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October 2006
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December 2006

Blue Dog Diapers

The best thing about generic, easy-to-set-up Blogger blogs is the button on the top-right: "next blog", which may forward you halfway across the world to a randomly-chosen Blogger blog written in a completely different language.

I recommend at least one or two of these clicks per day. Recently I found this photo at Tom Sølvberg's blog. He (Sølvberg not the dog!) appears to be an artist who will have his debut exhibition at the [something] gallery on 19 January 2007. Here's his picture of a differently-abled dog:

Brussels vs. the Tophats

So I'm waiting for a doctor's appointment this morning paging through Spiegel and see this article (G) about chimney sweeps in Germany. Germany still has Schornsteinfeger, those quaint figures in black tophats (good-luck symbols!) who make sure your coal-burning stoves and tile-ovens are in order and clean your chimneys of all the dust, dead pigeons, urchin residue, and unexploded bombs.

But wait, nobody has basement boilers or coal-burning stoves anymore; and the number of apartments with actual working chimneys is pretty tiny. So the chimney sweep must be a thing of the past, right? Wrong! There are most definitely still chimney sweeps in Germany. They not only offer their services to you, they force their services upon you. When they come by to inspect your building, you must let them in (they can even call the police and force entry), and you must pay them a fee determined by the local board.

Http___wwwschornsteinfeger1The article profiles Joachim Datko, a 55-year-old engineer from Regensburg who tried to reject the chimney-sweeper's services, pointing out that he had installed an ultra-modern gas heating system that didn't produce a single particle of dust or smoke. He lost, and the chimney sweeper was permitted to barge his way into Datko's house to conduct pointless measurements.

Who gave them these secure, life-long jobs? The Nazis, of course. In a job-creation boondoogle that's more reminiscent of 1435 than 1935, they they divided all of Germany up into small "sweep districts," and created a tiny chimney-sweep monopoly in each one. Chimney-sweeps in training have to wait 12 years to be assigned a district. When they get one, they have to live there and volunteer for the fire department. In return, though, they have a monopoly on inspecting and cleaning chimneys and heating devices in that district. In their defense, they point out that they're much more than chimney sweeps and are, like, totally modern now, and know how to check your home for all sorts of harmful vapors and gases. But however useful their services may be, they still have a monopoly.

Who will save us? The EU, of course. Monopolies violate EU guidelines, so Brussels is soon going to force the chimney sweepers to compete for their services. Yes, that's right -- Brussels will be intervening to reduce bureaucracy. The battle-lines are drawn. On the one side, chimney-sweeps, with their official website glorifying themselves as "experts on security, energy, and the environment" The website's mascot is the charming young thing picture above, who can sweep my chimney anytime. [was that really necessary? -- ed.]. In the other corner, Joachim Datko -- yes, that Datko -- who's got his own anti-chinmey-sweep website (G)!

I don't know where I stand on this issue. On the one hand, it does seem awfully old-fashioned to preserve a monopoly, especially a Nazi monopoly (Nazopoly?). On the other hand, they wear tophats!


Silke & Normen Kowalewski have created Rheinschuh, an on-line "database of Rotblumewashed-up shoes."

All the shoes were found on the banks of the Rhine. Everything's organized by category: boots, slippers, sneakers, dismembered shoe parts, even gloves (handschuhe = "hand shoes" in German). Data concerning the shoes is carefully documented, and each shoe even has a name (Redbloom is to the left).

Why RheinShoe? you may be asking yourself. The website's owners have provided an answer, translated by yours truly:

Rhineshoe is..

A river in snapshots.
Completely nuts.
Documenting flotsam and jetsam.
A bit of nonsense.
A look at the smaller things of life.
An instruction-book for inventing stories.
Delighted with input.
The scope of a no-longer-completely-new medium.
A mudfight gloriously lost.
The meeting of the eternal and the banal
Something to cheer up your afternoon.
An answer to gaudy and dumb.
An invitation to discovery.
The materialization of the physical in the virtual.
A forum for views and insights.
Better than television.
Lived interaction.
An off-kilter experiment.
Always surprising.

Please Check Box For Unspecified Social Change

Courtesy of Riesenmaschine, I bring you a question (G-PDF) presented to the citizens of Berlin on 17 September 2006, concerning the "New Regulations on Referenda and Petitions for Referenda":

Ballot Question: Do you agree to the changes in Articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution of the City of Berlin, as published on pages 446 and 447 of the Law- and Regulations-Gazette of Berlin on 3 June 2006?   


Kathrin Passig of Riesenmaschine comments (G):

The ordinary citizem, steeled by years of psychological testing and market research, recognizes that the question is hardly meant to be taken at face value. Something completely different is being tested here, namely: how many Berliners are willing to vote on some completely invented subject? And how many of them will choose the progressive "yes" option ("Change! Change is always good!") and how many the conservative ("I have no idea what it is, but I want it to remain exactly the same.").

New Objectivity in New York

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is hosting a major show of Neue Sachlichkeit ("New Objectivity") portraits, and the New York Times calls it "amazing":

Organized by Sabine Rewald, curator of 19th-century, modern and contemporary art at the Met, this exhibition creates an indelible, psychologically charged picture of Weimar Germany as it teetered between World Wars I and II. In a larger sense it is a humane hall of mirrors whose representation of individuals and types, of the quick and the deluded, the knowing and the devouring, has a sharpness that still cuts.

Presented in seven galleries devoid of fanfare or froufrou, “Glitter and Doom” contains just more than 100 paintings and drawings by 10 artists, prominent among them George Grosz, Christian Schad, Rudolf Schlichter and Karl Hubbuch, and most conspicuously the unrelentingly savage Otto Dix and his magnificent other, Max Beckmann. With Dix represented by 53 works and Beckmann holding his own at 17, the two preside over this exhibition like Picasso and Braque, except that they are equals.

A slideshow is found here which highlights the glistening, icily perverted work of Christian Schad (G), who's not as well-known as his more traditionally "Expressionist-looking" colleagues:

The meticulous Schad, represented by works done in Berlin during the late 1920s, seems to have been more evenhanded. He imbued all his subjects, including himself, with an enervated yet dignified remoteness. The exception may be the portrait of a pair of sideshow performers, “Agosta the ‘Winged One’ and Rasha the ‘Black Dove.’ ” Here a slim man with an inverted rib cage and a watchful black woman summon a challenging energy and direct it right at us.

For those of you who, like me, can't pop off to New York to see the show, I recommend the glorious Taschen book on this period, The New Objectivity (German version here). Dozens of large, full-color illustrations and sympathetic essays bring these odd, intense, cynical, vulnerable creators to life.

Teach me to Laugh, Herr Boyes

Roger Boyes is an Englishman and Berlin correspondent for the London Times. He can often be seen on German talk shows commenting on international affairs (in perfect German). Now he's written a book, "My dear Krauts," which is designed to help Germans learn to laugh. First, I'll give you the gist of Boyes, then I'll add my take:

Germany is in urgent need of "humor development aid," Roger Boyes, the London Times correspondent in Berlin.

The Germans are a nation of paranoid schizophrenics who can't decide whether to love or loathe themselves, says Roger Boyes, the Berlin correspondent for the London Times, whose new book "My dear Krauts" marks the start of a one-man mission to help the country lighten up.

"It's not that they can't be funny. In fact they like a good laugh. It's just that they're a bit slower on the uptake than the rest of the world. And they don't understand irony."...

Continue reading "Teach me to Laugh, Herr Boyes" »

Prepare to Die, Eurabians!

Wake up, Europe! You're on the edge of doom! In a couple of decades, your prancing fairy-men are going to be fighting Islamic insurgencies in burned-out cities and your women will be wearing veils.

Or so says the new book "America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It" by right-wing polemicist Mark Steyn. Steyn, perhaps best known for his fervent, nay unhinged advocacy of the triumphantly successful invasion of Iraq, has now written a book comparing the United States and Europe. It's been adoringly reviewed by right-wing commentator on Middle Eastern affairs Daniel Pipes, also a big fan of the invasion of Iraq (Pipes on the Iraq war in April 2006: "Oh, it was a success. We got rid of Saddam Hussein. Beyond that is icing."). Over to you, Daniel:

[Steyn] begins with the legacy of two totalitarianisms. Traumatized by the electoral appeal of fascism, post-World War II European states were constructed in a top-down manner, "so as to insulate almost entirely the political class from populist pressures." [Err, what is 'almost entirely' supposed to modify there? - ed.] As a result, the establishment has "come to regard the electorate as children." Second, the Soviet menace during the Cold War prompted American leaders, impatient with Europe's (and Canada's) weak responses, effectively to take over their defense. This benign and far-sighted policy led to victory by 1991, but it also had the unintended and less salutary side effect of freeing up Europe's funds to build a welfare state. This welfare state had several malign implications.

Continue reading "Prepare to Die, Eurabians!" »

The End of a Legal Battle over Traffic Lights

If there was one thing everyone could agree on about East German socialism, it was that world peace could only be assured after the inevitable victory of international socialism, when all peoples would unite as brothers under the banner of understanding among peoples.

AmpelmaennchenThat and the traffic lights. They were fuckin' adorable, especially the green "walk" signal. OK, his outstretched arm is much too long for his body and seems to be deformed into a hideous, fingerless club. But he's striding so zestily into the glorious Socialist future that you just can't help adoring him, and the hat and the shoes are sharp, in all senses of the word. (The red "stop" signal looks a little bit too cruciform/mummy-like for my tastes, but is still very popular, especially as a keychain).

Two German business titans each claimed to have the rights to use the image of the Ampelmaennchen ("little traffic-light men"). In this corner, Markus Heckhausen, a Berlin designer with roots in West Germany. He trademarked the figures in 2003, and plans to use them on a wide range of consumer knickknacks. In the other corner, Joachim Roßberg, an East German engineer who used to be in charge of producing East Germany's traffic lights, and who claimed to have already registered the figures in 1997.

A complex, wearisome legal battle (there are no other kinds) ensued, and, of course, the West German interloper won (G). The poor East German engineer had 13 of his 15 registered trademarks cancelled, and is now only allowed to use the Ampelmaennchen to sell alcohol, of all things.

Don't feel too sorry for the Ossie person from the new federal states, though. As he saw that the ship of his legal case was about to smash against the rocks of German jurisprudence, he tried a desperate 'Hail Mary.' (according to the Spiegel article linked above): He claimed he wasn't even a party to the lawsuit, since it was actually his son, also named Joachim Roßberg, who actually owned the rights to the images. Problem was, if that were the case, the son obtained the rights when he was nine, and was director of a company when he was twelve. The judges have referred Roßberg Senior to the local District Attorney.

David Dow on WDR Fernsehen

I'm watching a DVD last night (Kieslowski's Blind Chance; interesting but flawed) when a friend calls: "Turn on WDR Fernsehen, there's a documentary about the death row in Texas"!  Since I used to be a death penalty lawyer myself, I tuned in. It was a documentary about the execution of Texas death row inmate Frances Newton, which took place on September 14th, 2005.

The first talking head I saw was Professor David Dow, who taught me the nuts and bolts of death penalty law lo those many years ago. He was talking about the terrible legal representation Ms. Newton got at her trial, where she was defended by a local Houston, Texas attorney who represented almost twenty hapless murder defendants in Houston, Texas in the 1980s, all of whom ended up on death row. Professor Dow sounded as smart as ever, even dubbed into German (not sure he'd be happy about that).

Prof. Dow is a fearless public critic of the many grievous shortcoming of the Texas death penalty justice system. His criticism is as sulfurously uncompromising as it needs to be in a State that has likely sent several innocent people to the lethal-injection gurney deaths in the recent past, but it is also based on careful research and almost two decades of experience.

Professor Dow continues to provide outstanding legal assistance to people on Texas' death row and in Texas prison as Executive Director of the Texas Innocence Network. You can read about their achievements here -- people released from prison after the TIN proved their innocence, moribund cases revived by TIN investigations, TIN attorneys and student investigators helping to create legal precedents that will benefit thousands of inmates. This is difficult and thankless work on many different levels, and it is not paid for by the government. If you would like to support the work, your donation will be gratefully accepted here.

Continue reading "David Dow on WDR Fernsehen" »