Take, Eat: This is My Cartilage

Sunday morning on my local public radio station, 10:00 to 11:00:

Church Service (G): St. Josef Parish Church in Belm. Sermon: The Rev. Friedhelm Fuest

Then five minutes of news.  Then:

Over Corpses: On the Harvesting and Use of Human Remains (G)

"Skin, bones, cartilage, tendons, corneas, heart-valves: Almost everything in a human corpse can be re-used…"  The documentary featured a trip to a coroner’s lab in Hamburg, during which the bones of a dead woman were removed from her corpse. Accompanied by sawing, sucking sounds, and moist ‘thuds’.

I found that five minutes was not quite enough time for this transition.

Calling San Diego Lawyers

Does the U.S. Navy barracks building in the center-left of this satellite photograph of San Diego remind you of anything? 

The U.S. Navy claim they were aware of the building’s shape when it was finished in 1967, but thought nobody would ever pay attention to how it looked from above, since the navy base is in a no-fly zone.

Boy, were they wrong (G). Now, the Navy plans to spend $600,000 of my tax dollars to mask the shape of the building from above. Too bad this isn’t happening in Germany. If it were, the original architect, like the architect of the Berlin Rail Station, could file suit against the changes to his original plans (G). Now that’s one trial I’d like to see. [h/t – Bro.]

UPDATE: But before you Germans go bashing innocent American architects, guilty only of spending taxpayer millions to erect a gigantic Nazi symbol, look closer to home. That is, to the sign for the Observation Deck at the Nuremberg (yes, that Nuremberg) airport:

[courtesy of Riesenmaschine]

A Piece of the Rhineland in Missouri

The New York Times profiles Hermann, Missouri, a village founded by German immigrant wine-makers in the 1830s:

Hermann has called itself a Rhineland village, but that sells it short. Hermann is an 1850s Missouri River town playing the part of a Rhineland village, which is a lot more interesting. That allows the county courthouse to sit on a bluff and proclaim its presence to the river the way courthouses do in river towns, while squared-off red-brick houses with backyard grape arbors run up San Francisco-like hills on streets named Schiller and Mozart. … 

Hermann also officially celebrates its German roots. On the third weekend of May, there’s Maifest, which focuses on dancing, parades and crafts. Octoberfest brings four weekends of wine tours, music and food, and in December, the town features a traditional German Christmas market….

Unlike the Ozarks several hours south, the Hermann hills have no water parks, music theaters, casinos or magic shows — just rambling woods cut by fields, white-fenced horse farms, brick farmhouses enveloped in ancient trees and wineries. And its residents like it that way.

Hermann is so charming and well-preserved that it’s suffering the fate of all such places in the U.S.: it’s gradually being bought up by lawyers and bankers from a nearby metropolis (St. Louis).

Justice in Japan and the United States

American criminal justice succeeds in one respect — it solves crimes and brings wrongdoers to justice with pretty good reliability. This is more than can be said for courts in most nations, and shouldn’t be underestimated.

However, when scholars compare the United States with other developed countries, they usually come away impressed by the efficiency, reliability, and consistency of civil-law justice systems. Here’s David T. Johnson on American prosecutors, after he completed an in-depth study of Japanese criminal justice (I’ve removed the citations):

American prosecutors are anchored in a contradiction.  On the one hand, they are expected to be neutral, independent "ministers of justice," not simply advocates seeking conviction. As such, they are obligated to exonerate the innocent with the same vigor and determination with which they pursue the guilty.  On the other hand, the ability of American prosecutors to fulfill this obligation is undermined by the chief prosecutor’s continuous, direct dependence on the electoral scrutiny of a public which fears crime and demands that officials get ever tougher with it. . . .

Of course, accountability to the public constitutes the chief justification for the American prosecution system and is, in the eyes of some, an almost unqualified good.  Nonetheless, electoral accountability has many unfortunate, unintended consequences.  Public opinion research reveals that American voters know little about crime or criminal justice and are frequently hostile towards judges and prosecutors.  In particular, many Americans believe prosecutors make so many concessions to offenders that the "bad guys" are neither charged nor punished as harshly as they deserve.  Scholars have shown that American prosecutors actually concede little, but public misperceptions continue to push prosecutors (and the rest of the criminal justice system) in an increasingly punitive direction.  Many lament the results: large and growing racial disparities in arrests and incarceration, badly overcrowded prisons, scarce resources directed away from more effective crime control policies, little discernible effect on the crime rate, and countless miscarriages of justice.

[David T. Johnson, The Japanese Way of Justice: Prosecuting Crime in Japan, p. 30].

You hear critiques like this frequently from foreign observers of the U.S. criminal justice system, but Johnson is an American.  Like most Americans who study criminal justice in other advanced nations, he comes away deeply critical of American practices. Another example of this — from a former prosecutor, no less — can be found in Trials Without Truth, in which William Pizzi comes away impressed with Continental criminal-justice systems for many of the same reasons Johnson is impressed with Japanese justice (which is heavily influenced by German jurisprudence, since Japan adopted much of its criminal law from German sources).

American scholars return stateside and criticize electing judges, electing prosecutors, and the hopeless overload and underfunding of the justice system, which leads to massive amounts of plea-bargaining. What they see in foreign criminal-justice systems is (1) a much more subdued role for attorneys; (2) a focus on gathering all the relevant facts without hindrance from complex procedural rules; and (3) developing a comprehensive picture of the offender’s background, and individually tailoring sanctions to his circumstances. More conservative commentators like Pizzi appreciate the matter-of-fact, truth-oriented investigative style of civil-law legal systems. More liberal commentators cannot fail to note that the punishment handed down in these systems is much more lenient and individually-tailored than it would be in most American courts, especially state courts.

It reminds me of my first criminal law prof, the late, lamented Daniel Rotenberg, who once told us: "American law is pretty influential all over the world, except for our criminal-justice system. Nobody wants that!"

“Every German is a Potential Source of Trouble”

And now, a little detour into German history, courtesy of some kind readers.  The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is now displaying a photo album taken near the Auschwitz death camp by SS-Obersturmführer Karl Höcker.  You can page through the album, which was given by an anonymous donor, here, to see Nazis at play and rest. In this picture, officers and Helferinnen (female auxiliaries) dance down a bridge in Solahutte, an SS retreat outside of Auschwitz [h/t Ed Philp]:

After the war, Höcker (in the center) became a bank clerk in Lubbecke. The International Herald Tribune’s Europe correspondent wrote about the photos for the New York Times here,  and a gigantic thread of 230+ comments about his piece can be found on the International Herald Tribune’s website.  Nothing too blindingly original, but proof of how intensely this subject still grips people.

And now, to a 1946 propaganda film intended for U.S. soldiers stationed in post-war Germany. According to online sources, the movie was directed by Frank Capra ("It’s a Wonderful Life") and written by Theodore Geisel, none other than Dr. Seuss. Enjoy!

Why all the warnings against being taken in by the German landscape, the music, and the pretty girls? A couple of reasons. First, Americans of German descent are the U.S.’s largest ethnic group, so surely some of the troops felt certain ancestral stirrings of the blood, so to speak. 

Second, many U.S. troops found ordinary Germans sympathetic. Not so the French: U.S. troops stationed in post-war France complained about the arrogance, laziness and poor hygiene of the French. One propaganda booklet given to U.S. soldiers said the French stank because all their soap had been stolen by the Germans. The Germans, on the other hand, struck many American soldiers the way they strike me: well-mannered, hard-working, and well-groomed. Once all the nasty, nutty naziness was gone, many American soldiers wondered exactly why we had gone to war against such nice people. This film reminds them. [h/t James R.]

Viennese Tiredness

Ah, the famous ‘Viennese Tiredness’ (Wiener Muedigkeit).  A description of it, from a fine essay about Robert Musil by Roger Kimball which appeared a decade or so ago in The New Criterion:

[F]in-de-siècle Vienna . . . was an atmosphere in which, as the historian Carl Schorske put it, “the usual moralistic culture of the European bourgeoisie was … both overlaid and undermined by an amoral Gefühlskultur [sentimental culture].” As Schorske went on to note, this revolution in sensibility amounted to a crisis of morality—Hermann Broch called it a “value vacuum”—that quickly precipitated a crisis in liberal cultural and political life tout court. “Narcissism and a hypertrophy of the life of feeling were the consequence,” he continued.

The threat of the political mass movements lent new intensity to this already present trend by weakening the traditional liberal confidence in its own legacy of rationality, moral law, and progress. Art became transformed from an ornament to an essence, from an expression of value to a source of value.

Of course, these transformations were a catalyst for disaster. The resources of civilization—epitomized by the faith in rationality, moral law, and progress that Schorske mentions—were hollowed out from within; weightless, they soon lost the capacity to resist the barbarism of feeling—aesthetic, sexual, social, political feeling—that rushed in everywhere that a spiritual vacancy was felt. It was, as the Marxists used to say, “no accident” that Nazism and other extreme movements got their start in this narcotic environment.

‘Germans’ Leaving Mexico in Droves

According to this page describing German dialects spoken in Kansas, the latest wave of immigration of German-speakers to Kansas is coming from…Mexico:

For over a decade, farm laborers and their families from Mennonite colonies in Chihuahua province in northern Mexico have been migrating into the market of southwestern Kansas. These people are Low German-speaking Old Colony Mennonites who immigrated to Canada from southern Russian in the late nineteenth century. After the First World War, they moved to new colonies in Mexico to avoid restrictions being placed on them by the Canadian authorities. Now as the economic conditions in Chihuahua deteriorate they are seeking better opportunities for their families…. The high demand in southwestern Kansas for agricultural labor is drawing them to Kansas…. The need for cheap labor in the feed lots is overwhelming and with the Spanish-speaking Mexicans that flock to this labor market come Plautdietsch-speaking Mennonites as well.

Today … we estimate that some 5,000 Mennonites from Mexico are living in the southwestern counties of Kansas. These are young families with children. At home the language of everyday use is Plautdietsch. The church congregations established by these new immigrants vary in their language use. In November 2003, we experienced a two-hour worship service at the Gospel Mennonite Church in Copeland, Kansas. All preaching was in Low German; hymn singing and Bible passages in literary German; one closing hymn was sung in English. In other congregations, the use of English for preaching has been reported. Schools operated by these Mennonites are conducted in English. All schools, whether Mennonite or public, must deal with large numbers of children requiring ESL classes as they enter the school system. It can be overwhelming for a teacher in first grade to be confronted with half of the class consisting of Low German-speaking children. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment also reports that fully one-third of its low income health contacts are with these Low German-speaking Mennonites in southwestern Kansas.

This is Already No Frivolous Post

[Note: Continuously updated with some suggestions from comments and a few edits]

I occasionally proofread texts written by non-native speakers. When I do, I make a note of the issues that come up the most frequently.

As a public service to my fabulous readers, and since we’ve been talking about Denglish lately, here’s a list of some of the most common issues. (And yes, even highly-educated Germans who speak excellent English will still fall into these traps. English: So easy to master the basics, so tough get exactly right…)

  • Avoid "deviant/deviating." Some dictionaries give "deviating/deviant" as a translation for abweichend, but deviant/deviating are rarely used in English. Plus, "deviant" has a strongly negative connotation; i.e. “he is a sexual deviant” or “his deviant opinions got him banned from the website”. Use “different,” “differing,” “contrary” instead
  • Don’t forget that you’ll frequently need to negate with ‘is’.  This is true especially when you’re negating something specific, and always when you attach an adjective to the noun you’re negating: "Lack of time is no sufficient excuse" becomes "Lack of time is not a sufficient excuse." "He is no good driver" is "He is not a good driver."
  • Argumentation is barely an English word, and ‘argumentations’ certainly not.  It’s all ‘an argument’ or ‘her arguments.’
  • Watch out for relative clauses. They are a real bitch for non-native speakers. Unlike in German, the comma is optional, and its presence or absence counts.

"The cars, which were parked outside the building, were damaged by the hail." [all the cars were parked outside/all were damaged]

"The cars which were parked outside the building were damaged by the hail." [some were parked outside, others not/those that were parked outside were damaged]

Misplaced commas can have serious consequences.  There have been lawsuits about them.  The following example shows why this might be:

"Crushed limbs, which present a threat to the vascular system, should be immediately amputated." [all present a threat/all should be amputated]

"Crushed limbs which present a threat to the vascular system should be immediately amputated." [some present a threat, some don’t/the ones that do should be amputated]

  • Watch out for so-called ‘tonal particles’ like schon, doch, ja, beziehungsweise or bzw., etc.  These words can usually be left untranslated, or their meaning can be conveyed by sentence structure. Don’t just automatically translate schon as "already."
  • Also, einerseits and andererseits usually don’t need to be translated, the same goes for zunächst and sowie.
  • Shorten your sentences. English doesn’t work like German, it doesn’t have as many built-in signposts (verb conjugation, adjective and noun declination, three genders) to let readers know how the moving parts of sentences hang together. Any sentence over 20 words is likely to be difficult to read in English, so break it up without changing the meaning.  And no matter what you’re doing, omit needless words.
  • Don’t forget that the rules for constructing numbers change from language to language.  In American English, thousands are separated by a comma: "100,000.00" I learned this the hard way when I once tried to transfer "100.00" Euros from my European bank account to my American one. Since I naturally don’t have one hundred thousand Euros to play around with (I’m a poor scholar, remember), amusing hi-jinks ensued.
  • Adverbs always take an -ly.
  • No "Firstly" or "Secondly", just "first" or "second."
  • If you’re going to use the word insofar, which, regrettably, sometimes cannot be avoided, it must always be followed by "as" plus a qualifying phrase, e.g. “insofar as profits remain” or “insofar as the item is subject to tax”
  • The English word for kontrollieren is check or monitor, not control. Aktuell is currently or presently, not ‘actual’ or ‘actually.’ Eventuell is ‘possibly’ or ‘maybe’, not ‘eventually.’
  • Bis doesn’t have a universal, one-size-fits all equivalent in English. When you’re talking about a deadline for future work, bis becomes "by" — "I need this document by (not until) Friday." In all other contexts — that is, when you are not assigning a deadline, or talking about assigning a deadline, bis is translated as until: "I will work on the report until I feel it’s ready for publication."
  • The word "discriminate" is tricky. In English, unlike in German, it does not usually take a direct object ("You discriminated me!“). Instead, it always requires a prepositional phrase to make ts meaning clear. "Discriminate/Discrimination against" someone is evil and invidious and bad. "Discriminating between [two things] or among [several things], however, is not." 

Examples:   The law discriminated against immigrants. [bad, wrong, unfair, illegal]   


The human eye can discriminate [among] 4000 different separate colors. [among = many things, but you could also just say “discriminate [=tell apart] 4000 colors” just like in German, but without any pejorative connotation]   or

To understand Western art, you must be able to discriminate between Mannerist and Baroque styles. [between = two things]

  • Don’t translate the two-verb German perfect indicative literally: "He had bought some milk." This construction is used in English only to indicate a very specific anterior time-sequence, that is, to describe something that happened in the past before something else happened in the past: "He had gone to the store to buy some milk, but he didn’t find any."
  • Don’t say "he took his fate into the own hands." Doesn’t exist in English. Eigene in English is always, always translated with the help of a specific personal pronoun. "He took his fate into his own hands" or "She drove her own car to the hospital."

“Do You Feeling Alright?!”


I can’t figure out if this is real Denglish, or contrived, "I know it’s wrong, I just think it sounds cool" Denglish. But I like it.

I also like the name Gwildis. Sounds vaguely Austrian — they seem to have more odd consonant combinations than Germans. 

Also, according to his website, he seems to be a pretty entertaining live act.

And finally, in the picture for the album cover what the hell is he holding? An inverted pomegranate? A grossly oversized hand-knit Christmas ornament? Some sort of Austrian folk emblem?


I Don’t Care What Jung Said. Do You?

Franz Josef Jung, German defense minister, said he would think about ordering a hijacked airplane to be shot down. Controversy ensued (G).

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that about 80% of the articles that appear in German newspapers are nothing more than Hofberichterstattung, as they say: reports of what famous or important people have said. The typical pattern is:

  1. Politician A says something controversial, which is reported in the press;
  2. Politician B says politician A’s comment was "outrageous" or "irresponsible";
  3. Politican C says something about what politician B said about politician A’s comment;
  4. Politican (or priest, or celebrity) D says something about what C said about B said about A’s comment.
  5. This goes on until about level P.  Sometimes (yawn) until level XXX.

During all this time, various commentators and journalists write opinion pieces registering their shock, outrage, bemusement, or world-weary disdain.

What’s the driving factor behind all of these stories? Simple: you don’t need to leave your office to write them. You don’t need to go digging through some dusty archive, or find a disgruntled ex-government official willing to give a secret background interview, or fly to some baking-hot third-world country. It’s television and radio reporters who seem to do the most of this in Germany — that’s where you’ll find the most interesting and aggressive investigative reporting.  But to be a newspaper journalist, it seems, you need only turn on your computer.

Like magpies spotting bright, shiny objects, journalists flit from one controversy to the next, barely stopping to think. For instance, the papers have already pretty much forgotten Jung’s comments and moved to the next pseudo-story: some Bavarian politician suggested time-limited marriages! (G).

Most of the controversies ginned up by magpie journalism aren’t very significant. A few weeks ago, for instance, everyone was talking about online searches of terrorist suspects’ computers. Few mentioned that these searches would take place by means of trojan programs attached to email messages that would be sent to the terrorist suspects. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but when is the last time you opened an attachment from a stranger? And how is this supposed to work when every terrorist smart enough to pose any danger is well-aware of the risk of electronic surveillance, and communicates only by leaving drafts of email messages on free internet email accounts at public computers?

The comments by Jung are similar. In what strikes me as empty posturing to attract security-minded voters, Jung said that he would authorize German fighter pilots to shoot down a hijacked airliner if he believed it was going to be crashed into a crowded area. He is not authorized expressly by law to do so. The German Federal Constitutional Court struck down such a proposal in a decision (G) of 15 February 2006, holding that the German Basic Law did not permit weighing human lives one against the other. Thus, the Defense Minister seems to be saying that he would contemplate an act that would seem to be illegal and unconstitutional.

But let’s ask another question. How likely is it that this will ever happen? First, hijacking airplanes has gotten much harder than it used to be. Second, the number of terrorists who nowadays are going to be able to visit flights schools long enough to learn how to fly an airplane into a building — without raising suspicions — is, I suspect, extremely low. Third, even if an airplane had been hijacked and fighter pilots could see in the cockpit that someone who was not a pilot was flying the airplane, that is probably not enough to justify shooting down a jumbo jet loaded with innocent passengers.

Even under the law that was struck down, the authorities would need some concrete indication that the hijackers intended to fly the plane into a crowded structure. How likely is it that the terrorists are going to announce their intentions? Remember, these would be terrorists who are smart enough to carry out a complex plot.  They’re going to be at least as intelligent and disciplined as the 9/11 cell leaders. Probably even more so, since, in these security-conscious times, they would need to overcome many more hurdles to get to the point of a successful hijacking.  Their goal would be to maximize the loss of innocent human life. They are going to be aware that if they announce their target, that target will be evacuated. This will reduce the impact of their horrible deed. Therefore, they will either say nothing, or announce to everybody that this is a "normal" hijacking and demand landing rights at some airport — and, at the last moment, veer off into a building.

If you were a politician, you would never authorize the intentional killing of 200 civilians unless you had strong proof that this was the only possible way to avoid much larger loss of life. Yet, if I’m right, the likelihood that you would actually get that proof would be almost zero. Therefore, this seems to be to a tempest in a tea-pot. It’s mildly interesting from a philosophical standpoint, since it’s basically a real-world example of the trolley problem, but its relevance to any world we will ever live in is (I hope) about zero.