Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

Political Meltdown

newradiationsymbol_300×200.gifIt’s been a bad month for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

It all started rather well. Although not all media outlets were as fawning as Spiegel-Online Merkel did enjoy international praise after the G8 summit in June.

She took that momentum into a German energy summit held in at the beginning of July in order to discuss how CO2 targets can be met. At the summit, it became clear that Merkel planned to pursue one of her long term goals, rolling back the current plan to completely phase out nuclear power in Germany by the year 2021.

There are legitimate reasons to discuss using nuclear power at least as a bridge to achieve lower CO2 emissions while pursuing longer term solutions. Even if no new power plants were built, a very strong argument could be made to keep existing plants in the net. While it is unlikely that she would be able to convince either the SPD or a huge majority of the German public, it was probable that Merkel had planned to put nuclear power back on her party’s platform in time for the next elections.

At this point, a little background is probably necessary for those not familiar with German energy policy.

In the summer of 2001, after long negotiations, then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, a Social Democrat, joined with his coalition partners, the Greens, to in push through a deal to completely eliminate nuclear energy from Germany by 2021 based on a similar plan already in place in Sweden.

Now, depending on whose side you are on, this can be either a good or a bad choice.

On the one hand, it is difficult to deny that there are problems with the current nuclear industry. In Germany, as in many countries, a final repository for nuclear waste has yet to be found. Massive protests are staged every time nuclear waste is re-imported after being processed in France to prepare it for final storage and transported to the interim facility in Gorleben. Another issue is the increasing age of nuclear power plants in Germany. The youngest reactor in the German mix is almost 20 years old, and most were build in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Finally, in an age of terrorist threat, real or imagined, nuclear power stations do make nice targets.

On the other side of the issue stands the elimination of carbon dioxide producing power plants. (Indeed the fly ash produced by coal power plants has been said to be more radioactive because naturally occurring radioactive elements are concentrated in the ash. Of course this is only a problem for coal from certain areas and is something to think about (but not worry about) the next time you spend a lot of time in a cinderblock building.) Lastly, one can make the claim that a normally operating nuclear power plant releases almost no measurable radiation into the environment..

Finally It should also be noted that, following his term as Chancellor, Schröder accepted a job working for the Russian energy supplier Gazprom to build a pipeline to the EU bypassing the eastern European countries. A pipeline that will also supply gas for – you guessed it – non-nuclear power plants. It was a move sharply criticised at the time.

But back to Merkel. As far as I know, alone among top western politicians, Merkel has a science PhD – in physical chemistry. That perhaps explains much of her understanding of the urgency to regulate greenhouse gas emissions – she understands the science and not just the policy summaries.

But she also understands politics. And that’s why she’s having a very bad month.

It all started on June 28 with two seemingly unrelated incidents at two different nuclear reactors in Germany,both run by the energy company Vattenfall.

One, Krümmel, had a transformer fire, another reported a minor leak. Later it came out that the transformer fire had been far more serious that first admitted. Plant operators at one point had been forced to put on gas masks. Information has come to light showing that plant operators might have been trying to increase output which ultimately lead to the fire. The “leak” turned out to be a pipe which had exploded due to a hydrogen build up. Vattenfall also doesn’t have a great safety record with two different reactors in Sweden being forced to shut down due to ‘malfunctions.’ They also have a reputation for trying to coverup or downplay events that happen at their reactors.

Merkel was noticeably irritated. According to Spiegel Online,

“It does make me angry, and it’s an experience I had while environment minister, when (safety) regulations are not actually followed from day to day,” Merkel, who led Germany’s ministry of the environment under former chancellor Helmut Kohl, told German television on Tuesday. “That needs to be cleared up, and I mean strictissimi (i.e. according to the letter of the law), otherwise we can’t guarantee ongoing safety.”

Sigmar Gabriel, current environment minister in Merkel’s cabinet, has also been vocally critical of the way Vattenfall has handled the recent reactor mishaps. On Wednesday, he once again took a swipe at the company, saying: “It is a major loss of face for the company. They are campaigning for trust in atomic energy, they should really be the first to say, ‘We are going to lay everything on the table, let’s clear it up.’ Instead, all we see from them is this strange carrying on.” The state of Schleswig -Holstein, where the reactors are located, is looking into whether the company should lose its license to operate nuclear reactors.

Instead of being able to use “glowingly” green energy as part of her next campaign, Merkel will probably have to scrap it. As a matter of fact the Social Democrats, long quite on the issue are becoming far more vocal. From an excellent overview also from Spiegel Online,

Suddenly the Social Democrats, especially Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel, see themselves justified in taking the position that nuclear energy is a “risky technology.” “German nuclear power plants are the safest worldwide,” Gabriel said acerbically last week, “aside from the occasional explosion or fire.”
And the public is starting to worry as well. Perhaps for a reason. The article continues with,

The reason for the change in thinking is clear. Whereas most of the some 130 reactor incidents reported annually in Germany are minor and go unnoticed, smoke pouring out of a transformer as happened in Krümmel tends to attract attention. It took the fire department hours to extinguish the blaze. Even worse, the plant operator’s claim that a fire in the transformer had no effect o n the reactor itself proved to be a lie.

In short, the incident has made it clear that nuclear energy is by no means the modern, well organized high-tech sector portrayed until recently by politicians and industry advocates. Indeed, the frequency of problems occurring at Germany’s aging reactors is on the rise. Just as old cars will eventually succumb to rust, the country’s nuclear power plants, built in the 1970s and 80s, are undergoing a natural aging process.

The problems are complicated by maintenance and supervision issues among aging and unmotivated employees. A dangerously lackadaisical attitude has taken hold that is making Germany’s nuclear power plants increasingly unsafe. Most incidents to date have proven to be relatively minor, and yet each new incident becomes yet another link in a chain of problems with the potential to end in a serious accident.,

But the problems aren’t only related to safety issues. In today’s increasingly competitive energy (and management) marketplace, companies are increasingly willing to take risks to improve profit margins.

Industry insiders complain that for some time power plant operators have been attempting to squeeze as much profit as possible out of their old, and for the most part depreciated, reactors. In recent years, for example, the owners of the Krümmel nuclear power plant have invested about €50 million in technical improvements to increase the efficiency of the plant’s turbines, a move that has brought a 7 percent improvement in net output. But these alleged improvements have also increased stress on secondary systems such as the plant’s transformer, systems that were apparently not retrofitted. In fact, this may have been the cause of the Krümmel fire. According to Günther Pikos, a nuclear expert from the western German city of Düren, “the transformer was apparently already damaged by a string of earlier incidents.” Pikos believes that this, combined with the increase in turbine output, was what ended up overloading the transformer.

Finally, perhaps just so Merkel gets the point, yesterday’s earthquake in Japan caused not only a transformer fire but a coolant leak into the Sea of Japan as well.

What all this means is that nuclear power just got much more unpopular in Germany. The long term effects will probably be minimal but Merkel will likely be forced to shelf plans to extend the life of nuclear power until after the next elections.

Any attempt to right now to try to lower carbon dioxide emissions in Germany using the “nuclear option” is, at least politically, radioactive.

Using His Kristol Ball

He’s at it again.

William Kristol, Fox News überpundit and Weekly Standard editor managed to get an Op-Ed in Sunday’s Washington Post. His point, if you have not already guessed, is to point out just how wonderful a president Bush will considered – in retrospect of course.

With current poll numbers in a Nixonian nosedive, one wonders how Kristol manages to come to this rather reality estranged viewpoint. As mentioned, both in the first sentence of the piece and perhaps the only one in the Op-Ed with any relationship to the laws of reality as we know them, Kristol comments that he will “merely expose myself to harmless ridicule if I make the following assertion: George W. Bush’s presidency will probably be a successful one.”

Why yes, Mr. Kristol, you will; here’s mine.

Kristol starts by looking at the wonderful things that have happened in the years of the Bush presidency. Things like no more terrorist attacks on US soil, a strong economy and * cough * an obviously winning strategy in Iraq.

Let’s take these in order, shall we?

First, the no more terror attacks on US soil. True. The sky also didn’t turn green and the Germans haven’t elected a new Hitler and the 60% of Americans becoming increasingly frustrated with the federal government still haven’t left the country either. Funny that Kristol doesn’t assume these to be accolades of the current administration. Perhaps we only have to give him time.

But what about those pesky little terror attacks. Madrid, London, – London again (sort of), Glasgow (sort of). Kristol is right that the US has largely avoided al Quaeda terror attacks in recent years. Of course the same could have been said of Bill Clinton in 1999. But hey, why go there?

There was the largely forgotten and never explained Anthrax attacks that took place – um –after 9/11?

Then there was that pesky little hurricane thingy that destroyed New Orleans and reshaped the Gulf Coast. Not terror but the federal response, lead and coordinated by Bush, was terrifyingly bad.

We could look at last week’s report by the GAO that a fake firm, basically a mailbox and a telephone number, would have been able to purchase the materials for a dirty bomb. No not an attack, but terrifying.

Perhaps the only reason al Quaeda doesn’t attack is because there isn’t any reason. America is doing a just fine self destructing all by itself, thank you. Perhaps that is why Chertoff has a stomach problem. Maybe he was simply eating salmonella infested spinach picked by “undocumented workers” his department seems unable to keep out of the country.

Which brings me to the economy.

What does Mr. Kristol have to say?

After the bursting of the dot-com bubble, followed by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we’ve had more than five years of steady growth, low unemployment and a stock market recovery. Did this just happen? No. Bush pushed through the tax cuts of 2001 and especially 2003 by arguing that they would produce growth. His opponents predicted dire consequences. But the president was overwhelmingly right. Even the budget deficit, the most universally criticized consequence of the tax cuts, is coming down and is lower than it was when the 2003 supply-side tax cuts were passed.

Bush has also (on the whole) resisted domestic protectionist pressures (remember the Democratic presidential candidates in 2004 complaining about outsourcing?), thereby helping sustain global economic growth.

What do those pesky facts show?

Well, I’ll just ask the U.S. Census Bureau. Since the yearly reports come out in August, (perhaps the reason for Mr. Kristol writing this Op-Ed now) I have to reach back to the Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2005 released in August 2006.

A quick graph of those incomes (adjusted to 2005 dollars) by quintile shows that current income still hasn’t reached the level of 2000. But the rich are still getting richer having increased from a meager 49.8% of the total share of income in the year 2000 to 50.4% by 2005, an all time high. (Click for full size version)

Mean Household Income by Quintiles 1986 - 2005

And a few more tidbits from the report:

  • ”The Gini index, one of the most widely used inequality measures, did not measure a statistically significant change in household income inequality between 2004 and 2005. Over the past 10 years, the Gini index has increased 4.2 percent (from 0.450 to 0.469), although the individual annual differences since then were not statistically significant.” (pg. 8 )
  • After 4 years of consecutive increases, the poverty rate stabilized at 12.6 percent in 2005— higher than the most recent low of 11.3 percent in 2000 and lower than the rate in 1959 (22.4 percent), the first year for which poverty estimates are available. (pg. 13)
  • “The percentage of people without health insurance coverage increased from 15.6 percent in 2004 to 15.9 percent in 2005. [up from 14,5% in 1999]” (pg. 20)
  • The percentage and the number of children (people under 18 years old) without health insurance increased between 2004 and 2005, from 10.8 percent to 11.2 percent and from 7.9 million to 8.3 million, respectively. (pg .21)

Then there is the minor fact that gasoline prices have now almost doubled since George W. Bush took office.

Kristol then comments that even progressives would have to admit that Roberts and Alito are impressive supreme court judges. I’d say no problem Mr. Kristol. I’m sure you would agree that Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chaves are impressive international statesmen. Impressive is such a malleable word, isn’t it? As to making the claim that Roberts and Alito are conservative constitutionalists, I guess I would say that you might think so. Of course, if you assume the constitution is based on enlightenment principles and not on the ten commandments, it could have been worse.

Kristol then moves from domestic fantasies into international ones.

He starts off pointing out that “the war in Afghanistan has gone reasonably well”. I won’t even go there except to reference the attack of the 10 foot tall marijuana plants. Something Mr. Kristol is certainly glad to see based on what he must have been smoking while writing this piece.

He then proceeds to wave his hand at any Pakistani problems and assumes that “Bush will deal with them.” Oh. Great.

Generally, in Mr Kristols world everything else is – well…

As for foreign policy in general, it has mostly been the usual mixed bag. We’ve deepened our friendships with Japan and India; we’ve had better outcomes than expected in the two largest Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil; and we’ve gotten friendlier governments than expected in France and Germany. China is stable. There has been slippage in Russia. The situation with North Korea is bad but containable.

Hmm. The recent Pew report might present reality a bit differently. Let’s see.

In the current poll, majorities in 25 of the 47 countries surveyed express positive views of the U.S. Since 2002, however, the image of the United States has declined in most parts of the world. Favorable ratings of America are lower in 26 of 33 countries for which trends are available.

The U.S. image remains abysmal in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia, and continues to decline among the publics of many of America’s oldest allies. Favorable views of the U.S. are in single digits in Turkey (9%) and have declined to 15% in Pakistan. Currently, just 30% of Germans have a positive view of the U.S. – down from 42% as recently as two years ago – and favorable ratings inch ever lower in Great Britain and Canada.

I’m actually surprised Mr Kristol didn’t make more of Americas improving relationship with “Christian” Africa.

That Russian – slippage? I have to admit, that is a neat turn of a phrase. And it is amazing what happens when the Bush White House basically rolls back to pre-Bush positions in order to “contain” North Korea. You remember, North Korea gets heating oil; they shut down reactors. Rocket Science! (Well, hopefully not.)

And then Kristol get’s to the heart of the matter. That teeny-weeny, eensy-bitsy, tiny detail he’d been avoiding the whole Op-Ed: Iraq. Here Kristol starts harkens back to the days of Ulysses S. Grant and pushes Petraeus into the forefront. Bush is no longer Commander in Chief but the guy who picked the guy who’s going to win in Iraq. Or maybe not.

I’m starting to think that Patraeus will be named Patsy by September and it seems I am not alone.

After Kristol wins Iraq, the path is clear for him to move into the Bush library (has anyone agreed to let it be build near them yet?) and start creating legends. Of course, as opposed to most presidential libraries, the George W. Bush library probably won’t be all that interesting to scholars who go to look at the original documents. Those have all been cleverly moved to RNC e-mail accounts that were unfortunately “de-archived.”

Sorry Mr. Kristol, no happiness there. Oh. But then again maybe facts don’t bother Mr Kristol.

You might notice something about my post. I have links to where I got the information to refute Mr Kristol’s “facts.” His Op-Ed is largely – no – completely link free; just like his reality. There is no reason to back up statements with facts. Facts are just so yesterday.

One can only look forward to the days when the Washington Post finally decides to stop publishing this balderdash.

In the meantime. If Mr. Kristol’s last comments are any indication of his betting ability, I’d love to get in a game of poker with him. His crystal ball seems a bit smudged.

What it comes down to is this: If Petraeus succeeds in Iraq, and a Republican wins in 2008, Bush will be viewed as a successful president.

I like the odds.

(Political) “Scientific War”

Oh, Oh. This won’t be pretty.

There is an article at the National Geographic news site saying that Zahi Hawass, the scientist with the rather pompous title of General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities is making waves again.

Upping the ante, Hawass on Sunday told his country’s parliament that he “will never again organize antiquities exhibitions in Germany if it refuses a request, to be issued next week, to allow the bust of Nefertiti to be displayed in Egypt for three months.”

While this sounds like a rather inconvenient tit for tat between two museums, it is far more serious.

Hawass is not an unwritten book. He has been pushing for the return of Egyptian artefacts to Egypt since he got his title.

You know this guy. His is the face of Egyptian archaeology, not only on National Geographic but on any show involving a pyramid in Egypt today. He seems to have two modes – Indiana Jones with rolled up sleeves and (I kid you not) a Fedora and the perfect Middle East minister with tailored suit and perfectly manicured fingernails. You can’t film about ancient Egypt in Egypt without giving him airtime.

He certainly doesn’t worry about science stuff. During the NOVA episode The Mummy Who Would Be King, he walked into a room and declared, in a booming, confident voice, that a newly rediscovered mummy was ‘royal.’

Myself, I can smell royal mummies. And I know the difference from a mummy to the others. You know, I discovered, in my career, more than 254 mummies. And I can really look at the face and from the first sight I will find out that it’s royal mummy or not.

I have seen a report on the discovery of a number of mummies where archaeologists wondered if they had discovered Nefertiti’s tomb. The reporter asked a conservator working on one of the mummies a rather innocuous question. The terror this woman felt was written in her face. She stammered something and told the reporter that he needed to talk to Hawass. Only Hawass gets airtime. To disobey this rule is to fall into disgrace in Hawass’ eyes.

But there is one person who Hawass really dislikes. That is the director of the Egyptian Museum in Berlin, Dietrich Wildung. From an article in the LA Times,

If Hawass is a master at outreach, he’s a black belt at infighting.is loftiest target has been Dietrich Wildung, an eminent scholar who runs the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. In 2003, Hawass announced that Egyptian police had a tape of known antiquities thieves talking about the kinds of things Wildung would be willing to buy from them for his museum’s collection.

“The … authorities have incontrovertible evidence that he was involved in the illegal trafficking and buying of antiquities,” Hawass wrote in his column for the English edition of the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram. But when asked why Egypt, two years later, still hasn’t moved to indict Wildung — as Italian authorities recently did in bringing a case against Marion True, the J. Paul Getty Museum’s curator of antiquities — Hawass acknowledges that the tapes are hearsay that can’t prove a case.

Now Hawass wants Germany to “loan” the classic Nefertiti bust back to Egypt. The Germans think that as soon as the statue is back in Egypt it is gone. Possession is, after all, nine-tenths of the law. Since this also the central piece in the German museum, they are understandably nervous about giving it up. It would kill their exhibition.

There are long traditions of German and Egyptian scientists working together. Germany was active both before and after the second world war and many major discoveries were made by Germans. Thus a disagreement on this level might cause an academic break.

But unlike the nice quiet science types, Hawass plays hard ball. He is ratcheting up the language. Back to the National Geographic piece,

Hawass said today that he would send a letter to Germany tomorrow formally requesting a loan of the bust for the opening of the new Grand Egyptian Museum.

The museum is scheduled to open in 2012 near the site of the Great Pyramids at Giza, just outside Cairo.

“I will begin a negotiation,” Hawass said.

If it fails, Hawass said, he will organize a worldwide boycott of loans to German museums.

“We will make the lives of these museums miserable,” he said. “It will be a scientific war.” [My emphasis]

No. It will be a political war. A political war where science plays a very minor role compared to the ego of one Egyptian minister.

It is a political (science) war.

The Tale of the Two Millers

Today I’d like to tell two very sad tales, stories about suicide. One paints a very sad picture, the other, only half of one.The first story is about a depressed teenager.

In 1997, Matt Miller, a 13 year old started having behavioural problems; his grades dropped, he was banging his head against his locker at school, he began urinating on the bathroom floor. His parents, alerted to the problem by school officials, took him to an adolescent psychiatrist who diagnosed an unspecified depression. Since the boy did not show improvement after three weeks, the psychiatrist prescribed the anti-depressant Zoloft, a so called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). A week later the young man committed suicide by hanging himself.

The parents suspected the medication played an important role in their son’s death and sued the maker of the antidepressant – pharma giant Pfizer. They enrolled the help of an expert witness, Dr. David Healy. Healy had studied the effects of SSRIs on individuals not suffering from depression and reported that a few had reacted with obsessive suicidal thoughts. Pfizer’s counsel argued that Healy’s testimony not be admitted because it did not meet the so called Daubert standards requiring judges to act as gatekeepers in the case of expert testimony and requiring evidence to have won “widespread acceptance” in professional circles. (This is the same standard defendants in the Kitzmiller vs. Dover case attempted to use in order to prevent Barbara Forrest from testifying. They failed and her testimony later proved damning to the Intelligent Design case.)

The second Miller story is not about someone who committed suicide, but someone studying it. Dr. Matthew Miller is the Associate Director of Harvard Injury Control Research Center and does research into methods for preventing suicide.

In a study appearing in the April issue of The Journal of Trauma, Miller is presenting his research into the correlation between the presence of firearms in households and suicide rates.

In the first nationally representative study to examine the relationship between survey measures of household firearm ownership and state level rates of suicide in the U.S., researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that suicide rates among children, women and men of all ages are higher in states where more households have guns. The study appears in the April 2007 issue of The Journal of Trauma.

“We found that where there are more guns, there are more suicides,” said Matthew Miller, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Management at HSPH and lead author of the study.

Suicide ranks as one of the 15 leading causes of death in the U.S.; among persons less than 45 years old, it is one of the top three causes of death. In 2004, more than half of the 32,439 Americans who committed suicide used a firearm.

It should also be noted that there are more suicides in America per year than murders. It is clear that this study will be used by gun control lobbies to argue for more restrictions and attacked by firearm lobbies for being flawed.

While I am highly sceptical of handgun ownership, my alarm bells started ringing while reading the article describing the study. I got more suspicious when I read the summary,

The researchers recommend that firearm owners take steps to make their homes safer. “Removing all firearms from one’s home is one of the most effective and straightforward steps that household decision-makers can take to reduce the risk of suicide,” says Miller. “Removing firearms may be especially effective in reducing the risk of suicide among adolescents and other potentially impulsive members of their home. Short of removing all firearms, the next best thing is to make sure that all guns in homes are very securely locked up and stored separately from secured ammunition. In a nation where more than half of all suicides are gun suicides and where more than one in three homes have firearms, one cannot talk about suicide without talking about guns,” he adds.

Laudable sentiments all. But they only tell half the story.

You see, worldwide, America stands head and shoulders above the rest of the world with respect to access to firearms. There are many studies showing a strong correlation between the number of suicides, homicides and accidents using firearms. Unfortunately these studies usually don’t tell everything.

Let’s compare the data between Germany and the US. Germany requires firearms to be registered and gun owners to be licensed, both practices are handled in a patchwork fashion in the US. With only 8.9 percent of the households having firearms, Germany had a rate of 1.44 unintentional deaths by firearm per 100,000 residents (0.21 murders and 1.23 suicides) . During a similar reporting period, the US boasted a whopping 41 percent coverage of firearm availability with 13.47 firearm related deaths per 100,000 (6.24 murders, 7.23 suicides). This looks damning.

I would agree that data does point to a correlation between firearm availability and a direct increase in homicides. I think that is the paradox of the NRA argument of keeping weapons to defend oneself.

But if one concentrates on suicides, the picture changes. Let’s look at the overall suicide rate for the two countries. The US has a lower overall suicide rate than Germany (21.7 to 27.4 per 100,000).

Thus it would seem that any strong correlation between firearm ownership and suicide rates isn’t valid. What is valid is that if firearms are available, they will be used as the preferred method; but there are many, many ways to kill yourself.

So, even though I truly believe Dr. Miller’s heart is in the right place, I don’t trust his research. And any attorney attempting to use it in court will probably fail against an analysis similar to mine. Which brings me back to the first story.

Having research that only shows one side of an issue is one of the things that led to the creation of the Daubert standards. In the case of the suicide of Matt Miller the judge asked for help. According to the excellent Nation article about this,

To help evaluate Healy’s research, US District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil appointed two independent experts, Yale epidemiologist John Concato and University of Illinois psychiatrist John Davis, to answer her questions. “I had envisioned a freewheeling scientist-to-scientist dialogue,” says Vickery, the Millers’ attorney. Vratil, an appointee of the first President Bush, had other ideas: To avoid any appearance of bias, she barred the experts from talking with Healy or any other witness as they prepared their findings.

In their report, the two men called Healy an “accomplished investigator.” But they also said Healy’s methodology “has not been accepted in the relevant scientific community” and that the psychopharmacologist holds a “minority view” about SSRIs and suicidality. Agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), they noted, had found no such relationship.
[…]
In February 2002, Judge Vratil issued her key rulings in Miller v. Pfizer. “Dr. Healy is an accomplished researcher,” she wrote, “and his credentials are not in dispute.” But his belief in the SSRI-suicide link is a “distinctly minority view,” she added, and the flaws in his methodology “are glaring, overwhelming, and unexplained.” With that, Vratil rejected Healy as an expert witness–and dismissed the lawsuit against Pfizer. The Millers appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which in October 2004 rejected their petition for a hearing.

It would seem that the minority opinion lost the day, a single researcher reading too much into the data. It would seem that Dr. Healy is analogous to Dr. Miller. Both had valid claims but were overreaching.

Dr. Miller correctly points out that the number of suicides using firearms is directly correlated to the number of firearms available. That does not lead however to the result that lowering the number of firearms will directly lower the number of suicides. If that were true, Germany should have a much lower rate of suicide than America indeed one would expect a dramatic drop. We don’t see that.

Dr. Healy looked at the data and worried about people being severely damaged by the very treatment meant to save them. Other researchers argued he was wrong. Perhaps the saddest factor in this story is that Dr. Healy was likely right. Returning to the Nation article

In April 2006 the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline disclosed that adults with major depression were almost seven times more likely to attempt suicide after taking the SSRI Paxil than after taking a placebo, although these events were rare. In November an FDA analysis of 372 clinical trials, involving almost 100,000 patients, revealed a twofold risk of suicidal behavior for adults under 25 who took SSRIs. To those who share David Healy’s views, the latest research is an affirmation–too late for the Millers but perhaps early enough to avert future tragedies. “I believe it vindicates Healy in a major way,” says Antonuccio, the Nevada professor. “Here mainstream scientists are saying, Yes, these antidepressants cause suicidality–which is what Healy has been saying all along.”

So perhaps there is a more important moral here.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter whether the science is right or wrong. Sometimes it might be better to err on the side of safety – licensing and regulating guns on the one hand and strictly controlling the use of SSRIs on the other.

But for many this kind of pragmatic solution comes too late and at a much too high a price; the high price of legal fees, lobbyists – and lives.

Sharia Court

Imagine your husband beats you. Imagine you have had enough and file for divorce. Imagine requesting an expedited divorce because your husband has made death threats. Imagine the judge turning down your petition, not because the secular law isn’t clear – but because the Koran allows husbands to beat their wives.

Sad case right?

A case from the Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan? No. Germany. According to Spiegel Online [German],

The case sounds too bizarre to be true: a 26-year old mother with two young children wanted to free herself from the captivity of her [abusive] marriage. After a physical altercation in May 2006 in their joint apartment, even the police had determined that her husband, who comes from Morocco like she does, was abusive. The husband had to leave – but the terror continued. After separation her still-husband threatened to kill the young mother.

An expedited divorce seemed the only escape – the twenty six year old didn’t want to wait through the legally required one year separation. She hoped that as soon as she wasn’t married, her husband would stop harassing her. Together with her attorney, Barbara Becker-Rojczyk, they filed a motion for expedited divorce proceedings with the Frankfurt district court in October last year. That the violence and death threats presented a hardship case, the only foundation for an expedited divorce, seemed clear to the attorney and client.

But then came a letter from the judge assigned to the case. And with the letter the scandal was perfect: using a reference to the Koran, the judge rejected the divorce motion. “The use of corporal punishment is not unacceptable cruelty under paragraph 1565 of the BGB [the appropriate civil code],” was to be read in the letter from the judge. One needs to bear in mind that both partners come from the Moroccan culture. [my translation, my emphasis]

Basically, since the Koran allows men to beat their wives, women should accept this as a part of marriage. At least if the woman is Muslim and comes from Morocco.

The passage being used here is from Sura 4:34 which has been translated to English as follows.

Husbands should take full care of their wives, with [the bounties] God has given to some more than others and with what they spend out of their own money. Righteous wives are devout and guard what God would have them guard in the husbands’ absence. If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them [of the teaching of God], then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them. If they obey you, you have no right to act against them. God is most high and great. [Oxford University Press (2004)].

While this seems pretty clear to me (and hey – what do I know?), there seem to be other translations and interpretations. It’s religion after all. You have to interpret everything. It seems people have determined that you don’t have to beat them. (It’s probably only optional.)

This doesn’t mean that the judge is being excused from a little verbal ‘beating’ herself. (Yes, it’s a she-judge.) For some reason, people don’t seem to think this judgement was a terribly good idea. The judge recused herself (or was recused) on Wednesday after this case became public. The case will be re-examined and it can only be hoped that 26 year old woman will have a more settled future.

The future of the judge might not be that clear. Politicians are already very grumpy over this issue. (Of course the politicians are already under fire for not doing more to stop and prevent forced or arranged marriages in Germany but that’s a different story.) But getting rid of German judges is not an easy thing to do.

Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the courts.

One only hopes it’s not a Sharia Court: Germany.

Un-Fair Publicity

Remember my post about the Washington Post op-ed by Eric Fair?

I said it was powerful and moving.

Well it apparently the piece moved not just me but the right wing blogosphere as well; just in a slightly different direction. And a very weird one at that.

I also made a direct connection to the case of Khalid Al-Masri, the Lebanese born German citizen kidnapped and held by US/Afghan “authorities.” I first noticed this when looking at my referral logs and people looking for “Eric Fair warrant Germany.”

The backstory.

During the last week in January, Munich’s prosecuting attorney got arrest warrants for 13 people though to be associated with the, what in Germany is considered, kidnapping of Khalid al-Masari. One of the German television stations got the list and released (German) the names on the warrant,

According to research by the NDR, the arrest warrants were handed down for the following people.

Kirk James BIRD
James OHALE
James FAIRING
Michael GRADY
Jason FRANKLIN
Hector LORENZO
John DECKER
Lyle Edgard LUMDSEN
Walter Richard GREESBORE
Bryam CHARLES
Jane PAYNE
Patricia Riloy
Eric FAIR

Included in the warrants issued by the prosecuting attorney from Munich I are several spellings of each name. According to NDR research, these names are aliases. In addition according to research by “Panorama” [,a German television news magazine], several real names are also known to the investigators.

According to research from the ARD political magazine “Panorama,” the thirteen being sought under these warrants are CIA operatives. Most live in the US state of North Carolina. Three have already been confronted in September 2006 by “Panorama” about the charges; the accused refused any comment. [my translation, my emphasis]

In it’s coverage of the case, Speigel Online also underlines that the warrants are based on the al-Masari case and that the names are thought to be aliases.

Munich-based Bavarian senior state public prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld said in a statement Wednesday that the warrants had been issued in the last few days. He said the agents are being sought on suspicion of abducting and wrongfully imprisoning el-Masri as well as causing him grievous bodily harm. Thirteen suspected CIA agents are listed in the warrants, although the names given are thought to be aliases. [my emphasis]

But Eric Fair wasn’t in Afghanistan and thus doesn’t have anything to do with the al- Masri case. Thus, it is unlikely that the Eric Fair from the WP article is one of the defendants being mentioned in the German warrant. Eric Fair probably isn’t that person’s real name and that isn’t the right country anyway. al-Masri wasn’t in Abu Ghraib.

So far so good.

Ah but the twisted turns of the Intertubes.

There is an Eric Fair mentioned [Hat Tip: Kilabe for the PDF if not his sentiments] in the lawsuit Saleh, v. Titan filed in California in 2004 and moved recently to Virginia due a change in venue. From the Juli Schwartz’ article in the Rutgers Law Journal,

The plaintiffs in Saleh represent a class of Iraqi detainees who claim to be the victims of heinous human rights abuses at the hands of U.S. military personnel and civilian contractors under military command. The named plaintiff, Mr. Saleh (who since withdrew from the suit), is an Iraqi-born Swedish citizen who was imprisoned under Saddam Hussein’s regime for speaking out against the Baath Party. He escaped to Europe, but returned to Iraq in September 2003, where he was seized and detained at Abu Ghraib. According to Saleh, he and other prisoners were stripped, beaten, defiled, and raped throughout their detention. Their tormenters were identified as both uniform and plain-clothes personnel. Mr. Saleh was released in December 2003, and upon his release contacted a Michigan-based attorney who eventually joined forces with eight other plaintiffs. Together they filed suit in the Southern District of California against the two private contracting firms allegedly involved in the abuse, Titan Corporation and CACI International, and three employees in their individual capacities. The pleadings asserted federal question jurisdiction under the ATS and the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (“RICO”) Act.

In the original filing there is an Eric Fair named as one of the CACI employees.

That’s an interesting case if you’re a lawyer or a civil rights person. Probably drops below the level of news for everyone not directly involved.

Still, Fair’s excellent description of what his time in Iraq was like speaks volumes about the emotional damage being done to civilians on both sides of the conflict. Unless of course, you’re not bothered by things like that,

I feel bad that this guy is having nightmares, and I hope he is getting the PTSD counseling he needs. A lot of people can’t forget what they saw and did in Iraq. I could describe for you in detail the faces of the middle-aged Iraqi soldiers on whom I directed 50. cal fire, and exactly what they looked like when they died 30 feet away, as I directed the gunner’s fire from one to another until they were all dead. For a long time, I saw them every day. I examined their faces for clues about who they were, and to divine the exact moment and exact manner in which life exits the body. I also wept once, and asked forgiveness, because no matter what else they were, they were also human. I was a reporter. Some people didn’t think I was supposed to be doing what I did, and called me a murderer. Screw them. They were people who weren’t remotely familiar with the truth they were lecturing me about. Guess what: War is hell.

This person seems to miss the point. (If not missing while directing 50 cal. machine gun fire.)

Unfortunately, the people Eric Fair took part in torturing were not on the battlefield. They were defenseless prisoners. Killing people in battle, while debateable in a war of aggression (and really debatable if you are supposed to be an embedded journalist) probably wouldn’t be challenged by moderates. Torturing people to get information for questionable tactical and strategic use is something else entirely.

Thus, while I might not curse Mr Crittenden for his feelings about what happened on the battlefield, I find his feelings about the WP article extremely distasteful.

And extremely Un-Fair.

Busted – um – Warranted (Updated)

Speigel-Online (International version) is reporting that German prosecutors have issued warrants for 13 people in connection with the “rendition” of Khaled el-Masri at the end of 2003.

German prosecutors have issued 13 arrest warrants in connection with the alleged CIA abduction of German citizen Khaled el-Masri, Munich-based Bavarian senior state public prosecutor Christian Schmidt-Sommerfeld said in a statement Wednesday.

Schmidt-Sommerfeld said the warrants had been issued in the last few days. He refused to give more details, saying a statement would be made later Wednesday.

Munich prosecutors investigating the case have said in the past that they received the names of several United States intelligence agents believed to be involved in the abduction from Spanish investigators. However it is not clear whether they are the people named in the arrest warrants.

The LA Times is also running the story. Here the information get’s a little weirder. According to the Times the agents involved in the operation were under major pressure to get a break in a terrorism case…

Legal documents, credit card receipts and hotel records show that those allegedly involved in the Masri abduction stayed at a luxury resort on the Spanish island of Majorca before flying to Skopje, Macedonia, on Jan. 23, 2004. When checking into the hotel, some of the operatives gave aliases, such as Kirk James Bird and James Fairing. The covert team’s charges in Majorca included a food bill of $1,625 and an $81 charge for a massage.

Well, they were getting a break of some kind at least.

For those who haven’t been following the el-Masri case, I would recommend the recommend the online film “Outlawed” and the press release on Breakthrough.tv.

I’ve also written about this case a couple of times. Once commenting on the video and once talking about the most important factor of all – that CIA agents are finding mal – um – rendition insurance a little difficult to get. Almost like getting flood insurance in New Orleans.

Update
In other rendition news, Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick, the coolest Supreme Court watcher ever, has two stories in one. One is about the case of Maher Arar the other about Wesam al-Delaema.

Arar is a household name around the world. The Canadian software engineer was grabbed during a stopover at JFK Airport in 2002 and subjected to 10 months of “extraordinary rendition” in the care of our good friends in Syria. He was tortured until he falsely confessed, then sent home without explanation. A two-year inquiry by a prestigious Canadian commission determined that it had all been an awful mistake. The Bush administration refused to cooperate with that commission and still refuses to remove Arar from the American security watch list, claiming to have secret information that he’s still dangerous although the Canadian authorities dispute that.

Last Friday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Arar a public apology and $8.9 million in compensation while the Bush administration has blocked his lawsuit, citing the executive branch’s “state secrets privilege.” The conclusions of the Canadians, admitting his arrest was a mistake, are disregarded. No concessions, no apology, no transparency, and no regard for our Canadian allies. Arar wins a permanent entry under A in the world’s Dictionary of Reasons To Hate Us.

But the case of Wesam al-Delaema is different. This is a bad guy. This is the kind of terrorist watchlists and prosecutors dream about. The only problem? You never hear about them. In it’s rush to never ever say anything substantial about the GWOT, the administration also manages to keep quiet when they actually do hit the jackpot. Lithwick’s article is well worth the read.

But, since el-Masri’s civil case was thrown out of US courts due to national security problems “state secrets privilege,” I find this step by the German prosecutors at least warranted.

Not Christmas Unless the Nazis Go Free

I was going to write a post about the fact that Deborah Lipstadt is blogging again but some of her first posts pointed me to a different topic.

In case you don’t know, Deborah Lipstadt is a professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University. One of her major research areas is studying holocaust denial and one of the biggest holocaust deniers is David Irving. When Professor Lipstadt published her book Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory, she didn’t think too much about the occasional comment about David Irving. She assumed he was proud of denying history. That was until her book was put on sale in England.

Around the time Lipstadt’s book came out, bookstores in Britain had had just about enough of Mr. Irving’s right-wing Nazi (not neo-Nazi, he does the original stuff) propaganda. Therefore they refused to carry his then newest book work scribblings screed about Josef Goebbels. Irving smelled Jewish conspiracy and looked around for someone to blame. He found a target in Professor Lipstadt and her British publisher Penguin books.

British libel law is almost the exact reverse of the American version. If someone sues for libel, it is the defendant who must prove the truth of the matter and not the plaintiff to show untruth. Irving sued, represented himself (what was that comment about people who represent themselves having fools as clients?) and lost spectacularly. In a damning judgment, Judge Sir Charles Gray blasted Irving,

The charges which I have found to be substantially true include the charges that Irving has for his own ideological reasons persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence; that for the same reasons he has portrayed Hitler in an unwarrantedly favourable light, principally in relation to his attitude towards and responsibility for the treatment of the Jews; that he is an active Holocaust denier; that he is anti-semitic and racist and that he associates with right wing extremists who promote neo-Nazism.

If you want to learn about Holocaust denial, what claims are made and how wrong they are, you can get everything for free at the Holocaust on Trial website, a project supported by Emory. The site includes almost all the expert reports produced for Professor Lipstadt, the trial transcripts and the complete judgement. (As entertaining and educational as the Dover judgement.) You could of course also buy either the book by Deborah Lipstadt or, for a slightly different perspective, you could read Michael Shermer’s excellent Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened and Why Do They Say It?

Why is any of this relevant now?

Over a year ago, David Irving was sentenced to 3 years in an Austrian prison for having denied the Holocaust in Austria. (Actually, it’s not quite that easy. Irving denied the Holocaust long ago at some neo-Nazi meeting in Austria; the Austrian state department declared him persona non grata and denied him entry into the country; he entered; about two years ago he was put on trial and put in prison. Phew!) Holocaust denial is a crime in many European countries including France, Germany and Austria and Irving is denied entry in these and a couple of other countries. Irving, after serving 13 months of his sentence, was released and, on December 21, sent back to England (who have to let him in). It was a repent David Irving that appeared before the Austrian courts. The Telegraph brought the following heart rending rendition,

The appeal court said it had made its decision to release Irving early due to the “exceptional long time since the crime”, as well as his defence that he no longer denied the Holocaust.

The judge, Ernest Maurer, said: “We expect Irving will leave Austria immediately. We don’t suspect he will commit another offence.”

Appearing handcuffed in court for the appeal verdict, Irving looked at the judge and said in German: “Thank you, your Honour.”

Of course, an almost unrecognizable, repentant David Irving isn’t something you see very often – or it appears – for very long. Shortly after landing back in Britain, Irving was also back in the business of anti-Semitism, racism; in short, all the things we recognize him for. The Guardian pointed out on December 23,

The discredited British historian David Irving came under fire last night for making racist comments a day after flying back to Britain following a year in prison in Austria for Holocaust denial.

Mr Irving, 68, who was released from a three-year sentence in Austria after undergoing what the judge said was an “impeccable conversion”, told a press conference that he supported the drunken anti-Semitic comments made by Mel Gibson that Jews were responsible for all modern wars. He also boasted about his success as an author during the 1970s by referring to his cash purchase of a “nigger brown” Rolls-Royce.

Well, at least he managed almost 24 hours.

According to the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard (German), the *cough* ‘activist’ judge involved in the case isn’t a completely unwritten page himself. He has close ties to the FPÖ, the far right political party run by Jörg Haider. As a matter of fact, he has made enough right-wing judgements, that he even managed to have a book written about one of his cases dealing with a neo-Nazi detractor. From the publisher,

The court battle handled [in this book] touches on the important themes, right-wing extremism, Social Darwinism [Biologismus] and national socialism. And the sole judge [as opposed to a panel] in the case, Ernest Mauer, is neither unknown nor uncontested.

So where all this does that leave us? Not far from where we started a couple of years ago. The judge in Austria is remaining true to form as is David Irving. Deborah Lipstadt is blogging again (although it is difficult to tell on which blog).

And Michael Shermer? Is there anything we can do for one of the leading sceptics of our age, one of the people who goes around bashing frauds and psychics, doing online debates with the likes of Deepak Chopra? Professor Lipstadt found a present for him too. You see there is this channeler in Florida who claims Anne Frank has forgiven Hitler…

So, I may have missed these Christmas doings last year, but hey, here’s a belated Merry Christmas to all. To all except the neo-Nazi, Holocaust-denying slugs out there.

A Burning Desire

President Bush signed the Military Commission Act of 2006 on Tuesday. Among other things, this removes the right of Habeus Corpus.

Thus restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press, on the right of assembly and association, and violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications, and warrants for house-searches, orders for confiscations as well as restrictions on property rights are permissible beyond the legal limits otherwise prescribed.

If you just got cold shivers reading the above passage, good. I didn’t quote the newest move toward an American dictatorship; rather it is the first paragraph of the decree signed by Hindenburg in February 1933, just after the Reichstag burned . It effectively ended the Weimar Republic and signalled the start of the Nazi regime. The next paragraph allowed the federal government, in case of danger to the public, the right to take over the state governments. Both of these provisions were enacted permanently or ‘until further notice.’ But for just a moment, an instant, you might have imagined an American Congress and an American Senate passing legislation with that language. The leap isn’t quite as far to see George W. Bush signing it. Doesn’t that give you pause to think?

I am currently reading Richard J. Evans’ ‘The Coming of the Third Reich,’ the source for the text I used above. On Tuesday, I reached the part of the book where the Reichstag is burned by the Dutch social malcontent and arsonist Marinus van der Lubbe. This happened about a week before federal elections and was used by the Nazis to ban the Communist party, the third strongest political power in pre-WWII Germany. Goebbels used the fire to whip up a feeling of fear, suggesting that the communist party was posed to overthrow the government and install a godless, evil regime.

If you have never heard of Richard Evans, he is one of the premier historians of the Third Reich. His fifteen minutes of fame outside academia came during the Irving vs. Lipstadt libel trial in 2000. David Irving sued Professor Lipstadt over her representation of him in her book ‘Denying the Holocaust’, a discussion of Holocaust ‘revisionists.’ The full transcripts and many of the expert reports can be found at Holocaust Denial on Trial. Evans wrote the expert witness report examining Irving’s validity as a historian. 

Very soon after we had begun our examination of Irving’s work along the lines sketched out above, it became clear that Irving did all of these things [i.e. deliberately manipulate and distort documents, suppress evidence, wilfully mistranslate documents , consciously use unreliable or discredited testimony, falsify historical statistics, or apply one standard of criticism to sources which undermine their views and another to those which support them]. Penetrating beneath the confident surface of his prose quickly revealed a mass of distortion and manipulation in every issue we tackled that was so tangled that detailing it sometimes took up many more words than had been devoted to it in Irving’s original account. […] A similar knotted web of distortions, suppressions and manipulations became evident in every single instance which we examined. We have not suppressed any occasion on which Irving has used accepted and legitimate methods of historical research, exposition and interpretation: there were none.

Needless to say, Irving lost the trial. In a judgement almost as entertaining and educational as the Dover ruling, Justice Gray blasts Irving, basically discrediting him as a historian or anything but an extremist, right-wing talking head. Irving now languishes in an Austrian prison for entering the country despite a court order denying his entry. This order came a direct result of Irving’s attacks on the reality of the holocaust. Naturally, I could have used the above quote to describe the distortions used by the current administration to justify the Iraq war; but that would be hyperbole.

Returning to 1933, in what would now be considered a terrorist act, an unemployed Dutch construction worker set fire to the seat of the much weakened Weimar government. Even though all evidence pointed to an isolated incident perpetrated by a deranged individual, Hitler and the Nazi government used this act as a pretext to claim that the fire had been a communist plot, a prequel to the overthrow of the government. The Nazis spread a feeling of fear and terror, projecting a threat to the country and stability in every socialist nuance.

The Stormtroopers were unleashed, smashing and destroying the offices of the communist party and the homes of the party members, who were arrested and taken to the precursors of concentration camps. While many of these people were no friends of democracy or the republic, the arrest was not for any specific crime, it was enough to be in the wrong party, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. These detainees had no right to counsel; some were tortured; some were killed. They had no recourse to justice and no possibility for appeal. Often tried under any pretext, the verdict and the penalty were clear before the trial started.

Seven years later, the first buildings in Auschwitz were being erected. Few could have foreseen the impending dangers.

To complete my nightmare, I would reach even farther back into history. The Founding Fathers were heavily influenced by the two greatest periods of democracy the world has ever known, democratic Athens and republican Rome. Both of these nations (OK, one was a nation-state – picky, picky, picky) were the most powerful entity in the areas they occupied at the time they existed, both had elections and were highly advanced technologically. One minor point is often overlooked though. Both of these experiments failed. Let’s hope that bad things don’t come in threes.

I, for one, have a burning desire not to see the Capital building set on fire in two weeks.

Generation: Useless!

Last night on the German public radio station WDR-5 (a little like NPR) there was an extremely depressing story (in German) about the result of economic expansion coupled with social hot spots. The result is a generation of teenagers and young adults literally without any perspectives. WDR called it Generation: Useless!

Humans are extremely social creatures… and one of the central duties of human co-existence is to develop integration; therefore I find it terrible to think that someone is useless and dispensable. On the other side we have a reality in the workplace, forcing more and more people temporarily or permanently in a situation, where they not only feel useless but socially aren’t necessary and therefore forced farther and farther to the sidelines. New research speaks increasingly of exclusion. [my translation]

That quote from the social scientist, Franz Josef Krafeld sums up the current debate in Germany. A recently released study by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES, a Social Democratic think tank; Stiftung = Foundation) confirms that social divisions are increasing in Germany with the development of a new lowest class (Unterschicht – my mistranslation should become understandable shortly). This has started an avalanche of debates in the current German coalition government and in intellectual circles.

One of the most important aspects of the new FES study isn’t the existence of the new lowest class (making up about 8 percent of the German population, 4 percent the west and 20 percent in the east) but rather the fact that this class has absolutely no economic or social perspectives. Lacking enough education and anything approaching social support groups, the youth in these classes have little or no chance of escaping the trap of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time, leaving either crime, religious fanaticism,  political extremism or often all three as the only outlets. The economic and social problems are exacerbated by enormous changes in the workplace; due to modernisation and rationalisation and driven by globalisation, ´where jobs that once would have been done by low or non-qualified personal, are now being done by robots, more educated persons (who themselves find the workplace increasingly competitive) or simply directly exported to low wage countries.

WDR makes the comparison of the current social tension in some areas of Germany to that of the powder keg in north Paris this summer during the riots. In Germany there are immigration issues although these have little or nothing to do with the scale of problems seen in other countries like France, UK and the US. After the Second World War, Germany imported large numbers of what were then called ‘guest workers,’ many from Turkey. The idea was that these workers would help rebuild Germany and then go home, thus nothing  was done to integrate these men and women either linguistically or socially. The result of these policies, large numbers of a working class, often with poor knowledge of the German language coupled with religious and cultural differences, has resulted in a new ghettoisation with many cities having ‘Turkish quarters’ (Türkenviertel). Today, many of the third generation ‘guests’ have almost no chance of finding gainful employment. (To be fair, many are gainfully employed and have integrated themselves into German society while preserving their cutural differences.)

But not only do the immigrant youth have a problem. As can be seen in the statistics, former East German citizens, especially those born right around the reunification have similar problems with different causes. The absolute collapse of industry following the fall of the East German regime, followed by ineffective (and what I would call typically Democratic) attempts to shore up the economy, left large numbers of East German youth without vocational prospects. Since there was little or no work to be had, the more capable or adventurous moved west, leaving behind those too timid or those unable or unwilling to adapt to the new social structure. Here the resultant political mixture is even more vile with the resulting rise of the Neo-Nazis; a most current example being last month’s election in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern where the right extremist party NPD won 7.3 percent of the vote.

Spiegel-Online in it’s coverage (German) of the issue makes several important other points.

The study showed a paradox: although the German government has extremely high social spending levels – reaching about 30 percent of the GNP – conditions are below average. In a social ranking of 24 countries, German reached an exceedingly poor 21st place.

Also the alarming political viewpoint in large parts of the population, as the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung has now determined, isn’t really new. More and more people are disappointed in democracy as was shown during the presentation a new statistical report from 2006, produced in cooperation between the German census bureau [Statistishe Bundesamt] and the Office of Political Education [Bundeszentrale für Politische Bildung]. According to the report, only 38 percent of the people in the new German states believed democracy was the best governmental form for Germany. [my translation]

Do I see this as a failure of Democracy? I don’t know but I do think it shows a failure of a 4 year election cycle. Do I see any solution, political or economic? No. Not right now and that both scares and depresses me.

The ghettos being created on the edges (and indeed centers) of European cities are becoming little different from slums on the outskirts of cities like Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro or Cape Town. I really don’t know if the marginalisation of large groups of people is necessarily that new to humanity. What is new is the realisation that this marginalisation is very, very wrong. The fact that those lost souls have literally no place left and no value except as consumers of specific form of produce – marketed exclusively for those groups – makes a dark cyberpunk future seem all too more realistic.

A useless generation.

Aside: After re-reading this entry, I noticed while it might be interesting, it had absolutely nothing to do with what I wanted to talk about. I’ll have to return to this topic again.

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