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Germanwings and The Public's Right to Know

William Langewiesche interviewed in Vanity Fair:

Is it unusual for an investigator or prosecutor to make such a bold announcement so soon after a crash?

Yes, it’s unusual, and, in a way, it’s a little inexplicable. The French system is different from the American system. It’s quite good, but it divides into two parts. There’s the Bureau d'Enquêtes et d'Analyses (B.E.A.), which is the technical investigators—the equivalent of our N.T.S.B. They’re very cautious, when it comes to releasing information—too much so. But there’s also always, in France, a parallel criminal investigation, because deaths are involved, and a Napoleonic mindset requires this.

That’s who this prosecutor in Marseille is. These are not people who are experienced with airplane accidents. The quality of these criminal investigations varies, depending on the quality of the consultants they bring in. Sometimes they’re quite good, even better than the B.E.A. In this case, I don’t know.

Were this an N.T.S.B. investigation, we would see a very different kind of information release. I would expect that we would see a neutral release of what we found in the recorder, and not pointing the finger at the co-pilot. You can include that we heard breathing, and the pilot hammering on the door, and that the cruising altitude was reselected, but leave it at that at for a few days. Let others point fingers, I say.

Langewiesche has a point, but I think it only goes so far. There's complaint especially in the German-speaking media about too much information being revealed about this plane crash, the use of the co-pilot's full name, commentators jumping to conclusions, etc. 

I think the authorities have done well. They have made important, reliable information available as soon as they had it. Especially by European standards, the level of transparency has been excellent. When 149 people have just been murdered, the public deserves answers as soon as the authorities have a basis for giving them. That's just what the French and German authorities have been doing.

As for releasing the co-pilot's name, what is this, 1995? Most countries do not see any reason to conceal the image or name of adults involved in major accidents or crimes (except for sexual assaults), so it seems a bit silly for German newspapers to continue coyly referring to him as 'Andreas L' when his name is available everywhere on the Internet. 

Perhaps in the fulness of time we'll learn something different about how this crash occurred, but that's true of any breaking story. People who are complaining about speculation aren't thinking things through. By releasing lots of information soon after they've learned it, the authorities have actually greatly reduced the amount of speculation about the cause of the crash.


Still Just Hand-Waving

Hexagon in a comment, points me an article (g) in Die Welt (thanks hex!) which argues that German documentary archives show that the oft-discussed 'forced loan' some Greeks want Germany to repay shouldn't be considered a loan, but rather a demand that Greece finance the costs of its own occupation by Nazi Germany, which the author says was authorized by the international law at the time. Near the end of the article the author asserts:

Zwar könnten im Rahmen von Reparationsverhandlungen die Besatzungskosten formal doch eingefordert werden. Doch alle Reparationsansprüche sind seit dem Zwei-plus-vier-Vertrag von 1990, den auch Griechenland völkerrechtlich bindend zur Kenntnis genommen hat, erledigt.

My translation:

"To be sure, the repayment of the occupation costs could be formally demanded as part of reparation negotiations. But all reparation claims are now foreclosed by the two-plus-four treaty of 1990, which Greece has recognized as binding under international law."

This is what I mean by hand-waving. It's just an assertion, without any proof or argument. The questions I'd like to see answered are:

  1. Why should a treaty involving the four occupying powers and Germany affect legal relations with Greece?
  2. What specific part of the treaty deals with war reparations payments? Does it specifically state that all reparation questions are now closed?
  3. What is the evidence that Greece officially accepted or recognized these provisions in a binding manner?

I don't care about the morality of the issue, I'm just interested in actual arguments with specific proof. Also my mind is not made up -- I'm not being snarky or coy, I just have yet to see anyone actually prove this assertion. Here is Albrecht Ritschl on the subject:

To explain that, let's delve a little bit into the legal position at the time of Germany's reunification in 1990. Germany received this kind of baptism certificate for a unified Germany which is incredibly subtly worded and whose only purpose was, apparently, to prevent reparation or restitution claims against unified Germany being raised on the grounds of the fact that there is a unified German state now and that something like article 5 of the London debt agreement could all of a sudden be reactivated. The German point of view is essentially that the so-called 2+4 treaty of 1990 is not making any mention of any reparations or wartime debts of Nazi Germany, and given the fact that this issue is not covered by the treaty, the issue is essentially dead. This has consistently been the position of the German government. The German position has so far been quite successful . . . several attempts to challenge it in the European court have been unsuccessful, and it seems to me that from a legal standpoint, there is relatively little chance that this will be successfully challenged.

So according to Ritschl, Germany has argued that because the 2 + 4 reunification treaty could have mentioned reparations but did not, this means the question is closed. If this is an accurate characterization of Germany's argument, it strikes me as pretty weak.

 

 

 

 


Why Does the Reunification Treaty Foreclose Greek Reparations?

The issue of war reparations to Greece is becoming more mainstream in Germany, as Reuters reports some leading SPD and Green figures cautiously suggesting that Germany should re-open the question of reparations.

One of the standard responses of German conservatives (and many Germans who would never consider themselves conservatives) is that the treaty of German re-unification, the so-called 2 + 4 treaty of 1990, forecloses the issue of Greek reparations. But I have yet to see an actual argument showing this -- generally there's just a bunch of hand-waving about how it was all settled in 1990, Greece 'accepted' this outcome back then, which now means it's irresponsible for Greece to try to reopen this can of worms. Frankly, the only convincing argument I've read is Helmut Kohl's statement that Germany caused so much suffering during World War II that any reparations sum that might be at all proportionate would bankrupt Germany for all eternity.

I've looked, but have yet to find any argument about why the 1990 treaty should affect Greece's reparations claims, except for the suggestion that since Germany only officially 'surrendered' to the four Allied powers in 1990, only these countries could legally claim reparations. But I don't really understand that reasoning, either.

Can anyone point me to something convincing? 


Bleg: Help me Catch a Cannibal Murderer!

WARNING: A confessed murderer and cannibal is on the prowl in Japan! Here's an interview with him:

Everyone knows who he is, actually. In fact, he's a minor celebrity. So I really want you to help me catch an article about a cannibal murderer. 

The cannibal murderer is Issei Sagawa, a soi-disant Japanese intellectual who killed and ate a woman in Paris in 1981. This is what happened to him afterward, according to you-know-who:

Sagawa's wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years without trial Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who ordered him held indefinitely in a mental institution. After a visit by the author Inuhiko Yomota, Sagawa's account of the murder was published in Japan under the title In the Fog. Sagawa's subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity likely contributed to the French authorities' decision to deport him to Japan, where he was immediately committed to Matsuzawa hospital. Examining psychologists there all declared him sane and found sexual perversion was his sole motivation for the murder. Because charges in France had been dropped, the French court documents were sealed and were not released to Japanese authorities. Consequently Sagawa could not legally be detained in Japan. He checked himself out of the hospital on August 12, 1986, and has remained free. Sagawa's continued freedom has been widely criticized.

So, on the surface we have not only a miscarriage of justice, but also quite possibly an example of two different legal cultures defining legal sanity in different and interesting ways. Just the sort of thing that really rings my bell.

Which brings me to the next mystery: an online law journal that seems to have published only a few issues, then vanished! Here is a citation to an article about Sagawa:

  1.  Morris, Steven (September 20, 2007)."Issei Sagawa: Celebrity Cannibal"New Criminologist, the On-line Journal of Criminology (New Criminologist). Archived from the original on June 14, 2011.[dead link]

As you can see, the link is very dead indeed. To add to the mystery, the New Criminologist started a Twitter account (under the logo Vitam Impenderi Vero) which then mysteriously died after only 4 tweets. The journal's online presence seems not just to have gone dormant, but been deliberately erased. Shoved down the memory hole, if you will!

Can anyone find this article for me? As a bonus, can anyone explain what happened to New Criminologist? 


Why Americans Don't Read European Writers in Translation

Bill Morris on why Americans don't read (European) writers in translation: 

On a crisp morning last October, I paused in front of one of the many magnificent bookshops that dot the city of Cologne. In the display window was a large, hand-lettered sign: NOBELPREIS FÜR LITERATUR, PATRICK MODIANO. Arrayed around the sign were a dozen works of fiction by Patrick Modiano—most in German, a few in French, none in English.

I walked into the shop and introduced myself as an American writer visiting from New York. Then I came clean: “I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never even heard of Patrick Modiano. Is he any good?”

“Oh yes,” said the woman behind the cash register. Like most bookshop workers in Europe, she was young and bright, fluent in English, and criminally well read. “He’s French and he’s quite good. You should definitely read him. Start with his first novel, La Place de l’Étoile, or Dora Bruder.”

...

Three Percent, a resource for international literature at the University of Rochester, derives its name from the fact that about 3 percent of all the books published in the U.S. every year are translations. But the bulk of these are technical writings or reprints of literary classics; only 0.7 percent are first-time translations of fiction and poetry. While the number of fiction and poetry books available in translation remains small, it has been rising steadily—from a total of 360 in 2008 to 587 last year, according to Three Percent.

So the question becomes: are so few translated books available because American readers don’t read them, or do American readers read so little foreign fiction and poetry because so little of it is available in translation? Or is it a bit of both?

“It’s complicated,” says Judith Gurewich, publisher of Other Press, which is consistently among the top American publishers of foreign fiction in translation. “I think it’s getting easier to get books in translation into the hands of reviewers. They’re excited—not only receptive, but very kind. But the reading public? That’s the million-dollar question.”

...

After noting that translators are doing some superb work today, Glusman offers his own theories about why translated fiction and poetry remain a tough sell for American publishers. One theory is that Americans lag behind other nationalities in exposure to foreign cultures, which is reflected in a lack of foreign language instruction in American schools. This certainly doesn’t help foster a hunger for foreign literature. Nor does the fact that only about one-third of Americans hold a passport.

Another theory, which Glusman credits to the German writer Peter Schneider, is deliciously counter-intuitive. Germany is a homogenous culture, largely white Anglo-Saxons with a smattering of immigrants, mostly from Turkey—and yet there is a voracious appetite for translated fiction in Germany, as I was reminded that day at the Cologne bookshop. America, on other hand, has been absorbing immigrants from all over the world for centuries, which might work as an impediment to fostering a hunger for foreign literature.

Schneider’s theory, says Glusman, “was that there’s an assumption that because of the heterogeneous nature of American society, we think we know more about foreign cultures than we actually do. And that breeds a certain insularity.”


New Documentary on Jens Soering

This is a new German documentary about Jens Soering, the German national who was convicted of a 1985 double-murder and sentenced to life imprisonment in Virginia, where he still is. Here are two trailers, the first in German, the second in English.

Soering's case has a long and complex history. While in England, he fought extradition to the state of Virginia on the grounds that it would violate European human rights law for Britain to extradite Soering to Virginia to face the possibility of capital punishment. The European Court of Human Rights agreed in Soering v. UK. Virginia dropped its demand for the death penalty, Soering was returned, convicted, and now is in prison for life.

He initially confessed to the crime and fled the country. He now claims he's innocent of the crime, but I haven't really been convinced by anything I've read so far. The documentary looks intriguing, I'll post any thoughts as soon as I've seen it.

This is the first and last time I will ever put a trigger warning on this blog, but these videos contain brief shots of crime scene photos with mutilated human bodies, so be advised. 


Is it OK to Enjoy Mozart's 'Abduction from the Seraglio'?

A British postgraduate musicology student loads up the arquebus with a gigantic clot of academic jargon and unloads on Wolfgang:

Within the boundaries of Saidean Orientalism, a work is deemed more ‘Orientalist’ if it purports to be authentic. Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail makes few, if any, claims to authenticity, most significantly because in theatre the boundary between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘imagined’, what is literal or ironic, is difficult to define. In a sense, the onus of ideological responsibility is shifted from the work itself onto the audience, and the way in which they perceive it. Moreover, in the blurring between Self and Other, Die Entführung does not provide a clearly Oriental identity, against which the Westerner may posit their notion of Self. The work is clearly of Orientalism, as Said states of Aida, since there are allusions to the East within a discourse of power, political or otherwise, yet this could be said of so many disparate works that it is an ultimately useless conclusion.

The negative stereotypes of the East in Die Entführung clearly portray it in a way which would reinforce the West’s perception of its own superiority. However, in order to satisfy Said’s contextual conception of an Orientalist work there must be a hegemonic discourse which favours Western Imperialism, a clearly defined Other, to enable a codification of the Self as its converse, and an attempt to provide an ‘authentic’ depiction of the East. The political tensions between Vienna and the Ottoman Empire, however, mean that Die Entführung is less an ‘assumption to power’ than a reaction to the current threat of an equal, albeit temporarily sedated, enemy. Self and Other were too similar in real life, and overlap too much in the opera, to facilitate a clear distinction. Far from attempting a quasi-ethnographic authenticity, in his reliance on stereotypes and musical convention, Mozart makes no such claim and, owing to the theatrical and often comic nature of the work, it would be foolish to take all its implications at face value. The absence of an internal ideological consistency means that the opera, as a self-contained unit, cannot be interpreted as uniformly Orientalist in a Saidean sense. Moreover, as with any artwork which is sent into the public domain, the multiplicity of possible interpretations by audiences existing in different times, places and cultures, force one to admit that, even if a work were deemed Orientalist according to Said’s doctrines, this could never be a permanently unequivocal designation.

As one outrageous Internet wag put it after quoting this piece, 'I think that means: yes, it’s still okay to enjoy this opera.'