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Month: December 2015 (page 1 of 4)

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Most-Read Article for November 2015

December 31st, 2015 5:45am Posted In: Energy Security & Supply, Nord Stream Pipeline, Russia, Germany, Featured Articles, Nord Stream 2

*first published 22 November 2015*

Speaking at the Atlantic Council Energy and Economic Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, City College Professor Alan Riley, City Law School, London, not only showed various ways in which the Nord Stream II project contravenes European Union energy regulations, but also unveiled a transcript on a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Germany’s Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy that puts the plans to build the Nord Stream-II pipeline in a very embarrassing light.

According to Prof. Riley, in the transcript from 28 October, Germany’s Minister of Energy, Sigmar Gabriel, informs President Putin that Germany need not concern itself with EU law vis-á-vis the Nord Stream-II project.

Prof. Riley quoted the transcript: ?’Germany will strive to ensure that all this remains under the competence of the German authorities, so if we can do this then opportunities for external meddling will be limited.

?I’m assuming ‘external meddling’ means the European Commission applying European law will be limited,? explained Prof. Riley, who quipped that he didn’t need MI6 for the transcript, which was actually available on the Kremlin’s website.

He commented, ?This is, surely, a huge ‘own goal.’ The European Commission has been red flagged on this; so has most of Central & Eastern Europe and the UK.?

Prof. Riley says that these communications could cause difficulty for Russian-German cooperation on Nord Stream-II as well as resulting in intensive scrutiny of such an approach for the project.

Nord Stream-II, the proposal to build a second set of pipelines in addition to Nord Stream, from Russian waters in the Baltic all the way to Germany via the Baltic sea has faced contention from several Eastern European countries, who say the project is designed to circumvent Ukraine and flies in the face of current diversification efforts. 

A shareholders’ agreement was signed in September for the Nord Stream-II project, involving Shell, E.ON, ENGIE, Gazprom, and BASF.

Among the questions surrounding the project include the Energy Union’s strategy for the diversification of European gas security, an emphasis on creating a single market for gas for the whole of the European Union with a series of interconnections.

?One must ask how creating a direct supply route for 55 bcm [billion cubic metres] of Russian gas into Germany assists European supply security,? Prof. Riley said.

He echoed previous criticisms, which assert that gas from Nord Stream-II is not new supply but taking supply from Ukraine and diverting it through the new Nord Stream pipelines to Germany. The expansion will strip Ukraine of over $2 billion in transit revenues. Prof. Riley also noted that the IMF had recently provided Ukraine $17 billion in loans to maintain stability. ?How does [Nord Stream II] help our Ukraine policy, where we’re trying to support the country’s economic and energy reform??

There are a number of legal issues that could impede Nord Stream II, he said, including the fact that these new Nord Stream strings must be compliant with the rules of the Third Energy Package, which was not fully in force for the original Nord Stream.

He referred specifically to Article 11, which he called the ?Gazprom clause.?

?If you have a transmission pipeline owned by a non-EU owner (or they may have control), then it requires certification under Article 11, one of the criteria of which is that it doesn’t threaten European energy security.?

Given the implications for European supply security, he said he doesn’t see much chance of certification.

Moreover, Prof. Riley points out that for member states in Central & Eastern Europe (CEE), one of the main supply security values is the fact that gas transits from and through these countries into Western Europe. He said that because it is unlikely that Gazprom would ever cut off natural gas supplies to Western European states, it gives more surety to the countries in CEE that the gas will keep flowing. ?To remove that, you’re undermining their supply security.?

The prospect of getting an exemption for new infrastructure, under Article 36, he said, is problematic, as any exemption needs to enhance competition, in contrast to Nord Stream-II, which would ?increases Gazprom’s market power into the German market and Western Europe.”

He added, ?Again, it’s not new gas; it’s the same gas going in a different direction.?

Now, he reports, to reduce its perceived control of the project, Gazprom has been trying to reduce its percentage stake in the Nord Stream-II project, down from the original 51%. ?I think this is an attempt to escape the Third Energy Package rules, but EU law already deals with the prospect of attempted circumvention of the rules. They don’t look whether you have 51% of the shareholding; they look at whether in fact you have ‘decisive control’?the influence over the operation of the business,? explained Prof. Riley, who said other shareholders may receive gas discounts, for example, or upstream assets.

Finally, because of the publication of the Kremlin transcript, he opined that the European Commission is likely measuring what steps it can take, and Gazprom is unlikely to be able to circumvent the rules.

-Drew Leifheit


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Panorama News

L?Acquital: Legal battle over for six Italian earthquake scientists

In October of 2012, six Italian scientists and a government official were convicted of manslaughter for failing to give warning for the L?Aquila earthquake of 2009 that killed over 300 people. The verdict was terribly misguided and was overturned in November of last year.

The judge justified his decision by saying they failed in characterizing the science and informing this public. This is probably true to a degree, but we must make allowances for scientists and decision makers dealing with potential natural and public disasters with uncertain data. It?s a complicated process and mistakes get made. The argument about reinstating the charges continued. Until now.

Yesterday, Italy?s Supreme Court of Cassation in Rome formally acquitted all the charges against the scientists. That?s the end. It did not make the victims families happy as they are looking for someone to blame.

Bernardo De Bernardinis, the deputy head of Italy?s civil protection department at the time, did NOT get his conviction overturned. He mistakenly over assured the public when the scientists information was effectively ?neutral? about potential danger. The citizens were not given the best information. He received a reduced jail term of two years. There are other allegations that attempts were made to quell the media about the earthquake danger. Let?s hope some valuable lessons were learned.


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Ruling: France Will Remain Fracking Free

December 29th, 2015 4:00pm Posted In: Shale Gas , Recent News, Oil Shales, France, Shale & Unconventionals

This past week, American firm Schuepbach lost its legal action against the French state to be allowed to frack for shale in Southern France.

The Texas-based oil company had sued the French state for years over the abrogation of two permits in Southern France?the licences of Nant and Villeneuve-de-Berg?which were granted before the country’s anti-fracking law passed in 2011. The permits were repealed soon after. 

The administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise in the Paris area rejected the appeal of the American company on December 22, two weeks after the court heard the case. 

This decision has not come as a surprise to most: The public prosecutor called for a rejection of the appeal during the hearing on December, 8.

The decision comes as a relief for environmental activists as well as public officials on the left who strongly oppose hydraulic fracturing. José Bové, a green activist and member of the European Parliament who led the fight was among those who welcomed the news on Twitter. ?It?s a win! Schuepbach dismissed by the administrative court of Cergy. Permits abrogation are upheld in Southern France.?

Meanwhile, a claim from the oil company regarding damages of ?117 million as partial compensation has not been heard yet. A date has still to be set.

As for Total’s appeal regarding the Montélimar permit in the South East, the administrative court of Cergy-Pontoise will consider the case on January 8th. 

Kevin Bonnaud

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The Many Faces of John Berger

Up until the 1970s, British art criticism was predicated on the idea of connoisseurship. Critics like Kenneth Clark and Bernard Berenson?both of whom one Financial Times journalist described as being ?unashamedly elitist in both their work and their lives??were more concerned with matters of attribution, authentication and technique, than with a painting?s relation to a common person?s life. Race, class, gender: these weren?t seen as critical concerns. Aesthetics was ascribed holy importance, and the critic?s role was to help us pray.  

WhenWays of Seeing premiered on the BBC in 1972, it was radical both in style and content. At a time when arts programming generally featured suited men pontificating before fireplaces in their vacation villas, Ways was filmed at an electric goods warehouse, and was anchored by the longhaired, Aztec-print-wearing, leftist intellectual John Berger, who addressed the camera in an equal and non-elitist tone. At a time when critics only concerned themselves with ?aesthetics,? Berger set about revealing the capitalist and colonial ideologies behind much western art, as well as putting forth a major feminist critique of it. Ways of Seeing was pioneering for the ease with which it moved between analyzing the highbrow (e.g. the great masters) and the lowbrow (e.g. advertisements), more importantly, for how it kicked down the supposed distinction between the two. In one memorable scene, Berger compared Ingres?s Grande Odalisque to a photograph in a porno. They were both arranged, in his opinion, to depict ?a woman?s body to the man looking at the picture. This picture is made to appeal to his sexuality. It has nothing to do with her sexuality.?

Grande Odalisque by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, 1814Wikimedia / Louvre

Ways of Seeing had a limited impact when it first aired. The BBC broadcast its first episode at a very late hour ??They didn?t trust us,? Berger later lamented in an interview?but after observing its turn-off rates, which were minimal compared to similar shows, the BBC agreed to screen the next three episodes earlier in the evening. The initial media response was similarly modest. ?There were few reviews,? producer Mike Dibb reflected in an interview, ?The Radio Times did an interview with John, and didn?t publish it.? Slowly, however, the show?s reputation, and Berger?s, began to grow. ?Ways Of Seeing is an eye-opener,? one Sunday Times critic wrote, ?by concentrating on how we look at paintings … he will almost certainly change the way you look at pictures.? 

John Berger is rightly lionized for Ways of Seeing. But the series, in fact, only represents a small part of his larger body of writing. Since the 50s, Berger has regularly produced fiction, nonfiction, polemics, art criticism, screenplays, drama, poetry, and many many unclassifiable books. These include collaborations with photographers, polemics on the migrant experience, personal essays that are really political essays, written correspondences with personalities ranging from Cartier Bresson to Subcomandante Marcos, reflections of having his cataract removed, a book that imagines drawings by Spinoza.

Berger was a painter before he became a writer. Born in 1926, he briefly served in the army before enrolling in London?s Chelsea School of Art in his early 20s. For a few years after that he exhibited around the city. But political events brought his painting career to a premature end. ?The reason I stopped painting at the end of the 40s,? he says in a recent interview:

was what was happening in the world: the threat, above all the threat of nuclear war. This was before the Soviet Union had parity. This threat was so pressing, that painting pictures?that somebody would go hang up on the wall?seemed? [dimissive hand gestures] But to write, urgently, in the press, anywhere, everywhere, seemed so necessary.

Thus, Berger dropped out of art school and channeled his political energy into art criticism and fiction.

Berger?s debut novel, A Painter of Our Time (1958) received such vitriolic criticism?from the poet Stephen Spender, amongst others?for its Soviet sympathies, that its publishers ended up having to withdraw it.  His art criticism, which he began publishing in The New Statesman and Tribune, likewise regularly met with outrage from readers.

Their outraged stemmed from the fact that Berger, who was explicitly Marxist in his views, was willing to criticize big personalities?including Henry Moore, Francis Bacon, and Pablo Picasso?who he saw as producing mystifications, not art. On the flip side, he championed continental painters like Ferdinand Leger and Oskar Kokoschka, as well as older masters like Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet, who offered more uncynical models for the future.

Berger?s essays from the ?50s eventually made their way into his debut collection Permanent Red (1960). (This book?s title reveals enough about his political slant.) There have been several more collections as well as full-length books of art criticism since. These include, The Success and Failure of Picasso (1965), Art and Revolution: Ernst Neizvestny And the Role of the Artist in the U.S.S.R (1969), The Moment of Cubism and Other Essays (1969), The Look of Things: Selected Essays and Articles (1972), About Looking (1980), The Sense of Sight (1993), The White Bird, (1985), Understanding A Photograph (2013).

2000 saw the publication of his Selected Essays, a 600-page tome that provides a generous selection of all his 20th century work. Though Berger has continued to write on art since then, he is not a full-time journalist (he hasn?t been one for decades) and there hasn?t been a Bolaño-style outburst of late writing.

Berger?s newest book doesn?t contain his latest writing. Portraits, recently published by Verso, is a remixing of Berger?s past work, a 502-page collection ordered by chronology of the artists Berger has considered in his fifty-year career as a critic. The first essay begins around 30,000 BC, with an analysis of the Chauvet Cave paintings, and the final essay considers Randa Mdah, a Palestinian sculptor born in 1983. In between, we find work on almost every major painter who lived after 1400?from Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch, to Caravaggio and Frans Hals, all the way through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries with J.M.W. Turner, Edgar Degas, Pablo Picasso, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. What?s astonishing is that like Ways of Seeing, Portraits also manages to rearrange the entire canon of western art.  

On one level, Portraits allows us to see Berger re-evaluate individual artists. Berger has written multiple essays about the same artist several times in his long career. When this is the case, Portraits publishes these essays back to back. Portraits?s entry on Francis Bacon, for example, features three different essays, the first written in 1952, the last in 2008.

PORTRAITS: JOHN BERGER ON ARTISTS, by John Berger502 pages, Verso.

Berger?s first evaluation of Bacon, a 1952 review for the New Statesman was largely negative. He extolled Bacon?s dramatic prowess, but argued that the horror depicted in his work was unrealistic and in fact chic. ?The horror,? of Bacon?s paintings is stimulating, he wrote, ?because it is remote, because it belongs to a life removed from the natural world.? Twenty years on, his evaluation was even harsher. In an essay titled ?Francis Bacon and Walt Disney,? Berger compared Britain?s most famous post-war painter with America?s commercial hero, arguing that ?Both men make propositions about the alienated behavior of our societies; and both, in a different way, persuade the viewer to accept what is.? But his final essay, written in 2002, shows a stunning reversal of his critical opinion. Bacon?s bleak vision, Berger writes:

was nourished and haunted by the melodramas of a very provincial bohemian circle, with which nobody gave a fuck about what was happening elsewhere. And yet ?. and yet the pitiless world Bacon conjured up and tried to exorcise has turned out to be prophetic. 

This statement doesn?t just represent a wavering of personal subjectivity, rather, it is an admission that the world itself has changed, and with it, Berger?s aesthetic subjectivity. This synthesis of aesthetics and history takes us to the heart of Portraits? art critical project.

Formally, Portraits resembles a survey of canonical western art. It is arranged in chronological order, and though there are a few outsider choices (Indian artist F.N. Souza, Scandinavian sculptor Sven Bolmberg) the names you encounter here are in general those you?re likely to find in most art history textbooks. What separates Portraits from other art history books, however, is Berger?s conception of history itself. Unlike most art historians, who assume that the present moment represents a state of maximum enlightenment, Berger repeatedly admits?and even draws our attention to the fact?that his judgments are colored by historical subjectivity. As he writes in ?Between Two Colmars,? first published in About Looking in 1980,

It is commonplace that the significance of a work of art changes as it survives. Usually however, this knowledge is used to distinguish between ?them? (in the past) and ?us? (now). There is a tendency to picture them and their reactions to art as being embedded in history, and at the same time to credit ourselves with an over-view, looking across from what we treat as the summit of history?. This is illusion. There is no exemption from history.

In other words, Berger doesn?t view art history as something that happened, rather as something that continues to happen. Consequently, he finds all absolute judgments (à la Harold Bloom) to be futile. Following this realization, Berger decides to firmly root himself in the present and instead focus on why a particular artwork?be it from 30,000 BC, or 2010?appeals to us today, under present historical conditions. 

A detail of the full-scale reproduction of frescos found at the cave of Pont-D?Arc, also known as the Chauvet cave.Jeff Pachoud / Getty

This is why Portraits is unlike most other books of art history. While most scholars attempt to contribute (or remove) a few new names to the standard art historical story, Berger wants to retellthe entire story itself. The retelling does not include new artists so much as it entails a fundamental change in our relation to each artist. Consider, for example, the opening paragraph of his essay on Egyptian portrait painters from 30,000 BC:

These are the earliest painted portraits that have survived?Why then do they strike us today as being so immediate? ? Why is their look more contemporary than any look to be found in the rest of the two millennia of traditional European art that followed them? The Fayum portraits touch us, as if they had painted last month. Why? This is the riddle.

Berger wants us to understand why 50,000-year-old paintings are relevant right now. On one hand, this approach makes Berger?s essays feel very urgent. On the other, it shows us that art history, like all history, has to be continually rewritten. Only when the historian understands the needs of the present can he elucidate how these needs are answered by the art of the past.

 The 74 essays included in Portraits take on an exhilarating variety of forms. Berger?s essay on Caravaggio, for example, is written as a wrenching love letter from Berger to his wife. There is an exchange of letters between Berger and his daughter about looking at the paintings of Titian. A Holbein essay includes discussions on Dostoyevsky, Courbet, and Rothko?but none on Holbein himself, because Berger went to the wrong museum. The life of Franz Hals is summarized as a three-act play. The sculptures of Degas are the subject of a poem. Interestingly, we even get excerpts from Berger?s fiction: the protagonists from his 1958 first novel A Painter of Our Time meet at a Goya exhibition; Corker of his 1964 novel Corker?s Freedom is seen drawing The Maja Undressed.  

This formal ingenuity points towards a more general trait of Berger?s criticism?it often reads like a story. ?I often think,? Berger said in an interview with Geoff Dyer in 1984, ?that even when I was writing on art, it was really a way of story-telling.? Indeed a majority of the entries in Portraits make riveting reading as narratives or character sketches.   

Stories also lie at the heart of Berger?s understanding or his engagement with an artwork. ?Having looked at a work of art,? he writes in Portraits? prologue:

I leave the museum or gallery in which it is on display, and tentatively enter the studio in which it was made. And there I wait in the hope of learning something of the story of its making. Of the hopes, of the choices, of the mistakes, of the discoveries implicit in that story. I talk to myself, I remember the world outside the studio, and I address the artist whom I maybe know, or who may have died centuries ago… Occasionally there?s a new space to puzzle both of us. Occasionally there?s a vision which makes us both gasp?gasp as one does before a revelation.

For Berger, paintings are testaments to human expressions or stories of human struggle?they are not simply objects to be admired. It is for this reason that he continually pulls the real, outside world into his criticism.

Hell, from The Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch, 1503-1515.Wikimedia / Prado Museum

?Leave the museum. Go the emergency department of the hospital,? Berger writes in his essay on Rembrandt, and it is only in the hospital that we begin to understand how Rembrandt?s captured our corporeal existence, how his calculated dislocation of proportion reflected the ?sentient body?s awareness of itself.? Similarly, in his discussion of the ?Hell? panel in Hieronymous Bosch?s Millennium Triptych, Berger observes that:

There are no horizons there. There is no continuity between actions… There is only the clamour of the disparate, fragmentary present? Nothing flows through: everything interrupts. There is a kind of spatial delirium. Compare this space to what one sees in the average publicity slot, or in a typical CNN news bulletin, or any mass media news commentary. There is a comparable incoherence, a comparable wilderness of separate excitements, a similar frenzy.

Here he has revealed something vital about Hieronymous Bosch, about modern life, and?most importantly?about how Bosch can help us and navigate modern life. In its bridging of time periods, it also reveals Berger?s acute historical awareness.

?All history is contemporary history,? begins a famous paragraph from G, his 1972 novel that won the Man Booker that year. ?For even when the events which the historian studies are events that happened in the distant past, the condition of their being historically known is that they should vibrate in the historian?s mind.? History is always vibrating in Berger?s mind. He knows that history must be understood (imbibed, really) if we are to escape the contingencies of our present and engage with art of the past. And he does his best to share this historical awareness with us. This is why he interrupts a discussion on cave paintings of animals to provide a detailed and moving account of taking his cows out to graze. (For the past 38 years, Berger has lived in Quincy, a town of about 100 people in the French Alps near Mont Blanc.) The cows are brought home, and he returns to the cave art. Suddenly we are struck by their impact. It is the pasture that helped under us under the paintings. Through simple, moving narration, Berger has helped us surpass 5000 years of history, and Portraits is crisscrossed with these bridges between the present and the past.

Art, human expression, historical awareness, material awareness?all are aspects of Berger?s political beliefs. ?For twenty years,? he wrote in The Moment of Cubism
(1969), I have searched like Diogenes for a true lover of art: if I had found one I would have been forced to abandon as superficial, as an act of bad faith, my own regard for art which is constantly and openly political. I have never found one.?

Berger is not political in a reductionist or dogmatic way. For him, all great art, and all noble politics, is created as a response to life. The great masters don?t interest him simply because they are great. (Art collectors, even the most discriminating ones, he notes, have a ?manic obsession to prove that everything he has bought in incomparably great and that anybody who in any way questions this is an ignorant scoundrel.?) Berger studies their visions to learn something about survival?not just his own, but the also the survival of a world where people can live free and meaningful lives.

Berger?s art criticism transcends its genre to become a very rare thing?literature.

In an otherwise unremarkable introduction to the Selected Essays, Geoff Dyer isolates Berger?s inextricable concerns about art and politics as being ?the enduring mystery of great art and the lived experience of the oppressed.? This formulation is exactly right, and it is most vividly represented in Berger?s essay on Caravaggio, originally published in Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos (2005) and reprinted here in Portraits.

Berger agrees with the traditional art-historical view that Caravaggio was ?one of the great innovating masters of chiaroscuro, and a forerunner of the light and shade later used by Rembrandt,? but he is not interested in simply entering an art-historical dialogue, so he instead opens a metaphysical and political discussion. Berger considers Caravaggio to be ?first painter of life as experienced by the popolaccio [the urban poor]? and the only painter who did not depict the poor for others, but actually shared the popolaccio?s vision. Following this intuition, Berger concludes that Caravaggio?s chiaroscuro wasn?t simply a technical innovation. For Caravaggio:

Light and shade, as he imagined and saw them, had a deeply personal meaning, inextricably entwined with his desires and his instinct for survival. And it is by this, not by any art-historical logic, that his art is linked with the underworld. His chiaroscuro allowed him to banish daylight. Shadows, he felt, offered shelter as can four walls and a roof.

The argument that follows blends social history, close aesthetic analysis, and psychologizing. Berger, who spent much time with the urban poor?his nonfiction book A Seventh Man (1975) was a sustained exploration of the plight of migrant laborers in metropolises across Europe?has noticed that those ?who live precariously and are habitually crowded together develop a phobia about open spaces which transforms their frustrating lack of space and privacy into something reassuring.? He thinks Caravaggio shares this fear. He thus convincingly argues that Caravaggio?s deployment of light, the contrasting ways in which he paints outdoor and indoor scenes, the particular drama of his paintings, all astutely reflect the urban poor?s experience of the world.

The enduring mystery and relevance of art; the lived experience, both of the free and the oppressed; by combining these interests, Berger?s art criticism transcends its genre to become a very rare thing?literature.

seller >>

Are people really this dumb to be scared of solar panels? (Update)

So, the top story shared on my social media today is a point-and-LOL chortle-fest at a North Carolina town who has rejected a solar panel farm project. There are DOZENS of stories that make fun of the people who provided public comment against the rezoning decision in Woodland, NC because of their apparent ignorance of how solar panels work.

North Carolina citizenry defeat pernicious Big Solar plan to suck up the Sun

US town rejects solar panels amid fears they ?suck up all the energy from the sun?

North Carolina town rejects solar because it?ll suck up sunlight and kill the plants

It?s true that the citizen did make some questionable comments.

Jane Mann a retired Northampton science teacher reportedly is?

concerned that photosynthesis, which depends upon sunlight, would not happen and would keep the plants from growing. She said she has observed areas near solar panels where the plants are brown and dead because they did not get enough sunlight.

She also questioned the high number of cancer deaths in the area, saying no one could tell her that solar panels didn?t cause cancer.

Bobby Mann (relation to previous commentator not given):

He said the solar farms would suck up all the energy from the sun and businesses would not come to Woodland.

That?s only two commentators, possibly from the same household. It?s obvious they don?t like the idea and are exhibiting some genuine fear and uncertainty. The industry reps attempted to assure them but that will probably not work at all since their opposition is deep and complicated, read on.

The original source is here at the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald. The Town Council rejected a proposal by the Planning Board to rezone a section of land off U.S. highway 258 from residential/agricultural use to manufacturing use, ?essentially denying approval of a solar farm.? Several council members voted for the rejection but one voted against it. (Sorry about the double negatives in use here, but that?s how it went down.) The details of the story reveal that the town may simply be fed up with being overrun by solar farms. Three other solar farms have already been accepted by the town council, with one currently under construction. The council eventually voted for a complete moratorium on solar farms.

The rest of the comments show additional reasons why the citizens aren?t keen on allowing more solar farms. They fear it is lowering their property values, that people are moving away because this industry is not providing additional jobs or bringing in money for the town. And, yes, they don?t trust the government. Not surprising. They are concerned that the panels may be health hazards probably because of misinformation and fear of the unknown. They are looking for direct answers to why their neighbors are dying of cancer, an extremely complicated question, for sure. The comments about blocking out the sun and sucking up the sun?s energy may have been metaphors, or concerns that former growing space is being overrun with giant panels that grow nothing and look ugly to the neighbors.

From the articles, it does NOT appear that the WHOLE town came out to exhibit their basic misunderstanding about solar energy! They are genuinely not happy with the proposed use of the town land. This scenario is VERY COMMON at any town council meeting. Some residents are displeased that things are changing in a way they perceive is not to their advantage. Therefore, in a public forum, they will make heated, emotional, and sometimes rather absurd claims in order to bolster their position. Their uncertainty comes out as comments that can sound quite odd when quoted.

It?s not cool when people post news stories just to point and laugh at people?s ?stupidity? when there is obviously more to the stories than given in the local news piece. But in this case, the international media picked up on some key points that may have been errors in judgement or just mistakes and blew them out of proportion. I doubt the council in Woodland would provide some additional insight but I sure would welcome it.

On the other hand, it?s a fact that the world is changing and the citizenry should be making decisions based on EVIDENCE, not rhetoric or rumors or fear. Maybe this is a good learning experience. But I suspect not.

Addition: 3 hours after this post, put up an extremely similar take on the same story (hmm?). They contacted the news reporter (but not the council) to check to see if this story was mischaracterized. It seems confirmed that while some residents ?expressed fears about solar panel safety, but they were not the sole voices of dissent at the council meeting.?

People commenting on this story that was shared on many ?science? news sites continue to be uncharitable towards the people of the town. I have asked ?Boing Boing? (who included a picture of Alfred E. Neuman picking his nose) to add some additional explanation. They haven?t. This is a good lesson in ?naive realism?. As quoted in Gilovich & Ross The Wisest One in the Room: ?We must recognize that our view of the world is just that ? a view that has been shaped by our own vantage point, history and idiosyncratic knowledge.?

Remember, more clicks make these media sites money. That seems to be the driving force for ?news? these days. Not truth, but entertainment.

Also, we got an upvote from College of Curiosity. Be curious.

UPDATE (18-Dec 2015) So, this story went viral, obviously, and that caused backlash for the town. As far as I could tell, this post questioning the bad press was one of the first, if not the first, to discuss the problem with the post. Alas, the Snopes version which appeared 3 hours later and looks remarkably like this one, gets all the credit. Several others wrote almost the exact sentiment. We can?t compete with those sources with our resources (read: none). But here is a bit more from the original local writer who apologizes.

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The Ugly, Offensive Year in Immigration Politics

The year in immigration politics began badly and finished up even worse. On a warm Saturday in late January of 2015 (warm for January, anyway), 1,500 of Iowa?s most committed right-wing activists descended on the Hoyt Sherman Place hotel in Des Moines for the first ever Iowa Freedom Summit. House Representative Steve King, Congress?s most aggressively bigoted  anti-immigration crusader, was the host. A few days earlier, King had followed up his notorious ?calves the size of cantaloupes? riff about the mythic strength of imaginary 130-pound immigrant drug mules by calling Michelle Obama?s invited guest to the State of the Union address, Ana Zamora, a 21-year-old who was brought to the country as an infant and recently received temporary legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, ?a deportable.? 

Most of the as-of-yet-unnanounced candidates in the Republican primary field spoke at the nine-hour conference?including Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee, Carly Fiorina, and Ben Carson?but for presumptive reasons that made sense at the time, Jeb Bush, the party?s anointed favorite, declined the invitation. Bush, with his much-heralded cross-cultural appeal, seemed to have taken the GOP?s stated goal of reaching out to Latinos to heart. Salon?s Simon Maloy was not alone in wondering ?why anyone who seriously believes they can be president would want to be caught anywhere near Steve King.?

Few could have predicted just how obscene the national debate over immigration would get in 2015, but the writing was already on the wall that weekend in January: Ted Cruz, who cut his teeth in the Senate defeating comprehensive immigration reform, was the summit?s most energizing speaker; DREAMer activists who tried to interrupt Rick Perry?s speech were drowned out in standing ovation for the Texas governor, who had deployed National Guard troops to the border the previous summer; a reality TV curiosity named Donald Trump made amused headlines by deriding Mitt Romney and dismissing Bush as ?soft? on the issue.

In January, few could have predicted just how obscene the national debate over immigration would get in 2015.

About a week before the Freedom Summit, the House of Representatives had passed, at King?s urging, a spending bill for the Department of Homeland Security that explicitly barred funding for President Obama?s 2014 executive order on immigration which would potentially extend legal status to more than a third of the United States?s 12 million undocumented immigrants. King and other hardliners had wanted to insert the poison pill legislation in the federal budget the previous year, but House Speaker John Boehner, in the interest of avoiding yet another government shutdown, had convinced the insurgents to wait. Boehner knew the bill wouldn?t make it through the Senate, and knew that Obama would veto if it somehow did. But he went along with the uprising anyway, because that is the sort of posturing now required of leaders in the Republican Party.

Sure enough, the bill stalled in the Senate, and after a few weeks of nail-biting political theater, Boehner allowed Democrats to vote on a ?clean? version before the department?s funds ran dry. Boehner would end up resigning in the Fall, before members of his own caucus could drag him through the same doomed cycle of blackmail, defeat, and embarrassment. But even in seeming failure, Steve King and company emerged triumphant; they got to go back to their districts and boast of having held fast to their extremist values. Cruz, who chastised the Republican Senate leadership for its weakness during the standoff, would take his ?party of amnesty? maverick routine on the road later that month, when he announced his campaign for president. By the time Donald Trump barged onto the scene that summer, the Republican base was primed for a strongman who could cut through the petty checks-and-balances of democracy.

A few days after the Freedom Summit, Vice-President Joe Biden took to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to announce the Obama administration?s new ?plan for Central America,? which differed from the old plan primarily in the size of its budget. Some 60,000 unaccompanied minors?most of them from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador?had fled across the U.S. southern border the previous year. The administration, content up until that point to treat the region as an afterthought, was now convinced that the ?security and prosperity of Central America are inextricably linked with our own.?

In his editorial, Biden wrote of the need for ?systemic change? in a region beset by a spiraling crisis of poverty, corruption, and violence. But the strategy he went on to outline was an affirmation of the very policies that produced those conditions, not a departure from them. As a reference, Biden invoked Plan Colombia, the $9 billion aid package he had helped formulate as a senator in 2000. Ostensibly an anti-drug initiative, Plan Colombia was Cold War counterinsurgency repurposed for a modern context. It failed in all of its stated goals and left an assortment of human rights atrocities in its wake. This hasn?t stopped its proponents, on the left and right, from holding it up as a ?great success story,? to use Biden?s words, a shining example of the sort of ?transformation? possible through the benevolent gift of U.S. leadership.

2015 proved how unready the country was to have an honest conversation about immigration.

As Dawn Paley wrote for the New Republic in February, where Plan Colombia did succeed was in creating ?a new blueprint for U.S. intervention on behalf of the corporate sector.? Through its first six years in office, the Obama administration replicated that model, adopting, almost by default, a relatively hands-off approach to Central America that combined George W. Bush?s drug war militarism with Bill Clinton?s neoliberal free trade orthodoxy. When Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a military coup, in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sided, as the United States has for more than a century, with the country?s right-wing elite. Immigration reform, meanwhile, didn?t become a priority until the Democrats had already lost their majority in Congress.

There was a brief moment when the 2014 migration surge seemed like it might force the United States to reckon with its sordid legacy in Central America. But 2015 proved how unready the country was to have an honest conversation about immigration. By mid-year, the momentum behind Biden?s Central America pivot had dissipated, with Syria occupying the place of voyeuristic horror and racist paranoia that Central America had the summer before.

The fight over how many Syrian refugees to admit into the country, or whether to admit any at all, offered another blaring example of how fundamentally warped our immigration politics became in 2015. As Germany prepared to accept some 800,000 Syrians, King and company treated President Obama?s announcement that the United States would resettle 10,000 as an act just shy of treason. Hillary Clinton, perhaps moved by an image published by the AP of the body of a three-year-old washed ashore in Turkey, called on the United States to raise its quota to 65,000, about 15,000 less refugees than Sweden has taken in since September alone.

The fear-mongering ratcheted up a notch in November after the massacre of 130 people by ISIS loyalists in Paris. To his credit, French President Francois Hollande responded by increasing the number of Syrian refugees destined for France by 25%. But 31 U.S. governors, including one Democrat, released statements saying they attempting to ban the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their state. (Several media outlets were quick to quote experts to the effect that states have virtually no say in the resettlement of refugees. Less discussed was the fact that the orchestrator of the Paris attack was Belgian)

News of the killing of 14 people in San Bernardino, California the following month went from yet another regrettable, but unavoidable, mass shooting to an act of unspeakable terror as soon as it was revealed that the perpetrators were Muslim. Donald Trump called for a blanket ban on all Muslims entering the United States; Ted Cruz announced his own plan, a more reasonable, targeted ban, only on those fleeing violence from various places in the Muslim world the United States has in some way made war on?but not, tellingly enough, from Pakistan, the country where one of the San Bernardino attackers was born. (The other, of course, was born in the United States.) Both Trump and Cruz have risen in the polls since then. That the radicalization of Muslims poses some unique threat to American civil society is now an accepted premise, even among those Democrats who denounce Trump?s more outlandish displays of chauvinism.

The speed with which the locus of xenophobic hysteria in America had shifted from the southwest to the Middle East meant that no one raised much concern this summer when the Senate and House passed preliminary foreign appropriations bills that set Central American spending at two-thirds and a third, respectively, of the $1 billion Biden had asked for. Apprehensions at the border were markedly down, which disguised the fact that nothing had changed on the ground in Central America. In July, Insight Crime reported the possibility that post-coup Honduras would cede the distinction of suffering from the world?s highest murder rate to El Salvador, where the following month would bring a degree of bloodshed not experienced since the end of the U.S.-backed civil war.

Also in July, Donald Trump released a controversial three-page statement that Mexico was deliberately sending hordes of murderers, drug dealers, and rapists across the border. There?s much to be learned from Trump?s demagogic rise to national prominence, but one important takeaway is that a significant portion of the electorate is profoundly deluded as to the reality of immigration. Mexico, for one, is no longer the primary point of origin for the majority of Latin American immigrants to the United States. Indeed, in November, a Pew study determined that more Mexicans left the United States than entered between 2009 and 2014.

Not only is the Mexican government not ?sending over? anyone, the country has actually beefed up security along its own southern border region at the United States?s behest. The extortions, rapes, kidnappings, and mass executions that now feature among the litany of perils migrants face on their way north can be understood as an extension of U.S. border security. As was the case with Plan Colombia, U.S. policy in Central America is currently being carried out, in significant part, by paramilitary narco-mafias. There is no need to speculate about whether these policies will have consequences for the United States. The policies aren?t new. The consequences are already apparent.

The biggest immigration lie of 2015 may be the idea that we?ve had a debate at all.

In October and November of 2015, while the presidential race plunged even further into the depths of the country?s racial anxieties, more than 10,000 unaccompanied migrants were apprehended at the U.S. border, a 106 percent increase over the same period the previous year. Family unit apprehensions, in which legal guardians were present, rose twofold, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The secretary of Health and Human Services has suggested her agency doesn?t have enough resources to adequately accommodate another surge in child migrants, but Congress remains reluctant to appropriate additional funds in anticipation. In December, to shockingly little fanfare, that same Congress agreed to set aside $750 million in Central American spending for the upcoming fiscal year.

Immigration is a foreign policy crisis that has been wholly subsumed to the expediencies of domestic politics. Donald Trump promises to build an impermeable wall he can?t pay for and deport 12 million people he can?t afford to extract from society. Hillary Clinton is calling for comprehensive reform measures that can?t pass, and a series of executive orders that do nothing to address the underlying phenomenon. And yet, for all the very real differences between the each party?s intentions for dealing with immigrants once they?ve arrived in the country, neither has elaborated a meaningful proposal for how to prevent them from making the journey in the first place. The contrived ideological divide that now separates them on the issue distracts from the broad bipartisan consensus that continues to buttress the logic of U.S. imperialism. The biggest immigration lie of 2015 may be the idea that we?ve had a debate at all. 

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EU critical of proposed Israeli law on NGOs

Photo: Sébastien Bertrand

The European Union is strongly protesting a newly-proposed Israeli law that would require non-profit groups to disclose foreign sources of funding. Most of those NGOs are highly critical of prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu?s treatment of the Palestinians and of Jewish settlement activities in Palestinian areas.

An Israeli Army radio report Sunday cited a leaked EU document. The memo said EU ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen warned that the law would ?have a negative impact on Israel?s image and on Europe?s relating to it as an open and democratic society.?

The leaked document quotes the ambassador as saying that what Israel is planning could bring ?shame? on some human rights groups and is something mainly seen in ?tyrannical regimes.?

Israeli cabinet ministers approved the bill Sunday. It now goes to the full parliament later this week.

The law would require NGOs that get most of their money from foreign governments or foreign-funded entities to publicly disclose the sources of their funds.

Opponents say the bill targets only so-called pro-peace groups and that pro-nationalistic non-profits are exempt. They say the measure is a blatant attempt to stifle government critics.

Supporters say foreign governments and the European Union are meddling in Israel?s internal affairs and trying to change Israeli policies from within. They are also angry at a new EU rule that requires Israeli exports produced on occupied territories to be labelled as coming from there.


(Photo: Sébastien Bertrand)



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December 28th, 2015 8:45pm Posted In: Featured Articles

*first published 14 July 2015*


The proposed Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP), which aims to bring Turkmen gas to Europe, has recently become a topic of intense debate. Despite the existing barriers to the implementation of the project, there have been positive shifts towards its construction. The Ashgabat Declaration launched the work of the intergovernmental committee and provides a foundation for the practical implementation of the project. The EU is much more interested in the TCP than before, as it may face natural gas shortages after 2019 when the gas contract between Russia and Ukraine expires. Turkey?s regional energy hub ambitions mean that it is keen to play a political role. Turkmenistan sees not only financial benefits, but also advantages in terms of diversifying its export routes. The collective commitment by the interested parties – Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and the EU – in overcoming the various obstacles to the project?s implementation indicate strong prospects for success.


Foundations for high-level negotiations were laid during the visit by the Turkish president to Turkmenistan (November 7, 2014), when he stated that the Trans-Anatolian Pipeline (TANAP) is dependent on gas supplies from Turkmenistan. During the visit, an agreement on cooperation was signed between Atagas (a private Turkish Gas Company) and Turkmengas (the national gas company of Turkmenistan) over the purchase and sales of natural gas. In 2013, the TCP was placed on the list of Projects of Common Interest of the European Commission.

In the absence of a pipeline capable of transporting large volumes of gas from the Caspian Basin to Europe, the potential role of the TCP was unclear. But by 2019, with the expansion of the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCP), the construction of TANAP and Trans-Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), a Caspian-European route will become available. The other problem was the lack of available gas ready to be transported from the eastern coast of the sea.

However, Turkmenistan is currently constructing the ?East-West Pipeline?, with an expected completion date of 2015-2016. This pipeline will deliver gas from the resource-rich fields in the east of the country to its western territories. When the construction started in 2010, the plan was to feed the Russian-backed Prikaspiisk pipeline (or Caspian Coastal pipeline), but that project has been scrapped, freeing the gas up for export elsewhere. Notably, the capacity of the pipeline is as the projected capacity of the TCP (30 bcm/year). The Caspian Coastal line was scrapped in 2010 and is unlikely to be revived given the current tensions between Russia and the EU. This raises questions about the purpose of the East-West pipeline. Russia is not planning to import more Turkmen gas, and there is no need to allocate additional volumes to Iran. Turkmenistan?s intention is to prepare for gas exports via the TCP. By 2016 Turkmenistan will technically be able to transport hydrocarbons from the east to the Belek compressor station, which is located next to the city of Turkmenbashi (where the TCP will presumably start). The pipeline will not be confined to the Dovletabat field, but will also be connected to the Galkynysh Field. Thus, the opportunity to deliver vast gas reserves to the eastern coast of the Caspian together with the availability of transportation on the western coast clearly indicates the importance of the Trans-Caspian line.

Turkey?s role and the Trilateral Format

Due to the absence of existing pipelines between Turkey and Turkmenistan, energy cooperation agreements remain poorly implemented. In 1997, the sides signed the first agreement on the import of 30 bcm of Turkmen natural gas to Turkey. However, without the available conduits it was impossible to realize the agreement. Therefore, the Turkish government is seeking grounds for future cooperation. In November 2014 Turkey and Turkmenistan reached a framework agreement for pumping Turkmen gas into the TANAP. Although the details of the agreement have not been revealed, it is clear that steps are being taken to enable the supply of Turkmen gas to European market.

Just ahead of the Berdymuhamedov?s visit to Turkey, Turkmenistan?s Ministry for Oil & Mineral Resources released a statement promising to supply natural gas to Europe. According to the statement, Turkmenistan intends to supply 10-30 bcm per annum. Turkey understands its role in making this a reality. Ankara has increasing influence in Turkmenistan; it is now the country?s second biggest trading partner after China. Moreover, Turkish construction companies occupy a leading position in Turkmenistan?s economy. Nonetheless, Turkey?s influence in Turkmenistan is not on its own sufficient to guarantee the success of the TCP. It will have to face down the major opponents of the project, Russia and Iran.

The increasing cooperation among Turkey, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan reveals another perspective on the TCP. The trilateral meetings, previously among ministers, have been upgraded this year to the presidential level. Turkey?s idea for trilateral energy consultations dates back to 2008, when Turkey invited both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan to cooperate on a drilling project in the Black Sea. Since then Turkey has been promoting the idea of bringing both sides to the table to further cooperation and partnership. As such, the upcoming meeting of leaders in Ashgabat must be regarded as a diplomatic achievement of Ankara.

The position of the EU

The intention of the EU is to reduce its dependence on Russian gas and thus diversify the routes and sources of supply. Although there is no official data on the amount of gas to be supplied by Turkmenistan, initially the EU was planning to purchase about 14 bcm per annum out of the total 30 bcm (the TCP was designed to accommodate 16 bcm of gas for the Turkish market). The distribution of volumes may change, but it is clear that by gaining access to the Turkmen resources, the EU will benefit enormously in terms of diversification of its gas supplies. Consequently, the EU is committed to helping Turkmenistan to overcome the existing barriers to the project?s realization. For instance, experts have emphasized that ?the EU has repeatedly expressed its support to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan regarding the exclusive right to lay a pipeline in the Caspian Sea between the two littoral countries in line with international agreements and conventions.? Furthermore, according to resent research, ?the European Commission proposed in 2009 the creation of the Caspian Development Corporation envisaged as a single commercial vehicle that could aggregate the purchase of Turkmen gas. Finally, in apparent desperation at the lack of progress, the Commission in September 2011 se- cured an unprecedented decision by the EU?s governing Council, mandating it to negotiate a legally binding treaty with Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan providing for pipeline construction.?

Is Turkmenistan interested?

Ashgabat appears to be intensely engaged in the diversification of export routes. Given that Russia has reduced its gas imports from Turkmenistan to 4 bcm per annum, compared to 11 in 2014, Turkmenistan?s interest in finding an alternative market should not be underestimated. Further- more, because of the disruption of plans to deliver vast volumes of natural gas to Europe, Russia has pivoted towards China. Five years from now, it will be able to deliver extra 40 bcm/year to China via the Power of Siberia (known as Yakutia?Khabarovsk?Vladivostok pipeline).

Competition with Russia over the Chinese market may lead to cheaper Turkmen gas. Iran, the second biggest consumer of Turkmen gas, is also refusing to buy the gas at current volumes. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on August 11, 2014 that his country no longer needed gas from Turkmenistan. Zanganeh went so far as to say, ?Iran is importing Turkmen gas just because it is important to promote political and economic relations with Turkmenistan. Iran is rapidly boost- ing its domestic gas production. Moreover, once the sanctions are lifted, Iran, which has the world?s second largest gas reserves, may become an export rival. In this context, official Ashgabat is urgently seeking new energy partners. Note that Turkmenistan may only support the TCP in line with the golden rule of ?zero financial burden, hundred percent effectiveness?. In addition, it will never agree upon the construction of the pipeline to the detriment of relations with Russia.

Light at the end of the tunnel

In general, there are two hurdles to the implementation of the TCP: the uncertainty over the status of the Caspian (along with opposition from Russia and Iran) and the financial burden that few are will- ing to share (because of the high risks of the project). In regard to the resolution of the legal status of the Caspian, many consider the Astrakhan summit as a big step forward and a chance to consolidate the final document, now that parties have reached agreement on points of dispute. Khalaf Khalafov (deputy foreign minister of Azerbaijan) characterized the last summit as the beginning of a new stage in negotiations. ?I believe we will be able to agree upon all the points of the convention before the summit in Astana so that we can sign the final act.? In addition, the Caspian states agreed on six more points on the juridical status of the Caspian, reported Iranian Prime Minister Ibrahim Rahimpoor. Khalafov said that the sides had agreed upon some controversial issues. At the 39th meeting of the Working Group on the determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, issues related to environmental problems and use of water were agreed among the Caspian littoral states, according to the Azerbaijani side. However, one of the remaining questions is how to resolve the issues related to the division of undersea territory. This question must be solved in accordance with the sovereign rights of each littoral state, as claimed by Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Now the focus is on the summit in Astana, where some experts expect the final agreement to be signed. The future of the TCP has been closely linked to the determination of the legal status of the Caspian; without the inked document there is no room for progress. Thus, further intensification of the dialogue over the implementation of the TCP is expected following the Astana Summit in 2016.

Problems & Prospects

Along with some major political hurdles to the project (such as the question over the status of the Caspian), there are some others of minor importance that bear mention. For instance, significant efforts must be taken to resolve the dispute between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over the oil fields, Kapaz (Serdar). A positive sign is that the leaders of both countries have demonstrated their willing- ness to work hand in hand within the framework of trilateral cooperation with Turkey.

There is also significant scope for the EU to persuade Iran to set aside its intentions to block the construction of the Trans-Caspian. Previously these negotiations would have been unthinkable, and so once the sanctions are eliminated, the opportunity will be there. One potential means to appease the Iranian government would be to propose a spot for Iranian natural gas in the TANAP and TAP pipelines. If this were not enough, the EU could additionally offer a helping hand in modernizing Iran?s outdated gas infrastructure. Iran has also made clear in the international arena that it is ready to offer its territory as alternative and reliable route for delivering Turkmen gas to Europe.

Brussels has put all its efforts into achieving a breakthrough on the realization of the TCP. It has called upon European energy companies to join the negotiation process. The Caspian Development Corporation, established in 2009, can help in this regard. This will help Turkmengaz find common ground with the relevant European energy companies. Experts also believe that Ashgabat is especially interested in cooperation with companies willing to invest in the development of the Turkmen sector of the Caspian Sea. Earlier, during talks with Turkmenistan, the Eni management voiced its willingness to assist with the Turkmen gas delivery to the world markets in the long term. The dialogue between the EU, Turkmenistan and the representatives of energy giants does not require any additional outside help, as the parties involved are committed to the project?s realization. This is a strong indicator of success.

It has also been argued that Turkey may utilize its leverage over Russia, via Turkish Stream – the only viable route for gas delivery from Russia to Europe – to address Russian opposition to the TCP. In other words, the subsea pipeline between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan could progress in light of Turkey?s increased diplomatic power. However, one should not overlook the strategic interests of Russia in the region, as well as its desire to remain Europe?s major gas supplier. If the second part of the puzzle can be solved easily (since the capacity of the Turkish Stream is twice that of the TCP), the first part remains unanswered.

Despite the existing political obstacles, the technical requirements of the TCP have been met. Most of the projects that may feed the TCP are either under construction (East-West, TAP and TANAP) or already in place (South Caucasus Pipeline). Thus, only 300 km is remaining, needed to link one port to another in order to connect Turkmenistan with Europe. However, this step has always been something of a Herculean task. The key to the whole success of the project lies in those 300 km.

The elimination of political challenges will not immediately bring the pipeline to life; there remain financial constraints. First of all, the European companies have to come to an agreement with Turkmenistan over the sales of gas; there may be a need for a Production Sharing Agreement. This is not a question of a few weeks.


The actual implementation of the Southern Gas Corridor (SGC) has accelerated talks on the construction of the Trans-Caspian pipeline. The climax of these talks resulted in the Ashgabat Declaration, with some minor practical results (such as the establishment of the inter-governmental committee). At the same time, the trilateral meetings among Turkmenistan, Turkey and Azerbaijan have achieved top levels of engagement. At first glance, this trilateral energy cooperation does not seem to be directly linked to the TCP, and progress remains suspended until the Astana Summit. However, in the long term, this new format could facilitate energy dialogue between Baku and Ashgabat; and involvement in joint projects, no matter how small, could be a positive step during this initial stage.

Furthermore, the East-West pipeline of Turkmenistan will be commissioned soon. Thus, Turkmen gas will be delivered right to the coast of the Caspian Sea, ready for transportation to Europe. The other SGC components, aside from the TCP, will be operational by 2019, delivering Azerbaijani gas. In other words, the pipelines to the east of the TCP are almost ready. The only fly in the ointment is that that the most complex part, i.e. the sub-sea conduit (TCP), needs much more work.

However, given the commitment of the EU, Turkey and Turkmenistan, there is significant impetus for the realization of this final step. Along with Azerbaijan, these parties more committed than ever. The EU needs to meet its energy demand once the Russian supplies via Ukraine are terminated in 2019. Turkey, which has harbored ambitions to become a regional gas hub, sees great potential in the opportunity to play a crucial role in both the project implementation and the transportation of Turkmen gas to Europe. Turkmenistan, which has been forced to reduce its exports to Russia, is urgently seeking new partners and customers in order to avoid dependence on a single buyer, namely China. Moreover, Iran may not need gas from Turkmenistan for its northern region, because once the sanctions are lifted it will be able to cover that demand through domestic production. Azerbaijan is also willing to become a transit country and thus contribute even further to EU energy security. This raft of potential benefits cannot be ignored.

Elmar Baghirov is a foreign policy expert based in Azerbaijan. His areas of expertise include the energy policy of Azerbaijan and the Black Sea-Caspian region energy security.

Policy Brief published with thanks to the Caspian Center for Energy and Environment of ADA University, a Natural Gas Europe Knowledge Partner

 Natural Gas Europe welcomes all viewpoints. Should you wish to provide an alternative perspective on the above article, please contact  

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Questions and Answers

The Irresistible Psychology of Fairy Tales

How can we parse our curious fascination with fairy tales, which persists while the times change and we change with them? The years between 2010 and 2015 have witnessed a spate of significant new books, including?over two centuries after the fact?the very first translation into English of the Grimm brothers? original edition of fairy and folk tales, their 1812 Kinder- und Haus-Märchen, a collection far more terse, simple of language, and brutish than later editions, especially the 1857 edition most English readers have previously known. Jack Zipes, its eminent translator, additionally produced in 2015 a volume of new scholarship on their impact and afterlife: Grimm Legacies: The Magic Spell of Grimm?s Folk and Fairy Tales. The previous year, Marina Warner, too, brought forth Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale, in the pages of which breathless readers are swept away as if on a magic carpet and rewarded with intellectual adventures compressed into the tight Oxford series format.

To Warner, who has spent a lifetime pondering them, fairytales are ?stories that try to find the truth and give us glimpses of greater things? and, she claims, ?this is the principle that underlies their growing presence in writing, art, cinema, dance, song.? Truth in fairy tales matters also to Italo Calvino, another great lover of them, who, as Warner notes, deems them more honest than verismo because they own up to their fictitiousness. Yet others love fairy tales for the apparently opposite reason: novelist A.S. Byatt praises the ?untrue? nature of fairy tale, by which I take her to mean its obvious magic, sorcery, and spells, its speaking cats (as in Puss in Boots) and its wish-granting fish (The Fisherman and his Wife), its avenging pigeons and enchanted trees (Cinderella), and its impossible plot twists resolved by uncanny metamorphoses that provide eerie yet satisfying ?returns? to something both deeply known and unknown (The Frog King; The Frog Prince; The Summer and the Winter Garden, which is the Grimm brothers? 1812 version of Beauty and the Beast).  All that seems clear. But in that case, wherein precisely lies fairy tale truth?

Zipes might argue that its truth stems from an engagement with its conditions of origin. As he has persuasively shown, both in his most recent book and in many previous ones, the tales reflect the cultures from which they sprang. When primogeniture held sway, for example, the tales gave rise to heroic roles for youngest sons, thereby compensating them in fancy for their poverty and for the devaluation they suffered in daily life. Similarly, under the terms of arranged marriage, fearful girls were soothed by monsters or slimy beasts who transformed at stories? ends into loving princes and who thereby elevated young brides class-wise as well as gentling any anxieties fueled in them by their gendered destiny. This, in other words, is ?truth? as a form of resistance to convention, a reversal of expectations: truth as social protest and as dreams come true.

Yet the core of fairy tales seems to reach deeper?well beyond the delights and shocks caused by improbable events and beyond the tough substrate of socio-political opposition in pre-modern Europe?towards a species of raw, non-contingent honesty and authenticity. It is through the sharply-focused lenses of psychology, particularly those of child development, and with many a debt to Marina Warner?s incomparable erudition and insight, that we can parse some whys and wherefores of our irresistible draw into these enchanted realms. 

Phillip Pullman, notable for His Dark Materials trilogy is not alone in believing that fairy tales bear no psychological heft and therefore call for no psychological discussion. ?There is no psychology in a fairy tale,? he avers: ?The characters have little inner life; their motives are clear and obvious.? And he goes on: ?One might almost say that the characters in a fairy tale are not actually conscious.? Novelist A. S. Byatt apparently agrees, for she states that fairy tales ?don?t analyse feelings.? Of course, this is superficially right. We are not privy to the inner worlds of Hans, Cinderella, or Little Conrad in the story of The Goose Girl. Indeed most fairy tale characters go unnamed; they perform no Shakespearean soliloquies; they do not ruminate aloud. Rather, they reveal their thoughts in action. But since when is action exempt from psychological scrutiny? And are there not fairy tale characters who do, on occasion, both wish and dream?

A postcard showing the golden goose from the fairy tale by the brothers Grimm.Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Scholars, moreover, when pressed to consider the problem of motivation in fairy tales, tend to invoke fate, chance, inevitability and magic. Not psychology. They claim that tellers, hearers, and readers of the tales accept without question the sufficiency of fate, chance, inevitability or magic. Quite true. Yet, we must ask why. What inclines tellers, hearers, and readers to accept fate or magic as causal? What is it about fairy tale and the human psyche that enables this unquestioning acquiescence in a realm of discourse that defies ordinary modes of understanding and common sense? Even if there were nothing else to probe, there is this. And, indubitably, this is a psychological question.

Marina Warner touches on the matter in her chapter ?The Worlds of Faery,? where she reminds us of the moment in theatrical versions of the modern fairy tale Peter Pan, when Tinkerbell is dying of the poison Captain Hook had intended for Peter, and audience members are asked to clap hands to save her if we believe in fairies. Children have no trouble with this, but adults clap sheepishly, if at all, while telling themselves they are doing so for the sake of the children. But the audience?s reactions go much deeper, and Warner strikes home when she claims the motivation for ?these untrue stories? is ?a need to move beyond the limits of reality.? This is a verity explored psychoanalytically by the notable French analyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel in 1984, when she writes, ?Man has always endeavored to go beyond the narrow limits of his condition? (after which, however, she heads off in a different direction).

Fairy tale carries us back to this primordial kind of attention, the attention we gave the world when everything was ?for the first time.?

The acceptance of magic and fatedness in wonder tales can be fruitfully considered, I propose, from a child developmental perspective. If we take that point of view, we can understand that our vulnerability or susceptibility stems from a persistence in the mind of areceptivity we had when all the world was new. Fairy tale carries us back to this primordial kind of attention, the attention we gave the world when everything was ?for the first time.? In earliest childhood, noticing and remarking matters most. Have you watched a small child gaze around, letting her eye be caught by this and that? Have you asked her to tell you about her day? The narrative will be disjunctive, lacking formal reason, yet filled with all that truly matters: filled what was seen, heard, tasted, touched, smelled, felt. The ?why?? comes later. And of course such a way of perceiving is full of surprise: both unexpected delight and terror. Here is how a typical tale proceeds: Something happens. Then something else. Another occurrence. And another. And yet again another. But the nature and order of these events defy logic. Connections seem arbitrary if they exist at all and contiguous in a purely temporal register, with one experience simply following another.

Let?s take the Grimms? Tale 42, in which a poor man with many children dreams he must ask the first person he sees to be their godfather. He does so, and the stranger gives him a bottle of water, which he says will cure a moribund individual if Death stands at the person?s head but not if Death stands at the person?s feet. The king?s child falls ill. Death stands at the child?s head; the poor man cures him. The king?s child falls ill again, and it goes the same way. The third time, Death stands at the foot of the bed; now the child dies. The poor man goes to tell the godfather. On the way, he notices a shovel and a broom quarreling. Next, he encounters a pile of dead fingers that also talk. Then, a pile of speaking skulls. Finally, he comes upon some fish who are frying themselves in a pan. Each group tells him to climb higher so as to find the godfather. The poor man does so and finally peeps through a keyhole, where he sees the godfather with a pair of long horns. The godfather hides under a blanket and, after interpreting the other visions, denies that he has horns: ?Now, that?s just not true,? he says, and the story is over!

Vivian Gussin Paley, a distinguished MacArthur prize-winning writer on young children?s story creation and on their impromptu performances of their own stories, and Selma Fraiberg, beloved author of The Magic Years, a classic book on child psychology, would, I feel certain, detect in this tale the form of narration plotted by children who spring for vivid imagery with no concern for binding logic. Faerie employs a primordial mode of narration.

Little Red Riding Hood hides from the wolf in the forest.Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Let?s make an anachronistic thought experiment and imagine Aristotle, in his unsurpassed treatise on poetics, analyzing the plot of Tale 42. Indubitably, he would characterize it as ?post hoc,? rather than ?propter hoc,? its events tumbling pell-mell, its paucity of causal logic, and the story ending up so far from where it begins. Trusting in reason and seeking to understand the elements of a refined, well-crafted plot, Aristotle would scarcely approve of this mode, or possibly he would treat it as comical, which, in part it is.

Turning the clock back even further than fourth century BCE Athens, again for just a moment, let?s consider Genesis. Genesis, like fairy tale, is paratactic: it strings events together by conjunctions absent the subordinate clauses that perform causality. Like faerie, Genesis yields minimal, non-elaborated stories. Its characters are never described in detail (we learn only that Leah had weak eyes), and we are no more privy to Adam?s feelings when Eve offers him the forbidden fruit than we are to the poor man-in-Tale-42?s feelings when he comes upon the blanketed godfather.

When characters are so scantly depicted, what makes us care about what happens to them? In the case of Hansel and Gretel, we do not even know how old they are meant to be, and every artist who has illustrated the tale has freely chosen their ages. How do these lacks affect our interest? Could it be in part that the lacunae prime our attention by giving us puzzles and riddles we feel drawn to solve?

An educated adult will listen with a gnawing deep-down feeling that the story merits attention and bears a species of uncanny truth.

I propose that, when confronted with texts of this kind, whether scriptural, mythical, or faerie, we are hooked not only by what is given, the positive imagery, but by the very gaps??the negative spaces??as we might say in visual arts. In this manner, the tales take on a projective valence, rather like a species of narrative inkblots. Meaning-making occurs through ongoing, evolving negotiations that are historically bound but highly idiosyncratic. For young children, the key word becomes ?why?? plus its variants. Why is the king?s child sick? Why does Death stand at the foot of the bed? Who is Death? What happened to all the poor man?s own children? Why doesn?t he have a name? Why does the godfather have horns, and why does he say he doesn?t? A very young child will listen wide-eyed, an older child will pose questions, and an educated adult will feel impelled to criticize but with a gnawing deep-down feeling that the story merits attention and bears a species of uncanny truth. More anon concerning the uncanny.

Warner documents the process of meaning-making over time vis-à-vis fairy tales in her chapters ?In the Dock? and ?Double Vision.? She traces a plethora of feminist re-readings and ideological exposés that probe the stories for their patriarchal biases and subject them to ironic re-visionings and critiques. Especially poignant is her citing of Eva Figes?s 2003 description of reading fairy tales to her granddaughter. Because Figes?s own grandmother perished in the Nazi camps, she cannot bear the horrible fate of Red Riding Hood?s grandmother and avoids that story altogether. Cradling the little girl with her arm as she reads other tales, she points out details in the illustrations and takes care to allay incipient fears by explaining that witches do not really exist and, regarding Snow White, that women do not die today when babies are born, even though they did so once long ago. But of course, witches do exist and mothers do die in childbirth, even today, and what signifies here is the differential projection of Figes?s own life story into her rendition. Another nana would tell it differently. And in that case it would, and it would not, be the same story.

Marina Warner?s previous book, her masterful, monumental Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights, contains an interlude of special delight to psychoanalysts, for she describes there the figured oriental carpet that covered Freud?s analytic couch in Vienna. Conjuring it, she proceeds to link it with the ornamented tasseled flying carpets of antique Araby and suggests that an analysand who reclines supine on Freud?s carpeted couch with eyes closed is primed thereby to lift off into realms of unconscious fantasy. In just this manner, I wish to hint at links between psychoanalysis and fairy tale in the twinning of inward mental journeys and the ways these stories have of spiriting us off to fascinating, hitherto uncharted realms, which were there all the time, somehow.

The seven dwarves find Snow White asleep in their bedroom. Hulton Archive / Getty Images

In Once Upon a Time, Warner includes ?On the Couch,? a chapter in which she acknowledges the relevance of psychoanalysis for fairy tales but reveals a certain ambivalence by adding a flippant subtitle, borrowed from Angela Carter: ?House-Training the Id.? The chapter begins with a measured appreciation of Bruno Bettelheim?s iconic study, The Uses of Enchantment (1976), in which, in my view, Bettelheim dons hand-blown German antique spectacles, seedy and wavy, that permit vision but impel distortion. He uses them to read a chosen set of European fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, and so on, for their sexual and developmental themes, sometimes in a ham-handed way, for subtlety is not his forte. Yet, Warner?s assessment of his work seems wise, fair-minded, and charitable, for Bettelheim became notorious rather quickly for his alleged reductionism, and he has been mercilessly satirized for exemplifying the excesses of psychoanalytic zealotry. Generously and tactfully, Warner realizes there is much of value to be gleaned from his book.

A point Bettelheim overlooked is that fairy tales can be regarded as psychologically interesting in form as well as in content.  Their mode of narration, the structure of the stories, matters as much as the imaginary psychic lives of specific characters.  A key concept here is Freud?s notion of the uncanny, by which he meant the way in which familiar objects and events and people can suddenly seem strange and vice versa. This is of course part of the strategy at play in Tale 42. Selma Fraiberg, previously mentioned, has gracefully shown how the first few years of life are inevitably ?uncanny? for children, a topic noted and often brilliantly exploited by the finest children?s book authors and illustrators.  An example would be Russell Hoban and Garth Williams, Bedtime for Frances, where the title character, a little girl badger, in the dark at night, sees her bathrobe thrown over a chair and thinks it a giant that has come to ?get? her. The uncanny has connections, moreover, with the absurd and with notions of epistemological uncertainty. We accept the irrational elements of faerie and its enchantments in the same way we acknowledge that parts of our minds are unconscious?unknown and unknowable to us?and yet very much there, extant, real, true, significant.

If, by the term ?psychological,? we mean relevance for mental life in its entwined cognitive and affective functioning, we are right to invoke it here, for fairy tales speak directly and indirectly to the psyche. They stimulate rainbows of feeling, insatiable curiosity, and inexhaustible searches for meaning. Psychology, moreover, pace Bettelheim, Pullman, and others concerns more than the so-called imaginary inner lives of characters; it concerns the experience of listeners and readers. Year after year, we still need to know what will happen to Cinderella and Rapunzel, to Jack, to the man who needed a godfather, and to the unnamed youngest daughter who asked her father for a rose. Beyond glittering imagery of silver and golden-haired princesses, roses, shiny keys, and iron caskets, thorns, and fry-pans, we are pulled by our deep yearning for, and terror of, that which defies understanding. Beyond sense and beyond justice and morality, the fairy tales beckon us and we sit on the edge of our chairs waiting to find out what lies ahead?even when we have heard the tale a dozen times before. 

Lead image: A postcard showing the princess from the fairy tale ?The Frog Prince? by the brothers Grimm.


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