Previous month:
May 2008
Next month:
July 2008

Pictures from Budapest

As an acquaintance I met at the conference put it, Budapest seems to have preserved its dignity in a way many other Central European capitals haven't.  There's a whimsical, wedding-cakey "National Style" building every few blocks, and the natives are handsome-looking and friendly.  Here's a female traffic cop overlooking Heroes' Square:

Policewoman_monitoring_heroes_squar

Here's the rally she was monitoring, held at a giant square built in 1896 to commemmorate Hungary's millenium anniversary:

Rally_in_heroes_square

In this reliquary shrine, draped with strips of bejeweled cloth, you see the 1000-year-old mummified right hand of St. Stephen, Hungary's patron saint and founder:

The_holy_right_hand_of_st_stephen

The Hungarian Parliament building, also erected in the millennium building spree:

Parliament_by_afternoon_light

Some amusing German from the entrance kiosk to a funicular railway:

Kontrollieren_sie_ihre_werte

A reception in the Budapest Museum of Fine Arts:

Reception_in_museum_of_fine_arts__2

The entrance hall of the Gresham Palace, a massive Art Nouveau confection built by an English insurance company in 1905 and recently renovated and turned into a Four Seasons Hotel:

Dscf8468

That's all for now.  Will post more later as official duties die down.


Hold Tight to Avoid Beer Spillage

I'm in Hungary right now, so I won't be watching the Turkey-Germany match.  I pass on a State Department warning to Americans living in Germany, as an email entitled "Hold Tight to Avoid Beer Spillage."  The pedant in me couldn't help noting the misspelling of a certain Berlin public monument:

On Wednesday evening, June 25, Germany and Turkey will meet in the semifinal round of the 2008 European Football Championship in Basel, Switzerland. Various cities in Germany have set up viewing areas for the public to watch the live broadcast of this game. The "Fan Mile" in front of the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin is expected to draw up to 500,000 German and Turkish fans, Frankfurt am Main will host a public viewing area at the Rossmarkt, and Munich is setting up a large public viewing area at the Olympic Stadium where 30,000 fans are anticipated. Similar events are planned in other cities and spontaneous celebrations or demonstrations related to the match may occur throughout Germany.

Because of the high fan interest in this prestigious semi-final elimination game between Germany and Turkey, there exists the possibility that disturbances, including violent disturbances may occur before, during or after the match, which begins at 20:45. At a minimum, post-game celebrations will likely result in traffic congestion in larger cities. Crowds celebrating previous German and/or Turkish victories have blocked streets and rocked vehicles attempting to pass through them.

I'll be pretty busy the next few days, but my hotel has Internet access, so I'll try to post a picture or two.  I can tell you one thing about Hungarian already -- it out-umlauts German by 8 to 1!


Another Blog Pause

It's that time again -- time for another blogging pause here at German Joys, whlie I go off to the International Institute of Sociology conference in Budapest and present a paper.  (Doing all the work to prepare for this has made posting a big sporadic lately, thanks for your understanding.)  Then it's a short stop-over in Slovenia to visit a friend.

I'll try to post a few pictures and impressions from Hungary, but no guarantees.  Regular posting will resume after July 4th.  In the meantime, here's Nona:


German Word of the Week: Bauernfängerei

The CDU/CSU has just released a White Paper, "Preserving Creation," that argues for quitting the current plan to quit nuclear energy (Ausstieg aus dem Aussteig, in German).  We just can't do without it, says the CDU, since it's still the cheapest CO2-free way to create energy. 

During a call-in debate on the paper this morning, each side accused the other of Bauernfängerei: simplistic demagogic argument.  "You can't tell people this horrible energy source is compatible with Christianity! That's Bauernfängerei!"  "The idea that energy costs will stay the same if we shut down out reactors is Bauernfängerei!"

Literally translated, it means "farmer-catching" or "peasant-catching."  You can see some in the following video of the North Minehead by-election starting at about 4:30:


What Boumediene Does and Does Not Do

Law Professor Richard Epstein clarifies the Supreme Court's recent decision on Guantanamo detainees:

Enemy prisoners of war are never granted [habeas corpus, roughly a Haftpruefungsantrag], either in the United States or abroad.

What matters is whether a prisoner is or is not an enemy combatant.... The six plaintiffs in Boumediene, accused of plotting an attack on the American Embassy in Bosnia, claim they are not. They should be entitled to challenge both the government’s definition of an enemy combatant and the factual basis of their arrest. And they should be able to do so, as the court stressed, under standard habeas corpus procedures that allow them to present evidence and confront witnesses, and not under the paltry procedures outlined by the 2006 Military Commissions Act.

If found to be enemy combatants, they can be held for the duration of the war and interrogated, if desired, as any other detainees. If not, they must be tried for some particular offense or released.

This is an important decision that has gotten almost completely lost in most coverage of this issue in the German media (understandable, since it's a tricky subject).  Boumediene does there has to be a court hearing, but the purpose of that court hearing is simply to see whether the detainees actually are prisoners of war -- whatever that might mean in this context. If they do fit this definition, they can be held until the end of hostilities without a formal trial, just as regular prisoners of war would be.

Boumediene is important because it's unclear what, if anything, many of these detainees actually did.  If the prisoners had been uniformed enemy troops captured in battle, there would be no real dispute about the United States' right to continue detaining them, although they would surely be entitled to Geneva Conventions protections, and the question of when the "hostilities" could be declared over.  Boumediene's importance lies more in the fact that it focuses attention on the prisoners' cases and, for the first time, will force the government to have to justify its detention in some sort of meaningful court procedure.


Factoids on Hope and the Brothers Grimm

  • If you're not visitin Bouphonia's glorious Friday Hope Blogging, you should start now.  Bouphonia also has something for the sea-slug fans out there.
  • Also, the Brothers Grimm German dictionary can be found online here.  It starts with a hymn of praise to the letter A as the "noblest and most fundamental of all sounds, sounding fully from the throat and breast, and which the child learns first."
  • Jonathan Rutherford and Zygmunt Bauman have essays on the culture of capitalism and privatization which can be downloaded from Soundings here.

For Those About to Nap...

...the Boston Globe explains how to do it best, while citing a study by some German university:

Relish the benefits of a sharper mind, improved accuracy and perception, quicker motor skills, keener coordination, and enhanced mood and memory. Getting even the briefest nap is better than nothing. A 2008 study at the University of Düsseldorf showed that the mere onset of sleep may trigger active memory processes that remain effective even if sleep is limited to only a few minutes. And last year, a British study suggested that just knowing a nap was coming was enough to lower blood pressure.

I'm a firm believer in naps.  In fact, I've been known to take them all day long.


The Irish-Plumber Vote

Via Washington Monthly, Kevin O'Rourke speculates why working-class Irish voted against the Lisbon treaty:

There are at least two ways of interpreting such patterns. The first would hold that well educated voters are more politically sophisticated and better able to understand the issues involved in a complex amendment to the institutional underpinnings of the European Union. The second interpretation is that, on the contrary, both rich and poor are capable of correctly discerning where their economic interests lie, and vote accordingly. The argument would be that globalisation generally, and European integration more narrowly, has overwhelmingly favoured skilled workers, at least in affluent countries such as France, Ireland and the Netherlands. Unskilled workers, by contrast, feel under threat from Romanian (or Asian) competition, or immigration from Eastern Europe and further afield. And while those of us who are more fortunate might regret it, it is hardly surprising that — in accordance with Heckscher-Ohlin logic — they vote accordingly....My bet is that the gap between middle-class and working-class voting patterns has a lot more to do with different interests, real or perceived, than with supposed differences in political sophistication.


The Irish Referendum

Henry over at Blogging Heads has a long-but-interesting about the Irish "no" vote on the European Constitution.  You might be angry at the outcome, he says, but many of the more reasoned objections to the vote don't really hold up.  Irish heads of state signed the treaty, then 'broke their word'?  Sure they signed the treaty, but "[s]tates frequently sign treaties that they then can’t ratify because of domestic opposition."  Ireland "sold out" the '500 million' other members of the rest of the states of the European Union?  You could look at it that way, but then again, it's not as if the Lisbon treaty has such overwhelming legitimacy, given that it's never been voted on by the public in any other EU country, and likely never will be/would have been.  Nor do Ireland's past EU subsidies oblige it to support this particular constitutional change.

Differing political styles play a role here.  "Anglo-Saxon" countries show much lower tolerance of elitism-tinged arguments.  You can see this in Henry's unconcealed contempt for the scolding comments made by Contintental European politicians after the vote.  To Europeans, the issue of whether the public actually made the right decision is a live issue after any vote, but the Anglo-Saxon instinct, if you can call it that, is to simply deal with the result and move on. Carping about how gullible or foolish the public was rubs Anglo-Saxons the wrong way.

The grand bargain in Continental Europe is that civil-service elites will run policy, and are insulated from direct public pressure as long as they do a conscientious job and get good results.  (Often enough, they're also insulated if they do a bad job, but that's another story.)  Attempts to graft this model onto the UK, though, activate the Anglo-Saxon political immune system.  Now, you may say that Lisbon wasn't an attempt to graft this model onto the UK/Ireland, since it would have actually streamlined the EU governing bureaucracy and increased the power of the European Parliament.  But, as the Germans say, Der Ton macht die Musik.  The fact that Irish political elites had to 'sell' the Lisbon treaty only heightened suspicions, since it seemed to be a case of reproducing a caricature of European political arrangements (the elite decides stuff, then tells 'the people' why that decision was wise/unavoidable) in Ireland.

I don't see much of a way out of this dilemma, since these ingrained cultural particularities ain't going away anytime soon.  Further, as a friend of mine who's an expert on the EU mailed me yesterday, there's no sense in exaggerating the consequences of the Irish vote, since the EU can still muddle through with its existing structure.  However, it strikes me that a couple of opportunities were missed. 

First of all, why rely on Irish politicians to make the case if they're not trusted by their publics?  Pardon me, but it's typically European to imagine that dull, mealy-mouthed lectures from unglamorous people in suits will prompt "the people" to come around to the right point of view.  Where was the sophisticated ad campaign?  I'm not talking about boring brochures or placards on streetcorners.  I'm talking about the sort of ads that sell products: sophisticated, low-key, ironic, with a non-threatening, man-in-the-street feel.  Humanize the European Union.  Locate it in a convincing narrative of obligation (they've done their part for us, now it's time for us to step up to the plate).  The ads could even be funny and self-deprecating (stuffy Eurocrat wanders through the Irish countryside with a dog-eared copy of the treaty, explaining Lisbon to the man-in-the-street).

Second, and this is not original to me (I got it from Klaus Haensch, interviewed on WDR5's morning call-in show (g)), why not make the referendum a choice between approving the Lisbon treaty or withdrawing from the EU?  As it stands, the reasons that drove individual Irish people to vote against Lisbon are either unknown, irrelevant or can't realistically be fixed.  Because the public only said what it was against, and not what it was for, it's impossible to draw any concrete lessons.  But making the referendum a choice between Lisbon or withdrawal would at least show the way forward.  It would also, of course, wonderfully concentrate the minds of treaty opponents, and bring into stark relief everything that EU membership has done for Ireland.  You wouldn't want to drag out this weapon too often, but for revisions as fundamental as this one, it would seem pretty fair.


Les Obamaphobes Francaises

One of the most pleasant aspects of Europe's judicious and reserved email etiquette is that you don't get pelted with screechy, ungrammatical, crazily-formatted political emails whenever an election is around the corner. 

Not so in the States, where right-wing halfwits are busy concocting e-screeds against crypto-Islamic elitist Manchurian Candidate Barack Hussein Obama and sending them to all their friends and family members with the urgent request to GET TEH TRUTH OUT!!  These things get forwarded in ever-expanding circles, creating a massive snowball effect and eventually reaching millions of people (fortunately, most of the recipients are paleo-conservatives who would never have voted for Obama anyway). 

In fact, in a troubling sign of cross-Atlantic contamination, there are even French versions of anti-Obama emails.  Obama's created his own response website called Fight the Smears, but Christopher Beam suggests IMITATING THE STYLISTIC QUIRKS!! of these right-wing emails to spread the Good News about Obama:

From: [Redacted]
To: [Redacted]
Subject: WHO IS BARACK OBAMA?

There are many things people do not know about BARACK OBAMA. It is every American's duty to read this message and pass it along to all of their friends and loved ones.

Barack Obama wears a FLAG PIN at all times. Even in the shower.

Barack Obama says the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE every time he sees an American flag. He also ends every sentence by saying, "WITH LIBERTY AND JUSTICE FOR ALL." Click here for video of Obama quietly mouthing the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE in his sleep.

A tape exists of Michelle Obama saying the PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE at a conference on PATRIOTISM.

Every weekend, Barack and Michelle take their daughters HUNTING.

Barack Obama is a PATRIOTIC AMERICAN. He has one HAND over his HEART at all times. He occasionally switches when one arm gets tired, which is almost never because he is STRONG.

Barack Obama has the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE tattooed on his stomach. It's upside-down, so he can read it while doing sit-ups.

There's only one artist on Barack Obama's iPod: FRANCIS SCOTT KEY.

Barack Obama is a DEVOUT CHRISTIAN. His favorite book is the BIBLE, which he has memorized. His name means HE WHO LOVES JESUS in the ancient language of Aramaic. He is PROUD that Jesus was an American.

Barack Obama goes to church every morning. He goes to church every afternoon. He goes to church every evening. He is IN CHURCH RIGHT NOW.

Barack Obama's new airplane includes a conference room, a kitchen, and a MEGACHURCH.

Barack Obama's skin is the color of AMERICAN SOIL.

Barack Obama buys AMERICAN STUFF. He owns a FORD, a BASEBALL TEAM, and a COMPUTER HE BUILT HIMSELF FROM AMERICAN PARTS. He travels mostly by FORKLIFT.

Barack Obama says that Americans cling to GUNS and RELIGION because they are AWESOME.