="367" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">The Fight for the Right to&nbsp;Food: Lessons Learned,&nbsp;by Jean Ziegler, Christophe&nbsp;Golay, Claire Mahon,&nbsp;Sally-Anne Way,&nbsp;Palgrave MacMillan,&nbsp;&pound;74.00.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">While the world is growing richer, we are currently witnessing the worst hunger crisis in human history. How is this outrageous situation still possible? &ldquo;We need political solutions rather than complicated technical solutions to hunger,&rdquo; states Professor Jean Ziegler. The former UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food finds, as key obstacle to the realization of the right to food, the &ldquo;schizophrenia&rdquo; of the UN system and of state policies. On the one hand these institutions promote human rights and social justice while they simultaneously undermine the right to food by advancing liberalization of agricultural trade and privatization of public utilities. The author describes as an emblematic case his two missions in Niger, where the new market paradigm imposed by IMF and the World Bank has produced more inequalities than benefits. The appalling problem of hunger is also exacerbated by other factors such as desertification, land degradation and the increasing production of bio-fuels. Ziegler does not linger on the political problems or on the new threats that prevent the eradication of hunger and malnutrition: as a fundamental element he envisages the development of the normative framework of the right to food. The author deals with, in a very accurate and passionate manner, the most relevant conceptual and legal developments of this human right. The book is interesting because it is enriched by documented experiences during Ziegler&rsquo;s missions as a Special Rapporteur in eleven countries, from Bolivia to Lebanon and from India to Mongolia. It is an excellent reference not only for scholars and students but for any &lsquo;right to food&rsquo; advocate.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span><span style="color: #888888;">&ndash;N.Z.</span></p>Gods, Athletes and You2012-05-18T19:24:20Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="A Visitor&rsquo;s Guide to the Ancient Olympics" src="/s3/cache%2F0b%2F04%2F0b040d57d2c3e83a3eb5782e21ea2727.jpg" alt="A Visitor&rsquo;s Guide to the Ancient Olympics" width="326" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p>A Visitor&rsquo;s Guide to&nbsp;the Ancient Olympics, by&nbsp;Neil Faulkner,&nbsp;Yale University Press, &euro;18.00, $28.00,&nbsp;&pound;14.99.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">As the excitement and preparations for the London summer Olympics are heating up, it is easy to forget how this truly global sporting event actually started out. It is the perfect opportunity to revisit ancient Greece and to learn some curious facts: did you know that 2,400 years ago, Olympian athletes used to compete naked? Did you also know that women - with the exception of prostitutes, slaves and one priestess - were not allowed to attend the Olympics and if they were caught they were thrown off the cliffs of a nearby mountain? Equally bewildering is the fact that the Olympic ceremonies and contests originally represented a hunting ritual or perhaps a blood sacrifice. Greeks&rsquo; favorite combat sport, the Pankration, is a good indication of this: the contest was gory and brutal with only one rule: if you run away from the fight you face flogging. If you are curious about how you would have experienced the Olympics some 2,000 years ago, then Neil Faulkner&rsquo;s <em>A Visitor&rsquo;s Guide To The Ancient Olympics</em> is your go-to book. Written in the style of an actual travel guide the author transports the reader back to the ancient Olympics, complete with a historical background, suggestions on places to sleep and eat, an introduction to ancient Greek customs and religion, as well as a program of events. One thing is for sure, after reading this book, you will not observe the Olympics the same way. You might wonder, for example, if, in the spirit of austerity measures, perhaps this year the Greek team will be represented in their more traditional outfits&hellip;</p> <p><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span><span style="color: #888888;">&ndash;J.H.</span></p>From Siege to “Starchitects”2012-05-18T19:18:41Z<p><img style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Fbd%2Ffe%2Fbdfef6b959a5fbb2606656f19e2d4756.jpg" alt="Terror and Wonder" width="384" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Terror and Wonder:&nbsp;Architecture in a&nbsp;Tumultuous Age, by Blair Kamin, University&nbsp;of Chicago, &euro;15.00, $19.00, &pound;12.50.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">In the postscript to his latest collection of columns and articles, Chicago Tribune architecture critic and Pulitzer Prize winner Blair Kamin quotes skyscraper pioneer Louis Sullivan in observing how &ldquo;our architecture reflects us, as truly as a mirror.&rdquo; Bookended by the chaotic collapse of the twin towers and newly-inaugurated President Obama&rsquo;s stimulus-led plan for a transformation of the American landscape, <em>Terror and Wonder</em> takes the reader on a journey through a tumultuous decade that saw an initial panicked fortress mentality replaced by a post-crash cultural and aesthetic turn towards &ldquo;sustainability.&rdquo; Though Kamin pays lip service to international developments &ndash; encapsulated in the exuberant excess of the Burj Khalifa soaring a record-breaking 828 meters above Dubai&rsquo;s desert sands, and the new clique of globetrotting &ldquo;starchitects&rdquo; for hire &ndash; <em>Terror and Wonder</em> is unashamedly American in its focus. Moreover, the title is to some extent a misnomer. While &ldquo;the new normalcy&rdquo; of stringent security measures served to harden public space, and the catastrophic levee failure in New Orleans revealed deadly infrastructural problems, the early part of the decade also saw the unveiling in Chicago of Millennium Park &ndash; a wondrous melange of art, architecture and landscaping that breathed new life into an increasingly tired urban realm. Ultimately, Kamin&rsquo;s interests lie less in the grand remaking of the physical fabric of our cities, and more in this tension between form and function since the advent of Modernism. <em>Terror and Wonder</em> is a fascinating survey of the structures that continue to shape, and be shaped by, the more modest wonders of everyday life.</p> <p><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span><span style="color: #888888;">&ndash;A.K.</span></p> <span style="color: #7f0a0a; font-style: italic;"><br /></span>No Place for Optimism2012-05-18T19:12:34Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Fda%2F32%2Fda32fd2d21b03ddff2d6cd530b5b2db4.jpg" alt="Climate Wars" width="384" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Climate Wars: Why&nbsp;People Will be Killed&nbsp;in the 21st Century, by Harald Welzer,&nbsp;Polity Press, &pound;20.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">In the first chapter Harald Welzer explains, &ldquo;Some books one writes in the hope of being proved wrong.&rdquo; This volume is certainly one of them. Fortunately for the reader, the author&rsquo;s pessimism is eclipsed by his unique and powerful argument. Welzer, a sociologist, measures climate change by the amount and extent of violence, as societies search for strategies to adapt to new realities. The Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Memory Research at the Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities in Germany, paints a bleak picture of the future: constant flows of refugees, lack of clean drinking water, deepening injustices within states, between states and regions, as well as outbreaks of civil wars and genocides. Violence, so Welzer says, has always been society&rsquo;s answer to problems. The real challenge of climate change is therefore not an issue of finding technological or scientific solutions, but rather of social collective action. To do so, we must create a new system of reasoning. The current way of thinking created the problem; hence our current way of thinking will not solve it. One major critique of the book is the author&rsquo;s rather extensive digression on his apparently favorite topic, the Holocaust. Furthermore, because the book was originally published in German in 2008 some of the statistics are outdated. However, this is not too bothersome, as they are not vital to support the main argument. The book confronts us with our time&rsquo;s most pressing and uncomfortable issue. However, as Welzer states, the closer we live to danger the more we tend to ignore it and live in a bubble. Or maybe that&rsquo;s just optimism?</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;"><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span>&ndash;J.H.</span></p>The Digital Market Failure2012-05-18T19:10:18Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="The Digital Market Failure" src="/s3/cache%2F95%2Fd0%2F95d0c3920621ffdefbec10ede150baf0.jpg" alt="The Digital Market Failure" width="384" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p>Free Ride: How&nbsp;Digital Parasites Are&nbsp;Destroying the Culture&nbsp;Business, and How&nbsp;the Culture Business&nbsp;Can Fight Back, by&nbsp;Robert Levine,&nbsp;Doubleday/Random&nbsp;House, $26.95.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">The notion of &lsquo;regulation&rsquo; applied to the Internet has been, for long and by many, considered a dirty word. Whether rejected as an assault on free speech, a barrier to the expansion of a powerful engine of economic growth and innovation, or simply an attack on some forms of &lsquo;online rights&rsquo;, the idea of web regulation has been framed as an ideological battle for the public interest. Robert Levine, a journalist specializing in the entertainment business in the digital era, has a contrasting opinion. For him, the Internet as it exists now stands in an age of digital feudalism, which drags a critical public good, culture, into a dangerous death spiral. Going through a beautifully clear, comprehensive and well documented history of a decade of Internet-induced change in each sector of the media and entertainment business, Levine convincingly demonstrates that the model of free and &lsquo;neutral&rsquo; Internet as we know it today has empowered mostly &lsquo;digital parasites&rsquo;, i.e. online companies that have built businesses based on giving away content produced by others without investing in, or proposing a model to support creation. This unfair competition, Levine explains, results in a &ldquo;race to the bottom,&rdquo; otherwise called, in economists&rsquo; terms, a market failure. He calls for reintroducing, through lawmaking, a functioning free market for content online, which, in his view is the only way to empower and save creators, corporate and independent alike. Free Ride is a timely whistle-blower and a must-read for anyone trying to navigate the critical mutations of the cultural economy.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span><span style="color: #888888;">-F.G.</span></p>@Politics2012-05-18T19:05:17Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2Fc6%2F01%2Fc6014b96df4599afdf77f3e40eeade48.jpg" alt="@Politics" width="387" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">iPolitics,&nbsp;Richard Fox, Jennifer&nbsp;Ramos, Cambridge,&nbsp;&euro;25.61, $32.99.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Today, traditional media are (finally) coming to terms with the fact that the Internet, in particular social media and mobiles, are redefining the industry. It&rsquo;s a shift that is seriously rocking a boat that has been quite calm for the past 100 years. Politicians are also starting to realize the potential of the new media outlets, particularly during election time, and have developed some interesting insights traditional media owners may want to hear more about. Fox and Ramos present a series of essays in iPolitics on the impact the Internet has had on politics. The interesting topics range from essays on the differences between TV and online campaign ad viewers, the relationship between political bloggers and journalists, and how effectively media such as Facebook activate voters. Clever campaigning strategies are dissected and explained, often revealing some interesting online habits that fuel an advocacy machine you may not even realize you are part of. As fascinating as these topics are, unfortunately, due to the academic - and often very technical - nature of the articles, you are more likely to curl up with this book at your cubicle than you are in bed. The essays contain many specific details on data sample sizes, back up every possible statement with several paragraphs of drawn-out language, and have an insufferable amount of references scattered throughout the text that take away from reading fluidity. Thankfully, the summarizing sections at the end of each chapter do an effective job of conveying some very interesting information to the more lay readers. Or you could just wait till someone blogs about it.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;"><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span>- A.L.</span></p>Collective Petitioning in China2012-05-18T19:02:08Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" title="Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China" src="/s3/cache%2F6b%2F6e%2F6b6eae5c96eacb89af0bab3f7fd382de.jpg" alt="Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China" width="380" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Social Protest and Contentious Authoritarianism in China, by Xi Chen, Cambridge, &euro;73.20, &pound;60.00.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">How does the Chinese Communist Party keep tight control over China's institutions and political participation? Allowing and facilitating collective bargaining seems to be doing the trick, at least for now. Bringing a claim "all the way to Beijing" is a well-known feature of Chinese society. Since imperial times, petitioners have had the option to 'skip-level' and seek redress for their wrongs in the capital. Once the elite's prerogative in imperial China, collective petitioning and social protests have become widespread in contemporary China and span a vast array of issues and social classes. This book provides a brilliant analysis of the surge of collective petitions and social protests since the beginning of the '90s. Based on unprecedented access to data, Xi Chen's research offers a rare look into the dramatic changes in government-citizen interaction as a result of China's transition towards a market economy, and the consequences that these new dynamics may place on China's path towards democratization. Xi Chen brings a new, groundbreaking concept to the table in China's political discourse: "Contentious Authoritarianism." Contentious authoritarianism describes the rare phenomenon that sees a strong authoritarian regime accommodating, and at times even facilitating, widespread and routine popular collective action. Far from being perfect or sustainable in the long term, contentious authoritarianism, he argues, is a key element in the resilience of CCP rule. While learning much about the complexities and challenges of the Chinese political system, the reader is surprised by the de facto flexibility of its special brand of authoritarianism.&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align: justify;"><span style="color: #888888;"><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span>-I.M.</span></p>The Mobile People2012-05-18T18:58:53Z<p><img style="vertical-align: top; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" src="/s3/cache%2F25%2F42%2F2542a8ef7c19d2e98e9c2ecd2a73adaf.jpg" alt="Roads to Power" width="382" height="580" /></p> <blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">Roads to Power,&nbsp;Britain Invents the&nbsp;Infrastructure State, by Jo Guldi,&nbsp;Harvard University&nbsp;Press, &pound;26.95.</p> </blockquote> <p style="text-align: justify;">A delightful surprise! Not only is the analysis followed with panache from start to finish, but the story is also kept lively with constant dexterity. This must be because Jo Guldi knows her subject backwards.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">In early eighteenth-century Britain, nothing but dirt track ran between most towns, as each parish was entirely responsible for the shape, direction and quality of its own roads, and had little technology or incentive to improve them. The traveler in 1726, the year the British government began investing in roads, would have journeyed through a series of disconnected islands of private road governance. Turnpikes and parish roads ran over most of the English interior between 1740 and 1760, thanks to veterans coming back with their military craft for building roads to police the Highlands. Administered by local landlords forming private companies, turnpike roads were full of zigzags and potholes, and soon forced to conform to new regulations drawn up by experts commissioned by Parliament. To prove the advantage of collective building over local practice, committees appointed by Parliament set out to demonstrate the benefits of turning road construction over to a single engineer. They succeeded. Soon many people became increasingly mobile, and many others began to understand the opportunities of communication opening up to them.</p> <p style="text-align: justify;">Tradesmen, artisans and preachers were quick to join the flow, organizing their own journeys to accompany the travelers. By 1848, the primitive thoroughfares were transformed into a network of highways connecting every village and &lsquo;island&rsquo; in the nation. This highway network led to contests for control&nbsp;over everything from road management to market access. Peripheries like the Highlands demanded that centralized government pay for roads they could not afford, while English counties wanted to be spared the cost of underwriting roads to Scotland. The roads were the product of a new form of government, the infrastructure state, marked by the unprecedented control bureaucrats wielded over decisions relating to everyday life. Soon, a widespread anxiety toward this centralized approach took over. But would the state have backed away, had they known what severe economic consequences this would have for the more remote regions, Ireland and Scotland? At the end of the journey, this fascinating book addresses some critical issues of our time: Does information really help to unite strangers? Do markets unite nations and peoples in common interests?</p> <p><span style="white-space: pre;"> </span><span style="color: #888888;">&ndash;H.M.</span></p>