The End of a German Legend

Posted May 18, 2009 on 1:12 am | In the category Europe, Germany | by Mackenzie Brothers

Remember that old joke about the poor woman who got involved four times in search of Mr Right and always came away disappointed after she took up with an English cook, an Italian politician, a French engineer, and a German lover. Well the English can still eat toad in a hole and spotted dick, the Italians are on their 52nd post-war government, the French can still design subs that run into other subs in the open ocean, and the (north) Germans still get low marks as romantic types. But on March 4, 2009 the Germans lost their right to make fun of anybody else’s engineering skills. For on that day the 8-story building housing the entire archive of the historic city of Köln collapsed into a devastated pancake as if it had been blown up by explosive experts.

But it hadn’t been. It had been undermined by the construction of a new subway line, despite numerous warnings from the building’s occupants that the building was being shaken into fundamental danger by the nearby construction. The warnings were ignored and the building collapsed so quickly that it was a miracle that all the occupants of the building managed to rush out before it pancaked. It turned out that the mayor was incompetent, the engineers were hopeless, the bureaucracy had not functioned and there’s nothing more to be said about the lovers. That leaves only the archivists and the restorers to pick up the pieces, and they still seem to be competent. But those pieces are proving very difficult to find in the crushed rubble that must be bottoming out in ground water that will not even be reached for many months. Experts are now predicting that this engineering fiasco has already resulted in the destruction of many irreplaceable pieces of history going back almost 2000 years and ultimately it will prove to be the biggest disaster for German history since the bombings of World War 2.

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The Supreme Court as a Legion of Decency

Posted May 13, 2009 on 5:43 pm | In the category Free Speech, Supreme Copurt, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

The current U.S. Supreme Court has distinguished itself as an activist handmaiden of the Christian religious right. Two recent decisions illustrate the nuttiness that might have contributed to the retirement of Judge Souter and led many observers to wonder how in the devil we allowed such a takeover of one of our most important institutions. Both decisions relate to the efforts of the former chairman of the FCC to protect our tender eyes and ears from certain kinds of words and sights. One case involved the FCC’s policy to fine TV and radio stations for allowing “fleeting expletives” to go out on the airways. So if a sportscaster goes into a locker room and – shocking as it may seem – a professional athlete should refer to a loss as a “fuckin disaster” the broadcaster is liable to receive a sizable fine. Similarly, if a rock star wins a Grammy and accepts it in a live broadcast with the words, “fuckin awesome” the same holds. This FCC policy is apparently the brainchild of former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin, an absolutist when it comes to the FCC’s right to determine what we can and cannot hear and see. The other case, of course, is the infamous half-second display of Janet Jackson’s left (or was it the right?) nipple during the Superbowl halftime extravaganza. The FCC fined CBS TV over $500,000 for that incident and surely the morals of American youth have not yet recovered. In any case the fine was overturned in a lower court and now the Supreme Court has sent it back to be reconsidered.

None of this would matter all that much if it were not emblematic of a right-wing activist court bent on controlling our lives in ways that are silly but nonetheless disturbing. Which brings us to the retirement of Justice Souter and the immediate response of Republican Senators that President Obama must not appoint anyone who might just possibly bring a modicum of sanity to a court populated with a majority of right-wingers who have done all possible to further the narrow ideology promoted by right-wing Christians. This before Obama has even mentioned possible names. What we are in for is a time wasting, grandstanding display of ignorance and hypocritical piety by Republican Senators who will carry the water of the likes of Pat Robertson and Pope Benedict. This in a country founded on the basis of separation of Church and State.

The complaints from the right will focus on what they contend are the evils of “activist” judges, (conveniently forgetting that the court has been – in their word, “activist,” for a number of years in the promotion of THEIR agenda), now defined as any judge who decides cases differently from what their religious beliefs would dictate. The political make-up of the Senate makes it likely that the Christian right will not prevail in the upcoming battle for the integrity of the Supreme Court but they will certainly make some of us scream for sanity.

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The Coronation of Csar Michael

Posted May 1, 2009 on 2:43 pm | In the category Canada, Politics, Uncategorized | by Mackenzie Brothers

As predicted two years ago by my brother, Canada’s prodigal son, Michael Ignatieff, has returned from half a lifetime of exile in London (where he taught at Cambridge and Oxford) and Boston (where he headed an institute at Harvard) to become a politician in Toronto (where he taught at the University of Toronto) and is about to be crowned leader of the Liberal Party of Canada this weekend in Vancouver, (where he taught at the University of British Columbia).

The location of the coronation is yet another stroke of luck for the neophyte politician, as he will be far from his centre of power in still wintry Ontario, where he is already showing he can win back voters lost to Conservatives in the last election – a miserable loss for the Liberals – and instead can bask in the splendid atmosphere of the world’s most beautiful city, particularly in May as it suns itself before splendid deeply snow-covered mountains and ignores its social problems of homelessness and drug-addiction as its hockey team continues its march towards a potential Stanley Cup. My brother and I, driving home from Leonard Cohen’s recent towering performance at the hockey stadium, were stopped by a chap pushing a shopping cart full of assembled collected goods, who had no intention of drawing attention to his sad economic state compared to ours, as we assumed he had, but rather just wanted to give us the thumbs up sign as he noted the same Canuck flag hanging from our window as he had flapping from his cart. Here in Vancouver hockey is the great equalizer and when that’s going well and the weather has lost its winter bluster, then everything seems better.

And so it will be with the man who will be Prime Minister within a year. Many Canadians hope he will have the international clout to finally allow Canada to punch at or above its weight in crucial global matters, like water, energy, economics and also military interventions, where it has played a far bigger role than has been demonstrated under its long string of boring, anti-charismatic prime ministers since Pierre Trudeau. Armed with his 17 books – one deals with his father’s line, that included the last minister of education of csarist Russia, and the most recent with his mother’s, that included the man who plotted the trans-Canada railway – and with extensive experience and publications (and films) on conflicts like the war in ex-Yugoslavia, Ignatieff cannot be dismissed as yet another career politician of no particular note. He has strong opinions that even turn off some of his admirers, but there is no question that figures like Presidents Obama and Medvedev will have a different reaction when they meet the next Prime Minister of Canada than they did when they met any other since Trudeau.

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