almost a diary, compulsory reading

Bin ich Deutschland? Am I Germany?

Well, not quite. But I ordered the domain „www.ichbindeutschland.de“ as soon as I heard in early 2005 that there would be a huge social marketing campaign telling me that if I weren’t Germany yet I certainly should become Germany as quickly as possibly. I humbly complied with their demand, if only on the internet.

When the campaign began last September, I initially covered it in German on www.ichbindeutschland.de, but eventually I felt that I should use the domain for something more personal, and point it to my – so far English language only – personal blog and finally make almostadiary.de bilingual.

I had been thinking about writing in German, at least a little, since I started blogging a couple of years ago. Now, with a domain pointing to this site that is in some sense promising to the occasional reader to present the very personification of Germany, I feel I may finally have sufficient incentive to blog in German, at least every now and then.

It will be interesting to see how this works out – I certainly won’t solve the linguistic challenge by translating every post. So, welcome, gentle readers from Ichbindeutschland.de – herzlich willkommen auf almost a diary.de.

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almost a diary, compulsory reading, music, photoblogging, US Politics

Dick Cheney’s a surfer!

Paul JohnsonDick Cheney is probably a much cooler guy than you thought he is. After a hard day’s work of conspiring with his freshly indicted former Chief of Staff Lewis „Scooter“ Libby, the man still has time and energy for a jam session with the legendary surf music band „The Surfaris“. Well, one of the two bands using the name, each featuring one member of the original band’s cast (info from surfkraft.de)

Richard CheneyAlright, maybe it’s not really Cheney. It could also be Paul Johnson, a surf music veteran, who is, along with Dick Dale, one of the genre’s principal founders and pioneers. At least that’s what his introduction was on stage, and that is also what’s written in the biographical part of the band’s website. He is also credited with the first record to be tagged as „surf music“ – Mr. Moto, back in 1962. I wonder if Motorola’s ad agency thought about this when they created their latest campaign… („hello Moto?“)

I am God motto tshirtAs part of their current European tour, the Surfaris stopped in Wiesbaden yesterday. And someone else did too. Standing behind the guy pictured on the left I somehow couldn’t stop thinking about the song Eric Bazilian wrote for Joan Osborne – „What if God was one was of us?

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compulsory reading

Ihr. Und ich auch. Ein bißchen wenigstens.

Für einen deutschen Blogger, der bisher ausschließlich auf Englisch geschrieben hat – bei www.fistfulofeuros.net sowie auf www.almostadiary.de – erscheint es vielleicht noch vermessener als für andere, sogar in der Adresse der Seite zu behaupten: Ich bin (auch) Deutschland.de! (beide URLs führen hier her).

Sicher, der vermeintliche Anspruch „Ich bin Deutschland!“ (selbst ohne Ausrufezeichen und ohne direkt ableitbare Vermögensansprüche) ist ebenso problematisch wie der Versuch, anderen einfach so das Deutschlandsein in die Schuhe zu schieben, wie es die heute nun beginnende Kampagne – verspätet durch den Versuch, das Land mittels einer vorgezogenen Neuwahl des Bundestages politisch handlungsfähiger zu machen – versuchen wird.

Aber so manches Mal – vor allem aus der räumlichen Distanz – habe ich an mir die nicht selten widersprüchlichen Züge meines Heimatlandes entdeckt: in Momenten selbstreferentieller manisch-depressiver Selbstverliebtheit, und der damit einhergehenden Tendenz, Dinge tragisch zu überhöhen; im geradezu faustischen Bemühen um abstrakte, nicht nur gelebte Wahrheit und die Begründung von Ewigkeit im Glücksmoment; in Momenten freiwillig eingeschränkten Potentialwachstums und institutionalisierter Reformunwilligkeit. Aber auch im strebenden Bemühen, den Schritt von der Erkenntnis zur Selbsterkenntnis – und vielleicht auch mal zur Besserung – zu vollziehen. Und ich bin mir sicher, ich bin nicht der einzige, dem es so geht. Auch wenn mich der Gedanke an Deutschland noch nie um den Schlaf gebracht hat: wir sind eben doch alle auch ein bißchen Deutschland und damit letztlich eben auch ein bißchen mitverantwortlich.

Keine drei Tage alt war der Slogan der „Mutmacher“-Kampagne und schon hatte er gehörig Staub aufgewirbelt. Kein Wunder, denn das vermeintlich befreiende „Du bist Deutschland“ und der typisch deutsche Ansatz der Kampagne, Selbstvertrauen per korporatistisch-hierarchischer Verordnung zu schaffen, widersprechen sich auf intuitiver und intellektueller Ebene – was zwangsläufig zu einem enormen Glaubwürdigkeitsdefizit führen muß, das darüber hinaus von der zunehmend begrenzten „patriotischen“ Glaubwürdigkeit der die Aktion tragenden Organisationen noch verstärkt wird. In diesem Gegensatz wird zwar das gegenwärtige deutsche Grundproblem der Inkongruenz gesellschaftlicher und ökonomischer Exekutions- und Koordinationsfunktionen deutlich, aber um Ironie auf dieser Ebene dürfte es den Machern wohl nicht gegangen sein.

Leider scheint mir auch die Initialreaktion der kritischen Öffentlichkeit (hier in Form des digitalen Dorfplatzes, der deutschen Blogosphäre) geeignet, diese Dichotomie zu verstärken, anstatt den Anachronismus der Exekution zu beklagen. „Ihr, nicht ich!“ schallte es den Hamburger Agenturen und ihren Auftraggebern von der Spree entgegen – und ein Logo hatte „Nicht-Deutschland“ auch gleich.

Auch wenn die Diskussion weitergehen muß – ab heute wieder im Netz und nun natürlich auch auf Papier – die beste Zusammenfassung des Debattenstandes nach Ankündigung der Kampagne habe ich bei „Franticworld“ gefunden – Du bist Deutschland

„[p]asst unter ein Bild von einer Gesprächsrunde bei Christiansen genauso wie unter ein Bild eines sonntagabendlichen Christiansen-Guckers. Unter das Bild einer Menschenschlange vor einer öffentlichen Suppenküche oder dem Arbeitsamt. Unter das Bild eines Rückspiegels, in dem ein hektisch die Lichthupe betätigender Oberklassekarossefahrer auftaucht. Unter das Bild von einem Gartenzwerg. Unter ein Bild vom Papst. Unter das eines Akkordeonspielers.“

Genau. Unter Deins und unter meins. Und ein paar davon, zur Zeit 13.790 mit „Deutschland“ und 108. 458 mit „Germany“ verschlagwortete, kann man schon mal bei flickr.com bewundern.

Auch wenn damit vielleicht schon alles gesagt ist, werde ich die Kampagne und die Diskussion in den nächsten Monaten auf dieser Seite verfolgen, und damit vielleicht auch zur ein oder anderen Einsicht über das gelangen, wer oder was Deutschland zur Zeit wirklich ist.

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almost a diary, compulsory reading

Alice S.

Well, I suppose it had to happen one day. And when it happened, it was not quite like you imagined it would be – sound familiar? Well, I am of course talking about meeting Alice Schwarzer, one of Simone de Beauvoir’s „groupies“ and the best known German feminist.

I am quite certain that today’s event about the „Islamic headscarf as a system [of oppression]“ was as much a marketing event for her feminist magazine, EMMA, as it was aggressive, intellectually, as well as personally disappointing. Details to follow – probably on afoe. Let me just say for the minute that Frau Schwarzer’s rather conciliatory television appearances of late are – and I think I can fairly judge that from having attended said talk – are not what the woman is still about. She’s still entirely immersed in the strange mythology that is radical feminism, and everyting she says has to be interpreted from this very narrow point of view.

Moreover, gentle readers, should ever encounter a feminist claiming that language is subtly biased towards the suppression of women, tell her that Ms Schwarzer’s language, including the assertion that women wearing the tchador „are not really human“, made several of the initially present veiled women leave in anger. Not that some of their statements were much less aggressive, yet it was Ms Schwarzer who pointed out that condescension has no place in this debate. When I called her on it, she simply said it was „self explanatory sarcasm.“

Well, not too self-explanatory, apparently. In general, the debate – organised by a group of Iranian exiles – revealed the political salience of the hijab issue in all possible dimensions. Sadly, for an issue that is so close to female sexuality, all that German feminism appears to have to offer are recylced labels.

Sorry mum, I know you like her, but I’m beginning to think Ms Schwarzer is one of them.

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compulsory reading, intellectual property rights, media, web 2.0

Blogs are really different.

To those who haven’t yet had the opportunity to read about Loic LeMeur’s efforts in bringing together the loose ends of the Germanic blogosphere, I say – do so.

When I went to meet him and some other bloggers I had never seen or even heard of before, I was not too sure what to expect beyond a pint of wheat beer. But what developed were indeed very intristing debates about the future -as we develop it.
Weiterlesen

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compulsory reading, German Politics

He won’t give quite the Horst.

Sich zum Horst machen – loosely translated „to give the Horst“ – is a rather old fashioned, 1970s way to express that someone has seriously embarrassed himself. The German idiom had sudden hopes for a revival last week when CDU, CSU and FDP announced that Horst Köhler, then still managing director at the IMF, would accept their nomination for the almost exclusively ceremonial German presidency.

Not that this specific Horst did not have the most outstanding professional merits and, moreover, commanded the trust of Helmut Kohl, who had nominated him – a few years ago – to run the East European Development Bank. Surprisingly, this fact was never really mentioned in the explanations of yet another defeat of Mr Schäuble, the long-time frontrunner for the nomination but for several years now a veritable enemy of his former mentor, Helmut Kohl, who, by all means, can still pull some strings in the CDU.

But the fact that Mr Köhler was completely unknown to the wider German public made the nomination certainly a little bit more risky than it would have been in the case of a nomination of Mr Schäuble. There was – and there still is – a tiny chance that his candidacy could turn out to give the Horst, quite literally.

But there are also advantages. He can start from scratch, building on the enormous advance of trust that those that know him, professionally, and personally, have injected into the German discourse after the nomination.

Today was his Coming Out. After an interview with Der Spiegel it was time to get on the bigger stage and show his face to the people he will likely soon represent: He was given an unsurprising warm welcome by the conservative lead print medium Bild (that has recently been scorned by the chancellor“ )
before going on tv tonight for a one hour interview.

Before, when his supporters tried to explain why he would be the right President in times of change, most arguments focussed on his professional and international background. But even after being only briefly introduced into Mr and Mrs Köhler’s life by an only slightly gifted and scarcely briefed interviewer I am far more confident than before that he is indeed not just intellectually the candidate we need: He is not the early capitalist IMF monster as which some will try to paint him in the coming months. But hailing from the poor background of a large refugee family that lost everything three times until he was ten, he is someone who knows first hand that sometimes, change may be for the better. And he seems like an exemplary father even in light of a tragic illness of his daughter and a certainly unpleasant teenage fatherhood of his son.

Despite evidently carefully crafted questions and answers on these personal issues, both Mr and Mrs Köhler showed an understandable, visible uneasiness. There certainly is a difference between theoretical readiness for an office and the practical torment that he – and to some extent his family – will go through in the next months. Some things in Germany did change since he left six years ago. For one thing, the government has moved to Berlin, and so has much of the „political“ media. The cosy interaction of politicians and journalists back in the good old days in Bonn are certainly gone. There may still be a bit more of an informal consensus banning overly extensive, certainly unethical reporting about politicians‘ families, but that consensus is certainly wearing thinner and thinner. So this aspect will take some time to get used to.

I am almost certain the new „first family“ will get used to it. I suppose they will see this as just one more challenge and feel the obligation to serve – out of a sense of duty. In the Bild-interview he said he felt deep gratitude and the need to give something back to the country that let a farmer’s son rise to President by giving him the opportunity of education. Now that’s what I call a „German Dream!“

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compulsory reading, Germany, USA

Sophie and Hans Scholl, Our Best.

I’m still not writing much these days because of my broken elbow, but today I just had to say something. Today, Papascott links to Bill Dawson, a US expat, living in and blogging from Vienna, who has written a wonderful post about Sophie Scholl and others who lost their lives in the almost hopeless struggle for human decency during the Nazi regime. For all of you who might not know how and why Sophie Scholl died, I’ll quote from Bill’s post –

„A man lifted her small body and placed it flat on a platform, and a blade from high above came crashing down and severed her twenty-one year-old head from her twenty-one year-old body. Yes, she died on the Guillotine, as did her brother and a close friend on that same day. Her murderers are well-known to us: Die Geheime Staatspolizei, the Secret State Police, the Gestapo. Sophie Scholl was a young lady both of words and of action. She was arrested with her brother Hans on February 18, 1943, one day after that final letter of hers cited above. Their friend Christoph Probst was arrested soon thereafter, and all three were murdered on the same day, February 22, 1943. The Gestapo, though they didn’t know precisely who their prey was, had been hunting them for some time, because leaflets from a group calling itself Die Weisse Rose, the White Rose, had been distributed on multiple occasions in Munich and other cities since the second-half of 1942. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie Scholl were observed by a custodian of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich as they quickly distributed leaflets inside an otherwise empty hall of the university. This „loyal“ janitor, Jakob Schmied, raised the alarm, and the resistance movement called the White Rose came to an end.“

Bill’s post comes as a reply to the least creative Kraut Bashing article I have come across in quite some time, written by a certain Ralph Peters for the New York Post, the newspaper which started the sophisticated „Axis of Weasels“ campaign back in February. On the surface, Mr Peters is concerned with the bulls**t talk given on October 3rd by soon to be former CDU MP Martin Hohmann, but the gist of his argument can safely be induced from the following statement –

„The whopping difference between the Allied occupation of Germany and our occupation of Iraq is that the overwhelming majority of Iraqis welcomed their liberation. We had to force freedom and democracy on the Germans at gunpoint.“

Tell that to my mother and my father, who, just like millions of other German kids, took chocolate bars from GIs. Anyway, Mr Peters‘ article is not worthy of any extended refutation, which is the only objection I have with respect to Bill Dawson’s otherwise great post – he tries to rationlize Peters‘ article by explaining that –

„[i]t’s the disgusting mindlessness of anti-Americanism here in Europe that offends Peters, myself and many others and which makes us want to hit back. With this gargantuan post I simply mean to show that one can both express disgust and disapproval towards the mindlessness here in Europe and at the same time recognize that the condition is not entirely universal.“

Here I can’t quite follow. By putting his post in this context, by saying that there are exceptions to the „current mindlessness of anti-Americanism“ in Europe just like Sophie Scholl was an exception to the appaling cowardice that held this country, and much of Europe, in grip during the Third Reich, he – I am almost certain accidentally – gives the impression that these two things were actually comparable – which could not be further from the truth.

Last Friday, ZDF tv broadcast „Unsere Besten“ („our best“), the local version of a BBC programme, that allowed tv viewers to cast votes for 300 „cultural Germans“, including celebrity PR nominations like „German Idol“ juror Dieter Bohlen, who was ranked 30th, but excluding Hitler and those in his gang. Sophie and her brother Hans made it to the top ten shortlist from which „the best“ German will be chosen, once more fulfilling Thomas Mann’s prediction that one day Germany would build monuments to commemorate the courage of these young people – although putting them on the shortlist of a meaningless tv show was probably not what they had in mind.

Just as the other nominees, from Albert Einstein to Johann Sebastian Bach, Sophie and Hans Scholl were primarily exceptional humans, not Germans. But there is something about them that stands out. Something that Bill captures rather well by saying –

„[W]e tend to learn about such people – who by all accounts seem fairly normal to their contemporaries – only via extraordinary circumstances. Were it not for the fact that she lived – and died – when she did, she may never have become so remarkable that we would know anything at all about her today.“

More than for anyone on the list, for Sophie and Hans Scholl, just as for those whom they represent in our collective memory, being exceptional humans meant being exceptional Germans. They were truly „our best“. So go and vote for them. I did.

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compulsory reading, US Politics, USA

Sex, Lies, And Dossiers.

Today, Salon.com’s Nicholas Thompson looks at recent examples of US-Presidential truth-tampering and decides that lying about war is worse than lying about sex. Many, certainly on this side of the pond, will agree with him that lying about the reasons for the sanctioned killing of human beings is actually lying in a league of its own.

But however much I believe that Mr. Thompson is theoretically right, I am not so sure about the political viability of his analysis.

After all, Mr Bush is President of a country, some states of which still criminalise ownership of sex toys and in which it is possible to seriously question the privacy of homosexuals – a case recently debated publicly following remarks of a US Senator and now settled by the US supreme court – in favour of their privacy.

Notwithstanding the annual San Franciscan group-masturbate-a-thon and Candice Bushnell’s „Sex and the City“, notwithstanding even unionised lap-dancers, in America, freedom of speech does NOT entail „obscenity“ – but it does protect the depiction of violence.

It is certainly interesting to debate the cultural origins of this American particularity, but whatever the reasons – including the American media -, the fact remains that the American public has a special way of dealing with the sexuality of its public figures, above all the President.

A few weeks ago, I met Amber, a 20 year old Texan student currently pursuing an language study exchange programme in Bonn, the former West German capital. She adamantly defended the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, and a lot of other things (excluding their tax and educational policies – because that’s where she is personally affected…). It wasn’t too long before we crossed the Clinton line – after all, it was the week of Hillary Clinton’s book release. Amber explained to me that she would always hate Bill Clinton for dishonoring the American Presidency by having sex with Monica Lewinsky – and also, because he lied about it. How could she, she wondered, trust such a politician?

Trust – the magic word when it comes to lying.

After hearing what she said about lying presidents, I couldn’t help but wonder if it were different for her if she was lied to about other things, say, the war on Iraq – if the President had decided he had to adjust the story to sell it to the public but if he *believed* he was doing the right thing for the country? [which is basically the story US Deputy Secretary of Defense, Paul Wolfowitz, floated a few weeks ago].

And you know what, Amber said – yes, that would be less grave, as long as he believed he was doing *the right thing* for the country. She is right, of course. But this realisation has to be put differently to become useful in a political analysis- as long as most of his electorate trusts (or pretends to trust) that the President was *doing the right thing*, lying about the reasons will be forgiven and called leadership. And having sex with an intern can never be the right thing to do, however smart your PR people are. As Clinton realised, fighting this battle was pointless.

We might not like it, but in politics, sex, lies and dossiers are never judged by their factual truth, or by their moral gravity alone – these things matter if, and only if, they allude to electoral ramifications. This US administration knows that, however nervous some of their recent statements, however unpractical the unfolding drama around David Kelly’s death in the UK.

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compulsory reading, Iraq, oddly enough, US Politics

The Psychology Of WMDs

Salon.com’s Louise Witt is wondering why America is in collective denial that [someone in] the Bush administration knowingly „sexed up“ the WMD charges against Saddam Hussein, as the administration is now admitting itself –

„[f]inally, on Monday, the White House admitted the president relied on inaccurate, incomplete information for that crucial passage of his State of the Union address.“ [this is referring to the President’s claim that Iraq was about to aquire radioactive material from Niger]

She asks why lying is perceived as bad in some cases – and she uses the obvious Clinton impeachment example – while most people will accept it without problems in other cases. She chooses an interesting and helpful angle to analyse this question: behavioral psychology, a scientific discipline that is predominantly occupied with exploring the limits of human information processing and decision making abilities. Obviously, she can only allude to some of the insights such a perspective has to offer for the problem at hand. But these allusions are well worth reading.

Here’s a part of Ms Witt’s article I found particularly interesting –

„When Gustave Gilbert, a psychologist who interviewed the Nuremberg prisoners, talked to Hermann Goering, the former leader of the Third Reich’s Luftwaffe, Goering volunteered that it was relatively easy to persuade a populace to go to war.

As quoted in Gilbert’s book „Nuremberg Diary,“ Goering said: „It is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gilbert disagreed with Goering’s analysis. „There is one difference,“ he answered. „In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.“

But Goering held his ground: „Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.“

Of course, such a statement has to be read as carefully as possible. It certainly does not add any truth to the recently rather popular, strange comparison of George W. Bush and Adolf Hitler.

But it does indicate that even liberal democracies could be heading in a dangerous direction. Especially when fear is calling the shots in most people’s brains.

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