Tag Archives: history

European Unity and its malcontents

I couldn’t agree more with the essay “Why America should care about the collapse of European Unity” by British historian Simon Schama. Read it first, but otherwise I will quote the last paragraphs:

Although it’s natural in brutally hard times to retreat back to tribal encampments encircled by walls of tariffs and fences against immigrants, this atomization of economic and political purpose needs to be resisted, on both sides of the Atlantic, if we are not to slide into another deep and dark age of violently angry populations and dangerously combative posturing.

Whether we like it or not, we are all—across the oceans and continents—entangled in a common destiny, perhaps more than ever in the entirety of the world’s history. We share the same predicament of a physically degraded planet; we are bound together—the Chinese bondholder and the American debtor; the Greek insolvent and the German banker—in the troubles of a common human home. Turning one’s back is not an option; it will merely guarantee that one day it will be stabbed by the mischief of history. To let the worst off sink is to make it harder for us all to swim. Better to hearken to John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent … If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were …; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls …”

You know the rest. Take it to heart.

Recommended book: The Ascent of Money

This is a very interesting book by Niall Ferguson that has already been reviewed here and here. It also has a companion TV documentary.

Behind each great historical phenomenon there lies a financial secret, and this book sets out to illuminate the most important of these. For example, the Renaissance created such a boom in the market for art and architecture because Italian bankers like the Medici made fortunes by applying Oriental mathematics to money. The Dutch Republic prevailed over the Hapsburg Empire because having the world’s first modern stock market was financially preferable to having the world’s biggest silver mine. The problems of the French monarchy could not be resolved without a revolution because a convicted Scots murderer had wrecked the French financial system by unleashing the first stock market bubble and bust.

This should be required reading or viewing for everybody who handles money every day i.e. for all of us. For good or ill our livelihood depends on understanding the financial events around us but in order to graduate from high school you need to understand science, biology and language but not how to calculate compound interest. Money, as they say, is portable power. Get something to eat and watch the full TV documentary below (also divided by episodes in the PBS website).

Recommended book: The Muslim discovery of Europe

I’ve always been interested in finding out “the other side of the story”. That was one of my main incentives in learning foreign languages, and the reason why I usually scan international newspapers.  As a recent project put me in constant contact with Turkey, I was able to pick up this book at Istanbul airport and was able to read it through.  While this blog gives a longer review of the book than I’d be willing to write here, the most interesting bit of the whole book was that for the peoples comprising Medieval Islam, Europe was an uninteresting barbaric fringe following an antiquated superseded religion, and so approached their contact with Europeans from a stand of perceived moral superiority.  Not unlike the way Europeans viewed the peoples of the New World in the 1500’s.

The book then gives a summary of how those attitudes changed with the faster European development of the Renaissance to a situation where while European technical, scientific & military expertise was sought after, cultural contact was still avoided.  300 years later, the situation is starting to change as can be seen in the TED talk below:

Disclaimer: I know Turkey is in general much less traditionalist than other Muslim countries. It is generally agreed that the push West was started by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, which was not covered in this book.

Libro recomendado: Cartas Finlandesas

Si eres hispanoparlante y vives (o planeas vivir) en Finlandia, este libro es absolutamente imperdible. Escrito hace 110 años por el entonces cónsul de España en Helsinki cuando Finlandia era un Gran Ducado dependiente del zar de Rusia y la población de clase alta era mayoritariamente de habla sueca, este libro es un retrato veraz, ácido a veces y sumamente divertido en ocasiones sobre cómo vivían, comían, hablaban (o no), se relacionaban y morían los finlandeses de aquel entonces.

Aunque en algunas cosas el país ha cambiado sustancialmente, el carácter sigue siendo fundamentalmente el mismo.

Mexican Bicentennial celebrations

It is not every day that a country celebrates its 200th birthday. Boston.com shared a beautiful set of pictures of the parades and main events, but I wanted to give you my impressions from the ground as we were lucky enough to be there.

Sabritas nacionalista
All sorts of companies tried to bandwagon on the nationalist mood to sell stuff
Mexican bicentennial decorations at Galerías Atizapán
Summary of Mexican history at a shopping centre
Mexican wares in Liverpool
Department stores obviously also joined the mood.
Mexican Independece Bicentennial home decorations
Mexican Independece Bicentennial home decorations: Exhibit A
Mexican Independece Bicentennial home decorations
Mexican Independece Bicentennial home decorations: Exhibit B
Zapata
Let's not forget that it was also the centennial of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.
Selling flags for Mexican Independence Day
Stalls like these were found all over the country selling Mexican wares
Artesanías de hoja de elote
Nice idea: handcrafted figurines made out of corn leaves.
Folk dances
Folk dances at a shopping mall
Folk dances
Folk dances at a shopping mall

Recommended movie: Indigènes (Days of Glory)

Finally had the chance to watch this French-Belgian-Moroccan co-production, and wasn’t disappointed.   The film tells the story of a contingent of North Africans who fight for the liberation of France in the Second World War.  The plot and psychological environment is quite interesting as they are quite patriotic for a homeland they have never seen (a scene of them singing the Marseillaise and the Song of the Africans is quite stinging), but are still treated like second-class citizens.

It is very refreshing to watch a WWII movie that doesn’t follow the typical American conventions, that’s for sure, even if I really like Saving Private Ryan.