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Darwin and the Acrid Fluid

I heard this anecdote today in German on a show (Zeitzeichen) dedicated to Darwin on his birthday, and thought it was too nice not to pass on:
"One day, on tearing off some old bark, I saw two rare beetles, and seized one in each hand; then I saw a third and new kind, which I could not bear to lose, so that I popped the one which I held in my right hand into my mouth. Alas! it ejected some intensely acrid fluid, which burnt my tongue so that I was forced to spit the beetle out, which was lost, as was the third one."

Catholics and Evolution

If plenty of Austrians doubt evolution, you probably can't lay that at the feet of the Catholic Church, since the Church generally has no problem with evolution, as the Archbishop of Westminster notes in a newspaper column called In praise of Darwin:

If we see [science and religion] as fundamentally opposed - science endangering and undermining faith, or faith obstructing knowledge - then distortions are produced on both sides. For example, some Christians argue for “Young Earth Creationism” or Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolutionary theory. Creationism is the belief that the biblical stories of Creation as described in the Book of Genesis are literally true.

Is genuine Christianity obliged to adopt any of these positions? No, it is not. Belief in creation is not equivalent to any one of them. It is a mistake to treat the theology of creation in the Book of Genesis as a scientific textbook.

Jeffrey Herf on The Baader-Meinhof Complex

Jeffrey Herf praises the Vergangenheitsbewältigung of 'The Baader-Meinhof Complex':

[A]n honest reckoning with the past is exactly what the movie attempts. And, in providing a frank and unsentimental depiction of the brutal excesses associated with 1960s radicalism, it sets an example that Hollywood would do well to follow.

Director Uli Edel and writer Bernd Eichinger present the RAF as it was--a brutal, violent organization--while flatly and effectively contradicting some of the myths surrounding the group. They show the RAF shooting an unarmed office worker in a successful effort to free Baader from custody, placing bombs in police departments and at the Springer Press building, and exchanging fire with police after being offered the option of peacefully surrendering. They present the RAF seizure of the German Embassy in Stockholm and the murder of its military attache, Andreas von Mirbach. Scenes of the murder of German banker Jurgen Ponto in his home (though disputed in its details by his widow) and of the assassination of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback and his bodyguards with machine guns by two assassins on a motorcycle leave nothing to the imagination; they are barbaric.


Der Baader-Meinhof Komplex places on the big screen the truth about these self-inflicted deaths [of the RAF prisoners in Stammheim in 1977], which RAF supporters transformed into a politically useful story of martyrdom at the hands of the allegedly fascist state.

...I hope that American filmmakers take this movie as a long overdue invitation to revisit the uglier side of this country's experience with radicalism during the 1960s--and engage in some Vergangenheitsbewältigung of our own.

Perhaps. But the big difference is that the RAF is still very much present in the German consciousness. Thousands of gallons of ink are spilled about the group every year in Germany, and even young people know about them and have an opinion on them, one way or another. In the U.S., by contrast, 1970s terrorism has a much lower profile. The first thing newscasters had to do when introducing the subject of Bill Ayers, the "washed-up terrorist" who surfaced in the 2008 Presidential campaign, was to explain to viewers who the Weathermen were and what they did. Seventies terrorism is, as the kids say, 'ancient history.'

Here are my proposed explanations for the difference: (1) the RAF sells newspapers and magazines; (2) German news outlets are controlled by former hippies for whom the RAF was a critical experience of their youth; (3) Germans are hard-wired to mull over their past; (4) the RAF killed a lot more people, and was generally more sophisticated and ruthless than the Weather Underground; and (5) there are many public figures in Germany who are willing to defend the RAF or at least 'try to understand' the RAF, with varying degrees of coyness, thus keeping the debate alive.

In the U.S., by contrast, you won't find anyone who will still carry water for 1970s terrorist groups, except for a few left-wing university professors or ranting ex-hippies). The only reason Bill Ayers became "salonfaehig" was because he had never been convicted of a crime, and had spent decades building a career as a respected professor. American commentators defended Ayers-as-he-is-today, but never showed the slightest understanding for the Weather Underground's actions or motivations.

German Word of the Week: Kaffeesatzleserei

While listening to something-or-other on the radio, I heard the word you see above. And thought to myself: Coffegroundsreadery?

Yes, coffeegroundsreadery! Anglo-Saxons like to read tea leaves, but apparently our swarthier cousins, who are more fond of coffee, read coffee grounds instead. Here's how it's done:

There are at least two forms of coffee reading. Both require that the cup be covered with the saucer and turned upside-down. Some traditions, such as in Romania, require that the sediments in the cup be swirled around the inside of the cup until they cover the majority of the cup's inside surface. Other traditions, such as Turkish and Middle Eastern, do not require this swirling but do require that the cup be turned towards yourself for showing your own fortune. The coffee grounds are given time to settle and dry against the cup before a reading begins.

Whatever you do, don't try this in Israel.

Pride and Prejudice and...Brains

The New York Times informs us of a nifty new publication:

Quirk Books’s spring catalog features at least one title I’d like to get my hands on: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,” by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Like a DVD loaded with extras, the book includes the original text of the Regency classic, juiced up with “all-new scenes of bone-crunching zombie mayhem.”


We at the Book Review strive to drive a stake through the heart of all reincarnations of Austen’s most famous opening line, but the version in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is actually pretty good: “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”

Given the propensity of certain segments of the German media to...err...shamelessly copy ideas from the "Anglo Saxons," we can only ask: Next up, Mephistopheles v. Joseph K.: Country-Style Chainsaw Cage Match?

Jane Austen's Facebook page can be found here.

German Word of the Week: Paramentik


So I'm wandering around recently when I come across this sign: "Workshop for Evangelical [i.e., Protestant] Paramentik and Textile Objects." Paramentik? Is it a medication? If so, why are people creating it in a workshop? Perhaps it's a kind of theological doctrine. But then, the same question arises: are we to assume that the Protestants first spend an hours working on the doctrine of "paramentics", and then start knitting "textile objects"? I wouldn't put it past them... comes to the rescue, informing us patiently that Paramentik actually means "vestments," of all things. I'm sure the word has some sort of fascinating Greek origin, which my highly cultivated readers will be happy to inform us of. Go to it, Joysters!