Previous month:
May 2005
Next month:
July 2005

Protect our Social Life Sources!

At the risk of boring you with the obvious, let's review a few facts.  75 million years ago, an evil galactic ruler named Xenu deposited trillions of paralyzed alien bodies on earth and then destroyed them with H-bombs.  The souls of these creatures, known as "thetans," inhabit the bodies of present day humans.  The only way to mental health is to clear your consciousness of these thetans.

Those are just some of the remarkable things members of the Church of Scientology believe.  (Adapted from a good post on Kevin Drum's site).  Tom Cruise is gallivanting about doing himself no favors by Scientologizing to anyone who cares to listen, and many who don't.  Cruise's dumb Scientology-based attacks on psychiatry have gotten a particularly chilly reception in the U.S. 

He's going to get an even chillier reception if he comes to Germany, where Scientology is wildly controversial.

Continue reading "Protect our Social Life Sources!" »

Germany’s Hottest Chancellorette

There will be elections this coming fall in Germany, and the conservative candidate, Christian Democrat Angela Merkel, is likely to win.  She's a woman, she's from the former East Germany, she's got almost 50% support in the polls.  She's a shoo-in.

But not if Titanic Magazine (German-only, until they hire me to translate them) has anything to say about it. 

They founded a political party (called "The Party") and recently vowed to run a "disgraceful and strictly personalized" campaign against "the Merkel," as they call her.  First order of business: exploiting Merkel's attractiveness gap.  To be frank, Merkel looks a little bit like a bilious schoolmarm.  The Party recently put out a "casting call" to find a hot young female candidate to run against Merkel.  The entrants had to send in a photo (natch) and answer a few questions. 

It looks like we have a winner, to judge from the this election poster, which features the comely Yeliz Toklu under the heading "Woman? Sure, but better-looking!"


Yeliz won the coveted post with the following application email (reprinted in the July 2005 Titanic, pp. 26-27):

Name/Career: Yeliz Toklu, 26 years old, Controller, Stuttgart

Hobbies: Annoying men, getting Herpes, controlling everything, Emma.

Political Vision: A world full of walls (a Turkish wall around Kreuzberg and Neukölln, Baden-Württemburg wall [“Smart kids stay, fat kids out!”], etc.).  And naturally sexy wall-builders (shirtless Adonises with 9 and ½ drops of sweat on their hairless chests, slow-motion, etc.)

First act in office: Cancel the value-added tax on shoes! (Merkel would NEVER do that!!  This alone gets 50% of the vote).

Why are you better than the Merkel?

Merkel: Belongs to a German minority that speaks strangely

Toklu: Belongs to two German minorities that speak strangely (Turkish-Swabian)

Merkel: part-woman…actually part-human

Toklu: Allllll woman; in fact: sexpot

Merkel: shifty careerwoman – er, career-“it”

Toklu: HONORABLY active as an VOLUNTEER Turkish representative in the Foreigner-Committee in Esslingen (without any career prospects at all, except possibly a teeny little step to world domination)

Merkel: Controls her party.

Toklu: Controls EVERYONE (see job and hobbies)

Merkel: Will do everything so that “it” becomes Chancellor

Toklu: Will do everything to stop “it” from becoming Chancellor (including writing silly application emails).  Last but not least:

Merkel: Competent, years of experience in politics, and almost 100% chance of success

Toklu: 32D.

I try to avoid explicit political endorsements on GJ, but let's just say I think I know who'll be getting the German Joys vote this fall.

Houellebecq on his cowardly fellow-citizens

I found French novelist Michel Houellebecq's reaction to the EU Constitution referendum pretty amusing (from an article about Houllebecq's US book tour in LA Weekly):

[Houellebecq] became effusive when commenting on the results of the French referendum, which had now come in. Though he claims to find politics boring and belongs to no political faction, this was one bit of politics on which he was now clearly ready to pronounce. “Well, it’s a great moment!” he enthused, delighting in the crushing setback suffered by Europe’s aloof and technocratic elites. (It would be hard to come up with a single important character from Houellebecq’s novels who would have voted yes to the constitution. In fact, it could be argued that his work, with its bewildering mix of insolent rebellion, rants against the generation of ’68 and dislike of Islam, was a clear foretaste of the constitution’s failure.)

“I am very surprised because normally the French are cowards,” he said from the stage. “When it’s important for the state, the government tells you that you have to vote yes, that you have no reason to vote no, it’s irresponsible to vote no. And they repeated it at high levels with more and more stress until the last day. And the people voted no! It’s an incredible failure.”

Ludwig van Beethoven: Brainowner

I've just been listening to the Alban Berg Quartet's glorious performances of the Beethoven Quartets, and picked up Barry Cooper's Beethoven Compendium from the library as accompaniment.  Here are a few random gems:

  • Beethoven's obsession with personal hygiene got him kicked out of many apartments for splashing too much water on the floor.  Yet visitors often reported a very full chamber pot located right underneath his piano.
  • Beethoven had a colossal, one is tempted to say American-sized ego.  He once told one of his royal patrons "what you have, you have by mere chance and birth.  What I have, I achieved through myself.  There have always been thousands of Counts and there will be thousands more.  But there is only one Beethoven!"  Beethoven ridiculed his brother Johann's affectation of the title "landowner" by calling himself "brainowner."
  • UPDATE: At one point in the early 1820s, Beethoven had promised to sell his Missa Solemnis, which he finished in 1823, to three separate publishers.  He juggled them all by vague hints that he was actually composing several masses, and by pretending not to understand the terms of the original agreements.   

Jeremy Rifkin: Europe's Favorite American

Ever heard of Jeremy Rifkin?  If you're an American, probably not, unless you read things like Utne Reader. 

But if you're German or French, and you read "quality" newspapers, you can hardly escape this American activist and thinker.  One of his more famous books is The End of Work, in which he predicts (to quote Publisher's Weekly) that "worldwide unemployment will increase as new computer-based and communications technologies eliminate tens of millions of jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors."

The reason Rifkin is so popular in Europe is because he rather admires the European welfare-state model of governing.  In fact, he recently wrote a book called The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream.  Briefly put, Rifkin thinks the American model of wasteful consumerism, long work hours, and permanent economic insecurity for a large part of the population no longer holds much appeal for the rest of the world, which will turn to Europe for a vision of a more sustainable, cooperative way of living.

The book is well-researched and intermittently convincing, but beset by a lot of long, obtuse, pshyo-historico-philosophical passages that make for tough sledding.  It's also a bit obtuse; Rifkin also seems to have spent much more time speaking to pro-Europe Europeans than to ordinary folks on the street, and therefore has a very rosy picture of the EU indeed. 

This can be seen in his four-page long paean to the European Constitution (pp. 209-213), in which he registers his delight at the fact that it guarantees everyone a vacation, health care, and limited working hours, grants all EU citizens the most exhaustive catalogue of human rights ever created, prohibits eugenics and the sale of personal data, and does so many other wonderful things.  Rifkin concludes:

If we were to sum up the gist of the document, it would ba a commitment to respect human diversity, promote inclusivity, champion human rights and the rights of nature, foster quality of life, pursue sustainable development, free the human spirit for deep play, build a perpetual peace, and nurture a global consciousness. (213)

Well, fair enough.  It did want to do all those things, and Europe is a lovely place to live because you can declare yourself in favor of all these things without other people laughing at you or dismissing you as some kind of soft-headed dreamer.

But Rifkin downplays or ignores the deep rift between the rhetoric of the Constitution's framers, whose views he enthusiastically shares, and ordinary citizens of EU member countries.  You know -- the ones who just mercilessly killed the Constitution Rifkin thought so highly of.  Rifkin makes only one passing reference to how "cumbersome" the Constitution is to  read.  (Cumbersome is an understatement.  Even the drafter of the Constitution, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, admitted "It is not possible for anyone to understand the full text.")

He also notes that there is "barely a passing mention of free markets and trade."  What he doesn't seem to realize is that the Constitution is was primarily devoted to the progressive dismantling of trade barriers, although of course the language accomplishing these goals was rather opaque and general, to avoid frightening the voters.

So, is Rifkin going back to the drawing board after this loud rejection?  No!  He's plowing ahead almost as if nothing has happened, with op-ed pieces and interviews in French and German newspapers.  He's got some brand-new theory about how to shed the shackles of the manichean socialism/capitalism debate.  I hate to say it, because I share many of Rifkin's views, but wouldn't his time be better spent not spinning new gossamer theoretical confections for implementation by European elites, but by helping those elites understand how to relate to their own populations?

Private and Public Freedoms (but no cannibalism)

The author is back!  First of all, many thanks to Ed Philp for his contributions over the weekend.  [I have put them in a different font color, not to single Mr. Edward Philp out for discrimination, but just because that's good blogging practice.]  Now you have the perspective of two (2) "Anglo-Saxons" on life in Germany, and this blog is the richer for it.  I hope Ed continues to contribute from time to time. 

His next-to-last post had me chuckling mordantly.  Ed's contrasting of the many "private" freedoms Germany offers (to drink beer and smoke wherever you want, or visit a prostitute) with the restrictive approach to more "public" ones (to get hired, start new businesses, accomplish bureacratic tasks) was especially apt. 

A visitor from the English-speaking world cannot help but be impressed by the amount of time Europeans spend structuring (often with much grace and generosity) their private affairs.  After a while the visitor wonders why Europeans seem to spend so much time in "private" life.  The first explanation, of course, is that they work a lot less.  Don't take my work for it, take the word of Axel Boldt's marvelous "subjective [but quite fair] comparison" of the U.S. and Germany: "The common stereotype of the diligent hard working German and the laid back TV watching American is rather wrong. It is my experience that Americans are generally much more hard working than Germans." 

Continue reading "Private and Public Freedoms (but no cannibalism)" »

In a German Fishbowl

Ed Philp here again. A very good friend of mine relayed a recent story to me of tryng to buy a goldfish in Germany: I felt it was worth it to pass this one on. For those elsewhere, Germany is extremely „tierlieb“ -  kind to animals. With 20 million dogs and 8 million cats, how couldn’t it be . A sinkhole or bomb crater or something next to my office was recently fenced off and reserved for a small toad – not even an endangered species – but just a basic Mr. Schmidt toad of some common sort. This didn’t prevent the office building’s cleaning staff and caretaker from leaving a dead pidgeon outside on the building’s walkway for two weeks (picking up carrion wasn’t in their job description), but I digress.

This friend of mine has an apartment that is decorated entirely in black and white and steel and glass. He determined that it was time to add some color, and headed off to a corner pet store to buy some orange goldfish. Approaching a salesperson, the conversation went approximately like this:

Friend:             Hi, I’d like to buy two goldfish.

Salesperson:     OK, what sort of a tank do you have?

Friend:             A bowl. A nice one. Tiffany crystal.

Sales:               No aerator? No bubbler or oxygenator?

Friend:             It’s a bowl. It’s round. It has a bottom. It holds water rather well. Where are the fish?

Sales:               I won’t sell you a goldfish if you can’t take care of it properly.

Friend:             Look, I grew up near the sea. I know fish. Goldfish don’t need that. They need their water changed once a week and that’s it.

Sales:               I’m not selling you a fish without a bubbler.

Friend:             I had goldfish when I was little and they did just fine.

Sales:               (vengeful) Yes, and your parents replaced them in the morning when they died. And when you woke up you thought they were the same fish.

Friend:             (reflective pause) And?

Sales:               I’m not selling you any fish.

Friend:             Do you have any cats? It’s a big bowl.

The friend eventually obtained two goldfish from another store. The fish – now two months on – have done just fine in their bowl. The addition of moving, swimming color has done wonders for the apartment.

Freedoms or Freiheiten? (Oh, and German cannibalism)

Hi, it’s Edward Philp again, writing as a guest once more. Andrew’s recent political events posts have been great stuff, an excellent in-between Germany and North America perspective on the current affairs and the issues that are – and aren’t – making headlines in Germany these days.

In my last post, I looked at the GEZ, the state institution responsible for collecting broadcasting fees from citizens with televisions. With this post, I want to touch on a major difference between Germany and North America, of which the GEZ is simply a reflection, namely, the difference in freedoms available to citizens.

I love many of the little freedoms here in Germany. If I want to, I can drink beer at any movie theatre, or 9 am on the subway. I can smoke in my office (which I don’t share with anyone), and I can get my news from the largest newspaper in circulation, the Bild Zeitung, which proudly features a half-naked woman on its front page, usually with a clever little description of how the model happened to „lose“ her clothing (thank you Dr. Katja Kessler!). I can drive at 130 miles an hour, if I can find a highway not under construction or clogged with Dutch mobile homes heading south for vacation (stay home and look after your dikes!). I don’t really do any of those things, except for the beer in the theatres, but if I want to, I can.

Continue reading "Freedoms or Freiheiten? (Oh, and German cannibalism)" »

Gone for the weekend

Hello, loyal joysters.  As some of you know, I actually have a day job, and it will now require me to spend a lovely weekend in Bad Muenstereifel, a quaint German village and the hometown of the strangest German pop singer of them all, Heino.

Have no fear, though: I have invited German Joys Associate Editor Edward Philp, whose previous contribution have amused and enlightened, to join me.  Let's hope he's got the time and the will.  In any event, I will be back at the helm on Monday.  Augen zu und durch!

Sugar Subsidies: Bringing France and the U.S. Together

Here's a paper showing the amount developed nations give in foreign aid, measured as a percentage of their GDP.  Four EU countries, Denmark, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Sweden, actually meet the United Nations-recommended target of giving .7% or more of their gross natioanl product to developing countries in the form of Official Development Assistance. 

Although the dollar amount the United States gives in the form of development assistance is much larger than all other countries, it still comprises only .16% of U.S. GNP.  For purposes of comparison, Germany gives .28%, Japan .19%, and Canada .26%. 

One thing I've noticed, though, is that although there is a lively discussion of the politics and principles of development assistance in Germany, I hear almost no public debate about the role of the lavish subsidies developed nations pay their farmers. 

In fact, in all the news coverage of the recent EU budget summit -- where the controversy was about farm subsidies -- I didn't hear a single German commentator mention the role farm subsidies play in creating poverty in the developing world, or the fact that the World Trade Organization has found the EU in breach because ot its sugar subsidies.  [Yet another one of those moments in which the foreign observer of German news coverage waits in vain for someone to mention an issue which, to him, appears perfectly obvious.] 

And it was obvious to the UK Independent: 

Continue reading "Sugar Subsidies: Bringing France and the U.S. Together" »