The Deleuze-Marvin Spectrum; or, hail President McCain!

Light posting this weekend, so here’s a big post to tide you over.  As promised, it features some thoughts about the presidential candidates.  Or really one thought, in particular.  The thought that is causing quiet unease and gnashing of teeth in Democratic circles since Republican candidate John McCain’s decisive victory in the Florida primary.  That thought is "Oh shit." 

If the Republicans nominate John McCain, he will be the next president of the U.S.  If I’m right about this (more on that later), it makes the choice between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama kind of secondary.  Now, of course I’m going to vote in the Democrats Abroad primary and I’m going to pick Obama.  Not because I dislike Hillary, but because lots of other people do.  Whether this is fair or not is beside the point — it’s true, and it will be a drag on her prospects for reasons Hilzoy explains here.

Why do I think John McCain will win?  The conventional reasons are that he’s not insane, not incompetent, has huge name recognition (a key fact) because of his decades-long presence on the American political scene.  He’s also intelligent, loved by the press, and viewed favorably by a majority of American voters. McCain is viewed as a moderate, which makes him a tempting choice for self-described "independents."  Sure, the most conservative wing of the Republican party doesn’t like him, but once he’s the nominee, they’ll shut up and support him.  They always have, and they will this time, too.  That’s life in a winner-take-all two-party system.

Now on to the deeper reasons.  During the general election this fall, ignorant people will be heard for the first time.  Voters in presidential primaries are political junkies, but they make up only 3-4% of the population.  During a general election, though, millions of people will vote who are almost completely ignorant of the political system and the details of both parties’ policy positions.

The personalities of the presidential candidates — and most definitely not the issues — will be a decisive factor for these voters.  Northern Europeans often misunderstand American elections.  Voters in places like Germany or Sweden are content to elect dull but competent technocrats, since governing, to them, is less taking the reins of destiny than competently managing a complex organization — the modern European welfare state.  Large numbers of American voters, though, want to be entertained and inspired even, perhaps especially, by their politicians.  So the questions become: Is the candidate likable? Does he seem trustworthy? Sincere? Inspiring? Decisive? Is there an exciting or unusual arc to his his life that would make me feel part of a wonderful story if I voted for him?

So now many of you are saying: yeah, but how about Obama and Hillary Clinton?  First black or female president?  What’s not exciting about that?

Nothing!  But keep in mind the Lee Marvin effect.  Imagine a spectrum.  On the left end, you have effete, chain-smoking French intellectuals.  Just to pick a name out of the blue, we’ll populate this end of the spectrum with Gilles "Plane of Immanence" Deleuze:


Not that I have anything against Deleuze, mind you — he just represents a certain approach to life that mainstream American voters have decided opinions about.

On the right hand of the spectrum, you have tough, decisive, virile, taciturn men of action.  A man who doesn’t waste words or mince them, who doesn’t swan about, and who gets the damn job done.  My pick would be Lee Marvin.  I guess what I really mean is the kind of characters Lee Marvin played, but even in his private life, Lee Marvin’s seed was so desired by the womenfolk of his land that judges often had to sort things out:


Take all recent presidential elections, and locate the candidates on the Deleuze-Marvin spectrum.  John Kerry failed to conceal the fact that he spoke French, so his placement is clear:

Deleuze <————Kerry—————–Bush——————>Marvin

Now to Al Gore.  Sure, his family came from Tennessee, but the man wrote books.  About the environment.  And sometimes even discussed foreign philosophers:


Clinton and Dole is pretty much a toss-up, I’d say.  But Clinton-Bush I, no question.  George H.W. Bush was tall, elegant, patrician, lived in a giant house in Maine, and liked the word "prudent."  Bill Clinton grew up in a two-bit chicken shack in Arkansas (well, sort of), and spoke with an audible Southern accent.  And, of course, his seed was also in high demand, at least in his eyes [revise!! — ed.]:


I hardly need to do the Reagan/Mondale and Bush I/Dukakis comparisons, do I? 

A caveat or two.  First, it’s not how close the candidate is to the Marvin end of the spectrum that’s particularly important, but where he is relative to the other candidate.  This is why George Bush I, while clearly less Lee-Marvinesque than Bill Clinton nevertheless creamed the diminutive, squeaky-voiced technocrat Michael Dukakis, who might as well have campaigned while wearing a chamois beret and chain-smoking Gauloises from an onyx holder. The larger the distance between the candidates on the Deleuze/Marvin Spectrum the greater the advantage for the Marvinesque candidate.  Other factors come into play only when the candidates are close.

Now, some of you are protesting: this is all so damned superficial!  What about the economy?  Iraq?  The mortgage crisis?  They will be important, but not decisive.  People like me, who sit around and read books all day, we care about policy issues.  But we’re freaks.  The considerations that sway great masses of voters are superficial.  They will pick the candidate they like and admire — someone who makes them feel part of a grand, inspiring narrative.  They will pick John McCain.

That’s why I will hereby confidently predict that John McCain, if nominated, will beat either Clinton or Obama. I’m so confident I’ve put this prediction in bold type, and will leave it up until this November, come what may.

Why am I so confident?  Because of the gigantic distance between John McCain and either Clinton or Obama on the Deleuze/Marvin spectrum.  John McCain, you see, actually is Lee Marvin.  No, wait, it’s even better than that — he’s the kind of man Lee Marvin only pretended to be.  A patriotic Navy fighter pilot who spent five years being tortured by Communists!  An ornery, confident maverick who says what he thinks and defies party orthodoxy to take independent stands when conscience compels him!  A friendly, relaxed truth-teller who can tell a joke and honestly admits to (some of) his failings!

Are all these narratives 100% accurate?  Of course not, but that’s beside the point.  They are deeply-established, and will color every voter’s perception of McCain.  Just as you do with anyone you like, voters who like him — and there are many of those — will fit any political missteps or blunders into an overarching narrative of likability.  Occasional fits of rage?  What do you expect from a decisive man of action?  Doesn’t understand the economy?  Sure, but neither do I.  It reassures me to know the candidate’s a regular guy like me in some respects, and I’m sure he’ll pick good aides.  Besides, he came right out and admitted it!  When’s the last time a politician did that?  Etc., etc., etc.

Barring some drastic turn in events, neither Hillary nor Obama will be able to hold a candle to McCain’s charisma.  Hillary will seem too evasive and too studied, and besides, large numbers of Americans already think they know her, do not like her, and will not change their minds.  Obama will seem embarrassingly fresh-faced and inexperienced next to McCain, and his "uniter, not a divider" message will be neutralized by McCain’s actual history of reaching across party lines on occasion.

The upside is that John McCain, whatever you think of his political views, is not a blundering amateur.  Therefore, his presidency cannot but be a improvement over the status quo.

St. Benedict and the Diamond Ring Effect

From the invaluable Astronomy Picture of the Day, an unlikely combination:


Let a professional astronomer explain it:

The above painting was completed in 1735 by Cosmas Damian Asam, a painter and architect famous in early eighteenth century Germany. Clearly drawn is not only a total solar eclipse, but the solar corona and the diamond ring effect visible when sunlight flows only between mountains on the Moon. The person depicted viewing these eclipse phenomena is St. Benedict. Roberta J. M. Olson and Jay Pasachoff have hypothesized that Asam himself may have seen first hand one or all of the total solar eclipses of May 1706, 1724, and 1733. Many facts about our astronomical universe that are taken for granted today have been known — or accurately recorded — only during the last millennium. Asam’s painting currently hangs in Weltenburg Abbey in Bavaria, Germany.

Commercial Bail Bonds in the U.S.

In the latest of an occasional series on aspects of the U.S. justice system that are unique in the world, Adam Liptak of the New York Times looks at commercial bail bonds:

Here as in many other areas of the law, the United States goes it alone. American law is, by international standards, a series of innovations and exceptions. From the central role played by juries in civil cases to the election of judges to punitive damages to the disproportionate number of people in prison, the United States has charted a distinctive and idiosyncratic legal path.

Bail is meant to make sure defendants show up for trial. It has ancient roots in English common law, which relied on sworn promises and on pledges of land or property from the defendants or their relatives to make sure they did not flee.

America’s open frontier and entrepreneurial spirit injected an innovation into the process: by the early 1800s, private businesses were allowed to post bail in exchange for payments from the defendants and the promise that they would hunt down the defendants and return them if they failed to appear.

After reading the article, I found myself — to my surprise — of two minds about the practice of commercial bail bonding.  The downside is, of course, that people have to pay a non-refundable fee in order to enjoy their freedom before their trial.  Forty percent of them end up not being convicted of anything, but that doesn’t mean they get their fee back.  Most of the people paying these fees are also of very modest means.

On the other hand, the system seems to do a pretty good job of making sure that most people (1) spend most of the time before their trial outside of jail; and (2) show up for court at the appointed time.  European countries, in which options for avoiding pretrial detention are much more limited, often draw criticism from human rights groups for excessive pre-trial detention; in fact, this is a recurrent issue within and beyond Germany — see here, here and here (g).  I’m not pointing any fingers or drawing any policy conclusions (yet), but it’s worth thinking about.

I’m So Bored with the R.A.F.*

Thanks to friend SK, I was altered to this essay by Paul Hockenos (an American?) on the 30th anniversary of the German Autumn.  It’s pretty rare to find well-informed English-language discussions of the RAF, but here it is. Shorter Paul Hockenos: the RAF story discredits large portions of the German body politic, and is probably best forgotten.  First up, the state and the 1970s left:

The state’s overreaction and heavy-handed response brought out its worst. Rather than reach out to its radical critics, it criminalized them and treated the entire left as terrorist collaborators, which fueled suspicion, even among non-leftists, that the state had indeed murdered the RAF prisoners.

As for West German leftists, in retrospect their failure to distance themselves from the ultra-left RAF is embarrassing, as is their paranoia about a proto-fascist Federal Republic. The greater left waited far too long to criticize the underground, whose activities produced no progressive social change, but justified the state’s creation of an extensive high-tech security apparatus to spy upon, infiltrate, and harass left-of-center activists.

Next up, conservatives:

Although the 1967–1970 student revolt and its successors in the new social movements failed to alter the political and economic foundations of the Federal Republic, they permanently transformed attitudes toward gender relations, morality, sexual orientation, citizenship, work, and religion. Germany today is indebted to these movements for helping facilitate its liberal metamorphosis and making it a more open, worldly, and democratic place. Yet this debt is often overlooked. Conservatives, hoping to take back lost ground, gladly see the debt diminished in the country’s collective consciousness.

And finally, a stray lash for the young lefties of today:

Some German leftists (very often of a younger generation) are still attracted to the idea of effecting radical social change in a cataclysmic burst rather than through the tedium of grassroots organizing or gradual social movements—the processes that are essential to progressive social change in liberal democracies. As much as the German left has changed since the late ’70s and as critically as it has distanced itself from the RAF and its like, there persists a mythical aura around Baader-Meinhof as the true believers who fought the good fight in its purest form. Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin are still considered heroes in some left-wing circles, even though their unsuccessful assault on the state cost the lives of 57 people and ended in disaster for the German left.

But it’s not all carping.  Hockenos is another voice in the chorus of those who think German media’s obsession with the RAF obscures much more significant stories of social transformation:

[T]he contemporary shadow cast by the RAF obscures the much more important work of the nonviolent extraparliamentary movements of the 1970s and ’80s—such as the women’s movement and the environmental, anti-nuclear-energy and peace campaigns. Known as the “new social movements,” these activists mobilized literally millions of German citizens and brought about genuine democratic and social change in the republic. Despite their enormous impact on the political culture of the Federal Republic, today these grassroots mobilizations, which took parliamentary form with the creation of the Green Party in 1980, are conspicuously underrepresented in public discourse.

I agree with Hockenos on pretty much all counts.  The RAF itself is, as a subject of study, unedifying.  Having spent some time researching the group for a project, I came away feeling nothing but vague contempt, and complete mystification at the attention it still receives.  Active RAF members fell, as near as I can tell, into two general groups: ruthless monomaniacs or deluded dupes.  What united both camps was their second-rateness and insufferable pomposity.  Their "manifestos" are dull and turgid; their personalities one-dimensional and unappealing. Once they began their RAF careers — at the very latest — most RAF cadres morphed into Godzillas of screechy self-righteous bitterness.  Some former members, such as Horst Mahler, have gone downhill from there.

I can understand why the right would focus on the RAF, since it plays into the narrative (dissent leads inevitably to anarchy!) justly denounced by Hockenos.  But Germany’s left-wing press is also obsessed with these has-beens.  This makes no sense tactically: from a left perspective, stirring up memories of the RAF is utterly counterproductive.

I can only surmise that this RAF obsession must be a product of the incestuous German media landscape: former student radicals who now run media outlets turn reflexively to their old buddies and the battles of their youth whenever they need to fill more column inches or program spots.

Consider this a humble appeal for them to finally turn the page.

* This post should be read to the tune of I’m So Bored with the U.S.A.

The European Dream: Still Alive

Parag Khanna has a long think-piece in the New York Times which looks ahead to 2016.  America’s influence will have steadily declined, and guess who’ll be taking up the slack?

In Europe’s capital, Brussels, technocrats, strategists and legislators increasingly see their role as being the global balancer between America and China…. It may comfort American conservatives to point out that Europe still lacks a common army; the only problem is that it doesn’t really need one. Europeans use intelligence and the police to apprehend radical Islamists, social policy to try to integrate restive Muslim populations and economic strength to incorporate the former Soviet Union and gradually subdue Russia. Each year European investment in Turkey grows as well, binding it closer to the E.U. even if it never becomes a member. And each year a new pipeline route opens transporting oil and gas from Libya, Algeria or Azerbaijan to Europe. What other superpower grows by an average of one country per year, with others waiting in line and begging to join?

Robert Kagan famously said that America hails from Mars and Europe from Venus, but in reality, Europe is more like Mercury — carrying a big wallet. The E.U.’s market is the world’s largest, European technologies more and more set the global standard and European countries give the most development assistance. And if America and China fight, the world’s money will be safely invested in European banks. Many Americans scoffed at the introduction of the euro, claiming it was an overreach that would bring the collapse of the European project. Yet today, Persian Gulf oil exporters are diversifying their currency holdings into euros, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has proposed that OPEC no longer price its oil in “worthless” dollars. President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela went on to suggest euros….

…Europe’s influence grows at America’s expense. While America fumbles at nation-building, Europe spends its money and political capital on locking peripheral countries into its orbit. Many poor regions of the world have realized that they want the European dream, not the American dream. Africa wants a real African Union like the E.U.; we offer no equivalent. Activists in the Middle East want parliamentary democracy like Europe’s, not American-style presidential strongman rule. Many of the foreign students we shunned after 9/11 are now in London and Berlin: twice as many Chinese study in Europe as in the U.S. We didn’t educate them, so we have no claims on their brains or loyalties as we have in decades past. More broadly, America controls legacy institutions few seem to want — like the International Monetary Fund — while Europe excels at building new and sophisticated ones modeled on itself.

Quote of the Day: Bulfinch on the Norse Myths

Thomas Bulfinch on "Norse Literature," from the revised and expanded edition of The Age of Fable:

The introduction of Christianity into the North brought with it the influence of the classical races, and this eventually supplanted the native genius, so that the alien mythology of the literature of Greece and Rome have formed an increasing part of the mental equipment of the northern peoples in proportion as the native literature and tradition have been neglected.

Undoubtedly Northern mythology has exercised a deep influence on our customs, laws and language, and there has been, therefore, a great unconscious imspiration flowing from these into English literature.  The most distinctive traits of this mythology are a peculiar grim humour, to be found in the religion of no other race, and a dark thread of tragedy which runs througout the whole woof, and these characteristics, touching both extremes, are writ large over English literature.

In Which I Rocket to Superstardom

Those of my readers who are subscribers to Titanic, the essential accessory for positive-plus top-lifestyle hyperachievers like us (you are Titanic subscribers, aren’t you?) may already have seen that Max Goldt has seen fit to mention GJ in his piece of the real estate.  Indeed, he’s paid this blog the ultimate compliment of taking a few weak, half-baked meanderings spewed out here and turning them into something actually worth reading.  Many thanks.

To welcome the shiny new reader(s) that will stop by in the next few days, I’ve planned a very special series of ultra-accessible posts.  Stay tuned for selections from dictionaries of German prison slang and obscene words, and uncensored pictures of an actual unopened book about a French Catholic reactionary!  Can you feel the Germanjoysmentum?

P.S.  For the worthless parasites out there who have not yet subscribed to Titanic, you may — nay, must — repent, posthaste.

Germany is Shining!

A few years ago, the BJP, a political party in India, ran on the slogan "India is shining‘.  Then I guess India stopped shining, since the BJP got creamed in the election. 

But Germany is still shining.  With shiny new buildings, that is.  The signature of recent German architecture is clinically voluptuous brushed steel and glass, with a weightless-looking design that creates lots of open space and light. I’m sure these buildings have been made possible by ultra-cool recent advances in building fabrication techniques, but unfortunately I can’t tell you what those might be. 

One of my hometown favorites is the Duesseldorf Airport, which was rebuilt in the late 1990s after a most regrettable  incident (G).  Soaring arc-shaped columns, endless expanses of glass inside and out, and an entrance hall that manages to be inviting and monumental.  Since you can see the entire entrance hall from almost any point within it, there’s no way to get lost. 

The Stadttor ("city gate") office building is also a gem: it seems to float like an elegant ocean liner of local enterprise:


I wasn’t too impressed with the new Berlin Central Station, since it’s basically a gigantic shopping mall, and there are plenty of those where I come from.  However, I granted it some grudging respect when I alighted from the subway platform deep underground and realized that you could look all the way to the canopy above the top platforms, hundreds of meters above.  The local and long-distance trains all criss-cross within the station itself, on tracks that seem to float.  A bit like those movies with futuristic "spaceports" with ranks of hovering landing pads.

The latest wonder is BMW-Welt, or "BMW-World":


This crystalline chrysalis just received this rave from the IHT’s architecture critic:

I feared that the building itself – a luxury showroom that could double as a theme park for car fetishists – would be a monument to excess. But then the glittering forms of the BMW Welt building appeared, and immediately rekindled my faith in architecture’s future.

Set against a backdrop of hulking factory sheds and 1970s office towers, the building weaves together the detritus of a postwar industrial landscape, imbuing it with a more inclusive spirit. Its undulating steel forms, suggesting the magical qualities of liquid mercury, may be the closest yet that architecture has come to alchemy.

Designed by Wolf Prix of the Vienna-based architectural firm Coop Himmelb(l)au, BMW Welt – or BMW World – joins an impressive list of high-profile architecture projects by German car companies in recent years, including Zaha Hadid’s BMW factory in Leipzig and UNStudio’s Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

Whether from a passion for well-built machines or a more self-serving interest in architecture’s ability to promote an aura of technological sophistication, the auto companies are underwriting buildings that combine a stunning level of structural refinement with a flair for formal experimentation.

Slideshow here.  [h/t bro.].  I’m no architecture critic, but I know what I like.  Unlike gigantic slabs of concrete from the 1970s, I can see these buildings aging well.  They might look dated in 20 years, but they’s still be crisp and elegant and exhilarating. May dozens more of them get built.

Art Theft in France

This I didn’t know: last year in France, over 3000 works of art (G) were stolen — about 8 per day — from private collections, museums, and churches. 

French culture minister Christine Albanel said security in many of these places is so lax that it’s as easy to steal a work of art as it is to steal a bicycle, and that many thefts appeared to have been arranged in advance by private parties.  (Albanel said that the religious works were "shipped in container-loads to the USA" to decorate private chapels.)  Art thieves in France routinely receive extremely light sentences; Albanel proposes to stiffen them considerably, and Justice Minister Rachida Dati has promised cooperation.

Democrats Abroad Global Primary Redux

Are you one of the 6 million voting-eligible Americans living abroad?  Here’s a short note to make sure any expats who read this blog are aware of the Democrats Abroad Global Primary, coming in early February in a country near you! 

Here’s an article about this new program.  There will be 22 delegates for expats at the Democratic National Convention.

You can register and vote online at the Democrats Abroad website.  At the end of this post, I’ve pasted a list of the polling places in Germany for those who want to vote in person.  Maybe later, I’ll post some thoughts about the candidates.

    Berlin area:
    Tuesday, Feb  5th,  7 to 10 pm
    Max und Moritz
    Oranienstrasse 162
    10969 Berlin 36 (Kreuzberg)

    Saturday, Feb 9th, 7 to 10 pm
    Max und Moritz
    Oranienstrasse 162
    1096 9 Berlin 36 (Kreuzberg)

    Frankfurt area:
    Saturday, Feb 9th, 10 am to 3 pm
    Upper Westside
    An der Welle 5
    60322 Frankfurt

    Göttingen area:
    Friday, Feb 8th, 6 to 8 pm
    Forum (SPD Haus)
    Nikolaistr. 30
    37073 Göttingen

    Heidelberg area:
    Saturday, Feb 9th, 10 am to 6 pm
    Heidelberg Center for American Studies
    Hauptstrasse 120
    69117 Heidelberg

    Kaiserslautern area:
    Sunday, Feb 10th, 3 to 5:30 pm
    Cafe Goldinger
    Von-Richthofen-Strasse 18
    66849 Landstuhl

    Munich area:
    Tuesday, Feb 5th, 6 to 9:30 pm
    Eine Welt Haus
    Schwanthalerstrasse 80
    80336 München

    NRW/ Düsseldorf area:
    Thursday, Feb 7th, 7 to 10 pm
    O’Reilly’s Irish Pub
    Marktplatz 6
    40213 Düsseldorf

    Stuttgart area:
    Friday, Feb 8th, 7:30 to 10:30 pm
    Ratskeller Stuttgart
    Marktplatz 1
    70173 Stuttgart

As for the Republicans Abroad…repent!

Mathematician’s Favorite Number

I heard a interview with Günter Ziegler, professor at the TU Berlin and President of the German Mathematics Association, this morning on the radio.  The interviewer, the silky-named Liane von Billerbeck, asked him what his favorite number was.  Even if you can’t read the interview, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that it was…42.