Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Does Turkey Need Air Defence Help?

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

Here, let me ask you this (answers and/or commentary as usual welcome at the €S e-mail address): Does Turkey currently face a military threat across the Syrian border? At least through the air?

Those are the important questions now before the German parliament, or Bundestag:

Luftabwehr für Türkei: Patriots-Debatte zwischen Skepsis und Fremdscham http://t.co/RSZflivE

@BMOnline

Berliner Morgenpost


Or rather: they are supposed to be before the Bundestag, as we learn in the Berliner Morgenpost article. Rather incredibly, though, it actually seems that the German government was ready to deploy Patriot anti-aircraft missile units to Turkey just on its own authority.

But Homey don’t play that, as opposition politicians are now reminding the German public. Indeed, as a spokesman for the opposition Socialist Party (SPD), Rainer Arnold, maintained in a separate newspaper interview, the German “Supreme Court” (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has made it clear in its decisions that such a deployment outside the country must be approved by the Bundestag.

If you ask Arnold’s boss, the SPD’s faction-leader in the Bundestag, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, it’s not clear-cut that Turkey lies under any threat. And his Green Party counterpart, Jürgen Trittin, will be glad to tell you – you don’t need to ask – that in fact a UN mandate (presumably from the Security Council) is also necessary for such a deployment. (That’s his own opinion, though, not that of the Bundesverfassungsgericht.)

On the other hand, the article also says that Turkey had asked for – or was very close to asking for – NATO assistance of that kind, so that this can easily be viewed as a case of providing solidarity to another NATO ally. That’s certainly the line that the governing coalition has taken up; some leading spokespersons profess to be ashamed that there is even any doubt that Germany is willing to come help.

Then again – is there really a threat? German deployments outside Germany for decades (after the mega-deployment known as WWII) never happened at all, but in any event are very sensitive matters domestically – and the latest one that is just winding down, to Afghanistan, did little to inspire confidence. Anyway, the nature of the Turkish situation is not decided in Berlin, yet, and so neither is the whole issue of Patriot deployment.

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Secrets of German Success

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

If you examine the phenomenon closely, there’s a curious aspect to the current European economic crisis, whose most outstanding (but not sole) manifestation is the sovereign debt crisis. I mean looking beyond the threat to the common European currency, to where you see a marked imbalance in economic fortunes. Things are bad – very bad – in Spain, especially in Greece, but in Southern Europe (and Ireland) in general, but then things are rather good in Germany and its own ring of associated economies, the Dutch and the Austrian, but also the Polish (and Slovak) and to a lesser degree the Czech.

Why is that? Hermann Simon is a German, and also Chairman of the Board at the consulting firm Simon Kucher & Partners, and he put forth his ideas in a substantial article that appeared in Germany’s newspaper-of-record, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a few weeks ago. Actually, his piece is but an hors-d’oeuvre to the ideas he sets out in his new book – in German only.

The one-phrase summary for Germany’s success – and that book’s title – is “Hidden Champions.” Germany is overwhelming dependent, not on its domestic demand, but on its exports. The business establishment there is very good at that game. But it’s not large firms which are responsible – Simon mentions that even France has more companies in the Fortune Global 500 than Germany – but rather the smaller firms (famously known as the Mittelstand) that do killer export business even though most people have never heard of them – the Hidden Champions. Of the 2,734 names on the list Simon compiles of them, fully 1,307 are German (and many of the rest are Austrian or Swiss).

How do they do it? Simon conveniently (unluckily?) lists thirteen reasons: (more…)

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A Toast to the Debates!

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

So the presidential debates are finally over! The third and last one – it was supposed to be about foreign policy – just happened, and now the candidates are back on the campaign trail for the home stretch.

As usual, there has been a flood of analysis about this third debate, domestically but also in the international press. But at EuroSavant we’re always on the look-out for the unusual angle, and I believe we’ve found it: Beer-mugs for Obama from Der Spiegel, by that magazine’s lady correspondent in New York, Wlada Kolosowa.

Yes, that’s a very Polish name (given name should be pronounced VWA-da), although Wlada turns out to be a quite pretty 25-year-old Russian (pictures here) who has moved to New York City to study “Creative Writing” at NYU and who while there apparently is Der Spiegel’s local stringer.

A 25-year-old foreigner, just arrived in-country, as a debate analyst? you might exclaim. Well, how about if Wlada investigates the drinking-game perspective? That’s what she does here, heading for a popular bar for NYU’ers in Brooklyn called “Galapagos” on Monday night.

That explains the article’s title, and Wanda does a pretty thorough job, despite actually going on-location to but one bar. Did you know that for many Americans “Where are you going to watch the debate?” is just as common a question as “Where will you watch the World Cup Final?” is in Germany? Or that there is an endless variety of presidential debate drinking-game regimes, each according to taste? Many newspapers publish them, she reports, and universities all have their own. These amount to lists linking key words with associated drinks: sort of like bingo, if you hear these words, then you’re supposed to take the associated drink. Or sometimes something else: the drinking game rules published by the feminist website Jezebel, for example, prescribe that upon hearing a candidate mention his mother, players should then promptly send their own mothers a “drunk SMS” either thanking them for the good times or else cursing them for the way they screwed up their daughter’s life. Or there’s the list from what Kolosowa calls the “macho site” BroBible that even prescribes smoking a joint if/when either candidate starts talking about “green jobs.”

All in all, pretty light-hearted stuff. But Wlada also takes the trouble to gauge the mood towards President Obama among her sample of young NYU’ers. As you can imagine, the euphoria of back in 2008 is by now truly well and gone, especially since all of these young people have major anxieties about landing jobs after graduation. (And have no doubt about it, NYU is an expensive school, meaning that most of them will leave there with significant debts to their names.) On the other hand, most are willing to give Obama a pass on the situation, recognizing that in reality there is little the president can do about employment.

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Can Lufthansa Go Low-Cost?

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012

For well over a decade now, in the European air travel market the “legacy” airlines that everyone was used to from the past have been struggling to compete with low-cost carriers who have been able to offer substantially lower prices in return for a substantially lower level of service. The latter service has nonetheless consistently remained tolerable enough for cost-conscious travelers to keep purchasing tickets in droves (although recent developments suggest that things might be starting to go a bit too far).

Now an interesting article in the German news-magazine Focus (Advantageous – but not cheap) tells of a new plan for fighting back from the German flag carrier (although it is no longer publicly-owned) Lufthansa. In the main, this scheme calls for combining 133 of Lufthansa’s European flights with 150 flights from its Germanwing subsidiary into a new airline, provisionally called (within internal Lufthansa documents) “Direct4you.”

One truly hopes that they can come up with a better name than that prior to the planned launch next January. (Or perhaps just decide to go whole-hog with the text-speak and call it “Direct4U.”) Otherwise, the airline has been busy re-training its personnel in the whole low-cost template, something by now familiar to all within the industry: things like equipment standardization, more efficient jet turn-around, a simplified (and no longer free) on-board food & drink menu – and employees who are paid less, when they are not themselves lower-paid outsourced workers. One might also want to ask what happened with Germanwings itself, since that was supposed to be the low-cost airline that would save Lufthansa, back when it bought Germanwings at the beginning of 2009. Well, apparently that alone did not work, because the mother company is still in trouble, steadily recording financial losses, so that it has to try again, this time introducing cost-cutting techniques and procedures more thoroughly.

The problem is that this sort of thing does truly involve destroying much of the legacy of how the company has done business in the past, in order to try and save its future. This includes those past wage agreements, and in Germany overturning those is sure to be a tall order. Already the spokesman for the cabin personnel’s union is warning that this cannot work. We will be able to see shortly whether he is right.

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Samsung Laughs Last & Best?

Monday, August 27th, 2012

The tech world lately has been buzzing about the verdict in the patent-infringement case that Apple brought against Samsung, for allegedly copying for its Android-based smartphones many features for which Apple thought it held patent protection. And the jury did largely rule in Apple’s favor, in what the NYT’s writer called a “decisive victory.”

But was it really so decisive? Over in Germany, the Bild Zeitung begs to differ:

Patentstreit mit #Apple – Darum lacht Samsung über die Klatsche http://t.co/79yRbm0H

@BILD

BILD.de


The take there is rather that the jury’s verdict was one of the best things that could happen to Samsung, despite the $1.05 billion in damages it was ordered to pay Apple. (The case is now on appeal.) Why?

  1. First of all, that $1.05 billion for Samsung is not really serious money. It can afford to pay that, easily: its net profit just in the second quarter this year was $4.5 billion.
  2. OK, if the money isn’t a serious consideration, maybe the possible prohibition (a judge has decide, after appeal) on selling any more of those Samsung smartphones that violate the Apple patents will hit Samsung where it hurts? Not really, says this piece: “A sales prohibition is hardly a problem!” That’s because Samsung is so capable of bringing out new models that skirt the new prohibitions that the company will hardly miss a step. Indeed, there’s little doubt it already has such models prepared and ready to sell right now.
  3. Then again, while Samsung can probably handle a sales-prohibition as above, most of its smaller competitors could encounter problems in doing the same – which they would have to do, however, to avoid being hauled to court by Apple as well. So the effect of this ruling on the Android smartphone industry could be that of separating the men from the boys – and propelling Samsung well ahead of its competitors.

Finally, there is the oft-cited principle that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Through this landmark case alone Samsung has been able to increase the reach and recognizability of its brand substantially. Indeed, the article cites a recent poll conducted in Asia which for the first time puts Samsung in first place when it came to brand recognition, ahead of Apple and all the others.

On the other hand, one must also keep in mind that this analysis has no byline*, and that it was published in the foremost example of the German common or “street” press – i.e. a publication more known for its nude women on page 3 than its business analysis. Is it plausible nonetheless? I leave that to readers to decide.

*Well OK, it was apparently written by Bild’s “Daniel,” but I can’t find any last name.

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Watch Ur Palle (revised post)!

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Those Italians! Gotta love ’em, but be careful about getting to know their language a little too well and then going out on the strada to practice it. You’ll get in trouble if you say things like Sei senza uova nei pantaloni! Literally “you have no eggs in your pants!”, this phrase “is not only vulgar but quite clearly has an insulting dimension.” That’s a quote from the ruling of an Italian judge, in a case in which one cousin was said to have uttered this phrase against another (presumably male) in public. So: Not allowed! The utterer will be hit with some type of legal sanction.

Now, where did this all take place? In Potenza! I kid you not – you can check out the by-line of the report in Der Spiegel yourself if you like!

Update: Ah, now feedback is starting to come in from true Italians, which is revealing the shaky nature of the alleged phrase – gained, after all, through translation by way of German! Why did I think that might not involve problems?

The definitive article is here. (But it’s in Italian – as you would hope! Thanks to my friend Barbara for the reference!) It now seems that non hai le palle (“you’ve got no balls!”) is the phrase we’re talking about – nothing about pants, or uova. That’s what will get you in trouble (or just writing about it, it seems). Nota bene!

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Old Green Fogies

Tuesday, July 31st, 2012

Things Just Ain’t What They Used To Be: The syndrome is a classic one, afflicting us all, as youthful enthusiasm gradually gives way to middle-aged conservatism and stuffiness. In German politics, who once best represented that callow exuberance better than the Green Party*? Theirs was a genuine grass-roots movement, pioneering the concept within Europe – and beyond – of an ecology-oriented political organization, while the member from their ranks who ultimately gained the most national power – Joschka Fischer, Vice-Chancellor for seven years under Gerhard Schröder – had once been a Frankfurt street-fightin’ man.

That’s all different now, as Stephan-Andreas Casdorff writes in the Berlin paper Der Tagesspiegel (Resistance to the well-adjusted grows). For him, the Party is “no longer recognizable” in the maneuvering that is now underway to select its new leadership. Both its internal debates and those it conducts with fellow legislators in the German Lower House (Bundestag) are now as bland as any other politicians’.

Part of this can be ascribed to the fact that the Party has been so successful in actually capturing power. As mentioned, with Joschka Fischer and a team of other cabinet members it actually was a governing party for a while at the federal level. That’s not true right now – it may become true again – but there is a Green in charge of one of the country’s richest and most dynamic states, Baden-Württemberg (that’s mainly where you’ll find the big auto-producing companies, for example; the Landeschef or Governor there is Winfried Kretschmann) as well as in numerous lower-level state and municipal offices throughout the land. With power comes responsibility, so they say, and thus a sort of maturing.

In Casdorff’s eyes the embodiment of what the Green Party has become, and why, is Jürgen Trittin. Once leader of the Party’s radical wing, he accompanied Fischer into Gerhard Schröder’s cabinet, went on to other important posts, and so became a confirmed pragmatist along the way. Back in his radical days, such as when he had just become Federal Minister for the Environment, he was known in particular for his demand that . . . er, all German nuclear power plants be closed down. Anyway, he is now a leading candidate to take up Party leadership once again.

Even if he succeeds, though, he won’t sole Party leader – the Greens don’t do that. They still always have two co-equal leaders, unlike any of the other German political parties. That includes the Piratenpartei, the German Pirate Party, which itself is now inspiring politics of a new kind throughout Europe (and beyond) the way The Greens once did. The torch has been passed.

* Formally known since 1993 as “Alliance ’90/The Greens.”

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The O[deleted] G[deleted]s Begin!

Friday, July 27th, 2012

Hooray! The London 2012 Olympic Games formally open today! Although of course some athletes have already been in action even from Wednesday, mainly the football players.

Let me repeat, though, that this blog is generally not interested, certainly not in the athletics. Attention is more likely to be attracted here by catchy and notable Olympic-related headlines – All of London sells itself to sponsors, is a good example.

That’s the title of the kick-off report for a series that the German journalist Imke Henkel (a female, FYI; her winsome smile you can inspect at the article’s very top if you click through) is undertaking for the German newsmagazine Focus, by heading to London to write an “Olympic Diary.” This first installment is all about the sponsorship madness that seems to have descended upon the city.

Or perhaps even – although naturally the term is grossly over-used – the sponsorship fascism. You might have already heard about that Cafe Olympic – located within sight of the new Olympic Stadium, actually – that has been forced to rename itself “Cafe Lympic” for the duration of the Games. That ain’t the half of it, though; Henkel actually provides a list of words that businesses are henceforth (through 12 August) not allowed to display, which go beyond any variation of the word “Olympic” to include “Summer,” “2012,” and of course “Gold,” “Silver” and “Bronze.” Lilagekleidete Aufpasser – translates as “Purple-clad monitors” – are even now roaming the streets, in London but also all over the UK, ensuring that any violations are reported for prompt sanction by LOCOG, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games. (more…)

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Olympics: Are They Worth It?

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012

As everyone knows by now, the 2012 London Olympics open in just two days’ time. This blog is not so very interested, at least from an athletics point-of-view, although perhaps noteworthy incidents might still arise.

Meanwhile, Christian Hönicke from the German business newspaper Handelsblatt approaches the Games from a proper business perspective to expound on How metropolises profit from the Olympics. Yes, the medals-won table is already there over on the right side (all zeros for now, of course; “Afghanistan,” “Albania,” and right on through) and Hönicke’s piece is regularly interrupted by mini-accounts of past medal-winners, but the text itself provides a good treatment of the question: “Is it worth it for a city to host the Games?” (more…)

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New EU President = “Debtorland”

Monday, July 9th, 2012

You’ve heard about the latest EU member-state to get in line for bailout assistance, right? It’s small, but it’s financial needs are anything but. It’s Cyprus. But it’s also a beggar with a difference, namely a rather too-close relationship to Russia.

Schuldenland: Zyperns Trickserei mit Russen bringt EU in Rage http://t.co/xZO5vzNJ

@weltonline

Welt Online


Germany’s Die Welt has a great run-down of the situation on that Mediterranean isle, so far-flung that it might as well be considered Middle Eastern. But no, as of 1 May 2004 Cyprus has been an EU member-state, as of 1 January 2008 in the Eurozone. And as of a week ago last Sunday it is EU Council president! This despite all the international intrigue swirling around it, as sketched in this Die Welt piece, which reads like something out of a spy novel. (more…)

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Is Germany Allowed to Win?

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

As much as everyone may desire it, it may ultimately prove impossible to separate the Euro 2012 Football Championship from wider political matters of the real world. We already saw last Friday, with Germany-vs.-Greece, a football game already fraught from being a tournament quarter-final, after which the loser would be sent home, gain even more of an edge from geopolitical considerations, as the Greeks were especially anxious to gain a bit of revenge against the country whose financial hard-heartedness many of them see as responsible for their current economic meltdown.

Alas, they did not get their wish. But consider: now that we know the results of the first semi-final it is clear that, having already beaten Greece, the German team’s path to the European championship now lies in beating Italy, and then beating Spain in the final – “PIGS” countries all of them! These are the post-WWII Germans, though, you must remember, so that inevitably the question is arising: Given these circumstances, should Germany be allowed to win the 2012 European football championship even if it can?

Patriotismus-Debatte: Darf Deutschland Europameister werden?… http://t.co/nMRN8LhD

@SPIEGEL_Politik

SPIEGEL Politik


That’s literally the question Spiegel writer Jan Fleischhauer poses in the title to his opinion-piece. His lede:

The Left is again afraid that foreigners don’t find the Germans nice enough. Some even wish for a defeat of the national football team against Italy. But Germans are much more popular with foreigners than most think.

Yes, apparently this continued feeling of shame and unworthiness is to be found primarily among Left- and Green-inclined German voters, some of whom have taken to stealing German flags sticking out of cars and leaving behind notes accusing those drivers of fostering nationalism.

This is comical stuff, although it does seem to be really happening. But it’s so unnecessary because, as Fleischhauer points out, in reality Germans are currently riding an extraordinary wave of popularity (which apparently goes for the kind of football they play as well). He cites a recent Pew Research Center study showing that Germans are admired by all other Europeans for their honesty and hard work. Chancellor Angela Merkel has profited from this to become rather popular throughout the continent herself – other than among the Greeks, that is.

But there is a larger point here, and once again it relates to “real life,” specifically the enormous financial crisis with which the continent is now wrestling. Everyone is now earnestly looking to Berlin to fix it! What, should we instead turn to Paris and François Hollande? Perish the thought! No, if anyone holds in their hands the solution to this financial turmoil and uncertainty, it’s the Germans (largely by being willing to pay to clean up other countries’ messes, it has to be acknowledged!). For Heaven’s sake, let them step up and do that – and should they win Euro2012 along the way, then that is no problem.

UPDATE: It’s no problem, alright: Germany 1, Italy 2!

One could opine that the clear assumption in Fleischhauer’s article that the German team would of course win the semi-final and go on to face Spain in the final reflected a certain German arrogance. But then we would be dealing here with a strange mixture of arrogance (“Of course we’ll win”) and humility (“But should we be allowed to?”).

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Crazy Like a Fascist Fox

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Here’s a disturbing fact that got lost in the widespread (fully unjustified) relief that greeted New Democracy’s victory in the last Greek elections: that “Golden Dawn” party, basically a bunch of neo-Nazis, once again gained 7% of the vote, despite a scandalous TV appearance by one of that party’s leading politicians just prior to this second vote, in which he threw water at as well as actually struck a pair of women panelists who took exception to the far-right opinions he was expressing.

This news tidbit we get in a report out of Athens from Die Tageszeitung reporter Schwabinggrad Ballett (sic; you’ve got to hope that is some sort of nom-de-plume) entitled The Social Holes.

In fact, Golden Dawn’s pre-election outrages were not confined to the TV studio, but also extended to the streets (in the best private fascist army tradition – look up e.g. the Nazi SA, Mussolini’s Black Shirts) where they went around bashing immigrants. Still, they seem to have provoked little if any backlash, other than occasional anti-Golden Dawn demonstrations organized in immigrant communities. The author worries whether we are seeing here the granting of political legitimization to Golden Dawn which most feel they do not deserve.

But it gets worse. Ballett cites figures of between 17% and 25% support for Golden Dawn from the special ballot-boxes where police can go to vote on election day as they take a brief break from duty to do so. What is more, it seems that the party has even started engaging in providing an impressive list of social services to residents of a particularly supportive Athens neighborhood called Agios Panteleimonas: supplying medicines and food to those who need them, taking emergency cases to the hospital, and yes (it’s in the article, though I can’t tell if Ballett is being serious here), helping little old ladies across the street. After all, by and large provision of these sorts of services from the government has melted away, since that government can’t afford them anymore; that’s the meaning of this piece’s title, Social Holes. Golden Dawn leaders may not exactly be as crazy as everyone thinks.

You might want to click through and check out as well that rather chilling picture at the top of the article, apparently of a Golden Dawn street demo – looks like something straight out of Apple’s famed “1984” TV advertisement.

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Red Line For Government Debt

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

As you will be well aware, the current debate engaging the Continent is that between austerity on the one side and fiscal expansionism on the other. What with the recent election results in France and in Greece (together with German state election returns from North Rhine-Westphalia), there seems to be a rising tide of popular opinion in favor of the former. The austerity party of the EU’s Northern European core, headed by Germany*, has been thrown on the defensive.

And so we have this, from the FAZ, Germany’s paper of record, specifically from that newpaper’s “Sunday economist” blogger Patrick Bernau, warning that Too much debt makes you poor. The lede:

There is a magic boundary: From 90 percent indebtedness it becomes dangerous for States. It is becoming clear: States then often get into decades-long problems.

His authority? That is mainly a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper by Carmen and Vincent Reinhart together with Kenneth S. Rogoff, entitled “Debt Overhangs: Past and Present.”

There you go, then: get yourself in debt in excess of 90% of your GDP, and you as a government are asking for trouble. That will show those who seem to just want to borrow-and-spend their way out of current economic difficulties.

In reality, of course, things are not quite so simple. To be fair, Bernau recognizes this. For one thing, that Reinhart^2-Rogoff study has to do with the sorows of States which exceed that 90% limit for five years in a row – a crucial distinction. There’s also the issue of exactly how punishment is delivered to those governments that stray over the line. Supposedly, the interest rates they pay for that debt start to skyrocket but, as Bernau readily concedes, that is hardly the case uniformly in the present world, particularly for governments which in sole charge of their own currency.

What we seem to have here is yet another case of a disconnect between an author’s fair-and-balanced article and those other people who are charged with writing the headline (and, often, the lede). Still, you get the feeling that Bernau does believe in that 90% thesis, even if he doesn’t manage to show in any definitive way why it should be true – and he definitely is worried for his own Germany, whose own government indebtedness is now at 81% of GDP and approaching that “magic boundary” fast.

*But also including the UK, which has been glad both to impose fiscal austerity on itself and live with the inevitably disappointing consequences.

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“That New Airport? Can it!”

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

“All Berlin-Brandenburg Airport, All The Time”? You could be forgiven for thinking so. Or consider the alternate, “natural progression” perspective: what first was but a tweet engendered a post amplifying that tweet – and now just one more to show how crazy things have become.

We need to remember that, in the first place, this is all about the Germans (!) really messing up a major engineering project, one that directly involves their capital. Is that “man-bites-dog” or what? I can’t believe that this has not attracted more attention from the press outside Germany! It’s not like you can keep the lid on news like this in today’s day & age. This could well turn out to be a highly instructive test-case on how to ensure the rest of the world is content to remain ignorant when you have news that you would just as soon not spread – if only I could distill the key lessons.

But that’s not what this post is about. Some extra crazy has popped up, in none other than the German newspaper of record, the FAZ. There author and journalist Ralph Bollmann urges the Berlin authorities to Lass es bleiben – Let it be! He ain’t exactly trying to channel the Beatles; he is actually urging the abandonment of that Berlin-Brandenburg airport project, which was supposed to have opened to the public about a month from now!

Why on earth? He actually lists ten arguments; let me just mention the highlights:

  • Better to just stop this unending nightmare: Schrecken ohne Ende. A number of factors have convinced Bollmann that just starting to use the new airport will soon bring one new problem after another – for instance, it will have too little capacity from the very get-go, yet will be almost impossible to enlarge further.
  • Tegel is better: That’s Berlin’s Tegel airport, of course, on the west side of town, famously built in a hurry (90 days for the first runway) during the Berlin Blockade to expand vital airport capacity. Even more interesting – I had not picked up this fact – is that Tegel was supposed to be closed at around the same time the new BER opened! (Obviously, those plans have been put on hold.) Right now Tegel is merely Berlin’s main airport, and the fourth-biggest in Germany! I think Bollmann zeroes in on why Tegel must die with his sentence “Back then [the early 1970s, when Tegel was upgraded to what it is today] architects didn’t build a shopping mall, just an airport.”
  • Riding by train is more comfortable: Amen to that. Too much time lost travelling to, getting “screened” at, etc. the airport.
  • Only poor people fly to Berlin: Incoming passangers to Berlin have doubled in ten years, Bollmann writes – but are these new visitors the kind Berliners really want to see? “Exiles from Schwabia, party-goers from all of Europe, recently unemployed Spaniards.”
  • Templehof deserves another chance: This is rather surprising to read. The old Templehof airport is famous from the Airlift, but it sits right in the middle of the city, among dense urban areas. What’s more, there was a referendum a few years ago about shutting it down – and it passed! So that decision has already been made.
  • Put Nature back: Apparently the route south from the Berlin city center that the new airport now blocks was a favorite for heading out to commune with nature on weekends and holidays. So demolish the airport!

So there you are: quite the mix of the reasonable (first three) and the insane (last three). Still, maybe he has a point: it would have been better just to expand Tegel, as well as to further encourage train over air transportation.

And just who is this Ralph Bollmann, anyway? Turns out he’s a fairly prominent journalist and commentator, with a side-line in writing history books about the Roman Empire. So he’s familiar with grandiose projects, and he’s familiar with the imperial hubris often associated with them.

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Crash Pilot Dummies

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012

Yesterday I reported on the @EuroSavant Twitter-feed about the rather unfortunate-sounding instance of Berlin’s new airport (BER: Berlin Brandenburg Airport) not opening in time for the summer tourist season:

BM Misses peak season! Outrage in #Germany as opening new #Berlin airport delayed beyond planndd 3JUN date into autumn http://t.co/zbKidRg7

@EuroSavant

EuroSavant


Apparently that was not even the half of it, as we learn today from one of the German capital city’s leading newspapers, Der Tagesspiegel:

Der Willy-Brandt-Flughafen ist ein politischer Bruchpilot: http://t.co/sZdqXtNP

@tagesspiegel_de

Tagesspiegel.de


Bruchpilot: Peter Tiede proclaims BER to be a “political crash pilot.” And Peter Tiede is no mere Tagesspiegel journalist, but rather editor-in-chief of the Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten, another Berlin-area paper.

I’m not really aware of that aviation term (“crash pilot”?), but clearly it’s not meant to be good, as we see in the piece’s first paragraph after the lead:

An airport arises in the wrong place under scandalous conditions. There is too little planning, too little building, and it is not ready. And the routes by which airplanes come and go no one wants to make known beforehand . . . How all that was sold, who in the airport company’s management made which errors, who misled the Public – that’s something the airport company, its Board and owners, the states of Brandenburg and Berlin, and even the federal government will have have to clarify.

Or else an investigative commitee – at some point.

So somebody certainly believes that the authorities in charge messed this airport up, and bad. But Germans? And at their very own capital city? These are not the Germans we all know (and love)! Even worse, if this lament does happen to be anywhere close to true, is that the airport is supposed to be named after everyone’s favorite Cold Warrior, Willy Brandt.

It does look bad, though. Among other things, Tiede claims that an additional runway (the airport’s third) is just a question of time, and short time at that: it’s going to be needed within at least two years, if BER is to serve any serious use. And yes, they have now called off the airport’s scheduled opening ceremony for 3 June, but nobody really knows when it actually will be able to open.

The article to which the Tagesspiegel tweet links is basically Peter Tiede’s polemic about how disastrously everything has gone wrong, and his platform for calling for political consequences to ensue for those he holds most responsible, namely Brandenburg Minister-President Matthias Platzeck and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. An earlier, much longer Tagesspiegel article (Errors in the system: The BER problem is back), to which Tiede provides a link at the beginning of his piece, provides more of the actual details.

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Schengen R.I.P.?

Friday, April 20th, 2012

Free movement of goods; free movement of ideas; free movement of money; free movement of people: these all used to be points of pride for the European Union, milestone-accomplishments as it succeeded in bridging national differences to create unprecedented levels of cooperation between European states. And along with that, unprecedented levels of trust; all of those freedoms required each participant state to have confidence that the others would not let them down and cause them to regret such openness.

Now “freedom of movement” once again seems to be under peril, as can be seen in today’s Süddeutsche Zeitung exclusive article Berlin and Paris want to bring back border controls. This is all about the EU’s Schengen Agreement, begun in 1985 and expanded since then to include most, if not all, member-states in a regime where travellers are not checked at “internal” EU borders between member-states but, on the other hand, “external” borders between member-states and non-member-states are policed ever more carefully, since someone getting past those then has free access to other states party to the Agreement.

Or at least those external borders are supposed to be carefully policed. In reality, doubts have arisen as to whether this really is the case, particularly when it comes to asylum-seekers making their way from North Africa across the Mediterranean, usually to Italy. When the pressure got turned up last year due to the Libyan civil war and many thousands more attempted this boat trip than usual, French confidence that the Italians were performing their proper border-control duties disappeared, to the point that border controls were reimposed for a few days on those countries’ “internal” common EU border – in violation of the Schengen agreement, of course. Denmark last year also chose unilaterally to reimpose controls on its border with Germany for a while. (more…)

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Thaw in Pyongyang?

Monday, April 16th, 2012

Kremlinology is not dead – it has merely left the Kremlin and moved East. Especially now that a previously unknown twenty-something is apparently in charge of the North Korean dictatorship, a similar industry of analysts has sprung up to read between the lines of pronouncements and events there to try to figure out that regime’s basic motivations in the face of overwhelmingly uniform, Nazi-party-rally-style public demonstrations.

Now Kim Jong Un has deposited a hefty clue to his mind-set, in the form of his first-ever public speech on the occasion of celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the birth of his grandfather, Kim Il Sung. The German newsmagazine Focus sees encouraging signs here, as outlined in its (unsigned) article Kim Jong Un – a new leadership style for North Korea?

True, true, Kim did not use the occasion to announce any new policies. Indeed, he took pains to emphasize his country’s long-standing “military first” policy when it comes to public expenditures. Yet a certain Paik Hak Soon, from the South Korean think-tank the Sejong Institute who is quoted extensively in this piece, claims nonetheless to see in Kim’s speech and elsewhere signs of a new openness in the North Korean leadership. After all, the regime also acknowledged the failure of its rocket-launch last Friday, which in itself was unprecedented. Plus, what foreign observers within the country as there are have reportedly picked up other signs of a thaw, including bigger markets and more widespread (though still tightly controlled) mobile telephone use.

By themselves, these indicators given in the Focus article do not seem too convincing to me. Plus, the world is still awaiting an expected North Korean nuclear test, and we’ll see how the outside assessments of that regime change after that happens. As is often the case these days, though, these observers could just go to Twitter to find the signs of more North Korean openness they are looking for – most particularly to the @KimJongNumberUn account, where the country’s young Supreme Leader lays out the sort of dilemmas he is facing for all to see:

Etiquette question: if your rocket fails do you still have to feed the scientists? Askin for a friend.

@KimJongNumberUn

KimJongNumberUn


He even offers occasional glimpses into his country’s culture, such as with his #NorthKoreanPickupLines series:

How’d you like a one-minute ride on my rocket? #NorthKoreanPickupLines

@KimJongNumberUn

KimJongNumberUn


Admittedly, there are also persistent rumors that this Twitter account is not actually genuine.

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“Pre-Announced Failure”

Sunday, April 15th, 2012

Yesterday the efforts to stop the bloodshed in Syria finally seemed to make some forward progress. The UN Security Council voted to send 30 UN personnel there to enforce, or at least to observe, the cease-fire that is supposed to be in place. That vote was even unanimous, meaning that both Russia and China joined in voting “yes” after many months of obstructing anything to do with Syria at the Council.

Then again, you might recall that “observers” have already been sent there, namely last Christmas and by the Arab League acting alone. Those observers then departed again in fairly short order, as the Arab League formally suspended its monitoring mission on 28 January 2012, citing “a harsh new government crackdown [that] made it too dangerous to proceed and was resulting in the deaths of innocent people across the country.”

Spiegel Beirut correspondent Ulrike Putz has little more confidence that things will be any different this time:

Uno-Beobachter in Syrien: Scheitern mit Ansage… http://t.co/bgK9nAPf

@SPIEGEL_Politik

SPIEGEL Politik


That Scheitern mit Ansage translates to something like “pre-announced failure.” The key is that, once again and by the UN resolution’s terms, it is to Syrian government forces that the security of the observers is being entrusted. As the December/January observer experience showed, that’s a clear-cut recipe for rendering meaningless the Security Council’s insistence that they be able to travel wherever they want, and interview anyone (individuals only) that they want without those individuals then getting into trouble.

There is another dynamic in play as well. That NYT article referenced above mentions the element of a full 250 observers, also with permission to travel anywhere they want, that was an original part of Kofi Annan’s peace plan, but implies that the Security Council will vote to up the total from 60 to that level of 250 soon and so dispatch reinforcements. But Frau Putz sees the current 60 (first elements arriving in-country tomorrow) as a replacement for those 250, not a down-payment. Furthermore, the Syrian government has won the right to determine the countries those observers will come from.

Finally, there is probably not much of a cease-fire to observe anyway. Anti-government activitists report additional bombardment of Homs; and government media alleges that its soldiers have been attacked.

“So the observer mission in Syria stands ready to fail, before it even has begun,” Frau Putz concludes. Then again, what does she know? After all, her report includes the damning sentence “Above the city [Homs] drones crossed overhead.” But the Syrian regime hardly possesses any drone aircraft capability.

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Politics Without Proper Politicians

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Don’t look now – but Italy is no longer at the center of Eurozone fears. Indeed, the interest rates the government there pays on its debt are now back down closer to the “normal” rates of old. And this all has to do with Mario Monti, installed as the “technocratic” prime minister only some four months ago:

Neuer Politikstil in Rom: Monti und die Millionäre mischen Italien auf… http://t.co/hd2d9zW6

@SPIEGEL_Politik

SPIEGEL Politik


Yes, the grand-daddy of German newsmagazines, Der Spiegel is impressed – or at least writer Hans-Jürgen Schlamp and his editors there are. Could it be that, somehow, Italy is turning itself around precisely by becoming a bit more “German”?

Not really – unless you’re referring to “German” as in “Third Reich” (and we know you are not). For the striking thing about this article is how undemocratic that country has come to be. It’s the politicians in the Senate and Chamber of Deputies who were elected, after all; neither Monti nor the rest of cabinet ever were. Yet these days, they get what they want. Schlamp’s piece leads off with the tale of this government’s current attempt to curtail workers’ protection against being fired. Since forever that has been out of the question – the Left there, always strong whether actually in power at the national level or not, would never allow any such thing. Yet now it’s the Labor Minister, Elsa Fornero, who is warning the unions “We can’t negotiate forever,” meaning that they better finally show some “give” on the issue or the government will just take the measure it wants passed to the legislature anyway – and probably get its way.

The basic problem is that, while it’s true that these legislators were elected, it was largely they who brought the country to the brink of default and economic collapse in the first place. Voters know that they messed things up with who they chose.

Which then also means that there is going to be a problem when this “technocratic phase” comes to an end, which will happen at the latest when the next national elections come around next year. How do you profile yourself to your voters when you’re just giving the unelected government everything they demand – because you know full well that’s what those voters now want? It would be no use refusing: the country’s in trouble, haven’t you heard?, so you would just get yourself irredeemably in their bad graces. But everyone else is simply deferring to the government as well.

Naturally, this situation is the worst of all for what is left of former premier Berlusconi’s party, considering the way he was driven from office in disgrace. According to Schlamp, those politicians are very confused: “Many see their political survival linked to the return of their former Leader [the article does actually use here the infamous term Führer]. Others consider that to be the worst of all [possible] variants.”

Nonetheless, decision-time will come, because Mario Monti and his Merry Men aren’t going to stick around forever. He has already made it clear that he’ll head back to his professorship at Bocconi University (Milan) after those 2013 elections. And anyway, Italy is a democracy: it’s supposed to have a proper, democratically legitimate government.

UPDATE: Whoops! Did Herr Schlamp – and, by extension, I – write too soon?

Italy’s largest trade union, the CGIL, says it will hold a general strike over plans to reform employment laws http://t.co/UWabccdF

@BBCBreaking

BBC Breaking News

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Back to the Future

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

In case you didn’t notice, Germany lost its President a month ago. Don’t worry, it was no great tragedy. After initial resistance – including trying to intimidate the editor-in-chief of Germany’s most-sold newspaper into withholding a particularly damning news-article – Christian Wulff finally decided he needed to resign after embarrassing revelations finally emerged concerning a loan for a house he had received in the past, and denied receiving, from a prominent businessman. So not tragic – just sleazy, certainly in light of the standards the Germans usually like to uphold post-1945, and thus also rather embarrassing. It’s little wonder your local German ambassador/Goethe Institute/German expat down the street was less than keen to draw this news to your attention.

Naturally, now they need to pick another one, and in Germany that is done indirectly, by a one-time body (the Bundesversammlung) composed of all the members of the lower house of parliament (the Bundestag) plus an equal number of state delegates, totalling 1,244 people in all. But Chancellor Angela Merkel moved fast to gain approval from almost all the main parties for Wulff’s main opponent the last time, Joachim Gauck, to become the new president. So he’s a shoo-in for that, although the German Left Party (Die Linke) has obstinately put forward its own candidate anyway, Beate Klarsfeld.

And with all that, Germany finds itself thrust backward into the 20th century, in the opinion of Stern writer Lutz Kinkel:

Gauck und Klarsfeld: Willkommen im 20. Jahrhundert!: Die Wahl des Bundespräsidenten setzt uns in eine… http://t.co/330BzfeP

@sternde

stern.de


Look at the candidates, Kinkel says. Joachim Gauck, a Lutheran pastor, gained fame as a dissident in the former Communist East Germany. When the Wall fell, he was appointed as the first Federal Commissioner for the Stasi archives, or at least what was left after the Stasi had done their best to destroy them as the DDR fell. In Germany his last name has even been elevated to the status of “KIeenex” or “Hoover”: to “Gauck” someone is to go see whether he/she might have a file kept on them by the Stasi, and if so, what it says.

Then there is Beate Klarsfeld. A journalist, she has spent most of her adult life (along with her husband) hunting down ex-Nazis, such as Klaus Barbie, Maurice Papon, and others. At times her anti-Nazis efforts have perhaps gone too far – if you define “too far” as being sent to jail – including her most (in)famous incident in 1969 when she slapped the current West German Chancellor, Kurt Georg Kiesinger, because of his history of working for/in the Nazi Party during the Second World War (and, again, that was not the only time she has been jailed).

Look at them! Both are admirable, driven people – but what “made” them was fighting the old wars of the 20th century, the struggle against the Nazis, the struggle against Communist dictatorship! Haven’t we finally moved on from that, Kinkel asks? On the other hand, did not Christian Wulff seem just perfect for this new era? Big business; bribery; bling-bling; Bundespräsident – surely that’s what we’re all about following the financial crash/scandals of the last few years. After all, a President must reflect his people – just take a look across the Rhine to France!

Even if Kinkel’s analysis is borne out, at least Germany is not being propelled too far back into the twentieth century. A little of that may do no harm; a lot, not so much, historically speaking.

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Having A Laugh

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Prepare to have some of your most cherished illusions destroyed:

Tierisch komisch? Was das #Lachen der #Tiere wirklich bedeutet http://t.co/0dpFghzK

@rponline

RP ONLINE


“What the laughter of animals really means,” it says there. The smiles, too – like what we always see on dolphins, for example, and if you click through to the Rheinische Post article you are rewarded right there at the top with one smiling right at you and his (?) buddy not far behind.

The thing is: they’re not smiling at you; they always look that way, even when they are asleep, since as the author Jörg Zittlau explains, they “can’t do anything but grin, since their muscles don’t [really] enable any sophisticated mimicry.” Not even chimpanzees, when they seem to crack up over something, are really in a comic mood. Rather, Zittlau explains, it’s more likely that they’re agitated, even stressed-out. Yes, chimpanzees (unlike most animals) are capable of laughter, but it’s not what you would expect. As Zittlau quotes psychologist Robert Provine, “The chimpanzee’s laughter is more a gutteral grunt.”

What about Fido – you know that he laughs, you’ve heard him yourself, right? Well, yes and no: again, dogs do seem capable of laughter, but not in the form you would expect. “It sounds to an untrained human ear merely like the usual dog-panting,” says this time one Patricia Simonet from Sierra Nevada College, and it usually occurs – as you would expect – when the dog is at play.

Oh, and “laughing” hyenas? Sorry: that “laughing” is more often an expression of frustration, when it is not being used (by means of its specific frequency and tone) to confirm the animal’s place in the pack pecking-order.

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Naked Ambition

Monday, March 5th, 2012

So Putin has been “elected” Russia’s president for a third time. Well, some remain unwilling just to accept this lying down – er, fully clothed. Yes, one of the world’s favorite protest groups swung into action yesterday in Moscow to protest Russia’s crooked election. The group calls itself Femen, and it’s a media-favorite mainly due to its attention-getting tactics – so time-tested and traditional, in a way, yet now employed for political ends: they are all comely young women, and they take their tops off.

The result is frequent intriguing headlines such as Women Go Topless Against Putin and the like. (Click if you will, but the photo-series is of course rated PG.) But there is another aspect to this group’s operations that is intriguing as well, if one can pull one’s eyes away from the fleshly dazzle. For Femen is a Ukrainian organization – so what are they doing in Moscow, and what do they care about Putin?

Actually, this Moscow altercation – which apparently earned its Femen protagonists several days in jail, and which took place at the very same polling-station where Putin himself was scheduled to come vote, naturally: this has emerged as a standard Femen tactic – was a romp in the park compared to the group’s protest action in Minsk last December against the dictator there, Aleksandr Lukashenko. The Belarussian KGB – they still call it that there – proved itself to be quite unimpressed with the charms on display; they not only rather roughly arrested the Femen protestors, but then took them off to the woods to terrorize them for a bit, including cutting off their hair. But of course they did not want to go too far, given the constant media attention these women enjoy, and which to some extent is their protective shield even as they otherwise leave themselves naked.

Still: Ukraine, Belarus, Moscow – OK, it was once all one country, and many cultural similarities remain. But Femen activists have also reportedly been spotted in Milan, protesting in some way or another against the fashion industry. I couldn’t find much material on that, but what I do have is recent reports about how the Austrian political scene is about to get a bit more interesting. Yes, a two-woman Femen delegation – that’s them in the picture up above – recently traveled to Vienna to give the Austrian Green Party political-action tips. According to the report in the authoritative Austrian newspaper Die Presse, that included a how-to session on “boob prints,” which have turned out to be the #1 money-raising article from their Femenshop. (Unfortunately, the text on that webpage is only in Cyrillic – probably Ukrainian – which likely means that those too far removed from Kiev could find it difficult to mail-order the goods on display here. Any enterprising Western Internet-business(wo)man interested in helping out?) The German newsmagazine Focus actually has a photo-series showing them at their press conference, making the aforesaid print; the rather more staid Die Presse limits itself to collecting juicy quotes from the Femen representatives, such as “We want to show how you do it: go out onto the streets, disrobe, and win!” and that they all still call their mothers every day, who invariably ask “whether we are dressing warmly enough.”

In the final analysis, though, Austria is another culture entirely, as is Milan, so it is a significant step outward into the world. Why would the girls of Femen want to stop there? What I’m suggesting is that we might be seeing here the beginnings of the next great transnational political movement. Yes, after the Occupy Wall Street protests, it’s time to take it from the top!

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My Big Fat Greek Kludge

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

ELSTAT: you know, it’s surprising this acronym is not better-known within the context of the economic crisis that has been raging since (roughly) 2008. And I mean in a negative sense, the way names such as Lehmann Bros., Goldman Sachs, Royal Bank of Scotland, Northern Rock, etc. now call up unpleasant associations among most economic observers.

For ELSTAT is the abbreviation (from the Greek) for the “Hellenic Statistical Authority,” the Greek government’s official statistical agency. If you are of the view that Greece never belonged in the Eurozone in the first place – and many are, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy – then ELSTAT is your villain, as it was the false statistics it submitted in the 2000-2002 time-frame which led Greece to be admitted into the club when it was not ready, and may never have been. Similarly, ELSTAT was involved back in late 2009 when Georgios Papandreou won the national elections and became Greek prime minister, only to announce shortly thereafter that his country’s fiscal situation was way worse than he, the EU, and the general public had been led to believe (by ELSTAT) – and that was what kicked off the long-running Greek sovereign debt imbroglio which even last Monday’s deal with the “troika” (EU, ECB and IMF) has surely not definitively solved.

Anyway, there’s a new ELSTAT scandal now, and Dirk Elsner over at @blicklog tips us off:

Staatsanwaltschaft erhebt Vorwurf, dass Griechenlands Staatsdefizit 2009 auf EU-Druck zu hoch angesetzt wurde http://t.co/dG4DPUPY

@blicklog

Dirk Elsner


There’s also an article to the same effect in the Czech press, spotted by @Zpravy:

tiscali.cz: Řecký parlament bude šetřit údajné “nafukování” údajů o deficitu: http://t.co/NgrpIbe0

@Zpravy

Zpravy


What is going on? Well, once again ELSTAT’s numbers are said to be in error, and that for a political purpose. This time, however, you can say that the alleged fraud is in the opposite direction: numbers not falsified to fool outsiders, but rather to fool the Greeks themselves! The Athens public prosecutor now asserts that the Greek budget figures were actually exaggerated back at the end of 2009 – just after Papandreou had taken office – and this at the request of the EU. Specifically, the EU wanted to see a budget deficit figure of 15.4% – and duly got it – rather than the 12% which was reality. Why? For ammunition to use to browbeat the Greeks into the tough austerity measures they passed/started to pass then.

A Greek parliamentary committee is going to look into this. For now, the suspicion remains that ELSTAT is an agency not to be trusted by anyone, whether on the home or the visiting team. There is also sure to be an additional, unpleasant political effect if the Greek electorate starts to feel it was misled into adopting the painful budget/pension/wage cuts the government undertook to mollify the EU and to deal with its fiscal situation.

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Pick Up the Pieces

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Are you looking for employment? Do you like to do jigsaw puzzles? No, I mean do you REALLY like to do jigsaw puzzles, like REALLY, REALLY? For instance, do you have just incredible patience, to keep trying to plow ahead even as the task seems gigantic? Oh, and perhaps a sense of pleasure in setting injustice right could help here, too.

Finally, can you read German? Then maybe Germany’s federal government has a job for you! Die Zeit now has a piece about it, called Those who glue together the Stasi files. The former East German State Secret Police (formally the “Ministry for State Security”) got really busy with their shredding-machines in October and November of 1989 as it became increasingly obvious that the regime was tottering and probably about to fall. They had a just incredible amount of incriminating documentation to worry about, miles & miles of files & files (the vast majority in traditional paper). After all, the former East Germany might have set some sort of record for percent of the population informing for the government – spouse spying on spouse was hardly unheard-of – and the Stasi were interested in almost everything.

Unfortunately, those shredders were given the time and lack of interruption to do a pretty good job, resulting in 16,000 sacks of . . . confetti, basically, the shredding machines’ output, each sack containing 50,000 to 80,000 little bits of document.

Nevertheless, the re-unified German government wants to recover as many of those as it can, and has already had people at work since 1995 trying to piece them together. Soon – thank Heavens! – they will be assisted by computer software developed by Germany’s renowned Fraunhofer Research Institute, designed first to scan all the little pieces electronically and then to use automatic algorithms to fit them together.

Until then – and, surely, afterwards as well – there will be a continuing need for human application. This Die Zeit piece is really not any sort of article but a brief photo-series. Yes, the first few are of some unexciting paper-shreds, but then there follow a couple shots showing the puzzle-workers on the job, contemplating the pieces before them, with yet more available in a seemingly-endless procession of sacks. They look stoic; what could be going through their heads? Anything more interesting than a yearning for that next cigarette/chocolate break?

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Coronation Present

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Ol' Pappy & Son (Reuters)

The Dear Leader is dead (and was buried today, in a “private,” no-outsiders Pyongyang mega-ceremony)! Long live the Great Successor! And after he returns from the mausoleum, just look at what news will be on top of his desk!

Experteneinschätzung: Nordkorea könnte bald eine Atomrakete haben http://t.co/luFw9VFb

@weltonline

Welt Online


Atomrakete – yes! “Atom-rocket”! One that will be in North Korean hands, and thus under the “Great Successor’s” personal control, and rather soon! (more…)

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Not So Isolated

Friday, December 9th, 2011

It’s the make-or-break EU summit, going on now within the cavernous Justus Lipsius European Council building in the Brussels European Quarter. Will what issues from this conference be enough to save the euro?

The answer to that remains up in the air, as the summit continues into the weekend. What we do already know, however, is that an important split has occurred within the EU, resulting from the failure of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Sarkozy to have accepted by all 27 member-states their proposals for greater national budget control and coordination. Now the action on that front has shifted to the group of 17 member-states who actually use the euro.

The excellent “Charlemagne” commentator from the Economist has already termed this development Europe’s great divorce, in an article (in English, of course) featuring at its head a picture of the defiant-looking British PM David Cameron pointing an aggressive finger towards the camera. And indeed, this one and many other press reports from the summit would have their readers believe that the UK is isolated in its stand of resistance against those “Merkozy” proposals for greater EU power over national budgets. That is certainly also the message from the authoritative German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, where an analytical piece from Michael König is rather dramatically entitled Bulldog Cameron bites the British into isolation.

But such observers should be careful about rushing into any over-hasty conclusions. They should remember that a number of other member-states share an attitude towards the EU rather closer to that of the UK than Germany or France. The Czech Republic, for instance:

iDnes: Klaus a Telička schvalují rozvážnost v Bruselu, ČSSD varuje před izolací: Prezident Václav Klaus označil … http://t.co/Qh043Qmm

@Zpravy

Zpravy


(more…)

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Enter the Turks

Monday, November 21st, 2011

So now the latest trick Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad has up his sleeve is to quibble with the Arab League about terms & conditions for the the 500-person monitoring team they want to send there? He needs to start paying attention to that rumbling sound coming from his borders:

Intervention gefordert: Die kriegerischen Planspiele der Türkei gegen Syrien http://t.co/VbhCTKZ7

@weltonline

Welt Online


This links to an article from the authoritative German national daily Die Welt about how Syria’s neighbor Turkey – whose Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, once termed al-Assad his “brother” – is beginning plans to make its own intervention into the Syrian national uprising go beyond mere words. First of all, it’s starting to prepare to impose its own no-fly-zone on the country. Also, according to the authoritative English-language Beirut newspaper The Daily Star, Turkey wants to seize a strip of Syrian land along the common border as a “security zone.”

Don’t get too excited here about the Turks’ zeal to help out their neighbors, though: the main function of such a zone would be as a place for Syrian refugees to be able to stay for a while in safety from their government, rather than have to cross over into Turkey proper. To the south, Jordan is said to be considering this sort of a move too, and both countries are gaining support for it among Western and other Arab countries as al-Assad continues to be intransigent.

By the way, there is an important US airbase in Turkey, at Incirlik, maybe 120km from the Syrian border. The Welt article also mentions US support of Jordanian armed forces, which might get the Americans involved here that way.

Of course, some representatives of the Syrian rebels – in particular the Muslim Brotherhood there – have already called for full-scale military intervention. Turkish, that is; most still will not accept any such explicit help from Western powers. Still, for all the Turkish sabre-rattling, there are also important questions to give its leaders pause. A no-fly-zone – and even just trying to seize enough Syrian territory for the “security zone” – would require disabling Syria’s air force, built around 100 advanced MiG-29 fighters – is the Turkish air force up to the job by itself? Foreign Minister Davutoglu has also made recent statements that Turkey would really rather not go it alone when it comes to any intervention. It would surely require explicit Arab League and UN Security Council approval for any such step, as well as probably co-belligerents (and Jordan alone would likely not be sufficient).

Then again, Syria also currently depends on Turkey for much of its electricity, and for the water coming over the border from Turkish highlands in the form of the Euphrates river. What’s more, the recent attack by a Damascus mob on the Turkish embassy there – complete with burning Turkish flags – was itself not very “brotherly.”

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Krugman’s Frank Eurotalk

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Many of you reading this blog must surely also subscribe to, or at least read regularly, Paul Krugman’s NYT blog The Conscience of a Liberal. It admittedly blows this blog away in influence terms, as it is currently ranked #41 on the Technorati list. But is the Nobel prize-winning Princeton economist as ready to bring forward the often piquant opinions resulting from his economic analyses away from home, so to speak, i.e. when on some forum than his own blog?

Of course he is! Lately what has been dominating the economic front has been the Eurozone, especially Greece and Italy. Even when interviewed by a leading German newspaper, Krugman does not hold back, as we can see in the extended interview published on-line by Die Zeit last Friday: “The euro will mutate into an extended Deutschmark”. (more…)

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Beware of Greeks

Tuesday, November 1st, 2011

Greece prime minister Papandreou announces a referendum over the anti-bankruptcy aid package for his country announced at last week’s EU summit – and all hell breaks loose on world markets!


Yes, every other newspaper is writing about this as well, but this particular Die Welt article, by D. Eckert and H. Zschäpitz, stands out for its headline: Papandreou risks a global financial meltdown, or rather the alarm such a headline evokes in contrast to the serious, mainstream sort of paper we all know Die Welt to be – i.e one that doesn’t usually resort to such headlines. Yes, there are no doubt similar-sounding titles in tabloid papers, and not just in Germany, but all that is mere dog-bites-man.

This piece also stands out for the handy list it provides – you have to scroll down a little, look for Die größten Wertverluste . . . – of the banks which have lost the most market-capitalization, so far, from the plummeting prices of their shares. FYI, BNP Paribas stands at the top, with nearly €4.7 billion lost, followed by Deutsche Bank. (It also stands out for author “H. Zschäpitz”: isn’t that just a howler of a name? But no doubt the fellow has a Google Alert on it and will be reading this blogpost sooner or later – my apologies!)

Otherwise, though, I stand vulnerable to the charge of European tokenism. Because the piece that has really clarified things for me is in English, and written by our old friend Dana Blankenhorn. Greek Latest is Solar Scam is its title, it does spend a few paragraphs dissecting the faulty economics behind a Greek solar-energy investment plan. But then it addresses what Papandreou and the Greek authorities are really trying to do with this referendum. Given that Blankenhorn assumes that the result will be “No,” it’s simple: they are threatening to take the rest of Europe to down with them, unless they get an even-better debt-relief deal than the 50% they got from the EU last week.

You should check it out, and the article from Seeking Alpha that Blankenhorn links to as well. Strangely, his link to it reads “Sink the euro” even though that other article itself argues that there is still a chance for a “Yes” vote!

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Renaissance Jigsaw Puzzle

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

In the midst of all these crises, how about a little good news – apart from Muammar Qaddafi’s death, I mean, which now seems to have been nasty enough to give serious pause.

Holger Dambeck writing in Germany’s Der Spiegel supplies the glad tidings: Mathematicians put together mega-puzzle full of holes. It has to do with a large Renaissance fresco painted back in the 15th century, the time of Leonardo, on a church-wall in Padua, Italy by the noted artist Andrea Mantegna. This particular church was even put on a list, communicated to the Americans in the middle of the Italian campaign in World War II, of places containing artistic treasures that they should try not to damage. Unfortunately, German troops did camp in the area – perhaps counting on being shielded from attack by being so close to a church – and sure enough, they were subject to air-attack and the fresco was destroyed.

That news that this priceless large (almost 1000 square-meters) fresco was dashed in thousands of tiny pieces is not the good news. Into around 88,000 piece, to be more precise – and we know that number because the authorities after the attack did try to gather up all the pieces they could find.

Now many of them are being put back together again to form part of the old fresco! This has been made possible, firstly, by those authorities’ act of collecting all those pieces and storing them in Rome, where in 1992 they were cleaned, photographed, and catalogued insofar as possible. Then all that was needed was some sort of device to figure out how they fit together, and that’s what a team from the Technische Universität at Munich around mathematician Massimo Fornasier provided: software to do that.

On the one hand, this is hardly the first time computers have been brought to bear to a task of this kind – author Dambeck reminds us that German experts came up with software which aided in reconstructing documents which the old East German Stasi had shredded at the time of the fall of the Wall. But on the other, this is only a partial triumph at best, since only less than 10% of the fresco has been recovered as only that many pieces were available. The photo at the top of the article gives you some idea of what they were able to get back. And the project even has its own website – but it’s written in Italian!

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