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February 2007
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Hamburg Gets a New Concert Hall

From Alex Ross' classical music blog, a picture of what Hamburg's new concert hall will look like on the inside:


Guest poster Justin Davidson continues:

In a press conference at Carnegie Hall today, Jacques Herzog [of the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron] remarked that he and his associates had learned more about designing symphonic spaces from the stadiums they've done (notably the Beijing Olympic bird's nest) than they had from the whole history of concert halls. Here, the stage, like a soccer field, is in the middle, rather than at one end, and the seats rise up along a bowl's precipitous walls.

The Twelve Gates of European Hell

A short while ago, Ed Philp brought our attention to a mimeographed tract he received in his mailbox one day. By popular request, I have scanned it as a .pdf file; download it here (g). There's some strange bitching about the German flag and alleged hostility thereto, followed by a story of how the European Flag came to bear twelve stars on a blue background. The problem is, the story is depressingly plausible (though I've no idea if it's really true) and even-handed. There are some explicitly religious disquisitions of the meaning of the number 12, but nothing very feverish.

The sheet of paper is pretty interesting. However, I must say I expect more unhinged ranting from mimeographed one-page complaints stuffed by cranks into local mailboxes.

Rebecca West on Education

A while back, I read the Paris Reviews interviews of modern writers. Here's the 90-year-old Rebecca West on her education:

We had large classes, which was an ineffable benefit, because the teachers really hadn't time to muck about with our characters. You see, the people who wanted to learn, sat and learned, and the people who didn't, didn't learn, but there was no time, you know, for bringing out the best in us, thank God. I had some magnificent teachers, actually, a Miss MacDonald, who taught me Latin irregular verbs.

A Critique of EU Integration

One point often missed by some outside observers is that the backlash against European integration is driven not only by a perception not of overregulation but of too-aggressive deregulation. The populists complain about pettifogging EU regulations that ban homemade alcohol or going shirtless on construction sites; the left denounces aggressive EU deregulation drives that hollow out traditional social-state protections.

EU bureaucrats themselves -- of whom I know a few -- generally pose as meek St. Sebastians of politics, bound to the tree of professional discretion, penetrated by the slings and arrows of a hostile and misinformed public. But are the arrows deserved? Via Crooked Timber, a paper by Martin Höpner and Armin Schäfer at the Max-Planck Institut in Cologne on European economic integration argues that some are. The paper begins with the following interesting example:

To anyone interested in an evaluation of the current state of Europeanization, we recommend the webpage <>. The advertising company, following the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ) judgments on Centros (1999), Überseering (2002) and Inspire Art (2003), asks German businesses to take advantage of the guaranteed European freedom of establishment. Rather than suggesting the actual relocation of companies, the advertiser merely provides a vehicle for them to circumvent German company law. For 260 euros only, the advertiser offers a complete package for the establishment of a British ‘limited liability company’ (Ltd.). The advertising firm promises several advantages: among them, doing away with German bureaucracy; registration of the company in two weeks only; avoidance of strict German personal liabilities; free choice of authorized capital as long as it exceeds 1.40 euros (compared to a minimum of 25,000 euros in the case of a German GmbH ); no supervisory board codetermination if the company grows beyond 500 employees.

The authors' thesis is that modern European economic regulation has gone far beyond simply coordinating trade and customs, and is now attempting to cause genuine structural changes in the way individual European manage their economies: "The goal of a number of recent Commission initiatives is no longer to create a level playing field among EU countries, so that market success is the judge of different varieties of capitalism; instead the Commission consciously pushes for the ‘modernization’ of European economies along the lines of the Anglo-Saxon model." This approach, the authors claim, is helping to drive the European Union's democracy deficit. They analyze the Services Directive, the Takeover Directive, and emerging European corporate governance law jurisprudence to make their point.

I haven't read the entire thing yet, but I thought I'd pass it along for those who are curious about this sort of thing.

Another Steyn Stillbirth

Mark Steyn's daily dose of Europe-bashing takes up the debate in Germany over setting up places where overwhelmed mothers of newborn babies can abandon them. Steyn concludes:

Germany has one of the lowest fertility rates in Europe, net population loss, and a rapidly depopulating east that’s economically unsustainable. Thirty per cent of German women are childless, 40 per cent of female university graduates are childless, and its last election offered voters what Americans would regard as the statistically improbable choice of a childless man vs a childless woman. Meanwhile, the last gals in the country still in the procreation business have to be offered E-Z-trash drop-off bins in order to stop them tossing their bairns out the apartment window.

All this depravity and horror, Steyn gravely intones, makes it "harder not to conclude that parts of Europe are evolving into a kind of post-human society."

Man, that stings. I mean, you've got to sink pretty low as a society to offer mothers places where they can abandon their precious little newborn babies. Thank God America's strong family values keep it from following Germany's depraved lead. Except, of course, for those 40 naughty states that have already passed "secret safe place for newborns " acts basically identical to what Germany's proposing. After a comparable outbreak of newborns being abandoned and strangled by desperate new mothers.

Oh, and by the way, Gerhard Schroeder has two children. They're adopted, though, so perhaps that doesn't count. Note to Monsieur Steyn: you can use the fact that they were adopted from Russia [cue threatening string glissandi] for your next juvenile crack! [Hat-tip, Ed Philp]

Janez D. In the House

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the President of Slovenia, Janez Drnovsek:


Yep, that's him all right. As long-time readers of GJ know, I have a soft spot in my heart for the tiny, plucky nation of Slovenia. I think you're probably beginning to see why.

I read a profile of President Drnovsek, in the French magazine Courrier International, which I picked up in the airport. Here's the link, but you need to be a subscriber to read it. The article's called "A Mutant at the Head of Slovenia", and features a picture of Drnovsek with his head wrapped in a garland of flowers [UPDATE: thanks to Falk for the photo link].

After receiving a diagnosis of cancer, Drnovsek has become, in the Guardian's words, "the only new-age Vegan mystic who is also a head of state." He's acknowledged a 20-something year old daughter from a previous relationship (according to the French piece), welcomed the Dalai Lama to Slovenia, and lives alone in a mountain village with his dog. He writes books containing his idealistic musings, and has provoked conflicts with Slovenia's Prime Minister and Parliament over various issues like Darfur, agricultural subsidies, and NATO, which Slovenia recently joined, but which Drnovsek called "the armed wing of international capital." He calls himself just plain Janez D. on his blog (Warning -- it's in Slovenian! Prolonged attempts to understand this language may lead to confusion).

You can read his "Open Letter to Humanity" in English here: "Selfishness and greed prevail in our times as never before. The consciousness of most people has become sublimated to these characteristics. Countless others are intoxicated by such delusions as television and football. They are not really ‘alive’ – nor are they conscious."

Whatever you think of my homey Janez D. (and I gather that many Slovenians are less than happy with his latest transformation), you've got to admire the courage of a European politician who insults football.

Subprime Lending and European Values

A couple of years ago the Jeremy Rifkin wrote a book called The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. An essay in which he summarizes the main points is here.

Rifkin praises many European values -- a more family-friendly balance of life and work, emphasis on environmental sustainability, foreign policy that focuses on non-violent conflict resolution -- the usual suspects. The book is uneven (a fair-minded critique of Rifkin's rosy view of Europe can be found here) but one of the parts of the book I found convincing is the beginning, in which Rifkin critiques contemporary American values. His point is that "traditional American values" of hard work, thrift, postponement of gratification, etc. have been weakened in the U.S. over the past few decades under an onslaught of consumerism and superficiality. Here, he's in Christopher Lasch and Neil Postman territory, two American culture critics whom he repeatedly cites. (In the spirit of true Kulturkritik, both of these authors' critiques don't break down neatly along conventional political lines -- Lasch especially can sound like a European conservative in his praise of family, tradition, and community).

Sure, Americans work harder than Europeans, but, Rifkin asks, how much of this hard work is triggered by low wages and high living expenses (i.e., the need to have 2 jobs to finance the basics of life)? How much by the fact that most Americans carry thousands of dollars in consumer debt that must be paid off month-by-month? Puritan thrift also can't really explain the explosion in legal gambling the U.S. has seen in the past few decades: now 70% of Americans have played some form of legal gambling regularly, 47 states have legalized casino gambling in some form, and Americans "are now now spending more money on gambling than on all movies, videos, DVDs , music, and books combined." (28). Fifty-five percent of Americans under thirty believe they are going to become rich, but closer questioning reveals they have little idea precisely how. Rifkin argues that values of postponement of gratification, moderation in spending, and a distrust of get-rich-quick schemes have survived in Europe just as they have been weakened in the U.S.

The latest evidence that Rifkin may be on to something here is the subprime mortgage fiasco. "Subprime" lending is a euphemism for lending to people who have bad credit. Either they've defaulted on loans in the past, or they can't give reliable information about their income. The idea behind loaning these people money to buy houses was that the value of the house they bought would continue to rise dramatically, which housing prices in the U.S. were doing until recently. In fact, some of these homeowners -- usually ordinary lower-middle-class people -- took out second mortgages on their homes, or even "leveraged" their properties to acquire additional ones. The loans were structured so that the payments would rise dramatically if interest rates increased, or if housing prices stopped increasing. Despite everyone crossing their fingers and hoping for the best, those things have now happened, and hundreds of thousands of these loans are going bad. The U.S. press is now awash in articles like this one, wondering whether the damage will be limited to a wave of foreclosures, or whether it could have wider effects on the economy.

I cannot imagine something similar happening in Europe. First, many Germans I know do not expect or want to own a home in their lifetime. The ones who do assume that they will have to put a large down-payment on a home, and save for at least a decade before having enough money to do so (the government helps a bit). Second, I have hard time imagining that European banks would deliver hundreds of thousands of Euros to people based solely on their own unverified statement of how much they make per year, or give loans with no downpayment whatsoever. (Two practices common in the U.S.). Third, I can hardly imagine any German taking out debt grossly out of proportion to their income, especially under circumstances in which monthly payments could rise dramatically based on unpredictable future events. Cultural memories of families driven to ruin by debt and inflation persist in Germany. It's a country in which credit cards are still rare, and ones with revolving credit (where the total balance is not paid off monthly and gathers interest) rarer still.

I'm certainly not qualified to judge whether the sub-prime lending "debacle" will lead to a larger economic downturn in the U.S. But I think I'm on solid ground to say cultural attitudes and regulatory structures rule out something similar happening in Germany.

The Gates of Hell Turn 50

Ed Philp, with one last note before Andrew resumes his usual regularly-scheduled viewer service.

What should appear in my mailbox this morning, but a bizarre photocopied little treatise arguing that the twelve golden stars on the European flag symbolize the twelve gates to the underworld... Alternatively, according to the anonymous author of this tract, the stars represent the twelve stars of Maria's crown. I couldn't quite figure out whether he / she sees a deep Christian meaning in the EU, or a satanic cabal. In any event, the author is also quite upset about post-WM suggestions on how to recycle the masses of German flags that sprouted up.

This little screed is as good as the cheaply printed slip of paper I received a few months ago as a mailbox flyer advertising for a local lawyer who could assist with all of my immigration, tenancy, criminal and employment law issues. In all Eastern European languages, plus Russian, Turkish and "ponlisch". Assistance was also offered in white collar crime matters, also misspelled Wirtschaftsstafrect" in the flyer.

I wonder if a lawyer could respond to a negligence action against him by arguing that from his own advertising, it was prima facie evident that he had no special expertise in the area of law. "Practice it? Heck, I can't even spell it!"

Thank you for putting up with me over the past week.

Name this Sculpture

Sorry to interrupt the debate, but here are a few photos I've taken that I wanted to share with the world. This is the 'British Private Prep School', which I found not in Albion, but in a strip shopping center off Fry Road in suburban Katy, Texas:


Coming Soon: 'Elite Liberal Arts College', Sunnyvale Bargain Center, Waukegan, Illinois; and 'Tradition-Steeped Ivy-League Research University,' Rural Route 95, Ponca Lake, Oklahoma.

Now for an obscure cultural trivia quiz. This is a funky piece of folk art by a Houston artist. A friend of mine named George owns it. The question is: what is it called?

Hint: When I tell you, you will immediately say, 'of course!' I promise.