Guantanamo and Civic Engagement

…have nothing to do with each other!

There will be light blogging for a while, for round leather reasons, but a quickl link to some interesting posts on German/American relations. Dialog International provides the English original of an interview with German Guantanamo bay detainee Murnat Kurnaz here, which helps to explain why Guantanamo and the Hamdan decision have been very big news over here. Atlantic Review comments on a program that brings U.S. civic-engagement ideas to Germany here. I will post a few comments about "idea exchange" in the other direction this weekend, during sober stretches.

Write a Novel, Acquire an Amanuensis

Alright, just a cheap excuse to use the word amanuensis. And it’s not really lyrical amateur translation, either, but it’s close. From the Wikipedia entry about the Hungarian poet and novelist György Faludy, this short excerpt, which is not only wildly juicy but also written in fabulously non-standard English:

Faludy’s second wife, Zsuzsa, died in the 60’s. In 1963 Eric Johnson (26), a US ballet dancer and later a renowned poet in contemporary Latin poetry, read [Faludy’s] novel My Happy Days in Hell, which captivated him, and he decided to seek Faludy in Hungary. He started to learn Hungarian and found Faludy three years later in Malta. He became his secretary, driver, translator, co-author and partner for the next 36 years. In 2002, Faludy married a 26 years old photo model, Fanny Kovács. Johnson left for Kathmandu, Nepal, and died there in February 2004, at the age of 67. Faludy has since published collective poems with his wife.

Henry Farrell on SWIFT Story Fallout

Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber sees the possibility of a snowballing European reaction to the SWIFT banking data story. His post is a bit long but informative and well worth reading. First he sets out what’s at stake:

European citizens are unlikely to be any happier about foreign authorities going through their financial information than US citizens would be under similar circumstances. Hostile newspaper stories are already beginning to bubble up (e.g. this one from the front page of today’s Irish Times). Even if EU member states have (as is entirely possible) known about the SWIFT arrangement and turned a blind eye, it’s going to be very hard for them to come out and justify it in public.

He doesn’t think this program will fall under the "national security exception" to the EU Data Protection Directive. Therefore, "it seems very unlikely indeed to me that SWIFT’s cooperation with US authorities was legal under European law." We still don’t know whether the cooperation went beyond SWIFT, Belgium is now saying it was limited only to SWIFT’s U.S.-based subsidiary.

As with the secret-CIA-flights story, it’ll be important to carefully parse the reaction of EU and other national leaders. If they call for the press and public to "keep matters in perspective" by, for instance, noting that expectations of privacy in international financial transactions are extremely limited anyway and point out that "international cooperation in the struggle against terrorism is necessary and desirable," we can probably bet that important decision-makers knew. It’s also worth keeping in mind that SWIFT officials insisted that they be presented with subpoenas from U.S. officials requiring co-operation, so that they would be able to maintain that their hands were tied.

Farrell prophesies three possible reactions:

  1. "First, and most unlikely to my mind,… European Union member states will decide to lend ex post justification to an action which appeared ex ante to be illegal, by formally sanctioning it."
  2. "Second, that the data protection authorities will be informally pressured not to proceed any further with investigations. Again, I don’t think that this is likely to succeed in squashing the issue – it’s too hot and controversial." Data-protection is an extremely sensitive issue in Europe.
  3. "Third, and most likely in my opinion, is that this is going to result in enforcement action by the EU data protection authorities – and to new laws in the medium term."

American Foreign Policy in the Eyes of a Spanish Prostitute

Luke O’Brien decided to see a few World Cup matches in one of German’s poshest brothels, Artemis in Berlin. There he marveled at the legal, regulated German prostitution, the grumpiness of East European tarts ("’I like sex,’ she said, almost angry"), and the ability of German men to concentrate on football as naked women parade around scratching their breasts. Finally, the peculiar come-on technique of Spanish prostitute Rosa, who tried to lure Luke into lucrative lovemaking by calling the leader of his country a "killer":

In my brothel robe with Rosa’s hand on my ass, I suddenly felt out of place. Not because of where I was, but because of what I was missing. Rosa pleaded with me to run off with her while throwing in a few more barbs at "Bush, killer of children and robber of oil." That’s tempting, I told her, but it’s not why I’m here. I heard the crowd in the cinema ooh and groan and aww, and I knew it was time to get back to the real action.

Today, I’ll be going to the big Caspar David Friedrich exposition: "Caspar David Friedrich: The Invention of Romanticism" in Essen. Tomorrow, enriched by the contemplation of solitary figures among windswept landscapes, I’ll try to post something about it.

Soccer Fans Avoiding the Red Lights

German brothel owners shipped in 40,000 new hookers to satisfy the needs of horny soccer fans, or so the story went a few months ago. Now, to use the old German saying, it’s "dead pants" (quiet as a mouse) inside the brothels, the Washington Post reports:

"The pent-up sexual demand of horny fans from around the world which has been widely anticipated has not materialized at all," said Karolina Leppert, president of Germany’s association for sexual service providers BSD.

"Business is pretty dead, even the regulars stay away because of all the crowds and the hype," said Leppert, who has been working as a dominatrix in Berlin for eight years.

German Joys Uncut: Class Struggle

I’m introducing a new feature on German Joys, which I’ll call ‘German Joys Uncut.’ One news story from a German newspaper, translated into English by yours truly, without cuts or changes. I’ll provide a short introduction to clarify things that might be unfamiliar to non-Germans, but no commentary.

The first German Joys Uncut comes from last week’s Die Zeit, Germany’s leading broadsheet newspaper. The article (G) address social tension among high-school students in a town in Saxony-Anhalt, a part of the former East Germany.

To understand the piece, it’s important to understand that fairly early in their school careers, students are separated into different skill groups, and then sent to different sorts of high schools. The top 1/3 of students are allowed to go to a Gymnasium high school (nothing to do with exercise), which provide the best chance of getting into universities. Less-prestigious high schools, which I’ve translated as “secondary schools,” lead to trade careers. This is oversimplified, but it’s all you need to know to understand the piece. If you’re interested, you can learn more here.

The article appeared in the “Life” section of Die Zeit, accompanied by a picture of the Karl Marx school and of two female Karl Marx students, who wore t-shirts, apparently printed in celebration of their graduation, which read “Even if we’ve missed out on a lot and done some things wrong, we still have chances.”

Class Struggle

In Gardelegen, in Saxony-Anhalt, secondary schoolers attacked a Gymnasium after their graduation celebration – among other things, out of anger over their disadvantages.

by André Paul

The celebrated their graduation on June 8, 2006, although most of them really didn’t have much reason to celebrate. 153 boys and girls ended their stay at the Karl Marx Secondary School in Gardelegen, Saxony-Anhalt. Most of them had an ordinary secondary school certificate in their pocket, some of them a qualified certificate. They could start their careers. But for 100 of the young people, the key word was: “could”. They had no apprenticeship slot. The employers in the local region Salzwedel can take whom they want, and they preferred others. They wanted better-qualified people, even when education ministers, teachers, employers, and parents all shy away from this word. The apprenticeship slots and the jobs, the money and the careers, don’t go to Karl Marx School students, they go to others. And the young people wanted to pay a visit to these “others” on that very morning. At the end of the day, the results were: severe property damage and aggravated assault. Their little town made it into the headlines: Secondary School Students Attack Gymnasium.

It’s not unfair to say that the Karl Marx School doesn’t exactly contribute to the good reputation of the 11,000 people in Gardelegen. This starts with the school itself, which was built during the high point of socialist mass construction. The windows are small, the corridors narrow and dark, the paint is flaking off, it smells stale, and above the entrance, ivy has overgrown the name of the patron. After a “reform” last summer which made a mockery of the word, 536 children from three formerly-independent schools were packed into this one. Directly next to the school courtyard there’s a discount store. Even in the early morning, a few men can be seen drinking beers on its parking lot.

In March of this year, the school attracted attention when its teachers sent a letter to the Personnel Director of the state Education Ministry. As of that point, 46 of the teachers’ colleagues had already gone on sick leave. The problem of the remaining teachers could be summarized in a sentence: “We can no longer handle the constant insults and threats from our pupils.” Most teachers are old enough to remember the time when students smartly saluted the former East German flag — but now have to listen to themselves being called “assholes” and “cunts.” And it’s not just the students’ language that’s abrasive. A few months ago, a 16-year-old girl severely beat a 15-year-old boy, apparently out of jealousy. The other classmates stood by, filming the scene with their mobile phones. Later, a TV channel acquired the film. The populists among Germany’s politicians kept quiet. They had just been recommending deportation and mandatory German courses to solve the problems at the heavily-immigrant Berlin Rütli School – but at the Karl Marx School in Gardelegen, almost none of the students had an “immigration background.”

“Values are just collapsing around here,” says school principal Horst-Dieter Radtke, a man with a gray buzz-cut and melancholy eyes. “Frustration and alcohol play a significant role. Half of the parents live off government benefits.“ Also, of course, social envy plays a great role. “In ten years, the local authorities spend 60 million euros on schools, of which 52 million went to the Gymnasiums and 8 million to the secondary schools. You can make of that what you will, but it says a lot when you look at what sorts of schools the children of local politicians and well-situated bureaucrats go to. Many Karl Marx School pupils have to travel over an hour each day to read the school.

“In recent years, there have certainly been new jobs created, especially in automobile distribution”, says Jörg Marten, editor-in-chief of the Gardelegener Volksstimme. “But you don’t need the unemployed people from the city for these jobs. Instead, they bring in highly-qualified employees from Magdeburg, Stendal, or even further away.” Principal Radtke adds: “Most of these folks have already given up.” The resignation of the parents transfers to the children. What sort of economic growth are they supposed to hope for?

Disappointment, alcohol, envy, desperation – perhaps this combination drove the 50 adolescents who on that Thursday morning traveled through the city towards the Gymnasium. Many of the pupils were drunk; they had just put a turbulent graduation ceremony behind them. In the early morning hours, persons unknown had glued all the school’s outside door locks shut. The principal transferred the ceremony to a nearby sporting complex. The ceremony was supposed to have involved a re-creation of the Heartpage Show from TV and a fashion show, but quickly went down in jeers and alcohol fumes. Afterwards, the teachers cleared away the garbage. Their pupils had something else in mind.

On days like this, the custom in Gardelegen is for boys and girls to pay a visit the other schools. In the Scholl-Siblings Gymnasium, nobody wanted to actually receive the drunken secondary-school students. Nobody is accusing School Director Dietmar Collatz of class prejudice because of this. He was acting on experience. “A few months ago, two boys from the Karl Marx School came by and smashed things up,” said the wiry, tanned man. “When we tried talk to them, they just gave us a false identity. These young people simply don’t accept authority.”

As 50 Karl Marx School pupils stood in front of the locked door to the Gymnasium, it’s possible that some of the Gymnasium students yelled insults over the fence; the Director doesn’t rule that out. The students who’d been locked out felt provoked. Many just yelled insults back, but 20 of the young people ran to the rear of the school grounds. The Gymnasium teachers, not practiced in building surveillance, hadn’t paid any attention to the 2-meter-tall fence in back. “The fence was already broken in places,” student Nancy Rosenberg later told the local newspaper. “It was an invitation.” In the meantime eleven o’clock had come, classes were underway.

The raiding party was armed with flagpoles. “One of them started smashing lights one after the other,” said Nancy, “we tried to hold him back, but it was no use. He was totally out of it.”

Some of the invaders began storming the classrooms, jeering. “They took the knapsacks away from the children, dumped them out and sprayed them full,” said Principal Collatz.  Some windows were also broken. Some teachers actually “opposed the Karl Marx pupils pretty forcefully,” says the Principal, “one can’t just sit by and watch such things. These days it’s far too often accepted when people break the rules, there’s a climate of silent acquiescence.”
One of the older Gymnasium students didn’t have the necessary strength. He got a knot on the head from the leader of the Karl Marx students, and his nose was broken. At a quarter past eleven, the Principal called the police. “And they took a long time to arrive,” he criticized. As the officers showed up at the Gymnasium, Nancy and her fellow pupils disappeared.  “We didn’t want to get blamed with the rest of them.” The police took down everyone’s information, and prepared charges for assault, trespassing and property damage.

The damages in the school building, which amounted to 1200 Euro, have been repaired in the meantime, the excitement among the Gymnasium students died down. Their fellow teenagers speak rather soberly over the uproar. “What I can’t stand to hear is all this about frustration,” says 18-year-old Timm Benecke. “If something’s gone wrong in their lives, that’s hardly our fault.”

Margarete Wegner from Project Hey! wants to give the problem teenagers in and around Gardelegen some chances.  The clever acronym stands for “Strategic Competence in the Association of Teenagers in Regional Development.” Margarete Wegner wants to make sure even the secondary students get apprenticeships. With success? “A car dealership has hired several Karl Marx students,” says the energetic woman with the friendly smile. However, after a few months, they started showing up to work irregularly or not at all, and broke off the training. “Naturally, nobody else wants to hire them.” The local bakery chain, however, is still searching in vain for 22 apprentices. “But then the students tell me it’s just too demanding, having to get up on time and all that.”

Does the Common Law Make for Successful Markets?

From Legal Affairs, a piece about the field of Law and Finance. Which legal system is better at creating reliable financial markets and economic growth: civil-law systems, such as Germany, France and most of South America; or common-law systems, such as England and the United States? A team of four ecomonists put together a dazzlingly complex study, and in 1998 announced their answer:

[C]ountries that come from a French civil law tradition struggle to create effective financial markets, while countries with a British common law tradition succeed far more frequently. While the scholars conducting the research are economists rather than lawyers, their theory has jolted the legal academy, leading to the creation of a new academic specialty called "law and finance" and turning the authors of the theory into the most cited economists in the world over the past decade.

It’s mostly about the judges, they claim. Common-law systems create strong judges who have a great deal of power and independence, while judges in civil-law systems are much less powerful; they are meant only to faithfully apply the detailed laws passed by the legislator. Powerful and independent judges, in turn, act as an effective check on the kind of corruption and inefficiency that can sabotage markets.

Skeptics have arrived from both the law and economics faculties. The lawyers deride the simplistic splitting of legal systems into common law and civil law. Economists dispute the nature and importance of the variables the group’s using, and doubt whether you could ever control for enough variables to actually link the nature of the legal system to economic performance:

[C]ommon law may be linked to strong markets without causing them. Common law countries tend to speak English (a big advantage in the latter half of the 20th century, given American economic dominance) and tend to be Protestant (scholars dating back to Max Weber have connected Protestantism with hard work). Many historians also believe that the British did a much better job than the French of finding economically viable locations to set up colonies. "What LLSV has done is a very clever relabeling of things," said Zingales. "We all know that Anglo-American countries are different. You can call it the English language, the English tradition, and you can code it in all sorts of ways."

I don’t really have a dog in this fight, but I found the article interesting and balanced, and maybe some readers will enjoy it

A German in Japan: Thomas Schaefer’s Weblog

A friend of mine recently relocated to Japan and began teaching at Sendai University. He’s put togther a site (in German) about his experiences with heatable toilet seats, detachable red bus-stop trash-baskets, and other oddities of Japanese life.  Go visit it here, and leave an entry in his guestbook!

Is German TV Bleak and Depressing?

It’s the one thing that drives people who engage with Germany at anything but a superficial level up the wall: the bitter, pessimistic whining. Sometimes, outsiders can chuckle about it. But sometimes, you get to thinking: Is there something in the water here? Is there perhaps actually something deeply wrong with the psyche of these people?! As one German writes: "I have been living in the US for about seven years now, and if there’s one thing I dread when I go home to visit Germany, it’s the complaining."

Maybe it’s their TV. From Kevin Drum at Washington Monthly:

In the LA Times today, Alissa Rubin writes that Europeans don’t like American politics but do like American entertainment. The following passage from Reinhard Scolik, chief of programming for Austria’s largest broadcaster, caught my attention:

"In American programs, people have problems, serious problems. In ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ people are dying, it tells you that life will be very, very hard, but at the very end they get a little hope and there is a way to get through," he said. "In German shows, which we also get on Austrian television, it is mostly a hopeless situation, it is too heavy."

Wow. Are German TV shows really that bleak?

It’s a good question. I don’t have much experience with German TV, but it seems to be a bit bleaker than U.S. TV, but not horrifyingly pessimistic. I’d put it at about the same level as British TV in terms of bleakness. (Come to think of it, the Brits are also more pessimistic than Americans, but they are nowhere near as glum as the poor Germans).

On German TV, there are quiz shows, shopping shows, crime shows that are unusually thumbsucky and psychoanalytical, and pretty good soap operas in which ordinary people have problems, sometimes overcome them, and sometimes fail. There is generally a lot more open conflict in these soap operas than there is on American TV, but Germans can handle conflict.

I’d look at the documentaries as a possible suspect. There are many more of them than on U.S. TV. Many tend to focus on German history, customs, crime, and political corruption. However, Germans are well-known for reporting about the world’s problems, so you see hundreds of documentaries that address the problems that exist in various developing countries, and do so with brutal honesty.

This is a big difference. American mainstream documentary film crews avoid Africa and dire third-world poverty. That stuff doesn’t sell. What does sell, for mainstream TV purposes, is nice documentaries about non-controversial subjects like science, weapons, American history, jazz, or baseball (Don’t miss this minor masterpiece about the often-overlooked Old Negro Space Program). The tendency of American mainstream documentary makers to avoid subjects that are (1) depressing; and (2) not directly related to the United States is, in my view, a cop-out. [But at least it keeps Americans happy, and what could be more important than that? — ed.]  British teams do actually film documentaries about social problems in Britain and the developing world, but often with an uplifting twist: "Yes, it’s bad, but this new program/solar lamp/dedicated university graduate who came back to her home village is making a difference."

German and French documentaries are often brilliant and penetrating, but usually don’t have this uplifting angle. In fact, they may be so penetrating precisely because they don’t feel an obligation to tie a pretty pink bow on the package of human misery they deliver. At the end, the narrator often intones: "For generations, all the people of Bunakra province have known is war, disease, and chaos, and it appears that will continue for the next generations as well." Of course, in the preceding 60 minutes, they have shown you the political corruption, social anarchy, and exploitation that justify this prediction.

The result is that Germans are fantastically well-informed about development problems. No all of them turn away in resignation; in fact careers in development are the most prestigious service-sector jobs in Germany. But if you don’t have the personal make-up to react to these bleak documentaries in a positive way, they can rob you of plenty of hope plenty quick.

That’s my guess. I’d love to hear other people’s answers, and probably so would Kevin Drum…

Long Meetings, Silent Underlings, Limits, and Stamina

If you’re going to be spending a lot of time with German businessmen soon, God help you.

And so does the Financial Times Deutschland, with this essay on German business culture (hat tip Ed P.). I’ve highlighted the most important passages in bold, for those of you cramming for the exam:

Be prepared for long meetings. Readiness to handle lengthy sessions shows you possess the essential prerequisites of seriousness, stamina and structureDo not smile too much. It can be regarded as foppish. The Germans are tolerant of English foibles. Some of them [Germans, that is, not English foibles] even affect a certain air of relaxation. But they have their limits.

Allow the boss of the company you are visiting to do most of the talking. That is why he is the boss. Do not expect his underlings to do much more than nod in silent compliance. That is the way German corporate bureaucracy functions. On the whole, it works.

Do not worry about your ignorance of German. Your hosts will love outsmarting each other in showing how well they command your language. Speak English slowly and distinctly. Avoid nuances. Be direct. Do not play with words. Many misunderstandings – wars, even – are caused by the Germans not being able to understand what the English are saying, but being too proud to ask…

…If you end up taking taxis, do not expect the drivers to know the way to your destination. But expect an erudite, if irritable, conversation. Many German taxi drivers are unemployed engineers, neurologists, pharmacists, software writers or computer technicians. They know they should be doing something more useful than ferrying you around.

If you sit down to dinner after the meeting, do not believe the old adage about "not mentioning the war". The Second World War retains a fascination for many Germans. Sometimes it is hard to get them off the subject.

Expect your German hosts to tell you how much poorer the country has become since reunification. If you pre-empt them by telling them that 3 to 4 per cent of west German gross domestic product flows to the east each year, they will think you are hugely knowledgeable. Your chances of winning that sale will rise.

Invite your counterparties back to Britain. Treat them to a traditional dish of beef or suckling pig. The Germans have a soft spot for the English. Many of them send their sons and daughters to school here. If we could only manufacture more cars, kitchen goods, machine tools, chemicals, power stations and railway equipment that they would want to buy from us, then they would probably like us even more.

I’m just kidding about the "God help you," by the way. In my limited experience, German businessmen are often courteous and sometimes pretty interesting, if you can crack their facade without pissing them off. Which is a very tricky high-wire act.

Next Up: German Joys‘ very own guide to impressing unemployed German alcoholics!

Norbert Elias on Transition to Parliamentary Rule

A little over a year ago, Wolfgang Ischinger, German Ambassador to the United States had this to say about the attempt to install a parliamentary system in Iraq: "As older [i.e. European] societies, we tend to think of ourselves as more experienced in the way societies evolve, and we tend to be skeptical of Americans who seem to think that if you believe hard enough, and you muster enough resources, you can change the world…[D]on’t think transformative change will work according to mechanistic rules. This is very complicated. Changing the way people think often has to do with religious and cultural issues–we tend to think of them as long-term, and Americans think, Let’s solve the problem in the next four years!"

I thought of this as I read the following two paragraphs, from an essay the great German sociologist Norbert Elias wrote about terrorism in Germany in the 1970s. Elias, whose specialty was the study of how social norms develop and change, had the following to say about the Weimar Republic:

The transition from the still-halfway-absolutist regime of the Kaiser and King to the parliamentary regime of the Weimar Republic came very suddenly. For large parts of the public, it came totally unexpectedly, and was joined with extremely unpleasant associations — the loss of a war. Basically, many Germans had contempt for a form of government which was based on struggles, negotiations and compromises between parties. They hated the "talking-shop" of Parliament where — so it seemed — delegates did nothing more than debate and deal. Freedom or no freedom, people longed for the comparatively simpler form of government in which all important political decisions were made by the strong man at the top. People could leave it to the man at the top to worry about the welfare of Germany. It was enough to concentrate on your own private life. From the very beginnings of the Weimar era many men and women actually did yearn for the man at the top — whether prince or dictator — who made decisions and gave orders. They yearned for him like a drug. They were addicted to him, and the withdrawal came very rapidly.

The unique characteristics of the adjustment to a parliamentary regime are easy to miss when, as often happens, one looks through an ideological lens at the advantages this form of government organization has in comparison to dictatorships. Very few people are actually aware that the weaning societies away from an order of things in which a symbolic ruler-figure bears responsibility for his subjects to a situation which requires the individual to exercise a limited form of responsibilty is a process of very long duration, which requires as crisis-free circumstances as possible, which lasts for at least three generations. European history provides many examples of the difficulty of such a re-orientation. One of the few countries in which the structure of parliament and the structure of the individual personality are relatively adapted to one another is England. And in the history of England one can well perceive the long process during which the adjustment took place. It occurred, in fact, extremely slowly, since the time when the son of a puritan dictator was required to give the reins of power to a newly-installed king who himself had been required to cede considerable powers.

[Norbert Elias, Studien Ueber die Deutschen, pp. 380-381; my translation].

Slimy, Bug-Eating Slavophobes

Ukraine lost 4-0 to Spain, says Ukraine, because of the loud frogs outside the team’s hotel:

Frogs outside the team’s hotel in the scenic east German town of Potsdam had croaked all night before the game, leaving the team tired and out of sorts, he said. "Because of the frogs’ croaking we hardly got a wink of sleep," the defender explained. "We all agreed that we would take some sticks and go and hunt them.

Let’s hope they don’t discover earplugs. Then we’d have to send the exploding German toads after them.