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December 2005
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Jets on the Autobahn

German newspapers have finally, gingerly, sort-of-discovered the interactive possibilities of the Internet, says Stephan Niggemeier in this piece (German) in the FAZ.  However, they're still making rookie mistakes.  Take, for instance, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (Niggemeier, in my translation):

The Sueddeutsche Zeitung (to take only one example) is using the possibilites [of blogs] about as skilfully as someone who gets into an airplane in order to taxi nicely down the autobahn.  The "SZ" has fourteen blogs.  The majority of the authors write something perhaps once a month into their blogs and ignore what anyone else writes.  The medium that's better suited for this sort of thing has already been invented, and is called the "book."

Niggemeier has interesting things to say about how the elitism of the "quality" German press is keeping them blind to the true promise of interactivity, and offers amusing critiques of the crappiness of many German news websites, which "treat their users like idiots."  Well worth reading. 

I will try to respond with a few thoughts later, but the bloody day job keeps rearing its ugly head.  What a distraction!

"I Could Have 45 German Women Living With Me"

Here's an article about an American writer named Tim Barrus.  Barrus wrote a couple of books in the U.S. while pretending to be an American Indian named Nasdijj. 

In fact, it appears Barrus is a white man who originally made his literary breakthrough writing gay pornography.  He adopted the identity of an Indian, and wrote several "non-fiction" memoirs detailing his painful childhood on an Indian reservation. 

One of the earliest people to doubt that Nasdijjs identity was the writer Sherman Alexie.  Alexie, who really is Indian, read some books by "Nasdijj" and suspected that Nasdijj was only pretending.  When asked why someone would pretend to be Indian, Alexie responded:

"My stepfather once told me, if you want anyone in the world to like you, just tell them that you’re Indian,” says Sherman Alexie. “For some reason we are elevated simply because of our race. I’m so popular I could start a cult. I could have 45 German women living with me tomorrow.”

45 German women?  Why didn't I think of this earlier?!  We all know about the sentimental attachment certain European women feel for America's oppressed minorities.  Some of them even come over to the U.S. and marry death row inmates.  I know of one who gave up a promising medical career in her home country (which is renowned for its beauty) to move to suburban Houston, Texas and to work in an office supply store. All so that she could be near her husband, who lives on Death Row in Livingston, Texas.  Black friends of mine (even Republican software developers) have to beat the Ursulas and Wiebkes off with a stick when they visit Germany on business trips.

But alas, there is no way for me to become black -- at least not without questionable, potentially dangerous medical treatments.  Murdering somebody and getting sent to death row also presents a host of practical problems (Germany has no death penalty), not to mention the ethical dimension. 

But I can claim to be an Indian -- er, that is, a Native American.  They come in all shapes and sizes!  Did I just say "claim to be and Indian"?  I mean to say "finally reveal my long-suppressed Native American identity."  From now on, you can call me Andrew Grey Cloud.  I'll be appearing live, in-person at my local left-wing pub, Tigges, tonight...

House Spiders -- The Enemy Within

The most recent Titanic's "Letters to Our Readers" section addresses house spiders (who I didn't know were subscribers):

Honorable House Spiders!

All these years we've lived together with you without serious problems.  Indeed, you could even speak of a peaceful co-existence.  And now we have to read in the specialty bug magazine Draco the following description of one of your species that lives all over the place, which bears the already rather unsettling name Scytodes thoracica:

The house spider "covers its prey with an stringy fluid and thus binds them to the ground.  The powerfully-build poison glands actually produce poison only in a small front portion -- the larger rear portion excretes an extremely stringy glue.  From here, the spider sprays, under extremely high pressure, a secretion onto the prey from a distance of up to 2 centimeters.  The secretion immediately sticks to an immobilizes the prey." 

Poison glands?  Spraying glue?  Stringy secretion?  All this in our bedrooms?  In the kitchen?  The bath?!  But there's more: "If the victim makes a strong escape attempt, it will be spat upon repeatedly.  Then the spider, looking quite relaxed, will eventually come by an apply the poison bite.  The victim will either be sucked dry right then or brought out of its bindings and dragged to a hiding place by means of the spider's chelicerae and pedipalps."

That, house spider, is the last straw, and we really don't want anything to do with it.  So next time we greet you in the sink or shower, whether you're looking quite relaxed or not, we aren't going to take your chelicerae carefully in a hand towel and shake your pedipalps gently out the window -- instead, from this point on, we'll get the vacuum cleaner and turn it up to 1000 watts!

Eek!  A Spider!  --  Titanic

A German-Jewish Journalistic Catfight

Free speech is protected in Germany, but it's not a free-for-all. It's well-known that it's illegal to openly praise Hitler, deny the Holocaust, or display Third Reich insignia. You'd also do well to think before you insult somebody in public. Some insults are protected as legitimate opinions, but other, particularly grave insults can get you hauled before  a court for engaging in "vilification" that interferes with another's "personality rights" to dignity and honor.

The Frankfurt Regional Court recently decided an interesting case involving these issues. Here's the cast of characters.

The defendant: Henryk M. Broder, is an unmistakable figure on the German press landscape. He's a Jew, a journalist, and generally supportive of Israeli policy. I once saw him on a TV chat show strongly defending the war in Iraq. You could say Broder doesn't run from controversy. In fact, you could say Broder runs toward it. Very fast.

The plaintiffs: Abraham Melzer and Hajo Mayer, both Jews, and Mayer a concentration-camp survivor. Melzer published Mayer's book "The End of Jewishness," which strongly attacked Israeli policy. Indeed, Mayer even compared Israeli policy to that of the Third Reich. They came to Leipzig to promote the book.

As the FAZ reports here (German), Broder was not amused.  On his website, he ran a piece under the title "How two Jews 'made the Adolf' for the Leipzigers," and accused the two of being (very approximate translation) "capacitors for applied Jew-phobia."  The published and author were, in turn, also not at all pleased, and went to court to obtain a court order forbidding Broder, in turn, to accuse them of "making the Adolf" and being accomplices to anti-Semtisim.

Broder appealed, citing his freedom to express his opinions, and there was a trial:

The visibly irritated presiding judge had to listen to a presentation on how Jews can also be anti-semites.  The philosopher Theodore Lessing analyzed this phenomenon in his 1930 classic "Jewish Self-Hatred" and described it using various examples, including the Vienna philosopher Otto Weininger. ...  "Anti-semitism is a disease that can befall anyone," Broder lectured the judge and audience.

Continue reading "A German-Jewish Journalistic Catfight" »

Lars von Trier Saws Off the Hand that Feeds Him. Again. To no effect.

You're Danish director Lars von Trier.  You've made a couple of interesting films during your life.  The rest are pretentious, incoherent disasters, in which you reach deeper and deeper into your bag of non-politically-correct tricks in order to shock the European movie-viewing audience.  This is hard to do, since they have already seen a lot of shocking movies, many filmed by directors with more talent than you. 

Although the film subsidies keep flowing, the viewers seem to getting a little bit bored, especially by the time you release 1998's The Idiots, a Disneyesque feature about a commune whose members go out into restaurants and stores and pretend to be mentally retarded or insane by day.  They drool and scream and knock things over, attracting quite a bit of attention.  Then they return to their comfortable villa at night for orgies.  The audience isn't very impressed.

It's time to win them back, which you do by launching a filmic jihad against the United States of America.  You direct a series of movies which are little more than self-righteous, bitterly critical tirades against that nation.  The fact that you have never visited this nation and do not speak its language is no hindrance, of course.  Things are going well!  The new movies are called "thoughtful" and "provocative."  You're getting back your audience using the controversial bad-boy technique of openly pandering to their prejudices.  (Good thing you just happened to pick the USA and not, say, South Africa as your target)

Then disaster strikes.  A right-wing Danish politician is concerned about Denmark's immigrants, who don't seem to be fitting in very well.  He warns Danes that they must fight a "long and bitter Kulturkampf", which raises an eyebrow or two.  At first this seems to have nothing to do with you.  Bu then the politician assigns a group of culture bureaucrats draws up a list of 108 glorious Danish masterpieces in 7 different categories.  (One of the chosen works is the Danish version of Donald Duck).  And what do these bourgeois prigs do do?  They pick one of your films!  And not just any one of your films, they pick The Idiots (German)!

Gaack!  What's a bad-boy to do?  Soon little Ahmed will be watching good-looking young bourgeois Danes drooling and penetrating each other on a grainy videotape in his school classroom. And told to venerate it as a masterpiece!  Immediate action is required.  You go on Danish T.V., and, well, we'll let the newspaper article take it from there:

The Danish director Lars von Trier, whose film "The Idiots" was also named in the cultural canon, protested against the entire plan as a "nationalization of culture," during a television appearance in which he cut apart the red-and-white Danish national flag, the "Danebrog", sewed it back together as a completely-red flag, and hoisted it again.  All the while he played "The Internationale" in the background.

Communism?  Is that the best you can do, Lars, baby? 

As You Drink, Think of The People Who Owe You Money

A while aInkasso_1go I was out with friends at a nice bar.  A female friend came back from the womens' bathroom with an interesting paper towel.  They apparently have ads on them in this bar including the ad at left, which is for a...collection agency.  On the right it says "No Heart [that is, no sympathy] for Debtors"!  To the left, it lists the services provided:

  • Debt Collection with personal debt collection [senseless repetition in original]
  • Business Information Service [whatever that might mean]
  • Investigations

What interested me is not so much the fact that there is advertising for debt-collection services in Germany.  In hard times like these, it must be a booming industry.  The American equivalent is surely the advertisement for the tough, smart personal-injury lawyer, complete with the list of injuries that you can turn into cold, hard cash!!  This offer covers those old favorites automobile collisions, defective products, aviation crashes, and industrial plant accidents; but don't forget more exotic candidates like Toxic Torts, Vioxx; and the deeply unsettling category of -- ye Gods! -- Welding Rod Exposure

So no, it doesn't surprise me that collection agencies are advertising in Germany.  What does surprise me is that they are advertising a) in the women's restroom [not the men's!]; of b) a nice, but not fashionable bar, in a very ordinary part of town; and finally c) on disposable paper hand-towels.  That surprises me.  Perhaps it shouldn't.

I ♥ David Hasselhoff

Indeed, David Hasselhoff, like Paul Auster and Jim Jarmusch, is a much bigger star in Germany than in the U.S.  I don't know exactly why, but perhaps this video for "Hooked on a Feeling" helps explain it.  Let me quote from an email I wrote to a friend after he sent me this link:

I will tell you something, without a drop of shame.  I enjoyed the hell out of the song and the video.  All of it.  The angels, the Masai warriors, the inexplicable detour to Alaska, the foreshortened background featuring dancing businessmen.  It was catchy, irresistible, and not without a disarming dose of self-deprecation.  A frothy, senseless celebration of lighthearted, lightheaded love.

And I stand by that.  David, ich hab' dich gaaaanz lieb!!!

German Joys Mini-Review: Stasiland

Just reading Stasiland, a 2003 book by Anna Fuller, an Australian journalist and recovering lawyer who traveled through East Germany interviewing people who had something to do with the East German security state, either as members or as persecutees of the Stasi (the abbreviation for the East German Ministry of State Security).

Stasiland is loosely episodic and somewhat memoir-like, so it takes a little while to build up momentum. When it does, though it grips you. Many of the stories Funder tells will probably be familiar to Germans, such as:

  • The Klaus Renft Combo, East Germany's only halfway-rebellious rock bank, who were tolerated uncomfortably by the State until they went too far and were disbanded by official decree in 1975, during a meeting the band later taped and broadcast;
  • The Lipsi, a "dance craze" officially ginned-up and imposed by the East German state in the 1960s to compete with rock and roll (Funder calls it "a dance invented by a committee, a bizarre hipless camel of a thing");
  • The frightening ideological mania of Karl-Eduard von Schnitzler, a convinced Communist whose job it was to appear on East German television and explain, in long, unhinged tirades, why Western TV shows were despicable capitalist lies and propaganda designed to conceal a hellish, dollar-driven war of all against all. Even years after the wall fell, "Von Schni--" as he was called (because of viewer's tendency to switch off the set as soon as his show came on), screamed at Funder that Germany needed it back "More! Than! Ever!"

Continue reading "German Joys Mini-Review: Stasiland" »

Book Reviews I Never Finished Reading

The American magazine The New Yorker used to, and perhaps still does, run little featurettes after its articles entitled "Advertisements [or Letters, or News Items] we never finished reading..."

Let me import this tradition into German Joys.  From this week's Die Zeit, page 52, come a review, by Tobias Timm, of a young Norwegian's recent novel:

Do you like assholes?  Then you shouldn't read very much farther -- instead rush to the next bookstore and buy the new novel Power and Rebel by Matias Feldbakken.  For the anally-fixated, it's a must.  Which means that for all who have only a limited interest in things rectal, it will be tought slog indeed...

OK, I admit, I did read the review to the end.  The book seems like a pretty standard epater-le-bourgeoisie exercise involving thoroughly hideous young Norwegians who loathe themselves and the society that subsidizes their rent, and prove it by engaging in a variety of senseless acts of fraud and brutality somehow intended as a critique of (what else?)capitalist excess.

Granted, I haven't read the book yet, but I've read similar ones.  Based on this experience, I usually answer the question "what are Europe's young novelists writing about today?" with the answer "generally, what a certain kind of young British and American writer was writing about 10 or 20 years ago." 

To their credit, Germans are a pretty sophisticated bunch, and realize this themselves.  Take a book called Faserland [the title is an untranslatable pun referring to the narrator's obsession with fashion], written in 1995 by a young German named Christian Kracht.  It involves a nameless protagonist, who is obsessed by brand-names and status symbols, who travels through Germany seeking immediate gratification in a superficial world of hollow young corporate suits, airhead debutantes, and mindless substance abuse (remind you of anyone?).

One German reviewer referred to it, tongue-in-cheek, as the "German translation of Bret Easton Ellis..."

From Minsk to Mönchengladbach

In the December issue of the left-wing magazine konkret, Jörg Kronauer, editor of the Internet magazine, writes about German policy toward the Republic of Belarus.  Kronauer comments on reporting about the "gray east" (my translation):

In order to ensure negative public opinion concerning the Republic of Belarus, which itself is almost enough to justify German interference in Belarus' affairs, a simple propaganda recipe is enough: "The East," as the reporter's rule has it, is gray.  A few years ago, a well-known German daily newspaper sought to nicely capture this fact with a photo of an aging streetcar sitting at a desolate intersection in front of a bunch of grim concrete blocks.  "Minsk" [capital city of Belarus] ran the caption, for those who didn't want to make the effort to read the accompanying news report about the "gray city."  Of course, the photo editors had no idea that on that very day, there was a certain particularly clever head behind the newspaper.  Piqued, he notified the editors that he was very familiar with the streetcar in the picture, since he rode in it during his daily commute to work.  However, he wasn't riding to Minsk, but rather Mönchengladbach.