Previous month:
January 2012
Next month:
March 2012

How Right-Wing is Christian Kracht?

The Kid in Berlin, whose blog I am happy to have just stumbled across, has a piece on the Diez-Kracht affair. George Diez, one of the Spiegel's critics, has recently written a long take-down of Swiss writer Christian Kracht. Diez accuses Kracht of harboring right-wing sympathies based on his latest novel Imperium (g) (which involves an oddball German exile founding a colony in the South Seas in the 19th century) and, perhaps more interestingly, on Kracht's correspondence with American artists David Woodard (g). Of course, this being Germany, the Diez article is not online.

More background from the Kid.

Of course, the setting of the novel means Kracht has to depict racist mindsets - and yet Diez for one is troubled by the intransparency of the narrator's standpoint. This writer, he says, has a fascination with dictatorships and evil but never quite reveals where he stands on the issue, while it occupies a growing place in his writing.

But it's on the last of the article's four pages that Diez cuts to the quick. Because here he turns to Kracht's friend David Woodard. The two of them last year published a compendium of their email correspondence, which was generally reviewed with bored shrugs. Perhaps the weight of all that communication dulled the reviewers' senses, because some of the quotes Diez obviously underlined at the time are hair-raising. The two of them admiringly bandy about names of right-wing populists and out-and-out Nazis and - this is the important bit - discuss the Paraguayan Aryan settlement Nueva Germania. You can read about Woodard's involvement in this community in a 2005 article in the San Francisco Chronicle. You can also see on this website that Woodard was working on a novel - I can only assume on the same subject - that was supposed to be published by Blumenbar Verlag in 2009. It was not. I'd be interested to find out why not.

Is it a coincidence that Kracht chose a very similar subject for Imperium? Certainly it reflects the two men's common fascination with German oddballs who set up colonies in far-flung places, only to fail. Of course Diez can't do much more than ask similar questions himself, the writing being extremely slippery. And that's one reason why I've never read Kracht's work. Incidentally, his non-fiction book The Ministry of Truth, depicting Kim Jong Il's North Korea, is available in English, published by Feral House, a US publisher with an apparent and perhaps fitting part-focus on occultism, serial killers, Nazism, "exposing Muslim fundamentalism" and dictatorships. Other authors they publish include Ted Kaczynski, a.k.a. the Unabomber. The disclaimer reads: "Feral House does not support or justify Kaczynski's crimes, nor does the author receive royalties or compensation for this book. It is this publisher’s mission, as well as a foundation of the First Amendment, to allow the reader the ability to discern the value of any document." Many of the images on the publisher's website would be banned under German law.

You should definitely click on the link to the San Francisco Chronicle in the excerpt above. To make sure you do, here it is again.

Why the American Voting System Sucks

The inimitable CGP Grey explains why mixed-member proportional voting (MMP) is more fair and rational than American first-past-the-post elections:

Now, a bleg for my German readers: As far as I can tell, the MMP system described here is what Germany uses. That's my gut feeling, but since I can't vote in Germany, I may be unaware of some minor differences. Please feel free to enlighten me in comments, as you so often do.

Learning to Wait

An American studies French parents to learn why their children don't scream and run around and raise hell all the time, like American kids:

Yet the French have managed to be involved with their families without becoming obsessive. They assume that even good parents aren't at the constant service of their children, and that there is no need to feel guilty about this. "For me, the evenings are for the parents," one Parisian mother told me. "My daughter can be with us if she wants, but it's adult time." French parents want their kids to be stimulated, but not all the time. While some American toddlers are getting Mandarin tutors and preliteracy training, French kids are—by design—toddling around by themselves.


Of course, the French have all kinds of public services that help to make having kids more appealing and less stressful. Parents don't have to pay for preschool, worry about health insurance or save for college. Many get monthly cash allotments—wired directly into their bank accounts—just for having kids.

But these public services don't explain all of the differences. The French, I found, seem to have a whole different framework for raising kids. When I asked French parents how they disciplined their children, it took them a few beats just to understand what I meant. "Ah, you mean how do we educate them?" they asked. "Discipline," I soon realized, is a narrow, seldom-used notion that deals with punishment. Whereas "educating" (which has nothing to do with school) is something they imagined themselves to be doing all the time.

One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. It is why the French babies I meet mostly sleep through the night from two or three months old. Their parents don't pick them up the second they start crying, allowing the babies to learn how to fall back asleep. It is also why French toddlers will sit happily at a restaurant. Rather than snacking all day like American children, they mostly have to wait until mealtime to eat. (French kids consistently have three meals a day and one snack around 4 p.m.)


French parents and caregivers find it hard to believe that we are so laissez-faire about this crucial ability [learning to wait]. When I mentioned the topic at a dinner party in Paris, my French host launched into a story about the year he lived in Southern California.

He and his wife had befriended an American couple and decided to spend a weekend away with them in Santa Barbara. It was the first time they'd met each other's kids, who ranged in age from about 7 to 15. Years later, they still remember how the American kids frequently interrupted the adults in midsentence. And there were no fixed mealtimes; the American kids just went to the refrigerator and took food whenever they wanted. To the French couple, it seemed like the American kids were in charge.

"What struck us, and bothered us, was that the parents never said 'no,' " the husband said. The children did "n'importe quoi," his wife added.

I think this applies pretty well to middle-class German parents as well. The children aren't pampered, aren't always the center of attention, and have to learn how to amuse themselves and tolerate boredom. It's probably not a coincidence that German children also don't get diagnosed with attention deficit problems -- and then pumped full of amphetamines -- as much as American children do.

This Camera is a Hasselbladass

A finalist for Best Amazon Review Ever has to be this one, for the $30,000 Hasselblad Hx4 digital camera. It starts with the fact that Goldman Sachs was giving away $30,000 cameras as party gifts, and then gets even stranger:

I am a landscaper and I work mostly in Bel Air. One of my clients neighbors sold me this camera, which he'd received as party gift at a Goldman Sachs function. I told him I couldn't afford it, but he said, "take it home, try it out before you say that."

Well, I did and he was right, the pictures are absolutely amazing. In many respects they are MORE, not less, realistic than the subjects.

I have no complaints whatsoever on that score - or not exactly on that score. There were a number of images left on the camera, either by the neighbor of my client, or whoever may have had it before him. I can't be too specific, there are all kinds of people who use this web site, children, those from here and there all types in short, and I've no wish to offend. I'll just say the images were of an erotic nature, and graphic, my God, on account of the subject matter, and the quality of this amazing camera, these picture were very, very disturbing. I had to be hospitalized in fact - only for four days, but I was unable to return to work for almost six weeks. I'm paying $700.00 a month now to the client's neighbor for the camera, even though the police have it as evidence, and will keep it until the Goldman Sachs dudes and the others involved come up for trial. It's been an hellish ordeal, but I can't wait to get that camera back - digitally wiped, the police have assured me, of those unforgettable atrocious images. The bulldog was put to sleep.

What can you say about a camera that beats reality at its own game? A camera that can send you to the hospital?

But why did the bulldog have to die? Was it the camera again?

The Danube's Dumbest Detectives

I learned an important thing from yesterday's Tatort: the city of Vienna recruits its police by grabbing up a random group of high-school dropouts, providing them no training whatsoever, promising them a lifetime job with no accountability, giving them weapons and badges and uniforms, then shoving them out the door.

How else can you explain the mind-breaking incompetence displayed by last night's Tatort detectives? Here's how the episode starts: A former member of a bloodthirsty Serbian-nationalist paramilitary unit deserts and goes underground in Vienna. Years later, his former comrades discover his new identity, and send a team out to kill him. (They think he might spill the beans about the group's atrocities). The Serb deserter drives a van for a local cleaning company, and is supposed to be picking up a cleaning crew at a local mall. The killers shoot the van driver. They realize too late that they killed the wrong person -- the Serb called in sick, and a 23-year-old student was sent as his replacement.

The Vienna Tatort investigators, Moritz Eisner and Bibi Fellner, show up the next morning. A cleaning woman saw the entire crime. Do they conduct a formal debriefing and create sketches of the two killers? No, they extract a few generalities from the woman and let her go. Then they find out that the victim of the crime was a last-minute replacement for the regular driver, which obviously might mean that the regular driver was the intended victim of this carefully-planned attack.

So do they rush to the intended victim's apartment, radioing ahead for assistance?

No, they don't. They don't even call the potential victim to tell him of the mortal danger he is in. Instead, caring shiksa-yenta Bibi takes Moritz, who's sick with the flu, to her favorite cafe to force some sort of disgusting garlic-based home remedy on him. While they are thus sitting around with their thumbs up their arses, bantering about flu remedies, the killers in fact do go to the van driver's apartment and almost nail him.

But we are just at the beginning a barrage of idiocy. The van driver and his family are put into a heavily-guarded safe house. The Serbians find out where the house is, raid it, and murder 10 cops. Two of the Serbians escape in a black car. They are stopped at a traffic checkpoint. A female cop begins asking them questions, and just as she does, her male partner yells across to her that an all-points-bulletin has just been put out for two men. She realizes the two men fit the description. But, since the other cop yelled it out to her, so do the two men themselves. One of them shoots the female cop and they both drive away. The male cop fires a few ineffectual shots at the departing car, and then complains remorsefully that he got his partner killed. Arriving on the scene, the two Tatort detectives reassure the despondent traffic cop that's not true. But they're wrong -- he did, of course, just get his partner killed, by stupidly sharing extremely sensitive information with potential suspects. Presumably the clueless Tatort detectives are reassuring him because they would have made the same bone-headed move themselves.

A little while later, Bibi and Moritz, these two Kakanian Clouseaus, find out that the mastermind of the massacre at the safe house frequents a local Serbian hangout called Maxi. For some unknowable reason, the Serbian assassin visits this place shortly after the crime even though he knows it's on the police's radar screen, since they visited once before to search for suspects when he was there. (The only thing that rescues the cops is the equal stupidity of the suspects). Bibi and Moritz stake out the cafe, alone, and see the man go in.

Keep in mind that this man (1) has access to advanced weapons; (2) is a trained military assassin with hundreds of murders under his belt; (3) is entering a cafe filled with well-armed comrades and fellow travelers; and (4) has just committed the bloodiest massacre of Austrian law enforcement officers since 1945. Despite all this, the two Tatort chuckleheads decide to rush in after him by themselves, armed only with handguns! No reinforcements, no securing the perimeter, no surveillance, nothing! Are there are no other cops in Vienna? (Perhaps they were all killed at the safe house). The two detectives barge in, and ludicrously implausible hi-jinks ensue.

I could list many other howlers, but mercy bids me hold my tongue. What we saw yesterday is the first Tatort episode which is also inadvertently a Police Academy movie (Police Academy 9: Dipshits on the Danube). I can only conclude that the writers of this episode have a grudge against Austrian law enforcement. If I were the Austrian police, I would sue everyone involved in this episode for insult (Beleidigung, Section 115 of the Austrian Penal Code).

New German Words II

There is a direct correlation between (1) the number of hours I've had to spend in agonizingly dull faculty meetings in recent weeks, and (2) the number of shiny New German Words™ I make available to my Teutonic brethren and sistren, free of charge, as a public service. It's been a rough semester:










Last time I did this, Martin knit all the new words together into a paragraph. I doubt that will be possible this time around, but we'll see...

Why Germany's Welfare State Works

The LA Times profiles an ordinary German middle-class couple who enjoy various benefits that most Americans making a similar salary could only dream of [h/t LMGP]:

Every summer, Volkmar and Vera Kruger spend three weeks vacationing in the south of France or at a cool getaway in Denmark. For the other three weeks of their annual vacation, they garden or travel a few hours away to root for their favorite team in Germany's biggest soccer stadium.

The couple, in their early 50s, aren't retired or well off. They live in a small Tudor-style house in this middle-class town about 30 miles northwest of Frankfurt. He's a foreman at a glass factory; she works part time for a company that tracks inventories for retailers. Their combined income is a modest $40,000.

Yet the Krugers have a higher standard of living than many Americans who have twice that income.

Their secret: little debt, frugal habits and a government that is intensely focused on high production, low inflation and extensive social services.

That has given them job security and good medical care as well as well-maintained roads, trains and bike paths. Both of their adult children are out on their own, thanks in part to Germany's job-training system and heavy subsidies for university education.

For instance, Volkmar's out-of-pocket costs for stomach surgery and 10 days in a hospital totaled just $13 a day. College tuition for their son runs about $260 a semester.

Germany, with its manufacturing base and export prowess, is the America of yesteryear, an economic power unlike any of its European neighbors. As the world's fourth-largest economy, it has thrived on principles that the United States seems to have gradually lost.

[One of those, the article points out, is a profound aversion to debt, both on the personal and governmental level].


Germany's lower unemployment rate also reflects its orientation toward formal vocational training.

The Krugers' older child, Thorsten, was interested in books from an early age, and prepared for a university education. Their daughter, Nadine, got a vocational diploma in social work that included three years of schooling after high school, with the final year being on-the-job training at half pay.

About one-fourth of all German businesses take part in this apprenticeship program; six of 10 apprentices end up getting hired permanently, said Dirk Werner of the Cologne Institute for Economic Research.


The practice, he said, is a key reason why Germany has one of the lowest unemployment rates for 15- to 24-year-olds, about 9.7%, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. In the U.S., the comparable rate is about twice that.

Volkmar and others attribute part of the lower unemployment rate to the German work ethic. Yet Germans, on average, work far fewer hours a year than Americans, thanks partly to five or six weeks of vacation.

The article does a fine job of summarizing why the standard of living of ordinary middle-class Germans is so much higher than that of Americans, despite Americans' higher incomes: government policies consciously reduce the cost of living for the ordinary incidents of life (health care, higher education). German earn less than Americans, but also can spend less on basic necessities of life. Government policy also guarantees everyone enough time off to truly relax and recover. Further, those who don't go to college -- about 75% of the population in developed countries -- are channeled into solid middle-class jobs through internship programs run by public-private partnerships. That is, they are trained to do a job some company needs them to do, without being forced to incur thousands of dollars in debt to get that training.