Over the weekend, the center-left German newspaper taz published a fascinating interview (g) with Oliver Burdinski and Kurt Gehrl, two zoophiliacs. That is, men who have sex with dogs. Those are their real names. The point of the interview was to protest against a bill pending in the German Parliament which would increase penalties for bestiality. Both men are members of ZETA (g), an organization whose name roughly translates as 'Zoophiles United for Tolerance and Understanding'. The point of the interview was to remove some of the stigma and shame from their passion, and to foster understanding of the sodomite next door, so to speak. As I read the interview, I felt myself actually beginning to sympathize with their cause.
The interviewer, plainly fascinated by the opportunity to ask these men about their sex lives, goes into great detail. One of the men first realized his orientation when he became aroused by an image of a centaur from early Hercules and Xena shows and from old computer games. He then progressed to make-out sessions with dogs, and the rest was history. One of the men is actually a 'bottom' -- he lets male dogs mount him. There's plenty more fascinating detail in the interview, but I will leave it for others to discover. Let's just say that if you want to know about the details of how grown men have sex with dogs, this interview is a great place to start.
Interestingly, both of the men totally reject the thesis, put forward by a German psychologist, that zoophiles are responding to childhood experiences. They say their childhoods were just fine, it's just that as long as they can remember, they have mainly been attracted to animals. This is yet another reminder how many German psychological 'experts' are still wedded to 1960's-era notion that many adult behaviors are related to childhood experiences. I am pretty sure that zoophiles, like most homosexuals, are simply hard-wired genetically and neurologically to their preferences, and would have turned out precisely the same way no matter what sort of childhood they had. In fact, one of the men interviewed for the article says he'd be happy to be a subject of scientific inquiry.
Of course, the interviewer brings out the standard counter-arguments, to which the men have ready responses. Here's my summary:
I have to say, I think they make a pretty good case. I cringe in horror at the image of their sexual practices, but then again, I cringe in horror at lots of things that I don't think should be against the law, such as Bauernsülze. Why not just leave them alone?
The New York Times publishes an op-ed on sexism in Germany:
Yet thousands of German women have taken to social media in recent days to tell a radically different story — one of daily sexism experienced by female interns who are told that “hot girls” receive special treatment or a young woman being informed that she will not get a job because she might become pregnant....
A woman who gave her name as Gudrun Lux posted about seeing her application for a job rejected because, she was told, “the boss does not want any women of childbearing age.” Another calling herself Su-Shee recounted interviewing a young male applicant who asked to see “the real boss, the man.”
Nicole Simon, 42, a social media consultant in Germany who also contributed to the debate, described the outpouring as an example of the years of pent-up frustration over episodes that are so prevalent that women learn to simply block them out.
“Consensus online seemed to be, ‘I thought I could not share these stories, but reading all the other things, I am surprised at how much I have suppressed over the years,”’ Ms. Simon said in an e-mail.
According to ministry for women and families, 58 percent of German women say they have been subject to sexual harassment, with more than 42 percent of the cases happening on the job.
In Germany, this sort of thing provokes a lot of thumb-sucking about What it All Means, and warnings that we must change our priorities, etc.
In other words, ineffectual hand-waving.
The first thing to do is separate out the serious from the not-so-serious problem. The not-so-serious problem is occasional flirtatious remarks. This is something that women can, and should, handle themselves. If you don't like a co-worker's clumsy or creepy remarks, tell him that, to his face, with increasing levels of acidulousness. You don't get as much respect in this life as you deserve, you get as much as you demand. What use was feminism if it hasn't put women into a position to set boundaries and denounce misconduct?
The more serious problem is women being denied job opportunities or asked for sexual favors by superiors, etc. First, though, let me list the things that don't work:
None of these things will change ingrained attitudes and prejudices. What will change them is meaningful, painful financial penalties and public shaming. Germany has various laws that are designed to combat pregnancy and gender discrimination, but they're toothless, and therefore little-used. If someone in a position to hire people actually tells a woman she won't get the job because she might get pregnant, that should lead to a €10,000 penalty payable by the company and a public denunciation on a government webpage. Of course, the supervisor who made the remark will probably get fired for getting his company into so much trouble. Good! That's called accountability. Of course, the actual behavior will probably still continue underground, etc. But at least it won't be openly tolerated. And there are ways of rooting out even subtle discrimination.
To get an idea of what transparency and accountability looks like, just go here, to the website of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a government agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws. The agency boasts that it filed 100,000 lawsuits in 2012, and forced companies to pay $365 million in fines and compensation in 2012 alone. Also, as you can see, there is a running ticker on the webpage listing, by name, companies which have recently been forced to compensate people whom they discriminated against. It's not a perfect system, but it's certainly more effective than what Germany is doing.
As part of the Gleichschaltung of the German nation behind National Socialism, universities were gradually purged of political unreliables, and all university fraternities were progressively banned or co-opted into the National Socialist German Students' Union (g). The leading program of this organization can be found in the '10 Laws of German Student Life' (Zehn Gesetze des deutschen Studentums), promulgated in 1938. Here is my translation of them:
I. German student, it is not necessary that you live, but rather that you fulfill your duty to your People (Volk)! Whatever you become, do so as a German!
II. The highest law and greatest dignity of a German man is honor. Injured honor can be expiated (gesühnt) only with blood. Your honor is your loyalty to your People and to yourself.
III. Being German means having character. You are among those called upon to struggle for the freedom of the German spirit (Geist)! Seek the truths that lie concealed in your People!
IV. Lack of restraint and attachment are not freedom. There is more freedom in service than in obeying your own command. Germany’s future depends on your faith, your enthusiasm, and your fighting spirit.
V. He who cannot imagine new things will never achieve anything. You cannot ignite that which is not already burning within you. Have the courage to feel and show admiration and respect!
VI. A man is born a National Socialist, but is also trained to be one, and, most of all, trains himself to be one.
VII. If anything is more powerful than fate, it is your courage to bear it stoically. What does not kill you makes you stronger. Praised be the things that make men hard.
VIII. Learn to live within a system! Obedience and discipline are the essential foundations of any community and the beginning of all education.
IX. As leader, be unyielding in the performance of your duties, decisive in standing up for what is necessary, helpful and good, never petty in judgment of human weakness, large-minded in recognizing the needs of others and humble in respect to your own!
X. Be a comrade! Be knightly and humble! Be a role model in your personal life! Your moral maturity will be judged by your interactions with others. Be one in thought and deed! Follow the Fuehrer’s example!
(Source: Justiz im Dritten Reich, Ilse Staff, ed., Fischer Verlag 1978, pp. 117-18).
There can be little doubt that these rules were posted above the writing-desk of many a student of law (especially law), history, accountancy, and medicine during the 1930s. Since most outsiders have learned only about the unfortunate consequences of National Socialism, they have a hard time understanding how so many apparently intelligent people believed in it. Some were opportunists and hacks, of course, but many National Socialists were sincere in believing that the core ideology was instrumental in achieving the glorious renewal of their Volk.
You can just get a glimpse of this in these rules. Some of them sound bizarre to modern ears, but others tie in to values that Germans have always at least claimed to hold dear: order, discipline, honesty, humility, sound character, self-control, and sincerity. Of course, brilliant misfits would mock these soppy-stern admonishments, but the National Socialists weren't interested in brilliant misfits, except to exile or kill them. They were interested in the much larger mass of people who were intelligent enough to get into university, but stolid in thinking and conformist in character.
To really understand why the great mass of conformists students might find these rules appealing to live by, it's important to understand how untranslatable lots of the words are. Words like Geist, Volk, Ehre, Kamerad, and Ordnung are, to Germans, like spectacular conch shells, layered with hundreds of years of elaborate, filigreed connotation. Translating them into English is like ripping the sea-snail out of its magnificent shell and exposing it as a moist, palpitating little gastropod. Some of these words (especially Volk or Kamerad) were, in fact, so central to Nazi propaganda that they remain under a brownish suspicion to this day.
DiA looks at something that's interested me about contemporary European politics. Although the center of gravity of European politics is in general far to the left of the USA's, so that Obama would be considered a mainstream European conservative, there is one exception: fiscal austerity. The notion that the government should engage in deficit spending to increase demand during recessions, which is mainstream center-left Keynesianism in the U.S., is now considered so radical in Europe that only far-left parties endorse it:
The idea that cutting the government's budget deficit is a prerequisite for economic growth is dominant in northern European politics, not just on the right, but on all but the farthest reaches of the left too. ...[C]entre-left parties in Germany and the Netherlands believe it's imperative to slash their countries' budget deficits in the face of the worsening European recession.
Take Germany. As Wolfgang Münchau writes in the Financial Times, the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) "keeps criticising Angela Merkel’s policies on the eurozone, but ends up supporting whatever policies she drags before the Bundestag."
What is most infuriating is the SPD’s sheer inability to explain in a clear way why the chancellor is wrong. The reason for this inability is that the party has bought into the same panoply of false crisis narratives. It bought into the lie about fiscal profligacy as the cause of the crisis, and the need for austerity to solve it... Whenever the Social Democrats get infected by the need to feel responsible, they end up with the wrong policies. The SPD supported financial deregulation in the late 1990s. The SPD supported fiscal austerity. It supported a constitutional debt brake. If you add it all up, the SPD supports economic policies that have ultimately given rise to the imbalances that have driven the eurozone apart.
This is very similar to the situation in the Netherlands, where the centre-left Labour party has just joined the governing coalition and embraced the doctrine of austerity and deficit-cutting with gusto. During the electoral campaign, Labour nodded imperceptibly towards a Keynesian take on the euro-zone crisis, protesting the EU-mandated deficit limit of 3% of GDP as a senselessly rigid measure that would "cut the economy to pieces". But they then signed on to a governing accord that immediately slashes the deficit by nearly 2% of GDP through tax hikes and budget cuts. Since the new cabinet took office last month, Labour ministers and MPs have been referring constantly to the party's tradition of sober fiscal rectitude going back to the 1940s, to allay any suspicion that they might be softies or pinkos; they ridicule calls for stimulus, and hammer on the moral-hazard dangers of official writedowns or haircuts on Greek debt, lest the Greeks abandon promised reforms and other European debtor nations clamour for the same deal. Labour's acquiescence to austerity policies has held even as the Dutch economy shrank a startling 1.1% in the third quarter. The party confines its leftist impulses mainly to spreading the domestic pain of austerity in a more egalitarian fashion, through progressive taxation and redistribution measures; on euro-zone policies, they've eliminated any daylight between themselves and the centre-right Liberals.
That solidarity bodes well for the stability of the current government and its ability to carry out dramatic reforms. But if you're looking for anyone in the Netherlands' political spectrum who takes a real anti-austerity line, you have to look all the way to the far-left Socialists (as in Germany, where as Mr Münchau writes, the only intellectual opposition to Ms Merkel's economic views comes from "the post-communist left"). Interestingly, it's not that there is no support for neo-Keynesian views among Dutch economists. In fact, many of the senior economists at Dutch banks, and of the academic economists who appear as pundits on Dutch TV, agree that the austerity policies are overly harsh, irrelevant to the crisis, or actively pernicious. Yet this point of view completely fails to penetrate the governing consensus.
The 'governing consensus' strikes again! In a mysterious process, certain ideas rapidly become de rigueur for educated elites, and dissent is not so much quelled as ignored.
Recently, yet another marriage in my circle of friends blew up, making the unofficial tally something like 50% of marriages which I've witnessed ending within 15 years or so. And some of the surviving ones are on shaky ground.
All of these people, of course, swore they'd stay together until the end. Presumably, they were sincere. Yet it's become clear that only a minority of people can realistically live up to that promise. Vowing to remain exclusively with one person in a faithful monogamous relationship until death do us part makes about as much sense as vowing to work for the same firm until the end of one's career. How could you seriously promise to be working at the same firm 30 years into the future when the firm, or even the industry, might no longer exist? 15 years after your vow of permanent fealty to the firm, you get an offer at 3 times your present salary, and you're expected to turn it down? And before you reply that marriage as a 'sacred commitment' can hardly be compared to a job, ignore what people say about their preferences and look at how they actually behave. How many people are actually treating their marital vows differently from a job or consumer product? The divorce and infidelity statistics suggest very few indeed.
Marriage as an institution was created when mankind lived in primitive tribal settlements, and the average human went through life encountering the exact same 2-300 people until their death. It was also a way of ensuring financial support for women at a time when they weren't expected to support themselves. And, of course, to stabilize potentially violent unattached young males.
All these circumstances have now changed: people now encounter hundreds, if not thousands of opportunities to cheat, and the social stigma against divorce and single motherhood has never been lighter and is not coming back. Already, 40% of Americans view marriage as obsolete. In the US, only the richest Americans (especially whites and Asians) have any realistic chance of a life-long marriage; the institution has essentially died out among the middle-class and below. Marriage as a universal institution which everyone is expected to enter is like Wile E. Coyote: it ran off the cliff into thin air long ago, and is just waiting to fall.
So what will take its place? Unmarried cohabitation, for one thing (see the last link). But marriage as an institution is so deeply anchored in Western society that people will go on pretending to take it seriously for a few decades more. And there will still be the odd successful life-long marriage -- among a small sub-set of risk-averse, traditionally-minded, highly religious people (all these traits are linked). Already, we see trends in most Western societies in which organized religion is shrinking to a core of about 20-25% of the population who are part-genetically, part-environmentally predisposed to experience strong, sincere, abiding religious faith within an organized hierarchical religion. Since no social pressure is forcing the rest of the population to pretend to take organized religion seriously, they are no longer doing so. Marriage as a genuine life-long proposal will survive only in highly religious communities.
What about the rest of us, though? I still think Gabriele Pauli had a brilliant idea. She's a twice-divorced, rather eccentric female politician for the Christian Social Union (CSU) party in Germany, a Bavaria-centered Catholic traditionalist party. Five years ago, she proposed that marriages should automatically dissolve after seven years unless the couple decides to renew it. Naturally, the other members of her party went berserk and quickly vowed their fealty to the noble institution of traditional marriage -- presumably with the exception of CSU bigwig Horst Seehofer, who was busy having a love child with his much-younger mistress (to be fair, he ended the affair and is back with his wife. For now.)
But the idea is a sound one. First, from an aesthetic point of view, it would reduce the amount of rank hypocrisy and insincerity in society. There's just something unseemly about millions of people making promises in front of their friends and family they have no ability to keep -- merely because the dead hand of tradition demands it. A seven-year option would allow married couples to simply let their marriage automatically dissolve, instead of having to initiate a complex, potentially bitter divorce proceeding. You would have a series of default legal rules for splitting property and child custody. Of course, those who are happy after seven years could renew their vows, presumably by sending in a simple postcard with both their signatures. Or even online!
The typical objection would be: what about the children? Well, first of all, look at the chart above. Family stability is a thing of the past. In Germany, 1/3 of all children are born out of wedlock (g), and the tendency is only increasing. Soon, in all Western countries, at least half of children will be born out of wedlock anyway. Some of those will be born into stable cohabiting relationships, but most will be born to single mothers. It's hard to see a difference between those contexts and a seven-year marriage. Who knows -- the existence of an easy way out of marriage might even encourage more commitment-shy men and cohabiting couples to get married, thus increasing the overall level of family stability. And let's not forget that some of the damage done to children by divorce springs from the fact that their parents once promised they would stay together forever, then break that vow when they divorce.
I think the seven-year marriage is an idea that deserves to be taken seriously, at least. But I'm not holding my breath...
...you could sell magazines to annoying New York hipsters by touting interviews with Werner Schroeter and Rosa von Praunheim!
More 1980s East Village Eye covers here.
Seems like it's been a long time since Germans have become paralyzed with fear over something. Life here's so comfortable that the media have to invent crises and disasters, and often the only thing that presents itself is tainted raspberries or genetically-modified food or bird flu. Headlines suddenly sprout: "Tainted-raspberry Crisis Spreads Terror in Brandenburg!" "Avian Flu Set to Destroy Civilization!" "H1N1 Virus Carves Path of Death and Misery Through Unsuspecting Middle Class!"
But it's been disappointingly quiet around here lately. So let's take a trip down memory lane! In 2006, morgues overflowed and canned-food riots erupted because of nature's latest remorseless kill-bot, the Dornfinger or yellow-sac spider. Here's the fleshy beast:
You can tell that this spider became an obsession in German-speaking Europe because the German Wikipedia article on it (g) has (deservedly) won a prize. In 2006, which must have been a particularly dull summer ('Coalition Approves Preliminary Draft of Proposal for .00034% Pension Contribution Rate Adjustment'), some reporter saved the day by discovering that the Dornfinger spider's natural habitat was moving north owing to global warming, bringing Austria and Germany within its spidery crosshairs.*
Finally, something to wet our collective pants about! Dornfinger triggers Hysteria, screamed one typical headline. The article notes that after a series of breathless press reports in Austria, 190 people streamed into the hospital in Linz in one day claiming to have been bitten by one, although only 8 'even came close' to displaying the symptoms. The spider's bite, needless to say, is non-fatal, although you might have a day or two of discomfort.
The German media's falling down these days. We need a crisis, and we need it fast. What'll it be this time? Horsemeat in your Wurst? Genetically-modified Lederhosen? The creeping menace of philtrum fungus? Come on, lazy reporters, start spreading the panic.
Every Thursday, I go to my local farmers' market (g) and buy cheese, meat and eggs. The market is held at the Lessingplatz, which has a broken-obelisk fountain presumably in memory of one of the leading figures of the German Enlightenment. It's now the main gathering place for the leading figures in Duesseldorf's outdoor alcoholic scene (g). But those folks fade into the background when the market comes.
This farmer's market is not one of those fancy-pants ones where hipsters in porkpie hats sell arugula while guerilla knitting. No, this farmer's market features actual farmers, with dirt-stained hands, fun regional accents, friendly manners, and solid, unspectacular, delicious traditional (not heirloom) potatoes, which are helpfully marked with their texture (creamy, mealy, firm).
Meat I buy form the Vennbachhof (g) stand. Not just because it's good, but because the saleswoman vaguely resembles a more earthy and organic Heidi Klum. If your lifelong fetish dream was to see Heidi Klum sling giant chunks of raw meat (you know who you are), and she still hasn't responded to your messages, then you need to come to the Rheinland.
The only problem is that, as a little dankeschoen, meat-Heidi always gives me a chunk of Teewurst (tea sausage).Why is this a problem? Because then I have to eat it. Now, as Teewurst goes, the Teewurst from the Vennbachhof is probably excellent. But I can't stand Teewurst. The problem with it, as with most German sausages, is that it's hopelessly under-spiced. This means you can actually taste what the sausage was made from. I usually discreetly put the Teewurst out on my balcony, where the creatures of the night feast upon it.
If I wanted to taste organ meat -- and I don't -- I'd just buy a jar of pate. The entire reason sausage exists, if you ask me, is to take the parts of a mammal that nobody in their right mind wants to think about, grind them up, and load them with delicious spices that start a party in your mouth. The best sausages -- which are almost all Polish and Hungarian -- thrust the question of what parts of the animal they're made from far into the background, where it belongs.
I have a Theory about this. Back when European mankind first had the glorious idea to make sausages, powerful Germany could afford the best organ meat, and therefore had little to cover up with spices. Those countries on the 13th-century version of the Eurozone periphery were left to make what they could from the leavin's -- eyes, anii, ears, hoof gristle, what-have-you. To distract themselves from the content of their casings, they turned to huge amounts of garlic, dill, onions, and other dangerously intense 'ethnic' flavors that are much too stimulating for the German palate.
That's my Theory and I'm sticking to it. Fortunately, last night, a friend came by, and I was able to force the Teewurst onto him. Although he doesn't like Teewurst either, he had little choice but to be a nice guest and eat it. I ate a quarter of it out of solidarity. Gad, that hideous brain-like texture...
In Frankfurt yesterday I dropped by the Schirn Kunsthalle to see the exhibition on Gustave Caillebotte, perhaps the most interesting of the impressionists (if you ask me). The exhibit's called Gustave Caillebotte, Impressionist and Photography, and shows the give-and-take relationship between Caillebotte's work and the emerging art form of photography. The traditional notion is that artists in the 19th century realized that photography had rendered the pursuit of realistic painted reproduction superfluous, freeing artists to concentrate on a sort of refracted and distilled 'painterly' technique that focused on the act of seeing itself. Caillebotte had a different reaction: he used the emerging technology of photography to enrich his technique. The revolutionary motion studies of Muybridge, for instance, or the odd perspectives and hallucinatory detail of 'stereographic' 3-D panoramas of Parisian streets, or the ability to capture snapshots of laundry billowing in wind.
The actual documentation of the link between photography and Caillebotte's technique was thin, so the exchibit was just pioneering French photography side-by-side with a decent cross-section of Caillebottes (including the famous Floor-Scrapers, which sounds much better in French: Raboteurs de Parquet). But that's something else! Only one of his mesmerizing studies of white laundry, though. The Schirn Kunsthalle is, as always, a weird and uninviting space, and the structure of the exhibition is hard to follow. Plus, they're charging 10 Euros for just one exhibit, which is just too damn high.
One part of the exhibit struck my eye: this ad for the 'Photographic Secret Camera' made by the Stirn Company from Bremen, billed as the 'newest and most amazing invention in the area of photography for professional and amateur photographers.'
The camera is a metal disc about 14 cm across with an lens emerging near the top. The ad targets four groups. The last two are photographers and tourists, but the first two are more interesting. The first group is 'Officers of the Army and Marines' to take 'snapshots of positions and terrain of military importance'. The second group is 'Secret Police Officials', who can use the camera to copy (copieren) 'suspicious persons, street gatherings, etc.'
I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's pretty sobering to know that there were so many 'secret police officials' skulking around Europe in the late 19th century that they constituted a major target group for camera marketers. It conjures up a Conradian world of malodorous anarchists gathering in seedy underground taverns while desperate informants secretly photograph their gaunt, feverish faces.
Books I've written or translated