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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.