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

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holidays on Ice

Eines meiner Weihnachtsgeschenke, Holidays on Ice ist kurze Sammlung von Kurzgeschichten von David Sedaris. Der amerikanische Autor gibt satirische Weihnachtsgeschichten zum Besten. Satire erscheint noch ein zu schwaches Wort, seine Helden (Heldinnen) sind bitterböse, betrachten das sie umgebende Weihnachtsgefühl mit einem Zynismus der kaum zu überbieten ist. Eigentlich scheinen diese Zutaten zu einem vergnüglichen Leseabend zu führen, aber leider ist dies nicht wirklich der Fall. Ich fand seine Charaktere einfach zu zynisch, zu bitter, zu böse und dadurch nicht mehr glabwürdig. Sedaris nahm dadurch allem ein wenig zu sehr die Spitze. Soweit ich Weihnachten verstehe gibt es kaum ein süßeres, stärker überzuckertes Ereignis in unserer (westlichen) Gesellschaft, warum sollte man dieses überziehen um sich dessen zu belustigen? Weihnachten als solches ist überzogen genug um, zynisch betrachtet, zu amüsieren. Indem ich diese Situation gnadenlos übertrieben darstelle, impliziere ich (in meinen Augen), das das normale, reelle Weihnachten nicht bereits kitschig genug wäre. Dies ist aber nicht der Fall. Etwas mehr Bodenhaftung wäre infolgedessen erfolgreicher gewesen.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Survival in Auschwitz

Primo Levi's account of his time in Auschwitz might be the best known novel by a holocaust survivor. Se questo è un uomo (If This Is a Man), as the book is called in its more poetic original title, is horrifying book. Levi tells of his life in a death/work camp, of how he got there, of what happens to him once he is there it and of how he survives in the end. It is a strong book, I can only recommend it to anyone. Levi is not begging for your pity, he does not even look for an explanation, he simply makes a picture of reality, he gives us a glimpse of life in the camps.

I am young (well, more or less), interested in history and have a German passport, all my ancestors and relatives are German, how can I not be obsessed with the Holocaust? I feel my understanding (in the broadest terms I don't think the word understanding can truly be used in regard to the Shoah, see also the quote at the end) of the Third Reich in general and the attempted destruction of European Jews is still lacking and no matter what I read this knowledge does not disappear. Maybe it never will.

A few more observations from the text. No particular order, just some food for thought.

  • That curt, barbaric barking of Germans in command. I wonder whether this stereotype (reality?) existed before the 1930s, whether it is a perception of the German language that was created through the evils of the past or whether it had always been there. Is it a subconscious connection of the language to a deed thus or is it simply an objective observation?

  • The Nazis ran these camps with very few people, mostly it was self-organized through an internal hierarchy from criminals, over political prisoners (these first two being mainly of German nationality) to Jews. Interestingly enough, a Kapo makes [less] trouble, [when] he is not a Jew and has no fear of losing his part.

  • A KZ in some sense seems to have precursor to some of the international meeting points of today with up to 15-20 languages swirling around with Yiddish, Polish and German being the most important ones. Levi at some point claims that survival depended at least to some extent (luck of course being another big factor) on one's ability to speak German.

  • Life in these camps portrays to some extent the social origins Hobbes or Montesquieue talk about. There is no justice, there are no morals, just a survival of the fittest. At the same time there was a booming economy revolving around bread, tobacco and any kind of usable tool.

  • The Greeks (Saloniki Jews of Spanish heritage which apparently spoke a mixture of Greek and Spanish) stuck together more than any other group and kept their inner-group morals intact the most. Maybe this was the case because they were less integrated in their society as for example the Italian Jews? I have no idea whether this is true, but it sounds like a decent explanation.

  • Was it even possible to survive Auschwitz without becoming a criminal yourself? Without turning from an upstanding citizen into a 'bad', selfish person?

  • The Germans love order, systems bureaucracy. Funny how nothing ever really seems to change.

Leitmotif: Ne pas chercher à comprendre

So I guess this is my Christmas post. Frohe Weihnachten everyone. Whatever that may mean.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Réflexions sur la question juive

Un petit livre (même pas 200 pages) Réflexions sur la question juive de Jean Paul Sartre n'est rien que son titre promet. Sartre essaie de montrer que l'antisémitisme n'est pas seulement un avis politique (et légitime). J'ai trouvé cette discussion plus actuel parfois, peut-être je ne les connais pas seulement, mais je ne suis pas trop sûr s'il y a toujours beaucoup des gens (en Europe d'ouest en tout cas) qui pensent que l'antisémitisme est valable comme une façon de croyance politique.
Après il discute les effets du antisémitisme sur les juifs. Je trouve sa théorie ici comparable à celle de W.E.B. DuBois et son 'double veil.' Les juifs inauthentiques (ceux qui veulent s'assimiler et ne sont plus religieux) suppriment les caractéristiques qui on pourrait identifier comme typiquement juives. Important à la fin, ce n'est pas comment ils se voient mais surtout comment les antisémites les voient.
Même si j'ai trouvé la discussion intéressant, j'ai pensé qu'elle ne serait plus très important dans notre société d'aujourd'hui. Sauf qu'il y a deux/trois jours Le Monde avait un article sur Mandoff et les effets antisémite de la plus grande chaîne de Ponzi ayant été mené par un juif. Choquant, et peut-être Satre est toujours plus valide que je ne l'ai pensé.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Keynes, Steinbrueck and other follies

Three posts in one hour, all virtually about the same thing, I know. They are all different at the same time that they resemble each other so much though. I also should mention that I absolutely love the fact that for the first time in my academic career (wrong word, existence) actual political discussion has caught up to what I spend my days reading. Quite fun really.

The German government (notably Herr Steinbrueck and Frau Merkel) these days are criticized by virtually everyone for their economic management and I figured I should for once actually join the chorus. Let's disregard the fact for a second that Steinbrueck was still preaching about the fundamental soundness of the German economy when the financial crisis first appeared (reminding me of Hoover in an eerie manner) and concentrate instead on today's fiscal policy.

The whole world is clamoring for deficit spending only Germany, the third biggest economy in the world and the key to prevent a recession from taking off (great metaphor I know), remains fixated on fiscal austerity. The world currently seems to be headed towards a deflationary recession (the Great Depression and Japan are the most famous predecessors) with interest rates already low (especially in the United States) and the European Central Bank fixated on its fear of inflation (inherited from the Bundesbank by the way) a monetary expansion saving the day seems doubtful. Especially because such an expansion already took place in response to the financial crisis. What is needed then according to Keynes (and Posen and Krugman, even Milton Friedman agrees) is a massive fiscal spending program.

Now, why the only German government that could push this through without much fears of electoral punishment (the current grand coalition, which really doesn't seem as grand all of a sudden) refuses to even consider this simply because it wants to balance the budget in 2011(?), something which will become impossible anyway assuming a deep recession has arrived. Why a Finance Minister who is a social-democrat would attack a labour Prime Minister for his Keynesian policies. I have no idea. The only thing I like about this is that the German problem has become an economic one only.

So, Herr Steinbrueck, Frau Merkel, Herr Glos (where are you anyway?), I'll need to find a job in the summer. Doing so in a recession won't be fun. Listen to what virtually everyone else is saying for once (trust me I have a hard time with that too usually).

Restoring Japan's Economic Growth

The wonders of inter-library loans. I am not sure why I did not discover them early on in my academic career. Anyway, Adam Posen disects Japan's lack of growth through-out most of the 1990s after having given a scarce to the American right with its rapid qnd constant growth only a decade earlier. Basically, he applies Keynes to Japan and thoroughly analyzes why a fiscal push would help jump-start the country's economy. I don't want to go into too much detail on this, but he shows in a very convincing manner how what has been called fiscal expansions in Japan have in fact been mere collections of spendings already planned leading to a budget deficit lower than the Maastricht Criteria, lower than most Western European econolies at the time (none of whom had to deal with a major recession).

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money

I spent a decent amount of time plowing through Keynes and I got surprisingly little out of it. His theory of course is fascinating, but his language just a tad too antiquated and complicated to make his book anything even close to a pleasure. Considering how relevant he seems to have become again it seemed like a good idea to have a look at him though.

Keynes basically wrote a criticism of classical econolic theory. He argued that Smith's invisible hand would not in fact provide market-clearing mechanisms for the employment market. In certain situations, an economy could get stuck at sub-equilibrium outpout and thus employment and welfare. Notably this were the case if future expectations lead to a slide in investment and consumtpion. In this case actions by individually rational actors lead to a sub-optimal aggregate outcome. In order to jump-start the economy the government needs to intervene either through monetary expansion or (if the former proves impossible) through fiscal deficit spending. It does not matter whether this budgetary deficit is sensibly spent ('digging for gold, building pyramides) pointless activities help create employment and in extension wealth.'

Fairly simple it seems (even though it isn't and I hope no one who reads this manages to call me out on any grave mistakes) and applicable only in the rare circumstances where output (employment) clearly lies above its potential (natural equilibrium).

Sunday, December 07, 2008

In Defense of Globalization

A bit of an overload today I realize that but I had to play catch-up. Just a really short critique of this book. Jagdish Bhagwati's In Defense of Globalization was something I had really looked forward to. He used to teach Krugman, is one of the elder statesmen of trade theory and I was really exciting to read a book by him, especially one with a title as aggressive as this one. Well, Mr Bhagwati let me down. Big time. Basically his book consists of a number of essays that are put together without much thought nor inherent logic. He mainly attacks globalization opponents, calls the demonstrators in the street out as being uninformed (really, the couldn't argue economics with someone with a PhD, that is surprising) and while he refutes some of the usual anti-globalization arguments he does so on a very basic level. Maybe he tried to educate the completely uninformed with this, I didn't really get anything out of his book.

The Great Crash 1929

Another one of the countless books in preparation for my economics exam next week (wish I could spend as much time simply reading literature/history, topics that I choose, no such luck though), John Kenneth Galbraith's The Great Crash 1929 is considered the classic study of this stock market failure. Considering the renewed interest in these subjects and the fact that financial aspects will definitely (possibly? I have no idea really) be part of my exam, I decided it would be a good idea to have read it.

The big surprise of this book basically was how much I enjoyed reading it, I finished it in less than 10 hours (in more or less one straight sitting) and never got tired of it. Galbraith provides a very detailed study, he does not try to overanalyze, but instead intends of providing his readers with enough information to pass judgment themselves. He shows the failure of market participants as well as regulators while also pointing out that the crash was inevitable and a market failure. Its size or impact could have been impacted by the Fed, the Treasury and a number of other actors, but they could have not prevented the bubble from bursting.

I find these economic subjects highly frustrating at times, simply because they are so inconclusive, everything is based on assumptions that might (or might not) be logically coherent but not necessarily true. Even if after reading this book I feel like I understand the nature of these bubbles, these crashes, better, it still seems to be such a superficial understanding, such a shallow knowledge. I guess there ain't nothing but to keep on reading.

Late add-on:
I just found my notes for this book again and just wanted to add a few comments:
  • Galbraith argues that 'cheap credit [is] not sufficient as an explanation for a speculative bubble' which I found highly interesting considering that's what Europeans claim the Americans did wrong these last few years (also I think this is what Greenspan usually is criticized for).
  • The high income gap in the United States before 1929 (low Gini-efficient) contributed to a dependency on luxury goods for continued economic growth. When the stock markets crashed a relatively low percentage of people were directly affected by this, but these were the guys that were needed to keep consumption at high levels. Basically (and this is me, not Galbraith), if the United States had been a more just (in terms of income) society the Great Crash wouldn't have had such an astounding (and long-term) effect. I wonder what that means for today's society, considering that thanks (to some extent) to Bush's economic policies the rich have gotten richer while everyone else stagnated.
  • 'The bipartisan emphasis on balancing the budget in 1932 worsened the developing depression.' Let's just say I hope that Frau Merkel is reading some economics texts too, I'd like to find a job next summer after all.
  • Highly amusing:
    'Persons high in Republican circles are beginning to believe that there is some concerted effort on foot to utilize the stock market as a method of discrediting the Administration. Every time an Administration official gives out an optimistic statement about business conditions, the market immediately drops.'

Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie

L'Histoire de la guerre d'Algérie de Benjamin Stora est un petit livre de 100 pages que je n'ai pas réussi à lire vite quand même. Le livre est écrit comme une introduction au sujet, dense comme une historiographie, toutes phrases pleines de chiffres ou de noms inconnu. J'avais du mal avec ce livre à cause de cela. Je ne savais rien sur la guerre en Algérie, peut-être moins sur l'histoire de la France à l'époque, beaucoup des noms, beaucoup des sigles ne formaient qu'une foule incompréhensible pour moi. Même si le bouquin apparaît être une introduction, je le trouve trop dense, trop intense pour l'être pour quelqu'un vraiment ignorant.

Au même temps le contenu de l'œuvre m'a choqué, je ne me suis pas rendu compte de cet histoire. Le nombre de morts, la violence des deux côtés, le comportement des militants de l'Algérie française (l'OAS), les Européens en Algérie et leurs manifestations, le fait que pendant que la France faisait la guerre en Algérie il y avait une immigration massive des algériens vers la France (la métropole si vous voulez). Quel bordel.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Filibuster proof majority

Not like anyone really still pays attention to this, but the Alaskans decided not to send back a convicted felon to the Senate.

1 down, 2 to go. Minnesota and Georgia still haven't been called. Obama could still start governing in January while only depending on Democratic lawmakers in Congress. Even my cynic self could become giddy because of that.

Completely unrelated, but who will replace Obama (President), Biden (Vice-President) and Clinton (Secretary of State?) in the Senate? As far as I know the governor of the home state decides who to substitute, this is the case in Alaska in any case, I believe this depends on states' respective laws. Which party are the governors of these states from anyway? Illinois (Democrat, undoubtedly), New York (Patterson - Democrat), where the hell is Joe Biden from? Fun exercise, if ultimately pointless in regard to majorities in the Senate (simply because I believe otherwise I would have read something on this somewhere).

Monday, November 17, 2008

Revue de presse - G 20

New York Times:
As Leaders Wrestle With Economy, Developing Nations Get Ringside Seats
  • accentuation du fait que les pays émergents ont été présent d'une manière frappante (ou nouvelle)
  • implication que les pays émergents ont été invité grade à la volonté de Monsieur Bush (pas au fait qu'une solution sans ces pays serait impossible à cause de leurs réserves géants en monnaie étranger)
  • citation d'un discours de Monsieur da Silva exigeant la croissance continuée des pays développés
  • accentuation du fait qu'entre les 20 participants il y avait 2 femmes seulement, sans beaucoup de pouvoir pour les raisons différents

World Leaders Vow Joint Push to Aid Economy
  • ajournement des décisions profondes au prochain sommet en avril avec la participation du nouveau Président américain
  • graves différences idéologiques entre les participants
  • pas de vrai résultat
  • la crise la faute des leaders dans quelque pays développés, voit les États-Unis

G-20's admission of financial guilt may prove the first good step of many
  • le banquet comme le commencement de la discussion
  • les responsables ont été d'accord du fait qu'ils sont les coupable de la crise
  • Brown dirigeant la discussion
  • trois résultats importants
    • la promesse de continuer les négociations de Doha
    • quelques implications des réformes financières dont la création d'un conseil de supervision pour les institutions financière
    • un plan va être élargir regardant une réforme des institutions de Bretton Woods

Financial Times:
World leaders unite to restore growth
  • les participants ont promis d'assurer de renouveler la croissance avec des stimulations fiscales

International Herald Tribune:
G-20 mostly avoids the thornier questions
  • pas de réponses aux questions difficiles
  • le seul journal anglophone qui cite Merkel et la donne une rôle importante

Le Monde
Les pays du G20 s'accordent sur des grands principes et un plan d'action
  • d'accord sur une plus grande supervision de la finance mondiale
  • renforcer la lutte contre les places financières 'non-coopératives'

Le G20 se donne 4 mois pour renouer avec la croissance
  • d'accord sur les grandes lignes d'un plan
  • citation de Strauss-Kahn qui soutien un réponse coordonné, une stimulation fiscale de 2% du PIB

Weltrettung bis März
  • le sommet comme la préparation d'un sommet beaucoup plus important en avril
  • croyance de Sarkozy et Barroso que le monde a plus ou moins suivit les idées européens

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung:
Wirtschaftsmächte vereinbaren Reformplan
  • d'accord sur une supervision sans trou (Überwachungsnetz)

Frankfurter Rundschau:
Neue globale Notärzte
  • le sommet comme la déclaration de la nouvelle multipolarité
  • pas de solution possible sans les pays émergents
  • Européens plus supranational que les américains

Willkommen im 21. Jahrhundert
  • pas de vrai résultat mais signifiant à cause de ses participants
  • l'idéologie de la moindre régulation possible est morte
  • la récession va soi-même obliger le G-20 de se coordonner plus en avril

G20: L'espoir d'un somment pas vain
  • rien de concrete
  • l'absence d'Obama fait une mystère si la position de Bush sur la régulation et le commerce international est à lui-même seulement ou représentative d'une position américaine qui Obama partage aussi
  • l'Allemagne vu comme plus interventionniste que la France ('Merkel s’est révélée comme une vraie bolchevique')

Not a bad weekend's work
  • plus que de la rhétorique seulement
  • le plus important a été la liste des participants
  • la promesse de Japon de donner $100 billions au FMI
  • la continuation de Doha

Presque tous les journaux soulignent le fait que le sommet du G20 a introduit un nouveau 'gouvernement' mondial. L'ouest ne peut plus régler toutes les questions financières entre ses membres seulement. Après il y a une divergence politique entre les journaux plutôt de la gauche et de la droite. Les journaux à gauche en général se montrent déçu des résultats peu concrets, au contraste avec ces à droite qui sont plus ou moins satisfait des résultats. Au niveau des différents pays il est intéressant de noter que Madame Merkel n'est pas vue comme une participante importante dans la presse anglophone (sauf l'International Herald Tribue qui est fait pour le monde non-anglophone). De plus il y a des différences selon les résultats reporté ou accentué. En Europe la lutte contre les paradis fiscaux est perçue comme un résultat pertinent, tandis qu'aux États-Unis et en Angleterre (sauf dans l'Economist qui en général est plus précis dans son reportage de l'économie) ce résultat n'est même pas reporté. La même divergence existe pour le reportage sur la coordination des stimulations fiscales. En général (et ceci n'est pas du tout surprenant) les journaux prennent des perspectives nationales dans leurs citations et les personnages jugés importants pour le succès du sommet.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

La condition humaine

Je ne sais pas trop quoi dire sur La condition humaine d'André Malraux (et j'ai l'impression que je dis cela trop souvent quand je parle sur les bouquin français, peut être une expression de ma limitation d'expression dans cette langue qui m'énerve encore et toujours). Ce un livre très fort et ayant des difficultés d'y entrer au début, après un tiers j'avais du mal d'abandonner le bouquin, mais il n'y a pas d'espoir dans cet œuvre. Malraux ne raconte pas une histoire très cruelle parce que il discute en détail la violence, la mort, la torture, cela existe aussi mais pas beaucoup. Non, elle est cruelle parce que il n'y a aucune signe d'espoir. Tous les personnages sont perdus à la fin, morts ou vivants il n'y a plus rien pour eux. Malraux réussi à montrer ce désespoir dans mille variations (ok, je mens, mais six ou sept peut-être) et le destins de ses personnages sont si différents qu'un bouquin si déprimant que cela est si attirant au même temps. Hmmm, peut-être c'est moi aussi, j'aime très bien la culture déprimante en général à la fin (Townes, Hank, Faulkner...).

J'ai aussi trouvé super intéressant la période de laquelle Malraux parle ici, la Chine avant que les communistes aient gagné leur révolution est un sujet dont je sais rien. Tchang Kaï-chek je connaissais par nom mais dehors cela, rien. Alors, lis-le, mais ne plaignez-vous pas quand ce bouquin vous rendez tristes.

Tatanka Yotanka's death

I found these two gems (1, 2) by accident after I had watched a satire on Buffalo Bill's Wild West show and felt the need to scurry around a bit looking for some more information on Sitting Bull (one of my childhood heroes, quite unsurprisingly really). For those of you not initiated to the wonderful world of cowboys and Indians (such an inept and inaccurate description though), Sitting Bull (or Tatanka Yotanka in his native tongue) was the spiritual leader of the Hunkpapa Sioux, themselves part of the Lakota, he is widely held responsible (or celebrated?) for his preparation (again, more spiritual and motivational than as someone comparable to a general (that role would have been played by Crazy Horse (Tashunka Witko) or Gall), but considering the usual disaster called inter-tribal cooperation (see the disastrous defeat of Tecumseh) this role should not be underestimated) in the battle of the Big Horn river (Southern Montana). This battle was (and still is) the only one during which the US army ever lost every single man fighting on its side. Evidently, this last hurrah of the plains Indians didn't change anything in the long run, and the Lakota, like everyone other Indian tribe really, ended on a miserable reservation, dominated by alcoholism, violence and misery.

Is it scary that I wrote this without looking up anything by the way? Probably so, but then I spent most of my childhood reading books on this kind of irrelevant crap. Wait...that kind of reminds me of last week actually, and the week before that. Oh well.

What I found shocking was how the New York Times in 1890 reported on Sitting Bull's death, he was nothing but an old man at that point and it seems disproportionate how they condemn him especially considering the fact that the Indians miserable conditions and exploitation must have been widely known even then.

My favorite quotes:
  • the arch villain is dead
  • [his followers] will be good Indians or prisoners [this of course being a disgusting reference to (I believe) General Sherman's epitome that only a dead Indian were a good Indian]
  • the killing of the wily old plotter [part compliment, part insult I guess]
  • the savages [interesting about that is the fact that the NY Times basically admits to the attempted arrest being made possible in the first case through a blatant lie by the commanding officer (that he only wanted to talk to Sitting Bull namely), yet no criticism of that is voiced of course]
  • the Sioux, with a hideous yell, charged on the police
  • the old rascal
  • the arch traitor [to whom? To the white men's government that had broken treaty after treaty after treaty?] [..] was an accomplished liar [see above and just beforehand]

Did I mention that these things piss me off?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pop Internationalism

The second book by Paul Krugman in the last few weeks (days really) I've gone through. I found the French title to be more explanatory if less catchy: Le mondialisation n'est pas capable. In any case, the book is simply a collection of essays and speeches that Krugman had written/given trying to dispel certain notions on trade policy in the (American) public and political arena. Even if some of content becomes slightly repetitive after the second or third essay (it a collection after all not a coherent body of work), I found the whole thing a very insightful and helpful read. It has already helped me twice these last days in arguments on trade policy with non-economists (even non-political scientists and it is not like I could even call myself an economist with producing inadvertent laughter within myself).

Krugman fears that public discourse has been decoupled from the scientific economic discourse and would like to try to refute some of the (economic) arguments put forth going against every economic theory or against empirical proof. I am not going to go into detail here, repeating his main arguments, but I most definitely can recommend at least one or two (or all) essays of this volume to most (non-economists) readers.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

La mort est mon métier

Dans une des critiques de Les bienveillantes de Johnathan Littell que j'ai lu le journaliste a fait un référence au fait que cette idée d'écrire un livre de la perspective d'une officier de SS serait rien nouveau, Robert Merle ayant fait là même chose en 1958 déjà. Évidemment, je m'avais promis que je lirais ce bouquin un jour. Je viens (ok, il y a peut-être deux moi) de le trouver dans une librairie à l'occasion à St-Michel. Ces derniers jours n'étant pas si génial que cela (pour des raisons différents, grâce à mes faiblesses autant qu'aux circonstances) j'ai passé beaucoup de temps à lire (rien nouveau, je sais). Alors, j'ai fini La mort est mon métier dans deux, trois jours. Quel bouquin!

La première partie je trouvais beaucoup moins persuasive que la deuxième, dont celle-là Merle décrit l'adolescence de Lang (Rudolf Hoess en vérité, le commandant d'Auschwitz). J'ai trouvé les explications de Merle un peu trop simple dans cette partie, le père cruel, la religion qu'il grandit à détester, l'officier qui lui apprend aimer l'Allemagne, après la chômage, la faim des années de Weimar. Peut-être tout cela et même vrai, je n'en sais rien, et la biographie de Hoess m'est complètement inconnu, mais le portrait semble plutôt à une caricature qu'une vraie personne parfois. Évidemment, et toujours, je critique trop, même la première partie a été super, mais comment vous devriez savoir maintenant, je suis critique.

Dans la deuxième partie Merle décrit comme Hoess devient plus en plus important dans la NSDAP, au début dans le SA, il entre dans le SS et devient même un protégé de quelque sort d'Himmler. Il est nommé commandant d'Auschwitz, même quand il préfère se battre en Russie, et Lang (le protagoniste) commence a raconté d'une manière froide, exacte et sans émotion ses tentatives d'améliorer le camp. Au début comme un camp de travail après quelque temps comme un camp de mort. Je ne crois pas qu'il y ait beaucoup a ajouté, je suis allemand (mon passeport le dit en tout cas) et je me rends compte de l'histoire. Elle est déprimante. L'odeur d'Auschwitz a dû être horrible (désolé mon français est nul, mais je ne trouve pas un meilleur mot) tout le monde y parle. La femme de Lang au milieu de son séjour à Auschwitz a dû découvrir ce que son mari fait, quel horreur. Hoess a été convaincu jusqu'à la fin qu'on ne peut pas le condamner, lui ayant rempli les ordres seulement. Les victimes ne disent rien dans le livre, pas un seul mot, juif, homos, socialistes/communistes, tsiganes (ai-je oublié quelqu'un?), je réaliste qu'il y avait quelques émeutes et Merle dont parle, mais, la silence diffuse l'horreur même plus. Il y a un officier du SS qui se suicide, plus capable de soutenir les sons des victimes dans leur chambre de mots. Évidemment on développe de la sympathie pour cet homme, mais pourquoi? Le suicide n'est-il pas seulement une autre manière de la peur? Il préfère de finir sa vie que faire quelque chose pour ces victimes. Non, il n'aurait pas pu arriver à obstruer beaucoup, mais mourir en essayant n'est pas mieux que s'enfuir?

Lisez-le. La seule chose que moi je ne peux jamais comprendre ayant lu les bouquins quelque chose sur ce sujet, c'est comment on ne peut pas tirer certains leçons. Le nationalisme est mort, je ne peux pas être fier d'un pays, si un pays est capable d'un act comme ce-là. La croyance ne vaut rien, à qui ou à quoi pourrait-on croire? Dieu? Une philosophie? Une façon de gouverner? La morale?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The election and stuff

  • Thanks to all you Floridians and North Carolinians (and everyone else) for restoring my faith in the American people that had been fundamentally destroyed in 2004.

  • The super majority didn't work out, shame. I guess that was being overtly optimistic though.

  • Ted Stevens seems to have gotten reelected to the Senate? That guy was sentenced to prison only a few days ago and these morons put him back into office?

  • Talking about a trouncing by the way. Obama winning two maybe three slave states, plus Florida, plus Ohio.

  • Funny how all these states I like for a variety of cultural reasons all voted for McCain. Tennesse (Memphis (the Sun Studios!), Nashville (Hank, Waylon, Willie), Mississippi (Faulkner, the Delta, the Hill Country), Louisiana (New Orleans (Fats, Toussaint, Prof Longhair, Bobby Marchan...), Jerry Lee), West Virginia (Hasil Adkins, Copperhead Road).

  • Benton, Will, Trav...I am disappointed :)

  • Be interesting how Mr 'Yes-we-can' will perform now that he actually has to do something.

  • I've said this before, I'll say it again, sometimes I wish that I were less cynic. Don't think I can help it though.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Les Chouans

Balzac. Ce bouquin m'a sérieusement fatigué. L'histoire tragique d'une amour entre une républicaine et un comte. Mais, mais quoi? Tout cela sert à rien, la femme passe des mois (ou des pages) en assurant que le comte lui aime vraiment, elle n'en est jamais sûr et l'aime autant parfois qu'elle le déteste des autres fois. Et oui, j'ai fait des choses bête à cause d'amour (ou ce que j'ai pense a été de l'amour) mais ces deux risquent n'importe quoi (la vie de vingt-trente hommes par exemples) pour se rencontrer pendant cinq minutes (et disputer pendant ce temps). Fatigant. De plus Balzac n'écrit pas d'une façon captivante (dans ce livre et à mon avis en tout cas). Dit-on comme ça, je suis heureux que j'en aie fini, je peux commencer un autre bouquin.

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Return of Depression Economics

Paul Krugman during the past week referenced to a book that wrote in the late 90s on financial crises and which he now apparently is republishing with some added data and another chapter. Considering I'll be taking an economics exam in Berlin relatively soon I figured I should read that book in order to try to find out more about this current crisis and its implications for a Bretton Woods II (whatever that may mean in the end and not matter whether that might be a good analogy or not, it drives across a point).

what does this year's Nobel price winner have to say then? Basically, this obviously being a very much condensed version, a stylistic recounting of a stylistic argument if you want, Krugman shows that financial market crises need not be logical or rational. There is an inherent logic to market behaviour that leads to self-fulfilling speculative attacks (if everyone knows everyone else will sell dollars/euros/whatever else, it is rational for you to join the fray as you will lose money otherwise, even if the good/share/currency concerned might actually have a sound economical value). For him this was especially noticeable in the case of the Asian crisis (crises?) in the 90s, when fundamentally sound markets (like South Korea) were abandoned because of a double standard of markets, an irrational (racist? one could totally do a reading from this point of view, not getting into that here though) benefit of doubt for first world countries (leaving Australia with far less problems than say Malaysia). Obviously, this latter argument would have to be updated some in his new version of this book, simply because we now had (have) a first world financial crisis.

Interesting is the fact that Western governments (mainly the US) forced anti-Keynesian policies on Asian as well as South American countries leading to possibly worse results in regard to their currencies (because their one-time devaluation was not deemed sufficient) at the same time that the following recession was deepened (do recession's deepen?) through the implementation of high interest rates and 'fiscal responsibility'. Why is that interesting? Well, considering the US and Britain the stalwarts of the Western liberal system just (semi-)nationalized their banking sector and are now discussing programs intended to assuage economic problems, there seems to have been a certain amount of hypocrisy in this policy.

Summing up then, Krugman basically claims that a feedback loop, a gigantic financial market failure if you want, can lead to financial crises even if economic data is sound, which leaves us with what? Looking to the government for help? Obviously a solution to this (current) crisis requires some kind of government involvement, but how far and in what way seems very much to be open to debate. After all, it is not like governments have been known to run profitable effective operations in the past.

Super interesting book, read it. I am not sure I can claim I really understand everything and I most definitely have a hard time recounting all the arguments concerning the feedback loop or the liquidity trap that Japan was facing, but I find it shocking how many policies Krugman criticizes are being employed again today, notably by the ECB and its Bundesbank-philosophy of regarding low inflation as the most important aspect of monetary policy. As always, one's lack of knowledge, of a deeper understanding in virtually every subject is quite stunning (and depressing at times), but I guess one just has to continue chugging along (keep on reading that is).

Saturday, October 18, 2008

weiter leben

Im neuen Literaturmagazin der Zeit war eine Besprechung von Ruth Klügers neustem Buch, dem zweiten Teil ihrer Autobiographie sozusagen, gewesen. Mich interessierte mehr ihr erstes Buch weiter leben in welchem sie (zeitlich sehr spät 1989-1991) ihre Erfahrungen in verschiedenen KZs (unter anderem Auschwitz) zu verarbeiten versuchte. Ein verstörendes Werk. Klüger wächst als jüdisches Kind in Wien auf und hat aufgrund ihres Alters (1945 gerade einmal 15) kaum Erinnerungen an ein Leben, welches nicht vom Nazi-Regime dominiert wird. Sie schreibt in einer unglaublich nüchternen Art (und auf Deutsch, obwohl sie seit 1947 in den USA wohnt), sie klagt nicht an (oder tut dies nur selten), sie fordert kein Mitleid, sie stellt nur dar was sie erlebt hat. Sie befriedigt nicht mal mehr die Geilheit des Beobachters (mir) nach Grausamkeit, nach deutscher Schande, nach einer brutalen Darstellung des KZ-Lebens. Stattdessen greift sie die Diskussion in Deutschland heute auf, beschreibt die Zufälligkeit des Überlebens, des Sterbens und gerade aufgrund dieser banalen Erzählweise, aufgrund dieser fehlenden (anklagenden oder fordernden) Emotion versteht sie es ein Bild der Opfer des Holocaust (der Shoah, der Endlösung, was sagt man?) zu zeichnen, welches mir vollkommen neu war. Ich kann ihr Buch nur weiter empfehlen, es ist keine historisch Ausmalung der Vergangenheit, was die meisten von mir gelesenen Bücher über den Holocaust bisher waren, es ist eine konstante Auseinandersetzung mit derselben. Ein weiteres weites Feld in welchem ich viel lesen sollte hat sich in diesem Sinne geöffnet.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

American trade policy / la politique commerciale américaine

So, I just wrote my first paper and had my first oral presentation in France. I wrote the text in English and wanted to do the presentation in the same language but then I got pissed off at myself for chickening out and under consideration of the fact that I don't really care about my grades here decided to do everything in French. Thus, I rewrote the whole thing in French (with friendly assistance of this terroristy kid from some crappy, small town in the South of France somewhere). If you care to read a short summary of American trade policy, check it out. Lots more could be said about this and my footnotes show where one could take this I think. Interesting subject to say the least.

As a side note, Paul Krugman on his blog posted a really easy introduction into trade theory, you should read it if you don't know much about this topic.

Je viens de donner ma première exposé à Sciences Po et j'ai écrit une synthèse sur le même sujet (avec un peu d'aide d'un copain terroriste à moi). Je l'avais écrit en anglais au début, mais je veux apprendre quelque chose ici, alors je me dis que cela servirait à rien à la fin et je l'ai traduit en français. Si la politique commerciale des États-Unis vous intéressez, lisez-le. Je le trouve un sujet fascinant et je crois qu'on peut voir qu'il y a beaucoup des possibilités d'élargir cette synthèse.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Magisterprüfung: Montesquieue, Publius, et al

Ich schreibe am Montag meine dritte Magisterprüfung über die Gewaltenteilung in der amerikanischen Verfassung und wollte als kleine Übung für mich einfach kurz eine Zusammenfassung des Textes, den ich morgen höchstwahrscheinlich (hoffentlich) schreiben werde, hier wiedergeben.

Auf die amerikanische Unabhängigkeitserklärung 1776 folgend wurden die Articles of Confederation 1777 verfasst und 1781 ratifiziert. Die 13 Kolonien waren erst dadurch zu den USA geworden. Die Regierung, welche sie sich selbst gegeben hatten, zeigte in den nun folgenden Jahren ihre Schwäche. Es gab keine föderale Exekutive und der Kongress, als föderales Organ der Legislative hatte kaum Einfluss auf Gesetzgebung, welche bei den Einzelstaaten verblieb. Dies war vor allem in Bezug auf die internationalen Beziehungen der jungen Republik problematisch, so sie konnte ihre Kriegsschulden nicht zahlen, weil der Kongress von freiwilligen Zuwendungen der Einzelstaaten abhängig war, und selbst der Friedensvertrag mit Großbritannien wurde erst Monate später ratifiziert, weil es keine Möglichkeit die Anwesenheit der Kongressmitglieder zu erzwingen. Den Ausschlagspunkt für den Ruf nach Wandel, nach einer stärkeren Zentralisierung, nach der verfassungsgebenden Versammlung von Philadelphia im Jahr 1787, gab aber wohl letzten Endes die Shays Rebellion. Dieser Aufstand verarmter Bauern, welche gegen Steuern und Gefängnisstrafen aufgrund von ausstehenden Schuldzahlungen kämpften, verschreckte die aristokratische Führungsklasse der Republik und brachte sie zu der Überzeugung das eine umfassende Reform nötig war.

Eine der wichtigsten Prämissen der Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia war die sogenannte Gewaltenteilung. Die Aufteilung der Regierungsgewalt in drei Sparten, der Exekutive, der Legislative, sowie der Judikative. Die spezifische amerikanische Ausformung dieser Teilung war stark von Montesquieus Lesart des britischen Systems beeinflusst, unabhängig davon, daß diese Lesart nur bedingt akkurat war bzw mit der Realität übereinstimmte. Vor allem war Montesquieue einer der ersten Theoretiker (und für die Amerikaner der wichtigste und bekannteste, zitiert sowohl von Gegners als auch Befürwortern der Verfassung, welche aus der Philadelphia Convention hervorging), welcher die Judikative explizit als eigenständig darstellte und nicht der Exekutive zu- oder unterordnete. Laut der sogenannten reinen Theorie der Gewaltenteilung, welche unter anderem in den Verfassungen von Virginia und Pennsylvania annähernd zu finden waren, müßten die drei Gewalten in ihren Befugnissen und Funktionen strikt von einander getrennt werden. Dies gilt auch für die jeweiligen Funktionäre, welche alle, auf unterschiedlichen Arten und Weisen und vollkommen unabhängig voneinander, vom Volk gewählt werden sollten. Es dürfte allgemein bekannt sein, daß dies in den USA nicht der Fall ist. Ich werde nun im folgenden versuchen die amerikanischen Geflechte, diese checks and balances, welche aus der Idee der Gewaltenteilung erwuchsen, kurz zu skizzieren. Es muß in dieser Hinsicht betont werden, daß bestimmte Unterschiede bestehen zwischen der Verfassung einerseits, ihrer berühmtesten Interpretation (Publius Federalist Papers) und der heutigen Realität. Abschließend ein kurzes Wort zu den Federalist Papers noch, Publius waren in Wirklichkeit James Madison, Alexander Hamilton und John Jay und damit einflußreiche Teilnehmer der vefassungsgebenden Versammlung in Philadelphia. Die Federalist Papers wurden zur Verteidigung der Verfassung und zur Sicherstellung ihrer Ratifizierung in New York veröffentlicht, erst als Artikel dann in Buchform. Sie symbolisieren nicht nur den basisdemokratischen (Frauen, Sklaven, Indianer sowie Arme ignorierend) Anspruch der Ratifizierung der Verfassung (vom Volk kommend), sondern können auch als einflußreichste Interpretation der Verfassung bezeichnet werden und als Klassiker der modernen politikwissenschaftlichen Theorie.

Die amerikanische Verfassung teilt klar die Exekutivgewalt dem Präsident zu, die Judikativgewalt dem höchsten Verfassungsgericht und alle in der Verfassung genannte Legislativgewalt dem Kongress, welcher aus zwei Häusern besteht. Diese Einschränkung legislativer Macht wurde durch das 10. Amendment noch betont, welches alle Macht, welche in der Verfassung nicht dem Nationalstaat zu- oder den Einzelstaaten abgesprochen wurde, den Einzelstaaten zuschlug. Es wird in der Verfassung selber keine Gewichtung der unterschiedlichen Gewichtung vorgenommen, es wird keiner eine Prävalenz zugeordnet. Stattdessen werden die Überschneidungen und das für die USA so entscheidende System der checks and balances nur durch die Auflistung der einzelnen Befugnisse jeder der drei Gewalten dargestellt.

Publius betont in den Federalist Papers wiederholt die Tatsache, daß die amerikanische Verfassung Montesquieus Gewaltenteilung (dieser wird als Orakel, als metaphysischer Ursprung derselben dargestellt) treu bleibt. Denn, laut Montesquieu müßten die drei Gewalten nicht vollkommen voneinander getrennt werden, vielmehr ist es zur Bewahrung der Freiheit nötig zu verhindern, daß nicht ein Akteur oder Organ, welcher ein Gewalt vollkommen beherrscht, die Kontrolle über eine zweite vollkommen erlangt. Dies ist wie wir bald sehen werden in den USA nicht der Fall, weswegen der Vorwurf der Anti-Federalists (Brutus, Cato, etc...) das Prinzip der Gewaltenteilung sei missachtet nicht zutrifft. Weiterhin erklärt Publius, daß diese reine Gewaltenteilung, die exakte Abtrennung der drei Gewalten auch schlicht unmöglich sei, da es keiner politikwissenschaftlichen Autorität bisher gelungen sei, diese drei sauber voneinander getrennt zu definieren. Dieses Manko der Forschung wiederum läge an der Ungenauigkeit der Definitionen jeder der drei Gewalten, der mangelnd klaren Darstellung in Gesetzestexten sowie der mangelnden Genauigkeit von Sprache diese Definitionen überhaupt genau auszudrücken. Die Aufweichung der Gewaltenteilung ist also nach den großen Denkern erlaubt, unvermeidbar und schließlich auch nötig. Dies liegt an der Machtverteilung in einer repräsentativen Republik, wo die Legislative als die stärkste Gewalt sich auf die Felder der anderen beiden Gewalten ausbreiten würde, um letzten Endes in einer Tyrannei auszuarten (in einer Monarchie oder Demokratie würde diese Gefahr von der Exekutive ausgehen). Um diese Machtübernahme der Legislative, der Vertretung des Volkes, einer Art Tyrannei der Mehrheit zu entgehen, muß also die Legislative also geschwächt, die Exekutive gestärkt werden. Aus diesem Grund sind Überschneidungen, sind gegenseitige Kontrollen notwendig für die Beibehaltung der Freiheit im amerikanischen System. Publius drückt es mit seiner schönen Redewendung aus, daß ambition has to check ambition.

Konkret in der amerikanischen Verfassung gibt es nun einige (viele) Aspekte, welche die Exekutive stärken, die Legislative schwächen, aber auch die Kontrolle der Legislative über die Exekutive betonen. Ich werde später auf den gesonderten Fall der Judikative eingehen auch wenn sie bis dahin schon das eine oder andere mal passiv erwähnt werden wird. Die Legislative wird erstens dadurch geschwächt, daß sich in ihr zwei Kammern finden (the Senate and the House), welche Gesetze nur zusammen beschließen können. Des weiteren unterliegen Parlamentsgesetze (nicht Verfassungsänderungen) der Kontrolle des Supreme Courts in Bezug auf ihre Verfassungsmäßigkeit, hier wird später noch darauf einzugehen sein. Parlamentsgesetze können weiterhin vom Präsidenten per Veto an den Kongress zurückgeschickt werden, dieses Veto kann nur mit einer 2/3 Mehrheit überstimmt werden. Schließlich sitzt der Vize-Präsident dem Senat vor und trifft Stimmgleichheit mit seiner Stimme die Entscheidung.

Gleichzeitig besitzt der Kongress natürlich einige Stärken, so wird ihm die Macht über den Finanzhaushalt eingeräumt (power of the purse), welche auch unter anderem im Haushaltboykott der damals neuen republikanischen Mehrheit im House gegen Präsident Clinton eingesetzt wurde. Internationale Verträge müssen vom Senat mit einer 2/3 Mehrheit abgesegnet werden, desgleichen bedürfen Richter und Regierungsoffizielle einer simplen Mehrheit im Senat vor der Bestallung durch den Präsidenten. Der Kongress ist das einzige Organ welche Kriege erklären sowie Truppen ausrufen und finanzieren kann. Des weiteren kann das Repräsentantenhaus den Präsidenten und andere ernannte Offizielle und Richter impeachen, das Verfahren hierfür wird dann im Senat geführt (wobei im Fall des Präsidenten der Supreme Court Chief Justice dem Verfahren vorsitzt). Diese Zweiteilung soll dieses Verfahren gleichzeitig abschwächen, da ansonsten die Gefahr bestände (laut Publius), daß passions and emotions zu zu raschen und häufigen Abrufungen führen würden. Letztendlich kann der Kongress Zeugen in Gerichtsverfahren Immunität zu sagen um Aufklärung staatsrelevanter Vorgänge zu erlangen.

Die Exekutive, der Präsident de facto (auch hier wird später nochmal darauf eingegangen), wird durch das bereits erwähnte Veto gestärkt (hier wurde von einem absoluten Veto wie es in Großbritannien bestand abgesehen, dies aus zwei Gründen, der Schwäche dieses Vetos und dessen Stärke; dieses gegensätzliche Argumentepaar besteht aus der zu häufigen und stringenten Benutzung in besonderen Fällen, wo die Exekutive jeden Wandel stoppen könnte, sowie des zu selten erfolgenden Vetos in normalen Fällen, wo ein absolutes Veto ein zu grober Klotz für einen kleinen Keil darstellt). Er kann außerdem Richter und Regierungsoffizielle ernennen, bedarf hierfür zwar immer der Zustimmung des Senats, besitzt aber ein alleiniges Vorschlagsrecht. Desweiteren he can make war auch wenn er ihn nicht erklären kann und ist Oberkommandierender der Armee und Flotte. Außenpolitische Verhandlungen werden von ihm geführt. Um seine Unabhängigkeit von der Legislative sicherzustellen kann sein Gehalt nicht verändert werden und um sein konstantes Engagement zu gewährleisten, sollte er immer wieder wählbar sein (was natürlich inzwischen geändert wurde). Der Präsident kann außerdem pardons erteilen. Schließlich ist es wichtig, daß die Verantwortung der Exekutive in einer Hand liegt, welches es ermöglicht diesen leichter zu bestrafen (in Wahlen oder Impeachment-Verhandlungen), da Fehlentscheidungen leichter zuzuordnen sind als in Gruppe.

Geschwächt wird der Präsident einerseits durch die Tatsache, daß es für fast alle Entscheidungen eine Mehrheit im Kongress (Senat) benötigt sowie durch die vollkommene Abhängigkeit vom Kongress in finanziellen Dingen (siehe Paulson-initiative).

Die Judkiative spielt eine gewisse Sonderrolle, da davon ausgegangen wird, daß sie keine Gefahr für die Freiheit und die anderen beiden Institutionen darstellt. Da des weiteren Qualifikationen aufgrund der Komplexität von der Thematik eine größere Rolle spielen würde, wird die Judikative ausgeklammert aus dem Verfahren, welches das Volk die drei Gewalten (in verschiedenen Verfahren um Kongruenzen zu vermeiden) wählen lasst. Der Präsident schlägt Richter vor, der Senat stimmt zu und kann den Prozess verzögern, nie aber eigene Favoriten erwzingen. Durch eine lebenslange Berufung und der Tatsache, daß Gehälter nicht gesenkt werden dürfen (erhöht aus inflationären Gründen schon) wird gehofft, daß trotzdem eine Unabhängigkeit der Judikative gewährleistet ist. Die wichtigste Stärkung des Verfassungsgerichtes, die Einrichtung von judicial review, wird interessanterweise in der Verfassung nicht explizit erwähnt, sondern bereits von Publius aus dem Unterschied zwischen Verfassungsgesetzen und parlamentarischen Gesetzen abgeleitet. In der amerikanischen Geschichte wurde dies erst mit Marbury vs Madison 1803 etabliert ohne, daß eine Festschreibung in der Verfassung je erfolgte.

In Bezug auf die damalige Diskussion bleibt festzuhalten, daß vielerorts eine tyrannische Aristokratie befürchtet wurde, bedingt durch die starke Rolle des Senats sowohl in Bezug auf exekutive wie auch auf legislative Belange (und einem gewissen Grad an judikativer Macht obendrein). Des weiteren ist die starke Betonung auf Korruption interessant, weswegen unter anderm Gehälter festgeschrieben wurden und der Senat internationale Verträge absegnen sollte, da befürchtet wurde fremde Mächte könnten sonst die Regierung bestechen. Genau andersherum gesehen wurde dies aber auch als Gefahr wahrgenommen, so in der niedrigen Sperrminorität im Senat, welche leicht von fremden Mächte zur Blockierung bestimmter Verträge genutzt werde könnte. Schließlich hatten die meisten Kritiker eine andere Auffassung der Gewaltenteilung und bevorzugten anstelle der checks and balances eine stringentere Trennung zwischen den Gewalten (so etwa Thomas Jefferson).

In der heutigen Republik und Praxis haben sich natürlich viele Aspekte vollkommen anders entwickelt als gedacht oder vorausgesagt. Die Exekutive durch Machtdelegation aufseiten des Kongresses hat sich gemausert. Viele Exekutiveinheiten (so der USTR) werden vom Kongress und Präsidenten gleichzeitig geleitet. Die Exekutivbürokratie hat sich durch ihre langfristigen Ausblick zu einer 4. Gewalt im Staat entwickelt. Viele Verhandlungen werden unterhalb der politischen Ebene der Exektuive direkt zwischen Beamten und Committees oder Subcommittees des Kongresses geführt, einfach aus dem Grund, daß diese beiden Strukturen viel länger zusammenarbeiten und tiefer in die Materie eingetaucht sind, als ein kurzfristig ernannter head of department. Gerichtsurteile haben die Macht der Exekutive viel mehr Gestaltungskraft eingeräumt, nicht unbedingt gegen den Kongress, sondern vielmehr in Bezug auf Dinge, wo der Kongress einfach noch keinerlei Entscheidung getroffen hat. Schließlich werden desöfteren executive agreement als Ersatz für internationale Verträge abgehandelt um die Zustimmungsmacht des Senates zu umgehen.

Der Kongress selber hat sich von einem aktiven Gesetzgeber (eine Rolle, welche die Exekutive zum großen Teil übernommen hat), zu einem passiven Kontrolleur entwickelt, der ein legislatives Veto ausübt (welches zwar vom Supreme Court als nicht verfassungsgemäßt beurteilt wurde, aber von beiden (Exekutive und Judikative) inoffiziell anerkannt wird). Dies bedeutet in der Praxis, daß die Exekutive entscheidet, aber dem Kongress ein Veto ausspricht. Der Kongress kann interessanterweise Exekutivorgane anders als den Präsidenten auch direkt Befehle erteilen bzw ihnen Macht delegieren und tut dies auch, was die Macht der 4. Gewalt eher noch erhöht (vor allem die direkte Delegation). Letztlich läßt sich sagen, daß der Kongress weiterhin viel Macht besitzt aber nicht immer klar ist, wie er diese anwendet. Siehe Vietnam, 9/11, invasion of Iraq.

Der Supreme Court letzten endes hat diese Machtverlagerung nicht blockiert, und mischt sich überhaupt selten in Gewaltenteilungsaspekte ein (eine Ausnahme sind die 30er Jahre und Roosevelts Sozialpolitik, dies war aber wohl eher eine Ausnahme und inhaltlich bedingt). Stattdessen kann man ihn als Vertreter der nationale Interessen gegenüber den Einzelstaaten und Individuen bezeichnen, der dadurch zB die Civil Rights Bewegung stark gestärkt hat.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

It's over

So, it looks like it's over. Obama will win the question just seems to be by how much and - more importantly - whether the Democrats will have a majority large enough to pass cloture in case of a filibuster. Because of that I decided to donate money for the first time ever in my life (and outside my fatherland or the country in which I currently reside). I really liked the argument made in the article linked to above though and decided to contribute to Jim Martin's race in Georgia. I think after eight years of President Bush, eight years of economic (look at any newspaper) and geo-strategic (Iran, China, Afghanistan, North Korea, Venezuela, Pakistan) mismanagement, the world finally needs some decent leadership again. Europe is not ready for this (and might never be for institutional reasons), neither is China (for different reasons), I believe it is überimportant that an American government (and that includes Congress, forget the President for a second, he is about half as important as usually considered) presides over the decline of American hegemony (the twilight of the unipolar world as Coral Bell put it so beautifully) that actually takes into consideration the rest of the world, that acts more humble and puts more thought into its policies. The Bush administration's mentality of talking loudly while carrying a small stick needs to be reverted into talking quietly (while carrying an even smaller stick).

For these reasons I am (illegally, and through a friend) contributing to the race of a Senator in the South that I don't know anything about. I am not a fervent believer in Democratic policies, but I believe that in relative terms a Democratic super majority would do the world (and the US) good. Why did I donate in the South? I don't know, I like the South and didn't want to donate money to an ex-comedian or to someone from a state where I have never been (Oregon). Why am I telling you all this? Because you should help one of these three guys too. All you democratic people out there that donated money to a symbol who is running for President now, this is where you can actually make a difference. Obama will not change the world, he might not even make a good President and I have my doubts about some of his attitudes and opinions (health care and Pakistan for one), but a filibuster safe majority in the Senate for the next two years at least could really change something.

PS: Benton, I am glad to owe you a six-pack. The Bradley-effect is dead, I was wrong. A black guy can win election in the US. Maybe cynicism is wrong sometimes.

PPS: I know, don't count your chickens before they hatch, don't jinx it, zerteile das Fell des Bären nicht bevor Du ihn erlegt hast, whatever it may be in French. But, I mean, come on. If someone makes a second Bobby Kennedy out of Obama, or if some Islamic terrorist decides he prefers a Republican President and acts on it things could change. If not, it's over.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


Oui, Alexandre Dumas de nouveau. Pardon. cela fait sept livres au moins que j'ai lus de ce monsieur. Quand même j'ai trouvé cette-ci moins fort que - par exemple - Les trois mousquetaire. Dumas dans ce bouquin raconte l'histoire d'un mulâtre qui ayant passé la plupart des ses années d'adolescents en France revient dans son île native. Cet île est gouverné par quelques blancs, les préjuges dominent et notre héros, Georges, est prêt à les conquérir. Georges rapidement devient un Michael Kohlhaas II (ou un deuxième Don Quijote? Au moins ses ennemies existent.) Je voudrais bien dire plein des choses très intelligents sur le livre maintenant, mais il faut admettre que cela fait quelque temps que je l'ai fini et je suis si occupé depuis que je suis venu ici que j'ai du mal à trouver d'autre chose à dire. Lisez-vous Dumas, il est bien sympa. Même s'il ne réussit pas à convaincre le racisme de son temps. Parlant des Africains il parait que ils ont des "instincts d'une race qui aimait mieux l'eau-de-vie que la liberté."

Saturday, September 27, 2008

notes on the first debate

  • McCain wants to counter the financial crisis by lessening dependence on foreign oil
  • McCain wants to be bipartisan (doing a reference to Kennedy being in hospital)
  • Obama's solution sounds super simplistic ('oversight over the whole thing')
  • McCain is going to end American capitalism as we know it, no word on how that is feasible
  • Obama seems to be proud to know the difference between Main and Wall Street considering how often he mentions them
  • McCain: "Main St is paying the price for the greed in Washington and Wall St"; so populistic this campaign business
  • McCain: US is still the biggest exporter in the world (no, Germany is)
  • Mccain attacks the appropriations committee again
  • McCain will change the American political system, increasing presidential power over Congress through vetoeing earmarked bills
  • McCain just admitted Republicans failed to reign in spending
  • Obama apparently earmarked a lot (he didn't even counter attack McCain on that)
  • Obama attacks well on the relative unimportance of earmarks (in absolute financial terms)
  • McCain: pork barrel, earmarks, appropriations...god...nothing else to talk about?
  • good attack on McCain on health care, on his belief in market solutions only, lack of regulation
  • McCain shoots back with tax cuts, simple tax rules and pork barrel spending, weak...I hope people will see this
  • McCain: We let spending get out of hand (Bush adminstration and mainly Republican Congress, how dare you attack Obama on that?)
  • McCain is so exemplary in his issues; I guess that is good politically, but it is so unsatisfactory in the sense that any policy content is missing
  • I do not believe Mccain has a chance in hell to cut down on defense spending; he is perfectly right on the issue of course
  • McCain: response to financial crisis: spending freeze on everything but defense spending and veteran entitlements (I know, reading my note just above I am a little confused as well)
  • we are back to appropriations, gawd, John, come on...
  • McCain: Lesson of Iraq: We cannot have a failed strategy (great in-depth analysis)
  • McCain: We will win with honour, so 19th century.
  • McCain: Iran would have won influence if US had lost Iraq. Iran already has obviously, because of the invasion alone.
  • Obama: Al Qaieda is stronger than anytime since 2001. No, they are not. Not because of Iraq, but they are definitely not as strong. They are just a buzzword nowadays.
  • Good point McCain, the next President will not have to decide whether the US should have gone to Iraq but when and how to leave.
  • Hardball on Iraq by Obama, harsh attacks on the 2003 beginning. Good job.
  • This whole troop support thing is so lame. The upper class discussing who has more solidarity with the working class actually fighting and dying.
  • McCain wants to have Paetrus run Afghanistan with the same strategy as Iraq (keyword: Awakening Councils). That is such a dumb suggestion. Completely different countries, completely different circumstances.
  • Obama wants to reinforce troops in Afghanistan, two bataillons in addition. Bad news for Europe, bad news for Germany. They'll have a hard time saying no to a request for military aid of his.
  • McCain: You don't say out loud you attack Pakistan (like Obama did), you just do it.
  • The Pakistanis don't want to go into Waziristan, McCain trying to convince them to do so won't change much. Their government is not strong enough.
  • McCain doesn't believe in Jesus, he believes in General Paetrus.
  • Why does Obama say John, but McCain Senator Obama? Racial issue of white people having called blacks by their first name only for decades in order to keep them in their place? Afraid of being conceived of doing that?
  • Obama: Good job on describing the mess in Pakistan and the failed US efforts there.
  • McCain: So paternalistic towards Obama (doesn't understand this, that (Pakistan, Musharaff, strategy, tactic)
  • Now we are becoming really corny, McCain is wearing some dead's soldiers name on his wrist. God, guys, please, politics, issues, policy. Anyone trying to pull this off in Germany would be laughed off the stage. So 19th/20th century, come into the 21st century. Pretty, pretty please. Now Obama is wearing a bracelet too. Honour, blood, national pride and so on. So lucky we (Europeans, Germans in particular) got rid of this shit after 1945.
  • Even an Iran with nuclear weapons would not mean a second Holocaust.
  • A league of democracies is bullshit, no China, no Russia? This league would be relevant for another 10 years at most.
  • Funny how Israel is treated like the 51st state or something in these debates.
  • Not having negotiations worked real well against Cuba John. Nixon went to China, Roosevelt met Stalin, Kissinger negotiated with the Vietnamese. To refuse to talk to people is not a policy, it is arrogance that doesn't really serve any use.
  • McCain wouldn't want to meet Zapatero? That is ridicolous. Only one of the best prime ministers in Europe.
  • It is dangerous to meet and talk to Ahmadinejad? Less or more dangerous than bombing the place? Wish McCain would actually expound on that. Don't believe he has a point.
  • How did Kissinger become the wise advisor that people feel proud to reference to? His German accent? His failure in Vietnam?
  • Russia's attack on Georgia. What a failure by the Bush administration to not being capable of responding. Good job by Sarkozy, and good for strengthening the EU's foreign policy, but definitely a sign of things to come (increasingly fading American relevance).
  • McCain attacks well on this foreign policy stuff. Always referencing his lack of understanding.
  • The KGB doesn't exist anymore. It's called the FSB Senator McCain.
  • McCain has spent significative amount of time everywhere in the world apparently, but especially Georgia. My personal estimate would be 3 days.
  • Energy independence is a myth.
  • McCain working with Joe Lieberman is not working across the aisle.
  • Interesting that McCain admits the US used to torture. Not quite sure he is doing that on purpose ('have to make sure we never torture again')
  • Why does everyone want simplistic solutions for complicated problems? So sad how this works. Both just keep hammering away at their strong points.
  • Missile Defense is an expensive failure, mainly supported by ex-generals sitting on advisory boards of the military-industrial complex. I thought McCain wanted to reign in spending.
  • McCain: Obama does not have 'enough experience'. At least he finally came out and said it directly, having referenced to it constantly.
  • McCain loves the veterans. God damn homosexual.
  • McCain just directly tried to distance himself from the Bush administration. Not very believable I think, but he tried.
  • The American dream. You can make it if you try. Social mobility. Just another myth, that is not backed up by numbers.
  • McCain was a POW. He can be President. No really, that is sufficient as a qualification. They always make it sound like Veterans are angels or something. Crazy.
  • McCain was good on this, I agree more with Obama of course based on content alone (policy suggestions, the few that were actually mentioned), but McCain was good. But then this is his specialty (foreign policy that is).
  • I cannot believe they did this in Oxford, Mississippi without ever adressing race.
  • Are they like not allowed to kiss their wives on stage?
  • How creepy is McCain's wife? I mean, how much younger is she? How fake does she look (her hair especially, barbie doll)? Scary stuff.
  • Scary post too, in length especially. If you made it all the way down here I recommend you for it and thanks. Need to do some actual work now.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Nationalism once more

Stephen Smith on ESPN goes a long way towards proving that sports journalists are not the brightest, that Americans are nationalistic and that free speech has been replaced by self-censorship in the United States. Thanks for showing the negative image we Americophiles have been trying to dispel for years.

Josh Howard, a far better than average basketball player on the Dallas Mavericks, was filmed at a charity event 'disrespecting' the American national anthem. In his own words: "The Star-Spangled Banner' is going on. I don't celebrate this shit. I'm black." Now, I am not quite clear why this is such a big deal. It is a free country I thought, free speech and stuff, right? Instead, 'it has to stop now' according to Smith and Mark Cuban (the owner of the Mavericks) said 'that the team dealt with Howard at the time of the incident.' 'Howard has the audacity to publicly challenge America's affinity to its own anthem.' I mean how dare he? Don't we all know you are supposed to stare at the red, white and blue teary-eyed through the singing of the anthem? What a sorry state of affairs, if a semi-celebrity is condemned for voicing his personal, political opinion.

Smith continues his rambling by mixing in some references to Howard admitting to smoking weed and its widespread use among NBA-players. I am not quite sure how this invalidates his reasoning on anything else. I assume if he drank Bud Light and watched Monday Night Football he would be considered an upright citizen though. Smith actually has the audacity to call Howard an idiot. I guess that is what not being patriotic makes you.

The funny thing about all that is of course that greater thinkers as Josh Howard would agree (Frederick Douglass' The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro is just one prominent example, WEB DuBois actually moved to Ghana in the last years of his life).

Even J. A. Adande managing a far more level-headed commentary on Howard opens up with talking about America as 'the best country on the planet.' Who are these people? When will they arrive in the 21st century? When will they finally abandon these nationalistic terms that are meaningless in the first place.

I don't think I am doing a good job of expressing myself in this post, but I haven't felt as exasperated with American society in a really long time. I cannot believe this piece of bullshit was published on the front page of

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


This trend of nationalizing financial entities in the Unites States (Fanny, Freddie, AIG) really makes me wonder what happened to all those people afraid of the state. Weren't markets supposed to be taken care of themselves on their own? I do realize that the radical argument could be that there still has been too much state-interference and that this is the reason for the current shit hole (excuse my French, am moving to Paris soon, should be allowed to use it) that we seem to be stuck in. Yet, we will most likely (und das ist auch gut so) never have a perfect market (even if that might be an economist's wet dream), we have to adapt to reality then and that means oversight, government regulation and not letting markets completely off the leach. Otherwise, we have crashing financial markets with no one truly knowing who owns or owes what to whom. Truly libertarian markets are as much of an utopia as communism was.

The German government has decided that a likely recession in the US coupled with falling stock indexes and a financial market whom describing as in turmoil sounds like a euphemism will not affect Germany. Gee, thanks Angela and Peer, I'll take y'all's word for it. (taz, Zeit)

Al Gore might have invented the internet (yes, I know, just a misunderstanding, he did contribute valuable political support and never really claimed more, it's pretty funny nonetheless), but McCain was responsible for people who think they are important being able to show it to everyone, he created the _blank">BlackBerry. Thank you Mr McCain.

Finally, I feel like he exaggerates at times (the 'under god' reference for example really has nothing to do with race), but he makes a couple of really valid points on race and racism in American politics. I am growing increasingly worried about Obama's chances for election by the way, the United States' electorate really disappointed me (us, Europeans, the world) in 2004 and I am wary of actually getting my hopes up once more. Furthermore, as I've said again and again, race does matter and it could just tip the scales in favor of McCain/Palin (worst VP-candidate I've ever read/heard about in my life btw, substantially speaking, not in political terms sadly enough). I guess the upside of that would be that the Austin-boy owes me a six-pack if Obama doesn't win.

Schmidts Beweihräucherung

Ich habe diesen Artikel nicht einmal mehr gelesen und werde dies auch nicht tun. Ich finde diese Beweihräucherung Helmut Schmidts einfach furchtbar. Die Zeit benimmt sich ihm gegenüber als ob er der sprichwörtliche Dukaten-scheißende Esel sei. Seine politischen Kommentare sind nichts mehr als persönliche Ansichten, welche ohne argumentativen Hintergrund vorgebracht werden, stattdessen durch Referenzen auf persönliche Kontakte (Kissinger, Carter usw usf) aus einer gottgleichen Perspektive zu stammen scheinen. Einfach furchtbar.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Jiddisch im Berliner Jargon

Seit Ewigkeiten hier nichts mehr geschrieben, hatte meine ersten zweiten Magisterprüfungen die letzten Tage. Heute morgen aber habe ich auf dem Weg zum Flughafen zum ersten Mal seit längerem wieder einfach nur für mich selber gelesen. War schön.

Ich hatte mir Jiddisch im Berliner Jargon oder Hebräische Sprachelemente im deutschen Wortschatz von dem Mitbewohner eines Kumpels letztens ausgeliehen und es dann heute schnell gelesen. Ich finde es nicht besonders schön geschrieben und es ist wirklich sehr kurz, aber die Ansammlung von jiddischen Worten im Deutschen ist beeindruckend und ich möchte einfach nur kurz meine Lieblinge auflisten:

- Mischpoke
- zocken (was ich andauernd benutze)
- malochen
- Schlamassel
- Ische (nicht schön, aber witzig)
- Moos (im Sinne von Geld)
- Zoff
- Ausbaldowern
- Bammel haben
- blauer Montag (der in seinem Ursprung nichts mit der Farbe Blau zu tun hat)
- Chuzpe
- dufte
- Gauner, Ganove
- sich kabbeln
- ein Kaff
- kess
- mauscheln
- Miesepeter
- ein feiner Pinkel
- Reibach machen
- jemanden einseifen

Ich hatte mit einer Freundin in Boston schon eine Liste schöner Worte erstellt gehabt, viele von diesen müßten dort aufgenommen werden.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Zwölf Jahre

I am writing about a book I read in German today (only had the translated version), but I cannot get myself to write in German for some reason. Maybe a way to distance myself, maybe just showing off, maybe I just feel more comfortable writing in English nowadays. I have spent most of the last five-six years doing just that after all. I haven't been very busy on this thing here (the word blog seems so...limiting?), mostly because I spend my life studying for two of the most important exams I've ever taken, and when I say life I mean it.

Anyway, today I again went to the library early in the morning and read a book about the German legislative system. I just couldn't do it anymore after a while though, so I went home instead and finished my subway reading material, Joel Agee's Twelve Years - An American Boyhood in Eastern Germany. Now, this book is special in the sense that I actually know the author. He and his wife are friends of my parents, I have spent time with them in New York and will actually be seeing them this Saturday (the knowledge of which inspired me to finally pick up his book in the first place). So what does this mean? I am not quite sure, maybe that I was positively disproposed towards the book, maybe that I wouldn't have been as critical as necessary if I wouldn't have liked it? I have no idea.

Good news first, I really liked this book. I finished it today in 3-4 hour reading session and spent 30 minutes on the internet afterwards trying to find out more about some of the (real-life) characters. Joel is the son of James Agee (quite the famous writer to have as a father, not very relevant for the rest of his story though) and Alma Mailman/Agee/Uhse. His mom went to Mexico with him where she married a German communist and writer, Bodo Uhse (who himself has an interesting life-story, being a left-wing Nazi in the 1920s only to become a communist in the 30s). The Uhse family (sorry all you label-centered feminists) then moved to the Soviet-occupied zone in 1948. In his novel, Joel, more or less liberally, recounts his years in Germany, the German Democratic Republic actually. Some of it is very personal and in that sense not related neither to the time-period nor the geographic location, his first sexual experiences and his difficulties with them, but also his driftlessness, his lack of direction, of application. Other parts are more directly connected to his unique position an American Jew growing up in Germany in the 1950s, the rigid party rule, the blind obedience for which Germans then (and now) are famous for.

I really liked this book, I can only recommend it to all of you. Especially maybe people that know Germany but don't come from here or at least have managed to gain some kind of an outsider's perspective on it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Coming of Age in Mississippi

A friend of mine lend this to me (forced upon would be another possibility of describing this transaction) in North Carolina. So, now I've read it and I see why she would have thought I should read it. Anne Moody's Coming of Age in Mississippi is The Classic Autobiography of Growing Up Poor and Black in the Rural South. It definitely sounds like a book someone like me (fanatic of the South, race relations, the Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi in particular) should read. All of this is very true too, the only problem is that I didn't find Moody to be such a great writer, which diminished the pleasure of reading her book significantly.

I do have to admit that it was super interesting to have the perspective of someone who grew up in her stature of life. Yet, sadly Moody dwells too long on passages outlining her achievemens in her home-town (how well she worked, studied, how she became prom-queen) which started to bore me relatively fast. Maybe I just spent too much time reading people who cannot stop overboarding their phrases with meaning (which has made it a problem for a while now for me to write coherently and not convoluted), but her writing seemed too straight-forward for me. So, enough complaining. I read this in one session, sitting on the train and I enjoyed myself while doing that. Think I had just been hoping for a deeper more general analysis through an autobiography (the way Franklin does it), what I got instead was the life of a woman. A remarkable woman, fighting against racism, Jim Crow, her own family, her poverty. I would recommend the book more to people that haven't read that much about the South and its recent history yet, than to someone slightly obsessive like me.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Hank Williams - The Biography

I don't think I am sharing anykind of personal insight if I make you (the worthy reader of this publication) aware of the fact that Hank Williams is one of my favorite singers and heroes (whatever that big word may mean) in general. Colin Escott has written an autobiography of the man behind the legend now (such a standard-phrase, had to use it, sorry) together with George Merritt and William Mac Ewen. I feel torn on what the work that they produced. On the one hand it is exhausting to read with a great number of name references that even someone of my knowledge of country/hilbilly of folk (as Hank apparently called it a lot) music simply does not understand. Nashville sidemen, or regional stars and one-hit wonders there are too many. The short introduction that some of these get (because the authors clearly are aware of this knowledge gap) become tiresome after a while and blur together. On the positive side they do a great job of bringing the reader closer to Hank Williams himself, his miserable life before and during fame, his excessive drug consumption, the he doled out and was on the receiving end of. What a character, what a poor man. The music industry in Nashville, which was still being built back then, and its deplorable business aspects receives some spotlight. And finally the unsavory persons circulating around Hank are shown in their sad light. His mother, his first Wife (Audrey) both of whom before and after his death tried to make as much money as possible of him, while especially the latter had stopped caring about or giving him anything years earlier. The lies that they told to make themselves seem closer to the legend. Finally, and a bit more technical, the origin of some of Hank's songs (the non self-composed ones obviously) are focused on, some more material to peruse for me in the future.

So, the Lovesick Blues-boy biography definitely deserves a look at if you understand the beauty that is a Hank Williams song (and as Kris Kristofferson said: If you don't like Hank you can kiss my ass). It'll make oyu have pity on the man that died a wreck at 29 after having given us an immense amount of beautiful music.

Monday, July 28, 2008

La mort dans l'âme

La troisième partie de Les chemins de la liberté, Sartre m'a de nouveau fait beaucoup de plaisir avec son oeuvre La mort dans l'âme. Je trouve bizarre qu'il est retourné sur le style du premier bouquin et qu'il fait semblant d'ignorer la façon dont il raconte l'histoire au deuxième livre. La mort dans l'âme est beaucoup plus facile à lire, il y en a moins de personnage et toute l'histoire est plus compacte, plus dense, plus logique si on veut. Sartre dans cet oeuvre montre comment (principalement) trois français (et tous environs ces trois) agissent quand les allemands conquièrent la France après (et un peu avant) que l'armistice soit signé. Mathieu, l'ancien prof de lettres se trouve au front; Brunet, fonctionnaire Communiste devient prisonnier des allemands et essaie d'organiser ses compatriotes; Daniel, marié mais homosexuel se promène dans un Paris presque vide voyant les allemands venir. Ivich (qui se déteste) et Jacques (qui s'enfouit) et sa femme (qui aime Matthieu, le frère de son mari) jouent des rôles aussi, mais les personnages principals sont Matthieu et Brunet.

Quoi dire? J'ai appris plusieurs mots pérjoratives pour les allemands gâce à ce livre (frisé, fritz, chleuh). J'ai en plus avoir eu le plaisir de comprendre plus les sentiments des français sur la défaite de 1940 (à l'époque en tout cas). Le livre m'as fasciné, Brunet et ses positions ultra-orthodox sur le communisme, Mathieu qui devient un idéaliste soudainement. Je ne peux que vous recommander de lire Sartre, ou ce trilogie. Il m'a donné beaucoup de renseignment historiques (plus des émotions que des faits bien etendu) et j'avais toujours du mal de l'abandonner quand j'ai été en train de le lire.

Un dernier mot, le livre m'as fait revenir des autres bouquin sur la guerre de Hemingway ou Norman Mailer. Faut que je relise quelques d'eux aussi.

Winesburg, Ohio

Well, one of the early classics of American regional writing. Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio. I had been hearing about this in literary classes a few times, so when I saw it in a book store here for a mere few bucks I couldn't resist. Anderson recounts the story of a town (Winesburg) and a boy (George Willard) through a dozen short stories each focusing on the life of one of the townfolks. What emerges is a complex, woven net of interacting characters, of life in a small mid-western town. As the author himself explains in the beginning it is a book of the grotesque, all of his characters are suffering from some kind of an affliction. I really enjoyed this short read (150 pages). The only aspect that bothered (or better annoyed) me at times was that Anderson in detailing the coming of age of George Willard deals with issues of masculinity and growing into it that just do not seem valid to the 21st century anymore (or at least not to my understanding of it). Female-male relations especially in regard to sexuality are reduced to a level that is based on clear male dominance, an aspect which takes away from the otherwise existing universality of his characters. He does, beautifully, show the futility of life, the sheer resignation to which people give in (and in this resembles my personal favorite to some extent (or Faulkner actually resembles him considering chronology here)), yet they keep on living, they keep on trying, they keep on being there.

As a merchant Ebenezer was not happily placed in life and he had not been happily placed as a farmer. Still he existed.

San Diego and other random things

So, I flew out to San Diego for the weekend (yeah, I know the jet-set life is real tough), so here I am catching up on a couple of things that I noticed/read along the way. I wish I could pass some kind of judgement on California but three days really is just too short. San Diego was fun, I can see how living there is highly appealing, but I need to go again, for longer to really judge it. Last time I tried judging a city/country after a short vacation, I got torched by a friend even when most of my observations were only meant sarcastically, thus I will simply refrain from doing so here.
  • I flew into Denver Thursday evening from the North, sitting on the left of the plane and looking out onto the Eastern plains of Colorado. That place is empty. I mean like empty. There were virtually no houses, few roads, just space. Wide open space. I really need to go out West at some point in my life in order to experience this part of the country.

  • Only in the United States: TVs installed above the pumps at a gas station in San Diego.

  • I was amazed that on leaving San Diego one can be in the solitude of the desert after an easy 30-40 minutes drive. Again, the West is different, I totally need to check this out at some point.

  • Nicholas Carr is putting forth an interesting thesis that the internet is making us stupid. I don't necessarily agree with every point he makes. I still read literature for example, something which he argues he has unlearned because of internet-overusage, and I found the change cited below horrible and never even glance at it. But, I do believe that the skimming of articles, the reading of headlines only has made knowledge more superficial. At the same time people only have to blame themselves for this I believe (just pick up a paper, and no, I don't believe you when you say you don't have the time to read one) and additionaly the shear amount of news has of course increased significantly (I doubt even avid newspaper readers in 1960s had as much of a global vision as we today do) making it virtually impossible to keep up to date on every development in much detail.

    When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Copperhead Road

One of the cultural/political aspects of the United States I find absolutely fascinating is the us-against-them mentality, of independence from the government, a certain rebellious streak against any kind of strong government. The title to this post is from a Steve Earle song epitomizing this attitude very well (check out the video & lyrics). It is furthermore a sentiment that can be traced through time as well as space in the American history: Thoreau's Duty of Civil Disobedience, the (in)famous right to bear arms, states' rights, Faulkner's Gavin Stevens who in Intruder in the Dust argues for the South to resolve its race issue on its own without Northern (federal) interference.

I thought of this when I had my coffee/newspaper session this morning and the New York Times had an interesting article on a state that was never formed, Absaroka, in the South Dakota/Wyoming border region. So much still unexplored (for me in any case) in regard to American history (and everything else, I know), it's crazy.

Basketball outside the US

Josh Childress a sixth man with Atlanta last season signed with Olympiacos (Tue Hoop & ESPN). Brandon Jennings is also going to play in Europe (True Hoop & ESPN). As a European baller having spent a lot of time in the United States this feels really good. No matter how long the US has not won gold at either the Olympics nor the World Championship (10 years by now?), American arrogance on US basketball prowess has never diminished. Even my educated basketball friends that have been to Europe claim before every Olympics that the US will destroy its competition, pointing to the superior American roster (on a name recognition basis). Of course they are right, LeBron, Carmelo, Kobe, Dwight Howard, Chris Paul (and the list goes on), this will be a collection of great player. That just doesn't mean that they will win. Last time around the Greeks killed the US in the fourth quarter by playing a high pick-and-roll for what seemed like 10 consecutive posessions. Argentina destroyed (and I mean destroyed, I believe they were up by 18 at some point) the US a few years earlier on this advanced and innovative play called back-door screens.

Basketball is not solely an American sport anymore. Period. It might have never been, but that's a different argument. Americans have started going to Europe to make money. Europeans (+ Argentina) have started to beat the US regularly. I am walking on a court in the US and people have more respect once they realize that I am European because they know it'll mean I can shoot.

I just hope at some point people will start to realize that once you step on a court, it's 5 people on each side, and your name don't mean nuttin'. It's how you play (international in this case) basketball. Carmelo Anthony for example will possibly be the best player on the US team again. Kobe or LeBron might be more suited for isolation plays with no one calling traveling on fast break dunks (hi there LeBron), but Anthony adapts better to a (more effective imho) passing game. So, the Americans can lose against Greece, against Russia, against Argentina, against Spain, fuck, against Germany (well, maybe not, but then Dirk and the new German hick Mr Kaman might go off in the same game, you never know). Are they still favorites when it comes down to it? Of course, but so they were the last 10 years. As much as I like American basketball, as much as I follow the NBA (and UNC since last year), as much as I prefer playing in the US over most games in Germany or France, I hope y'all lose, just so you finally begin to realize that the game is not dominated by the US anymore. That's over.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


So, Foreign Policy published a list of the 100 top intellectuals in the world today. People were allowed to vote on this, here are the results now. Funny thing is that I know one of the top 10 (Orhan Parmuk, two I remembered once I had read the descriptions) a few more in the top 20 and only have read something by one (Orhan Parmuk) in the top 20. Embarassing for me to some extent (should have read some Chomsky or Umberto Ecco). The list is also apparently a typical case of regio-centrism, a massive influx of Middle Eastern and Turkish voters assured that 9 of the top 10 are Muslims. Kind of funny how a western publication, usually one to twist lists such as these extremely towards the US and Europe gets played at its own game here.

Lesson to be drawn? Be less Western-centric, read more and more wide-spread.

One point of criticism I should add, a popular vote such as this leads to famous people perceived as intelligent to be featured disproportionately on this list. Al Gore for example, or the highest write-in candidate Stephen Colbert, should not be on there or not as high in any case.