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Guantanamo and Civic Engagement

...have nothing to do with each other!

There will be light blogging for a while, for round leather reasons, but a quickl link to some interesting posts on German/American relations. Dialog International provides the English original of an interview with German Guantanamo bay detainee Murnat Kurnaz here, which helps to explain why Guantanamo and the Hamdan decision have been very big news over here. Atlantic Review comments on a program that brings U.S. civic-engagement ideas to Germany here. I will post a few comments about "idea exchange" in the other direction this weekend, during sober stretches.


Write a Novel, Acquire an Amanuensis

Alright, just a cheap excuse to use the word amanuensis. And it's not really lyrical amateur translation, either, but it's close. From the Wikipedia entry about the Hungarian poet and novelist György Faludy, this short excerpt, which is not only wildly juicy but also written in fabulously non-standard English:

Faludy's second wife, Zsuzsa, died in the 60's. In 1963 Eric Johnson (26), a US ballet dancer and later a renowned poet in contemporary Latin poetry, read [Faludy's] novel My Happy Days in Hell, which captivated him, and he decided to seek Faludy in Hungary. He started to learn Hungarian and found Faludy three years later in Malta. He became his secretary, driver, translator, co-author and partner for the next 36 years. In 2002, Faludy married a 26 years old photo model, Fanny Kovács. Johnson left for Kathmandu, Nepal, and died there in February 2004, at the age of 67. Faludy has since published collective poems with his wife.


Henry Farrell on SWIFT Story Fallout

Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber sees the possibility of a snowballing European reaction to the SWIFT banking data story. His post is a bit long but informative and well worth reading. First he sets out what's at stake:

European citizens are unlikely to be any happier about foreign authorities going through their financial information than US citizens would be under similar circumstances. Hostile newspaper stories are already beginning to bubble up (e.g. this one from the front page of today’s Irish Times). Even if EU member states have (as is entirely possible) known about the SWIFT arrangement and turned a blind eye, it’s going to be very hard for them to come out and justify it in public.

He doesn't think this program will fall under the "national security exception" to the EU Data Protection Directive. Therefore, "it seems very unlikely indeed to me that SWIFT’s cooperation with US authorities was legal under European law." We still don't know whether the cooperation went beyond SWIFT, Belgium is now saying it was limited only to SWIFT's U.S.-based subsidiary.

As with the secret-CIA-flights story, it'll be important to carefully parse the reaction of EU and other national leaders. If they call for the press and public to "keep matters in perspective" by, for instance, noting that expectations of privacy in international financial transactions are extremely limited anyway and point out that "international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism is necessary and desirable," we can probably bet that important decision-makers knew. It's also worth keeping in mind that SWIFT officials insisted that they be presented with subpoenas from U.S. officials requiring co-operation, so that they would be able to maintain that their hands were tied.

Farrell prophesies three possible reactions:

  1. "First, and most unlikely to my mind,... European Union member states will decide to lend ex post justification to an action which appeared ex ante to be illegal, by formally sanctioning it."
  2. "Second, that the data protection authorities will be informally pressured not to proceed any further with investigations. Again, I don’t think that this is likely to succeed in squashing the issue – it’s too hot and controversial." Data-protection is an extremely sensitive issue in Europe.
  3. "Third, and most likely in my opinion, is that this is going to result in enforcement action by the EU data protection authorities – and to new laws in the medium term."

American Foreign Policy in the Eyes of a Spanish Prostitute

Luke O'Brien decided to see a few World Cup matches in one of German's poshest brothels, Artemis in Berlin. There he marveled at the legal, regulated German prostitution, the grumpiness of East European tarts ("'I like sex,' she said, almost angry"), and the ability of German men to concentrate on football as naked women parade around scratching their breasts. Finally, the peculiar come-on technique of Spanish prostitute Rosa, who tried to lure Luke into lucrative lovemaking by calling the leader of his country a "killer":

In my brothel robe with Rosa's hand on my ass, I suddenly felt out of place. Not because of where I was, but because of what I was missing. Rosa pleaded with me to run off with her while throwing in a few more barbs at "Bush, killer of children and robber of oil." That's tempting, I told her, but it's not why I'm here. I heard the crowd in the cinema ooh and groan and aww, and I knew it was time to get back to the real action.

Today, I'll be going to the big Caspar David Friedrich exposition: "Caspar David Friedrich: The Invention of Romanticism" in Essen. Tomorrow, enriched by the contemplation of solitary figures among windswept landscapes, I'll try to post something about it.


Soccer Fans Avoiding the Red Lights

German brothel owners shipped in 40,000 new hookers to satisfy the needs of horny soccer fans, or so the story went a few months ago. Now, to use the old German saying, it's "dead pants" (quiet as a mouse) inside the brothels, the Washington Post reports:

"The pent-up sexual demand of horny fans from around the world which has been widely anticipated has not materialized at all," said Karolina Leppert, president of Germany's association for sexual service providers BSD.

"Business is pretty dead, even the regulars stay away because of all the crowds and the hype," said Leppert, who has been working as a dominatrix in Berlin for eight years.


German Joys Uncut: Class Struggle

I'm introducing a new feature on German Joys, which I'll call 'German Joys Uncut.' One news story from a German newspaper, translated into English by yours truly, without cuts or changes. I’ll provide a short introduction to clarify things that might be unfamiliar to non-Germans, but no commentary.

The first German Joys Uncut comes from last week’s Die Zeit, Germany’s leading broadsheet newspaper. The article (G) address social tension among high-school students in a town in Saxony-Anhalt, a part of the former East Germany.

To understand the piece, it’s important to understand that fairly early in their school careers, students are separated into different skill groups, and then sent to different sorts of high schools. The top 1/3 of students are allowed to go to a Gymnasium high school (nothing to do with exercise), which provide the best chance of getting into universities. Less-prestigious high schools, which I've translated as “secondary schools,” lead to trade careers. This is oversimplified, but it's all you need to know to understand the piece. If you're interested, you can learn more here.

The article appeared in the “Life” section of Die Zeit, accompanied by a picture of the Karl Marx school and of two female Karl Marx students, who wore t-shirts, apparently printed in celebration of their graduation, which read “Even if we’ve missed out on a lot and done some things wrong, we still have chances.”

Class Struggle

In Gardelegen, in Saxony-Anhalt, secondary schoolers attacked a Gymnasium after their graduation celebration – among other things, out of anger over their disadvantages.

by André Paul

The celebrated their graduation on June 8, 2006, although most of them really didn’t have much reason to celebrate. 153 boys and girls ended their stay at the Karl Marx Secondary School in Gardelegen, Saxony-Anhalt. Most of them had an ordinary secondary school certificate in their pocket, some of them a qualified certificate. They could start their careers. But for 100 of the young people, the key word was: “could”. They had no apprenticeship slot. The employers in the local region Salzwedel can take whom they want, and they preferred others. They wanted better-qualified people, even when education ministers, teachers, employers, and parents all shy away from this word. The apprenticeship slots and the jobs, the money and the careers, don’t go to Karl Marx School students, they go to others. And the young people wanted to pay a visit to these “others” on that very morning. At the end of the day, the results were: severe property damage and aggravated assault. Their little town made it into the headlines: Secondary School Students Attack Gymnasium.

Continue reading "German Joys Uncut: Class Struggle" »


Does the Common Law Make for Successful Markets?

From Legal Affairs, a piece about the field of Law and Finance. Which legal system is better at creating reliable financial markets and economic growth: civil-law systems, such as Germany, France and most of South America; or common-law systems, such as England and the United States? A team of four ecomonists put together a dazzlingly complex study, and in 1998 announced their answer:

[C]ountries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.

It's mostly about the judges, they claim. Common-law systems create strong judges who have a great deal of power and independence, while judges in civil-law systems are much less powerful; they are meant only to faithfully apply the detailed laws passed by the legislator. Powerful and independent judges, in turn, act as an effective check on the kind of corruption and inefficiency that can sabotage markets.

Skeptics have arrived from both the law and economics faculties. The lawyers deride the simplistic splitting of legal systems into common law and civil law. Economists dispute the nature and importance of the variables the group's using, and doubt whether you could ever control for enough variables to actually link the nature of the legal system to economic performance:

[C]ommon law may be linked to strong markets without causing them. Common law countries tend to speak English (a big advantage in the latter half of the 20th century, given American economic dominance) and tend to be Protestant (scholars dating back to Max Weber have connected Protestantism with hard work). Many historians also believe that the British did a much better job than the French of finding economically viable locations to set up colonies. "What LLSV has done is a very clever relabeling of things," said Zingales. "We all know that Anglo-American countries are different. You can call it the English language, the English tradition, and you can code it in all sorts of ways."

I don't really have a dog in this fight, but I found the article interesting and balanced, and maybe some readers will enjoy it


Is German TV Bleak and Depressing?

It's the one thing that drives people who engage with Germany at anything but a superficial level up the wall: the bitter, pessimistic whining. Sometimes, outsiders can chuckle about it. But sometimes, you get to thinking: Is there something in the water here? Is there perhaps actually something deeply wrong with the psyche of these people?! As one German writes: "I have been living in the US for about seven years now, and if there's one thing I dread when I go home to visit Germany, it's the complaining."

Maybe it's their TV. From Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly:

In the LA Times today, Alissa Rubin writes that Europeans don't like American politics but do like American entertainment. The following passage from Reinhard Scolik, chief of programming for Austria's largest broadcaster, caught my attention:

"In American programs, people have problems, serious problems. In 'Grey's Anatomy,' people are dying, it tells you that life will be very, very hard, but at the very end they get a little hope and there is a way to get through," he said. "In German shows, which we also get on Austrian television, it is mostly a hopeless situation, it is too heavy."

Wow. Are German TV shows really that bleak?

It's a good question. I don't have much experience with German TV, but it seems to be a bit bleaker than U.S. TV, but not horrifyingly pessimistic. I'd put it at about the same level as British TV in terms of bleakness. (Come to think of it, the Brits are also more pessimistic than Americans, but they are nowhere near as glum as the poor Germans).

On German TV, there are quiz shows, shopping shows, crime shows that are unusually thumbsucky and psychoanalytical, and pretty good soap operas in which ordinary people have problems, sometimes overcome them, and sometimes fail. There is generally a lot more open conflict in these soap operas than there is on American TV, but Germans can handle conflict.

Continue reading "Is German TV Bleak and Depressing?" »


Long Meetings, Silent Underlings, Limits, and Stamina

If you're going to be spending a lot of time with German businessmen soon, God help you.

And so does the Financial Times Deutschland, with this essay on German business culture (hat tip Ed P.). I've highlighted the most important passages in bold, for those of you cramming for the exam:

Be prepared for long meetings. Readiness to handle lengthy sessions shows you possess the essential prerequisites of seriousness, stamina and structure... Do not smile too much. It can be regarded as foppish. The Germans are tolerant of English foibles. Some of them [Germans, that is, not English foibles] even affect a certain air of relaxation. But they have their limits.

...

Allow the boss of the company you are visiting to do most of the talking. That is why he is the boss. Do not expect his underlings to do much more than nod in silent compliance. That is the way German corporate bureaucracy functions. On the whole, it works.

Do not worry about your ignorance of German. Your hosts will love outsmarting each other in showing how well they command your language. Speak English slowly and distinctly. Avoid nuances. Be direct. Do not play with words. Many misunderstandings - wars, even - are caused by the Germans not being able to understand what the English are saying, but being too proud to ask...

...If you end up taking taxis, do not expect the drivers to know the way to your destination. But expect an erudite, if irritable, conversation. Many German taxi drivers are unemployed engineers, neurologists, pharmacists, software writers or computer technicians. They know they should be doing something more useful than ferrying you around.

If you sit down to dinner after the meeting, do not believe the old adage about "not mentioning the war". The Second World War retains a fascination for many Germans. Sometimes it is hard to get them off the subject.

Expect your German hosts to tell you how much poorer the country has become since reunification. If you pre-empt them by telling them that 3 to 4 per cent of west German gross domestic product flows to the east each year, they will think you are hugely knowledgeable. Your chances of winning that sale will rise.

...

Invite your counterparties back to Britain. Treat them to a traditional dish of beef or suckling pig. The Germans have a soft spot for the English. Many of them send their sons and daughters to school here. If we could only manufacture more cars, kitchen goods, machine tools, chemicals, power stations and railway equipment that they would want to buy from us, then they would probably like us even more.

I'm just kidding about the "God help you," by the way. In my limited experience, German businessmen are often courteous and sometimes pretty interesting, if you can crack their facade without pissing them off. Which is a very tricky high-wire act.

Next Up: German Joys' very own guide to impressing unemployed German alcoholics!