Archive for January, 2010

January 25, 2010

The great snowman demo: Brilliant idea, lousy timing

750 snowmen demonstrate on Berlin's Schlossplatz

IT WAS A CLEVER idea, I’ll hand them that: inviting 2,500 citizens and tourists to build 750 snowmen on Berlin’s Schlossplatz in the very heart of the city. Artist Ralf Schmerberg had originally conceived the demonstration, held from Friday to Sunday, to highlight the dangers of global warming.

The snowmen ranged from the ordinary kind to the artistic and downright bizarre. Many held signs reading “Save me!” and “It was nice visiting with you.” To underline his point, Schmerberg invited Mr. Angaangaq Angakkorsuaq, an Inuit elder from Greenland and UN environmental ambassador. On Saturday, Angakkorsuaq conducted a shamanic ceremony, complete with drums and chants, in which he called upon the spirits – and on everyone passing by – to help keep the planet from overheating. The Icelandic indie folk band called “Seabear” performed as well. A podium discussion on the dangers of climate change rounded off the event.

Let’s face it: there’s probably no more melancholy sight than slowly melting snowmen….

Continued…

January 20, 2010

Incident at Munich airport humiliates safety officials

A RECENT ANTI-AIRPORT security demonstration by the Pirate Party at three German airports, in which several dozen young people took off their clothes to express their anger over the imminent introduction of so-called “nude scanners” that can virtually strip air travelers naked at security checkpoints, was based around the slogan “Security is an illusion.” An incident at Munich’s international airport today underscores the truth of that statement.

At 3:30 p.m. Central European time a passenger arrived at the security checkpoint in Munich’s Terminal 2 carrying only a laptop computer. As he went through the standard security check, which is provided by a private contractor, a sensor picked up possible traces of explosives in or on the device. When the security official asked the passenger to step aside for a more thorough examination, he grabbed the computer and ran directly into the secure zone of the airport. The German Federal Police, which is responsible for general airport security, immediately shut down the terminal and sent forty officers, many of them with shepherd dogs, into the secure zone…

Continued…

January 18, 2010

When the minister’s wife is a man

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (r) and his life partner Michael Mronz

ONE OF THE GREAT pleasures of living abroad is sitting back and observing how different other countries are from the US. Just imagine a story like this one hitting the press in the land of Pat Robertson and the home of the “wide stance”:

Last week, the world’s first openly gay foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, travelled to Japan and China. In the runup to the journey, a noticeably agitated Japanese protocol officer confronted the minister’s staff and informed them that it just wouldn’t do for Germany’s chief diplomat to bring his life partner along on his first official state visit to the Land of the Rising Sun. “Homosexuality in artistic circles is accepted in Japan,” he announced. “But in business and politics, it is a taboo.” Was this the start of an international incident? No, at all – Westerwelle, head of the Free Democratic party, merely laughed the comment off and headed for the airport with his boyfriend, Michael Mronz. Upon their arrival in Tokyo…

Continued…

January 15, 2010

The Swiss Right identifies a new scapegoat – Germans

FOR GENERATIONS, SWITZERLAND HAS enjoyed a global reputation as a place of tolerance, neutrality, democracy, and basic decency. But with an important local election approaching, one major party is willing to trash all of that in exchange for votes.

The center-right Swiss People’s Party (SVP), Switzerland’s largest, captured the world’s headlines last November by pushing through a nationwide referendum to ban the construction of minarets. For years it has also supported initiatives designed to slow foreign immigration and deport “criminal foreigners” on a fast track system. In doing so, it has made skillful use of Switzerland’s system of direct democracy through referendums. Now, with the Muslims at bay, it has identified a new scapegoat for the country’s ills: other Europeans, starting with Switzerland’s neighbors to the north, the Germans…

Continued…

January 13, 2010

Sarah Palin and me: Confessions of a small press YA author

FORGET COLUM MCCANN, FORGET Elizabeth Strout – although how can you forget them if you’ve never heard their names before?1 The real publishing story of 2009 was Sarah Palin and her memoir, Going Rogue. And what a story it was! Four hundred pages in a mere four months of writing, a seven million dollar advance, a first printing of 1.5 million copies, and a twenty-five state “Going Rogue” tour by specially retrofitted bus and chartered Gulfstream jet. Now that’s what I call a book tour!

Good for Sarah – and good for Stephenie Meyer, J.K. Rowling,  and anyone else who can pull off such a feat, however they manage it. But where does that leave the rest of us wordsmiths, who struggle almost or equally as hard as the A-list champions but never remotely approach their success? Sitting around wondering what the hell we’re doing, that’s where.

I really shouldn’t complain. I write young adult novels under a pseudonym. I’ve published five of them since 1999, when I abandoned the stuffy seminar rooms of academia in order to become the cool freelancer and fiction writer I had dreamed of becoming ever since age twelve. It took me a few years, but I finally taught myself to write the kind of books I love to read and eventually found a publisher…

Continued…

January 12, 2010

The renaissance of Stalinist art – in Africa

 

"African Renaissance"

IF, LIKE ME, YOU had the privilege of traveling widely in Eastern Europe both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, you will also remember a certain style of monument – usually called “Stalinist” – depicting eager young men and women with giant hands and rippling muscles. You used to find them everywhere in places like East Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, and Moscow. After the fall of communism, most people thought Stalinist art belonged on the scrap heap of history, and the scrap heap is where many of these pieces landed. Only the Hungarian government cleverly decided to transform this communist legacy into a tourist attraction, so-called “Monument Park,” where it has preserved most of its monuments as a cautionary tale for future generations. And yet the Stalinist monument is experiencing a rebirth in a place few would have expected it: Africa.

Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, now 83, had a dream: a gigantic monument, taller than the Statue of Liberty, that would not only commemorate Africa’s liberation from “centuries of ignorance, intolerance and racism,” but also put his country on the global tourist map. Now this dream is becoming a 164-foot tall reality of stone and brass. Built upon a 330-foot artificial hill, “African Renaissance” depicts a Senegalese family consisting of a man, woman, and child emerging from a volcano and ascending towards a promising future. Upon completion later this year, it will not only be Africa’s largest statue by far, but also a prominent new landmark on the main road from Leopold Sédar Senghor International Airport to central Dakar. Wade designed the statue himself, drawing upon imagery from his own writings on the continent’s future, and brought in fifty North Korean construction workers from the state-owned Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang to build it. Construction began in 2006 and the monument is scheduled to open on April 4, 2010…

Continued…

January 11, 2010

German Pirate flashmobs protest enhanced airport scanners

THE GERMAN PIRATE PARTY burst on the scene last spring and received a promising but ultimately unremarkable 2 percent in the September Bundestag election. At the time I thought this event was worthy of a thorough write-up in an OS post, but I also assumed the movement had peaked. I may well be right about that, but the group is still out there capturing headlines the way it does best: through calculated provocations and a keen sense of drama.

As I wrote yesterday, the German police union has reversed its policy against backscatter security scanners, which virtually strip air passengers naked as they pass through airport security checkpoints. The German government is likely to overturn its ban some time soon and the rest of the European Union is set to follow.

As it turns out, this is just the sort of news that brings the Pirates – who have transformed the struggle against “glass people” into the battle cry of the digital generation – out of their winter hibernation. On Sunday, January 10, dozens of Pirates flocked to the main airports of Frankfurt/Main, Berlin, and Düsseldorf to stage demonstrations against the future deployment of the new scanners. The buccaneers stripped down to their underwear and marched through the airports chanting “You don’t need to scan us – we’re already naked!” They also claimed to be heading for Flight GO1984, a refererence to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four…

Continued…

January 10, 2010

Coming soon to an airport security checkpoint near you

THE RECENT FAILED “CHRISTMAS” bombing of Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit is focusing attention on an ingenious but controversial remedy to the scourge of international air terrorism: high-tech scanning devices that can strip airline passengers “naked” and search their bodies for hidden weapons in the wink of an eye.

Unlike more familiar metal detectors, the new technology presents a rotating, three-dimensional video image of the human body and all objects lying close to it. Backscatter body scanners, such as the insensitively named “Rapiscan Secure 1000,” use low-level x-rays to penetrate layers of clothing and reveal a traveller’s nude body in full graphic detail. Every solid object is revealed. Persons suspected of carrying potential weapons will then be passed on to other officials for a thorough strip-search. …

Continued…

January 10, 2010

Rosa Luxemburg “floater” released for burial after 90 years

IT’S TAKEN NINE DECADES, but the unclaimed female torso that was fished out of Berlin’s Landwehr Canal in the spring of 1919 has finally been released for burial. It had been kept on display in the pathology department of Charité Hospital as a classic example of a water corpse or “floater” until 2007, when Dr. Michael Tsokos, the department’s director, noticed it and determined that it probably belonged to the murdered German communist leader Rosa Luxemburg.

Tsokos announced his discovery to the press last spring and promptly issued a call for genetic material in order to confirm his suspicions (I have already written about this case here and here). But after over a year of study and nine months of media overkill, Tsokos has finally laid down his scalpel. “There are indications that it could have been Rosa Luxemburg,” the public prosecutor’s office told the Berlin daily Tagesspiegel on Monday, “but they have not been enough to provide conclusive proof.” DNA extracted from the hair of a living relative in Israel did not match that belonging to the cadaver – Tsokos himself stated last summer that the chances of a match stood at only forty percent anyway. Now the remains will finally be buried at an undisclosed location. Testing will continue on tissue samples, however, and a positive identification cannot be ruled out in the future. …

Continued…