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A Swede in Germany

Archive for October 2019

Follow-up: Trying to buy Peter Handke / German bookstores

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As a brief follow-up to an earlier text on treatment of Peter Handke:

I just stumbled on a much longer text on UNZ, which gives a very good overview of the situation and also goes into some other writers who might not have received the Nobel Prize for political reasons.

(I will likely write more on UNZ in the near future.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 30, 2019 at 12:36 am

Extreme Left gains in Germany / paradoxical German panic over “Right” gains

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A constant annoyance, and a sign of a deep underlying problem with public perception, is the treatment of the Left* and the “Right”** in Germany, manifested e.g. in widely different rules and reporting, attempts to ban “Right” (real or alleged) extremist parties while tolerating equivalent or worse Left extremist parties, or the constant Leftist complaint about a “Rechtsruck”*** of society, public opinion, politics, whatnot.

*Note that the German Left corresponds roughly to the U.S. “Old Left”, with a lesser (but growing) emphasis on e.g. PC issues and a greater (but diminishing) on economic issues. Also note that the German Left is Left of the U.S. Left.

**While I disapprove of the Left–Right scale in general, for a number of reasons, the concept of “Right” is almost impossible through being too heterogeneous, which is why I put it in quotation marks. I note in particular that the “extreme Right” is not an extremer version of the “regular” “Right”, but is almost solely defined (by its enemies …) based on positions regarding e.g. immigration. Often the alleged “extreme Right” has more in common with the Left than with the rest of the “Right”, when it comes to other issues.

**Approximately, “[sudden?] move to the Right”.

This “Rechtsruck” label is applied to any and all change away from the opinions the Left declares that people should have and grossly ignores that such a move is often* nothing more than a move towards sanity from the extreme Leftist opinions and politics that are so common in Germany. A highly Leftist populist Social-Democrat party is currently a part of the government and has been involved in roughly half all historical democratically elected governments in German history. Die Linke, Leftist extremist/populist and a direct descendant of SED, the dictatorial Communist rulers of East Germany, are represented in parliament. MLPD, an extreme Left and Marxist-Leninist party, is regularly and openly calling for revolution and the ban of other parties.

*The question is made more complicated by the uselessness of the term “Right” (cf. above). Note that “Rechtsruck” is not applied just to e.g. immigration policy, but also to e.g. taxation, union issues, and similar.

A good example (and the impulse for this text): Yesterday, there was an election to the state parliament of Thüringen (Thuringia; a state within the German federation). The aforementioned Die Linke arose as the largest individual party, with almost a third of the votes, and will likely* become the core of the next state government. This after already having reached number two in the last election (2014), which resulted in it being a part of the ruling coalition, joined by the Social-Democrats and the “Green” party.

*It will be impossible to say for sure before the various negotiations that will follow have been concluded. Note that Germany has a multi-party system, which by its nature leads to different consideration and complications that the two-party system of the U.S. Ditto the difference in parliamentary approach, where Germany is closer to the British Westminster system. In 2019, six parties made state parliament; in 2014, five.

In any sane world, this would have been a considerable cause for concern. But, what do I find, as I go looking for suitable references? That we now have an anti-“Right” panic! [1]*, because AfD, a migration critical party, often (rightly or wrongly) labeled as extreme or populist “Right”, managed to become the second largest party. Still, in the current Germany, it is a lesser evil than Die Linke, it has very little chance of joining any government arising from this election, and its success, I suspect, reflects the divide** between the politicians and the people more than it does any “Rechtsruck”. In contrast, the success of Die Linke has a strong component of reactionary Leftist opinions, as shown e.g. by how Thüringen was a part of the old East Germany and how Die Linke has a long history of doing better in the “East” than in the “West”. It is true that the absolute change pro-AfD is considerably larger (cf. footnote), but it is less dire both in its immediate consequences and its implications about opinions (again, cf. footnote). Moreover, AfD remains smaller than Die Linke by a considerable margin.

*I found this link on “Spiegel Online”, but it lands on another site. I am an uncertain about its exact relation to “Spiegel Online”. However, other site-internal sources include e.g. [2], where more traditional “Right” and “Center” parties are called to “ihrer staatspolitischen Verantwortung gerecht werden” (“take their political responsibility”) by keeping Die Linke, a natural political archenemy!, in power. [3] collects opinions from other news sources under the title “Der Schock ist groß” (“The chock is great”): Most of this chock seems to be directed against AfD. (Disclaimer: I have only skimmed through the collection of opinions.)

**Apart from the normal issues in this area, we have the repeated “great coalitions” between Conservatives (CDU/CSU) and Social-Democrats, especially on the federal level. We can indeed see that the 12.8 percentage-point increase for AfD corresponds well with the 11.7 percentage-point drop of CDU—two changes that are each of roughly the same size as the sum of all other changes for all other parties. (For instance, Die Linke +2.8, SPD -4.2. While a similar effect might very well be present between those two parties, it is a lot smaller and more likely to reflect a natural drift of voters according to what party best matches opinions.)

Again: Die Linke has almost a third of the vote—a party corresponding not the U.S. Democrats but to the extreme Left sub-sections of the U.S. Democrats, or possibly even ranging too far left to be willing participants even in the Democrat party. In this situation, there are complaints about “Right”-wing gains!

Indeed, even the possibility of a CDU–Die Linke coalition has been broached, as if the GOP would form a coalition government with someone Left of Bernie Sanders.

Note on sources: I have additionally drawn on pages from the German Wikipedia for the elections in 2019 and 2014.

Excursion on “democracy”:
In Germany, the word “democracy” (and its variations) is increasingly used to denote “having the correct opinions” (or similar), e.g. in that banning a “Right” wing party, censoring members of the “Right”, etc., is seen as being democratic, while the “Right” is considered anti-democratic based on e.g. immigration critical ideas (as opposed to attempts to restrict civic rights* or attempts to ban other parties**). Indeed, [1] complains that German schools spend more time on explaining words like “gross” and “net” than on explaining “democracy”. In this, the author might well address a genuine problem, but the problem is to the disadvantage of e.g. the AfD and to the advantage of the Leftist parties, because attempts to curtail democracy, proof of a lacking understanding of democracy, and so on, is predominantly a problem with the Left in Germany.

*As e.g. CDU and its Bavarian sister CSU has repeatedly attempted with regard to e.g. computer privacy.

**As the Leftist parties are quite fond of doing.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 28, 2019 at 11:22 pm

Impressions of aging

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An interesting contrast between my recent visits to Sweden and my childhood experiences is my impression of aging and life expectancy:

Both my grand-fathers died when I was quite young (and they comparatively so at 61 resp. 69, or thereabouts). Most of the old people that I encountered were in poor shape, be it through lack of exercise or through sickness, often diabetes. One old man in particular made a lasting impression on me: He was so weak that he did not even risk sitting down in deep chairs, lest he be unable to get up again. Old? Probably not that old.* Later, my paternal grand-mother spent a significant part of her 70s lying in bed in an old people’s home, usually with a confused mind, before dying at a somewhat respectable 80. My maternal grand-mother actually managed to reach 88 (or 87, depending on exact month of death), but she had a bout of severe problems in her 60s, during my later childhood, and she did not look set to reach even 70. Indeed, many of the people that I encountered as a child were already weakened in their 50s.

*Finding out how old is hard by now, but he was my paternal grand-father’s brother-in-law. Said grand-father died at 61, and this weakness was either already present then or manifested within just a few years afterwards. There might well have been a bit of age difference between them, but an age estimate beyond “early 70s” is unlikely, and “late 60s” is certainly more likely than “early 80s”. His problems might, going by very vague recollections, have been partially related to a stroke.

During my visits, I found (among others) a step-father at 71* who still shoveled snow, climbed ladders, and was otherwise physically active; his mother at 103, who still had the energy to serve coffee and cookies (and who emphatically spoke of not baking herself only for fear of burning herself on the oven); an uncle at 73 who walked six miles a day and looked in better shape than some others at 60; and a father** who was still going somewhat strong at 67.

*All ages estimated at the time of my visits. I might be off by a year here or there.

**I would not call him healthy or in shape, because he is not, but he is better off than many of the old or “old” people from my childhood; and as a teen I honestly thought that he would be gone in a heart-attack by 60. As is, he will likely live well into his 70s. He is not (or “not yet”) a good example in absolute terms, but he has done quite well relative the expectations of young me.

Excursion on my mother:
My mother is, unfortunately, already dead, but her death (ALS) was not related to age and, unlike many of the problems that I saw in my youth, not self-caused.

Excursion on the reasons:
Apart from the general upward drift in life expectancy and health in old age (e.g. due to a greater “health consciousness”) there are other factors that can have affected the difference in impressions, including that my own family had a history of disputable eating on both the paternal and the maternal side, that many of the old people were encountered at the Salvation Army*, where a disproportionate number of lonely or sweet-toothed visitors was likely, and possibilities like my step-father’s family having unusually good genetics for aging well. It certainly appears that modern trends have not so much moved the cap on the human life-span as it has increased the proportion that approaches the cap. (But note that the topic of this text is not so much differences in aging as differences in my perception of aging.)

*My parents used to be officers there and several other family members were involved in one capacity or other. I suspect that the function of the Salvation Army in Kopparberg, where I lived as most of these early impressions were formed, was more social than religious—an opportunity for the old and lonely to meet others over coffee, cookies, and singing.

Excursion on actual drop in ability:
The drop in physical ability in those who try to stay in shape is potentially surprisingly small, unless or until medical complications occur. For instance, going by Wikipedia on masters athletics, the age-80 world record for the 100 meters is currently 14.35 s, roughly the overall world record + 50 %, despite a far smaller pool of athletes, lesser monetary rewards, etc. Similarly, the record for the 800 meters is given as 2:48.5, which is better than most 20-something office workers could do, I suspect.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2019 at 1:30 pm

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Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and political correctness

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I have long been concerned with the infestation of Wikipedia by unencyclopedic PC propaganda, where it is clear that many see Wikipedia as yet another platform for furthering their private agendas—science and objectivity by damned. (Cf. e.g. parts of [1] and “young adult fiction” below.)

During the last few months, I have become a frequent visitor of Wiktionary, as a very valuable tool for the struggling author. To my distress, I found many cases of potential similar abuse even here, where it might seem implausible. While any individual case might be a coincidence, the proportion of the articles that contain odd examples and potential distortions is too large to allow coincidence to be the overall explanation. (For instance, any one of the below examples might be harmless or coincidental when taken alone. Possibly, the entire page discussed might be seen as a coincidence. However, when we look at the sum of all pages, this would stretch credulity.)

Consider e.g. Wiktionary on “sneer”. The English section currently contains three examples of use (given below). All three could have been chosen for their “PC value”; with one, it is outright likely. Moreover, two of them appear to be quite young, while the third goes back no further than 1963. This despite aspects like historical* use and somewhat stable** use being of great importance on a site like Wiktionary.

*While Wikipedia is silent on age, Etymonline gives estimations of 1550s (verb) and 1707 (noun). The examples, then, cover about a tenth of the life-time of the word.

**Examples from 2019 could reflect a temporary fashion, while older examples are more likely to represent a stable use and meaning. (A wish to demonstrate current use is still best met with examples that are, say, ten or twenty years old and still seen as “current” in meaning.)

Looking at these examples in detail, we have:*

*Note that some changes in typography and formatting might be present for technical reasons. Use of square brackets reflect the state on Wiktionary, and are not additions by me.

  1. 2019 July 24, David Austin Walsh, “Flirting With Fascism”, in Jewish Currents:

    During [Tucker] Carlson’s keynote, he wedged sneers at his critics for crying “racist!” in between racist remarks about [Ilhan] Omar, jeremiads against the media (“I know there’s a bunch of reporters here, so . . . screw you”), and an attack on Elizabeth Warren and her donors (“She’s a tragedy, because she’s now obsessed with racism, which is why the finance world supports her”)—all to gleeful applause.

    This example is months old, from a political/partisan source (and one with an apparent “anti-Fascist” take at that), and the quote at least represents someone as trying to criticize use of the word “racist” while actually being racist. Now, I am not aware of who Carlsson is or what his opinions are, but abuse of the word “racist” is a massive problem in today’s world, be it out of ignorance or in order to discredit opponents without having to address their arguments. (The same applies to e.g. “sexist”, “xenophobe”, “Fascist”.) I have discussed this repeatedly in the past, notably in [2].

    To boot, the structure of the example, with formatting, quotes-within-quotes, etc., makes it highly unsuitable as an example for other reasons.

  2. “Now here’s someone who should attend privilege workshops,” sneered she.

    There is no date or source given, but the reference to “privilege workshops” is a clear indication of a very recent origin, likely within the last few years, decades on the outside.

    The whole “privilege” bullshit is another staple of PC rhetoric, as I discuss e.g. in [3].

    A potential partial save of the example is the interpretation of the sneerer as evil, as with the above example and, possibly, the below. I am not much inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt these days, however.

  3. 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess[1]:

    It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man’s ravaged face.

    This is the example least likely by far to be an abuse, but combining the quote with the name of the source, there is at least a possibility that it too portrays or pretends to portray a scene of racism or other “ism”, e.g. something anti-Chinese. (I have not investigated this further.)

In a bigger picture, “collaborative” or “public contribution” sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are exceptionally sensitive to such distortions. Have just one high-school or college student out of one hundred spend an hour a week performing such deliberately abusive agenda pushing, and the legitimate editors would be flooded. (Even discounting the considerable risk that many of the legitimate editors have pro-PC or pro-Left biases that unconsciously distort their efforts.) That such deliberate distortive editing does take place is indisputable. A blatant example is the Wikipedia page on “young adult fiction”, which I encountered somewhat* recently. At the time, the page was dominated by the side-topic of “diversity”, another PC staple and one of a highly dubious justification—if nothing else, I did not even care if the heroes where human when I read this type of fiction… Currently, this sub-topic has been reduced to a shorter section—but at the cost of creating an entire new page on diversity in young adult fiction. This new page is almost as long as the main page…

*At some point in 2018. I intended to write a longer critical text at the time, but never got around to it.

Moreover, looking at the talk page, it appears that this is the work of a user Kaylac8215, who claims that “I will be working on this wiki for a class project. I will be doing basic copyediting and reformatting, as well as adding a section talking about Diversity in YA lit.”, which (together with other statements) shows both misguided intentions and an external motivation. (Entirely aside from the fact that the sometime abuse of Wikipedia editing as a pedagogical tool is inexcusable. The work produced is almost invariably well below the regular standard. Any teacher who pushes this should be summarily fired.) Her approach is later discussed negatively by others, but the result of this discussion was not the deletion of the major part of the text, just the move to a new page.

While I have not reviewed the current state of the text, I do recall that I found it highly one-sided and poorly written at the time of my original encounter.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Blogroll update

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I recently stumbled over the German site https://ef-magazin.de/ or “eigentümlich frei”, and have read several entries that match my own opinions or provide perspective/information that would be valuable to large parts of the population on, at least, a “food for thought” basis.

These include:

A text on misinformation about nuclear power that distort the public opinion. Indeed, one of the greatest paradoxes in current politics, in my opinion, is how the German “Green” party is now reaping the political benefits of a climate crisis that has been severely worsened through the irrational hatred of nuclear power that this party (and many of its international peers) has. For thirty or forty years, this issue has been the likely single greatest item on the “Green” agenda, driving up the use of fossil fuels much further than would have been necessary.

A suggestion to rework the financing of public service TV in light of recent British suggestions. Indeed, for more than twenty years, I have viewed the variations of the “everyone must pay” systems used in both my adopted Germany and my native Sweden as grossly unethical, distortive to fair competition, and bringing very little value in light of the disputable quality of public service. This the more so after the Internet has made much of the original motivations redundant, e.g. through the great availability of free news.

Reporting on hateful Leftist students who grossly unethically and anti-democratically try to silence a lecturer with the “wrong” political opinions, in the same style so often reported from the U.S., e.g. by Minding the Campus. If in doubt, they are not only infringing on the lecturer’s right to freedom of speech and opinion, but also on the fundamental right of other students to form their own opinions—and not to just be force fed the official Leftist truth. This case is particularly perfidious: The victim is a professor* who attempted to hold a lecture on macroeconomics. The rejection stems from his being a member of the “wrong” party and seems unrelated to the actual lecture. In effect, his ability to perform in his profession is now being limited because of his political activity.

*“Hochschullehrer”: Literally, “university teacher”, which could conceivably imply something different than a professor, but I do not want to get bogged down with research and translations.

This site is put on the temporary blogroll. For the time being, I do not use the permanent for two reasons: Firstly, it appears to not be an entirely free-of-charge site. Secondly, the tone of writing is not always as neutral and factual as I would prefer. (In all fairness, it still does better than most Leftist sites and slips in tone usually have a far better reason than among the Left.)

Written by michaeleriksson

October 20, 2019 at 9:00 am

The struggling author III

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Looking back at my last update on the theme of the struggling author, I am now in a very different place. This includes having a much better understanding of writing, both as a process and as a means to produce fiction that works or does not work. It also includes having actually reached both a text mass and a sufficient maturity of outline that I probably could wrap up a readable book in just another few weeks time.

This I will not do, however, because that book might be readable, but also highly unlikely to satisfy myself and equally unlikely to be published. (Getting even a good book published is not trivial.)

Instead, I will take my time, aiming for a completion somewhere during next year’s summer. This will allow me ample time to modify both plot and text in light of increasing competence. Even now, most of what I wrote two months ago seems sufficiently weak that I am set on rewriting it—and that includes text that I was reasonably happy with at the time.

(To avoid misunderstandings: This is a good thing. It shows that I am improving. If I had not improved, then I would have cause to question my career choice. The time plan is set in the hope that I will continue to improve, so that my first book will not just be “OK” but something that I am actually happy with.)

There are still things that I struggle with. A notable example is the question of which of several alternatives to choose in key situations. Each choice can simultaneously open and close doors, and many choices can have an effect on the long term plot. Sometimes, it is possible to eat the cake and keep it too; sometimes, it is not. Consider, by analogy, questions from real life like “What if I had chosen a different major or college?”, “What if I had given that girl-/boy-friend a second chance?”, “What if I had not married that woman/man?”, “What if I had accepted respectively turned down that job offer?”, etc.

Looking at my own life, it would, e.g., be possible to have me go through both with my time as an exchange student in Germany and a later life in Sweden, with closer contacts to my family, less language issues, likely an easier career, etc. It would not be possible to combine this later life in Sweden with the actual continued life in Germany, unless the German part was cut much shorter than it was, missing much of the experiences that do make up the “book” of my life. True, even now, I could return to Sweden, but it would now be too late for many of the experiences that could have been a part of the alternate “book”, including differences in early “character development”.

Or, to take the excuse to segue into a different area: What if the last five (?) months had not seen my house terrorized with construction work? (The “book” of my life might be less interesting, but the book that I am writing might be considerably further along.) As is, the amount of noise has been considerably lower the last week or two, but simply will not end. I suspect that the apartment renovations are over and that some other party is now performing lesser works somewhere else in the building. This, however, includes such absurdities as loud hammering for several minutes at 5 AM (yes, AM!) two days ago.

Another considerable annoyance is the Künstlersozialkasse, ostensibly created to ease the financial burden of struggling authors and other artists through covering those portions of various pension and health-insurance fees that are paid by the employer for those in regular employment. I am a perfect case of someone for whom the Künstlersozialkasse is intended, and by the current law, the decision to include me should have been a trivial rubber stamping. Instead, the treatment of my application has been extended over more than two months—and then rejected. Moreover, this rejection has been given a motivation that is simply not compatible with the actual law. (Such misbehavior is, unfortunately, quite common in Germany, where e.g. the “IRS” often willfully ignores laws and precedence in favor of its own internal instructions, to the point that individual tax payers might need to go to court over something that has already been decided in favor of other tax payers; or need to go to court to for the same misbehavior several years in a row, even when they won in the previous years.) Moreover, the resources of this agency (or whatever might be the appropriate term) are often wasted on non-artists, like free-lance journalists, whose inclusion is contrary to the original intentions.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 19, 2019 at 9:53 pm

Trying to buy Peter Handke / German bookstores

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I have previously written about problems with German bookstores ([1]) and mentioned the criticism against recent Nobel Literature winner Peter Handke ([2], excursion).

Today, I dropped by the local Mayersche to pick up at least one of his books, to widen my own perspectives on writing. I did not see a single one …

Normally, even entirely non-German winners are given prominent display. This was certainly the case when Herta Müller (Romanian born German), Günter Grass (German), or even* Elfriede Jelinek (Austrian) won.

*Of the three (four, including Handke), she is by far the one with most disputable literary reputation.

Peter Handke is Austrian with a German father, is indisputably one of the most influential and lauded German-language writers of the last fifty-or-so years, and belongs to those who has had at least some impact outside the German-language area. (If in doubt, through the screenplay to “Der Himmel über Berlin”, often oddly rendered as “Wings of Desire” in English.) He was even on my reading list for the somewhat nearby future before he won his Nobel Prize.

Handke had not received such a display … (Note that the timing prohibits reasons/excuses like “It’s been two days—we haven’t had the time.” and “We had a display, but only for the first few weeks.”.)

I went to the most likely* alphabetized shelf, where I would have expected to find a few of his books even without a recent Noble Prize. There were none …

*Because the alphabetization is not pure, but repeated within different sections (think “Crime”, “Fantasy”, “Chick-lit”, …), it is conceivable that he was in some other section. Here I picked the generic “Romane” (“Novels”). Possibly, he was sold out, but the books looked too packed.

Has Handke been censored for having the “wrong” opinions (not unheard of, unfortunately) or has the intellectual standards of Mayersche dropped so disastrously that they do not want to touch him for commercial reasons? Either way, it is very unfortunate.

I also went by the area where I knew that there was a small section with cross-word/sudoku/whatnot books to be found, specifically looking for something in the “Eckstein”* series. This section had shrunk from small to virtually non-existent. There were three or four books there, none “Eckstein”. (The presence of some books is important, because a complete lack would have been a sign that the section had been moved.)

*One of the more challenging and handmade word-based cross-words, often requiring decoding puns and finding double meanings to get the right solution.

Seeing that I have bought all of three books from this particular bookstore in roughly two years and possibly two dozen visits, I will now forego it permanently. I note that with a larger selection, the count of bought books would have roughly doubled today.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm