The internet is a wide, rolling river of information. It can be treacherous and dangerous to wade into if you’re not careful. If you’re looking for a cool drink of truth, the muddy brown of this mighty Mississippi of data often has a harsh stench of bias bubbling along with the waves. What can a reader thirsty for knowledge do?
The answer is to seek the source – the cool, clear stream that feeds into the torment at the headwaters. I call it the “Urquelle”, a German word meaning “original source” favored in the mountains and rolling hills that are the source of so many great rivers in Bavaria and Bohemia. This process of seeking out primary sources is valuable not just for writers, for whom primary sources have long been a staple of good, useful prose. As surely as reading is writing, today’s discerning reader should also seek the Urquelle.
Twenty years ago I was working in Germany, staying in the small town of Burghausen on the Austrian border. The cycle of holidays that mark the progress of the daily life of the town festooned red, white and blue as they turned towards “French Week” early in the Bavarian Spring. Buses of people from their sister city of Fumel, France came in and the menus in all the restaurants were replaced with copies in French. Burghausen celebrated the arrival of their guests as a family reunion of sorts.
I asked Herr Miterer, owner of the Hotel Post where I was staying, if this “European Union” was going to be successful. His piercing Teutonic glance betrayed the seriousness before he said a word. “It has to,” he said quietly, “We’ve seen the alternative.” Without moving his eyes he pointed to a picture of on the wall of this beautiful little inn that he and his family ran, taken in 1945. The top floor had been blown off and rubble littered what had become the biergarten.
The earnestness of Miterer comes back to me as the latest round of Greek crisis bubbled through the news this week. We’ve seen the alternative. Yet, somehow, it is never quite enough for Europe, this strange forced marriage that stays together for the kids, for the ideals, and for the sheer obligation of it all.
A game of chess has been waged for decades over a part of the world that has seen more than its share of similar games over the last 2,000 years. Turkey, as the crossroads between continents, has always been at the heart of many games of geopolitical intrigue that have sometimes flared into war. Lately, however, the flares have been gasflares ignited along its periphery – valuable fuel often burned as a by-product with nowhere to go.
The game this time is all about putting a pipeline across Turkey to bring that natural gas into Europe. And for a variety of odd reasons, March is a critical month for how it will be played out. The key players are all sources of natural gas – Russia, Iran, and Israel. We will likely know in a month just who wins and who loses.
If you can think of two things no one would like to do in Russia at the end of January, standing around in a line and fighting a war come to mind pretty easily. But that’s exactly what seems to be in the cards for far too many Russians as the Ukraine and economic crises continue howling like a bitter wind that never ceases.
The acceleration of both appears to be assured right now, especially if the West continues to link aggression in Ukraine with more economic sanctions – which at this point will have to be severe to be considered “new”. The new Cold War is definitely on, but there are no assurances that it will continue to be cold much after the freeze of midwinter.
What is this thing we call the “Europe”? Is it an aspiration or a government? Is it a business agreement or a marriage? Is it simply a mass of land that many different people share?
While Ukraine fights a nasty civil war over the desire by many to join Europe, the UK is starting to question whether it belongs. Where the European Central Bank (ECB) has given its stamp of approval or withheld it for many important banks a scramble has taken place to comply at all cost.
Whatever it is, Europe has always moved in many directions at once. The last few months even moreso.
The devastation continues in Ukraine as the civil war shows no signs of ending. As many as 3,700 people have been killed as human rights abuses have been alleged on both sides of the conflict. Eastern Ukraine is in ruins.
But the real loser in this conflict may yet be Russia. Wars these days are fought not just with gunpowder but with money, and while Putin has generously given weapons to his allies in Ukraine he is sitting on a very weak nation that has been sealed off from the West. We can expect him to keep fighting, as would be his style, in both ways – but this could be an extremely long Winter for both nations.
As US bombing runs extend across Iraq, and now into Syria, many people in the US have started to worry about our open-ended commitment to be the policeman of the world. The powerful counter argument is that ISIL is so dangerous it must be wiped out. Where did this threat come from?
If you believe one conspiracy theory popular in the Middle East, it’s a creation of the US – for the purpose of doing just what we’re doing now.
While this comes from a region of many conspiracy theories, hatched by governments like Iran with strong propaganda needs, it’s actually a common type of conspiracy theory. It comes from looking at the result of a world event and then working backwards to determine that the outcome must have been planned by nefarious forces. Such “Hindsight Conspiracies” are part of the news cycle these days – despite almost always being pathetically wrong.