Archive for August, 2010

August 30, 2010

Are Muslim immigrants making Europe “poorer and stupider”?

BACK IN THE RESTLESS 1990s, when the German far right was undergoing yet another short-lived rebirth into the political mainstream, the racist Republican Party under the leadership of ex-Nazi and SS man Franz Schönhuber used to put up what I still regard as the most remarkable political poster ever. Printed in the nationalist colors black, white, and red, it simply displayed the words: “We say what you think.” Today, another German politician has been making headlines in recent weeks for also saying aloud what millions of Europeans fervently believe but rarely dare to put into words. His explosive new book Germany is Abolishing Itself appeared on store shelves this morning, and the future of European politics may depend on how…

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August 25, 2010

“Doing enough”: The challenge of long-distance caregiving

AS OUR SOCIETY BECOMES increasingly mobile and “global,” more and more of us are confronting the challenge of trying to take care of – or even keep track of – elderly and disabled family members living on the other side of the continent, or even on a different continent. As a matter of fact, I find myself in this situation myself, as my own mother back in the Midwest falls deeper and deeper under the shadow of Alzheimer’s. I suspect many readers here at OS will know from personal experience what I’m up against and are wondering how to proceed themselves. That is why I am presenting the following interview – which comes out of my day job as a professional writer – in the hope that…

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August 25, 2010

Swedish attorneys weigh in on Assange case

THE RAPE AND MOLESTATION charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, which led to an arrest warrant in his name on Friday and its mysterious withdrawal on Saturday (I wrote about it here), continue to perplex Swedish society. The case is far from over, since Assange remains under investigation for molestation and has retained the services of the prominent Swedish lawyer and crime novelist Leif Silbersky.

In comments to Dagens nyheterna today, Silbersky said that…

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August 23, 2010

Sitting parliamentary leader to donate kidney

SOMETIMES THE TERM “HUMAN interest story” doesn’t quite do a situation justice. Take the example of German politician Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is scheduled to undergo a very special operation here in Berlin tomorrow.

If most Americans have never heard of Steinmeier, it’s not for his lack of trying. The head of the Social Democratic group in the German Bundestag, Steinmeier challenged Angela Merkel for the chancellorship in last fall’s bruising parliamentary elections, coming in at a distant second place. He had previously served as Germany’s foreign minister and as vice-chancellor in the country’s Christian Democratic – Social Democratic coalition. Since the election, he has…
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August 21, 2010

Swedes question rape accusations against Wikileaks founder

WHAT A SHOCK TO the global antiwar movement: Yesterday, the Swedish chief prosecutor announced that Julian Assange, founder of the whistle-blowing website Wikileaks, which had recently leaked more than 91,000 classified documents to the press, had been accused of rape and should report to the authorities for questioning. Two women had claimed that Assange committed violent acts against them during his recent visit to Stockholm, where Wikileaks is based. The news, the Swedish press reported, spread across the Internet “like a wildfire.” The daily paper Expressen took the unprecedented step of both announcing the charges and publishing Assange’s photo, even though the two women had not filed formal charges against them. Then, at 4:30 p.m. today, it was suddenly all over. The prosecutor withdrew the charges and Assange remains a free man. Yes, free – and damaged goods as well. The faintest hint of sexual abuse can…

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August 21, 2010

Bold as bronze: Art thieves strike in broad daylight

IT SEEMS THAT TO be an art thief these days, you don’t need brains. Boldness will do the trick just as well. That’s what the guards at an exhibition in the Belgian town of Bruges learned on Wednesday. As reported by the Belgian press yesterday, a man entered an exhibit of works by Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dalì on the Belfried or city tower on the town’s Grand Market in broad daylight and made off with a fifty centimetre high and ten kilo heavy bronze statue. The figure was not equipped with an alarm. It seems that the two guards on duty were also in charge of selling tickets. Museum officials suspect that one of the thieves kept them distracted while the others popped the figure in a bag and headed for the door. The exhibition’s organizers place the value of “La Femme aux tiroirs” at 100,000 Euros ($127,000). The Bruges police hope…

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August 18, 2010

The Holy Google Empire: Is “Street View” going too far?

GOOGLE HAS NEVER BEEN known for half-measures. A digital Napoleon, its corporate goal appears to be to drag the entire planet, with all its inhabitants, kicking and screaming under the heal of its own cyber empire – but only for our own good, of course. 

Take Google’s latest global campaign. The company’s “Google Street View” service promises to bring close-up, full-frontal images of your house (plus local information and advertising) onto computer screens from Tierra del Fuego to Tipperary. Now you can no longer just inspect the roof of Aunty Em’s bungalow in Wichita from outer space, you can even peer into her parlor window and wave to her while she sits – frozen – drinking tea with her lover Bobby Joe from the…

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August 16, 2010

From pastor’s daughter to terrorist: Gudrun Ensslin at 70

YESTERDAY, AUGUST 15, MARKED the seventieth anniversary of the birth of German terrorist Gudrun Ensslin. Born to a Lutheran pastor and his wife in the Swabian village of Bartholomä during the Second World War, Ensslin absorbed her social conscience with her mother’s milk. She prayed to Jesus, hiked with her local Wandervogel group, spent a year as a high school exchange student in Pennsylvania, and sought to make the world a better place. While still a student she moved to West Berlin in 1965 to fight for nuclear disarmament. There she met revolutionary outlaw Andreas Baader. Soon the couple were torching department stores and planning bloody revolution. What ensued was a love affair made in hell that still haunts the Federal Republic to this day.

The so-called Baader-Meinhof Gang (the later Red Army Faction), born in a spectacular prison escape in 1970, was innacurately named. Despite journalist Ulrike Meinhof’s high profile, her depressive, masochistic personality was no match for Ensslin’s sheer terrorist drive…

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August 13, 2010

Gay foreign minister treads softly abroad

LAST OCTOBER, GERMAN POLITICIAN Guido Westerwelle grabbed world headlines when he was appointed as the world’s first openly gay foreign minister. In January, he nearly provoked a diplomatic incident by insisting on making a state visit to Japan with his long-time partner, German sport manager Michael Mronz, at his side. The confused Japanese protocol officers quietly decided to offered Mronz its standard “lady’s program” of official sightseeing and museum visits in the company of the Japanese prime minister’s wife. (I already wrote extensively about Westerwelle and Mronz in my essay “When the Minister’s Wife is a Man.”) The press got a good story out of the trip and it looked as if Westerwelle…

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August 11, 2010

Here we go again: Danish Mohammed caricature to be republished

THE MOHAMMED CARICATURE CONTROVERSY five years ago shook the world, although it’s hard to know which side of the world received more of a shaking: outraged Muslims across the globe who felt insulted by what they perceived as neo-imperialist European contempt for their religious values, or the so-called “West,” whose most outspoken pundits chose to depict the Muslim response to the provocation as a “clash of civilizations.” The crisis, which ensued from a series of cartoons sponsored by the conservative Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, led to an estimated 100 deaths around the world. It has been causing aftershocks ever since, most recently in the form of a spate of Holocaust-denying caricatures from the Muslim world and a physical assault on Swedish artist Lars Vilks (whom I’ve written about here) while he presented a provocative art lecture in Uppsala last spring…

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