Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hillary Clinton courageously defends WikiLeaks

Via The Guardian; full original here:

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it.

This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to the Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Uh oh.

An uncomfortable suspicion is beginning to form in my mind. Angela Merkel, it is said, is crucial to the survival of the euro, because Germany must be central to any plan to save it. So Germany's leader must take a leading role in the rescue process.

Trouble is, she doesn't seem to be very good at it.

Merkel once seemed so competent, capable of dealing wisely and well with nearly any issue that crosses her path. But she's so far made two massive blunders in dealing with the euro crisis, which have made things vastly worse, not better. First, she refused for eight months or more to help Greece, until Greece was pushed to the wall and confidence in the euro was shattered. Then in October, her extremely ill-timed declaration that bond-holders should have to cop some of the damage from the bailout (and not just taxpayers) seems to have helped to topple the next domino as well, Ireland.

Hence the uncomfortable conclusion: the person who is most important in the struggle to save the euro is sorely ill-equipped for the role. Merkel seems to have an uncharacteristic blind spot when it comes to this issue.

And that means the euro is in a great deal of trouble indeed.

Monday, 18 October 2010

A melting pot-pourri

A few random observations on Germany's never-ending "immigration debate",  which has flared up again in recent weeks:

-  It would help the Germans immensely if at least their leaders,  i.e.  the people in the best position to know and to educate others,  would realise that there is an important distinction to be made between:
(a) unskilled/poorly skilled immigrant workers who are not what the country needs to fill its desperate labour shortages and who are always the first to be sacked when the economy goes into a downturn,  and who therefore are very likely to be unemployed or poor and who therefore are inevitably going to have a very hard time fitting into German society and feeling comfortable in Germany,  and
(b) highly skilled immigrant workers who walk into highly paid jobs as soon as they arrive and who therefore have absolutely no trouble integrating and feeling comfortable in Germany because anyone with huge amounts of cash always tends to be fairly welcome anywhere.
Unfortunately,  just about all German politicians,  whether pro- or anti-immigration,  fail to make this distinction and spend all their time talking about  "Christian-Jewish values"  instead,  as if religion and not money were the most important thing in determining someone's success as a member of society.

-  Things like Merkel's little speech on the weekend,  which received an extraordinary amount of attention around the world  (topping the  "most emailed story"  lists on, and for example*),  will have done tremendous damage to Germany's ability to attract the kind of highly skilled immigrant workers that it needs.  Why go to a country that clearly doesn't want you when you can go to one that does instead,  like Britain,  the USA,  or Australia?

-  The presence of the  "Jewish"  in  "Christian-Jewish"  –  such as in the words of Horst Seehofer,  leader of the most right-wing party in the governing coalition,  talking about  "unsere deutsche Leitkultur,  die von den christlich-jüdischen Wurzeln  [...]  geprägt ist"  (our German core-culture,  which is based on its Christian-Jewish roots  [...])   –  is amusing.  There were people in Germany like Horst Seehofer saying not dissimilar things about a hundred years ago,  but they left out the Jewish bit.  Mainly because they had the same view of Jews that Horst Seehofer now has of Muslims.

-  Ill-defined terms like  "deutsche Leitkultur",  "Integrationsfähigkeit"  (capacity for integration)  and  "Integrationsverweigerung"  (refusal to integrate)  scare the living bejesus out of me.

*  -  not at The Times of India,  however, where the readers,  who are presumably mainly Hindu and seem to be even more Islamophobic than most Europeans,  not only completely failed to notice that the German animosity to people from  "alien cultures"  (as it is reported there)  extends equally to them as well,  but also were fully supportive of Germany's perceived desire to be rid of its Muslim population,  blithely observing that the Muslims should behave themselves or they'll go the same way as the Jews who also  "could also not fully get integrated into the societies in foreign lands,  resulting in a holocaust in Germany".  "What is the need to allow Muslims when Germans hate them so much.  I ask these Muslims dont they remember how Jews were treated by Germany,do they want to have the same fate?.Afterall muslims are also semetic people"  (number of other readers clicking  "Agree":  47,  "Disagree":  6,  "Recommend":  21,  "Offensive":  0).  Horst Seehofer would be delighted.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Don't ask don't tell...

... about the other 300:

Gorgidas,  according to some,  first formed the Sacred Band of three hundred chosen men,  to whom,  as being a guard for the citadel,  the State allowed provision,  and all things necessary for exercise:  and hence they were called the city band,  as citadels of old were usually called cities.  Others say that it was composed of young men attached to each other by personal affection,  and a pleasant saying of Pammenes is current,  that Homer's Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army,  when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe,  and family and family together,  that- 
"So tribe might tribe,  and kinsmen kinsmen aid."
but that he should have joined lovers and their beloved.  For men of the same tribe or family little value one another when dangers press;  but a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken,  and invincible;  since the lovers,  ashamed to be base in sight of their beloved,  and the beloved before their lovers,  willingly rush into danger for the relief of one another.  Nor can that be wondered at since they have more regard for their absent lovers than for others present;  as in the instance of the man who, when his enemy was going to kill him,  earnestly requested him to run him through the breast,  that his lover might not blush to see him wounded in the back.  It is a tradition likewise that Iolaus,  who assisted Hercules in his labours and fought at his side,  was beloved of him;  and Aristotle observes that,  even in his time,  lovers plighted their faith at Iolaus's tomb.  It is likely,  therefore,  that this band was called sacred on this account;  as Plato calls a lover a divine friend.  It is stated that it was never beaten till the battle at Chaeronea:  and when Philip,  after the fight,  took a view of the slain, and came to the place where the three hundred that fought his phalanx lay dead together,  he wondered,  and understanding that it was the band of lovers,  he shed tears and said,  "Perish any man who suspects that these men either did or suffered anything that was base."

(From Plutarch,  Pelopidas,  in John Dryden's translation.  Minor correction:  archeologists excavating the tomb of the Sacred Band at Chaeronea found only 254 skeletons, so we can conclude some survived.  The great marble lion placed over the tomb by the battle's survivors still stands.)

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Inside Australia's KZs

It's something I'd never thought much about before,  but it's obvious really:  Australia's "detention centres",  which is where we put any sad person desperate enough to try to seek asylum in this country,  really are worse than our prisons.  In other words,  we treat refugees worse than we treat convicted criminals.

The comparison with the way the Vietnamese refugees were handled in the 1970s is interesting:  we didn't throw them in prisons indefinitely,  we processed their claims quickly,  and managed to do so even though five times as many were arriving each year.  What caused the change?  How much of it can be blamed on the consistent and deliberate demonisation of asylum seekers by John Howard's government,  with the willing co-operation of most of the Australian media?  How much is due to a general rise in xenophobia,  perhaps common to other Western countries?  Or is it just an increase in selfishness  -  as we become wealthier relative to others,  we become more afraid of them wanting what we have??

Monday, 16 August 2010

So close, and yet so very far

I must admit,  when I read yesterday that Barack Obama had spoken out in defence of the  "Ground Zero mosque"  on the basis that freedom of religion was a fundamental right which could not be compromised,  I was pleasantly surprised.  He was finally taking a forthright,  courageous and thoroughly admirable stance on an issue which goes right to the heart of America's values.  And,  regrettably,  it was somewhat out of character for him to do so.

So when I read a few minutes ago that he's  "clarified"  his position,  I was not surprised,  but very disappointed.  It looks rather as though he hadn't realised quite how courageous his remarks were,  was shocked to see the amount of protest they provoked,  and backtracked in fright.  He's now claiming that he meant people should have the freedom to build mosques in principle,  but not necessarily in practice.  He had the opportunity to take the moral high ground,  to take a firm stand on the fundamental issue of religious freedom,  and oppose the ugly and unhealthy opposing current which,  it seems,  is going to culminate in a mass burning of Korans on September 11  -  which unhappily this year will probably coincide with the Eid ul-Fitr celebrations at the end of Ramadan.

There is a dangerous maelstrom of religious conflict building in the USA right now,  and instead of holding to an inspiring position of strong leadership to guide the country out of it,  Obama is now responding in his typically spineless way of following the path of least resistance,  trying to do whatever the polls seem to suggest will be least offensive.  This behaviour is bad for America,  it's bad for the world,  and ultimately it will be bad for him too:  it shows him to be a weak,  ineffectual leader.  It will not help him in November this year,  and it will destroy him in 2012.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Suggestion to those guys in Norway contributor Glenn Greenwald via twitter:

If Julian Assange won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010,  it'd be more deserved than the one awarded last year.

And it would also be the perfect rebuke to the recipient of the one awarded last year,  for rather spectacularly yet wholly predictably failing to live up to the challenge that that award purported to represent.  Just the sort of thing the Nobel Peace Prize committee usually goes in for,  in fact.  Let's hope they'll find the temptation irresistible.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

"Ihr seid nicht die Mehrheit"

Jan Salloch,  director of the Berlin gay pride festival  ("Berliner CSD"),  does not seem to be a bad man as such,  but he did demonstrate extremely poor choice of words after Judith Butler refused a  "Civil Courage"  award at the Berlin pride festival last Saturday.  His not-so-bon mots start at 5:35 in the clip below  (apologies for the poor subtitles,  nothing to do with me;  there is a much better English version of Judith Butler's part by  10toes10fingers in the comments on the youtube page,  which you can access by double-clicking the video):

My translation of Salloch's bit:

Without question,  we must say that as the Berliner CSD we vehemently reject  -  and I personally find it very hurtful  -  the accusation of racism.  It is simply not true.  And you can scream as loud as you like,  that's simply how it is  –  because,  to be honest,  you are not the majority here.  You - are - not - the - majority.  [much booing from protesters]  To be quite honest  -  quite honest  -  we have  -  as we will always continue to do in the future  -  reached out our hands to you and will work together with you;  the problem is  [waves hand towards group of protesters]  that is clearly not desired.  However that may be,  we are going to simply go on with our programme. 
[in German even more clearly than in English,  "programme" ("Programm")  means not only the line-up or schedule of a show/presentation,  but also the political agenda of a political party or movement.]

Could he hear himself??  "You are not the majority"  –  so we're going to ignore you and your concerns and what you are fighting for,  and we're going to go right on doing what we've always done,  and you can fuck off.

Not so many years ago,  there was another minority which was ignored by the majority,  and they had to make a lot of noise and fight a hell of a lot before anyone cared about their needs at all.

Can it be that this guy has forgotten all that already??

Update: Thanks to Anonymous in the comments for the word  "gekränkt",  which I've translated above with "find hurtful";  I myself couldn't make out what he was saying there.  The subtitler heard it as  "bedrängt",  which would mean  "under pressure"  or  "hassled"  (translated bizarrely in the subtitles as  "whipsawed")  but that didn't seem quite right.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Viel Lärm um Nichts

Much of the German press  -  or at least that part of it visible on the internet  -  is in uproar today about the TERRIBLE harm the vuvuzela is doing to the atmosphere of this year's World Cup.  The top story at Der Spiegel right now is  "Viel Lärm um Nichts"  (i.e.   "much noise about nothing");  there's an almost identical but even sharper-tongued polemic-masquerading-as-journalism heading the page of Berlin's Tagesspiegel;  and of course Bild is not going to be outdone:

Distraction for the players,  unfair advantage to the African teams [one word:  earplugs],  the death of the stadium atmosphere, horrible irritation for viewers around the world,  oh oh oh end of the world as we know it should have been banned but everyone's too afraid of being called  "racist"  yet how absurd to claim it's their  "culture"  because only just imported from America grumble grr hissy.

And in all these articles none of them seem to suspect for a moment that it might just be them  -  or at least that they might possibly be a tad more sensitive to it than a lot of other nations.  I've just gone through quite a number of British,  French and even Australian news sites.  Result:  nothing.  Not a single murmur of protest to be found.  Not even among the usual suspects like the UK's Sun or Daily Mail. 

It doesn't really surprise me because a couple of weeks ago I read  -  and translated  -  a rather more sympathetic German take on the African stadium sound:

-  And did the fans in the stadium have their vuvuzela trumpets with them,  which have become so famous since the Confederations Cup?
-  Of course!  Even at games with maybe just 20,000 spectators in a stadium for 50,000,  it generated an unbelievable atmosphere,  as if 100,000 fans were there.  It was a constant droning and roaring in the stands,  just brilliant.  It might seem a bit more annoying on television,  but in the stadium it's really amazing.  The Bundesliga in Germany is a total contrast.  Shortly before our departure I was able to go to a Hamburger SV match.  If there's not so much happening on the pitch at a particular point in time,  then the spectators are simply quiet.  Only when the ball gets close to the penalty area does it get a bit louder.  In Africa it's ninety minutes of non-stop noise.

Aha,  alles klar. Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh,  in allen Wipfeln spürest du
kaum einen Hauch;  die Vögelein schweigen im Walde...  or at least until a squirrel kicks the acorn into the corner of the hollow trunk,  presumably.

(To their credit,  some of the German newspeople seem to have kept their cultural sensitivities in check,  so far at least:  I can't find any objections being raised at,,  or even at  Except in the reader comments sections, but let's just not go there...)

PS:  The sound the vuvuzelas make on the tv broadcasts is EXACTLY the same as a bunch of blowflies flying around.  People watching in outback Australia probably haven't even noticed it.  Either that or they keep getting up to find out who left the screen door open.

Friday, 14 May 2010

"Like (in the newly anachronistic sense of the word)"

From one Caelevin commenting on Language Log  (  to a post about a new  "Community Page"  for Language Log which has been automatically generated by Facebook:

I have not previously liked Language Log on Facebook,  I do not have it liked now,  I do not intend to like it in the future.

I like  (in the newly anachronistic sense of the word)  unportaled access to the site.  In this my like is implicit,  as well as antisocial.

Life was so much simpler when I got out of bed this morning,  but being possessed of a porch,  a cane and the Will to Scold,  I am intent on keeping the Interwebz off my lawn,  at least for one more day.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Technical love madrigal




To prevent electric shock

Do not

Do not

Do not

Remove cover

No user-serviceable parts inside

Refer servicing to qualified

Service personnel.

(from Epitaph For My Heart,  by The Magnetic Fields)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

The sensible Greeks

How ironic that during the course of this whole financial meltdown in Europe recently,  it is the Greek leaders who have consistently sounded sensible and realistic,  and the German leaders who have been making disingenuous,  misleading and downright foolish statements.  Such as  "there is no need to help Greece because they haven't asked for any help".  Whereas the Greek finance minister Papaconstantinou recently had this to say:

One wishes that Europe had acted a little differently.  Three and four months ago we were saying that the mechanism must be ready and it must be detailed,  that the markets must know what exactly is going.  Unfortunately,  for a series of political reasons,  we are down to the wire.

The awful truth.  And by  "a series of political reasons"  he of course means Angela Merkel gambling on blocking aid in order to pander to the Bild demographic ahead of the big election in NRW next week.  It's probably the single worst thing she's ever done.  And the stupidest.  It's hard to imagine Greece or Portugal having their membership in the euro suspended  -  even a suspicion of that would surely result in a run on their banks, for one thing  -  so if the current situation becomes unworkable,  the only option will probably be to end the whole euro experiment completely.

Here's hoping the Union gets its arse kicked on May 9.  Merkel certainly deserves it.

Update:  It's good to finally see more and more pieces appearing in the German press highlighting Merkel's share of the blame.  This one in Spiegel today is a typical example:  "ausgerechnet Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel hat den einzig erfolgversprechenden Weg, die Milliardenhilfen zu vermeiden, blockiert."

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Damn, I just stepped in something nasty

What the hell is it with German translations of popular film and book titles??  Why on earth are these editors  (or whoever the guilty parties are)  unable to come up with titles which don't sound utterly moronic?  And why,  especially,  do they feel the need to add stupid tag lines to the existing title which insult both the original work and their customers??

I'm definitely no fan of the Twilight saga  -  anything that encourages Americans in their misguided belief that unwanted sexual desires can be happily suppressed forever should be abhorred  -  but I still don't think anything can justify this particularly egregious Missgeburt:

"New Moon  -  Bis(s) zur Mittagsstunde"

Honestly,  coming across that halfway down a website is just like treading in fresh dog shit.  Wouldn't you agree?