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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Sunday, December 30, 2007

La France, est-elle devenue folle?

Évidemment, oui.

Alors, pour follier (une création cool, eh?) un pays on a besoin de quoi? Un nouveau Président qui aime trop la présence publique qui est trop nombriliste enfin, un divorce, un drame publique (nous sommes un couple, nous ne le sommes pas...), une nouvelle petite amie qui en plus est célèbre soi-même et des vacances publique dans un endroit plus ou moins exotique. Putain, suis-je heureux que nous avons une chancelière moche avec un mari qui refuse se montre en publique et est professeur en physique, comme ça on peut discuter sa politique au lieu de sa libido.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

One Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Márquez was one of the many unknown known writers, that I had heard mentioned a lot, but had never been interested enough to pick up a book by. The most impressive person I ever met gave me One Hundred Years of Solitude then, after she had read it, even if her review, if I remember correctly, wasn't exactly glowing.

I personally very much enjoyed it. Márquez writes in a very distinctive manner, even if I am sure that due to the translation much has been lost, also I am not certain in how far what I consider to be specific to Márquez is just a Latin American or Spanish trait. He tells the story of a family through six generations (and 100 years), making the premise strikingly similar to the Buddenbrooks, even if the two seem to offer no other possible link, making the comparison all the more intriguing to some extent.

I find it hard to really develop anykind of thoughts on this book. I did enjoy it. I found the usage of witch craft and other aspects of superstitous nature in a 20th century serious novel interesting (and comparable to Kenan in that regard). The negative outlook on human beings and what they really are capable of achieving in their lives, their failings in interhuman relationships, humans being too human for their own (and others') good in the end resounded with me. This always has been the case (Faulkner!), but I feel like recent experiences have allowed me a better understanding of these failings, of these imperfections, of the utter hopelessness of living a life in any pre-conceived manner.

Yet, in the end, I read the book and had a good time doing so, I feel like there is not a lot I will draw out of it though. It didn't touch me the way Quentin Thomas, Holden Caulfield or Lucas Beauchamp did. Maybe there are too many characters, whose characterization remains too flat. Maybe it is a question of pre-identification with a region, an author, a certain kind of character.

Ok, where was this going? Nowhere apparently. Sorry, my last post was confusing enough in his lack of lucidity. Read One Hundred Years of Solitude in any case. It is a good book.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

America sucks

So, we had dinner tonight with my Dad's cousin's family. He lived in the US for a while, has travelled - due to his work mostly - extensively abroad, has a decent education and is in general a sensible human being. When we leave, he shakes my hand and tells me: "Give 'em some culture over there in the US, eh?!"

I don't think I will ever know how to deal with this kind of ignorance. I simply don't understand it. The United States of America, home of Faulkner, of Hemingway, of Twain, I could keep on going, home to some of the best literature written since the early 19th century. A country that produced not only the Declaration of Independence, but also the Constitution and a commentary called Publius which is one of the most beautiful examples of democracy in action while at the same time a piece of political science art. A country that has given the world not one but many absolutely stunning music styles - let alone musicians. What would the world be like without Jazz, Blues, Rock 'n' Roll, Hip Hop?

Now, isn't it astonishing, that a society that has produced so many wonders and beauties receives such a bad rep not only in Europe but pretty much all over the world? Can such illogical (because that's what it is if you look at the facts and I dare pretty much anyone to try to argue this with me) hatred and despisal really have been caused by politics (aka Bush) alone? Or was it here before? Did Vietnam, Nixon, and LBJ play a part? Or is it maybe more general the fear of the hegemon which makes one despise or hate him? I cannot answer these questions, I wish I could at least offer up some better hypotheses.

In the it just makes me sad. I have devoted part of my life to studying this culture, this society, this country. I have done so, because it has proven itself to be interesting and captivating over and over again, and continues to do so, all while my knowledge and understanding of it grows (or diminishes with the acknowledgment that it is too big to ever fully understand, whatever you prefer). People that claim the US doesn't have a culture (or similar statements along those lines), just show themselves to be ignorant. They miss out on some of the most amazing pieces of art produced over the last 200 years. I feel sorry for you.

I feel also sorry for you, my dear 5 readers :), because of the abstractness and lack of logic in this text. I had to express this somehow, I had to get it off my chest, but I am not philosophical enough to be able to do a good job of detailing or answering questions as abstract as this one.

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Meine Schwester schenkte mir Thomas Manns Buddenbrooks zu meinem Geburtstag, damit ich mehr deutsche Literatur kennenlernen würde. Ich brauchte ein wenig bis ich anfing es zu lesen, besitze einfach noch zu viele ungelesene Bücher, habe es dann aber trotz seiner Länge in weniger als einer Woche gelesen (hauptsächlich wegen der 4 Stunden auf dem Frankfurter Flughafen, die ich zwischen einschlafen und lesen pendelnd verbrachte).

Von Thomas Mann, als einem der Klassiker deutscher Literatur, hatte ich vorher kaum etwas gelesen (nur Der Tod In Venedig eigentlich) und war damals nicht einmal so sehr angetan. Dies war diesmal anders. Ein ganz tolles Buch, grausam in seiner Unabwendlichkeit, aber immer gut zu lesen und fesselnd. Ich hatte ursprünglich mit einem komplizierteren postmodernen Werk gerechnet, wo jeder Satz zweimal gelesen werden muß um nur der Geschichte so halb zu folgen, aber weitgefehlt, Buddenbrooks ist eine - sprachlich - simple Erzählung. Es geht um eine Lübecker (auch wenn der Name der Stadt nie erwähnt wird) großbürgerliche Handelsfamilie, deren langsamer aber stetiger Abstieg über drei Generationen beschrieben wird.

Man leidet also mit den Charakteren, sogleich diese nicht unbedingt immer die sympathischsten sind, aber gerade darin - ihren Fehlern - eben sehr menschlich sind - Tonis Arroganz und Hochnäsigkeit wäre ein Beispiel. Was mich überraschte war die fehlende Gesamtgesellschaftliche Aussage, ich war von amerikanischen Autoren (Faulkner, Kenan, Mailer, Steinbeck, Twain....) gewöhnt, daß diese oftmals durch ihre Romane etwas Zeitgenössisches kritisierten, ihre jeweilige Gesellschaft konterkarierten (Faulkern: The South!, Twain: race relations in Huck Finn). Mann will dies wohl nicht, seine Familie ist nicht wirklich exemplarisch und ihre Fehler sind auch wohl nicht der Grund für ihren Niedergang. Buddenbrooks sind zwar weniger modern als Hageströms (eine aufstrebende Kaufmannsfamilie am Ort), aber das alleine ist nicht der Grund für das auseinanderweisenden Glück dieser Familien. So schwierig es mit fiel, das Buch ist wohl wirklich nur als Buch zu sehen, nicht als Gesellschaftskritik (anscheinend studiere ich wirklich schon zu lange Politikwissenschaft) und als solches ist es einfach gut.

Lest es!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

German Jews in the Resistance 1933-1945

I picked this up on a vist to the German Resistance Memorial Center (worth a visit for anyone coming to Berlin btw, free entry, super interesting and huge exhibition). It was slightly dumb to have it in English, because the original was in German, but that's what I happened to pick up, so that's what I read.

Arnold Paucker in German Jews in the Resistance 1933-1945. The Facts and the Problems gives a historigraphy of the role of German Jews in the Resistance, and with that answers charges that the German Jewry like lambs obeyingly slowly walked into doom. I am not such a big fan of historigraphies usually, they are written too dense, they have too many footnotes, because of their breadth they don't provide enough depth, in the end they are not too pleasant to read. The only pleasures you derive out of having gone through one of them, is the overview, the amount of additional information you have obtained. In this case then, the reading itself was not too much fun, but I found it highly interesting how many Jews were fighting against the Nazi Regime in all kinds of ways possible. The Allies employed a lot in their armies, resistance movements all over Europe had Jewish-German brigades, as did most Communist Groups inside of Germany.

The only problem with this kind of leaflet (70 pages) is of course its briefness, most of the stories hinted at would have been highly interesting to explore further. Hopefully, I will have time for that at some point. The general point is clear though, Jews did fight back, quite massively in fact.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Two final papers today, one is a take-home essay consisting of three parts. Quite honestly, I am not a huge fan of it, if you care about my estimate of what has happened in the US (and through the US outside of it) since 9/11 read it, otherwise don't bother. The other, is a research paper for my Legislative Systems class. Very difficult class (really tough readings every week and a lot of it too), difficult paper, very interesting and fun though. Basically, I try to show that:
  • white people don't elect black representatives

  • substantively there is virtually no difference in the representation of African-Americans' concerns when they are represented either by blacks or white non-Southern Democrats, all others (Republicans and Southern Democrats) vote significantly less often for black interest legislation

  • while not uniform, it can and has to be argued that African-Americans with all their divergences still do form one large interest group to some extent

I really tried with this paper, would have liked more time, but I am kind of proud anyway. Hope my professor will actually notice and reward this.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

L'enfant de Noé

Apparament je suis de nouveau fixé sur la deuxième guerre mondiale. Cette fois-ci, un petite livre, même pas 150 pages en fait, sur un garçon juif, qui est caché par un prêtre catholique. Ce garçon, Joseph raconte son histoire d'une perspective parfois naïve, parfois sage, toujours intéressant. Même si l'histoire soi-même n'est pas trop originale, en lisant j'avais toujours l'impression d'avoir regardé un film sur le même sujet, le livre offert un divertissement agréable. Surtout les discussions religieux, qui aurait pu prendre plus de place à mon avis, étaient très intéressant. La citation laquelle j'ai remarqué le plus, et celle-ci est bien en accord avec mon obsession secret du judaisme:

"La religion juive insiste sur le respect, la chrétienne sur l'amour. Or je m'interroge: le respect n'est-il pas plus fondamental que l'amour? Et plus réalisable aussi [...] Selon le grands rabbins, le respect est superieur à l'amour. Il est une obligation continue. Ça me semble possible. Je peux respecter ceux que je n'aime pas ou ceux qui m'indiffèrent. Mais les aimer? D'ailleurs, ai-je autant besoin de les aimer si je les respecte? C'est difficile, l'amour, on ne peut ni le provoquer, ni le contrôler, ni le contraindre à durer."


Ich habe als Jugendlicher sehr viele Biographien gelesen, vor allem historische über Tecumseh, Hannibal und ähnliche Helden. Churchill war nicht unbedingt Teil meines heroischen Kanons, der Grund, weswegen ich das Buch las, lag allein beim Autor, Sebastian Haffner. Ich habe nämlich, wenn ich mich recht entsinne, noch kein schlechtes Buch von ihm gelesen, seine historischen Betrachtungen sind zwar zum Teil stark simplifiziert und vor allem wohl zu sehr auf historische Persönlichkeiten als institutionelle, wirtschaftliche oder politische Umstände bezogen. Aber trotzdem, oder gerade deswegen, macht es immer wieder Spaß etwas von ihm zu lesen. Nicht nur, weil seine Argumentation letzten Endes meistens überzeugt.

Winston Churchill also, ich wußte nicht viel über ihn, außer die Schlagwörter Premier Englands im 2. Weltkrieg und abgewählt vor Ende des Krieges, Haffner hat ihn mir näher gebracht. Ich war zum Beispiel geschockt von seinem Alter, mir war nicht klar gewesen, daß er in England im Prinzip seit der Jahrhundertwende einen gewissen Bekanntheitsgrad inne hatte, im 1. Weltkrieg schon Kriegs- und Rüstungsminister gewesen war. Außerdem war mir seine Bedeutung als Journalist und Historiker nicht klar – interessanterweise in diesen Betätigungen dem Porträtierenden ähnelnd. Das Buch war also perfekt geeignet als Kurzbiographie (nicht mal mehr 200 Seiten) und ist unbedingt empfehlenswert.

Schade fand ich nur, daß Haffner viele Dinge anspricht und nur wenige weiterspinnt, wohl hauptsächlich aus Platzgründen. So betont er, daß der Churchill 'der zwanziger Jahre ein Faschist [war], nur seine Nationalität verhinderte, daß er es auch dem Namen nach wurde.' Ich kann mir hierüber natürlich kaum ein Urteil erlauben, hätte es aber für nötig befunden, solche Aussagen ein wenig stärker zu belegen und erklären.
Abschließend läßt sich sagen, daß Churchill wohl der Typ rechter harter Hund war, welchen ich in der heutigen Politik verachten würde (Franz Josef Strauß vielleicht, oder Joe Lieberman). Nun kann man darüber diskutieren, ob Notzeiten wie die Englands 1940 einen solchen Typ geradezu verlangen – die Römer hatten nicht grundlos eine Diktatur auf Zeit in Kriegszeiten – und deswegen ist es eigentlich unmöglich für mich von meiner ursprünglichen Sympathie von Churchill wegzukommen. Auch gerade weil dieser in seiner Jugend einen sehr bravourösen Eindruck macht. Aber dies ist ja auch nicht unbedingt nötig, angesichts der Tatsache, daß Haffners Argument ohne Churchill wäre es möglicherweise zu einem traurigen und desaströsen Frieden Englands und Deutschlands gekommen durchaus Sinn ergibt.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007


I haven't done a political commentary in a while, but today's New York Times put two ideas in my head that I wanted to put out there:
  • I am sorry to say this, just because too many people agree (never a good thing that) without being able to say why (even worse), but George W. Bush really is a moron. Maybe presidents like Ruther B. Hayes or Herbert Hoover were stand-outs in regard to incompetence, but Bush apparently can run with the best of them. The recent NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) compiled by all 16 (Does Germany even have two btw? Does anyone know this? Please help if you do.) American intelligence agencies stated that its 2005 report claiming that Iran was trying to acquire nuclear weapons was wrong and that they now are highly confident that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons program since 2003, when they supposedly caved in to pressure and halted it.

    Now, this is a 180 degree turn-around (and quite embarrassing considering the intelligence failure of the Iraq war), so how does the American President respond? Quite simply, he stays course. Obviously, why would you want to change policy in light of a change in intelligence, "what's to say they couldn't start another covert nuclear weapons program" after all? Please don't misunderstand me, I am not saying that no pressure should be applied on Iran, especially now that it seems to have worked in 2003, but a direct reversal of intelligence estimates should at least provide some incentive to reconsider old positions (like not negotiating directly with Iran) to sensible human beings, shouldn't it?

    Leaving the content side of this, Bush also apparently is either a liar or not in charge of his administration. He claims to have been informed of this new estimate LAST WEEK (sorry about the caps, had to let off steam), defending his recent gloomy predictions of World War III coming up soon because of Iran in that way. Now, let's assume for a second he isn't lying about this (That is a sin after all, isn't it? And a religious man like George W. wouldn't want to go to hell would he?), what does this say about the state of his administration? Barring some intelligence agency having stumbled over one piece of information changing everything last week (and that is not how the NY Times describes the change in assessment) this has been a slow process or reevaluating positions and intelligence. Did no one inform the President of this? Did they think it would be a good idea to just let him keep on babbling about World War III, while they were completely (literally completely) reassessing their intelligence estimate? Something is amiss in the state of Denmark. Aaaeh. Washington DC.

  • Interestingly enough the second monumental failure award of the day goes out One of the reasons for the increased security situation - or relative calm which might be more appropriate, the emphasis being on relative - (the other two main ones being the surge (which I supported back in the day btw) and Sadr's militias keeping quiet for now) is the - temporary - coalition between Sunni neighborhood groups and the Americans. This has brought - again, temporarily - the native part of the insurgency to a stand still and has been caused by what? By al-Qaeda's stupidity. Through their indiscriminate bombings and murder of Iraqi civilians they have seemingly alienated the local Sunni population enough to get them to side with an occupying force against whom they were fighting only a few months ago. Good job guys (not that that is not good news, I guess we should be happy that the bad guys have as many morons making strategic decisions as the 'good' ones).

Monday, December 03, 2007

Aimez-vous Brahms...

Un cadeau de mes parents pour mon anniversaire, je n'avais jamais entendu parler de Françoise Sagan avant de lire ce bouquin. Je l'ai lu dans une version avec des vocabulaires en bas. Ça a été très utile, je suis loin de comprendre tous de mots dans un livre français et je déteste lire en ayant un dictionnaire à côté.
Le livre raconte l'histoire d'une femme ni jeune ni vieille qui vit tristement à côté d'un copain qui la trompe regulièrement. Elle rencontre un jeune garçon qui tombe amoureux d'elle et soudain elle a la choix entre les deux. Je n'aime pas trop les histoires d'amour normalement, je suis un mec typique enfin apparemment. Mais j'ai trouvé ce livre très intéressent, peut-être parce que je pouvais m'identifier dans une façon triste (pour moi) avec son copain. Ses pensées (de la femme), ses raisons de prendre une décision enfin étaient très banales, tristes peut-être ou décevants, mais très humains.
Si vous ne connaissez pas Sagan, je peux vous recommander de lire quelque chose d'elle.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Visitation of Spirits

I found out about Randall Kenan through a party that I went to - surprise, surprise, one can actually learn things at these places every once in a while. One of the people I was talking to told me she had written an article about him for the UNC literary magazine, that he taught at UNC and that people compared him to Faulkner. Naturally I was intrigued and had to check him. So I got a novel of his from the library - A Visitation of Spirits - and plowed through it (well, I wasn't that fast, mainly because I had too much university readings).

The first thing I have to point, quite unsurprising really, he ain't no Faulkner (but then who is). I guess every decent Southern writer will at some point in his life be compared to Faulkner and he is comparable in the sense that he also is describing a South that is slipping away into modernity (for better or worse). Yet, he is his own writer, quite different from Faulkner's abstract writing, he is more concrete, more precise, less ambiguous, his characters are less representative of the South in general. But, he is a good writer and I thoroughly enjoyed his book.

The novel deals with two characters mainly, one who grown up to become a priest in his small home-town and the first black principal of the local integrated high school, the other an overachieving student who has a hard time adjusting to his life, to growing up, to becoming an adult. So, forget about the Faulkner comparison, but if you want to read a North Carolinian author, writing about North Carolina, get one of his novels.

What I found particularly interesting about this author was the position some of his (black) characters displayed towards the white inhabitants of their small town. For someone like me who was to some extent shocked by the separation of black and white that still exists here (and that I had forgotten about since high school), a black point of view that condones self-segregation was very interesting.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Globalizing Capital

Barry Eichengreen's Globalizing Capital - A History of the International Monetary System was part of the readings for a class I have. For various reasons I never had the book when we were supposed to have to do the readings. So I borrowed and read it over my Thanksgiving break even when I wasn't sure whether the whole book or only parts of it had been assigned. Some people might wonder why now, but in my last college days, for reasons I cannot quite fathom yet, I have become increasingly interested in macroeconomic developments and the international economic arena in general.

Eichengreen in his book gives an overview of the history of the international monetary system (admittedly relatively unsurprising considering the subtitle of the book) from the 1870s onwards. He sketches the path to the gold standard, its predominance until 1914, the futile interwar attempts of reestablishing it and the ensuing instability, the Bretton Woods System, the following floating exchange rates, and finally attempts at monetary unification. Published in 1996, the one glaring omission of this book is EMU. Also, one of today's most pressing financial issues, the build-up of dollar reserves in developing countries, specifically China, is not included. But even if the inclusion of these more recent developments would have been appreciated, Eichengreen obviously cannot be faulted for them as he had finished writing his book before these points really arose. Furthermore, the book is highly interesting in any case.

I don't want to write a lengthy review of this book because of two reasons. Firstly, to give the author justice one would have to be very detailed in a critique of his book, as his argument is very detailed and exhaustive in regard to the amount of information provided. Secondly, I simply am not sure whether I am truly capable of criticizing an economic author like him yet. I started getting into economical issues late in my studies, a year ago really, and I cannot say that I have developed enough of a grasp as of yet to really have strong personal opinions on topics as abstract as this one.

Yet, having said that, it seems to me that Eichengreen's main argument is that there are two reasons why the gold standard could not be successfully implemented again after the First World War. The strict adherence to the gold standard, which was necessary to prevent speculative attacks on currencies, resulted in countries sacrificing growth and employment figures (through deflation) for stable exchange rates. This was possible mainly because the segments of society mainly hit by unemployment and this decrease in growth were politically irrelevant, they could not vote. With universal suffrage becoming a reality in most of Western Europe it became impossible for governments and central banks to pursue this kind of policy. Thus, another measure was used to keep exchange rates in check, capital controls. This made speculative attacks more difficult even if it never eradicated them permanently. Furthermore, these controls became less and less efficient and an ever increasing global flow of capital made the adherence of fixed exchange rates more and more difficult leading to the current system of most major currencies floating freely against one another.

If Eichengreen uses stylized facts in his book, I just super-stylized those. I thought I should at least try to offer a concise (hopefully) and short (definitely) summary of his book though. I really enjoyed reading it and I will almost assuredly try to find out more about this subject.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The White Man's Burden

William Easterly's The White Man's Burden – Why The West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good in some regard is a response to Jeffrey Sachs' The End Of Poverty. I had to choose one of them for an in-class assignment, but I felt that in order to get the full picture I should read both.

As so often with judgement calls it is hard to decide who is right and who is wrong, even when Easterly so clearly and openly disagrees with Sachs and it seems inherently necessary to choose a side. Just as a reminder, Sachs claims that an increase in financial aid will allow countries to escape the poverty trap in which they currently are stuck (this is obviously a very simplified and condensed version of his argument). Easterly on the other hand is of the opinion that no general blueprint provides a solution for a disparate group of poor countries. Instead of so-called planners trying to solve all problems at once – something that according to Sachs would be necessary, as partial solutions would not suffice for countries to escape the aforementioned poverty trap – he wants more searchers, knowledgeable locals who offer creative (or simple) solutions for small and specific problems. These searchers would allow market principles, trial and error, to create development, instead of relying on inefficient international institutions and aid agencies or corrupt local governments.

Easterly strongly criticizes Sachs for his belief in broad national plans that provide the big push needed for poor countries to start developing. Easterly is of the opinion that this does not work, because of bad governance and inefficient aid agencies whose activities are not evaluated by anyone but themselves. What he does not take into account is that Sachs actually agrees with him here to some extent. Sachs' national plans require a stable government only limitedly corrupt in order to have any chance of success. While he himself does not point this out, it is thus clear that failed states or highly instable countries are incapable of taking part in his plan to end extreme poverty by 2025. Furthermore, Easterly does not refute the poverty trap, assuming that this trap exists for certain countries his method of market forces combined with aid would not be sufficient for truly sustainable growth.

Finally, I believe that Easterly and Sachs are not as incompatible as they seem to think. Easterly admits himself that the current levels of financial aid are low per capita even if not in absolute numbers. They accordingly agree on a required increase in aid. Sachs' approach could be used for a strictly limited number of countries, those inherently limited by their geographic and medical conditions, while Easterly's approach of independent evaluation and more customer-orientated aid could be used for the rest. This especially, as his approach would restrict national governments misuse of financial aid through the dispersal of money of a local project level.

Easterly's book, while a very worthy read, especially after Sachs' glowing optimism, has to be faulted in that it is clearly written by an economist. His arguments are good, his examples as well, his writing style is not. Basically, what he does in large parts of the book is recount examples of what worked or did not. These examples and statistics individually might be very interesting – and are to a large extent – assure that the book never develops any kind of flow. It does thus not offer a very fast or pleasant reading, even when it provides for a very interesting argument.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Lord Jim

I very much enjoyed reading Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness so when I saw Lord Jim lying around in some bookstore, I picked it up. Of course it took me about a year to actually read it, but I finally did. Again I really enjoyed it too. Conrad tells the story of a young man who fails miserably at the first test of strength in his life, and then spends his remaining years fleeing from civilization and into heroics in order to salvage what dignity he is left with.

While some of the imagery in regard to honor for example is very old-fashioned, and the portrayal of non-white people is simply distasteful, the general moral dilemma is a powerful one and Conrad does a very good job at detailing it.

Read it.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Greasing the Wheels

I can only repeat that it is amazing how much they make you read in class here. Especially my PhD class, which apparently has even more readings than most classes on that level, is extreme in this regard. But I love it, it forces one to do a lot, to learn a lot and while legislative politics is a topic I never would have thought to ever read so much about, I find it challenging and rewarding.

The newest entry in my list of books then is Diana Evans' Greasing the Wheels - Using Pork Barrel Projects To Build Majority Coalitions in Congress. People in class yesterday ripped it apart for its empirical data (or lack thereof). Quite honestly, I do not know enough about quantitative political science to properly judge the analytical methods that Americans rely on so much - I find German political scientists to be a lot more theoretical and accordingly less empirical - but having said that I have to agree that the data Evans provides is not really convincing. Not only are her results only partially supportive of her theory though, some of the statistics seem pointless in light of her argument, and furthermore her main example is questionable - as it could be argued that the Transportation Acts themselves are pork barrel projects and not general interest legislation.

What Evans is arguing, is that pork barrel projects are used to buy together winning conditions for general interest policy. Thus if a leader (whether it be a committee or subcommittee chairman or the speaker or the president) has a pet project which he wants to pass, he buys off those representatives who 'sit on the fence' - meaning they are undecided whether to oppose or support a given piece of legislation. This works a lot better in the House than in Senate, mainly because Senators represent far bigger areas and thus are a lot more expensive to buy, as for any given project to have an impact in their states it needs to be a lot bigger and more expensive.

Her argument works best when she is analyzing NAFTA and the way Clinton greased its passage in the House. Buying two military planes for 1.4 billion in this district, protecting sugar and citrus in Florida in order to ensure some more ayes, according to various estimates between 30 and 77 votes on this bill were bought.

Evans claims that pork barrel projects undeservedly have such a bad image. They help pass general interest legislation at a relatively low price - while high in absolute numbers, as a percentage of the federal budget pork barrel projects represent no more than 1% of all government spending. In my opinion she is partly right about this too, the problem is that greasing the wheels easily gets out of hand. When representatives realize that votes are bought, they will wait to receive something for their vote even if they support the project and would have voted for it in any case. Thus, in a first vote, vote-buying can be accomplished relatively efficient in order to ensure a needed majority. Every vote after that though will make projects spiral out of control. Evans does a good job of showing this on the 1991 Tranportation Act as opposed to the earlier 1987 one.

One last restriction, it seems questionable how widely applicable this model is. The NAFTA example shows that votes can be bought and that it is successfully practiced at times, yet restraints on representatives including their beliefs and earlier policy-demands make it doubtful how regularly vote-buying actually occurs and whether votes really come as a cheap as a new highway bridge somewhere in Wyoming.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Power of Senators

What can a drunken Robert Byrd really tell us about the American political system? Quite simple. The truth and nothing but the truth. While people like to focus on the president, it is quite clear that the true force in American politics is still Congress and here it is clearly the Senate which plays the overpowering role (due to its only 100 members and need for bipartisan consensus). Thus, Robert Byrd is not far off with this self-description. Big Daddy. The Man.

Senators virtually never lose reelection (the incumbency advantage is even stronger than in the House where incumbents lose seldom enough already). This prominence coupled with the need for a broad consensus (in order to avoid a Filibuster) makes for easy earmarking in the Senate. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) constructed his famous bridge into nowhere, Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) assured money for his bio-center. Every senator does this, some more, some less successful.

Drunk politicians really make political scientists' jobs easier sometimes, so thank you Robert Byrd for emphasising this point.

Double Post appearing in tapmag at the same time.


Admittedly, there is a certain irony to a German writing this entry, considering Germany's well-documented history with horrendous law-abiding but also more modern stereotypes about Germans waiting at a red trafic light with no one else around at three in the morning, but I consider it ridicolous how Americans adher to rules and regulations sometimes, and how preposterous they are in doing so.

The obvious example of this are the way bouncers handle IDs at bars. A vast amount of places simply don't take foreign ones based on the fact that they could more easily be faked, even obvious proof (the existence of approximately 2 million other cards with the same name and birth date) does not make these people change their mind about a supposed fake ID.

This is not all there is though, Americans in official positions are surprisingly (considering national stereotypes) inflexible when it comes to rules and regulations even when faced with obvious extraordinary circumstances. I am currently trying to apply for a teaching assistant position for a German-language recitation of a course entitled Society and Culture in Postwar Germany. Without being too arrogant I cannot really see anyone being more qualified for this position. Yet, because I am officially considered an undergraduate at the university here (despite of the fact that I will write my master's thesis next semester and graduate in the fall), it is 'unlikely' that I will get the position.

Examples like these abound, most of them involving drinking laws, but also course requirements or university regulations. I would argue that contrary to popular stereotypes Americans (at least those working in a public institution such as UNC) are as inflexible as most Germans.

L'avalée des avalés

Je viens à apprendre quelque chose sur la littérature francophone. Je ne suis pas encore capable de faire des remarques généralisés, et peut-être que je ne le serai jamais, mais découvrir une nouvelle litterature, s'ouvrir un nouveau monde est une expérience très agréable. Je lis encore aussi lentement qu'un un enfant, et je ne comprends pas tous les mots, même pas tous les phrases avouons-le. Mais, j'y arrive toujours et j'espère que le temps et l'expérience m'aideront à résoudre ces deux problèmes aussi (c'est comme ça, en lisant, que j'ai appris la plupart de mon vocabulaire en anglais après tout).

Concernant le livre L'avalée des avalés de Réjean Ducharme il faut admettre, qu'il m'a posé des problèmes. L'histoire avance très lentement, et parfois on a l'impression que rien ne se passe durant tout un chapitre. On m'avait beaucoup recommandé ce bouquin, et je ne l'ai pas trouvé mauvais, ni aussi génial comme on m'avait dit à son propos. Il y a beaucoup de similarité entre Bérénice Einberg, la protagoniste, et Holden Caulfield, le héros de The Catcher in the Rye, mais les insécurités, les agressions de Holden sont compréhensible. Il regarde le monde et il le trouve faux. Bérénice est explicable par la jalousie seulement. Il y a une scène où Bérénice raconte ses sentiments quand elle a vu sa mère et son frère interagir, mais sauf ça, les explications n'étaient pas clairs et j'avais l'impression qu'il n'y a pas d'autres. Elle déteste sa mère, mais elle l'aime, elle aime son frère, elle déteste son père, elle déteste sa vie, mais à la fin elle profite d'une façon incroyablement immorale d'une amie pour se sauver.

Enfin, le livre parle d'une fille qui a des grands problèmes psychologiques, mais à mon avis, Ducharme n'explique jamais pourquoi elles les a. En plus, ce qui m'énerve le plus peut-être, est que Bérénice n'évolue pas. Au moins cinq ans passent dans sa vie pendant le livre, et elle ne change jamais ni dans ses pensés ni ses activités. Alors, le livre n'a pas été mauvais, mais il serait non plus pas dans mon panthéon personnel.

Mid-Term Essay

Honestly, I shelled this essay out in very little time (I think I wrote it in like 7 to 10 hours), it has no footnotes, and really is just an argumentative essay. I kind of like it for what it is though. So, enjoy.

Was the development of the Bush Doctrine a proper response to the attacks of 9/11/01? Has implementation of the Bush Doctrine over the past five years been effective, ineffective or counterproductive in reducing the threat of international terrorism against the United States?

Monday, October 08, 2007

Memo 2

My second memo for the 9/11 and its aftermath class. See below for the topic:

You are staff for a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services. The Committee is holding a hearing entitled "The National Security Strategy of the United States: A Review of the Post-9/11 Security Posture" in the fall of 2002. Write a short briefing memo (of no more than 750 words) for the Chairman of the Committee. The memo should 1) summarize the key points of the national security strategy, 2) analyze the strategy and note its strengths (if any) and weaknesses (if any). The memo should conclude with a recommendation stating whether the Chairman should support or criticize the strategy and concise statement explaining the reasoning for the recommended position.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House

My PhD class again made me read a 200-page scientific book in a day and I know this sounds kind of sadomasochistic but I enjoyed it. Somehow this intense pressure of doing things, leaves one satisfied. David W. Rohde in this book - Parties and Leaders in the Postreform House - talks about ... well, read the title. Basically, Democrats - who were the majority party in the House for about 50 years before 1994 - changed the rules in the House during the early 70s, resulting in a more parliamentarian system not based on consensus building but majority dominance. Rohde argues that this was due to - or possible in the first place because - increases in homogeneity in the Democratic caucus - which in turn was brought about through racial legislation during the 60s, which eliminated Dixiecrats to some extent - and the willingness by leaders to take advantage of these new measures. The result of all this was an increase in polarization (party-unity voting, distinctiveness...).

All in all a highly interesting book, even if some of his chapters are a little on the long side and become too detailed. Yet it gives an interesting recount of the committee governance of the House which was implemented in 1910 to counter the Speaker's dominant position of power. Then with Southern Democrats blocking liberal legislation due to their dominance of committee chairmanships which they obtained through seniority due mainly to a less than democratic South, the Democrats decided to abolish the power of these committees and instead empower the Speaker (as an expression of the whole caucus this time though) and the subcommittees.

Again, highly interesting, if you care about institutional politics and have some time to spare, read it.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Corrections

Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections is the story of a three-generational family that originated in the Midwest, but where the middle part of the family has migrated to Philadelphia and New York. The main characters are the grand-parents (Enid & Alfred) and their three adult children. Alfred is slowly losing his mind and this serves as the string along with the lives of these people are told. None of them is really happy with what they have achieved, none of them is all that successful in his everyday life, in that sense I guess this book is surprisingly dealing with completely normal people. They could live next to you right now.

This book highly confused me. There is no stringent action, no climax, no denouement. The story is carried solely by the inner monologues and problems of the characters. These protagonists furthermore are in no sense extraordinary, they are the kind of people - and stereotypes - you would not care for a minute longer than you would have to if you met them there. But in reality, when forced upon you, or introduced through a book such as this. Their everyday problems, their attempts at grappling with life provide a highly interesting story. It is all pointless in the end, there is no lesson to be learned, nothing to be gained, no moral or political standard upheld or destroyed. Yet, it is a great book, it makes the reader think about himself and his problems, worries and failed interhuman relations. Read it, it is good.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Effects of Income Inequality

I have - finally - finished my last paper for the last semester in Berlin. It is an essay about the effects of income inequality on other economical and societal factors. Honestly, it is a disappointment. I did a lot of empirical work for this essay and out of twenty correlations only three are relevant. Just a load of crap the whole thing. I put so much work into it and got nothing out of it. Check it out only if you are extremely bored.

This means that with the courses that I am taking here right now, I only need one more class next semester to start writing my thesis and graduate. Hasn't really sunk in yet that.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Race and Congress

This might be one of the craziest papers I have ever written. It is for my PhD course on Legislative Politics. This course is a very humbling experience as it is full of well future professors who have been specializing in American politics for the last 3 years already and then I sit in there, with my European point of view and most importantly with a background that is a lot broader and more abstract (or useless) than theirs. Anyway, the point is that I wanted to turn in something good, it is not like most of my other courses where I can just get by on making up crap a little.

So, I got up Sunday morning at seven, had a nice breakfast on Franklin Street with some random, 50-year-old Republican woman (good conversation partner though) and then pretty much read eight books and wrote four pages about those. Tonight I only checked grammar and spelling and will now send it off to my professor (my schedule today was too busy to really change anything anymore). Do I actually think it is good? I don't know, I liked the subject, I feel like I have something to say even if I only scratch the surface of it. Let's see what the professor will have to say about it. I can only repeat that I enjoy the challenge of working a lot and under pressure though.

Check it out here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Memo I

Well, I've actually written my first essay for the university here. I don't like it all that much personally, we'll see what he thinks. I feel like I don't know enough about the subject yet personally, but I don't have the time to really get into it. In any case, here it is. Below you can read what he asked us to do, I have to say that I really like the general principle of the task:

You are a counterterrorism analyst at the CIA and an expert in Islamic fundamentalist groups. It is September 21, 2001 and the Director of the CIA has just read President Bush's speech to Congress the previous evening.

He says to you: "Last night the President said: 'They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other ...They stand against us because we stand in their way.'

Write a short memo to me (of no more than 750 words) telling me whether the President was right about al-Qaeda's motivation or not."

Monday, September 10, 2007

Portrait d'un officier

Un de mes livres que j'ai trouvé dans la librarie de ma fac à Berlin. J'en ai acheté cinq pour sept Euro. Mais il faut admettre, que j'avais aucune idée sur quoi ils seraient ou si les auteurs sont connus. Apparement Pierre-Henri Simon, qui a éecrit Portrait d'un officier ne l'est pas. Quand même je trouvais son livre pas mal. L'histoire s'agit d'un officier de l'armée française, qui a démissioné et qui pendant une voyage au train, raconte à un ancien camarade de la deuxième guerre mondiale ses raison pour cette démission trouvable dans ces expériences en Vietnam et Algerie.

Le bouquin était assez intéressant, même s'il n'y avait presque pas d'histoire, mais que une conversation. Mais je ai trouvé les sujets de conversation stimulant. La guerre, la religion, les colonies, la rôle d'ouest dans le monde. Ma seule problème était avec l'age du bouquin, parce qu'il était écrit dans les années 58 à 59, certains des idées et discussion sont un peu trop conservateur et ridicule même d'un point de vue d'aujourd'hui. La colonalisation par exemple est rarement defendue encore, ou que par les gens d'extrême droit. Même pour la religion, que - en Europe - est presque disparue et a perdu - pour moi en tout cas - la credibilité, qu'elle avait dans ces annés. Quand même, un bouquin intéressant. Mon but originel était d'apprendre plus sur les guerres en Algerie et Vietnam, pour ça le livre était plutôt inutile, mais je suis sûr que je trouverai un autre plus détaillé et moins philosophique une autre fois.

Friday, September 07, 2007

A Tramp Abroad I

As an avid fan of Crevecoeur as well as Mark Twain I figured I had to write at least some commentary on life in the US while being here - and no, this does not mean that I am comparing myself in any way possible with those two, that would be blasphemy. Thus, today my first such entry. Others will (in a more or less structured manner) follow.

Most Europeans don't seem to realize how racially diverse the United States really is. Even while living in the South, in Chapel Hill and thus not even an urban center (even if a university town) it is surprises me over and over again, how many people either have an obvious immigration background (meaning they look as if they came from the Indian subcontinent or South East Asia) or claim one from less exotic places (such as the Netherlands). Now, as a German one will quite often hear the ridiculous statement that one's conversation partner is German too, because his ancestors came from there 100 years ago. This is usually is followed by a comment on how that person is only able to say scheiße (or Autobahn, Guten Tag...). This peculiar fashion of self-identification is not what I mean though.

Contrarily an incredible amount of people grew up mostly in the US, but due to their parents' relatively recent immigration, they still have more or less close ties to their 'homeland' and (importantly) usually speak the language. In the few days I have been here I have already met people with a Bengali, Indian, Chinese, Egyptian, Iranian background (and these are just some of the more exotic sounding ones). While UNC is dominated by white American-American students, the number of these more international ones should not be underestimated and are incomparable to a society as homogenic as Germany.

Yet, what I really wanted to address today was the question of race. I am after all living in the South and quite close to Greensboro and accordingly one of the hot-spots of the Civil Rights Movement. As already pointed out, most students are white (and come from North Carolina), but there is a sizable black contingent on campus. Admittedly, I was surprised at how few there actually are, but then my high school experience probably had prepared me for different percentages.

Race relations in the USA are notoriously difficult, due mainly to historical reasons. I am simply astounded by how segregated American society still is though, I have not lived here in a while and had seemingly forgotten how sharply distinguished these groups are. Arguably, the separation lies not so much with the actual skin color, but is more due to a cultural expression (clothing, language, music...). Thus, there are white black guys as well as black white guys. Yet, to surprisingly large extent people do not mix. A simple look around in the dining hall makes clear that each group stays mostly to itself (and this does include Asian students btw, who I will kind of ignore for the time being though).

Of course, this is not as simple as I am making it out to be right now. Firstly, there is a lot of interaction between all groups, it is not like people don't talk to or don't know each other at all. Secondly, the groups (as already stressed) are not completely homogenic, just to a large extent. Yet, this de facto separation clearly exists and I am still having a hard time trying to grapple with it.

An important aspect of this racial divide I find is the image of black masculinity. For a lot of black guys at this school it is quite blatant how much they define themselves through their masculinity. Most of them are more or less athletic, most of them are cool - in the sense that they perceive themselves as much as they are actually are, but that latter point really isn't what I am trying to discuss here - and they give off an unapproachable vibe to some extent.

I personally believe that this is still prevalent because of black men's' historical emasculation as the financial provider and protector of the family. Yet, I would be very interested to find out more about this and hope that I will get to do so in my year here.

I want to add that most of the guys I have gotten to know mainly through basketball have been really nice after some initial arrogance phase (white guy + long hair = can't play ball, deserves no respect) and that for others this whole argument is not true in the first place. But I believe it is a fact and would be interested in anyone's comments on this subject matter.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Strategy And Choice in Congressional Elections

American college professors require their students to read quite a lot, if then you are stupid (or vain) enough to actually take a PhD course on Legislative Politics in the USA, you will be positively overwhelmed with literature. That is why I spend my Labour Day Monday ploughing through Strategy and Choice in Congressional Elections by Gary C. Jacobson and Samuel Kernell. The book itself was interesting enough, I just sometimes wish I was reading everything a little slower than I am forced to right now, at the same time I don't want to pretend that I am really complaining, I like the pace, it suits my current mood, and also makes one feel as if one really accomplishes something.

Jacobson and Kernell in their book (even when they call it essay in the introduction, over 100 pages are too much for an essay for me) try to refute the notion that national politics, national sentiments greatly influence congressional elections. Thus, the 1974 landslide victory of Democrats throughout the country was not due to Nixon's - well-deserved - unpopularity or his lack of economic success, nor the 1980 Republican victories to Carter's failures as a president. They claim, that empirical evidence does not support the argument, that national issues (such as Presidential popularity or economic progress) are decisive for either party's electoral success. This simply, because most voters do not vote based on national issues, but rather decide on local or regional factors such as name-recognition of the candidate.

Their argument then is, that the correlation between national issues and these local results is due to elite decisions made on both sides of the political spectrum. If a party will conceive its chances in elections to be low due to its implication as the President's party or a less than stellar economic record, less high-profile candidates (meaning mostly office experience) will run with less financial background (because of party and private resources concentrating on candidates with higher chances of winning) in open elections (meaning no incumbent has to be beat). Instead the money will concentrate on incumbents whose chances of staying in office are higher already and thus actually heightened (if only marginally because of a sinking rate of return on campaign money). On the other side of the spectrum, the party that has favorable ratings in spring of an election year, will have more high-profile candidates with more financial resources simply because of the perceived higher chances of success.

Thus, two main elements determine the results of congressional elections. Firstly, quality candidates need to be willing to put themselves up for elections which they will not do in a climate which disfavors their party. Secondly, private sources will be less willing to finance campaigns of politicians whose chance of winning they consider to be nil. It is thus not the national issue that is the decisive factor in elections, it is not the general public sentiment, but more so the elite perception of that sentiment about six months before those elections.

This is a very, very dense summary of a relatively complicated book (and argument (it is actually not that complicated but summing it up in three paragraphs is), so if I fail at explaining the reasoning please ask me and I will try to clear up any misunderstanding. Oh yeah, do I recommend this book for pleasurable reading? Only if you have nothing better to do in your life or are a complete nutcase for legislative politics. I found it interesting as an idea, as a concept, but not interesting enough to reread it at the beach or with more time next weekend.

Finally, what bothers me about the argument is that the question arises why politicians believe that their chances sink with national party politics failing, when Jacobson and Kernell show they don't. Surely there must be some relation of national policy to local voting behaviour.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Das Urteil

Kafka. Ehrlich gesagt (oder vielleicht eher peinlicherweise) hatte ich bisher noch nicht so viel von Kafka gelesen. Vor 10 Jahren mal Die Verwandlung an meiner damaligen High School in den USA und deswegen perfiderweise in Englisch. Jetzt also nochmal. Das Urteil besteht aus verschiedenen Kurzgeschichten, unter anderem Die Verwandlung, In der Strafkolonie und Ein Hungerkünstler.

Ich finde es im Allgemeinen schwierig Kurzgeschichten zu besprechen, aber Kafkas Geschichten sind irgendwie noch ungreifbarer. Die Geschichten sind sprachlich eindrucksvoll, man ist ihrer Wucht ausgesetzt, kann das Leid der Protagonisten fühlen. Aber gleichzeitig, lassen einen die Geschichten irgendwie sprachlos zurück. Jede Analogie zur Realität, zu meinem Leben, zum Leben von Anderen, scheint unmöglich oder sehr schwierig. Vielleicht reicht mein Intellekt nicht aus um die Parallelen zu sehen, vielleicht müßte ich alles doppelt oder sehr viel langsamer lesen, vielleicht ist es genau das was Kafka nicht will (einen offenkundigen Bezug zur Realität).

Es gefiel mir die Geschichten zu lesen (auch wenn ich seit der Verwandlung eine leichte Kakerlakenphobie entwickelt habe (die sieht man aber halt auch hier im Süden desöfteren)), aber ich fand es schwierig einen Zugang zu ihnen zu finden, der über das Lesen als solches hinausging. Ich habe nicht groß über sie nachdenken müssen, nachdem ich sie gelesen hatte.

Eine schwache Rezension, ich weiß, würde Kafka trotzdem auf jeden Fall empfehlen, einfach weil man ihn als Deutscher (oder deutschsprechender Mensch) mal gelesen haben sollte.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

De la guerre à la liberation

Oui, une de mes meilleures trouvailles. Non, je rigole. Je ai acheté De la guerre à la liberation - La France de 1939 à 1945 de Willard, Joannès, Hincker et Elleinstein seulement parce que j'ai voulu savoir plus sur la France de la guerre, sur Vichy, sur la résistance. Le problème avec ce bouquin ce qu'il est écrit d'une perspective dérisoire communiste. Je n'ai pas de problème avec le communiste (à cette temps en tout cas) et j'ai su déjà que dans tous les pays occupés par les allemands ils étaient très important dans la résistance, mais les auteurs font illusion (ou essaient de faire illusion) comme si ils étaient les historiens quand en fait ils ont les militants communistes incapable de quitter une pointe de vue partisan. Surtout les description de la politique anglo-saxon (à mon avis il y avait même pas quelque chose comme ca) et soviet-union sont complètement ridicule.

En plus, et plus grave pour moi, il n'y a pas d'information dans le livre. Ils racontent les petites histoires sur la résistance ou la politique en général, ils citent quelques journaux ou autres historiens parfois, mais il n'y a pas de rendu connexe, logique ou même détaillé sur un niveau rudimentaire. Alors, il ne faut pas que vous inquiètiez.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever

I read Will Blythe's To Hate Like This Is to Be Happy Forever - A Thoroughly Obsessive, Intermittently Uplifting, and Occasionally Unbiased Account of the Duke-North Carolina Basketball Rivalry on my train ride up to North Carolina. Again one of those books that I just kind of raced through, I think it took me like eight hours (on the train, in a row that means). Anyway, I liked it as an introduction to UNC (where I am now sitting in the graduate library trying to write a paper for one of my classes back home), but I did not find the book all that hot other than that.

I care a lot about basketball, I play as often as I can (my feet look so bad as of right now, just because I have been playing so much the last few days that I think I might have to take a break), I read about the NBA quite regularly (or even religiously if you want), but I am not one to go into these obsessions. I can relate to that to some extent with regard to German football, but even there I simply don't care that much. I don't even really watch anymore because there are seemingly a million things that are more important than sitting in front of the TV at anykind of fixed time. My point is, this book was written by a die-hard UNC-fan and Duke hater, someone who actually comes from Chapel Hill, his father already went to UNC here and it is fun and amusing to read about the antics involving the Duke-UNC rivalry, but Blythe does it over 300 pages and I believe he could have done it as well on 100.

Quite simple, the topic exhausts itself after a while and Blythe still keeps on going on about it for another 200 pages (or 6 hours, whatever you prefer). Thus, do I recommend this book? If you are a basketball fanatic, yes, if you will go to UNC (or Duke) anytime soon, yes. Otherwise? No.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

I am not going to write long about this. Either you like Harry Potter or you don't. I doubt anyone does not already have a preformed opinion on this. I enjoyed this last installement of the series as much as I did the earlier six. Maybe the hype surrounding it has hurt the enjoyment of reading it a little bit, just because the way expectations were hyped up is basically impssible to live up to. Nonetheless a very nice read and deserving end for a good children/fantasy book series.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I am Charlotte Simmons

I've been wanting to post this for a while, but hadn't gotten it done because of my busy schedule here (beach, pool, going out, doing nothing, you know busy vacation schedule...). I read Tom Wolfe's I am Charlotte Simmons in pretty much one sitting while flying to Miami (I literally got out of my seat like twice and only stopped shortly during meals). As a seven-hour read like that implies it is well-written book and an enjoyable read. Yet, I was not all that excited about it in the end, especially the denouement really was a drag and disappointment.

Tom Wolfe, whom I really don't know much about it, is apparently one of the American reporter/writer legends - like Norman Mailer for example. He is old, about 80 if I remember this correctly from one of the reviews of the book I read and for this novel he tried to totally immerse himself in modern American college culture. I will soon be able to pass better judgment on this, but I felt as if his portrayal of this binge-drinking culture centered around sex was greatly exaggerated, excessive and limited in its scope. For some reason Wolfe seemed incapable of developing well-rounded characters, they all stayed on a stock character level. The frat boy with bad grades and only sex and alcohol on his mind. The nerd. The athlete, who actually is the only one that at least limited breaks out of his role type by developing an interest in Socrates.

The main character, Charlotte Simmons, is completely overdrawn as a country girl that comes to the big, bad college world and is corrupted by the appeal of the frat boy upon which her world crumbles around her. All this is fine and dandy but not only is the naivety of Charlotte of a level seemingly impossible after the advent of television, Internet or even radio. Furthermore, the destruction of her world is not understandable. She has sex with the frat boy who does not care about her after having gotten some booty and this turns her world upside down. Now, I understand that a country girl with a religious mom (even if her own beliefs are never discussed, another weak point) might have problem with having gotten drunk for the first time and then wasted her virginity on an undeserving guy with no further interest in her. Yet, her reaction in the end is too strong, she gets relatively bad grades for her first semester because of the depression she gets in after that event, but it is completely inconceivable to describe how she basically stops talking to everyone and keeps on having crying attacks months after her first time took place.

Additionally, it is not clear what she wants or is depressed about. Is the problem that she lost her virginity, lied to her parents and received bad grades? Or is the problem that no 'cool' sorority will now take her because she got laid by some frat boy? Wolfe just does not a good job of describing the problem, of explaining Charlotte.

Lastly, the ridiculous obsession with sex and bodies that dominates the novel was too much for me. Wolfe describes every guy's muscles specifically, uses medical terms for each one most of which I had never even heard (nor bothered to look up I have to admit). Finally, sex. Every one in the book is to some extent obsessed with it. It never becomes quite clear why. Maybe this is an American thing, but I honestly believe that Wolfe in his old age dwelled on that which he misses most of his youth, sex and an athletic body. Thus, I feel like the book is more about what an old man sees in young people than about actual youngsters.

PS: This also will be an age thing but it annoyed me a lot. Wolfe's third-person narrator has super traditional or conservative view of men and women:
"the power that woman can hold over that creature who is as monomaniacally hormonocentric as the beasts of the field, Man" is just one example for this.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard

Ah oui, la Floride. La plage, le soleil. Pas mal. Croyez-moi.

J'ai fini Le Crime de Sylvestre Bonnard - Membre de l'Institut d'Anatole France dans l'avion avant que je l'eusse lu pendant quelques jours à Berlin. Je dois admettre que je n'ai pas été trop impressionné. Je l'ai acheté par hasard dans une librairie à prix modéré et oui, il le ne faut pas lire. Le bouquin est séparé en deux partie, la première n'a rien avoir avec la deuxième, sauf que le protagoniste ne change pas. Dans la première Bonnard essaie de trouver un texte historique important. Dans la deuxième, il explique comment l'amour de sa vie était une fille qu'il a vu quelques fois quand il avait eu 18 ans (il a presque 80 ans quand il ranconte tous ca). Complètement ridicule que pendant 60 ans il n'a pas rencontré des autres personnes. Je pourrais décrire plusieurs activités ou pensées de lui qui ont aucune logique mais ca serait une perte de temps pour moi et vous. Il faut dire seulement, que l'histoire n'est pas cohérente, il n'y a pas de fil conducteur (la ficelle rouge je trouve plus joli, mais apparemment ca c'est impossible en francais) et parfois on a l'impression que le bouquin est seulement un dénombrement des activities. Il n'y a pas de dé développement de caractère, il n'y pas d'histoire captivante. Lis-le pas!

La seul chose que m'intéresse encore un peu ce que si ca c'est un roman ou pas. Le bouquin est écrit comme un journal et si c'était fictif ca serait nul. En contraire, si c'était la vie de quelqu'un dans la réalité, ca serait différent. Parce que enfin c'est ca la vie, une énumération des activités sans abouchement, sans sens, sans logique, sans cohèrence.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Art of War

One of the classics of military education, I figured I had to read Sun Tzu's The Art of War as a self-respecting political scientiest. It is definitely one of the oldest books I have ever read (the old testament and Homer come to mind as being older). I was disappointed though in the sense that I had expected a real book, in something like an extended essay form. In reality, The Art of War is basically a collection of aphorisms. That means more patience is required by the reader than I usually show and a lot more thought has to be put in every sentence or even word.

After I had read all of them, I discovered that the second part of the edition I had was exactley the same text interspersed by various commentators (from early Chinese ones to early 20th century American ones (General Crook is quoted once)). That second version I found a lot better, it placed Sun Tzu into context somehow, before some of his aphorism seemed a little too obvious ('never attack downhill; use spies'), but the aphorisms made clear how military leaders in all of history had heeded Tzu's advice and fared well on it (even though I am sure that a patient researcher could show as many examples of people who suceeded even though they had counteracted to Tzu's advice). Shocking was how many proverbs still ring true today:

The consumate leader cultivates the moral law, and strictly adheres to method and discipline, thus it is in his power to control sucess.

The comment on this read:
There is a very strong temptation ... for government forces to act outside the law, the excuses being that the processes of law are too cumbersome, that the normal safeguards in the law for the individual are not designed for an insurgency and that a terrorist deserves to be treated as an outlaw anyway. Not only is this morally wrong, but, over a period, it will create more practical difficiculties for a government than it solves. A government which does not act in accordance with the law forfeits the right to be called a government and cannot expect its poeple to obey the law. Funcontionning in accordance with the law is a very small price to pay in return for the advantage of being the government.

Sir Robert Grainger Ker Thompson, Defeating Communist INsurgency: Experiences from Malaya and Vietnam (1966)

Monday, July 23, 2007


This is definitely one of the more weaker papers I've written (it is kind of crappy actually, but I had to write it in three days and stil hope I'll get a decent grade for it). It deals with the Open Method of Coordination which is a relatively new mode of governance in the European Union, very technical.

Mein Deutsches Dschungelbuch

Ich habe Mein Deutsches Dschungelbuch von Wladimir Kaminer als Geschenk nach meinem Praktikum in Frankfurt vor ein paar Monaten bekommen. Hatte es bisher irgendwie nicht geschafft das Buch zu lesen, das aber jetzt nachgeholt. Ich fand es persönlich gut, Kaminers trockener Humor, die Art und Weise wie er sich über einige (deutsche oder auch nicht) Gegegebenheiten lustig macht ist einfach genial. Aber, ich hatte vorher mindestens schon 3 andere Bücher von ihm gelesen und muß deswegen zugeben, daß mir viele seiner Geschichten etwas repetitiv vorkamen. Wie bei so vielen dieser witzig-sarkastischen Autoren (Bill Simmons, Bill Bryson, Terry Pratchett) werden die Witze durch ständige Wiederholungen (nicht der Witze als solcher, aber die Struktur bleibt bestehen) irgendwann ausgelaugt und deswegen kann ich das Buch nur teilweise anpreisen - an Leute nämlich, die noch nicht so viel Kaminer gelesen haben.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reasons for the Exceptional Nature of the American Welfare State

This is the first of my three (the next one is due sunday, and no, I have not started writing yet) long essays this semester and, nomen est omen, it deals with the reasons for American exceptionalism in public policy. Why does the US spend so much less on welfare than most European states (15% of GDP compared to around 25%), why is it less universalistic, why did it arrive so late? The paper is about 12 pages long and I do not like the end, think it sucks actually, but I do not have the time to rewrite it, so there you go.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Le Vicomte de Bragelonne III

Alors, j'ai fini Le Vicomte de Bragelonne de Alexandre Dumas. La troisième partie était facilement la meilleur, même si peut-être aussi parce que je n'étais pas encore habitué à la langage de Dumas dans le premier bouquin, en tout cas, j'aimais bien lire la troisième partie. Il y a plus d'aventure, et moins des intrigues d'amour. Mais, il faut dire que il y ait quelque partie de la trilogie, qui sont plutôt faible ou parfois ridicule d'une perspective moderne

Premièrement, le dévouement que les anciens servants montrent pour leurs maîtres est même pas ridicule, mais ridicule seulement. Le servant de Porthos par example meurt après entendre la nouvelle de la mort de son maître sur ses vêtements comme un 'chien' (citer de Dumas) par tritesse. Il n'y a pas d'émancipation d'eux, ils agissent comment ils l'ont fait dans Les Trois Mousquetuaire, plus de trente ans plus tôt.

Deuxièment, on n'est pas capable de prendre le suicide de Raoul serieux. Il le fait pour sa fiancée qui lui a déserté pour le roi. Désolé, mais je suis trop cynique pour que je croie que les gens sont aussi romantique pour se tuer un ans après qu'ils soient trompé.

Troisièment, Dumas a quelques contradictions dans ses déscriptions ou caractérisations. Monsieur Fouquet par exemple au début est montré comme un homme plein des intrigés contre le roi, cependant pendant le deuxième bouquin il change et devient une victime des circonstances. En général, il y a quelques instants où on a l'impréssion que Dumas ait perdue le vue d'ensemble un peu. Le fin du deuxième bouquin est dominé par une croissante amour entre Raoul et une anglaise par exemple, seulement pour faire Raoul rentrer en France et elle est jamais même évoquer plus. Mais peut-être les fautes loqique comme ca sont inévitable si on écrit un trilogie sur plus de 2400 mots.

En résumé, lisez ce bouquin! Si vous voulez apprendre francais, si vous avez aimez les trois mousquetaire pendant vos enfances, si vous aimez les libres ancien et historique, si vous aimez le livre en général, allez-y. C'est bien la peine.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Inequality and growth

Another one of my attempts at economics, this is a short (4 pages) essay on the effect on inequality. I tried to prove that inequality hinders growth, and accordingly economically is counterproductive. That was not possible sadly enough, there really seems to be a correlation between inequality and growth, one can only redistribute wealth and try to limit the negative side-effects.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

20, July 1944

Tom Cruise will star as Stauffenberg in a movie on Operation Walküre, the biggest coup attempt ever attempted against the Hitler government (check Wikipedia if you never heard of it). Over 200 people sentenced to death, 5,000 arrested after it failed (one of which ironically - to all those familiar with the Revolution 1918/1919 was Gustav Noske, the bloodhound). Admittedly the Gestapo used the coup attempt as a way to settle some scores, yet, considering its scope, a military takeover with the SS being usurped as well as the NSDAP and a civilian government had been prepared as well as a new military leadership, the 20, July 1944 was unparalleled in the history of the Third Reich.

Even though I usually like to watch historical movies and even more so about aspects of history that interest me (I watched the Good German for God's sake, it, well, wasn't that great), I am not going to watch this movie.

Why? A couple of reasons are decisive here:

Tom Cruise sucks. I don't have a problem with him being a member of scientology(I just think he is a moron for being a member of an authoritarian or even totalitarian religious society), but I don't think I have ever seen a movie with him where I came away impressed by his acting.

I don't trust Hollywood to not turn this into a melodramatic movie, with Stauffenberg's love interest riding off into the horizon to classical music in the end.

Finally, I am sick and tired (j'en ai marre! - le francais est vraiment plus fort là) of the overemphasis on the conspirators of the 20th July 1944 and even more so the way are portrayed nowadays. Let's not forget that these same guys supported the Hitler regime until military victory became a virtual impossibility, which is when they decided to act. Their opposition was directed in no sense whatsoever against the extermination of Jews, homosexuals and others. The only reason for their coup-attempt was to enable Germany to escape the shit hole (sorry, but it's true, ain't it?) that the Nazi-government had guided it in (and into which the Germans had proved to be more than willing to be lead).

Their glorification is completely ridiculous in the end. There were so many other people that acted, and for better reasons, and earlier, and braver (meaning alone or in smaller groups with lesser chances of success). My favorite will always remain Georg Elser.

Ah, wirklich also? Ein wenig spät, ihr Herren, die ihr diesen Erzzerstörer Deutschlands gemacht habt, die ihr ihm nachliefet, solange alles gutzugehen schien, die ihr, alle Offiziere der Monarchie, unbedenklich jeden von euch verlangten Treueid schwort, die ihr euch zu armseligen Mamelucken des mit hunderttausend Morden, mit dem Jammer und dem Fluch der Welt belasteten Verbrecher erniedrigt habt und ihn jetzt verratet, wie ihr vorgestern die Monarchie und gestern die Republik verraten habt.
Friedrich P Reck-Malleczewen zum 20.07. 44

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Fifth Column

What can I say, I like Hemingway. His short stories are always fun and food for thought as well. His novels I have always enjoyed. Obviously - to me - he is not in one class with people like Faulkner and Twain, but he definitely is up there in the canon of American literature. The Fifth Column apparently is the only play he ever wrote, under shells stuck in a Madrid surrounded by Franco's forces I might add for melodramatic benefit. Hemingway tells the story of an American counter-espionage agent working for the Republic (and a greater, future - socalist - good). He falls in love with an American girl, working in Madrid as a writer and in the end has to choose whether to pursue his current life or follow her into the glamorous life-style of well-off American expatriots in Europe. This being Hemingway, you should know what he chooses, I will not tell you.

I liked the play, but I cannot claim that I was overly thrilled about it. Somehow - and paradoxically - Hemingway's method of telling a story, through factual descriptions, and uninterpreted dialogue does not really work in this play. Maybe because the factual descriptions of what people are doing, what they are looking at and so on are missing and he relies nearly solely on dialogue (kind of like Richard III, which I just read actually, but absolutely different nonetheless of course). Yet, what bothered me most was not the way Hemingway told the story, but rather what he implied in it.

The girl, which is called Bridges, but according to Hemingway himself could have been called Nostalgia as well, is described as beautiful with a remarkable body, but lazy and inept most daily activities. In a way she represents what men are supposed to long for in a woman, and that is actually what tempts the main character, Philip, to turn his back on his life as a killer - for political reasons and in a war, surely, but a killer anyway. Yet, that what she stands for does not come across as tempting to me, she is shallow, naive, vain; if that is what Hemingway looks for in a woman - and that's how it comes across - good for him, it doesn't work for me - a nice body and good looks simply don't cut it.

Finally, a feminist critique of her role would be necessary as well I believe, in the beginning of the book, she chooses Philip over the man with whom she has been living up until then, mainly - if not solely - on the basis of him being a man's man. Philip is not just a writer sitting in a hotel room, afraid of the shells, he is a tough guy that does not mind using his force to take advantage of other people. He treats Bridges badly, mostly for reasons associated with his job, yet she doesn't know this. The whole thing just makes me wonder whether Hemingway really believes women decide on who to fall in love with, based only on these traditional masculine elements. I doubt it.

Having explained how I disagree with the author over his main characterisations, I have to say that the play was fun to read anyway. I would recommend his short stories or novels for people that don't know him, but for further reading this play is definitely good. The Spanish Civil War is a very interesting subject anyway, as you have in a micro cosmos the forces fighting out the 2nd World War and the Cold War already. I would love to read more about it, and hope I do get that chance at some point.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Richard III.

A horse! a horse! my kingdom for a horse!

Sounds familiar? That's actually from Shakespeare's Richard III. I knew it was from Shakespeare of course, but I hadn't read the play in which it was featured. This king-centered play is in some ways very similar to Macbeth. Again you have a famous warrrior who conspires to kill the king and crown himself. There are two main differences here, Richard does not only murder the king but also his sons (the king's), his wife (Richard's), and about 5 or 6 other nobles, additionaly he is not just a famous warrior but actually related to the king and his family. Not that family strife is anything all that new in Shakespeare but this one definitely is extreme by any standard.

I enjoyed the play and would recommend it to anyone, Shakespeare is just too good to pass up in the end, but I disliked two impacts, that I felt were missing (again, especially in comparison to Macbeth which I immensely enjoyed). One, there was no comical relief whatsoever in the play. I always thought that Shakespeare pepped up his tragedies' cruelty by some impromptu comedy like the porter in Macbeth. More importantly, Richard has no kind of moral argument with himself. He wants the crown and he takes it and does whatever he needs to do to secure it. There is no real reasoning for this, no self-doubt, he seems like an amoral human being. I found that a serious flaw in Richard III., as it kept the main character more at a level of a stock character - the true villain - than anything else.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


The Times argues in a column that a revised Constitutional Treaty (which would be purged of certain national elements (anthem....) and not be called constitutional anymore (which was incorrect and a PR debacle in the first place)) is not wanted nor needed in Europe. They also demand, not to be cheated out of a referendum on this treaty. They obviously have a point in regard to the referenda (I will get back to that in a second), but their overall argument is quite faulty.

The implication is that the treaty gives 'still more power to the European bureaucracy.' This completely ignores the fact that the treaty in its current form actually strengtens national parliaments as well as the EP. Also, through qualified majority voting (meaning that not as many issues would require unanimous deciscion-making anymore) the clout of democratically elected politicians would be strengthened (even if at the expense of the nation state, yet definitely not favoring the European bureaucracy).

Fear of the 'Franco-German alliance' dominating the EU are invoked, which suggests that the author has not kept up to date on his politics for a while. Ever since the accessions of 2004 France and Germany simply cannot dominate as much anymore, two countries, no matter their size or historical/traditional EU-powers, cannot impose their will on 25 others. If Britain was willing to take a more active role in EU-politics, its influence would rise accordingly and no would be able to (nor really want to) prevent this from happening. A case in point for this would be developement of the European Defense and Security Policy in which Britain played a decisive role (plainly speaking, it would have never gotten off the ground if not for British involvement).

Finally, William Rees-Mogg claims that 'a number of countries' would prefer no new treaty. I don't see that. Poland, yes. The UK, maybe (not so sure whether Blair or even Brown would agree). But that's kind of it, I believe 18 countries have ratified the Constitutional Treaty, showing open support to it, two have rejected it. I wonder a little where those numbers that he talks about are coming from.

Lastly, in regard to possible referenda, I agree that it would be elitist to ratifiy a new treaty based on the old Constitutional one, especially in France, the Netherlands (where the people rejected the earlier one) and the UK (where a referendum had been promised to the people). Yet, I would argue that a referendum should take place on a European level, on one day, involving some kind of mixture of states and absolute votes won to pass the treaty. Thus, the people would have their say, but at the same time would not pass judgement on Blair, Chirac or Balkenende and turn Europe into a scapegoat. This obviously will not happen, national politicians are not really interested in creating a European political arena, but it would be a strong signal of taking the people and European democracy serious while at the same time strengthening an emerging European society (yes, it is still a long way to go, but what do you want? I am a progressive utopian sometimes, not just a cycnic all the time).

Monday, June 18, 2007

Wo Spinnen Ihre Nester Bauen

Ich weiß gar nicht mehr, wo ich mir Italo Calvinos Wo Spinnen Ihre Nester Bauen gekauft habe. Ich entsinne mich nur noch, daß es super billig war und ich es kaufte ohne irgendetwas über den Autor oder das Buch vorher zu wissen. Ich habe es jetzt in den letzten Tagen relativ schnell gelesen (ja, irgendwie mache ich das gerade öfter so, schalte meinen Rechner morgens nach dem Email-, Zeitungslesen und Vokabeltraining einfach aus und kriege dadurch viel mehr andere Sachen hin) und es hat mir sehr gut gefallen.

Calvino erzählt die Geschichte der italienischen Resistenza (?) gegen die deutsche Besatzung nach dem Sturz Mussolinis aus der Sicht eines kleinen Jungen. Dieses Kind ermöglicht es Calvino seine gesammelten Erfahrungen, weil er wie Babtschenko schreibt über einen Kampf an dem er selber teilnahm, aus einer gewissen naiven Perspektive mitzuteilen. Pina, wie der kleine Junge heißt, mit der Grausamkeit und Rücksichtslosigket eines Kindes nimmt kein Blatt vor den Mund und deckt die Scheinheiligkeit der erwachsenen Welt erbarmungslos offen. Er stiehlt dem deutschen Matrosen, der zu den vielen Kunden seiner Schwester gehört - diese gehört als Dienstleisterin dem vielmals als ältestem der Welt bezeichneten Gewerbe, seine Pistole, er verrät die Äffäre, die der Kommandant seiner Resistenzgruppe mit der Frau des Koches hat vor versammelter Mannschaft. Er muß, auch wenn er es nie wirklich tut, lernen zwischen den Worten und Taten der Erwachsenen zu unterscheiden, welche ihn durch starke Worte zum Widerstand animieren, nur um dann selber bei geringstem Druck ihre einstigen Kameraden zu verraten und zum Feind, zur Schwarzen Brigade, zu wechseln.

Pina hat in einer gewissen Art etwas von Huckleberry Finn, seine leicht naive Ezählweise, in welcher er kontinuierlich Wörter einwirft, welche er nicht wirklich versteht (zum großen Teil kommunistische Begriffe wie Trotzkist), seine Abenteurodysee verweisen beide stark auf Mark Twains jugendlichen Helden.

Es bleibt anzumerken, daß die Erzählweise meistens aus der 3. Person bei Pina bleibt, außer in einem eindrucksvollen Kapitel, wo ein intellektueller Führer der Widerstandsbrigade - ich habe keine Ahnung, ob Calvino sich hier verstärkt selber einbrachte, es wäre eine Möglichkeit in Anbetracht der Tatsache, daß er selber im Widerstand kämpfte - sich darüber Gedanken macht, was die Gründe für den Kampf seiner Mitstreiter sind. Diese erscheinen profan, und ohne Richtung, die wenigsten von ihnen arbeiten hin auf ein sozialistisches - oder anders geartetes - Ziel, die meisten versuchen einfach ihnen angetanes Leid wieder gutzumachen oder zu rächen. Sein innerer Monolog ist eine sehr anregende Reflexion über die Gründe dieser Männer ihr Leben zu riskieren und gibt dem Rest des Buches dominiert von menschlichem Versagen eine Art theoretische oder philosophische Basis.

Ein sehr schönes Buch.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Taking Shots

Keith Glass, a basketball agent, wrote Taking Shots about his life as an agent in the NBA. I had not expected his book to be of any true worthiness from a literature point of view, but I did think that it would have a couple of interesting stories to tell. Would give some interesting insight into the world of professional basketball.

Instead, it is badly written (he abounds in repetitions, bad sounding phrases and lame colloquialisms), none of the stories really held my interest for any extended period of time and Glass is intent on preaching all the time. Even content-wise: criticizing what is wrong with the NBA is all fine and dandy, and he has some valid points, but this general attitude problem aspect I find to be absolutely lame. If you can't pinpoint what you actually dislike, then don't criticize.

Summing up, even if you are die-hard basketball fan, don't bother. I hope Paul Shirley's book will be better.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Die Farbe des Krieges

Ein Kumpel hatte mir Arkadi Babtschenkos Die Farbe des Krieges ausgeliehen und dies mit der Aussage verbunden, es sei ein gutes Buch und ich würde schnell damit durch sein. Ich kann beides nur bestätigen, habe glaube ich nicht mal mehr zwei Tage an dem Roman gelesen und es war sehr eindrucksvoll.

Die Erzählweise erinnerte mich sehr an Tim O'Briens The Things They Carried, Norman Mailers The Naked and The Dead sowie Hemingways A Farewell to Arms. Dieser Kriegsbüchertradition folgend erzählt Babtschenko aus Tschetschenien. Unzusammenhängende Episodengeschichten ermöglichen dem Leser einen Einblick in die Grausamkeit und Unmenschlichkeit des Krieges. Bei seinen Beschreibungen kommt hinzu, daß die russische Armee durch eine weitverbreitete (und bis in die höchsten Ränge hineinragende) Korruption geprägt ist und durch ein körperliche Gewalt förderndes System, in welchem die Großväter neue Rekruten als persönliche Sklaven und Aggressionsablassmittel mißbrauchen. Der Autor benutzt dazu eine Sprache, welche nicht vor falscher politischer Korrektheit zurückschreckt und stellt auch dadurch dar wie der gemeine Soldat ein Opfer des imperialistischen, machthungrigen russischen Systems ist. Politische Anschuldigungen beschränken sich zwar auf ein Minimum (Jelzin und Putin werden beide, wenn auch nur einmal, beschuldigt), aber seine Episoden reichen aus um die moralische Verdammtheit dieses Krieges im Besonderen wie auch des Krieges im Allgemeinen und nicht zuletzt der russischen Armee zu verdeutlichen.

Ich persönlich fand, daß Die Farbe des Krieges den Leser (also mich) leer hinterläßt. Es bleibt einfach nichts mehr hinzuzufügen. Die sinnlose Gewalt, die Folterpraktiken, das Morden, es hinterläßt nichts als eine angewiderte Faszination für diese Abgründe menschlicher Existenz.

Holts Euch, lests.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Le Vicomte de Bragelonne II

Alors, j'ai fini la deuxième partie du Vicomte de Bragelonne (jusqu'à côté, quelqu'un m'a dit ce soir que Alexandre Dumaus aurait été le fils d'un esclave et un aristocrat francais, je ne sais pas encore quoi faire exactement avec cette information, assez bizarre en tout cas). Je ne veux pas dire trop sur ce bouquin parce que enfin c'est plutôt un tier d'une histoire qu'un livre singulier. Seulement, je dois avouer que la première partie m'avait plu vachement plus que ce. La deuxième n'était pas mal non plus, mais il y avait moins des histoires d'aventure avec Artagnan, Athos et al, et plus des intrigues de cour de Louis XIV. Les histoires amoureuses entre lui (Louis) et quelques femmes (sa belle-soeur et la fiancée de Bragelonne surtout) ont dominé cet episode. Encore, c'était une plaisir de lire ca aussi, surtout parce que Dumas a fondé presque tous personage sur les personnes réeles, mais enfin je préfère les aventures, comme dans la première, Les trois Mousquetaires ou Vingt ans après. J'ai déjà fait la commande pour la troisième partie et j'espère que ca sera plutôt comme ca.

Friday, June 08, 2007

The Wealth Effect

I had not initally wanted to publish this essay because I wasn't really happy with it. But, I decided not to chicken out and hide it just because I feel not as sure of my argumental skills when it comes to economics. The essay deals with the wealth effect on consumption. Meaning how an increase in different kinds of wealth (housing and financial) impact one's consumption.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Poverty of Philosophy

  • Immortal Technique - The Poverty of Philosophy

    This guy is just plain amazing.

    When you try to change the system from within, it is the system that will eventually change you.

    His rhymes definitely, makes you stop and think.

  • I am a little confused about this suite against a Canadian Al Qaida fighter. He was only 15 when he was caught, so obviously he would have to be treated differently then an older terrorist. Yet, I wonder more generally how he can be even defined as a terrorist and charged of war crimes when 'the shrapnel from the grenade he is accused of throwing ripped through the skull of Sgt. First Class Christopher J. Speer, who was 28 when he died.' How is that terrorism or even a war crime? Isn't that a regular act of war, he gets attacked (or even attacks first, that doesn't change anything really), throws a grenade, kills the guy. Horrible, but isn't that what the Americans are doing everyday in Iraq? What they did in Europe during the Second World War? I just don't get how you can accuse someone of war crimes who acted the way soldiers are supposed to. He didn't after all torture someone, rape or kill civilians or anything like. Would appreciate it if someone could explain this to me.

  • Apparently, trained police officers in a study shot less often at unarmed men because of racial premises, than do regular citizens. I wonder how I would score on this exam. But then, maybe, even if subconsciously you have a racial fear of some people and not of others, it is a question of controlling this irrational fear in every day situations. After all, you will usually not have to make split-second decisions like this.

  • 'Mr. Bush’s comments to federal law enforcement trainees in Georgia on Tuesday, in which he took the rare step of going after conservative critics in terms usually reserved for Democrats, has charged the Republican ferment, specifically his suggestion that those opposed to the plan “don’t want to do what’s right for America.”

    Presidential aides said later that Mr. Bush did not mean to impugn anyone’s patriotism, and that he had ad-libbed the line during a passionate address on an issue he holds dear.'
    (NY Times)

    What a sad state of political rhetoric when all the argument Bush can find is that people don't want to do what's right for America. I guess this is nothing new, nor only existent in the USA, but think about it for a second. Is that an argument, does it further his position, convince his opponents? I guess that is what politics have stooped to, accusing the other person. Sad. (And, I do of course realize that this is a prevalent thing, that quote just struck me when reading the news this morning.)

Friday, June 01, 2007

Afghanistan, Playin' Ball & Obama

  • Deutsche Polizeiausbildung ein Desaster
    The Germans have failed completely with their police training program. They were sending local, provincial policemen, aged 45 or 50 years old, who had no concept of Muslim culture and no concept of training. That has been a disaster. But we need the police to provide security, keep the peace, fight drugs, establish the writ of the state and to establish the writ of Karzai. Now the Americans have taken over, they are training an 80,000 member police force. This failure has been very critical. (From an interview with a Pakistani journalist who is somekind of a specialist on Afghanistan, no real surprises here for any regular reader.)

  • Obama has just changed my perception of him some, the guy plays ball! What I found really interesting, and what the NY Times mispresents in their article ('Cut to the future Mrs. Obama asking her brother to take her new boyfriend out on the court, to make sure he was not the type to hog the ball or call constant fouls.'), is that Obama's brother-in-law who was interviewed in accompanying video claims something which I have always believed in as well. It is possible to psychologically analze people through the way they play ball. I cannot really explain this, how it works precisely, but I sincerely believe that playing ball with someone tells me more about his character than talking to him for any extended period of time. You can pretend to be something you are not in virtually every situation, yet, that does not work on the court. Obama's wife back then did not want to know how he played ball of course, but rather what kind of an impression as a human being he made.