Hamburg Gets a New Concert Hall

From Alex Ross’ classical music blog, a picture of what Hamburg’s new concert hall will look like on the inside:

Elbe_philharmonic_hall_interior

Guest poster Justin Davidson continues:

In a press conference at Carnegie Hall today, Jacques Herzog [of the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron] remarked that he and his associates had learned more about designing symphonic spaces from the stadiums they’ve done (notably the Beijing Olympic bird’s nest) than they had from the whole history of concert halls. Here, the stage, like a soccer field, is in the middle, rather than at one end, and the seats rise up along a bowl’s precipitous walls.

The Twelve Gates of European Hell

A short while ago, Ed Philp brought our attention to a mimeographed tract he received in his mailbox one day. By popular request, I have scanned it as a .pdf file; download it here (g). There’s some strange bitching about the German flag and alleged hostility thereto, followed by a story of how the European Flag came to bear twelve stars on a blue background. The problem is, the story is depressingly plausible (though I’ve no idea if it’s really true) and even-handed. There are some explicitly religious disquisitions of the meaning of the number 12, but nothing very feverish.

The sheet of paper is pretty interesting. However, I must say I expect more unhinged ranting from mimeographed one-page complaints stuffed by cranks into local mailboxes.

Speaking of Labor Market Coordination

Yesterday we got a responsible academic look at this problem, which is faced by all regional trading blocs which include member nations at different stages of economic development.

Western Europe has its Polish plumbers, its Macedonian pet-shampooists, and its Hungarian wax peppers. America’s version? Illegal-alien Mexican software executives:

Immigration: The Human Cost
http://www.theonion.com/content/themes/common/assets/videoplayer/flvplayer.swf

Rebecca West on Education

A while back, I read the Paris Reviews interviews of modern writers. Here’s the 90-year-old Rebecca West on her education:

We had large classes, which was an ineffable benefit, because the teachers really hadn’t time to muck about with our characters. You see, the people who wanted to learn, sat and learned, and the people who didn’t, didn’t learn, but there was no time, you know, for bringing out the best in us, thank God. I had some magnificent teachers, actually, a Miss MacDonald, who taught me Latin irregular verbs.

A Critique of EU Integration

One point often missed by some outside observers is that the backlash against European integration is driven not only by a perception not of overregulation but of too-aggressive deregulation. The populists complain about pettifogging EU regulations that ban homemade alcohol or going shirtless on construction sites; the left denounces aggressive EU deregulation drives that hollow out traditional social-state protections.

EU bureaucrats themselves — of whom I know a few — generally pose as meek St. Sebastians of politics, bound to the tree of professional discretion, penetrated by the slings and arrows of a hostile and misinformed public. But are the arrows deserved? Via Crooked Timber, a paper by Martin Höpner and Armin Schäfer at the Max-Planck Institut in Cologne on European economic integration argues that some are. The paper begins with the following interesting example:

To anyone interested in an evaluation of the current state of Europeanization, we recommend the webpage <www.go-limited.de>. The advertising company, following the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) judgments on Centros (1999), Überseering (2002) and Inspire Art (2003), asks German businesses to take advantage of the guaranteed European freedom of establishment. Rather than suggesting the actual relocation of companies, the advertiser merely provides a vehicle for them to circumvent German company law. For 260 euros only, the advertiser offers a complete package for the establishment of a British ‘limited liability company’ (Ltd.). The advertising firm promises several advantages: among them, doing away with German bureaucracy; registration of the company in two weeks only; avoidance of strict German personal liabilities; free choice of authorized capital as long as it exceeds 1.40 euros (compared to a minimum of 25,000 euros in the case of a German GmbH ); no supervisory board codetermination if the company grows beyond 500 employees.

The authors’ thesis is that modern European economic regulation has gone far beyond simply coordinating trade and customs, and is now attempting to cause genuine structural changes in the way individual European manage their economies: "The goal of a number of recent Commission initiatives is no longer to create a level playing field among EU countries, so that market success is the judge of different varieties of capitalism; instead the Commission consciously pushes for the ‘modernization’ of European economies along the lines of the Anglo-Saxon model." This approach, the authors claim, is helping to drive the European Union’s democracy deficit. They analyze the Services Directive, the Takeover Directive, and emerging European corporate governance law jurisprudence to make their point.

I haven’t read the entire thing yet, but I thought I’d pass it along for those who are curious about this sort of thing.

Another Steyn Stillbirth

Mark Steyn’s daily dose of Europe-bashing takes up the debate in Germany over setting up places where overwhelmed mothers of newborn babies can abandon them. Steyn concludes:

Germany has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, net population loss, and a rapidly depopulating east that’s economically unsustainable. Thirty per cent of German women are childless, 40 per cent of female university graduates are childless, and its last election offered voters what Americans would regard as the statistically improbable choice of a childless man vs a childless woman. Meanwhile, the last gals in the country still in the procreation business have to be offered E-Z-trash drop-off bins in order to stop them tossing their bairns out the apartment window.

All this depravity and horror, Steyn gravely intones, makes it "harder not to conclude that parts of Europe are evolving into a kind of post-human society."

Man, that stings. I mean, you’ve got to sink pretty low as a society to offer mothers places where they can abandon their precious little newborn babies. Thank God America’s strong family values keep it from following Germany’s depraved lead. Except, of course, for those 40 naughty states that have already passed "secret safe place for newborns " acts basically identical to what Germany’s proposing. After a comparable outbreak of newborns being abandoned and strangled by desperate new mothers.

Oh, and by the way, Gerhard Schroeder has two children. They’re adopted, though, so perhaps that doesn’t count. Note to Monsieur Steyn: you can use the fact that they were adopted from Russia [cue threatening string glissandi] for your next juvenile crack! [Hat-tip, Ed Philp]

Janez D. In the House

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the President of Slovenia, Janez Drnovsek:

948_008_163205_210608drno_2

Yep, that’s him all right. As long-time readers of GJ know, I have a soft spot in my heart for the tiny, plucky nation of Slovenia. I think you’re probably beginning to see why.

I read a profile of President Drnovsek, in the French magazine Courrier International, which I picked up in the airport. Here’s the link, but you need to be a subscriber to read it. The article’s called "A Mutant at the Head of Slovenia", and features a picture of Drnovsek with his head wrapped in a garland of flowers [UPDATE: thanks to Falk for the photo link].

After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, Drnovsek has become, in the Guardian’s words, "the only new-age Vegan mystic who is also a head of state." He’s acknowledged a 20-something year old daughter from a previous relationship (according to the French piece), welcomed the Dalai Lama to Slovenia, and lives alone in a mountain village with his dog. He writes books containing his idealistic musings, and has provoked conflicts with Slovenia’s Prime Minister and Parliament over various issues like Darfur, agricultural subsidies, and NATO, which Slovenia recently joined, but which Drnovsek called "the armed wing of international capital." He calls himself just plain Janez D. on his blog (Warning — it’s in Slovenian! Prolonged attempts to understand this language may lead to confusion).

You can read his "Open Letter to Humanity" in English here: "Selfishness and greed prevail in our times as never before. The consciousness of most people has become sublimated to these characteristics. Countless others are intoxicated by such delusions as television and football. They are not really ‘alive’ – nor are they conscious."

Whatever you think of my homey Janez D. (and I gather that many Slovenians are less than happy with his latest transformation), you’ve got to admire the courage of a European politician who insults football.

Subprime Lending and European Values

A couple of years ago the Jeremy Rifkin wrote a book called The European Dream: How Europe’s Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. An essay in which he summarizes the main points is here.

Rifkin praises many European values — a more family-friendly balance of life and work, emphasis on environmental sustainability, foreign policy that focuses on non-violent conflict resolution — the usual suspects. The book is uneven (a fair-minded critique of Rifkin’s rosy view of Europe can be found here) but one of the parts of the book I found convincing is the beginning, in which Rifkin critiques contemporary American values. His point is that "traditional American values" of hard work, thrift, postponement of gratification, etc. have been weakened in the U.S. over the past few decades under an onslaught of consumerism and superficiality. Here, he’s in Christopher Lasch and Neil Postman territory, two American culture critics whom he repeatedly cites. (In the spirit of true Kulturkritik, both of these authors’ critiques don’t break down neatly along conventional political lines — Lasch especially can sound like a European conservative in his praise of family, tradition, and community).

Sure, Americans work harder than Europeans, but, Rifkin asks, how much of this hard work is triggered by low wages and high living expenses (i.e., the need to have 2 jobs to finance the basics of life)? How much by the fact that most Americans carry thousands of dollars in consumer debt that must be paid off month-by-month? Puritan thrift also can’t really explain the explosion in legal gambling the U.S. has seen in the past few decades: now 70% of Americans have played some form of legal gambling regularly, 47 states have legalized casino gambling in some form, and Americans "are now now spending more money on gambling than on all movies, videos, DVDs , music, and books combined." (28). Fifty-five percent of Americans under thirty believe they are going to become rich, but closer questioning reveals they have little idea precisely how. Rifkin argues that values of postponement of gratification, moderation in spending, and a distrust of get-rich-quick schemes have survived in Europe just as they have been weakened in the U.S.

The latest evidence that Rifkin may be on to something here is the subprime mortgage fiasco. "Subprime" lending is a euphemism for lending to people who have bad credit. Either they’ve defaulted on loans in the past, or they can’t give reliable information about their income. The idea behind loaning these people money to buy houses was that the value of the house they bought would continue to rise dramatically, which housing prices in the U.S. were doing until recently. In fact, some of these homeowners — usually ordinary lower-middle-class people — took out second mortgages on their homes, or even "leveraged" their properties to acquire additional ones. The loans were structured so that the payments would rise dramatically if interest rates increased, or if housing prices stopped increasing. Despite everyone crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, those things have now happened, and hundreds of thousands of these loans are going bad. The U.S. press is now awash in articles like this one, wondering whether the damage will be limited to a wave of foreclosures, or whether it could have wider effects on the economy.

I cannot imagine something similar happening in Europe. First, many Germans I know do not expect or want to own a home in their lifetime. The ones who do assume that they will have to put a large down-payment on a home, and save for at least a decade before having enough money to do so (the government helps a bit). Second, I have hard time imagining that European banks would deliver hundreds of thousands of Euros to people based solely on their own unverified statement of how much they make per year, or give loans with no downpayment whatsoever. (Two practices common in the U.S.). Third, I can hardly imagine any German taking out debt grossly out of proportion to their income, especially under circumstances in which monthly payments could rise dramatically based on unpredictable future events. Cultural memories of families driven to ruin by debt and inflation persist in Germany. It’s a country in which credit cards are still rare, and ones with revolving credit (where the total balance is not paid off monthly and gathers interest) rarer still.

I’m certainly not qualified to judge whether the sub-prime lending "debacle" will lead to a larger economic downturn in the U.S. But I think I’m on solid ground to say cultural attitudes and regulatory structures rule out something similar happening in Germany.

The Gates of Hell Turn 50

Ed Philp, with one last note before Andrew resumes his usual regularly-scheduled viewer service.

What should appear in my mailbox this morning, but a bizarre photocopied little treatise arguing that the twelve golden stars on the European flag symbolize the twelve gates to the underworld… Alternatively, according to the anonymous author of this tract, the stars represent the twelve stars of Maria’s crown. I couldn’t quite figure out whether he / she sees a deep Christian meaning in the EU, or a satanic cabal. In any event, the author is also quite upset about post-WM suggestions on how to recycle the masses of German flags that sprouted up.

This little screed is as good as the cheaply printed slip of paper I received a few months ago as a mailbox flyer advertising for a local lawyer who could assist with all of my immigration, tenancy, criminal and employment law issues. In all Eastern European languages, plus Russian, Turkish and "ponlisch". Assistance was also offered in white collar crime matters, also misspelled Wirtschaftsstafrect" in the flyer.

I wonder if a lawyer could respond to a negligence action against him by arguing that from his own advertising, it was prima facie evident that he had no special expertise in the area of law. "Practice it? Heck, I can’t even spell it!"

Thank you for putting up with me over the past week.

Name this Sculpture

Sorry to interrupt the debate, but here are a few photos I’ve taken that I wanted to share with the world. This is the ‘British Private Prep School’, which I found not in Albion, but in a strip shopping center off Fry Road in suburban Katy, Texas:

Att00040_3 

Coming Soon: ‘Elite Liberal Arts College’, Sunnyvale Bargain Center, Waukegan, Illinois; and ‘Tradition-Steeped Ivy-League Research University,’ Rural Route 95, Ponca Lake, Oklahoma.

Now for an obscure cultural trivia quiz. This is a funky piece of folk art by a Houston artist. A friend of mine named George owns it. The question is: what is it called?

Hint: When I tell you, you will immediately say, ‘of course!’ I promise.

Att00043

German Universities Drowning – Part 2

Ed Philp, with part 2 of the previous post. Knee-jerk apparently = Kniescheibenreflex. Who knew. Here goes… Comments on Kempen’s statements from the previous post:

– "If

Germany

‘s federal and provincial governments continue with politics as usual, we will soon have to declare political-educational bankruptcy"

Whatever that means. I know the DHV is essentially a lobby group for professors, but does the country’s academic lobby group have to use such embarassingly populist phrases? The original term used was ‚Offenbarungseid’ – essentially a disclosure of assets which a bankrupt person must present to the court. Perhaps it is time that a number of universities – and DHV members – actually presented such a statement.

– "Above all,

Germany

needs more professors in order to improve the ratio of students per professor from 60:1" With the present proportion, the universities are not "internationally competitive"

The competitiveness of German universities internationally does not rise or fall on the number of professors, but instead, on the knowledge produced in each field and the quality of education provided to students. Those are appropriately the only true goals for universities. And the appropriate answer for

Germany

is… less students. Many German profs will voice this opinion in private. Cutting out the bottom third in virtually every program at virtually every faculty might be a good start. Encourage these people to pursue something else – possibly another type of degree – in which they have a chance themselves at becoming ‘internationally competitive’, instead of becoming unemployable highly-qualified but poorly-equipped 30 year-olds.

From an international standpoint, the world envies

Germany

its comprehensive apprenticeship and technical training programs, to which vastly more students should be funneled. The world no longer envies Germany its universities, so often clogged with large numbers of people who one would suspect probably shouldn’t be admitted there in the first place, or who after five semesters of virtually free study with nothing to show, have ended up proving this.

Faculty members exclusively devoted to teaching are indeed inexpensive, but cannot replace "valuable teaching that is constantly renewed by research"; they "can’t replace the creation of additional professorships"

Nonsense. The ideal professor is a brilliant researcher, bringing home accolades and prestige to her faculty and conducting innovative timely scholarship that provides a significant contribution to human knowledge. The ideal professor is also someone who is a gifted teacher, able to impart a love of learning to his students, committed to equipping them with the best education available and who is able to identify, foster and mentor the next generation of academic leaders.

For the twin goals of any university – research and teaching – there is lots of room for both of these professors. Indeed, these twin expectations increasingly end up being mutually exclusive. That Janus-faced ‘international competitiveness’ thing rears its ugly head here again. Rarely can the professor who is truly dedicated to excellent teaching also perform innovative genetics research, participate as a member of think-tanks or corporate boards, or oversee an entire institute. Rarely can the professor who does any of these three things also provide the quality of teaching required by a top-flight university. Demanding both today is a recipe for ensuring neither. Provided the ‘teaching professor’ keeps current on recent developments in his field, there is nothing that precludes him from being as valuable to any faculty as the secluded researcher in a lab.

The ‘creation of additional professorships’ may serve to swell the ranks of the DHV; it does not ensure that truly excellent teaching or quality research takes place. If that is the goal, maybe fewer professors – or more stringent requirements upon these – are needed.

And – the notion that only proper professors make a worthwhile contribution to universities is absurd. Kempen does a disgraceful disservice to the some of the finest assets of many German faculties – the professionals who serve as guest lecturers, Privatdozenten, outside tutors or expert adjunct faculty members. Any faculty depends on these people to advance students’ understanding beyond the purely theoretical and to provide students with insight into the application of abstract principles.

In a DHV statement issued at the DHV’s annual meeting, the DHV itself goes on to argue that "university professors who are wholly or mostly entrusted with teaching responsibilities don’t earn that (professorial) designation"… however, the oft-cited unity of research and teaching "does not preclude excellent researchers from being relieved of their teaching obligations for short periods entirely, and for longer periods to a significant degree"

That’s an incredibly cheap shot at the professors whose outstanding teaching attracts students in the first place. I think that sentiment would be shared even by pure ‘research’ professors who depend on bright students to assist them with precisely such research. Back to that ‘international competitiveness’ issue: one field where

Germany

has trouble is in the quality of the teaching itself. This isn’t just due to the proportion of profs to students; it is due to the number of professors who have zero incentive to provide students with a quality education. If the DHV would also seriously turn its attention to weeding out its members who consistently perform sub-par, I might grant them some credibility here.

– "without additional financial incentives to reward excellent teaching, a long-term improvement in quality won’t be achievable"

How about this: Without turning quality teaching and/or quality research into a crucial aspect of remaining a paid employee of the university, an improvement in quality won’t be very likely. The financial incentive is called keeping one’s job.

At this DHV conference, Prof. Dr. Peter Huber, Chair of the German Law Faculty Association, apparently also weighed in – receiving applause – when he stated that "less teaching leads to better teaching: a threshold of pain has been reached with the 9 teaching hours required in most German states." "If you told a professor from the

US

that he would have to ‘read’ for nine hours a week, he wouldn’t even come here at all"

Huber might be right. In order to fill out that statement: if you told the US prof that he would also have to spend 15 hours a week on administrative crap that a paid staff in the US would normally take care of, and that he is also obliged to obtain approvals for the most meaningless of initiatives and procedures from a dozen surly civil servants in three non-communicative university administration institutions in order to push through a project, obtain independent funding or host a conference, he wouldn’t even bother applying to come here.

And if you insinuated to a

US

professor worth inviting here that he might simply ‘read’, meaning, speak from his notes without being able to diverge from these or address current issues, or respond to questions, he wouldn’t be interested at all in coming here.

The problem is the one-size-fits-all mentality at German universities which the DHV seems ready to defend with its life, provided it prescribes the size. There is nothing wrong with asking a young professor to teach nine hours per week, especially if she is proving herself, is good at it, and doesn’t need the time to devote to working with six other interdisciplinary groups to draft a new Charter for the UN. Most young professors would be happy to cut their teeth doing precisely this work, and frankly, many of them need that experience.

On the other hand: Joschka Fischer was recently a guest lecturer at

Princeton

. This simple example belies virtually everything Kempen argues.

Princeton

is easily internationally competitive. Fischer certainly didn’t teach nine hours a week; I’m sure he also wasn’t burdened with onerous and time-consuming administrative crap; I’m certain he was paid well above what the normal prof receives per hour, and he has no university degree granted to him whatsoever that isn’t honorary. And his poli-sci and international relations students benefited from hearing the approach of someone who – like him or not – had a significant say in German and European affairs in this decade.

German professors have a great deal at stake in participating in the needed and inevitable reform of German universities. It would appear that they are presently poorly-represented.

German Universities are About to Drown!

Ed Philp, with some excerpts from an article (G) from this past week’s Spiegelonline, in which Bernhard Kempen was quoted on the subject of German university standards, and more specifically, the obligations upon professors at these universities. Bernhard Kempen is the president of the DHV – the Deutscher Hochschulverband, or German Association of Professors and College Teachers. According to Kempen, universities here "are about to drown".

Very important: I need to add that the hoster of this blog is employed by a German university and he has absolutely nothing to do with this post. As far as I know, he is happily, contentedly and often vocally enthusiastic about his position and his university. He has generously given me carte blanche to post here in his absence; nothing in this comment, or the following one, is any reflection on his personal views. Should he permit this post to remain on his blog (and even if he disagreed with every word of it, he probably would on principle) he bears no responsibility for its contents.

I’ll reproduce a number of Kempen’s other comments, translated / paraphrased as best I can:

– "If Germany’s federal and provincial governments continue with politics as usual, we will soon have to declare political-educational bankruptcy"

– "Above all, Germany needs more professors in order to improve the ratio of students per professor from 60:1" With the present proportion, the universities are not "internationally competitive"

– Faculty members exclusively devoted to teaching are indeed inexpensive, but cannot replace "valuable teaching that is constantly renewed by research"; they "can’t replace the creation of additional professorships"

– In a DHV statement issued at the DHV’s annual meeting, the DHV itself goes on to argue that "university professors who are wholly or mostly entrusted with teaching responsibilities don’t earn that  (professorial) designation"… however, the oft-cited unity of research and teaching "does not preclude excellent researchers from being relieved of their teaching obligations for short periods entirely, and for longer periods to a significant degree"

– "without additional financial incentives to reward excellent teaching, a long-term improvement in quality won’t be achievable"

At this DHV conference, Prof. Dr. Peter Huber, Chair of the German Law Faculty Association, apparently also weighed in – receiving applause – when he stated that "less teaching leads to better teaching: a threshold of pain has been reached with the 9 teaching hours required in most German states." "If you told a professor from the US that he would have to ‘read’ for nine hours a week, he wouldn’t even come here at all"

I’m going to mull over these comments and I’ll post my thoughts on these tomorrow. Don’t worry: it won’t be a reactionary knee-jerk crack at German profs. I’ve had too many good ones myself to do that. But it might be a knee-jerk shot back at Kempen. A bientot.