Monday Music Blogging

Not much time for original 'content' today since I'm fighting two deadlines. I've tried to turn them against each other, but no luck.

On the other hand, I did take some time out to watch a few Bjoerk videos yesterday with a friend, and we both agreed they were all pretty brilliant.

Mexican Food Worthy of the Name ‘Food’

You can get outsplending Thai, French, Indian, Japanese, Turkish, and Italian cuisine in Germany, but every Mexican restaurant I've been to here has been deeply regrettable. An odd cultural gap. I would say it stemmed from Germans' pathological aversion to anything spicier than a Weisswurst spicy food, as witnessed by the fact that you can buy 'mild' yogurt here. As opposed to the five-alarm, anus-melting kind so beloved of the Tadjiks.

But that would be unfair. Probably a better explanation is Germany's lack of Mexican expats. 

Fortunately, things appear to be changing — at least in Berlin (h/t CJW):

Berlin has never offered much in the way of authentic Mexican food. Indeed, as of a couple of years ago, Viva Mexico (Chausseestrasse 36; no phone), a cozy hole in the wall in Mitte, may have held the distinction of being the city’s only Mexican restaurant actually run by a Mexican cook. But things are changing: In the past nine months, no fewer than five authentic Mexican restaurants serving quality fare have opened in Berlin. “There’s a boom,” said Daniel Tamayo Astie, the Mexican Embassy’s cultural attaché, “both in Mexican restaurants in Berlin, and Mexican gastronomy in Germany.”

Floyd Landis Doubles Down, Melts Down

Here's the latest news from cycling:

Floyd Landis, the American cyclist whose 2006 Tour de France victory was nullified after a positive doping test, has sent a series of emails to cycling officials and sponsors admitting to, and detailing, his systematic use of performance enhancing drugs during his career. The emails also claim that other riders and cycling officials allegedly participated in doping, including seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.

People will find this news interesting for several reasons, but I have a special one: I actually read Landis' book. After he was stripped of the TdF victory, he launched a draining, $2 million legal battle to clear his name. Not only that, he wrote an entire book — called Positively False — arguing his case.

On practically every page of the book, he protested his innocence and harshly attacked the practices of the anti-doping agencies. A relative who's interested in cycling loaned me the book, and I read it, thinking it would be wise to keep an open mind until I heard Landis' side of the story. Ultimately, I found it only moderately convincing. Landis and his lawyers had obviously carefully examined the testing process and found some real flaws, but he was never able to come up with a convincing counter-explanation for his damning results. Reduced to its essentials, the argument was highly legalistic — not "I can prove I'm innocent," but rather "The process you used to prove my guilt was flawed." Many will call this a typically American defense, and I can see why.

Technical legal arguments aside, Landis stridently proclaimed his innocence. He never doped, anywhere, at any time, for any reason, evah. He was just an aw-shucks, corn-fed, goody-two-shoes Pennsylvania Dutch farmboy who was being unfairly targeted by the cynical (read: European) authorities. And frankly, the enormous financial sacrifices he was making to fight his appeal through all the instances gave his claims a bit of credibility. Why on earth would he bankrupt himself and put himself through hell for a lie?

Well, now we know the answer: because he had a sociopathic streak as wide as the Alps. He assured literally millions of people that he was innocent, and was consciously, knowingly lying the entire time. Am I wrong in thinking there's something American about this sort of brazen hypocrisy? Other examples abound: the male Christian fundamentalist anti-gay crusader who recently toured Europe while receiving "erotic massages" from a rent-boy, or the latest in an endless line of conservative 'family values' politicians found to have been screwing around. The latest of these sad sacks actually recorded a video praising sexual abstinence with the very aide he was shtupping!

I'm not saying that hypocrisy is uniquely American, of course. What I'm saying is that it seems that America produces an unusual number of hypocrites who not only live by double standards, but shamelessly, openly, and enthusiastically champion the very standards they daily violate in the bedroom or boardroom. I ascribe it to the narrow, unforgiving code of middle-class morality which most Americans feel the need to appear to be upholding. The inability to reconcile their drives and their image lead them to feats of compartmentalization that normal humans can only gape at in horrified fascination.

I may be off-base here, but I just don't find this particular brand of hypocrisy as often in Europe. Europeans are keen to keep their personal lives private, and aren't given to the kind of black-and-white 'straight talk' that leads to categorical statements such as "I never doped" or "I'm not gay" or "I would never cheat on my wife." The European style, to me, is embodied by Miterrand's famous quote: "I was born Christian and shall doubtless die in that condition. But meanwhile…"

And meanwhile, here, I want back the 3 hours I spent reading Landis' book, and the 4,593,254,210 synaptic firings I devoted to wondering whether he might have been the victim of injustice. And I'm not alone…

Notes from the Intellectual Sanitation Department

The Guardian profiles Hans Magnus Enzensberger:

Born in 1929 in small-town Swabia, the eldest of four boys, Enzensberger is part of the last generation of intellectuals whose writing was shaped by first-hand experience of the Third Reich. Contemporaries include Günter Grass (born in 1927), Martin Walser (1927) and Jürgen Habermas (1929). The Enzensbergers moved to Nuremberg, the ceremonial birthplace of National Socialism, in 1931. Julius Streicher, the founder and publisher of Der Stürmer, was their next-door neighbour. Hans Magnus joined the Hitler Youth in his teens, but was chucked out soon afterwards. "I have always been incapable of being a good comrade. I can't stay in line. It's not in my character. It may be a defect, but I can't help it."

…At the start of his career, Enzensberger was frequently compared to Britain's "angry young men", Osborne and Pinter – misleadingly so, because playwriting was never a particular strong point. He was always more convincing when he channelled his anger into poetry. His first two collections, verteidigung der wölfe gegen die lämmer (Defence of the Wolves Against the Lambs) and landessprache (Native Language), railed against Germans' instinctive submission to authorities ("you'd love / to be torn limb from limb. you / won't change the world"), and wrestled violently with the language he had inherited.

Looking back on his early poems now, Enzensberger admits they sound "shrill". "But when you are 18 or 19, you can't stomach silence. Immediately after the war, there was one priority for us: we had to get rid of the bastards. And that was a great nuisance, because you can't change an entire population. Fifty per cent were followers of Hitler, 35% were opportunists and a few others didn't agree. You had all these professors, judges and chiefs of police who were old Nazis, and you had to get rid of them, and a certain violence was necessary to clear up the mess. For a few years we worked in an intellectual sanitation department."

And speaking of Defence of the Wolves, here is Jerome Rothenberg's translation:

The wolves defended against the lambs


should the vultures eat forget-me-nots?

what do you want the jackal to do,

cut loose from his skin, or the wolf? should

he pull his own teeth out of his head?

what upsets you so much

about commissars and popes?

why do you gape at the fraudulent TV screen

as if someone just slipped you the shaft?


and tell me who sews the ribbons

over the general's chest? who

carves the capon up for the usurer?

who proudly dangles an iron cross

over his rumbling navel? who

rakes in the tip, the thirty pieces

of silver, the hush money? listen: there

are plenty of victims, very few thieves: who's

the first to applaud them, who

pins on the merit badge, who's

crazy for lies?


look in the mirror : squirming,

scared blind by the burden of truthfulness,

skipping the trouble of learning, abandoning

thought to the wolves,

a nose ring your favorite trinket,

no deception too stupid, no comfort

too cheap, every new blackmail

still seems too mild for you.

you lambs, why crows would be

nuns stacked up against you:

all of you hoodwink each other.

fraternity's the rule

among wolves :

they travel in packs.


blessed are the thieves: you

ask them up for a rape, then

throw yourself down on the mouldy bed

of submission. moaning

you stick to your lies. you'd love

to be torn limb from limb. you

won't change the world.


(jerome rothenberg)

Name that Lamp!

Last weekend, I visited the Marquis of L_____ in the seaside resort of K_____. The home he inherited was built in 1970. His ancestors (Germans) were not only central in founding the European U_____, but were also renowned collectors of avant-garde lighting accessories. Each of these lamps pushed the envelope in 1974, and some, I think you'll agree, still do so today.

The original designers and names of these instruments of enlightenment are lost in the hists of mistory (not that I wouldn't put it past some of my readers to be able to identify them), but that shouldn't stop us. Your mission is to invent an appopriate name for these creations. Post your suggestions in comments. After a while, I'll post my pet names for these lamps, assuming I haven't been totally outshined by my readers…

Lamp 1 (googly-eyed fish are a later addition):


Lamp 2:

Lamp 3:

Lamp 4:


English in German Courtrooms

Via Transblawg, we get an account of the first court hearing in Germany conducted in English (h/t BB):

To summarize: the courtroom was rather small, seating scarcely more than twenty, but there were SAT1 TV cameras there and a reporter and photographer. The three judges' wives were reportedly all native speakers of English. Both parties had German lawyers, and the plaintiff also had a Belgian lawyer.

None of the parties was a native speaker of English. The case related to a Belgian company which supplied the Cuban government with electronic components, and a German company which supplied such components to the Belgian company. The German company has been taken over by a U.S. corporation, and so problems have been created by the U.S. embargo against Cuba. The court wanted the parties to reach a compromise, in part because a large amount of Belgian documents in French and Cuban documents in Spanish would have needed to be translated (so much for simplifying matters by using English as the court language!).

There were some language problems. For example, it was necessary to spell names, and the judges were not used to spelling in English. The words plaintiff and defendant were confused several times. Our colleague had the impression that they would have liked to express themselves in German.

The record of the proceedings was dictated in German by the presiding judge. The Grundurteil is to be pronounced on 31 May. The hearing was 90 minutes long. One of the associate judges (Beisitzer) spoke excellent English, apparently.

The judges had a tendency to start complex sentences which they could not finish.

Other language problems: the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) was referred to as 'he'.
Kritik was translated as critic, not criticism.
Gewinn was translated as gain, not profit.
Power of attorney had to be explained to the Belgian.

It does seem odd that – obviously – German law is always involved. It is difficult enough to talk about legal issues in a foreign language, but it is even harder to be constantly translating German law into a foreign language. And this is precisely what is not practised if you do an LL.M. in the USA or UK. It's something you need to work on.

I understand in the abstract why it might be a good idea to have some German court hearings in English, but I'm wondering whether it will be worth the effort, especially if the case involves German law. German legal language is every bit as hermetic and complex as English legal language, and many German legal terms simply don't have any real English equivalents. To really make this work, I think the German courts would need to promulgate a simplified, streamlined generic English-language lexicon for these proceedings.

The Reluctant Redeemer

Henry over at Crooked Timber gets it about right:

Germany would like to see an economic government which mostly consisted of other countries adopting harsh fiscal retrenchment combined with extensive oversight.
This isn’t going to happen, much as some German economists might like it to. Germany simply doesn’t have the bargaining power to pull it off. Its threats to expel recalcitrant countries from EMU are now very obviously non-credible. Furthermore, Germany has just demonstrated that it is willing, however reluctantly, to bail others out if the crisis hits. So Germany is left with the unenviable realization that (a) its future economic and political fortunes are linked to EMU, but (b) it doesn’t have the leverage to force others to take measures that it sees as necessary to avoid crisis. This means that it needs carrots as well as sticks to persuade other countries to become less profligate. The only policy tool that I think Germany has is more money – and more specifically, spending money along with other rich member states in countries like Italy and Greece as a quid-pro-quo for reform of taxes, revenue-raising, labour markets and educational systems, which would make these countries more economically prosperous over the longer run, and less likely to pull Germany along with them into further crises. I wouldn’t want to be the politician telling German tax payers that this is necessary. But I’m not seeing that Germany has many other plausible choices.

Who would have thought, a few months ago, that the overwhelming priority of Germany's relatively fresh new government would become selling a massively unpopular EU bailout plan?