Category Archives: Europe

Headline of the day II: Great cultural watershed?


From The Local.se:

Sex pigs halt traffic after laser attack on Pokémon teens

California history, marketed as a teardown home


There’s a house for sale in Pacific Palisades, one of the most exclusive communities in the Los Angeles area. It’s located at 1550 San Remo Drive, just a two-minute drive from the house at 1669 San Onofre Drive, where esnl interviewed Nancy Reagan in 1979 as her husband was running for president.

The home on San Remo is now up for sale and the asking price is a mere $14,995,000. Here’s how the broker, Coldwell Banker, describes the property [emphasis added]:

First time on the market in almost 65 years! Park-like grounds with lush forest solitude on almost a full FLAT ACRE on one of the most desired streets in the Pacific Palisades Riviera. Extreme privacy surrounded by mature trees and landscaping provides amazing serenity coupled with incredible city lights views. Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood. It’s like living in your own private reserve!

There’s only one thing missing from the enthusiastic sales pitch.

Unlike the Reagan’s home, which was a gift from General Electric, given to the future president in 1955 as a reward for Reagan’s role as a corporate shill after his cinematic career hit the skids, the home on San Remo was built and paid for by the labors of Thomas Mann, the Nobel Prize-winning author of some of the most important works of fiction of the 20th Century.

The artist in exile

Mann had fled Hitler’s Germany to take up residence in the United States, settling into his new home in the Palisades to do what he did best, write.

It was within these walls that he created what may be arguably his finest work, Doctor Faustus, a powerful novel encompassing the trends of the early 20th Century that gave rise to fascism.

As playwright and poet Sean O’Brien wrote in an essay on the novel for the Independent:

It is a novel of ideas of a kind rarely found in English, but sees thought and art as inseparable from character. It is in a sense the story of the early 20th century in the light of Fascism and modernism, yet neither history nor the individual is sacrificed to allegory.

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study. Mann at work in his Pacific Palisades study, via the Literaturarchiv und Bibliothek in Munich..

The media take note

But now Coldwell Banker is peddling it as a teardown, valuable mainly for the land it occupies.

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Although the language in the listing — “Create your dream estate or remodel and expand the existing home in the ultra-exclusive upper Riviera neighborhood” — hedges its bets a bit, Joyce Rey, the agent representing the seller, was more direct in a phone interview, saying she had a hard time imagining that any potential buyers would be interested in its history.

“The value is in the land,” she said. “The value is not really in the architecture, I would say.”

>snip<

The house is not one of L.A.’s official historic-cultural monuments, though it is listed as a “historic resource” in a larger inventory called SurveyLA. A new citywide ordinance requires that owners seeking to demolish houses older than 45 years provide notice to neighbors and the local city council office at least 30 days in advance. But in general there are limited protections for most residential buildings in Los Angeles, even those with notable architectural pedigrees.

Rey said the seller, whom she declined at least for the time being to identify, was not interested in opening the house to preservationists or journalists.

The home is notable in its own right, designed for Mann by fellow German emigre J.R. Davidson, one of the seminal figures in creating the L.A. style of architecture that resulted in some of the region’s most influential designs of the mid-20th Century.

He was first to create homes with floor to ceiling windows and sliding glass doors, features that would become virtually standard in California’s temperate climate.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Mann and his family outside their San Remo Drive home. Source.

Reaction from Germany comes fast and furious

Needless to say, the German cultural community is outraged. All of Mann’s European homes have been spared the wrecking ball and are revered as national landmarks, a designation which somehow was never sought for his home on the California coast.

Deutsche Welle reports:

Despite the home’s outward appearance, Jürgen Kaumkötter, curator of the recently founded Center for Persecuted Arts in Solingen#, says the villa should be saved at all costs. He’s gone so far as to demand that the German government buy the property in order to prevent the demolition of this historical house.

“The building could serve as a meeting ground for young writers,” Kaumkötter said, “perhaps in combination with the Villa Aurora (the former home of German-Jewish novelist and playwright Lion Feuchtwanger)” If Germany wants to have an international outlook, it should also provide some room for critical thinkers.

That view is echoed by Jürgen Serke, a Hamburg-based collector of art and literature and the author of “Die verbrannten Dichter” (“Burned poets”). He thinks German Culture Minister Monika Grütters should give the idea some thought; in his view, there is plenty of money to finance this proposal. He believes a demolition of the villa would be a great shame for Germany, with Mann being the most significant German author of the 20th century.

>snip<

The lawyer who purchased the house from the Mann couple when they returned to Europe in 1952 knew quite well that what he had bought was an important site for German culture and intellectual history. He marked the spot with a bronze plaque featuring a profile of Thomas Mann, explaining in English and German the significance of the home.

In Los Angeles, land in rich enclaves like the Palisades is often “worth: more than the homes occupying it, and some of the city’s greatest and most significant houses and other buildings have fallen to the wrecking ball.

To allow Mann’s home to follow that same tragic trajectory would nothing less than sinful.

Map of the day: European noise pollution


From the European Environment Agency, a look at regions in Europe and their relative exposure to noise pollution and possibility suitable for designation as quiet zones:

BLOG Euroquiet

With elections called Iceland’s Pirates may reign


Logo of Iceland's Pirate Party.

Logo of Iceland’s Pirate Party.

Iceland’s Pirate Party is drawing closer to the summit of power, as scandals sparked by the release of the Panama Papers have forced the resignations of the prime minister and forced a Panama Papered president to call elections for 29 October.

The Pirate Party, founded on a platform of digital privacy rights, has been the big winner, as Icelanders show rising discontent with traditional parties.

From the Guardian:

The Pirate party, whose platform includes direct democracy, greater government transparency, a new national constitution and asylum for US whistleblower Edward Snowden, will field candidates in every constituency and has been at or near the top of every opinion poll for over a year.

>snip<

“It’s gradually dawning on us, what’s happening,” Birgitta Jónsdóttir, leader of the Pirates’ parliamentary group, told the Guardian. “It’s strange and very exciting. But we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist.”

The election, likely to be held on 29 October, follows the resignation of Iceland’s former prime minister Sigmundur Davið Gunnlaugsson, who became the first major victim of the Panama Papers in April after the leaked legal documents revealed he had millions of pounds of family money offshore.

The party’s popularity rises with scandals

A succession of scandals involving government leaders has spurred the rise of a party premised on transparency and participatory democracy.

The Iceland Monitor has been tracking the numbers:

With just three MPs in Iceland’s current parliament, support for the Pirate party in Iceland rocketed from 13% to 30% in the space of nine weeks in February-April 2015.

They peaked at 38.6% in February this year, and have been Iceland’s most popular political party for an almost unbroken period of seventeen months (all figures: MMR).

People who have been a member of the Pirate Party for at least thirty days are eligible to vote in elections and over 100 potential candidates have come forward for the constituencies of Greater Reykjavik and South Iceland.

According to the last MMR opinion poll, the Pirates could get somewhere in the region of 18-20 MPs in the next election – compared to just three currently – and be in a commanding position to try and form a government.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers in graphic form:

BLOG Iceland

The party’s leader says they’re ready for power

RT covers self-described poetician and the party’s leading figure and founder, Birgitta Jónsdóttir [previously], a former Wikileaks activist who has been a leading European advocate of privacy rights and a passionate advocate for Chelsea Manning:

Jonsdottir, a former member of the WikiLeaks team, says the Pirate Party, founded four years ago, is ready to form a government with any coalition partner that supports its agenda to bring about a “fundamental system change.”

“I look at us and I think, we are equipped to do this,” she told the Guardian.

“Actually, the fact we haven’t done it before and that we won’t have any old-school people telling us how, means we’ll do it more carefully. We will be doing things very differently.

“…we are well prepared now. This is about change driven not by fear, but by courage and hope. We are popular, not populist,” she added.

Icelanders’ distrust of politicians reached a boiling point when the Panama Papers revealed that then-Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson had once owned an offshore company (now controlled by his wife) that held debt from failed Icelandic banks. Thousands of people, outraged by their PM’s alleged offshore accounts, took to the streets of Iceland’s capital in what appeared to be the largest protest in the country’s history. The scandal prompted Gunnlaugsson to resign in early April, with early general elections likely to be held in October.

More after the jump. . . Continue reading

Greece slides gently into a new recession


The bad news from To Vima:

The Greek statistics authority ELSTAT has documented a 0.7% rate of recession in the second trimester of 2016, compared to the same trimester last year in its last flash estimates.

Compared to the first trimester of 2016 though, the non-seasonally adjusted data shows that the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 0.3% during this period.

Available non-seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the second quarter of 2016 the GDP in volume terms decreased by 0.1% in comparison with the second quarter of 2015.

British cyberspooks face a challenge in court


GCHQ stands for Government Communications Headquarters, but it’s really Old Blighty’s version of the U.S. National Security Agency and was created to spy on the communications of foreign governments.

GCHQ’s most famous success was cracking German military codes during World War II, and it has partnered with the younger NSA for years.

But now the super-secret agency faces a new legal challenge.

From Ars Technica:

GCHQ will face scrutiny by the European Court of Human Rights, after Privacy International lodged an official complaint against the UK eavesdropping nerve centre’s use of bulk hacking abroad.

The complaint is the latest in a series of attempts by the organisation to bring GCHQ surveillance to heel.

In February, the UK’s Investigatory Powers Tribunal failed to decide whether GCHQ’s activities breach Articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protecting the right to privacy and freedom of speech.

However it did say that the British government was within its rights to issue general warrants to hack electronic devices under section 7 of the Intelligence Service Act 1994. Privacy International has sought an appeal against that decision with a judicial review at the UK High Court.

It now wants a legal ruling on the question of whether section 7 is permitted under the convention.

“The government is currently hacking abroad based on a very vague and broad power that provides few if any safeguards on this incredibly intrusive power,” said the organisation.

Greeks ready report on German occupation costs


With Greece reeling under demands to repay debts to German banks, Greece is preparing demands that Europe’s economic giant should make good on the costs of German looting, extortion, and other damage inflicted during World War II.

From Ekathimerini:

The findings of the intra-party committee which was set up to look into Greek claims for German war reparations are expected to be submitted to Parliament in early September, reports said on Friday. The committee wrapped up its probe on July 27.

Greece is demanding 269 billion euros – adjusted to inflation – for damages incurred during the Nazi occupation in World War II, including forced loans plus interest.

According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the 77-page report recommends that Greece employs diplomatic means to persuade Germany but doesn’t rule out legal action if that fails.

The reparations issue has been repeatedly raised by the SYRIZA-led coalition and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras timed an appeal last week – to European leaders for solidarity over the country’s debt burden – to coincide with the anniversary of the so-called London Debt Agreement in 1953, which secured West Germany a write-down of more than 50 percent of the debts it accumulated during the two world wars.

Given that much of the money extracted from Greece in recent years went to Germany, debts that have driven the nation deep into economic misery because of austerity measures imposed by the German-dominated European Central Bank and the European Commission, plus the International Monetary Fund, we think the Greeks have an excellent case.

Add in the fact that much of that debt comes from contracts to German firms, companies that extracted the wealth by criminally bribing officials of previous conservative Greek governments, there’s goof cause for debt relief, and reparations is a good first step.