Vallombrosa is a unique place in Tuscany. Its founder, Saint Giovanni Gualberto, a Benedictine monk, chose this secluded place in the mountains 40 km east of Florence to lead a hermit-like existence, right after the year 1000, and with a restricted group of monks started his own monastic order, the Vallombrosani.
John Milton among many other travellers – found inspiration in Vallombrosa while traveling across Italy in 1638, and a marble inscription reminds tourists that here Milton put into writing his Paradise Lost. Vallombrosa is not a place for crowds; rather a place where to seek meditation and inspiration.
To me Vallombrosa represents memories from my childhood. It could be called a piece of my personal heimat, if you wish. Back in the 60’s, when a car was still a far-flung luxury for many Italian families of the working class, we would take the Sunday morning bus from the train station in Florence with some frugal lunch, and we were back in the city with the same bus in time for dinner. For me, as a child, that was the highlight of the week – or the month – as it was all that we could afford at the time as a holiday.
It was just 2011 when the Finnish government, one of Greece’s many creditors, demanded that Athens put one of its national symbols, the Parthenon, as collateral for the rescue loans package.1)Finland’s demands for collateral could leave Greek bailout in ruins, The Guardian 2011-08-28.
Fast forward to 2015: while the European Union leaders humiliate the Greek democracy by imposing even harsher austerity measures than the ones previously rejected in a referendum, even despite the fact that the IMF admitted having miscalculated the Keynesian multiplier for Greece and thus completely underestimated the catastrophic consequences of austerity,2)Growth Forecast Errors and Fiscal Multipliers, IMF Working Paper 2013.Finland is no longer part of the group of “virtuous countries”: unlike Greece, its public finances are fine, however the sources of its economic strength, tech colossus Nokia is in a deep crisis,3)Finland: The sick man of Europe? BBC 2016-02-29.unable to keep up in innovation with its competitors, Apple and Samsung. The once national pride of the Finns, accounting at its peak for 20% of the Finnish exports,4)As Goes Nokia, So Goes Finland? Bloomberg 2013-09-03.will end up being overtaken by foreigners (Microsoft). To worsen the conditions of the Finish economy, the EU leaders opted for a trade war against one of Finland’s main trade partners, its neighbor Russia, over the Ukraine crisis.
Almost 1000 years ago, Turkish tribes started settling in Anatolia, beginning the formation of the Turkish state. How did it happen? Many jump to quick conclusions and simplify the matter pointing to the Byzantine defeat at Manzikert in 1071. The reality is different: in the aftermath of the battle, Emperor Romanos Diogenes reached a peace agreement under which the Turkish Seljuk sultan was handsomely rewarded with money while the Byzantine Empire did not suffer territorial loss. The Byzantine elite in Constantinople, however, decided to unseat Romanos and not to adhere to the agreement. In the subsequent squabble over the throne, one of the competing factions would hire a relative of the Turkish sultan, Suleiman to increase its chances to seize the throne. As the Byzantine elite rushed to Constantinople, Suleiman was left with his troops to control one of the biggest Byzantine cities of Anatolia, Nicaea. The resulting Sultanate of Rum, the first presence of the Turkish people in Anatolia, was born not by conquest, but by the shortsightedness of the Byzantine ruling class.
The European Union is a project of the elites. Members of these elites who either are members of the European Parliament or hold posts in the commissions are also members of their respective political parties, which means that to all intents and purposes the EU is pursuing policies that those parties advocate and endorse. Never mind voters, never mind citizens who show up at referendums and defy the party line, which is by the way why, James Madison, one of the founding fathers of the American Constitution, said that the minority of the opulent must be protected against the majority.1)Federalist No. 10, Wikipedia 30.01.2017.
The European elites have long stopped to respond to the fears and hopes of the people, which resulted in the emergence of new political parties and movements that address these fears and inspire many citizens of the Old Continent with a hope that it is still possible to have a new, healthy establishment. The forthcoming elections in France, Italy and the Netherlands may decide whether such politicians as Fillon, Macron, Grillo or Wilders, who decisively oppose the current establishment, will hold positions of power. The question arises whether they are as reliable and trustworthy as they would like to be perceived or they only wish to pull wool over our eyes and will not be all that different than their neoconservative and liberal predecessors.
Due to numerous scandals, cronyism, unfair business deals, empty promises, thousands of migrants in the streets and refugee camps people began to mistrust the likes of Berlusconi or Sarkozy. Recently, new actors have appeared on the political stage who immediately have been labelled as extreme right or left, populist, xenophobic and anti-European. People in Italy and France, however, do not let themselves be duped with such misnomers anymore and prefer now to turn their attention to such politicians as Marine Le Pen or Beppe Grillo, who at least represent the common man’s feelings and hopes. Yet, even if the National Front and the Five-Star Movement abide by their election promises, the leaders of these parties do not seem so decent as their voters wish they were.
If you think mathematics is about numbers, calculations and things like these, you are wrong. Mathematics is also about “restoring the cultural dignity of children.”1)What is ethnomathematics, and how can it help children in schools? Teaching Children Mathematics; Reston; Feb 2001; Ubiratan D’Ambrosio.If you think mathematics is acultural, then you are in the wrong; true, mathematics used to be perceived that way but it should not, since “an acultural mathematical curriculum […] distorts the facts that children learn about how mathematics has evolved and who has contributed to this evolution.”2)What is ethnomathematics, and how can it help children in schools? Teaching Children Mathematics; Reston; Feb 2001; Ubiratan D’Ambrosio.If you further think mathematics is an objective branch of knowledge which students ought to master, then, yes you guessed it, you are wrong. Students ought to be encouraged to use mathematics “to critique aspects of society” and, indeed, to “critique mathematics” itself because its “algorithms structure our lives in ways which reproduce inequality”,3)Decolonising mathematics: Why it’s good for us, how to begin, BizNews.com 2016-10-17.which is elegantly referred to as “weapons of math destruction”.4)Math Is Biased Against Women and the Poor, According to a Former Math Professor, The Cut 2016-09-06.If you think decolonisation is about lands and nations, then again you are wrong. Nowadays we are in need of decolonising university curricula, science and the language of instruction.5)It’s time to take the curriculum back from dead white men, The Conversation 2015-05-08; Why switching to indigenous languages will help solve university crisis – education expert, BizNews.com 2016-10-04.
What’s wrong with mathematics? Indictment number one: it has been created by “dead white men” (so has English literature) who thus continue to “control things”.6)It’s time to take the curriculum back from dead white men, The Conversation 2015-05-08.Indictment number two: mathematics “has a problem with diversity”. Why? Because “all over the world, black and women mathematicians remain rare”.7)Decolonising mathematics: Why it’s good for us, how to begin, BizNews.com 2016-10-17.Indictment number three: mathematics (and many other branches of science) “perpetuates stereotypes about who belongs in the field”. And who does? “Gifted people”, and since e.g. in “2013, 73% of math doctorates were male and 94% were white or Asian” and “the proportion of women pursuing mathematics PhDs between 2004 and 2013 actually fell, from 34% of students to 27% of students” mathematics is reprehensibly racist and biased against females.8)Ideas of “Giftedness” Hurt Students, youcubed.Indictment number four: mathematics is “all too often Eurocentric, paying homage to the fair-skinned Greeks as the purveyors of most of our significant mathematical knowledge”.9)What is ethnomathematics, and how can it help children in schools? Teaching Children Mathematics; Reston; Feb 2001; Ubiratan D’Ambrosio.
When the so called communist system had crumbled in Eastern European countries, their respective societies embraced Western-style democracy and economy, which, taking into consideration the development gap between the two systems came as no surprise. What was stunning, however, was the fact that yesterday’s communists became today’s social-democrats; yesterday’s enemies of the West transpired as today’s ardent friends of the west; yesterday’s anti-liberal propagandists had no difficulty changing sides and becoming today’s pro-liberal propagandists; why, to top it all, yesterday’s Moscow’s footstools turned into the Kermlin’s fierce critics. It does not stand to reason that they (i) became capitalists overnight and that (ii) they converted to western values in droves.
The same people in a position of power who before 1989 would punish their compatriots for entertaining a mere thought of emigrating to the West or copying Western-style political or economic solutions; the same people at the helm who would not even ponder leaving the Warsaw Pact and joining NATO, arguing that geopolitics was such as to impediment any such attempts, the same people after 1989 came to laugh at the opponents of the European Union or NATO.
A break-up of the eurozone due to the European Central Bank and its Public Sector Purchase Programme (PSPP) should not be treated like a science-fiction scenario. The more government bonds the ECB buys, the smaller becomes the problem of a country’s insolvency and debt conversion into French francs or Greek drachmas. Eventually, who cares if all the bonds are kept by the institution that cannot go bankrupt and that is out of the financial market?
Let us recall: the exclusion of Greece from the Euro Area was impossible in 2012 due to a large amount of Greek debt held by foreign banks, which were rescued by the ECB, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. These institutions, called Troika, saved banks and private creditors, not the Greeks: 95% of the bailout money went to banks, as a study of the European School of Management and Technology proved.1)Study: Bailouts for Banks, Not Greeks, Source: Handelsblatt 2016-05-04
For two months, using marinetraffic.com, we have been monitoring the movements of ships owned by a couple of NGOs. Using data from data.unhcr.org., we have kept track of the daily arrivals of African immigrants in Italy. It turned out we were witness to a big scam and an illegal human traffic operation.
Replace freedom of speech with hate speech and you get rid of the former, basking on moral high ground of fighting the latter.
There was a time when people in the Eastern Bloc were forbidden to listen to Radio Free Europe, The Voice of America or any other western broadcaster on pain of, depending and country and period, severe or mild punishment. The mentioned radio stations were jammed most of the time, which was not the only countermeasure that was implemented: the government-controlled mass media would target selected news and in an attempt to spread “information literacy” raise the citizens’ awareness of the dangers of being exposed to hostile Western propaganda which, allegedly, went out of their way to create the impression of failed socialist states.
After what to many came down as an unexpected result of the British referendum, another one could further accelerate the implosion of the European Union, this time in Italy. December 4th the Italians will be voting on political reforms. Thanks to the law of unintended consequences, these changes will pave the way for a subsequent referendum where people might be asked to vote whether the country should return to the lira as its legal tender.
To understand why, we first have a look at the current political structure. The Italian parliament is made up of the Chamber of the Deputies (the lower house), and the Senate (an upper house), which are endowed with the same power. New legislation has to be approved by both chambers before it becomes law. Italy has about ten political parties, making it hard to create a coalition and form a government that gets the backing of a majority in both houses.
Germany in, France out? German preponderance in Central Europe and… in Western Europe as well? Revival of the Holy Roman Empire (Sacrum Imperium Romanum) with Sclavinia, Gallia, Roma, and Germania paying homage to the German emperor, nay, chancellor? A Forth Reich in the making?
Smoke was far from subsiding over the trenches of the battlefields of World War One when in 1916 a book was published. Its title was Mitteleuropa1)Friedrich Naumann, Mitteleuropa, Berlin 1916, available at Internet Archive, a non-profit library.and its author: Friedrich Naumann.2)Friedrich Naumann, Encyclopaedia Britannica. The war was about making a new deal between the superpowers at the turn of the 20th century: Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, France and England. A deal about re-assigning African and Asian colonies and a new order in Europe. At that time no one could know how the war would end: it was not generally assumed that Austria-Hungary would disappear from the political map or that Russia would drastically change its political system. It was rather taken for granted that the superpowers would have to make mutual concessions and that they could only expand at the cost of smaller nations. Where were they to be found? In Central Europe, from the Baltic down to the Mediterranean: Courland (present day Latvia), Lithuania, Poland, Czechia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Bulgaria to name a few.