Sunday Catblogging: The Security Kitten

I am back from Kosovo and had a splendid time there. I'll post more as time permits, but here's a foretaste: the kitten that wanders around the security checkpoint at the airport in Prishtina, the capital of Kosovo. The staff not only don't try to get rid of the kitten, they seem to love watching the faces of travelers who have to share a metal detector with it. Perhaps it's a devious security tactic: the reaction of travelers to the kitty sorts them into a sophisticated psychological profile. Or maybe not. Enjoy!

this man has stepped in tuna!

first kitty, then mustafa. then kitty again. and again.

Update from Podgorica

I'm here at the airport in Podgorica, Montenegro on as layover, and have a few observations.

1. Internet access is free and unsecured here, just as God intended it to be. As free as the air we breathe. The legendary Balkan hospitality strikes! How did we in the overdeveloped West ever allow ourselve to be suckered into paying for internet access at airports?

2. The plane flight from Frankfurt to Montenegro is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Especially the descent into Podgorica, which takes you over a chain of modest mountains to a lush plain interspersed with modest, attractive cottages and silvery canals.

3. Apparently, you can use the Euro in most Balkan countries.

4. Brownie is spelled 'Brauni' here.

5. Montenegrans smoke a lot, but less than I expected.

That's all for now. But if free, unsecured Internet access turns out to be a Balkan-wide phenomenon, I'll be posting regularly.

2010: The Year of Irena Sendler?

Irena Sendler

I'm listening to the radio a few days ago, and a feature comes on about Irena Sendler, whom I've never heard of. The more I listened, the more intrigued I became. I even bought the first full-length book about Sendler — Die Mutter der Holocaust-Kinder – written by Polish journalist Anna Mieszkowska and translated into German in 2006.

Sendler (1910-2008) was a Polish Catholic social worker who, during the occupation of Poland, worked closely with the Żegota group, formed by exiled Poles to aid Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland. The group provided relief to Jews in ghettoes in labor camps and smuggled thousands of Jews to safety. Working with several dozen other Żegota volunteers, Sendler began smuggling Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto. As an experienced non-Jewish social worker, Sendler had permission to travel freely into and out of the Ghetto to study and treat the constant typhus outbreaks there.

It soon became clear to her that everyone left in the ghetto was destined to either die of hunger or disease, or be shipped away in trains, never to return. The Jewish mothers in the ghetto knew this as well, which is why they tearfully entrusted their children to Sendler and her accomplices. Together, they smuggled the children out in empty streetcars at the end of their shift, ambulances, fire trucks, under grown mens' overcoats, through the cellars of buildings abutting the edge of the ghetto, in boxes, under blankets, in trucks, through sewage canals. Sendler's ingenuity knew no limits. The infants were given sedatives and put in tiny wooden boxes with unobtrusive breathing holes. Young children who could not stop crying after being separated from their mothers were smuggled out in a cleaning-supplies truck. The driver, who was part of the conspiracy, would step on his guard dog's paws just before the checkpoint, so that the dog's bellowing would mask the Jewish child's sobbing. Sendler kept track of the names of the rescued children by engraving them on spoons or placing lists of names in jars buried in a Warsaw garden. Altogether some 2,500 children were rescued. Every Pole who participated in these actions (and there were hundreds of them) risked execution.

After the children arrived on the 'Aryan' side, they were placed with individual families, or in orphanages or childrens' homes, usually run by the Catholic Church. They were given (and taught) new names and identities. Of course, all of the families and organizations who took the children in risked death, since that was the punishment for Poles who concealed Jews during the occupation. Sendler herself was denounced in 1943 by another member of the organization, who gave up her name under torture. Sendler was incarcerated in the Pawiak prison and tortured herself. She refused, however, to give up the names of fellow Żegota members or reveal the location of the lists of the rescued children. She was sentenced to death. Shortly before the sentence was to be carried out, the Żegota managed to bribe an SS guard with a large package of dollars, and he set Sendler free on the streets of Warsaw, claiming that she had been shot while trying to escape. According to Sendler, the bribe was later discovered, and the SS officers involved shot.

After recovering from her severe injuries, Sendler lived out the rest of the war in the underground, continuing to actively aid the resistance. After the war, she and her accomplices began the process of tracing the children they had rescued from the ghetto, using the buried lists and other pieces of information. Most of the families of the children had, of course been gassed to death in Treblinka, so the next problem became what to do with the rescued Jewish orphans. Some stayed with their foster families, but others were placed in Jewish orphanages, and many ended up emigrating to Palestine or other countries. Eventually, they came to realize they'd all been rescued by the same person, and many of them now hold regular reunions.

After the war, Sendler received little recognition for her wartime deeds, not only owing to her humble nature but also her closeness to the Catholic church. However, the new state took advantage of her extensive training and experience in social work, and she rose in the ranks of the post-war state healthcare system. In 1965, she was recognized as one of Righteous Among Nations at Yad Vashem, and, after the collapse of Communism in Poland, she was gradually recognized as a national hero. However, her rise to worldwide prominents came as a result of a play written by…wait for it…a group of schoolgirls from Uniontown, Kansas. The play they wrote for a high-school history project, Life in a Jar, has now been performed all over the world, and the play's original authors met Sendler several times before her death in 2008. A documentary film about Sendler made by American director Mary Skinner has also just been released. There's even a school (g) named after Sendler in Germany.

2010 looks to be the year in which Sendler will finally achieve iconic status, and who can doubt her memory deserves it? There's much more work to be done to illuminate the historical context of her actions, though. The book I linked to at the top of this post is really nothing more than an annotated interview with Sendler, with pictures from her own personal archives and digressions on various tenuously related subjects. The book makes no pretensions to be a definitive biography, but it does conflict with the Wikipedia entry on Sendler (and with several written sources) on several points. Indeed, the book is partially an attempt by Sendler to 'correct the record' on what had been reported about her in the Polish press.

It seems to me like it is high time for a serious (but not dull!) scholarly biography about Sendler and her accomplices. A feature film also seems inevitable. Wouldn't it be refreshing if it were directed by a European filmmaker?

Cold, Dry, Secretive, Boring German Women: The View from Almaty

just flew in from almaty

One of my favorite movie lines comes from the overlooked gem Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. My hazy memory of the set-up: Some rich socialite declares her intention to raze all the trees on a stretch of the Amazon rainforest she owns and build a giant mall. Her sycophantic gay amanuensis (hairdresser? interior designer?), cradling a yapping Pekingese in his arms, lisps excitedly: "What a horrible, fabulous thing to say!"

Roissy in DC, a blogger who applies the pitiless revelations of evolutionary psychology to the contemporary dating world*, is an excellent source for horrible, fabulous things. His blog's motto, "Where Pretty Lies Perish", pretty much says it all. Don't say you haven't been warned.

One Roissy find is a study conducted by a Kazakh gender studies researcher on Kazakh womens' views of women of other nationalities. That is, what stereotypes do Kazakh women associate with chicks from other countries? I'm not really sure why this study was conducted, but why nitpick when we can learn such things about Uigurettes as "she is a hospitable cook, a good hand in cooking lagman; lagman and manty are her best cooked dishes and she can cook economically from everything she has under her hand." "Dungan woman", however, "is associated with national dish – Dungan noodles, lagman, as well as djussai herb, carrot salad, funchesa salad." Good to know!

But there's more. Much, much more. Here are the traits Kazakh women associated with German women:

Probably, the most typical ethnographic image of German woman, known from textbooks, is a blonde in white flounced apron, with plump hands, shaking off flour.

German woman usually is bright-eyed blonde, often stout, plump, sometimes wan, awkward, plain. Often respondents present German woman as unattractive, thin, without make-up, manlike. Undoubtedly, she is a good housewife and spouse, she has a strong united family. One can easily guess which features are typical for German woman in the most concentrated way, serving as a national attribute. They are accuracy, cleanliness and pedantry. This is supplemented by practicality, prudence, diligence, strictness, discipline, thrift, solid sense, honesty, punctuality and we have a business portrait of German woman. However she is characterized with poor spiritual qualities: coldness, dryness, cruelty, secretiveness, boring.

Physically, these Kazakhs are all over the place. Some are thinking of Ulrike Meinhoff, while others are thinking of an Oktoberfest beer-tent maiden. But there seems to be uncanny unanimity on the 'spiritual' qualities. But wait, what about the Americans?

American woman is described in quite contradictory way. Most amazing is a negative estimation of her appearance. There are many variations on this topic: not well-groomed, not stylish, does not dress well, not fashionable clothes, not ironed shorts and T-shirt, sleepers, put on bare feet, elderly woman in shorts, emancipated woman, for whom it is not important how she looks, a girl without make-up, happy fatty woman, stout and shapeless person, a short hair-cut, a knapsack, waddling walk, tennis shoes, dentures, plain, manlike, unisex. Positive estimations are given less frequently: smiling, loudly speaking, stylish blonde, jeans, jeep, cowboy hat, cigarette, uncommonness.

Knowing a kind of our sampling (activists of female organizations and researchers of gender issues), we are not surprised, that most people relate image of American woman with achievements of the female movement in the USA: feminist, independent, free, self-sufficient, uninhibited, emancipated, enjoying equal rights, wealthy, hater of men.

Besides, American women are emotional, uninhibited so much, that they look ill-mannered, snobs, arrogant, hypocritical, empty, with complexes, cold, dry, egoists, superficial, non-constant and impudent.  Their actions are often characterized with regulated character, black and colored women are distinguished with a habit to rely on social support and not to undertake anything to change their life.

Despite this, business qualities of the majority of American women – intellect, professionalism, activeness, self-confidence, discipline pragmatism, career-mindness – are worth of great respect.

I could go on, but I'd just end up copying the entire study, which you can and should read for yourself. To find out, among other things, which women are "not attractive, nothing extraordinary, a grey bird in everyday life, but she can show off with her night beauty; often she is bow-legged and has a voice of smoking person. She is free and not alien to feminism, but prefers to remain within proprieties and good manners. The main thing, of course, that she is light-minded, frivolous, uninhibited, romantic, inspired, very popular with men and she has no equals, full of love."

* Briefly, Roissy's worldview is this: Almost everything men and women say about what they find attractive in partners is nonsense. It's rationalization driven by societal expectation, and has little or nothing to do with how most men and women actually behave. Men are attracted 95% by looks, and have been equipped by evolution with a drive to inseminate as many young, attractive females as they can get away with. All things being equal, the men who have the highest status and the most dominant personalities (alpha males) are always going to get the most nookie. The man's ideal position is to find a stable, reliable partner who will raise his children, while (as the wife ages) simultaneously enjoying occasional flings with young hotties. This is why so many cultures permit men to marry multiple wives, or unofficially recognize a responsible married man's 'right' to a mistress.

Women, on the other hand, are attracted mainly by a man's indicators of status. Cash, titles, dominance, physical size, respect shown him by other men, roguish charm. Women may claim to be attracted to sensitive, caring, honest wimps, but actually have sex with aloof, domineering bad boys. The ideal set up for most women is to find an meek, easily-dominated beta-male provider to marry. Then, have the occasional fling with the hot bass player/tennis pro/biker. Extra points if beta-male husband is willing to raise the offspring of the alpha males, who sure aren't going to stick around to do that themselves.

Not sure I agree 100% here, but the paradigm certainly does have some explanatory power.

Beware of Greeks Needing Gifts

get back to work, you lot!

The New York Times looks at the German public's resistance to bailing out Greece:

Here in Germany, opinion surveys show that two-thirds of the people oppose financial assistance for Greece. More ominously, a survey released Sunday by the newspaper Bild showed that a slight majority of Germans, 53 percent, said they favored expelling Greece from the euro group entirely if its mountain of debt threatened the stability of the currency union.

The crisis could not have come at a worse moment for Chancellor Angela Merkel. At the outset of the financial crisis, Mrs. Merkel confidently called it an American problem, and resisted as much as possible calls from across the Atlantic for even more government spending to kick-start economic growth.

“I can’t explain to a Hartz IV recipient that he won’t get another cent but some Greek gets to retire at 63,” said Michael Fuchs, a deputy leader in Parliament of Mrs. Merkel’s Christian Democrats, in Sunday’s issue of the newspaper Die Welt.

[V]oters in Germany see the decision to bail out Greece as just the first step in what will be a long line of countries seeking handouts. “After Greece it will just be other countries like Portugal,” said Patrick Klomfas, 28, an unemployed automotive engineer, who on Monday was visiting the employment office in the Berlin neighborhood of Lichtenberg.

“But you know, the politicians are just going to do what they want to do anyway,” said Mr. Klomfas, who has been out of work since October, but expects to start a new job next month. “No one wanted the euro, but the euro came anyway.”

I've always wondered what would happen if a country left the Euro. Granted, it would be a pretty huge blow to the credibility of the EU, but that would pass at some point. For the country that leaves, however, things would go downhill pretty fast. Barry Eichengreen (writing in 2007 about Italy) explains why a decision to join the Euro is pretty much irreversible:

The insurmountable obstacle to exit is neither economic nor political … but procedural. Reintroducing the national currency would require essentially all contracts – including those governing wages, bank deposits, bonds, mortgages, taxes, and most everything else – to be redenominated in the domestic currency. The legislature could pass a law requiring banks, firms, households and governments to redenominate their contracts in this manner. But in a democracy this decision would have to be preceded by very extensive discussion.

And for it to be executed smoothly, it would have to be accompanied by detailed planning. Computers will have to be reprogrammed. Vending machines will have to be modified. Payment machines will have to be serviced to prevent motorists from being trapped in subterranean parking garages. Notes and coins will have to be positioned around the country. One need only recall the extensive planning that preceded the introduction of the physical euro.

Back then, however, there was little reason to expect changes in exchange rates during the run-up and hence little incentive for currency speculation. In 1998, the founding members of the euro-area agreed to lock their exchange rates at the then-prevailing levels. This effectively ruled out depressing national currencies in order to steal a competitive advantage in the interval prior to the move to full monetary union in 1999. In contrast, if a participating member state now decided to leave the euro area, no such precommitment would be possible. The very motivation for leaving would be to change the parity. And pressure from other member states would be ineffective by definition.

Market participants would be aware of this fact. Households and firms anticipating that domestic deposits would be redenominated into the lira, which would then lose value against the euro, would shift their deposits to other euro-area banks. A system-wide bank run would follow. Investors anticipating that their claims on the Italian government would be redenominated into lira would shift into claims on other euro-area governments, leading to a bond-market crisis. If the precipitating factor was parliamentary debate over abandoning the lira, it would be unlikely that the ECB would provide extensive lender-of-last-resort support. And if the government was already in a weak fiscal position, it would not be able to borrow to bail out the banks and buy back its debt. This would be the mother of all financial crises.

Oh, I see.

More on Hora de Samba

I can hardly feature Hora de Samba in action without giving you a link to their site. Here it is (g). Click on the years at this page to open slideshows of previous years' costumes, which are utterly fantastic.

Continuing on themes Brazilian, I just bought a homemade CD from Izaias Moreno (a Brazilian singer who lives in my neck of the woods) at my local Trinkhalle, popped it into my stereo, and found that it was…fantastic! MPB vom Feinsten. I'll review it and post a few songs in the next few days.

Commenting Bug Fixed – Mea Maxima Culpa

I apologize to everyone for the mind-breakingly annoying bug that vaporized everyone's comments during the past few days. I was trying to reduce comment spam, and I inadvertently created a filter that blocked all comments that had a space in them. Sounlessyoupostedlikethis, your comment was mysteriously 'disappeared' without so much as a thank-you-ma'am (h/t to Klaus for alerting me to this).

That must have been in-fucking-furiating. I know there's probably been a lot of pent-up rage, so feel free to vent it in, er, comments.

My Forthcoming Book: Ending the Death Penalty

 (Forgive the blurb. New posts Book Cover below!)

A note to my readers: My first book, Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective, will be published in the UK on May 14, 2010 by Palgrave MacMillan. You can pre-order it at Palgrave's website here, at here, and at here.

I've often heard the question "Why does the United States still practice the death penalty"? I wrote this book to hazard an answer to an even more interesting question: "Why does Europe no longer have the death penalty?" I analyze the question based on the historical examples of Great Britain, France, and Germany, then try to place the resulting conclusions in global perspective. More information here.