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

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.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Le sursis

Jean-Paul Sartre de nouveau. Je n'avais aucune idée que son livre, que je m'avais acheté à l'occasion, l'Âge de raison est le premier d'un trilogie. Le sursis appartient à Les chemins de la liberté (et je vais commencer le troisième La mort dans l'ame ce soir). De plus, je n'avais pas d'image de Sartre vraiment. J'en ai connu son nom, sa femme (de laquelle je dois lire quelque chose aussi d'ailleurs) et sa visite à Baader à Stammheim et la façon dont il les (le RAF) a cru leur propaganda. Respect entre un intellectuel célèbre alors, mais rien de plus.

Le sursis
a beaucoup fait pour changer de cet avis. Sans exageré, je n'ai pas encore lu trop de livres aussi fort. Putain, si je n'étais pas croyant, je le comparerais à Faulkner. Sartre décrit, utilisant le même personnage qu'au premier bouquin en plus que quelques caractère nouveaux, sept jours en septembre 1938. IL écrit dans une façon très difficile à suivre, échangeant les points de vues des characters au même paragraphes ou même phrases parfois. De plus il y a plusieurs fil de récit, et caractères, beaucoup d'entre eux n'ont pas la moindre relation. Lire ce bouquin, n'est pas alors une tâche facile toujours, mais se concentrant et lisant pendant quelques temps sans pause mérite l'effort.

Sartre réussit à décrire la France, ses caractères dans un temps très difficile, dès 23 jusqu'au 30 septembre 1938, pendant que les accords de Munich ont été négocié. Ses caractères ont peur d'être mobilisé, de la guerre, d'être seul, d'être obligé à partir (de la Tchécoslovaquie), des Allemands. Quelque-uns attendent la guerre plein d'espoir (pour soi-même, pour les juifs allemands, pour les républicains en Espagne), des autres essaient de lutter contre la mobilisation. Tous sont humain, et Sartre a un talent incroyable parfois à décrire ce que ses caractères ressent. Le lecteur ne comprend pas seulement pourquoi les gens réagissent d'une certaine façon, il ressent ses décisions, ses doutes. Surtout la pensée de Mathieu (le caractère principal de la première livre) sur la guerre sont d'une force incomparable. Sartre réussit à faire comprendre le lecteur ce qui s'est passé vraiment dans ces jours où la peur d'Hitler, la peur de la guerre, la mémoire de la première guerre mondiale ont dominé la politique.

Je ne peux pas seulement recommander ce bouquin, il faut que vous le lisiez.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

News Update

  • Gut für die Umwelt, schlecht für den allgemeinen persönlichen Komfort. Die Flugpreise in Europa gehen wohl wieder hoch. Ich hatte aber irgendwie auch immer ein schlechtes Gewissen mit dem ganzen hin- und herfliegen. (Zeit)

  • La récession européenne vient. (LeMonde) Cool, que moi je chercherai un boulot bientôt.

  • The cost of going to Heaven hasn’t gone up. Advertisement on a church in Ohio. (Krugman)

  • Paul Krugman claims that federal politicans having no idea about Social Security is something that would not surprise him. I find it absolutely scandalous and shocking if true. In this case, John McCain wants to end present-day retirees being paid through the taxes paid by today's workers as he considers this a disgrace (and apparently thinks it is something new). I guess the only possible deduction from this statement is that McCain has no idea what he is talking about. How sad is that?(Krugman)

  • The White House issued a truthful press statement, but don't worry, they retracted it right away: Mr. Berlusconi is one of the most controversial leaders in the history of a country known for government corruption and vice. (NYT)

Bad Lands

Tony Wheeler, author of Bad Lands - A tourist on the Axis of Evil, is the originator of Lonely Planet who in this book describes his travels to a variety of supposedly evil states (Lybia, Saudi-Arabia, North Corea, Cuba, Albania, Iran, Iraq (the Kurdistan part), Afghanistan and Burma). The book is not a pretty read in the sense that Wheeler is simply not such a great author, but it is interesting where it is a guide book, where he describes what he finds as tourist infrastructure in these countries. Wheeler is at his weakest when he tries to give political analysis of a country in two paragraphs, he also preaches to the choir too much when he derides American hostility against some of these countries. Yet, for the countries I was less informed about (Albania for example, or Lybia) his background information, if very short, was helpful and interesting. Furthermore, some of his observations were simply fascinating and made me go to these countries quite badly (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and Albania mainly). The only bad thing I guess then is that I have no money or time to do any of this anytime soon. But, who knows maybe I'll find a job that gets me to these places one day.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

News Update

  • Ce que la France veut faire sur la PESD pendant sa presidence de l'UE. En bref c'est une version très, très court et simple de mon mémoire. Ils adressent tous les problèmes majeures au tout cas.

  • Highly interesting article on the emerging political and economical power Brasil (a little too comparative with Venezuela maybe)

  • Herr Gusenbauer wird in der Zeit runtergeputzt. Ich hatte irgendwie immer ein sympathisches Bild von ihm einfach, weil es auf absehbare Zeit der einzige Regierungschef war mit dem ich mich je unterhalten hatte.

  • The on-going racism watch. Today, if you sound 'black', you make less money.

  • Sarko, more show than substance.

Boston II

  • So, after having been here for nearly three weeks I finally found a bad-ass basketball court. It is right next to my work too and in case anyone is looking for me within the next few weeks anywhere from six to nine, you'll know where to find me. Why is it bad-ass? Because there are not so many Asian and white kids playing there as on the other playground that I went to before. It is pure racial stereotyping I realize that, but it strikes me over and over again how much of a difference there exists in this country between black and white (omitting Asians here for a second) ballers. The game is much more serious, everybody plays harder, talks more trash, is faster, more athletic and hits their shots at a higher percentage. Especially in Boston where the black population (downtown in any case) is a small minority, it is noticeable how much of black man's game this is. Maybe places like Indiana are different, but it has definitely been my experience so far wherever I went in the United States.

  • Also, if you ever come to Boston. Check out Monday's blues night at Wally's Café. Great show, good musicians (especially one of the sax players and the female(!) Japanese(!!) drummer), nice crowd. A little too modern and funky for me at times, but they covered Junior Wells' Messin' with the Kid, so who am I to nit-pick.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

News Update

  • The peculiar American obsession with patriotism is really nothing new, whether it be the constant singing of the national anthem at any sporting event, the fervent display of flags by everyone from car dealerships to veterans-turned-homeless-guys. The gigantic flags in fashion now, really are just an expression of this superficial brand of nationalism. That's what it is though, superficial, I ran around Boston yesterday (the 4th of July) asking people how many of the luminaries that signed the Declaration of Independence they knew. Most replied with one only (John Hancock). Shouldn't you at least know about something before you are proud of it?

  • The new American embassy in Berlin was unveiled officially yesterday. It is in a very prestigious spot, right next to the Brandenburger Tor. John Kornblum, the old American ambassador to Germany, is quoted in the article as saying: "For some reason, when we asked for our increased security enhancements a lot of people in this city went crazy. We endured all kinds of taunts and demands. ‘What do you Americans think you’re doing?’"

    Well, with all due respect, Mr Kornblum your early requests if I remember correctly involve having a security area around the building that would have virtually closed the biggest tourist attraction of Berlin to any visitors. So, yeah, sorry, but I thought that was pretty cheeky as far as security concerns go as well. Definitely, not just an anti-America attitude the way the article portrays it.

  • Ever since this Jayhawker I know complained of my too optimistic portrayal of race in the United States, the New York Times has decided to show me that he is right. Seems like I have to rescind this post of mine and become more of my cynic old self in that regard.

  • The impact of rising gas prices on the USA is quite incredible. It affects virtually every part of life here. Having read the New York Times daily ever since I came here again it is striking how this country will have to change in the mid- and long-term if these oil prices don't change anytime soon. (1, 2, 3)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Obama moving right

Not to be a Besserwessi (great word, learn German or look it up if you don't know it), but Obama is moving to the political center (aka right, since he was further left before) in order to appeal to the broader masses. His many young disciples that I encoutered during my UNC days (been like what, two months? feels longer) hopefully will come to the realization that he is just another politician in the end, a good one, a relatively left-wing one, but not more than that (and not less than that either).

Case in point 1, Obama like the incumbent supports welfare programs run by churches continuing the dubious seperation between church and state in the United States. While at the same time undermining any kind of universal welfare approach that is needed (as far as I am concerned in any case) in the US in order to end socio-economic deprivation occuring here (and create a true meritocracy, I could get carried away here, but will control myself).

Case in point 2, Obama is supporting "legal protection to the telecommunication companies that worked with the National Security Agency’s domestic wiretapping program after the Sept. 11 attacks." Do I even need to add anything? Spying on Americans? I'd call it unpatriotic just to mess with the conservative crowd, but then most of them tend to not even realize that that is what their revolutionary ancestors fought against.

Case in point 3, Obama supports the death penalty for the crime of child rape. While I obiovusly agree that this crime is "heinous" I do not support the death penalty. Never. And in this case it means that Obama is more conservative than a Supreme Court dominated by conservatives.

Case in point 4, Obama supports the Supreme Court's strike down of Washington DC's ban on handguns.

I like him, I'd vote for him, but they honeymoon period with the liberals and young ones is over it seems.

UPDATE: The New York Times editorial of today argues pretty much the same point.

UPDATE 2: The Economist weighs in on this too now.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

News Update

I am super busy at work (yeah right), so here goes from my daily NYT consumption
  • If you want to kill someone and get away with it, better be white, guess someone was trying to show me that my post the other day was too optimistic.

  • Great story. Some dude decided to present himself in a small town as a federal officer and start busting drug dealers and consumers. No search warrants, no justification, working only based on his convincing manners and badge from a previous job as a security guard. Funny how easy stuff like this even today (internet, telephone?) still is. Hauptmann von Köpenick II sozusagen (and with no apparent evil or selfish intent).

  • Finally, Obama will be trying to contest the South (or so it seems), Thomas F. Schaller says that is dumb. I tend to agree with Mr Schaller, it seems to be a waste of resources to even try to compete in states such as Mississippi (check the numbers that he offers up for proof). Most interesting I found that Afro-Americans in the South apparently (and surprisingly as far as I was concerned) vote on par with their white (regional) compatriotes. I had thought blacks participate in far lower numbers in the electoral process.

  • Letztlich bin ich zum Glück nicht der einzige, der sich diesem seltsamen en vogue geratenen Patriotismus verschließt, diesen stattdessen sogar als Gefahr wahrnimmt.