No Sex Please, we’re…

British German.  According to a recent survey (German) Germans aren’t screwing around.  In 57% of the households, sex occurs at most once a week.  17 percent of the respondents report regularly having no sex for periods of four weeks. 

This must have something to do with the economic climate.  In an environment of rising prices, empty public coffers, and belt-tightening (so to speak) the average German is hoarding everything.  Even bodily fluids.

About those secret prisons…

In this article, the Washington Post describes the very delicate task U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has ahead of her on her upcoming Europe visit.

Just as she’s receiving the inaugural visit from Germany’s new Foreign Minister and planning her trip to the Continent, suspicions begin circulating that the U.S. landed planes in various European countries which contained terror suspects probably being detained in violation of internation and EU law.  Add to that the possibility of secret U.S. prisons on the soil of at least one EU member nation (in which torture is likely being committed by U.S. officials or those under their command), and you have a very sticky situation indeed:

The report spawned a frenzy of investigations and news reports in Europe, dismaying administration officials who have painstakingly tried to repair U.S.-European relations this year after they ruptured over the Iraq invasion. "There is a tone in a European press, an anti-American sentiment, that I have not seen in a year," said one senior U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

None of this came as much of a surprise to me.  Almost a year ago, Dana Priest of the Washington Post wrote a nice piece of investigative journalism about at least one covert CIA jet.

Nor is it much of a surprise to the officials on all sides. I would imagine many of the statements of "concern" and the need for an "investigation" are kabuki.  If the Washington Post has written a front-page article about the flights, doesn’t it seem likely that crucial U.S. decisionmakers already know exactly where and when they were?  Also, doesn’t it seem likely that many of these European governments approved and authorized the stop-overs? 

I would think it went something like this: an American functionary with good contacts calls his German counterpart and said "We’ve got a ‘high-value suspect’ comin’ through on the way to a ‘third country.’  Mind if we land and refuel in your backyard?"  "Sure, I’ll arrange everything," says the German.  The German knows (1) there’s no point in asking questions; because we won’t get any answers; (2) we don’t want to know the answers, anyway; and (3) in return for this favor, the Amis will help us out later down the road.  Deal done, everybody wins.

As for the political context, there are plenty of factors making this story huge — extremely huge — in European officialdom and the European media.  First, it plays into the image of the United States as an high-handed and increasingly reckless superpower.  The Bush Administration has largely itself to blame for this.  As the Economist recently put it, writing about the Administration’s torture and detainment policies: "[T]he world’s most magnificent democracy is struggling against vile terrorists who thought nothing of slaughtering thousands of innocent civilians — and yet the administration has somehow contrived to turn America’s own human rights record into a subject ot legitimate debate."  That captures it nicely.

What this means is that no European politician has to fear alienating a single voter by criticizing the U.S.’s foreign policy.  All the major German parties, including the America-friendly ones, are therefore united in expressing "concern," and "shock" about the allegations.  Considering how many brutal political fights lie in wait for Germany’s new Grand Coalition, it’s nice to be able to agree about something completely.  Plus, the secret-prison allegations allow the established EU member states to give the new members (Poland) and prospective members (Romania) a good tongue-lashing.  "You might feel close to the USA, but they’re not opening up their markets to you and shoveling tons of subsidies your way.  We are.  If you want to join our club you’ve gotta play by our rules."

Paul Berman on French Anti-Anti Americanism

Paul Berman is an American intellectual who’s generally left-learning, but recently surprised quite a few people by supporting the Iraq war.  He’s now returned to less controversial ground with a long, perceptive review-essay on anti-Americanism in the New Republic.  Unfortunately, the essay is behind a paywall, but I will give you generous free excerpts here, because I think he makes some interesting points.  (Be warned: Berman’s prose can be a little foggy at points).

Berman focuses on a crop of recent books dealing with French anti-Americanism.  Among them is The American Enemy: The History of French Anti-Americanism, by Philippe Roger (it gets Berman’s best marks, "solid and scholarly"), Anti-Americanism, by Jean-François Revel, and Le discours de la haine by André GlucksmannBerman speaks French and Spanish and spends much time on the Continent, so he, like me, has had the experience of seemingly sane people recite the most ludicrous anti-American conspiracy theories: George Bush and the CIA/Mossad staged 9/11, religious zealots are secretly taking over the government, the creeping fascism in America’s DNA is about to take over the entire body politic, if it hasn’t done so already, etc.:

How seriously did people in France cling to these beliefs? Here is a puzzling question. Modern political life is a landscape befogged with mists and clouds of halfway held fugitive opinions–the kind of landscape that allows an intelligent and well-educated person to say with perfect sincerity, "George W. Bush is a fascist and the United States is on the brink of becoming Nazi Germany," and yet allow that same earnest person cheerfully to acknowledge, in the next breath, that, come January 2009, Bush and his entire fascist crew of Zionist conspirators are absolutely guaranteed to vacate the White House in favor of a new and popularly elected team, who might well be Bush’s fiercest opponents.   

The further away from power someone feels himself to be, the easier it is to wander into these foggy zones of half-believed beliefs, freed of any responsibility to subject any given opinion to the simplest of common-sense tests. In France, even the most sophisticated of people have felt themselves to be located ever further away from the power that is American, and triply so after Bush decided, by abolishing diplomacy, to make a public show of his indifference to French opinion; and this has given a powerful allure to the half-believed beliefs. Nor are the French unusual in this respect, by the way. A fairly astonishing number of serious and prestigious journalists and intellectuals throughout Europe harbor a suspicion right now that, in the age of the possibly crypto-fascist Bush regime, America has turned away from civilization–an opinion that I have heard repeated in one country after another, usually in a tone of sad and anxious concern, the way that someone might express worry about a friend with advanced cancer. And, naturally, there are always professors from America at hand [or Michael Moore, as Berman mentions in another passage] to assure their European colleagues that life in America is sheerest hell, and dissident opinions are about to be crushed under the iron heel, and Bush is a sort of Hugo Chávez, if not far, far worse–just to make these fears seem realistic.

As for the less sophisticated European observers, they have, in a staggering percentage of cases, allowed their own beliefs to wander into fields of purest fantasy that, at some level, every reasonable person knows to be untrue but are, even so, wonderfully amusing and satisfying to uphold, and are therefore irresistible. A writer named Thierry Meyssan came out with a book called Le 11 Septembre 2001, l’effroyable imposture (translated into English as 9/11: The big lie)–which postulates that September 11 was a plot by the FBI and other sinister agents, and that no airplane ever did crash into the Pentagon, and the Jews knew in advance about the World Trade Center. Meyssan’s book expresses aspects of the paranoid and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that sprouted up instantly in large parts of the Muslim world after September 11. It goes without saying that, in the French newspapers, Meyssan was denounced right away as a sort of Holocaust denier. Libération, the hip left-wing daily, played an honorable role in this regard.

Even so, Meyssan’s ideas received a more respectful attention in some places–for instance, in Le Monde diplomatique, which is something like The Nation in the United States. An enormous public read Meyssan’s book–read it with raised eyebrows, possibly, but read it. A month after publication, the publisher claimed to have sold nearly 200,000 copies, and the book remained number one on the best-seller lists for many weeks. Meyssan’s book served as a freaky counterpart to Emmanuel Todd’s saner and calmer After the Empire, with one of those volumes predicting America’s impending doom, and the other denouncing the infinitely sinister quality of America’s evil conspiracies, and both books reigning in the bookstores–this, in a country of supremely cultivated book-buyers.

Later, Berman emphasizes that this sort of viral, sinister anti-Americanism must be separated from honest critiques of American policy:

People criticize the United States for all kinds of reasons, and anyone who wanted to provide a definition for anti-Americanism would have to begin by distinguishing very carefully between one criticism and the next–between indisputable criticisms (which nobody could regard as anti-American); and certain kinds of disputable ones (which, no matter how outlandish, might nonetheless be honestly arrived at, betraying no hint of ideological hostility, and therefore should not seem to us anti-American); and criticisms that do, in fact, reflect a hidden system of bias and contempt. 

But how to make such distinctions? The task is rendered doubly difficult by a pro-American demagoguery that is always seizing on silly or hateful comments about the United States and using those remarks to dismiss even the most fair-minded and well-intentioned of criticisms, such that anyone who merely glances sideways at a flaw or failing in the United States can end up getting hanged as an avatar of beastly anti-Americanism.

***

Roger in his book cites a number of accusations that make me respond, [Theodore] Dreiser-like, with a rueful feeling that, whatever may be the European biases, certain of those anti-American denunciations touch on something real, and we ought to pay attention and sometimes hang our heads. French writers, Roger explains, have waxed indignant for centuries now over the quality of American city life, sometimes for reasons that will not appeal to us–an outrage at racial mingling, for instance. Céline did not like Jews, and did not like blacks. The Judeo-negroid sidewalks of metropolitan America were not for him. 

On the other hand, some of the classic French indignation will strike us as well-directed. Sartre recoiled at the lack of public places in American cities–the lack of French-style cafés, for instance. What halfway intelligent American, having returned from a week of double espressos in the cafés of France, will think that Sartre was wrong? Sartre observed that European cities benefit from a sharp definition of the city limits, as defined by the ancient bulwarks, and American cities suffer from the lack of anything similar. This remark, too, has its truth. Bulwarklessness has done us in. The plazas and promenades of a thousand European towns offer a public warmth and aesthetic joy that hardly anyplace in America can rival–a chilly reality of American life.

One way to recognize true anti-Americanism, is by its internal logical incoherence.  Beginning with a long quote from Philippe Roger, Berman goes on to list the strangely incoherent threat America poses to just about every admirable human value:

"The logic of suspicion that took hold in the interwar years," Roger observes,

would long govern the collective French discourse on America: a sham democracy and insidious totalitarian state. The devil’s last trick, as we know, is making people think he does not exist; the same was true for the American "dictatorship." But the French intellectuals were not taken in. Right when fascism was on the rise and Stalinism was being consolidated, it was America they denounced as the great totalitarian Satan. Among the rubble of cold war Europe, half subjected to the Soviet "liberators," it was still in the United States that they uncovered, beneath the patina of formal democracy, the texture of a "true fascism."

In this fashion, a cultural tradition arose in which America was condemned for every possible reason and its opposite–condemned for being less advanced than Europe, which is to say, geographically and sociologically younger; and also for being ahead of Europe in its social development, which is to say, older. America was a country without values; and appallingly moralistic. Repulsive for being racist; and for mixing its races. America’s democracy was a failure and a sham; and America was repeatedly said to have lately fallen away from its admirable democratic past. America was governed by a dictatorship of millionaires; or by a rabble of corner grocers. Worse than Hitler; or Hitler’s heir; and either way a threat to humanism. 

America was frightening because it was excessively powerful; and was repeatedly declared to be on the brink of collapse. America was bellicose; and its soldiers, cowardly. America was hopelessly Christian; and, beginning in the 1920s, America was, even so, dominated by Jews. Coldly calculating; and, at the same time, religiously insane. Talleyrand made the complaint about religious insanity at the very start of the American republic (he had fled to America in 1794 to escape the mass guillotinings that were mandated by France’s new religion of the Goddess of Reason) in his witty remark that America featured thirty-two religions and only one dish, which was inedible. The remark about food was significant in itself, and suggested, as well, a larger complaint about the unattractive thinness of America’s culture–a main theme of the anti-American accusation. And yet America’s greatest danger to the world was also said to be its culture, which, despite its lack of appeal, was dangerously appealing, and was going to crush all other cultures.

Later, Berman discusses "The Discourse of Hate," by the French journalist Andre Glucksmann.  [Glucksmann calls himself a philosopher, but I know a guy who really is a French philosopher, and he doesn’t fancy it when people call themselves philosophers when they’re in fact just writing ambitious journalism with a theorizing tendency. So Andre gets called a jouralist.]  Glucksmann posits that anti-Americanism is in the grand tradition of obsessive human hatreds, preceded by misogyny and anti-Semitism. 

In each case, the intensity of the hatred is explained by the fact that its object is perceived to be not just undesirable but an obstacle to human perfection.  In the case of anti-Americanism, the illusion of perfection is the notion that we could all get along peacefully if it weren’t for the Americans: Americans reap a "hatred that arises out of the desire for the perfect international community that would surely exist, if only the Americans stopped being so aggressively hostile."  Berman is not completely convinced by Glucksmann’s theory, but it does at least attempt to describe the depth of the hatred.

In the next few days I’ll comment a bit on Berman, but I though I’d at least give everyone a nice long look at what he says.  Meanwhile, if anyone’s interested in reading the whole thing, please drop me a line and we’ll, uh, look into possibilities.

Neurotic Cops Hunt Neurotic Killers

Tatort ("Crime Scene"), which shows every Sunday night at 8:15, is the flagship German TV crime series. 

There are a couple of interesting things about Tatort.  Every episode’s 90 minutes long, and has no commercial interruptions (Ahh, the glories of state-subsidized television).  Tatort is shot on-location in various different German cities, so we get to know teams of murder detectives in Berlin, Kiel, Munich, and Hamburg.  Germany can do this because it has a dense network of state-subsidized media production companies all over the country.  Because Tatorts are all made by different regional production companies and feature different sets of actors, they vary in quality.  Some become wildly implausible or flutter off into pseudo-intellectual la-la-land in the first 15 minutes, some are original, tautly-constructed thrillers that keep you guessing until the very end.

Last night’s was typical.  It played in Hamburg, where tall, bearded police commissioner Jan Casstorff (Robert Atzorn) is the main figure.  Jan wanted to be a psychiatrist, but quit school to care for his son Daniel.  This episode starts with a shooting in an underground parking garage.  The victim, a workaholic former Army major who served with the KFOR intervention force in Kosovo before becoming the personnel director of a private security firm.  Castorff and team begin looking into recent company firings and military connections, but don’t get very far before another, almost identical murder occurs, this time of a psychologist who treated KFOR soldiers in the field before going into private practice.

Castorff and team delve into the troubled underworld of traumatized former KFOR soldiers.  One of them breaks under Casstorff’s questioning and goes on a random shooting spree, but it’s a false alarm, he wasn’t the killer.  The killer turns out to be a former soldier who witnessed the grisly death of an abused Kosovar Albanian girl (presumably out of political correctness, we’re not told who did the abusing.  Although, of course, it’s not the German soldiers).  The army psychiatrist, though, didn’t think the soldier’s trauma was serious enough to warrant treatment, and his major taunted him for being a weenie. 

After the soldier returned, the trauma wouldn’t let him go.  He lost his family and job, and spent his days writing feverish letters to the editor about what he saw in Kosovo, and staring at the penguins in the zoo.  Eventually he begins writing letters to the penguins in the zoo.  [No he didn’t — ed.]  Until one day, he decides on deadly revenge against the shrink and the major who dismissed the problem that ruined his life.  Naturally, his plan includes leaving hidden clues to his identity…

A few observations about this and other Tatort shows, from someone who grew up on American crime series:

1.  The cops seem to have no power.  During the episode I just described, Casstorff visits a military hospital to try to get clues about a potential suspect.  At this point, the killer is still on the loose, and could well be preparing to strike again.  The military doctors tell him "The records are confidential.  Go away."  And…he does!  He doesn’t shove his way into the file room, hack into the computer system, or even try to convince the district attorney to get a court order, even though additional lives could be on the line.  Eventually, after several time-consuming visits, he convinces a nurse to give him the clue that leads to the killer.  And Casstorff’s not alone in his powerlessness.  In Tatort, suspects and other people constantly insult homicide detectives, tell them to "go away" or "get lost," slam doors in their faces, and walk out of examining rooms unhindered.  Hint for travelers: do not try this in any other country!

2.  The cops have the patience of saints.  As mentioned above, at one point a traumatized ex-soldier flips out and begins wandering through the streets, firing randomly, narrowly missing passers-by.  Even though the suspect points a loaded gun at Casstorff (who is, of course, armed), Casstorff never shoots him — not even in the knee or arm, just to disable him.  Eventually, after wandering around shooting randomly, the suspect puts the gun in his mouth and tries to blow his brains out.  Casstorff does nothing to try to stop him, simply averting his gaze from the horrible scene.  (Fortunately, the suspect is out of bullets.)  The point seems to be that Casstorff has some kind of sixth-sense psychological insight that the guy actually doesn’t intend to kill anybody (and, to be fair, the guy’s wife is standing next to Casstorff when all this happens).  But what if Casstorff’s wrong?  I am a card-carrying member of Human Rights Watch, but if a sweating, screaming madman is walking down my street with a loaded weapon firing randomly, and there just happens to be a cop nearby with a loaded gun and a clear shot, I’m afraid I must admit that I want the cop to shoot the guy.

3.  The criminals are frequently mentally ill. I was a criminal-defense attorney for a while, and in my experience, people usually kill each other out of greed, jealousy, lust, or revenge.  But that’s too one-sided for Tatort.  One of those basic reasons is usually involved, but there is almost always some delightfully Baroque quasi-Freudian "real" reason for the crime: sibling rivalry, delusions of grandeur, unresolved oedipal conflicts, torturing feelings of inferiority, desperate cry for help (very popular), etc.  It’s like fond look back to the Lady- Wootton style thinking of the 1950s, when the bien-pensant set still believed that the plaid-wearing psychologists with the mild German accents were on the verge of developing a therapy to end criminal behavior.

4.  The cops are almost as tortured, vulnerable and neurotic as the suspects.  According to Tatort, mental illness, neurosis, and maladjustment of various forms is the norm, not the exception, in society.  Among the cops, marriages and relationships melt down, family relationships are strained and routinely interrupt work life, the cops have to visit shrinks/drink to excess to deal with the stress, etc.  There is almost no moralizing condemnation of the suspects, especially those who committed the crime because they were damaged or deranged.  "There, but for the grace of God, go I," the cops opine wistfully.  At the end of last night’s Tatort, Casstorff disarms the real killer and then — sits down next to him for several minutes.  One of his buddies, monitoring the scene on video in a surveillance van, asks what he’s doing.  "Listening," the other says.

“[A] solid piece of musical manufacture”

So did George Bernard Shaw describe Brahms’ German Requiem, which I just saw performed by the Duesseldorf Symphony under the American Leon Botstein.  The choir was especially good, although there were some coordination problems with the symphony during the fugues. 

Brahms composed the German Requiem in the mid-1860s to a text of his own composing.  Although Brahms had been confirmed a Lutheran, nothing pissed him off more than to be taken for a conventional believer.  Thus, instead of adopting the Latin text, he chose the most tender and consoling Biblical passages he knew, without regard to their theological significance.  Carl Reinthaler, the organist of Bremen Cathedral, helping Brahms prepare for a early performance, gently noted that none of the texts mentioned a Redeemer, to which Brahms replied, in effect, "so what?"

The German Requiem has adorable flaws.  The soprano and tenor solo parts are overshadowed by the choir’s near-constant participation.  The solo parts are just too short, which reesults in the two soloists having to sit onstage doing nothing for 80% of the performance.  Most commentators consider the last of the sevent movements rather unfortunate; in fact the whole thing was considered too long (and too unorthodox) to perform in its entirety for the first years after its completion. 

So it’s a masterpiece, but not an intimidatingly perfect one.  The minor flaws are forgotten in the many moments of tender, dignified lyricism and the fiery, galloping affirmation of the climaxes — especially the coruscating brass passages in the sixth movement.  In re-reading a little monograph about the Requiem I bought some time ago, I was struck by how its reception into the standard repertory was held hostage to the Great Brahms-Wagner conflict of the last decades of the 19th century.  It was decades before the Requiem was accepted into the orchestral canon.  George Bernard Shaw was a feverish Wagnerian (I don’t know exactly why, but this fact surprises me), so he jeeringly praised the Requiem, saying "it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker."

Luckily for us, other Englishman knew a fine piece of choral music when they saw it, and they helped establish op. 45 in the repertory for ever and ever.  Amen.

Voluntary and Involuntary Leisure

In this article, James Surowiecki hazards an explanation for European unemployment.  Europeans work far less than Americans: "The French work twenty-eight per cent fewer hours per person than Americans, and the Germans put in twenty-five per cent fewer hours. Compared with Europeans, a higher percentage of American adults work, they work more hours per week, and they work more weeks per year." 

Perhaps this is because Europeans value free time more highly than Americans, but it is also due to broader social aspects, such as the strength of labor unions and stringent workplace regulations: "The difference in work habits between Europeans and Americans, in other words, isn’t a matter of European workers’ individually deciding they’d rather spend a few extra hours every week at the movies; it’s a case of collectively determined contracts and regulations."

Two factors explain why American unemployment is so much lower, explains Surowiecki:

Factor #1:  Because Americans are richer than Europeans and also work harder, they hire people to do things that Europeans do themselves: "Americans … spend roughly twice as much in restaurants as the French, and almost three times as much as the Germans. Not surprisingly, many more Americans than Europeans work in the restaurant business. The same is true of child care."  European women spend, on average, ten more hours per week doing household work than American women do.

Factor #2: Because labor in the U.S. is cheaper and more loosely-regulated than it is in Europe, there are lots of people to perform these service-industry tasks.  In Europe, it’s difficult for people to break into the labor market in low-skill, low-paid jobs: "[V]oluntary leisure for some Europeans has helped lead to involuntary leisure for others."

Since Surowiecki might not be familiar to German readers, I should point out that he’s not a right-winger or Europe-basher, and this piece appears in the reliably liberal New Yorker.  He wants to explain something, not point fingers.

If he is right, and I think he probably is, this means a lot of the debate in Germany about how to solve the unemployment problem is woefully misguided.  German politicians speak constantly about beating the unemployment problem by creating high-quality jobs through the magic of "innovation" or the export of high-value goods like drugs or precision machines.

Germany still dreams of the jobs of the 1950s: high-paying, stable, and furnished with plenty of goodies such as long vacations and extra training.  Those are the kind of jobs "innovation" is supposed to bring Germany.  But they won’t.  You can read stories in German newspapers about well-educated architects, journalists, and engineers who have lost their jobs, but the reason newspaper stories are written about these people is because it’s they’re unusual cases.  The fact is that the majority of unemployed Germans are poorly-educated and have few job skills. 

These are precisely the people that get jobs in the United States, because (1) you can hire them cheaply to do simple tasks; (2) you don’t have to provide them with expensive side-benefits such as health insurance; and (3) if they turn out to be poor employees, you can fire them easily.  And even if they are fired for incompetence, they can often still get a new job (perhaps an worse-paid one that requires less skill) without too many problems, because it’s not too risky to hire them.  German policymakers actually created such a job-market during the last round of reforms, when they instituted a program of government-subsidized "one-Euro-per-hour" jobs to try to reintegrate the long-term unemployed into the labor market.

Is Germany ready to allow such a low-pay, low-skill, unstable job market to appear?  I don’t think so, and I am not arguing that it should.  But it seems to me that Germany has to make a choice.  Either it creates such a job market, or (as I would suggest) it learns to live with relatively high unemployment.  The dreamy, painless "middle-way" proposals favored by almost all German politicians — which promise that the stable, well-paid factory jobs of the 1950s and 1960s can somehow be re-created with enough research and high-technology — don’t convince me at all.

German Word of the Week: Schnecke auf Glatteis

Ok, it’s a phrase, not a word.  It means "like a snail on a sheet of ice."  I heard it this morning on the local radio call-in show, and was enchanted.  Here’s a real-world example which helpfully explains the phrase.  Plus, the example deals with the position of women in Bavarian public-service jobs, which I know has been on all our minds lately. 

Speaking of efforts to promote equality between the sexes in government bureaucracies, Ms. Christa Naaß, chairwoman of some comission or other, says: "The efforts to advance womens’ equality in Bavaria are proceeding like a snail on an ice-sheet, incredibly slowly and stubbornly, with lots of sliding to-and-fro!"  Isn’t that actually how government bureaucracies operate?

Enough snide quips.  Now to science.  I’m no malacologist, but I believe I am correct in saying that a snail is a mollusc, and molluscs are cold-blooded.  I’m also no iceometrist, but in my experience, ice is generally rather cold.  Therefore, I would imagine that a snail trying to move along on a sheet of ice would soon get very, very, sleepy.  He would probably curl up in his little shell and take a nap until Spring.  Goodbye, snail! 

Until we see you again in the Spring, let’s learn a little about your molluscy brother, the sea slug.

Kissinger on Merkel

Henry Kissinger writes an editorial on the new German government today in the Washington Post and the International Herald Tribune

I pay attention to anything Kissinger says for a few reasons.  First, he’s razor-sharp analytically.  Second, he’s an elder statesman like Brent Scowcroft, which means you can generally assume the views he expresses also represent the views of a large segment of the American and international establishment.  Perhaps he has even consulted with them concerning the phrasing and emphasis he applies to various points. Third, like many other non-Germans who can speak German, Kissinger enjoys an astoundingly high profile here.  Fourth, Kissinger writes like a German in English.*Second, how many (informally) accused war criminals ever get to write editorials in major papers?

I’ll give you the executive summary.  At first, Kissinger was discouraged by the fractured vote results and the need to patch together a grand coalition made up of parties "normally in strident opposition."  Now he’s cautiously optimistic.  Merkel has made her way up in the ranks of the CDU against stiff opposition and without a natural base of support, so she’s made of tough stuff.  Domestically, the grand coalition will probably develop the will to impose reforms at some point, because each member of the coalition realizes that if "if they frustrate each other, the coalition will break up, and each of them would face the dilemmas that obliged them to form the coalition in the first place."  Everyone knows a meltdown of the coalition would drive even more support to fringe or client-based parties, leading to a disastrous phase of Italian-style gridlock.  Germans want to bring Italian cars back home, not Italian politics.

As for foreign policy, Merkel brings refreshingly little baggage to the office.  She has, according to Kissinger neither to have the "emotional" identification with the U.S. that politicians who came of age in the 1950s and 1960s have, nor the need to provoke symbolic conflicts with the United States to placate anti-American portions of her base.  Of course, the new Foreign Minister himself is a close confidant of Gerhard Schröder, but he will be just as hemmed in by the realities of grand coalition politics as everyone else in the Cabinet.  Kissinger describes Merkel’s worldview thus: "Matter-of-fact, serious and thoughtful, she will strive to be a partner for a set of relationships appropriate to the new international order – one that refuses to choose between France and the United States but rather establishes a framework embracing both."

* Whenever I read a German quality paper or some journal article, the German (or perhaps Continental) register of "serious discourse" always strikes me.  The arguments are at a relatively high level of abstraction, much attention is paid to interrelationships and history, and the author renders judgment not from a personal point of view, but almost as a priestly intermediary.

Wal-Mart and the Friendliness Academy

Wal-Mart came to Germany in 2001 and found out something a little odd.  Germans, apparently, didn’t necessarily want salespeople to be friendly:

The marriage of American hominess and German frostiness has been rocky so far for Wal-Mart…. With its first two custom-built "hypermarkets," or superstores, open in time for holiday shopping, Wal-Mart is under pressure to make its huge investment pay off in Europe’s largest economy. Much of its challenge lies in coaxing attitudinal changes in the country where the customer traditionally comes last.

Customer comes last?!  Wait a minute, says a Karl W. Schmidt, former head of the German-American chamber of commerce:

This is "totally incorrect," says Schmidt.

"The customer over there is still the person who pays the bill." But, because German consumers educate themselves about a product before they buy," he said. "The need for interaction between customer and salesperson is minimal."

Can Germans become friendlier? Can and should, says Tanja Baum of the Academy of Friendliness in Cologne. She describes the problem thus:

"We have a society problem, not a service problem," she said.

Germans sometimes hesitate to be too friendly because that could be perceived as hypocrisy or currying favor, friendliness coach Baum said. "That’s why they look down on American `synthetic friendliness.’ They accuse the United States of doing everything for a purpose — `They want to sell me something, that’s why they are so friendly,’ " Baum said.

Baum attributes the trouble to the social revolution of the late 1960s, when politeness was deemed "a bourgeois relic." This is the root, she said, of cashiers who scowl at customers who approach near closing, or clerks who ignore shoppers when they approach, even turning on their heels if they persist.

"We also have the customers from hell, so this is a vicious circle," Baum said. "Grumpiness breeds grumpiness. And we are teaching employees to try to break the circle. Someone has to make the first step."

Who’s right here?  Everybody’s a little right. [pretty weak — ed.]  I’ve gotten very helpful and competent advice from salespeople who weren’t particularly friendly. But it would’ve been nicer if they were friendly. I will go out of my way to buy in stores where people are really friendly to me, and I tell them that, which always shocks them.

Usually, no one is friendlier than the foreigners. Take Maria from Croatia, who runs the corner shop. She is always ready with a cheerful laugh and bubbly smile. We have litte conversations in broken German. She says "The people in this country are so lonely! They all come to shop and stay here for long time, even in cold, because I am only person who is talking to them! Is very sad!"

Maria’s son, by contrast, has shown his ability to integrate into German society by conducting all store translations unsmilingly, through monosyllabic grunts. Sounds like a case for the Academy…

How Germany Subsidizes Hollywood

Fascinating. Germany sets up a complex tax-incentive scheme to help subsidize German films. According to this Slate article, lawyers in Hollywood and Germany figure out how to structure a complex sale-leaseback transaction to turn it into a tax-shelter:

Unlike subsidies in other European countries, Germany didn’t require that films be shot locally, use German actors, or employ German crews.  The tax-code only required that the film be owned by a German company that theoretically could share in its earnings. No problem for Hollywood lawyers. They arranged the deal on paper so the studio nominally sold the movie’s copyright to a German corporate shell, which would then lease back the copyright to the studio with an option to repurchase it after the tax shelter had reaped its rewards.

The result? Mmmm, yummy tax shelter for Germans, plenty of money for Hollywood studios:

Paramount, for example, made between $70 million to $90 million in 2003 alone from the German tax shelter, which accounted for a large portion of its studio profits. As one Paramount executive told me, it was truly "money for nothing."

But, err, no progress on preserving German movies from Hollywood, which now accounts for 85% of ticket sales in Germany.  Peer Steinbrueck has now put the subsidy on the chopping-block, which seems justified. According to the article, France subsidizes its film industry by slapping a heavy tax on Hollywood and distributing the proceeds to French filmmakers. Which sounds a lot like forcing people to pay more for movies they want to see in order to subsidize the production of movies they don’t want to see. Sound cultural policy, or preening elitism?

Hands off my Christmas Money

The new Grand Coalition running Germany plans, according to this article (German), to cut the Christmas money (Weihnachtsgeld) given to federal government bureaucrats and officials. Everyone’s gotta tighten their belt, so the politicians say, and you (we) are no exception. We’re not asking of you anything state-level officials and private-sector employees haven’t already had to do.

If you’re not German, you may be wondering what Christmas money is. It’s a question I asked last year, when my December paycheck last year was a lot higher than usual.  "It’s Christmas money!" my German colleagues told me.  "Why did I get it?"  "Because it’s Christmas!"  "You mean," I asked, my eyes moistening slightly in gratitude, "the government is giving little old me free money as a Christmas present?"  "Of course!  We all get some." It seemed all cuddly and warmly paternalistic and 1950s. Next thing you know we’ll be getting government-issue whisky to offer to business visitors, and silk stockings to bring home for the wife.

So far, the officials seem to be taking the Christmas money cuts (and added workhours for no pay) with a minimum of grumbling.  Not with no grumbling, just with a minimum. Good for them.  Germany’s going to need a lot more of that spirit as it manages its slow decline.  As I recently read in the Economist:

If people are becoming better off relative to their own past standard of living, they will care less about where they stand in relation to others.  If they are not growing better off relative to their own past standard of living, they will care more about their placing in relation to others–and the result is frustration, intolerance, and social friction.

(Review of The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth by Benjamin M. Friedman).

Germany’s new government won’t be able to halt Germany’s slow economic decline, because it has no mandate to. A commanding majority of Germany’s voters just decided it doesn’t want to take the risks that would come along with serious reform. Since Germany doesn’t want leaders who will take bold new policy steps, what Germany needs is officials who can manage and deflect the "frustration, intolerance and social friction" that economic decline will produce. For instance, by giving up their free money to share in the sacrifice…

Why there were no riots in Germany

Andrew Curry has an interesting piece in The New Republic on why the riots in France did not spread to Germany.  It’s behind a paywall, so I’ll give you the highlights here:

Despite being non-citizens, immigrants in Germany enjoyed a number of rights, such as freedom of movement and speech, basic respect from the police, and limited participation in the political process. Guest workers were represented on labor councils and in German unions. They settled not in isolated housing projects but in war-damaged inner-city neighborhoods. The result was urban revival, and inclusion in the fabric of everyday German life, instead of the physical marginalization of the sterile French housing projects. "The inner city area is easier to take hold of for an immigrant. Little shops and stores represent investment and identification in the neighborhood," says Viadrina University sociologist and Islam expert Werner Schiffauer. And successful immigrants tended to re-invest in the neighborhood, instead of leaving for richer areas. Says Schiffauer: "There’s no ‘up and away’ culture in Germany, so people were more likely to stay when they succeed." In France, by contrast, those who could afford to leave the suburban projects generally left as soon as they could.

There’s also history to take into account. Postwar Germany has, for the most part, welcomed difference as part of public life and responded vigorously to racism. The French, on the other hand, have always been deeply suspicious of multiculturalism. French intellectuals have long been too busy pointing fingers at America’s social hypocrisies to pay much attention to their own. France never ratified Europe’s Charter for Minority or Regional Languages, for instance, arguing that formally recognizing the country’s 70-some languages and dialects would threaten the "indivisibility of the Republic" and "the unity of the French people." Likewise, the country stands alone with Turkey and Andorra as holdouts on the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

***

All this isn’t to say that Germany is an immigrant utopia. Far from it. In eastern Germany, where unemployment in some towns has reached 40 percent in the 16 years since the wall fell, a handful of far-right anti-immigrant parties have established a foothold in local government. Since German citizenship laws were relaxed in the late ’90s, one of the most complex issues for immigrants has been whether to renounce their old citizenship for a German passport. Most have not taken the step. And parts of the Turkish community here remain isolated, with no incentive to learn German or adapt to German mores. Germans were shocked earlier this year by a spate of "honor killings," in which young women who had embraced liberal values were executed by their families.

There’s no doubt Germany’s relationship with its immigrant population remains a work in progress. But for now, Germany’s immigrants seem a lot less resentful of their situation than the marginalized rioters of the French suburbs. Perhaps that’s because the society that brought them here promised less–and delivered more.