The Talibangelicals are at it again: AZ pastor wan…

The Talibangelicals are at it again: AZ pastor wants to ‘cure AIDS’ by “executing the homos’ #ChristianRight #LGBTI

German Muslim Shooting King May Lose Title Because He Is Not A Christian

Only in Germany: The Predicament of the Muslim Shooting King
Only in Germany: The Predicament of the Muslim Shooting King


Many people in Germany still have difficulties facing the reality of modern-day Germany as a country of immigration. And sometimes, the discourse about what it means to be German, about multiculturalism, assimilation, and diversity tends towards the patently absurd.

Case in point: A German Muslim man who recently became the Shooting King at his shooting club in a town in North Rhine-Westphalia is threatened by the prospect of losing his title because the statute of that club requires the Shooting King to be a Christian.

Schützenvereine (marksmen clubs), which generally tend to be a somewhat different affair from the American gun culture, are widely seen as a tradition of rural Germany. Growing up in the north-western part of Germany, my impression was that this pastime is the essence of a rather conservative-leaning, predominantly rural culture. I never took part in it, but if you go outside of the big cities, you will certainly notice that it exists.

If you were to assemble a stereotypical if benevolent image of ‘the Germans’ north of Bavaria, those shooting clubs and their parades from village to village in celebration of the new Shooting King and Queen would be a perfect ingredient.

Fun memory from my youth: Schützenvereine may parade through several nearby villages with a marching band very early on a Saturday morning to pick up the shooting king. Good luck with getting some sleep.

So what we have here is a ‘new German’ guy who in some respects is out-Germaning the ‘Biodeutschen’—a fairly new term describing those other Germans without a relatively recent family history of migration, without ‘funny-sounding’ (to the majority) names, and/or a different religion.

And yet, some people still see a problem in someone like him successfully pursuing this ultra-German hobby.

Just as other, larger institutions in German society need to attune to the reality of an increasingly diverse population, smaller ones on a communal level should go in that direction as well.

Germany should become more welcoming and open towards all people who wish to participate in civil society in a positive manner, and not discriminate against somebody just because they differ in some aspect from the majority of society.

I say that Germany has nothing to fear from a shooting king who happens to be Muslim, too.

[Update (link in German)]:

The shooting club is now making “an exception” so that he is allowed to keep his title but he is not allowed to shoot. Not much better, if you ask me.


Read more:

Muslim shooting king could be stripped of title.” The Local Germany, 2014/08/04.

Mehr lesen:

Muslimischer Schützenkönig: “Ein Stück aus dem Tollhaus”.” Spiegel Online, 04.08.2014.

Muslimischer Schützenkönig: “Er muss nicht zurücktreten”.” Spiegel Online, 04.08.2014.




The Pope Is Against Marijuana Legalization




Papa non fumigant [The Pope does not smoke] (I assume).

Me neither, but I tend to disagree with his recent comments on marijuana legalization. He said that

“even limited attempts to legalize recreational drugs ‘are not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.'”

We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.

“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”

If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.

Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.

Papa don’t preach!

In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.

Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.

These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.

But I think it makes sense to put marijuana in another category. If you look at the statistics on deaths caused by substance abuse, alcohol is the obvious outlier. There are no recorded deaths from marijuana consumption. You can read an article on the matter from American Scientist here.

The ‘War on Drugs’ has failed

As a practical matter, prohibition has failed.

In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.

Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.

What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.

Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.

This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”

Legalize, tax, educate

My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.

A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.





An Ice Cream Truck Song From 1916 Is Incredibly Racist

Image: "People posing in front of a Dreyer's Ice Cream truck." simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0)
Image: “People posing in front of a Dreyer’s Ice Cream truck.” simpleinsomnia, flickr (CC_BY_2.0)

In my opinion, popular culture (as in everyday culture) is often a good indicator of a cultural mainstream at a given time. Therefore, if we look at a seemingly banal or innocent artifacts, that may give us clues about the zeitgeist of a period. Theodore R. Johnson, III over at NPR thought so, too, and examined the origins of a famous ice cream truck song going back to the minstrel shows of the nineteenth century (go and read the article, it is great!). And he found a 1916 record by a Harry C. Browne, courtesy of Columbia records, that contains lyrics like this (warning: incredibly racist):

Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”

Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”

Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”

Almost a century later, such open forms of racism are quite shocking and thankfully would be unacceptable in mainstream advertising. That is not to say that popular culture today is free of racism. But I would argue that these days, for the most part, racism manifests itself in subtler forms. I am not talking about the realm of politics. There, as a regular observer, I note a lot of dogwhistling, especially since 2008 and the election of Barack Obama for POTUS. But that discussion is for another time.


Oh My God, The Gay Nazis Are Taking Over America, Says Gohmert

Argumentum ad Hitlerum
Argumentum ad Hitlerum

The most intellectually challenged man in the U.S. Congress, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX), strikes again with an extraordinarily dumb and incendiary statement. After an anti-gay TV show was cancelled due to protests, Gohmert called this a “fascist intolerance.”

The fact that increasing numbers of people are speaking out against anti-LGBT discrimination is interpreted by Gohmert as “exactly what we’ve seen [. . .] [in] the days of the Nazi takeover in Europe.”

Twisting the reality of long-standing discrimination against sexual minorities by religious zealots like himself, Gohmert claims that conservative Christians are victimized by being called “‘haters’ and ‘evil’.” Furthermore, in all seriousness, he claims that this increasing resistance religious bullies are facing is just a prelude to book burnings—you know, just like in Nazi Germany.

That is of course nonsense, pure hyperbole.

Being called out on your bigotry does not equal discrimination against you

It is quite telling how the American Christian Right perceives their declining ability to discriminate against LGBT people, or the fact that they get called out on their bigotry these days, makes them feel as if they are being victimized, that their freedom of speech is being taken away.

I obviously interpret freedom of speech very differently. You may be legally free to say whatever you wish (such as nonsensical Nazi comparisons), but you are not guaranteed isolation from any opposing views.

That, my friends, is because freedom of speech also applies to everybody else.

Last time I checked, there were no government-sponsored book burnings in the U.S. Neither should there be. Ideas should debated in the public space.

And in my opinion, the anti-LGBT hatred promoted by religious fundamentalists and other bigots is a bad idea that should go the way of the dodo for the sake of humanity.

By the way, self-proclaimed defenders of ‘Judeo-Christian Biblical marriage’ might want to consider the interesting variety of marriage arrangements in their holy scriptures. They will find that the often-promoted version of ‘one man, one woman’ is one among many.

Marriage According to the Bible

Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.


Another great list of things the Bible bans (from Dante Shepherd at I have the feeling that conservative Christians are cherry-picking to discriminate against LGBT people. That’s just wrong!


Pat Robertson Says That ‘Radicals On The Right’ Have Taken Over The GOP

“[R]adicals on the right” who will nominate candidates who “aren’t capable of beating the Democrats [have taken over the GOP].” – Pat Robertson, televangelist

Horrible_Christian_Right_QuotesThe irony of this statement is not to be underestimated, coming from one of the key figures of the American Christian Right that has been the driving force behind the GOP’s cultural drift towards ultraconservative social politics in the past decades.

As one can easily discern from a random sample of Robertson’s statements, past and present, he is the very embodiment of the sort of religious extremist that turns off voters who might otherwise be interested in the GOP’s platform.

The Nevada Ranch Standoff – Rancher Versus Federal Government

Rancher refuses to pay grazing fees on federal land, rallies armed militia and drives away federal agents (for now)

Picture: Cowboy (1887) by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress, Wikipedia (public domain)
Picture: Cowboy (1887) by John C. H. Grabill, Library of Congress, Wikipedia (public domain)

In the middle of April of this year, a Nevada rancher and his armed militia supporters went into a standoff with federal officials from the Bureau of Land Management over the removal of his cattle from federal land. For the moment, the agents of the BLM have retreated because they did not want to risk a violent confrontation with the armed anti-government militia.

The rancher in question had been using federal land for letting his cattle graze and had failed to pay the required grazing fees for twenty years. By the way, there are thousands of other ranchers who use federal lands and pay these fees.

He says that he does not recognize the authority of the federal government on the matter and believes it belongs to the state of Nevada. And if federal agents came to take his cattle again, he and his supporters would fight them with their guns.

Range War In #Nevada | Esquire #militias

Rancher inspects cattle after showdown with feds | AP #Nevada

It is not over yet:

Feds play waiting game at Nevada ranch | TheHill, April 15, 2014 – Includes some interesting facts about the history of grazing rights on federal land.

Three Ways That #Nevada Rancher And His Right-Wing #Militia Supporters Could Wind Up Behind Bars | ThinkProgress

Wilstein: Fox’s Hannity Stokes Tension Between Harry Reid and Cliven Bundy | Mediaite, April 16, 2014 –

A conspiracy theory debunked:

Shortly after the standoff, a conspiracy theory made its way on the Internet. It claims that Senator Harry Reid and a Chinese company building a solar plant were behind the standoff between federal agents and the Nevada rancher. debunks that conspiracy theory here:

Violent anti-tax protest and race: Who gets away with what?

In Nevada, the heavily-armed militiamen and the rancher in question are white. They managed, for the time being, to drive away federal agents by threatening violence. But violent agitation against taxes and fees does not always turn out that way. In another recent example, a black Chicago man did not like to pay a 22-cent Soda tax and decided to pull out a machine gun, threatening the clerk. The police arrested him.

Man Refuses to Pay 22-Cent Soda Tax, Pulls Out Machine Gun in Response | Mediaite –

Update (May 2, 2014): Militias set up illegal road ‘checkpoints’

A Democratic congressman from Nevada recently sent a letter to the Clark County sheriff, bringing his attention to the fact that

“the armed militia supporting rancher Cliven Bundy have set up checkpoints to verify the residency of anybody passing through [emphasis mine].”

So now there is a situation in Nevada reminiscent of tribal areas in Afghanistan. I am curious as to how long this challenge to the state monopoly on violence will last. After all, just because these men call themselves a militia and are heavily armed, they are neither the police, the military, or anything similar with the authority to randomly inspect other citizens.

My guess is that at some point, these men will either voluntarily remove those illegal checkpoints, or there will be a violent showdown with some federal law enforcement agency—which is what some of these militiamen probably long for anyway.

“Gladiator School”: FBI Investigates Private Prison Corporation For Fraud

A modern prison cell at the Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio. Image by Andrew Bardwell. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.
A modern prison cell at the Brecksville Police Department, Brecksville, Ohio. Image by Andrew Bardwell. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

A lot of things can go wrong when states add the profit motive to law enforcement by privatizing prisons. In Idaho, the FBI is currently investigating the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private prison corporation, for understaffing the biggest prison in the state, according to a report by the Idaho Statesman.

The prison became “so violent that inmates dubbed it ‘Gladiator School’.”

How did the CCA make up for the inadequate number of corrections officers that was cut to maximize their profits from the “about $29 million a year” contract paid by the state of Idaho?

By “ced[ing] control to prison gangs,” as a 2012 lawsuit on behalf on inmates alleged. That resulted in an increase in violence inside the facility.

And there you have it: a perfect example of why certain core functions of government should never be submitted to the market logic of corporate capitalism. Here we see, in all brutality, how humans, both prison inmates and correctional staff, are merely seen as cost factors that need to be minimized in order to maximize profits. If a few prisoners rip each other to pieces, who cares?



Interesting: Stop Comparing the #NSA to #1984 (and…

Interesting: Stop Comparing the #NSA to #1984 (and Start Comparing It to #PhilipKDick) | The Atlantic #surveillance

A Series Of Maps Comparing The U.S. South To The Overall U.S.

A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.
A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

The Huffington Post has an interesting set of maps that shows how the U.S. South fares in regards to poverty, minimum wage, economic mobility, health care coverage, health issues, teen pregnancy, and overall happiness.

In comparison to the U.S. overall, the South is at a disadvantage in many of these areas.

Christian Right Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis

Horrible Christian Right Quotes

And then there was this ‘brilliant’ (moronic) piece of political analysis: An anti-gay pastor blames the Ukraine crisis of the past months on—wait for it—the gays.

And because of Russia’s state-sponsored discrimination of LGBTI people, this ‘Christian’ leader lauds Russian President Vladimir Putin as “defender of true human rights”—”true human rights” meaning the right to discriminate against the LGBTI community.

Read more:

Scott Lively Blames Gays For Ukraine Crisis, Lauds Russia As Human Rights Leader Of The World.” (Brian Tashman, Right-Wing Watch, 2014/03/11)

The New ‘Cosmos’ Science Documentary With Neil deGrasse Tyson

Image: "ESO's Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope's infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix." Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
Image: “ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) has captured this unusual view of the Helix Nebula (NGC 7293), a planetary nebula located 700 light-years away. The coloured picture was created from images taken through Y, J and K infrared filters. While bringing to light a rich background of stars and galaxies, the telescope’s infrared vision also reveals strands of cold nebular gas that are mostly obscured in visible images of the Helix.” Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)

The updated new version of Cosmos, the famous 1980 science documentary with Carl Sagan, is being broadcast on American television (on FOX, of all places). Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey is hosted by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has become a famous science communicator and Internet meme himself even before , and is co-produced by Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan, who was already involved in the first instalment.

As in the original series, the new show’s premise is to present the current scientific knowledge about the universe and how humanity acquired this knowledge.

Here is the official trailer:

Scientific facts hit the Christianist half of America

In the American context, where roughly half of the population are creationist Christians (46 percent believed that “God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so” in 2012, according to a Gallup poll), the program has sparked a considerable controversy among the faithful—twenty-first century scientific knowledge sharply contradicts the Bible-based creation myth of young-earth creationism.

Anti-Science rears its ugly head on Twitter

Some of the Christian fundamentalist viewers are taking to Twitter to promote their crude anti-science beliefs even after being presented the scientific facts on the program. Some examples:

Space dust is not as cool as earth dust, which the Bible claims god made humans from:

Regardless of what #cosmos says, I believe that we are made in the image of God. #MoreThanSpaceDust — Mike Peters (@MichaelCPeters) March 10, 2014

Here’s the Bible quote:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” – Genesis 2:7, King James Version

Science is described as a religion:

Wow, and they believing in God is insane? Takes more “faith” to believe what I just watched. #Cosmos — Tirrell Cotton (@tirrellcotton) March 10, 2014

Science is of course not a religion, it is based on scientific facts acquired through research. Science as a process does not believe everything that is written in a book just because it is there. Scientific hypotheses are falsifiable. In theory, scientific results can be reproduced by other scientists. That is the key difference to faith.

Argument from scripture:

Dear #cosmos, the origin of the universe actually is not mysterious. God had Moses write about it in the #Bible. You should read it sometime — Andy Forister (@andyforister) March 10, 2014

The problem with this argument is that it could be used for any book to claim anything. Hobbits, dragons, witches, talking trees—all of these appear in Lord of the Rings. But it would be difficult to find many people who conclude from this that Middle Earth is a real place.

Unwavering faith in a particular creation myth in the face of evidence to the contrary—this is a clear sign of religious fundamentalism, considered a virtue by the true believers, and the exact opposite of scientific inquiry, which is, after all, a self-correcting system.

A nineteenth-century battle in the twenty-first century

If this sounds familiar, it is probably because there are historical parallels. Long before the advent of networked and mobile personal computers, in 1925, there was the Scopes Monkey Trial. Even though that (in)famous episode in American history revolved around evolution—Charles Darwins’s On the Origin of Species—versus Christian creationism and not cosmology, the pattern is similar. If science and religious belief are contradictory, the religious fundamentalist chooses to ignore, or, as in the case of the creationist movement, fight science.

One strategy of the creationists to accomplish this goal in the case of Cosmos is by demanding equal airtime to promote intelligent design—Christian creationism cloaked in the mantle of science. This way, they seek to promote the idea that both concepts are equally valid—a classic case of the balance fallacy. They are of course not. Science works through observation of the natural world and the testing of hypotheses, while creationism works backwards from the revelations of  particular holy book (in this case the Bible).

Go science TV!

Hopefully, more people will learn about the current state of human knowledge about the cosmos through this piece of television. I love Carl Sagan’s work and think Neil deGrasse Tyson is awesome.

I can’t wait to see the show and learn more about the cosmos myself!

Read more:

Cosmos & the Creationists: Why Some People Hate Science on Television.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/10)

Cosmos Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Facts.” (Steven Newton, NCSE, 2014/03/17)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Is Really Starting To Scare Conservatives.” (Amanda Marcotte, The Raw Story, 2014/03/18)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Shows Why Small-Minded Religious Fundamentalists Are Threatened by Wonders of Universe.” (Adam Lee, Alternet, 2014/03/20)

Neil deGrasse Tyson Squashes Creationist Argument Against Science on National TV.” (Dan Arel, Alternet, 2014/03/17)

Hear more: – Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show / podcast

Catholic Fundamentalist Wants To Take Out And Shoot Left-Wing University Professors

“‘[T]he hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities,’ especially the women’s studies departments, ‘should all be taken out and shot.'” – Austin Ruse of the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam) expressing his violent fantasies on American Family Association talk radio


Where to start with this? I do not share the assessment that most American universities are in the business of promoting “human-hating” or that ‘the hard left’ runs them. There are certainly many who are not Christian fundamentalists and socially liberal in higher education. But the idea of a communist takeover of American universities is insane.


And then there is the obvious: Fantasizing about murdering people you disagree with is clearly not the best way to show your own love of humanity. Take note, Catholic fundamentalists!

New Study: Political Polarization In American Presidental Elections Is Indeed Fueled By The Culture War

New study: political polarization in American presidental elections is indeed fueled by the Culture War

"Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant" by DonkeyHotel, flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Democratic Donkey & Republican Elephant” by DonkeyHotey, flickr (CC BY 2.0) ## If you can, hire DonkeyHotey for caricature work! ##


As an interested student of American politics, it almost seems like a truism to me that the culture war is driving the current political polarization in American elections. Social liberals usually vote for Democrats while social conservatives usually vote Republican. Yes, there are of course also libertarians who are economically conservative and socially liberal. But they fall somewhere in between the two camps on the simplified left-right one-axis model of the political spectrum.

The wedge issues are well-known: the separation of church and state and the connected conflicts around abortion and LGBTI rights, regulation of firearms, taxes and how they should be spent (healthcare, social safety net in general), but also civil rights and immigration. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘god, guns, and gays’.

But now there is more empirical evidence for this wide-spread assumption of the culture war’s influence on electoral politics. In a recent study, economist Stefan Krasa and economist/political scientist Mattias Polborn—both from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, examined voter behavior since the late 1970s “by combining a theoretical model of voters’ decisions with data from the American National Election Survey.

Their research confirms that cultural issues are of greater significance in American politics today than they were back in the late 1970s, when Carter campaigned against Ford in 1976.

In fact,

[i]n 1976 [. . .], a voter’s social liberalism or conservatism played only a minor role for his vote choice [. . .].

Three decades later, a very different picture would emerge:

In 2004, however, [. . .] social and economic preferences play an approximately equal role in determining the vote [emphasis mine].

Krasa and Polborn are also able to assign a number to the growing importance of cultural issues in American electoral politics. And is it quite staggering:

The cultural policy differences between Democratic and Republican are about 300 percent larger for the elections in the 2000s than they were in 1976. In contrast, economic policy differences in the 2000s increased only by between 15 and 45 percent relative to 1976 [emphasis mine].

Who went from voting Democrat to voting Republican since 1980? The Reagan Democrats—”disproportionately white, low-to medium skilled workers, and considerably more religious than the average.”

Vice versa, those who went from voting GOP to voting Democrat were “disproportionately well-educated, secular and non-white.”

Read more:

“Party realignment on cultural issues is responsible for increased political polarization in presidential elections.” (Stefan Krasa and Mattias Polborn, USAPP Blog, London School of Economics and Political Science, 2014/03/03)

Neil deGrasse Tyson On Covering Science

“You don’t talk about the spherical Earth with NASA, and then say let’s give equal time to the flat Earthers. [. . .] Plus, science is not there for you to cherry pick.” – Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson on the false balance in American media when covering science


Neil deGrasse Tyson tells CNN: Stop giving ‘equal time to the flat Earthers.’” (David Edwards, The Raw Story, 2014/03/09)

Massachusetts Court Declares ‘Upskirt’ Photographs Legal, Lawmakers React Quickly

Massachusetts High Court declares ‘upskirt’ photographs legal, lawmakers react quickly

Image: Maxens M. Finch, flickr (CC_BY_2.0), filtered
Image: Maxens M. Finch, flickr (CC_BY_2.0), filtered

In what looks like an insane victory for creepy peeping tom types, the Massachusetts High Court has recently ruled that it is not illegal to secretly take pictures up a woman’s skirt, according to a report by Think Progress.

But why in the world would they decide like this, you may ask yourself?

According to the report, the court concluded that

[a] female passenger on a MBTA [Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority] trolley who is wearing a skirt, dress, or the like covering these parts of her body is not a person who is `partially nude,’ no matter what is or is not underneath the skirt by way of underwear or other clothing,

It seems that current laws are not keeping up with developments in technology, above all the ubiquity of camera-equipped smartphones.

Current “Peeping Tom” laws in Massachusetts “only protect women from being photographed in dressing rooms or bathrooms when they are undressed.” And because “upskirt photos are taken of fully clothed women in public, they don’t count,” reasons the Massachusetts court.

I think that it is not ok to take such pictures. I do think that this is a form of sexual harassment.

Update: Massachusetts lawmakers thought so, too, and passed a bill outlawing taking unconsensual upskirt pictures, including people of all genders.

Meanwhile In Pakistan: Fake Viagra Pills Marketed With Obama’s Face

Meanwhile in Pakistan: fake Viagra pills marketed with Obama’s face

"Pills" by Fillmore Photography, flickr (CC BY 2.0)
“Pills” by Fillmore Photography, flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This came out of nowhere. In Pakistan, merchants are apparently selling generic Viagra knockoff pills against erectile dysfunction. And how do they advertise them? By slamming Obama’s face on the package, as a “symbol of strength and virility.”

On some packages Obama gives a thumbs-up sign, on others he appears James-Bond-like, with a silenced gun, just in case somebody needed an extra load of phallic symbolism. Oh, and the pills are supposedly smuggled into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Bonus quote from a resident of the border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the pills are sold:

They help anyone who is unable to have sex, they improve the duration for people who have destroyed their youth through masturbation [!] [emphasis mine]

Oh my!

Hipster Beard Hilarity: Facial Hair Transplants In NYC

Hipster beard hilarity: facial hair transplants in NYC

Image: “Moustache !”, marlenedd, flickr (CC BY 2.0)

There is a new trend in plastic surgery, facial hair transplants, to be precise. Among the hipster population of NYC (and probably elsewhere, too!), men in their thirties and forties are getting them to grow “fuller beards,” according to a report by abc News. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons have noticed an increase of four percent in the demand for such procedures since 2012.

Stranger Than Fiction: Serpent-Handling Pastor Dies Of Snakebite

Stranger than fiction: serpent-handling pastor dies of snakebite

A zeal for the Holy Spirit, reality TV, and venomous snakes. What could go wrong if these three ingredients are combined? As it turns out, it is a recipe for disaster.

A venomous copperhead snake. "Agkistrodon contortrix taken at the Cincinnati Zoo." Photo by Greg Hume, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)
A venomous copperhead snake. “Agkistrodon contortrix taken at the Cincinnati Zoo.” Photo by Greg Hume, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

As CNN reports, a snake-handling pastor of a Kentucky Pentecostal church, who had lately been the star of National Geographic reality TV show Snake Salvation, has died after being bitten by a snake and then refusing treatment at a hospital.

Despite earlier accidents including

‘losing half of his finger to a snake bite and seeing others die from bites during services,’ Coots ‘still believe[d] he must take up serpents and follow the Holiness faith [emphasis mine],’

according to National Geographic’s channel website.

A religious tradition of rural southern Appalachia

Snake handling as a test of faith is a tradition among some Pentecostal churches across the Appalachian region, mostly in the rural South.

The origins of the practice lie in “a passage in the Bible [that] suggests poisonous snakebites will not harm believers as long as they are anointed by God.

In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:17-18), it says

And these signs will follow those who believe: in My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover [emphasis mine].

And thus, the faithful not only take up deadly snakes, but also

ingest a mixture of strychnine – a highly toxic powder often used as a pesticide – and water, often from a Mason jar.

That, however, is still not enough for some, who also

will bring Coke bottles with oil-soaked wicks to the church so they can hold flames to their skin.

A deadly faith for over a century

But despite the unwavering faith of its practitioners, the tradition, which started “in the east Tennessee hills in 1909,” has repeatedly claimed its victims, thus far around a hundred “serpent handlers.”

For instance, in 2012, pastor Mack Wolford of West Virginia died of a snakebite. His father, also a Pentecostal serpent handler, had suffered the same fate before him in 1983.

According to CNN, experts estimate the number of “serpent handlers” at several thousand people.





Germany’s U-Turn On Tuition Fees

Germany reverses tuition fees

Reichstagsgebäude (Berlin) kurz vor herbstlichem Sonnenuntergang. Jürgen Matern / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0 |
Reichstagsgebäude (Berlin) kurz vor herbstlichem Sonnenuntergang. Jürgen Matern / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0 |

Interesting article in the Times of Higher Education about Germany’s reversal on introducing tuition fees for attending university.

Germany’s great tuition fees U-turn.” (Times Higher Education, 2014/02/14)

U.S. State Life Expectancy Compared To Countries Around The World [Map]

U.S. state life expectancy compared to countries around the world [map]

A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.
A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the (CC BY-SA 3.0) license.

Over at the Atlantic, there is an interesting map [not the one to the right in this article]. It compares the life expectancy in U.S. states and imposes the the names of countries around the world with a similar life expectancy onto the respective state. Thus, Mississippi becomes Syria (75 years and I am not sure whether this takes into account the ongoing bloody civil there) and California becomes Liechtenstein (81 years).

The best thing about the map: You can go to, a project of the Social Science Research Council, and see how well individual states fare by a variety of measures, such as the Human Development Index (HDI), education, health, or income.

George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin Case Devolving Even More Into Absurd Media Spectacle

The George Zimmerman – Trayvon Martin case is devolving even more into an absurd media spectacle

Picture: "Why don't you just switch off the television set?," id-iom, flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0), changes made: cropping, caption, color adjustments,
Picture: “Why don’t you just switch off the television set?,” id-iom, flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0), changes made: cropping, caption, color adjustments,

Just when I thought that the tragic case of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin could not become any more bizarre, I am proven wrong again.

After we saw Zimmerman posing at a gun manufacturer shortly after being acquitted of murder charges for shooting and killing Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman selling ‘patriotic art’ of dubious originality, and Zimmerman being arrested for threatening his ex-wife and her father with a gun, there is now this: a boxing match in the making between rapper/actor DMX and George Zimmerman.

The aggressive politicization, the racial circling of wagons stoked by polemic media in the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death now seems to culminate in the ultimate absurdity–a celebrity boxing match based on the premise of symbolically pitting black America in the form a (former) gangsta rapper against Zimmerman, the light-skinned Hispanic defended by a large swathe of trigger-happy conservative white males.

All of the above merely adds insult to injury.

Whereas Zimmerman, now walking as a free man, clearly lacks any tact and tries to make a quick buck off his new-found celebrity paid for by the death of an unarmed black teenager, boxing promoters are circling like vultures over the tragedy in order get theirs, too.

And does rapper DMX think that if he were to knock out Zimmerman, in reality, but at the same time symbolically, like in the cartoonish heroes and villains portrayed in American wrestling, that would counter the black thug stereotype that was at the heart of the developments leading to Trayvon Martin’s death?

I think that this celebrity boxing match, if it actually take place, is death-sploitation of the worst kind.

Check out this clip from TheLipTV:

Most Germans Oppose More Military Interventions

Reichstagsgebäude (Berlin) kurz vor herbstlichem Sonnenuntergang. Jürgen Matern / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0 |
Reichstagsgebäude (Berlin) kurz vor herbstlichem Sonnenuntergang. Jürgen Matern / Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0 |

Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s new Minister of Defense under Chancellor Angela Merkel, recently argued in favor of more frequent military interventions by the German armed forces in the world. A demand to that regard has repeatedly been made by governments of other allied countries in military alliances like NATO, for instance the U.S.

However, the German population as a whole is not so keen on participating in more wars. According to a recent poll by German public TV network ARD, 61% are against sending German troops to crisis-stricken regions around the world, while 30% are for more such involvement.

Read more:

Germany to play bigger military role.” (The Local Germany, 2014/01/27)

Insane Nazi Comparisons, Delusional Billionaire Edition

Insane Nazi comparisons, delusional billionaire edition

“As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.” – Godwin’s Law, 1990

And now to one of my favorite subjects: inappropriate comparisons of something one does not like to the horrors of the Nazi regime (Hint: They are inappropriate almost all of the time). When a person claims that something they experience is “just like in Nazi Germany” or that politician X is “just like Hitler,” it is a sure recipe for disaster.

This time it is American billionaire Thomas Perkins, who whines in a letter to the Wall Street Journal about the treatment of his class, the “one percent” or super-rich, by “progressive radical[s].”

On planet Perkins, criticism and calls for tax increases are just like antisemitic pogroms

Notably disgusted by the idea of being surrounded by a leftish counter-culture vibe, he starts his rant with this:

Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its “one percent,” namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the “rich.”

In all seriousness, Perkins writes:

Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?

First of all, the claim about a direct connection between Nazism and what he calls “progressive radicalism” seems quite dubious to me.

Mind you, he compares criticisms of the financial industry and demands for a higher marginal tax rate to the eliminatory antisemitism of the Nazis. And this guy went to Harvard and MIT. I do not know if this is more embarrassing for these institutions or the man himself. Assuming that he actually believes what he is saying, Perkins must suffer from a serious persecution complex.

There might be valuable things to be said about a regressive strain of anti-capitalism, but Mr. Perkins has none of these to offer.

In ‘communist America,’ you can still own $150 million yachts

Second, the last time I checked, radical progressivism/fascism/communism—these are interchangeably thrown around— had not exactly taken over America. To claim otherwise is either pure propaganda or plain delusional.

Consider this: In the imagined country that is supposedly as hostile towards the wealthy as the Nazis were towards the Jews, Perkins is still able to enjoy his extravagant $150 million yacht without being dragged from it and murdered by jackbooted thugs or pitchfork-wielding peasant mobs. Being a billionaire in today’s America is not exactly the same experience as being a Jew in Nazi Germany, after all.

You might dislike the idea of having to pay slightly higher taxes (even though it certainly would not hurt you), but if you seriously claim that this is in any way comparable to the suffering caused by the Nazis, then you, Sir, are an idiot.


A Quarter Of Americans Did Not Read A Book In 2013, Study Finds

A quarter of Americans did not read a book in 2013, study finds

A new study by the Pew Research Center found that in 2013, almost a quarter of Americans

Book fountain outside Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio by OZinOH (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Book fountain outside Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, Ohio by OZinOH, flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)

did not read a book. And this included e-books and audiobooks.

I wondered how bad it is over here, in Germany. Well, not much better, actually. According to a study by (in German), it was around fifteen percent in 2013.

As a general advice for life, I would recommend picking up a book from time to time.


“Sozialtourismus” ist das Unwort des Jahres 2013

“Sozialtourismus” ist das Unwort des Jahres 2013

Unwörter des Jahres von 2003 bis 2013 als Word Cloud - eigenes Bild
Unwörter des Jahres von 2003 bis 2013 als Word Cloud – eigenes Bild

Darüber freue ich mich jedes Jahr: die Verleihung des Schmähpreises Unwort des Jahres. Seit 1991 verleiht eine Jury aus Sprachwissenschaftler*innen, Journalist*innen, Kultur- und Medienschaffenden den Preis für besonders menschenfeindliche Sprachkreationen.

2013 ist es im Zusammenhang mit einem polemischen Diskurs um Armutsmigration aus Osteuropa nach Deutschland  der Begriff Sozialtourismus geworden.

In English: “Sozialtourismus” is the ‘Abominable Word of the Year’ 2013

Germany gives an award to its worst linguistic creations.

I am always enjoying this one: the nomination for the award “Unwort des Jahres”—roughly translating to ‘abominable word of the year.’ Since 1991, a jury consisting of linguists, journalists, creative artists and media representatives nominates particularly misanthropic terms and figures of speech in the German language.

In 2013, in the context of a polemical discourse about increasing migration of poor Eastern Europeans to Germany, the term “Sozialtourismus”—approximately meaning welfare tourism— has been awarded that questionable honor.

Fox News Insists That Santa Claus And Jesus Were White

Fox News insists that Santa Claus and Jesus are/were white

Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rather than holly. December 2005. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.  Attribution: Musical Linguist at the English language Wikipedia
Christmas pudding decorated with skimmia rather than holly. December 2005. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Attribution: Musical Linguist at the English language Wikipedia

And now to the really important things in the world. As the Christmas season (or holiday season, depending on your personal preference) is approaching, America’s culture wars tend to shift their attention towards certain religious and cultural icons.

It’s the ‘War on Christmas’ all over again

You might remember Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly’s invention of the ‘War on Christmas’ that is supposedly being waged by ‘the left’ against virtuous, red-blooded Middle America, because, as Bill would like you to believe, American liberals all hate America with a passion and are plotting to destroy all cultural traditions.

Non-white Santa Claus and Jesus versus ‘Murica

Now, Fox News is stirring up the latest controversy: Multiracial Santa Claus and Jesus. The liberals are now coming for white American Santa Claus and white American Jesus, so the story goes. What happened?

AIsha Harris, an author for Slate, suggested that Santa Claus should not be depicted only as a bearded white man, but maybe also as black, to be more inclusive and speak to all kids.

Unsurprisingly, this led to Fox News talking head Megyn Kelly insisting that both Santa Claus and Jesus are/were in fact white.

Depictions in popular culture versus history

There are two different aspects to this, naturally. First, the depictions of Santa Claus and Jesus. Both the commercialized Santa Claus, prominently featuring in commercials for Coca-Cola, for example, and Jesus have indeed for a long time been portrayed as white in America (in Europe, there’s the phenomenon of white Santa and Jesus, too).

‘Beyond the pale’: a Greek bishop and a Mediterranean Jew

Second there are the historical figures, assuming for the sake of argument that both existed. As the Raw Story article points out, the historical Jesus was a “Jew of Mediterranean descent.” Santa Claus is based on the Dutch Sinterklaas, who is in turn based on the fourth century Bishop Saint Nicholas of Myra, which was part of Greece at the time and is today part of modern Turkey. Migration aside, the average person from either of those regions does not look exactly like the white Europeans from Western and Northern Europe. The historical Santa Claus and Jesus are ‘beyond the pale’ (pun intended!).

In regards to the looks of the historical Santa Claus and Jesus, Fox News is therefore just wrong on the facts.

Just one more Culture War distraction

In my view, the permanent manufacturing of outrage over alleged assaults on a white (Judeo-)Christian culture in America by liberals is part of a wider strategy of Fox News and NewsCorp to distract their audience from economic policies that are in fact detrimental to many of their white middle class supporters. Even though many views held by individuals on either side of the political spectrum are sincerely held, functionally, the culture war mainly serves to deflect people’s critical attention from economic policies.

Here is the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:

Here is the progressive talk show Majority Report with Sam Seder on the same topic:

[Update, 2013/12/17]

Fox News responds to critics with more of the same. Here is the reporting from The Young Turks on how Megyn Kelly portrays herself as a victim of race-baiting.

“Megyn ‘Santa And Jesus Are White’ Kelly A Victim Of Race-Baiting”

[Update, 2013/12/17] Bill O’Reilly, inventor of the ‘War on Christmas’ weighs in

After Fox News’s Megyn Kelly defended white Santa and white Jesus, Bill O’Reilly himself weighed in on the matter [article + video]—by briefly insisting that she is right about white Santa and Jesus and then going off on a tirade about how the liberals hate Fox News because they see it as racist conservative propaganda machine.

Having at this point watched many typical clips from the network, I think that is for the most part an accurate description of Fox News. And Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, and the usual suspects working under Roger Ailes know exactly how to play to the emotions and irrational fears of white conservative America.

Watch another entertaining clip from the progressive talk show The Young Turks on the matter:

“O’Reilly Defends White Santa & War On Christmas Continues”



Harald Havas’s “Toyed Shoe Lunt” Phonetic Map of Germany

Harald Havas’s “Toyed Shoe Lunt” Phonetic Map of Germany

As you might have heard, there are rules in Germany. Lots of them. Ze rules are important to ze Germans, ja? And because “Ordnung muss sein,” you need to know how Bundesländer and their capitals are pronounced correctly. Surprisingly, one of our nice Austrian neighbors beat us in providing friendly advice to all Ausländers who wish to blend in better when conversing with the indigenous population.

Harald Havas has created a really funny map of Germany (aka “Toyed Shoe Lunt”) featuring phonetic pronunciations of federal states and state capitals for English speakers. It is called “Deutschland phonetisch für English Speakers” (Germany, phonetic, for English speakers). He also has a map of Austria in the same style.

Hi, I am Benedikt from “Layp Zig” in “SUCK ZEN,” “TOYED SHOE LUNT,” ja?  🙂

So go ahead and educate yourself. But don’t get lost in the forests of “TEARING HEN!”



The Smithsonian’s Historic Objects That Made America

The Smithsonian’s Historic 101 Objects That Made America

Cultural artefacts embody history and tell stories. They can be a great starting point for learning about historical developments.

The Smithsonian has recently published a new book titled 101 Objects That Made America and features a gallery of selected items on its website, including a baseball from the Negro Leagues of the 1930s, a wooden stamp from a ship sunken in the attack on Pearl Harbor during World War Two, or the Pill. Out of a wealth of historic objects, the Smithsonian’s curators faced the difficult task of selecting the most essential.

Ayun Halliday over at OpenCulture has written a nice article about the project including some interesting pictures and links. Please do have a look and enjoy visual history of the US.

States Trivia From PolicyMic

States Trivia From PolicyMic

A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
A compass of the United States, with state names. The original was edited by User:Andrew c to include Nova Scotia, PEI, Bahamas, and scale key. It was originally uploaded to the English Wikipedia with the same title by w:User:Wapcaplet: This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Here’s one for the long, cold winter evenings ahead. PolicyMic has compiled a nice map of the US featuring interesting trivia about each state.

For instance: Did you know that North Dakota consumes the most beer among all states?

Have a look and impress your friends!

[Note: The map in this post is just a placeholder image. The trivia map is in PolicyMic’s article.]


Christian Fundamentalism, Tea Party Libertarianism, and the Government Shutdown

How Christian Fundamentalism Distracts From Real Political Problems in America

To fundamentalist Christians in America, the government shutdown, a potential debt default, and the destruction of the environment do not matter in the grand scheme of things.

The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
The western front of the United States Capitol. The Neoclassical style building is located in Washington, D.C., on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. The Capitol was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960. By United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg: Architect of the Capitol derivative work: O.J. (United_States_Capitol_-_west_front.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
A recent article on AlterNet by Amanda Marcotte highlights how Christian fundamentalists among the Republican party leadership and their base do not care about the actual detrimental real-world effects of their obstructionist policies such as the current (October 2013) government shutdown and the battle over raising the debt ceiling.

Tea Party libertarianism meets Christian fundamentalism

Her conclusion, based on various polls, is that the Tea Party Movement, whose economic libertarian ideology plays out right now in these grand showdowns, is also influenced by Christian fundamentalism more than usually assumed. A Pew poll showed that supporters of the TPM “are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.”

Obamacare as sign of the end times

One strain of American Christian fundamentalists think that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially called Obamacare, will reign in the biblical end times and believe they must do anything in their power to stop it from happening.

Marcotte sums up that perception of reality in these terms:

Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.

Anticipating the end of the world

On the other hand, some Christian fundamentalists with notable Tea Party credentials, including Rep. Michele Bachman, founder of the Tea Party Caucus and one-time presidential contender cheer what they interpret as signs of biblical end times (such as violent conflict in Syria). Bachman wrongly claims that Obama intentionally supports Al Quaeda by providing aid to Syrian rebel groups and opines that the conflict in Syria is indeed a sign of the biblical end times.

This fits neatly with a recent right-wing conspiracy on the Internet claiming that during the government shutdown, President Obama had paid out of his own pocket for a museum of Muslim culture. As it turned out, FOX News had unknowingly, or intentionally ignoring the dubious source, reported a story from satirical news site The National Report. In the past years, numerous baseless allegations have been made from the same general direction (Tea Party Movement) about Obama being a Crypto-Muslim (read terrorist).

Add to that the fact that in 2013, according to a poll by the liberal-leaning PPP, 20 percent of Republicans and 6 percent of Democrats believed that Obama is the biblical Antichrist (!).

A similar line of (un-)reasoning holds true for the issue of climate change. To Christian fundamentalists who intentionally ignore scientific facts, such as the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the human influence on climate change, climate change is not real or no problem. In their view, the world will either not end until Jahweh wills it so, or they do not worry because they believe in the return of Jesus in their lifetime.

Other-worldliness is the problem and offers no solutions to this world

As you might have guessed, I personally consider Rep. Bachmann’s end times beliefs to be dangerous, irrational, and irresponsible delusions, especially regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East.

From a reality-based outlook, the thinking of American fundamentalist Christians is no less scary than that of Iranian mullahs, Afghan taliban, or the Saudi religious police.

True, in America there is still the tiny obstacle of democracy, but it does not take much to observe how fundamentalist Christianity works to subvert it and attempts to transform the US into a theocracy. The school textbook wars, the battle over reproductive choice, or high-level self-styled holy warriors within the US military imagining themselves as Christian bulwark against the ‘Muslim hordes’ are just some of the fronts this confrontation takes place.

More generally, the problem of other-worldliness extends to fundamentalists of all religions, everwhere. In my view, any religious zealot eager to see the end of the world, especially those with (potential) access to nuclear weapons and other WMDs, deserves extremely close scrutiny and must be kept away from the ‘red button’ at all costs (preferably, by not electing them to any meaningful office in the first place).

Even if one discards the horrifying apocalyptic scenario of religious zealots using WMDs to bring about the end times and returns to the mundane issues of government and the economy, the prospects for those of us living in this world do not become brighter in the face of willful indifference.

A prolonged government shutdown will cause continued suffering among the weakest in American society. Representatives and Senators in Congress, most of whom are millionaires, will on the other hand never personally feel the effects of the power play they are engaged in. Even worse, a government default in the US would have detrimental effects on the interconnected economies of the world.

Those who merely look for another world for salvation and are willing to let this one go to pieces are the problem. 

The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

The Atlantic Compares US And German Electoral Politics In Light Of The 2013 German Elections

Germany’s 2013 federal elections are over, Angela Merkel will get a third term as chancellor, and there will probably a “grand coalition” between her Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats. “No experiments” seems to have been be the mindset of large swathes of the German electorate. There was no “hope” and “change” as in the 2008 Obama campaign in the US, although many, including myself, would argue that there has been less change and more continuity from the Bush administration in many ways.

The Atlantic has a fascinating article by Olga Khazan titled “Why Germany’s Politics Are Much Saner, Cheaper, and Nicer Than Ours.” The piece compares electoral politics in the US and Germany. It is largely sympathetic towards how elections are conducted in Germany.

Whether American electoral politics are better or worse than Germany’s is, of course, a matter of opinion. But here are some interesting findings from the article that put elections in both countries into perspective:

Some notable facts about elections in Germany:

No aggressive negative campaigns, few ads:

  • Attack ads are a rarity on German TV.

Here in Leipzig, I saw several campaign posters that featured negative messages. Nonetheless, these were relatively mild compared to your typical negative ad in the US. You would not see something portraying the other party’s candidate as sympathizing with terrorists, freeing dangerous criminals, or wanting to kill your grandmother.

  • There is one 90-second ad per party per election. Ads are aired on the public TV channels and the frequency depends on the last election’s number of votes. In comparison, Obama and Romney each spent over $ 400 million on TV ads, primarily negative ads, during the 2012 campaign season.

Lower cost and shorter duration of elections:

  • The campaign of Chancellor Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), including all parliamentary races, cost 20 to 30 million euros combined. From an American perspective, that is a real bargain. Buying a Campaigning for a US Senate seat costs about $ 10.5 million (per seat!). Obama’s 2012 reelection alone cost $ 700 million—and that is without funds from PACs, a legal construct unknown in Germany.
  • However, there are no legal limits on campaign donations by individuals and corporations in Germany.
  • Elections in Germany officially last just six weeks. That is almost nothing, compared to two years of campaigning in the US, where there are party primaries.

Less Big Data, TV, and ideological purity of parties

  • Up to a third of German voters are undecided until shortly before the election.
  • There is no microtargeting of voters as in recent big-data-driven US campaigns. This probably has to do with German citizens’ history-based  (think Gestapo, Stasi) uneasiness about extensive data collection.
  • The first US-style TV debate between the candidates of the big parties in Germany happened in 2002. As the German parliamentary system is no winner-take-all system, the reluctance of polarization between two candidates of two parties seems understandable.
  • Among the big German parties, Merkel’s CDU and the Social Democrats (SPD) (“Volksparteien”), there is no lock-step adherence to certain policy positions [except maybe for the hegemony of neoliberal capitalism], as is arguably the case in the US with the social wedge issues of the Culture War. Part of Chancellor Merkel’s success has been “stealing” issues from the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Green Party, most notably the decision to do a 180-degrees-turnaround on nuclear energy after the Fukushima catastrophy in Japan.
  • In the German parliamentary system, there are several relevant “third parties,” as they would be called in the US.

Among these are the libertarian Free Democratic Party (FDP)—even though they missed the 5 percent barrier for entering the Bundestag for the first time in sixty-four years in 2013, the Green Party, and the Left Party (Die LINKE). Within the German party landscape, Khazan holds, fringe political forces cannot capture political parties, as is arguably the case with the American GOP, under the influence of the Christian Right and Tea Party libertarians.

As the article argues, the German parliamentary system “seems to encourage consensus” rather than extreme polarization.

The reason for a broad support of this “pragmatism” among the German electorate, Khazan continues, is a weariness about extreme partisan politics in light of a history that included authoritarian monarchy, Nazism, and Communism during the Cold War in the GDR.

Please check out Olga Khazan’s article. It is really worth reading.

New Online Archive “The Lantern” Covers US Media History

New online archive “The Lantern” covers US media history

This is great news for anyone interested in media history of the twentieth century in the US.

The Lantern is “a new open access, interactive library” from the Media History Digital Library in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Communication Arts featuring 800,000 pages of documents covering the history of radio, film, and television.

The archive allows for full text searches in vintage magazines. You can also browse through the cover pages and get inspired by the imagery. A quick glance at the main search page reveals how different the designs and layouts from a few decades ago look compared to contemporary magazines.

lantern archive
lantern archive

Please also check out Kate Rix’s longer article over at OpenCulture.