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Post How Long Has Italy Been Dysfunctional? Thoughts from Luciano Dondero
Created by John Eipper on 02/28/13 6:14 AM

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How Long Has Italy Been Dysfunctional? Thoughts from Luciano Dondero (John Eipper, USA, 02/28/13 6:14 am)

Our reader in Fuerteventura, Luciano Dondero, sent this response to Robert Whealey's post of 27 February:

When I was in the US in the 1980s, someone told me that the local meaning of the acronym FIAT was "Fix it again, Tony!"

In my opinion any discussion about Italy has to take into account that there are indeed a number of fields in which Italy has actually managed to be at the top: Ferrari cars, fashion shows in Milan, shoe manufacturing, to name a few.

At the same time it is a real joke, not just by electing clowns to Parliament, as commented by a leading German politician.

How old is this perception?

Marx wrote that capitalism started moving its first steps in Italy, and in my hometown Genoa there is one of the first banks in the world, the Banco di San Giorgio--and although I believe that this kind of categorization is false, nonetheless the question remains: how could Italy lose the positions it occupied in the Renaissance?

References to Italian disunion are non sequiturs, in my opinion.

The Republics of Genoa and Venice were real world powers in their own name--just visit any place in the Eastern Mediterranean, and you'll find the legacy of those two city-states.

Florence and the Popes' Rome produced magnificent artistic and architectural achievements--and some of the world figures of the Renaissance were Italians: Dante Alighieri, Galileo Galilei, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Buonarroti, and many more.

Disunion is a false issue: Prussia (Germany) achieved a united nation-state at the same time as Italy, and look where Germany has managed to be during the last 150 years--initiate and lose two World Wars, and still be at the top in Europe.

So why has Italy failed?

Was it the fault of Fascism?

Actually I don't think so. Mussolini, while pursuing a repressive-dictatorial-totalitarian policy, undertook a program of wide reforms which did indeed improve the overall economic situation.

What I fault him the most, actually, are two things: selling out to the Vatican with the 1929 Lateran Pacts, and then establishing an alliance with the Third Reich.

The second was the most critical one, and certainly the one that brought Italy to a defeat in the war--and to Mussolini's demise and death. But the first one has left a legacy for Italy, which has proved to be quite detrimental.

In my view Italy in the post-1945 period has not been a really sovereign country. On the one hand, you have the Catholic Church lording it over--no issue of Italian politics is ever discussed without the Vatican having its say, and usually its way as well--and on the other hand, Italy is almost a banana republic. The influence of the US was overwhelming in the late 1940s and in the 1950-'60s, and it's still very very heavy.

But basically the country has also become more and more provincial and inward-looking.

I can say this now that I live in Spain, with even more force than before, just by making a comparison between the two countries.

While many Italians claim to be and probably are "esterofili" (foreigners-lovers), in fact not only is knowledge of the external world not widespread, but even more than that people do not put their own country in the context of the world.

This still begs an explanation, obviously: not enough "nationalism"? Or too much? Was there a negative role played by the Italian PCI (by being a stand-in for the Soviet Union and "Communism")?

JE comments: Not enough nationalism, or too much? An excellent question. My outsider's view on Italy always assumed that Italian "dysfunction" originated in the divide between the prosperous, industrial north and the poorer, agrarian south. Luciano Dondero does not accept this explanation. Is it the undue power of the Vatican? The Communist Party's influence after WWII?

Luciano reminds us that the Italians invented capitalism, especially modern banking and double-entry bookkeeping. It is ironic, then, that capitalism is in such dire straights in its birthplace.

For a different perspective on this topic, stay tuned for Eugenio Battaglia.


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  • How Long Has Italy Been Dysfunctional? (David Fleischer, Brazil 02/28/13 7:49 AM)
    A quick response to Luciano Dondero's post of 28 February.



    The "tremendous" power of the Roman Catholic Church in Italian politics was clearly demonstrated when the parliament began debating two RCC taboos--divorce and abortion. The Vatican threatened that "any member of parliament who votes for either of these measures will be excommunicated from the RCC."



    What was the solution? Very political. The parliament just convoked two plebiscites for the Italian voters to decide. They approved both measures, and the politicians then told the Vatican, "Now you can ex-communicate all the Italian electorate, because it was a secret ballot." The same happened in Brazil when divorce was approved by Congress in 1977 (during the military regime). The Brazilian RCC threatened to excommunicate those who voted in favor of divorce. The members of Congress ignored this threat and approved divorce anyway--without resorting to a plebiscite, and the RCC demurred.



    Regarding the dysfunctional nature of Italy:  I have visited that country many times, and found that among European nations Italy is the most similar to Brazil in this regard--plus other "cultural traits" as well.

    Most Brazilians are surprised (even shocked) to find that, although it is our "mother country," Portugal is very different from Brazil. It takes some 2-3 days for Brazilians to begin to understand the language spoken in Portugal. Even some Americans have difficulties on their first trip to the UK to understand "cockney" spoken by the "common" people on the street--the Queen's English, no problem.


    JE comments: Interestingly, it is a commonplace in Argentina that Italy is the European nation it resembles most--and despite the large numbers of Italians in both nations, Argentina and Brazil are culturally very different.


    As I wrote yesterday, these discussions of "national character" are both fruitless and irresistible. Next to send his thoughts on Italy, Angel Viñas.



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    • How Long Has Italy Been Dysfunctional? (Roy Domenico, USA 02/28/13 4:44 PM)
      There's been a lot of talk about "dysfunctional" Italy and that's true--in part.  But it's also complicated in looking at the nation's postwar history.

      First of all, it's difficult to say that, until the Second World War, Mussolini's regime was unstable. It was a lot of things, but unstable wasn't one of them. Then, after the war, Italian politics were dominated by the Christian Democrats--for about 40-50 years. Yes, the government fell once a year, give and take, but the DC always held sway so changes in Government were little more than what we understand as a cabinet shuffle. Again, if anything, the Government was boringly predictable.


      Since the collapse of the early 1990s--and that was, I'll give you, a real collapse--the Government and politics have not found their footing. Meanwhile Berlusconi has ruled Italy for a good part of the period (since 1993-4)--for six months in 1994-95; from June 2001 to May 2006 and from May 2008 until November 2011. Furthermore, all through the postwar period--at least in the DC years--the economy generally did very well (exceptionally well in the 1950s and 1960s). Moreover, it weathered the oil crisis of the 1970s better than did its European neighbors, the lights turned on and the mail was delivered--in most places. The South was and remains Italy's Achilles Heel in all sorts of ways.


      Finally, on David Fleischer's post, I should correct one point about divorce and abortion. There is no question that DC power (and the Church) delayed the legalization of both. However, both were made legal through Parliamentary votes, in 1970 for divorce and 1978 for abortion (and at least in the first case, many DC members broke ranks). Popular referenda in, respectively, 1974 and 1981, failed to reverse the two legalizations but rather confirmed them. In both cases the DC thought that national votes would reverse the Parliamentary votes, and in both cases the strategy backfired.

      JE comments:  Ah, and it's pizza night at WAIS HQ.  Be back in an hour...
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  • Italian Elections and the EU (Angel Vinas, Belgium 02/28/13 8:14 AM)
    On reading the exchange about Italy, I feel a bit funny. Countries have ups and downs. None has an unblemished history. The meaning of the last elections will be hotly debated for years, and will intrinsically become linked to future political developments. What appears almost unique about Italy is the Berlusconi factor. I say this cautiously, because in Spain we have also some unsavory characters. I think for instance of a gentleman called Francisco Camps, who used to be the epitome of corruption and ill government.

    The success of the "grillini" is, in my view, a rejection of the austerity policies imposed by Germany in the defense of purely German interests. This perception is percolating downward to the citizens. If not counteracted effectively, it may lead to a very difficult situation. I´m worried by how the European Commission has aligned itself with the German theses. If the EU is unable or unwilling to give some positive signals to the citizens of the eurozone, it may come to the crunch. I fail to see how the Eurocountries could let Italy fail. In this respect perhaps the past elections will bring something positive. However, we may be in for a couple of months of posturing. Nothing of this has anything to do with an Italian "Volksgeist."


    JE comments:  Volksgeist--oh so German, and very Romantic.  Should we subject the whole concept to a WAISly analysis?  Volksgeists are constructs--but are they fictions?  I sense that the EU, despite its celebration of regional diversity, is fundamentally adverse to the idea that an individual nation can have a "geist."  Conversely, critics of the EU are more prone to cite national character in their arguments.  (Where has Nigel Jones been, by the way?)



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    • What I've Been Up To... (Nigel Jones, UK 02/28/13 3:36 PM)
      To answer John's query about my diappearance from WAIS (see Angel Viñas, 28 February), I have been busy campaigning in an important Parliamentary by-election in Eastleigh, Hampshire in south England. I narrowly failed to become the candidate for UKIP, the anti-EU party, though I'm proud to say I was one of the last 2 out of an original 20 candidates who applied--five making it to the hustings which narrowed us down to two. I'm also proud to say that I was pipped at the post by a really superb candidate Diane James, a healthcare professional.



      I next intend to stand for the European Parliament, where UKIP already has a dozen representatives, in order (of course) if elected to help destroy this Tower of Babel from within.



      Voters vote today (Feb 28th) and UKIP are poised to achieve their best-ever Parliamentary result, fueled by disillusion with the disarray of the other parties. Although the by-election was caused by the conviction of the Liberal Democrat Former Cabinet Minister Chris Huhne on charges of perverting the course of justice by getting his ex-wife to lie on his behalf when faced with a speeding charge (he now faces jail and had to resign from Parliament in disgrace), the constituency seems set to return another Liberal Democrat as its member--with UKIP battling it out with the Tories for second place and Labour a distant fourth. But they are still voting as I write, and we may be in for a political earthquake--the election of the first UKIP MP to the Westminster Parliament.



      The Lib democrats, for a small party, are particularly prone to scandal. Older WAISers will remember their ex-leader, Jeremy Thorpe, who was charged with plotting to murder his gay ex-lover in the 1970s; other Lib Dem MPs have variously been charged with paedophilia, using rent boy prostitutes, using public money to pay their gay lovers' rent, etc. For a sanctimonious holier-than-thou party, they are extremely sanctimonious sinners. They are currently mired in yet another scandal, with their ex-chief executive, a toad-like individual called Lord Rennard, accused of serial groping by a small army of Liberal Democrat women (which at least makes a change). The party leader, who I am ashamed to say is also our Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has been caught lying about his efforts to hush up the scandal.



      As to Italy, its economy, unlike Greece, is too big to be rescued by the EU. The chaotic results of the Italian elections brought joy to my heart, as the EU's imposed candidate, Monti, failed completely, and they will bring the demise of the EU tyranny and it toy-town currency the Euro even closer.

      JE comments: I don't believe the results are in yet for the Eastleigh, Hampshire by-election, but this BBC item gives some additional information. Note that the Elvis Loves Pets party and the Beer, Baccy and Crumpets party also fielded candidates:


      http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21619239


      Many thanks to Nigel Jones for the update. I look forward to his front-line campaign reports as he stands for the European Parliament. It would seem that the UKIP candidates for that body have a good chance of connecting with the electorate, who clearly understand the UKIP's platform: dismantle the EU from within.


      And though Nigel is not one to be seduced by the perks of office, the life of an EU MP sounds very comfortable.  Have any of the UKIP EU MPs (good God that's a lot of acronyms!), once in Brussels, decided that EU governance isn't such a bad thing after all?

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      • Eastleigh By-Election Results (John Heelan, UK 03/01/13 2:01 AM)
        Nigel Jones (28 February) was correct to forecast a good result in the Eastleigh by-election. The results are:

        Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 13,342

        Diane James (UKIP) 11,571

        Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 10,559

        John O'Farrell (Labour) 4,088

        Danny Stupple (Independent) 768


        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21625726


        The LibDems managed to hold onto the seat primarily due to long-standing local political presence and organisation, despite being regarded by many in the UK as a party that's lost its political integrity over the last three years. As a result, UKIP enjoyed a 19.3% swing from the previous LibDem vote, as well as gaining voters disaffected with the current Conservative government.


        http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21625726


        Turnout was 52.7%, down from 69.3% at the 2010 general election, which might indicate the growth of an anti-politic feeling similar to that picked up by the Grillo party in Italy.


        JE comments: UKIP is clearly a party on the rise. A question for Nigel Jones: as an "issue" party (leave the EU), does the UKIP plan to (re-)join the Conservatives if it achieves its goal, or will it continue as a separate political movement?  Note that the UKIP/Conservative combined vote in Eastleigh was well over 50%.



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        • UKIP, Tories, and EU (Nigel Jones, UK 03/01/13 10:36 AM)
          I appreciate that UK politics may seem a bit arcane for the majority of American WAISers. But, believe me, what happens in Europe--just as in the 20th century--will affect the USA, which is why the remorseless rise of resistance against the EU in countries as different as Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and now the UK is important.

          To answer John Eipper's question about UKIP and the future: As long as David Cameron remains Prime Minister there will be no deal or pact with UKIP. Cameron has proved himself an arch Europhile, determined to keep this country chained to the corpse, despite the increasingly anti-EU stance of the majority of his party members (those who haven't already defected to UKIP). No one believes his promise of an In/Out referendum after he wins the next election (i.e., never). As a result, UKIP will continue to leech votes from the Cameron Conservatives, who consequently have vanishingly small chances of winning the next scheduled election in 2015.



          But other factors are sure to come into play long before then which may change events: the eurozone crisis, as this week's events in Italy show, is likely to continue and worsen. Germany may decide to pull the plug on the whole misbegotten Euro enterprise--after all she cannot be expected to continue funding the rest of Europe indefinitely--and the money markets, of course, will make their own decisions.



          In a purely British context, Conservative MPs, facing the certainty of losing their seats at the next election, may belatedly awaken and depose their disastrous leader. But I'm not waiting up. Not for nothing did John Stuart Mill call the Tories "the stupid party." As TS Eliot observed, humankind cannot bear very much reality, and just as the Labour party stuck with a mentally unbalanced leader in Gordon Brown until the bitter end, so the Conservatives will cling to Cameron like drowning men to a straw.



          39 years ago today I was in a still-divided Berlin listening on a radio to the results of the Feb 1974 General Election which brought down Edward Heath, the man who took Britain into what is now the EU and began the whole disastrous error. I can only hope that history repeats itself, and that today marks the beginning of the end of Heath Mark II. But, as I say, I'm not waiting up.


          JE comments:  A very informative report from Nigel Jones, who answered all my questions but one:  have any of the UKIP EU MP's gone over to the "other side" once they've experienced the good life in Brussels?

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          • UKIP, Tories and EU (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/02/13 4:09 AM)
            I wholeheartedly disagree with much of what Nigel Jones (1 March) says. I agree with his statement that whatever may happen in Europa will affect the USA. This is banal. In today's globalised world, no country (not even a big country) is an island. This is one of the reasons why the rapprochement via trade between the EU and the USA is likely to go ahead.

            Resistance to the EU follows two lines. On the one hand it is directed against the German-inspired politics of extreme austerity. You change the national governments via national elections and the EU will also change. The second line is the one followed by the so-called net donor countries (mainly D, NL, SU, SW, AUS). It's based on purely financial considerations. No one seems to accept (and this is a manifestation of the return of nationalism to old Europe) the fact that the EU has been a positive-sum game for many years. You give money out, but you export more merchandise and services. Your capital flows freely. You find fewer and fewer technical and administrative hurdles. Mrs Merkel seems to go backwards to the times of Chancellor Brüning. Only the Germans can choose a less dogmatic government.


            As for the UK, I wouldn´t call Mr Cameron a Europhile, but rather a slightly old-fashioned English nationalist. You can adorn this last title with other qualifying adjectives. His idea about the referendum is unlikely to make much headway in the time framework he arbitrarily decided to choose.


            As for the future, everyone is entitled to their dreams. UKIP too.


            By the way, let´s see what happens on 13-14 March. Perhaps the EU Parliament which Nigel Jones wants to join so ardently may not accept the draft Multiannual Financial Framework. It would be funny and interesting.


            JE comments:  In reference to our global economy, welcome to Day 1 of the US "Sequester."  I haven't felt any economic pain yet, but the symptoms of this disease build up slowly.  I presume the effects will filter to Europe and elsewhere.



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          • Has the EU Been a Failure? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/02/13 4:35 AM)
            I think that Nigel Jones (1 March) is right. The so-called present Europe is only a financial construction, not the real Europe of Nations that too many people need. (However, one may ask, what is this Europe?)

            Maastricht and the Euro have been not well prepared and are a failure; only the bureaucrats of Brussels and the finance people are happy.


            JE comments:  Beppe Grillo's Five Star Movement is anti-austerity, but what is its view on the EU in general?


            And what, exactly, does Eugenio Battaglia mean by a "real Europe of nations"?  Political union along the lines of a United States of Europe?


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            • Beppe Grillo and the EU (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/03/13 6:45 AM)
              In response to JE's questions of 2 March, I do not closely follow the positions of Italy's political leaders, as I do not hold any of them in high esteem.

              However, I believe that Beppe Grillo and by now the great majority of Italians are convinced that we need a political union along the lines of the United States of Europe, with great ideas and not with bureaucrats who just argue about the length of zucchini and obsess on financial problems.


              A great idea can solve our financial problems, but finance matters will never create a great community; at most it will create some rich (and hated) men and women.


              By the way, if it is true that the world's bank computers are circulating eleven times the amount of the money that can be ever actually be produced, the financial problems will never be solved following the rules of the "banksters" and the politicians who follow their orders. New ideas are needed.


              JE comments: Views on the EU seem to converge on one point: no more status quo. Following the Biblical adage, everyone criticizes Europe for being neither hot nor cold--some seek greater political union, and others want to scuttle the whole endeavor.


              "Because thou art lukewarm--neither cold nor hot--I will spue thee out of my mouth" (Revelations 3:16).


              I can never envision a United States of Europe, as the most nations would rebel against the assumption that it would be run from Berlin. The UK fought two wars against this idea. Small nations would fight to achieve a political voice disproportionate to their populations.


              It's an impasse.  In the meantime, Europe holds its mouth and hasn't spewed yet.


              (I'd also like to revisit Eugenio Battaglia's thoughts on European banking. Isn't the whole point of finance to circulate more money than actually exists?

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          • UKIP Defections; Marta Andreasen (Nigel Jones, UK 03/02/13 4:46 AM)
            John Eipper (1 March) asks a very pertinent question: whether any UKIP Members of the European Parliament have gone over to the dark side, (i.e., become EU enthusiasts) once they have tasted the not inconsiderable fleshpots of Brussels and Strasbourg--the two cities where the European Parliament sits. (Not the least of the EU's outrageous expenses is that the French, for reasons of national pride, refuse to let the Parliament sit permanently in Brussels, the EU's "capital city," with the result that every few weeks, the whole enterprise, at vast expense, uproots itself and moves to France's Strasbourg. Imagine the US Congress shutting between Washington and, say, Philadelphia on a regular basis, and you'll get some idea of the scale of this absurdity.)

            UKIP certainly suffers from the endemic disease of small parties (e.g., the Liberal Democrats)--viz. scandals and infighting affecting their members. Indeed it is true that two of their early MEPs (Members of the European Parliament) got caught--and jailed--for fiddling their expenses. Another, a brash egotistical former Labour MP turned TV personality called Robert Kilroy-Silk, after briefly dazzling the party, imploded and stomped off to form another, Veritas, which sunk without trace.



            And a couple have left the UKIP group, one sitting as an Independent, the other, David Campbell-Bannerman, defecting to the Tories. To balance that, a prominent Tory Eurosceptic MEP, Roger Helmer, defected from the Conservatives to join UKIP. Most sensationally, last week, in an obviously long-planned move, Marta Andreasen, the Argentinian-born, Danish-descended, Spanish-residing British MEP accountant who blew the whistle on the endemic and massive fraud at the heart of the EU's finances, also defected to the Tories in an unsuccessful effort to damage UKIP's Eastleigh by-election campaign. She had been a public critic of UKIP's charismatic leader, Nigel Farage, since at least 2009, and in a parting shot described him as "misogynist" and "Stalinist" which, if true, rather begs the question of why he had tolerated her for so long without shipping her to the Gulag, and if the misogynist label were true, why the two most successful UKIP candidates in recent elections, including Eastleigh, were...ahem...women.



            Farage is what we in England call a "Marmite" personality (after a common yeast-derived sandwich spread)--i.e., you either love him or hate him. But one thing is certain, UKIP would not be where it is today without him.


            JE comments: The Andreasen defection from UKIP strikes me as a very big deal.  Nigel Jones on 3 January cited her as proof of the party's internationalism:


            http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=74106&objectTypeId=65965&topicId=4980


            By her "Stalinist" pot-shot, was Andreasen suggesting that Farage is creating a cult of personality? A Marmite individual indeed (very cool expression, by the way).


            I've never met an American who can stomach Marmite, or its Australian cousin, Vegemite.

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            • Marta Andreasen (Nigel Jones, UK 03/03/13 5:29 AM)
              I assure JE that the defection of Marta Andreasen from the UKIP is not a "big deal" (John's words of 2 March), as she's not seen as really British (she lives in Spain).

              It made barely a ripple when it happened and has already been forgotten in the media storm over UKIP's Eastleigh success. The woman, to use the vernacular, is a "flake." The real reason for her defection was that she'd been told that she wouldn't make UKIP's slate of European candidates in 2014, as Farage was sick of her constant sniping.


              JE comments: Marta Andreasen used to serve as a counterexample to accusations of UKIP xenophobia, but now that she has defected, she is described as "not really British." Might this become a PR problem? As the UKIP moves forward, do they have other "international" candidates in the wings?


              Americans cannot understand how a UK politician could live in another country (or even city), but MPs in many nations are not required to reside in the districts they represent. Is the notion of "all politics is local" another example of American exceptionalism?


              Here's Wikipedia on Andreasen.  Note that she was born in the most recent country the UK fought in a full-scale war (Argentina), during the presidency of Juan D. Perón (1954):


              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marta_Andreasen


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              • Marta Andreasen; Neil and Christine Hamilton (John Heelan, UK 03/03/13 3:13 PM)
                Nigel Jones regards Marta Andreassen as a "flake" (3 March). He might be correct in his estimation, as I do not know the background. Nigel was also correct when he said (2 March) that UKIP would not exist without Nigel Farage. This is true because Farage, as he boasted to the Foreign Press Association (24 May 2009), promoted UKIP's "get UK out of Europe" message while receiving £2 million in expenses as an MEP in Brussels. (One has to admire his chutzpah!)

                http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/24/mps-expenses-ukip-nigel-farage


                However I would be interested in Nigel's views on the faintly comedic husband/wife team--the Hamiltons--that has been promoting UKIP, not only in Eastleigh but also on a flagship BBC current affairs programme. Neil Hamilton was implicated as a Conservative MP and Minister in the 1994 "Cash for Questions" scandal in the House of Commons. A parliamentary report (the Downey Report) cleared Hamilton of taking bribes, but it did find "compelling evidence" of his receiving cash and benefits as well as misleading the President of the Board of Trade. Appeals to the Courts eventually led to his bankruptcy and resignation from active politics (then).



                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_Hamilton_%28politician%29#.22Cash-for-questions.22



                Subsequently, the Hamiltons appeared on sundry "celebrity" television shows and in pantomime. The formidable distaff side of the partnership, Christine, even appeared in a jungle-based reality TV programme in which she and the other "competitors" were asked to perform gruesome tasks.


                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Hamilton


                While the pair are obviously adept at self-promotion, one wonders at UKIP's PR strategy in welcoming such potential "flakes" to represent its policies. Perhaps it is another example of Farage's chutzpah?


                JE comments:  Farage claimed that the £2 million in expenses were used to promote the UKIP political agenda at home.  That is an awful lot of money for travel and office supplies, although Farage is probably unapologetic about accepting EU largesse to undermine it from within.



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              • Marta Andreasen (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/03/13 3:28 PM)
                It never occurred to me to Google up Ms Andreasen. Now that I've done it, thanks to John Eipper's initiative, I'm perplexed. Its entry is absolutely up to date, included her defection from the UKIP. I get the feeling the Wikipedia entry has been written by some friend of hers.

                My attention was called to an, in my view, extraordinary fact. She is reported to have started work in the Commission in January 2002. In May 2002 she was suspended. Nothing in her CV suggests she was in any way acquainted with the EU before. It takes about a year to come to know the workings of the Commission. On your sector alone, you would need at least three to four months. I submit the reason for her suspension may not have been what she suggested.


                The Commission always gives a reason for decisions regarding personnel. It can be challenged before the Court. Many officials do. The Court is absolutely impartial.


                I also see that among "the recommended literature" is the book by M. Paul Van Buitenen. Its critical or historical value is zilch. Please don't remind me of its role in the resignation of the Santer Commission. I know a little about it and have described it in my Al servicio de Europa.


                JE comments:  It does seem that Ms. Andreasen served only five months as the EU chief accountant, which is barely enough time to learn the ropes.


                Here's the link once again:


                http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marta_Andreasen


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                • Marta Andreasen; Thoughts on the EU (David Gress, Denmark 03/04/13 3:55 AM)
                  I defer to Angel Viñas (3 March) as an expert on the inner workings of the EU. However, he is also a man of the EU, one of those who say that the EU is Europe. This is nonsense. Europe existed for millennia before the EU and will, I hope, exist for many millennia after.



                  Europe is a civilization; the EU is a bureaucratic construct. Never confuse the two.



                  Angel says that the Court--what Court?--is impartial. If you believe that, I have a bridge on the East River to sell you. This "Court" gives reasons. Yes, of course, reasons that serve the interests of the EU apparat.



                  Angel also has the grace to denounce Paul van Buitenen's book as "zilch," which is a nice Americanism from an arch-European, but it's wrong: zilch means zero, not nonsense.



                  I fear I do not have the patience to read Angel's EU-worshiping Al servicio de Europa. The title alone puts me off, because we have here again this lamentable identification of the wretched EU, doomed to die, and, one hopes, soon, with Europe, a great civilization, if unfortunately in late stages of decadence.



                  A book with Angel's title should be about the many cultures of Europe and their varied languages, histories, and manners, and would show how the strait-jacket of the EU is strangling all this with its tyrannical impositions. Angel speaks of free trade. Well, Britain trades more with the big world than with the little EU, and will benefit vastly from escaping the EU stranglehold. And that goes for many other countries.



                  Why so many intelligent people have fallen for this collapsing structure will be a subject for future historians. Money may have a lot to do with it: EU jobs are highly paid and very lowly taxed--fifteen per cent--which is enough to attract many opportunists.

                  JE comments: A harsh response from David Gress, who together with Nigel Jones brings the Eurosceptic perspective to WAIS. I think it is a vast oversimplification to suggest that opportunism is what draws people to the EU project; certainly this doesn't apply to Angel Viñas! EU membership is an excellent insurance policy for nations like Spain, which experienced the threat of military takeover as recently as a generation ago. And remember the EC/EU's original raison d'etre: to prevent a new Continental war. So far it's been successful. (Nigel Jones has responded in the past to this argument, and says that it's NATO, not the EU, that has kept Europe's peace since WWII.)


                  "Europe is a civilization; the EU is a bureacratic construct": let's open this point up for discussion.  Is it a universal complaint among Eurosceptics that the word "Europe" has been conflated with the EU?  And what does it mean to call Europe a civilization?  Isn't it many civilizations--as well as a "construct" itself, albeit an ancient one?

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                  • Angel Vinas's *Al Servicio de Europa* (Paul Preston, UK 03/04/13 5:30 AM)
                    David Gress wrote on 4 March, "I fear I do not have the patience to read Angel's EU-worshiping Al servicio de Europa." If he has not read it, how does he know that it is an "EU-worshiping" text? In fact, it is anything but.

                    The title refers to the fact that Ángel himself served the (now) EU in several senior capacities. The book is, in fact, a highly critical insider view of the inner workings and of the way in which national interests were often used for extremely selfish, and at times personal, ends.


                    JE comments: I must get a copy of Ángel's book.


                    Paul Preston reminds us of a fundamental rule of scholarship: don't opine on a book you haven't read. It's only a slightly lesser sin than plagiarism.


                    Should we open up the confessional at WAIS? Have you ever written or talked publicly on a book you haven't read? Alright, I'm guilty--when you're a literature professor, talking about intertextuality and influences and the like, you can't read 'em all.


                    Ángel Viñas (next in the queue) has also sent a reply to David Gress.

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                  • EU and Europe; Response to David Gress (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/04/13 5:43 AM)
                    Well, in response to David Gress (4 March), I must say that I'm aware, at least as much as David is, that the EU is not the equivalent of Europe. For one thing, Europe has existed for a couple of millennia, possibly more. The EU is a political and economic construct. As such, it is prone to failures and even defeat. It is not a bureaucratic construct. To assert this is mere populism.

                    The EU did not come out of nothingness. It came because of two pressing needs. The first one was to make war impossible again in Europe. This meant reconciliation and collaboration in a common endeavor. It started in the 1950s with relatively good results. Obviously, failures were also recorded, viz the stillborn European Defense Community. The second need was to strengthen the economic foundations of Western European societies, which were confronted at that time with an existential common enemy.


                    The UK, DK and others preferred to follow another way. No problem. They started EFTA. They pooled sovereignty to an almost zero extent until finally at least some of them saw the light in the early 1970s and joined. I wonder why.


                    I don´t worship the EU. In fact, I don´t worship anyone. I´m too much of a rationalist.


                    If David thinks that DK would be better off outside the EU, that´s fine with me. He'd have to be followed by his compatriots as well. Let me say again that the Lisbon Treaty provides for divorce. No member State is obliged to remain within the EU! DK and the UK are free to leave but, crucially, they wouldn´t be able to leave for free.


                    Let me point finally to one aspect that isn´t sufficiently discussed. The current crisis has shown that the emperor is without clothes. The Commission is less powerful than ever. Governments have taken over. The fragile equilibrium among the Institutions (Parliament, Commission, Council and European Council) has been distorted in favor of the two Councils. You change the national Governments, you change the Union. If not, and if the national Governments don't change track, the future will be cloudy indeed. This is particularly applicable to Germany, Sweden, Finland and Austria. I don´t mention the NL because they just started enjoying a new one. If, within the compact, they don´t agree to a more sensible common course, I wonder what they would do separately.


                    But here, amongst WAISers, please let's be able to conduct a discussion in rational terms.


                    JE comments: Divorces cost a lot of money; on the domestic micro-level, a divorce can turn one middle-class household into two impoverished ones. Do the Eurosceptics advocating divorce actually sit down with a balance sheet?


                    I've been reflecting more on the EU-Europe semantic distinction. Actually, I think David Gress has it backwards: Europe is the intellectual construct going back to Noah's son Japheth, while the EU, even if you loathe it, is real--an institution with laws, treaties, and people drawing a salary from it.


                    Next at bat:  Nigel Jones.


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                    • EU and Europe; from Luciano Dondero (John Eipper, USA 03/04/13 12:55 PM)
                      Luciano Dondero, our frequent Guest Contributor from Fuerteventura, Canary Islands, sends these thoughts on our "EU/Europe" discussion:

                      About Europe, I'm afraid the one and only time when such a thing existed, and one could talk of a "European civilization," was when the common language was classical Latin.


                      Was that a peaceful Europe? Well, let's see: within its borders, barring a civil war now and then, and the odd crazed Emperor once in a while, it was pretty much OK. On the outside, it conducted an almost continuous war of expansion. Very successful. Most of the good things we still use today (roads, aqueducts, baths) started at that time. And that also includes a number of cultural/trade things--many of which were lost during the Dark Ages (i.e., when the Church was a very powerful force for obscurantism and backwardness).


                      Latin remained a key tool for facilitating a meeting of minds among intellectuals throughout the region, until out of it came a number of modern languages, which are still spoken by a very great number of people in the world (only Chinese and the Indian languages have more speakers).


                      However, nobody ever managed to rebuild the Roman Empire, no matter how Holy they called it--and then came and an entirely new panorama.


                      European countries, first as smallish kingdoms and fiefdoms, then as nation-states, spent most of the time at war among themselves, and with certain foreign powers (various Arabic kingdoms, the Ottoman empire), before starting the Conquest of the New World and the enslavement of Africa and then Asia.


                      Gandhi, when they asked him about "Western (i.e. European) civilization," replied: "It would be a good idea."


                      Perhaps his viewpoint was informed by events in South Africa and India, and thus not too keen on viewing Europe as oh so wonderful!


                      Regarding the EU, clearly it's pretty messy--the 4 March post by Angel Viñas ("EU and Europe; Response to David Gress") seems almost obvious--however, Europe has been kept mostly at peace for the longest time ever since SPQR ruled the waves, and that's not something to be laughed at!


                      In Italy, the party that got the largest single vote (M5S, Grillo's party) wants to abandon the Euro: that shows they don't have the faintest idea about anything real--imagine Italy with its own funny little Lira, we would be paying some millions of Lire just for a coffee if we had not joined the eurozone, and I don't think things would be much better elsewhere in Europe (Germany excepted, probably).


                      Please also keep in mind that the EU has now absorbed a great chunk of the "buffer states" without too many problems (beside criminality).


                      Quite viable this EU, it would seem; it's not really the shambles Eurosceptics make it out to be...


                      JE comments:  It's been a long time since I last heard that Gandhi quote.  Priceless.

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                  • Has the EU Maintained Peace in Europe? (Nigel Jones, UK 03/04/13 6:07 AM)
                    In replying to an excellent Eurosceptic post by David Gress (March 4th), John Eipper writes that "Nigel Jones has responded in the past to this argument..." (viz: that the European Union has kept the peace in Europe).

                    Yes, but evidently not effectively enough, because John repeats it again, forcing Nigel Jones to respond once more. It is NATO, not the European Union, that kept the peace in Europe since WWII for the simple reason that the EU has not (yet) a single soldier at its command--though it has absurd and sinister designs in the direction of acquiring an army, or at least a brigade.


                    Several EU states, notably France, deeply resent the "Pax Americana" that fought and won the Cold War, but their hostility does not make it less true.


                    But actually, it's not entirely true that there has been peace in Europe since WWII. The Yugoslavian conflict of the 1990s cost the lives of many thousands and broke up the Yugoslav federation. The EU, in the form of a ludicrous Italian politician with a ridiculous "mullet" hairstyle whose name escapes me, made frantic but totally ineffectual attempts to halt the conflict. In the end, of course, it was NATO armed force which brought the warring parties to the conference table and eventually ended the war. So the one EU effort to keep the peace in Europe was a total failure. Quelle surprise!


                    JE comments: We'll never be able to "prove" what institution has kept the peace in Europe. Rather, we should feel blessed that except for the local and very sad case of Yugoslavia, peace has reigned since 1945. But is it armies that preserve the peace in Europe, as Nigel Jones claims? Economic cooperation/integration is the more powerful force. For example, I'm absolutely convinced that our intertwined economies are the reason China and the US maintain an uneasy, and in many ways unnatural, peace.

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                    • Has the EU Maintained Peace in Europe? Yugoslavia (Nigel Jones, UK 03/05/13 3:16 AM)
                      To describe the bloody conflict that broke up Yugoslavia as merely "local" as John Eipper did (4 March) rather trivialises the conflict. Yugoslavia was a horrendous tragedy resulting in the deaths of 140,000 people--about twice the number of Americans killed in Vietnam, which rightly is regarded as a national trauma.

                      Not only did the European Union lamentably fail in its pathetic efforts to end the conflict, but the fate of Yugoslavia foretells the fate of the European Union itself--and all other artificial, mullti-ethnic constructs cobbled together by an elite without consulting the people.


                      Yugoslavia is also an awful warning of the persistence of national feeling--made all the more virulent by being artificially repressed. The ancient rivalries of Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Bosnians, and Macedonians, did not disappear under Communism, they merely went underground to fester. Similarly, the ancient feuds and rivalries that divide Europe will not be overcome by the European Union, whose existence is rather serving to exacerbate them.


                      JE comments: I certainly didn't intend to trivialize the Yugoslavian wars. They were grisly, fratricidal conflicts. The Detroit area received a large number of Bosnian refugees, including a close friend of my stepson, who as an infant lost her father in a Serbian concentration camp.


                      My intention was to draw a distinction between Yugoslavia and the continent-wide wars of the 20th century.


                      Angel Viñas (next in the queue) reminds us that Yugoslavia was outside the EU at the time of the 1990s Balkan wars.

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                      • Yugoslavia and Vietnam Wars Compared (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/07/13 6:14 AM)
                        Nigel Jones wrote on 5 March:

                        "Yugoslavia was a horrendous tragedy resulting in the deaths of 140,000 people--about twice the number of Americans killed in Vietnam, which rightly is regarded as a national trauma."



                        It is a little misleading to compare the total dead of one war to the military deaths of just one side in another war.



                        The Vietnam War actually killed several million people, including at least a million (and possible several million) civilians, and around a million and a half soldiers. I'm sure that any implication that the civil war in Yugoslavia was similar in scale to the Vietnam War was unintentional on Nigel's part, but I think it's worth setting the record straight anyway. Yugoslavia was horrifying (like all wars), but it was very tiny conflict compared to the major wars of the 20th century, of which the Vietnam War was probably the fifth most murderous.

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                    • Has the EU Maintained Peace in Europe? Yugoslavia (Angel Vinas, Belgium 03/05/13 3:29 AM)
                      When I was younger and bit more pugnacious, I used to work on the NATO dossier for the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously I had been the liaison officer between the Ministry of Economics and the Defence Ministry. My fourth book dealt with the security relationship between Spain and the United States. In the European Commission I was in charge of security policy at a director´s level. Much to my regret I cannot let pass by Nigel Jones's post (4 March) on the EU and the maintenance of peace.

                      1. Before the EU was even remotely thought of, who was the future enemy for the victorious Western allies? Would you say the USSR? No. It was a resurgent Germany.


                      2. What was the first steps in the reorientation of the future enemy? The Washington Treaty. NATO was a follow-up. What was the European response? The EDC. Sunk by the French. Who was the first country in Western Europe to denationalise its security policy? Western Germany. Did the remaining members follow? Nope. They simply started loving the old Wehrmach enemies. And yes. NATO maintained the peace in Europe. In fact the glue for Western Europe wasn´t NATO. It was the perception of a common enemy. The USSR was the real catalyst.


                      3. The EU is a creature of WWII and the Cold War. But in some ways it has gone further than NATO. It has integrated the economies of its Member States in such a way that war amongst them has become an absolute impossibility. (I note that the UK and Denmark remained aloof when the ECSC was launched, but even the more dedicated "NATOist" would agree than when you pool the sovereignty about the coal and steel sectors of a few countries, open hostilities become unlikely.)


                      4. France didn't resent the Pax Americana. She did what the UK never had the intention (or the guts) to do. To develop her own nuclear risposte capability and to practice a strategy of the weak against the strong. Mostly for political reasons. However, the French game was always a little more subtle. France left the integrated military command but it established procedures to join it ASAP if things became serious. She never left NATO.


                      5. Yugoslavia was outside NATO and the EU. Its disintegration was a consequence of the implosion of the Soviet Union. Yugoslavia was not in "our Europe." The Bosnian civil war (there were no hostilities in Slovenia and only a few in Croatia) had to do with endogenous factors (multi-ethnicity vs Serbian "imperialism") and exogenous ones (political and diplomatic rivalry between Germany, France, and the UK). Eventually the US had to take the chestnuts out of the fire. A European failure which was substantiated at the negotiating table.


                      6. The EU tried to apply rational approaches to prevent the Yugoslav disintegration process. To no avail. It is difficult for cold reason to conquer romanticism, hypernationalism and irrationalism. These three European cardinal sins start raising their ugly head in today´s Europe. Empathy towards the others is at at all time low.


                      7. Under a Dutch commissioner, Hans van den Broek, the European Commission tried to circumvent the short-sightedness of some of the Member States and prop them toward a deeper collaboration in the defense effort under the umbrella of the Maastricht Treaty. This would have implied the erosion of the exclusion of the defense industries out of the Treaty. What was the response of the Member States? A categorical no.


                      8. Thus if the EU hasn´t done much more in the security area, the major reason is the reticence of Member States which are unable to do anything serious by themselves. France being the exception (Mali). As far as the UK is concerned, British defense analysts are in general agreement that it wouldn´t be able to mount an operation today such as directed against Argentina. When, by the way, Mrs Thatcher could count upon the political support of the remaining Member States. One could fear more about the consequences of the next revision of the strategic review than about NATO praising songs.



                      Meanwhile, let's put the blame where the blame belongs and be a bit serious.


                      JE comments: Romanticism, hypernationalism, and irrationalism--the three cardinal sins of Europe? A combination of the three (plus imperialism) probably brought on the Great War, which itself directly resulted in WWII. Angel Viñas rightly cautions the Continent about a resurgence of any of these -isms.  They do not have a happy track record.

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                    • Has the EU Maintained Peace in Europe? (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/05/13 3:51 AM)
                      When commenting Nigel Jones's post of 4 March, JE wrote:

                      "We'll never be able to 'prove' what institution has kept the peace in Europe. Rather, we should feel blessed that except for the local and very sad case of Yugoslavia, peace has reigned since 1945. But is it armies that preserve the peace in Europe, as Nigel Jones claims? Economic cooperation/integration is the more powerful force. For example, I'm absolutely convinced that our intertwined economies are the reason China and the US maintain an uneasy, and in many ways unnatural, peace."


                      I agree with John that it is not only military force which keeps peace; in fact military force is a force for peace only in specific situations--namely, where it is necessary to deter an aggressive power with aggressive intentions, with its own military force. Where the aggressive intentions never appear in the first place, military power is irrelevant, and that is to a remarkable extent true of post-WWII Europe.


                      Whether the EU (or any of its precursors) played much of a role or not in the high degree of peacefulness in Europe since the end of WWII, I don't think anyone can say for sure--it is pure speculation--but I would guess the truth is not much. Rather the EU and its precursors are a result of the same factors which created peace--a widespread European consensus that more European wars, after the horrors of WWI and WWII, must be avoided at all costs. It is this attitude, I think, most of all, which has prevented any aggressive tendencies with respect to other European countries from appearing anywhere in Europe, leaving aside the aggressive stance taken against each other by the two sides of the Cold War.


                      But the Cold War and how it played out is also an intertwined part of this same story--other than in ugly proxy wars like Vietnam, far from Europe, the Cold War never became hot. Western Europe was somewhat prepared for a military conflict with the Soviets and their satellites, but the conflict never came, thank God, and it never came probably also because Europe had had enough of slaughter after the period of 1914-1945, and great pains were taken to avoid it.


                      So the Cold War and preparations for military conflict with the Communist world was also a major factor keeping peace in Europe--Europe was divided up into two sides, waiting for this big war which thank God never came, and there was not much chance for aggression to appear within these blocs, which would surely have been suppressed anyway by the main powers, during the Cold War itself.


                      And so ironically I think we have to mention nuclear weapons at this point--their existence, and the prospect of the unspeakable horror which would have resulted if they had been used in Europe, probably also played a major role in preventing war in Europe.


                      So all in all, I don't think the EU and its precursors were in any way a cause of any of this--it was merely one other result of the overall situation. The same horror felt everywhere in Europe after 1945 which allowed peace to prevail for decades, allowed politicians to talk voters into giving up sovereignty in favor of a quasi-superstate--it would be necessary, was the spoken or unspoken subtext, to prevent further bloodbaths, and to fix things in Europe once and for all, justifying radical measures.


                      As to China, why would the US and China ever go to war? I find it strange that John presumes that these countries should have a tendency to military conflict. Taiwan might be a causus belli, but would China go to war with the US over Taiwan? Would the US? I think the answer is a firm no in both cases, and I think we have let the Chinese know that we won't go to war over Taiwan, which is why China may grab Taiwan any time now, without any fear of military reprisal.


                      Naturally intertwined economies and mutual economic interests are a powerful force for peace, but that doesn't mean there is any natural tendency to war between the US and China.


                      JE comments: I'll stand corrected on my US-China comment. By "unnatural peace," I was trying to say that China and the US have vastly different political systems and a rivalry for Pacific hegemony. These types of factors lead nations to conflict--but not (and that was my main point) when their economies are so interconnected.



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                      • Politics, Economics, and Peace (Robert Whealey, USA 03/10/13 4:25 AM)
                        When responding to Cameron Sawyer's post of 5 March, JE wrote: "I'll stand corrected on my US-China comment. By 'unnatural peace,' I was trying to say that China and the US have vastly different political systems and a rivalry for Pacific hegemony. These types of factors lead nations to conflict--but not (and that was my main point) when their economies are so interconnected."

                        This is fundamentally weak logic. This philosophical problem begins in the 1880s, when Harvard, Yale, Johns Hopkins, etc., set up two PhD programs in economics and political science. Oxford in 1956 had a basic degree called PPE, Politics, Philosophy, & Economics. The advisers to the Prime Minister are better integrated.



                        The great economists, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, and John Maynard Keynes, all taught "political economy." American lawyers who got a degree from an Ivy League or Big Ten School, all had to have two or more courses in Constitutional Law. The State Department has an Economic Adviser.



                        If the US and China return to a period tension like the 1950-1973 period, the causes of possible military action will have both economic and political causes. Historians of the balance of power system already understood the problem of war and restoring peace, which is normal since 1648. A third cause of all wars has been implicit in the concept of religion and ideology. Wars are caused by ill-educated hack politicians who confuse an ideological problem with political or an economic problem.


                        JE comments: Fuzzy logic is my specialty!


                        Seriously now, I think Robert Whealey and I are on the same page. War invariably has political and economic causes. My (weakly argued...ouch) point about China is that we are on different planets when it comes to politics, but our economies are so connected that an armed conflict is unthinkable. In brief: why would China go to war when we owe them so much money?  It's no longer possible to occupy a nation and exact tribute.  And how could the US fight a war against the nation that makes our shoes, toys, and our soldiers' uniforms?

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            • He Just Smiled, and Gave Me a Marmite Sandwich (John Torok, USA 03/06/13 7:40 AM)
              In response to John Eipper's pronouncement on Marmite (see Nigel Jones, 2 March), I am an American who can stomach Marmite and Vegemite, although I prefer the former. It is true that I spent my "impressionable age," though, in the UK.

              JE comments: Exactly. I would never question John Torok's Americanness, but I'd bet a case of Marmite he spent the crucial years of 2 through 5 in the UK. That's when you develop your fundamental tastes for "comfort food."


              So I'll qualify my original theory: "No American who grew up exclusively in the US of non-British or non-Australian parentage can stomach the Marmite/Vegemite duo."


              We could draw a corollary with peanut butter. Non-Americans cannot stand it. Any European, Asian/Oceanian, or Latin American WAISer fond of peanut butter? I didn't think so--although I'd like to know if this is the case with Thailand and Peru, two nations with peanut-intensive national cuisines.


              John Heelan is a Vegemite/Marmite aficionado.  It's time to re-publish his post of 1 May 2007.  I stand by my "soy sauce marmalade" description of Veg-Mar, but in the meantime I've developed something of a taste for Inca-Kola:


              http://waisworld.org/go.jsp?id=02a&objectType=post&o=15063&objectTypeId=9313&topicId=1


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              • Marmite and Vegemite (Cameron Sawyer, Russia 03/06/13 9:25 AM)
                Marmite/Vegemite is an industrial waste product (a byproduct of brewing), which some ingenious entrepreneur managed to market as a foodstuff. Prior to this marketing coup, breweries had to pay to have it taken away and disposed of. All I can say about it is--to each his own.

                Oh, I would add that children of Russian friends of mine studying in the UK very quickly developed a taste for it. Seems inexplicable to me.


                JE comments: We educators always explain the inexplicable with "it's culture!" (Granted, this won't work with scientific phenomena.)


                Eugenio Battaglia sends his thoughts on peanut butter. His post is next.



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                • Marmite/Vegemite and Peanut Butter (Robert McCabe, France 03/07/13 3:18 AM)
                  As a Minnesotan who grew up on peanut butter (Peter Pan a preference) in the 1930s and remains hooked, as a discoverer of Marmite and Vegemite during a long 1960s residence in Hong Kong, and now a Paris resident since the '70s exposed to Marmite, Skippy peanut butter (smooth and chunky) and even a fancier of French peanut butter (made in Strasbourg), I normally would claim all sorts of high recognition from the World Peanut Butter Community. As a PB Missionary, in Bavaria, back in the 1950s, I earned the huge gratitude of a German refugee family and their friends by smuggling to them peanut butter straight from the Garmisch PX.

                  But I must confess there's a flaw in my resume. I much dislike peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. These, the staple food of hundreds of thousands of American lunchboxes, are an early sign of debilitation and definitely to be avoided.


                  As for labeling innocent stuff like Marmite as an "industrial waste product," I feel Gospodin Sawyer is treading on marshy ground. I have an English son-in-law, born and bred on the product, whom I just might unleash. He is 6'4", a star soccer player and devoted father, whose only signs of ferocity occur when someone hides his Marmite.


                  In response to John Torok (6 March):


                  Selamat pagi! You might add Indonesia to your peanut-favoring cuisines. Their cabbage and peanut oil salad is great.


                  I like (crave?) both peanut butter and Marmite/Vegemite, and (anent JE's definition) "grew up exclusively in the US, of non-British or Australian parentage, from the ages of zero to 23." I cannot believe I am alone.


                  And one of the great world treats is a peanut butter and bacon sandwich, preferably toasted.


                  To digress slightly: in my childhood I invented a peanut-butter, ham and mayonnaise sandwich, with plenty of potato chips in the middle. The chips, when the sandwich was crushed slightly in the hand, created a sort of cement that held the whole mess together.


                  JE comments: Peanut butter, ham, potato chips and mayonnaise? Robert McCabe may have found the best illustration yet of American exceptionalism!  With all respect to Bob, the sandwich sounds pretty yucky.  I've never tried PB and bacon, but it looks good on paper.  Unless you're Muslim or Jewish, everything tastes better with bacon.


                  I'm very happy to see my Marmite and peanut butter theories debunked. Next up, a note from Henry Levin. It seems there is at least one peanut butter fan from Catalunya.

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                  • Peanut Butter in Siberia, and a Recipe from Elvis (Randy Black, USA 03/08/13 5:56 AM)

                    In reply to Robert McCabe (7 March), peanut butter, Skippy-Chunky, was nearly always my favorite sandwich as a grade school brat. Later, I graduated to peanut butter and strawberry jelly, and never any other flavor of jelly to this day.



                    Finally out of school in the late 1960s, rarely did a month pass that I did not make myself a late night peanut butter sandwich or take peanut butter and Ritz crackers snack to work.



                    When I arrived in Omsk in January 1993 as a mid-40s stranger in a strange land, I did not find a single jar of peanut butter anywhere. When I asked, my newly found Russian pals and the store clerks looked at me like I was from Mars. I resigned myself to a year without it. For that matter, even bread was rationed throughout the entire year, as were sugar, salt, flour and other staples.



                    By mid-April, winter was beginning to melt away in my little corner of Siberia.  It was a bright Saturday in the high 20s as I strolled the two miles to the sports center where I played indoor tennis. Two hours later, as I took a different way back to my dorm, I found a small food store that seemed to have some goods for sale instead of the usual mostly empty shelves.



                    I stumbled into the store. Lo and behold, it looked like someone had knocked over a train car full of Peter Pan Peanut Butter! No one was buying it, however, due to the $3 per jar cost and perhaps due to their unfamiliarity with the product. Minimum wage that year was something like $9 per month (sic) and plenty of people were struggling to get by on such a small wage or a bit more. My graduate student-teaching assistant at the university earned $14 per month. Professors and visiting lecturers (me) earned the sterling sum of $21 per month in the winter of 1993 in Omsk.



                    I dug into my backpack and came up with $3 in rubles, the old ones with Lenin's profile on them, and quickly purchased a jar. Three of my students saw me through the window, came in and asked what I was buying. I explained that it was the preferred lunchtime snack of nearly all American children.



                    They seemed very interested, but were two dollars short. I chipped in another $3, they got their jar and stationed themselves on the park bench in front of the store while I picked out a few other items for my pantry.



                    By the time I left the store, they'd nearly emptied the jar, one finger of peanut butter at a time. To them, it was an exotic dip, but without the crackers.



                    They had literally gone through a 16oz. jar in about 15 minutes. "You're supposed to spread it on bread and make sandwich," I explained.



                    "Mr. Black, the bakery will not have more bread until tomorrow morning and we didn't want to wait." Anything "the American" wanted seemed to be high on everyone's list.



                    A week later, the word must have gotten around, because my second trip for more peanut butter was a wild goose chase. The shelves were once again mostly barren.



                    By the way, the following is apparently the recipe for Elvis's favorite sandwich:



                    Ingredients


                    2 slices white bread

                    2 tablespoons butter

                    1 small ripe banana

                    2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter


                    Directions


                    Place 2 pieces of white bread in the toaster on a light setting. Heat skillet over medium heat with 2 tablespoons butter. While the bread is toasting, in a small bowl, using a fork mash the ripe banana until it reaches a smooth consistency. Using a knife, take both pieces of the toasted bread and spread 2 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, topping 1 side with the mashed banana. Place 1 slice of bread on top of the other forming a sandwich. Place sandwich in hot skillet browning each side, flipping with a spatula, about 2 minutes per side. Take out of skillet, slice on a diagonal and serve on a plate.


                    Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/nigella-lawson/elvis-presleys-fried-peanut-butter-and-banana-sandwich-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback


                    JE comments:  Serve on a plate--ah, I insist on them!  This charming (and utterly convincing) billboard was visible in Brooklyn for many years.  I don't know if it's still there:






                    Sorry for the digression, Randy, but thank you for the fried banana sandwich recipe.  It's a snack fit for The King!

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              • Peanut Butter (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 03/06/13 9:29 AM)
                I eat peanut butter from time to time, but it reminds me of the period immediately after WWII, when the UNRA in North Italy started to circulate peanut butter, egg powder, soup powder, etc.

                Such items were also sent to families from their Italian-American relatives. There is a joke (it may have been in an Italian movie or it may have been the truth): a family receives a package from Brooklyn with various things including peanut butter, egg powder and some gray powder with no message.


                The family very happily ate all it, including the gray powder which made a dull soup.  This was justified as a strange American taste. But a couple of days later, a letter arrived which explains that together with the food from Brooklyn, the ashes of a deceased uncle have been sent, as he wanted to be buried in his old hometown.


                My daughter, who considers herself American, of course eats peanut butter, chocolate chip cookies and all other possible American stuff.


                JE comments: A classic.  Poor Uncle Luigi may have tasted no worse than the peanut butter...

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                • A Food Joke from the Philippines (Bienvenido Macario, USA 03/07/13 3:56 AM)

                  Eugenio Battaglia's anecdote (6 March) about the Italians who unknowingly eat their uncle's ashes reminds me of a Filipino joke about two showbiz personalities-turned-senators famous for murdering the English language.



                  The two senators are in a contest:


                  Question: "What do you call someone who eats nothing but vegetables?"


                  Answer: "Vegetarian."


                  Question: "What do you call those who eat only fruits?"


                  Answer: "Fruitarian."


                  Question: "What do you call those who also eat people?"


                  Answer: "Humanitarian."


                  Where I grew up in the Philippines, peanut butter was popular. I don't know if this is still the case, though.


                  JE comments:  This gives the Humanities a whole new meaning!
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              • A Yes for Peanut Butter (Tor Guimaraes, USA 03/06/13 12:54 PM)
                JE's statement: "...peanut butter. Non-Americans cannot stand it. Any European, Asian/Oceanian, or Latin American WAISer fond of peanut butter? I didn't think so..." (6 March), is absolutely false. I love peanut butter (chunky, with no emulsifiers, and I throw the oil away), and eat it quite often on toast with fresh fruits.

                When my children were younger, my wife would disguise the peanut butter and wheat germ with honey nut Cheerios for a most delicious combination. When I was growing up in Brazil, everyone I knew loved peanuts. It was common to make delicious "passoca" from grounded roasted peanuts, mixed with grounded roasted cassava (mandioca). Thus, I have enjoyed peanut butter all my life under Brazilian and American passports.


                JE comments: I'm always happy to be set straight on my sweeping cultural generalizations! But what about the "passoca" factor? Doesn't this mean that Brazilians are already accustomed to a peanut butter of sorts?

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                • Another "Aye" for Peanut Butter (Henry Levin, USA 03/07/13 3:41 AM)
                  Pilar Soler, who has lived in Spain, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, and the US, adores peanut butter (without additives). Her brother, who lives in Venezuela, also loves it.

                  JE comments: Henry Levin is referring to his charming wife Pilar, whom I had the chance to meet a year or so ago in Ann Arbor. The three of us enjoyed a Mexican (and peanut butter-free) lunch, but if I had only known Pilar's preferences...


                  When Hank returns from his conference in Sweden, I hope he can ask his brother-in-law to comment on the transition in Venezuela. Perhaps, if the Chávez-era shortages come to an end, peanut butter will be more widely available.

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