Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Georgia



Part of the definition of Sovereignty is the ability of a distinct body to make agreements with other bodies, without interference from outside parties. When this Sovereign is a Monarch, they are the final decision making authority, and we assume they agree with themselves (ignoring our internal conflicts). Sovereignty as the ability to make agreements therefore requires recognition to mean anything. I can't sign a contract with you if I don't recognise you. Georgia has two areas that are in dispute. The Republic of Abkhazia is only recognised by Russia, Nicaragua, Venezuela, and NauruSouth Ossetia is recognised by the first three. Georgia says the two areas are under Russian occupation, and are legally a part of Georgia.

Strange Bedfellows

French Revolution

The Enlightenment and Racism were bedfellows. That doesn't make sense to me. The French and American Revolutions birthed both Nationalism and Democracy, but at the same time set the scene for profound Apartheid that wasn't as much of a thing before then. Yes, class has deep roots in most cultures as a way of organising societies (know your place), but as Empires spread, they typically married power to power with scant regard for race. As sovereignty shifted from 'the divine right of kings' to the people... you had to define the people. We think in stories. Stories categorise. Using characteristics such as ethnic origins, language, religion, customs and history became a way to tell a new story that empowered 'the people'. That story of empowerment also had unintended consequence

Tired of being controlled
American Revolution

Monday, March 27, 2017

Finland



"We are not Swedes, we do not want to become Russians, let us therefore be Finns

Having previously been part of Sweden, six counties were ceded to Russia as part of peace negotiations. This gave semi-autonomy for Finns within the Russian Empire (1809), and independence in 1917. A Country is defined by geographical features or lines on a political map. A State is a set of governing principles and supportive institutions. A Nation is a common essence - religion, language, customs or history. Every element of a Nation is a story. Told well, that story becomes shared.  The Northern Crusades of the 12th and 13th century were used to subjugate the pagan neighbours. The Finns had then long been caught between the conflicting Swedes and Russians, trying to out-subjugate. The Nationalists felt that due to their repeated use as a battlefield, it would be in the country's best interest to seek autonomy. No one wants to be a pawn. Pushing back on being used is a good story.

Swedish Empire v Tsardom of Russia

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Estonia



Estonian have been ruled by various other nationalities - Germans, Danish, Swedes and Russians etc. Like in Australia, wars have a way of forging national identities. Estonia got its independence from the Russian Empire towards the end of World War I, but was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940. Nazi Germany pushed them out a year later, but the Soviets returned in 1944 on the East side of the newly descended iron curtain. Independence returned in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It has a population of 1.3 million people, and is further divided into 15 counties. In 2014 Estonia launched a program aimed at location-independent Entrepreneurs (e.g. developers and writers). E-residents who aren't Estonian can benefit from banking, company formation, payment processing and taxation.

Creating nationality through stories, song and language

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Denmark


During various Ages of Migration, the Jutes, Angles and Saxons invaded and settled in Britain. The modern country they came from is Denmark. Not that they would have known. The broader idea of Denmark only came in the 10th century as a Kingdom unified. The various sea-faring cultures fought for control of the Baltic Sea. Like Muhammad formed the idea of a unified Muslim Ummah (community) out of warring tribes, the Germanic tribes wouldn't have seen themselves as Germanic tribes. Unity tends to come when someone powerful happens to also be able to tell a good story that is better than lingering vendettas. Denmark includes two constituent countries - The Faroe Islands and Greenland. It was once united with Norway and Sweden in the Kalmar Union. It is among the founding members of the European Union, NATO, the Nordic Council, and the United Nations. Identities change when interests change.



Friday, March 24, 2017

In Praise of Mediocrity (Tim)



I am the product of excellent schooling during an era when white South Africans were uniquely privileged, so it’s hardly surprising that I know some very ambitious and successful people. What’s surprising is that a few of us are not particularly ambitious, nor are we successful in the conventional sense of the word. What’s more, in the fifteen years that I’ve lived my life as an itinerant English teacher, I’ve met a lot of other unambitious folks, and they are a breath of fresh air.

It’s only human for us evaluate our lives through a critical lens from time to time, and I suspect that many of us feel like we are falling short of some kind of ideal. That’s because now more than ever the media and popular culture are peddling the dogma that we must wring the very last drop of effort out of our lives to ensure that we are the best that we can possibly be. Mere happiness is no longer sufficient; only excellence will suffice.

If that obese 65-year-old woman with one leg can do it, then you had better get off your arse and run a marathon too. If all it takes is hard work, why haven’t you learnt to brew your own beer from raw ingredients, or write your own computer program? Basically the implication is; why are you content with your mediocre life? It may not be that explicit, but the ‘Just do it, Impossible is nothing’ mantra is telling you that the only reason you don’t have a Ferrari in the garage, and six-pack abs is lack of effort. So, by extension, you should feel guilty about it.

By the bizarre standards of our hyper-ambitious age, you should feel guilty about not working overtime, not losing sleep, not sweating blood to achieve ‘exceptional’ goals. You should feel guilty about being merely content. Well, I’m here to tell you that that’s bullshit. What exactly is this ephemeral ‘excellence’ that we’re supposed to be aiming for? How is it better than contentment? Surely the ultimate goal of all our effort is just happiness. 

Survival is good enough

The great lie of advertising is that you need more stuff to be happy, and thanks to an onslaught of likeminded media, even some as benign as TED talks, we’re all infected by the idea that if we can just reach that goal of (fill in the blank), then we’ll be happy. But of course, this is nonsense. Why peg your happiness on some future state when you can be happy in the present? All you have to do is appreciate what you have.

Appreciation v Progress

I’m not saying that goals are pointless, but I do suspect that our grandparents’ generation was happier in many ways because they knew how to be content. They knew when they had enough stuff, and they appreciated the simple pleasure of spending time with family and friends, or just being alone, doing nothing in particular. To those of you who are happy with your lot in life, and are content to keep it that way, I think you have achieved the goal that many ambitious souls are longing for.  To the contented mediocre, I salute you! 

Czech Republic



The Germanic tribes (aka the Barbarians) that toppled the Western Roman Empire started off by electing leaders of the ad hoc coalitions. Eventually the French monarchy was hereditary. The Holy Roman Empire was in theory elective. The Bishop of Rome was the Pope. The King of Rome was the Emperor. One of the electors was the King of Bohemia. Originally all free men had a vote.... then the ruling few chose and got approval... then it simply became a rubber stamp of a Habsburg. A Bohemian Revolt in 1618 was one of the triggers for the Thirty Year War. The Habsburgs were Catholic and wanted religious uniformity. The Protestant Bohemians wanted to join a Protestant Union. They lost and were 'Germanized'. In 1806, the Czech language saw a revival through Romantic Nationalism. The idea that a nation derives its political legitimacy because of shared language, race, culture, religion and customs in a primal sense. It was a rebellion against outside control.

It is the music of the people who will not be slaves again
French Revolution 1830

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Cyprus


Cyprus is the third biggest island in the Mediterranean. The two biggest (Sicily and Sardinia) are part of Italy. The Republic of Cyprus occupies the southern part of the island, with the northern bit disputed with Turkey (recognised by Turkey as an independent state). The other island nation in the Med is Malta. Cyprus came under British Administration in 1878. The Sultan ceded the island to Britain to use as a base to protect the Ottoman Empire from Russian aggression.  When alliances changed, the island was formally annexed in 1914. In the 1950s there were claims on Cyprus from both Turkey and Greece. Independence was granted in 1960. Law can mean reality, but not always. Although the Republic has de jure (in law) sovereignty over the island, it is de facto (in fact) in three parts - 59% Republic, 36% Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and 4% UN buffer zone. Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004. Turkey started accession negotiations with the EU in 2005.

Cyprus Karaoke