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

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.