Schauspieler und Schausteller

“Show players and show putters/placers.” Actors and traveling carnival people, two professions whose names sound similar in German.

Spiegel.de reported about a lady from a traveling fair family whose dad pulled her out of school at age 14 to help with the family business. When her son died in 1991 she looked around for something different to do. She finished an academic high school diploma in two years and did a master’s degree in art history on the changing styles of models and decorations on German carousels since 1883. She was the first person to study the subject. There was so much material, she said, that she went ahead and finished her Ph.D. on the topic at age 62.

“Until the Second World War,” Spiegel.de wrote, “nearly all decorations on fairground rides and businesses were citations of baroque themes: illustrated panels, frames that look like ornamental plasterwork, pastel tones. ‘After 1945, the modern era took hold, with paintings that had no subject, and neon lighting,’ Frau Dr. Ramus said.

“Since then,” the Spiegel article continues, “carousel decoration and construction has followed the trends in architecture and art: Bright colors and dream motifs based on Salvador Dalí in the 1960’s, flower power images and bands like the Beatles or Abba in the 1970’s, followed by pop art, comics adaptations and street art. ‘The great thing is that in fairgrounds today you can see all these epochs standing next to one another, and even identify individual painters and designers,’ said Dr. Ramus. ‘You can time travel through a hundred years of decoration and architectural history.'”

(Shao SHPEEL ah   oont   shao SHTELL ah.)

Der schlimmste Feind im ganzen Land, das ist und bleibt der Denunziant.

“The worst enemy/biggest rascal in the whole damn country is and remains: a snitch.” Handy mnemonic reminding Germans not to squeal on their neighbors, even when the stress of dense living conditions can get overwhelming. Left-leaning German students will repeat this to you as a meme joke that’s crept firmly into their consciousness, while they diligently study education, journalism or history, enjoy detective shows on television and meet up in meatspace for ferocious protracted information-sharing discussions in the interest of bettering democracy. Perhaps it’s now understood that snitching on your fellow citizens will murder Anne Frank but finding out what governments and other large actors are up to and talking about it might save lives.

Bruce Sterling: “What’s a historian but a fancy kind of snitch?” is a deeply unsettling offhand remark.

Australian radio’s charming Phillip Adams asked a Mossad expert a chiming question in a recent discussion of the information asymmetry enabled by drones and other surveillance: “Are you allowed to spill all the beans?” Mr. Adams was bean facetious.

Now that I’m olderly, I can think of more specific examples of situations in which professional information-sharers might *not* share the relevant useful context they know:

Schoolteachers: the topic of censorship in schools is ancient, but people will still surprise you. My grandfather used to show kids how to carefully mix up explosives within the safety rules of his high school chemistry class because he knew a certain book was available in the local library.

Historians: the majority would probably object strongly to showing people who make fake reference books how to make more convincing fake reference books. Though there could be tempting exceptions. Pacifist historians for example might not mind hearing that widely available gunsmithing research had been used to glut an overfunded, underinformed collectors’ market fetishizing blunderbusses like baseball cards (but pacifist historians would care very much if they heard the shoddy cast iron was shattering and injuring people). Historians are disturbed by the introduction of fake evidence, a crime against future generations that might someday be correctable, and absolutely infuriated by destruction of genuine evidence, a crime against future generations that can never be made right. It is so easy to accidentally destroy genuine evidence; it is casually shown over and over in archeology adventure films.

Introducing something that is beautiful, but not real, but not falsely presented as something other than it is (or encouraging destruction of genuine evidence!) almost seems okay. A gorgeous art book that riffs on designs and pictures from old reference books without being disguised as one could be a beautiful gift to the world. With proper source citation.

Journalists: probably must deal with the problem of when to withhold information most often, being confronted by these dilemmas accidentally because it goes with the job and on purpose, by interested parties familiar with the job. Journalism’s evolving ethics, rules and procedures are thus very valuable and interesting.

Priests: have the chance to learn a lot about contexts and reasons in local communities but might be highly susceptible to targeted “for the better good” arguments not to supply the most honest why’s and how’s, especially when the unusual levers within their particular religion are applied.

Scientists: probably have the clearest rules about information sharing, while handling some of the most useful information. Publish everything that seems reliably true according to defined test methods, unless the government swoops in. Archive non-seized published information and its underlying data so they can be found again, forever.

Librarians: seem to stand back and let people discover their own answers, though some jewels of librarianship can and will provide wonderful succinct context when asked. That can go the other way too—there were stories about history students in Germany returning to hometown libraries and discovering systematic long-term local obfuscation of local people’s colorful Nazi pasts. As the decades passed, the cover-ups necessarily got more and more complicated, the information in the town got more out of synch with the information widely known outside the town, and the aging perpetrators in the institutions were more likely to err and get caught.

Universities: one of the most fun and possibly most expensive hobbies you can pursue in the U.S.A. (A more expensive hobby might be something else + a university education, such as raising a child.) Professors and, these days, untenured adjunct instructors give highly efficient shortcut answers that tesseract you to the most useful synopses, unless they’re lying. Figure out how to study more than the inadequate standard four years and you might get an education. Figure out how to return to college from time to time and you might keep it.

After I studied history in a country that wasn’t either Cold War superpower, it seemed to me that one of many things the U.S.A. had in common with the Soviet Union but not with other countries was that the U.S. allowed propagandistic tendencies in important national history professors. This only became apparent after exposure to its absence. Once “allowed” it seems hard to eradicate—I noticed the U.S. tendency in the late 1990’s and it’s still going on in 2013. Presumably, sponsors’ and university administrators’ ethical barriers to installing such “chairs” must be deliberately reconstructed and haven’t been; also it’s hard to muster the data and arguments to effectively criticize a history professor. The latter was true of nearly all professors in Germany, professional experts who enjoyed a certain god-like status that was susceptible to abuse, but might especially pertain to history professors in the U.S.A.

Novelists: Fiction writers lie, wrote Margaret Atwood, and they use lying as a devious form of truth-telling. Along those lines, Terry Pratchett’s Y.A. books’ relatively direct overgeneralizations about people and institutions seem to have stood the test of time well, providing some rare explanations twenty years ago that appear not inaccurate today, two decades and half a world away.

Older relatives, like me now: will explain a lot, especially via wandering anecdotes, like this blog post; but they won’t tell you why and how if the reason is that someone in your family screwed up. When they’re feeling bad because they think they screwed up themselves, they often won’t talk about that either.

Government watchdogs, auditors, rapporteurs, monitors, inspectors general; departmental offices of internal affairs, ethics, professional responsibility: in addition to systemic inbuilt ways these inspectors may accidentally or deliberately fail to find and report, or be prevented by inspectees from finding and reporting, important cases of waste, fraud & abuse, how their reports are packaged for the press can also hide their key discoveries. The surrounding context we would like to know more about is so difficult to communicate that perhaps it’s no wonder we would like to know more about it. During the Reagan administration, it made little economic sense that the president’s stories about a “welfare queen”—which turned out to be a fairy tale—found more resonance than the real e.g. $500 hammers, nuts and toilet seats the Pentagon was caught buying at the same time. Which was the bigger economic threat? Yet one fairy tale was easier to remember than two overpriced hardware items.

Bureaucracies that don’t include functioning, safe systems for reporting and fixing in-house errors are what create a WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks and other disseminators and investigators of huge data troves: are flummoxed by too much data, where vast volumes can hide relevant answers, especially after misinformation was introduced. But software has now been developed and distributed that helps map these infinitely complex connections. Insignificance and the ephemeral nature of human memory will no longer shield nonhackers.

(Dare   SHLIMM sta   FIE nd   im   GONTS en   LOND,   doss   ISST   oont   BLY bt   dare   den OONTS ee aunt.)

“Wissen, wie es war”

“To know what it was like.” Motto for the twentieth anniversary of the museum for the Stasi documents, the files and systems of the East German secret police, that were saved from destruction, reconstructed despite destruction, archived, read, evaluated, reread and shown to visitors from all over the world.

The decision to preserve the files was not as obvious now as it may seem in retrospect. Some well-meaning West German deciders wondered if finishing the Stasi’s destruction of the files might not be a benison to the Stasi’s victims, in the extremely short term. Fortunately for victims, for voters who in the decades since might otherwise have elected candidates with an “inoffizielle Mitarbeiter” (“unofficial coworker,” “unofficial employee”) past, for people living in police states who are making plans about what to do when the dictatorship falls, and for people living in potential police states, the documents were not destroyed, systems were developed to work with them while preserving privacy for the innocent, and the people at these archives are happy to share what they’ve learned with visitors.

(VISS en   vee   ess   vahr.)

Volksbegehren gegen Studiengebühren

“Referendum against tuition fees.” The states run the universities in Germany. Usually they charge very low tuition fees by US standards or university is free and students just have to pay registration and student union fees and buy subsidized cheap universal health insurance (includes dental and medicine). After some states experimented with introducing tuition fees in the 1990’s, almost all the states unintroduced them except Bavaria and Lower Saxony. In 2012, Bavarian citizens collected the 25,000 signatures required for a referendum to let people vote directly to eliminate college tuition throughout the state.

Though Bavarians have the Volksbegehren option, it’s hard to pass a referendum in practice. In 1968 the Bavarian state parliament (Landtag) made conditions for passing direct referenda much tougher, reducing the time frame from four weeks to two, banning public solicitation of signatures in the street or door-to-door, while requiring signatures of 10% of all registered voters for passage and, writes Hans Herbert von Arnim, making mail-in ballots much more difficult [von Arnim, Die Selbstbediener, pp. 162–3].

Before the voters had a chance to decide on the anti-tuition referendum however, Bavaria’s Interior Ministry (CSU) filed a complaint against it with the Bavarian constitutional court or Verfassungsgerichtshof in Munich saying the referendum was unconstitutional because it would affect Bavaria’s budget. The Bavarian constitutional court has interpreted the state’s so-called “budget caveat” or Haushaltsvorbehalt to mean that referenda that would cost money, i.e. most of them, can be kept from a vote if they will impact the state budget in a way that isn’t slight [von Arnim, p. 173].

Bavaria’s supreme or constitutional court is a bit unusual in Germany [von Arnim, p. 27] and possibly one reason voters might be glad to have a direct referendum option. Federal German constitutional court judges have to be elected by a 2/3 parliamentary majority, to prevent judiciary dominance by one party; they have a 12-year term; and they cannot be reelected. Bavarian constitutional court judges have been mainly elected by the CSU party, because it has governed the state since 1946; they have an eight-year term; and they can be reelected an unlimited number of times.

In October 2012, the Bavarian constitutional court decided eliminating college tuition would not affect the state budget and allowed the referendum to proceed. In January 2013 the referendum passed with over 1.3 million signatures. In response, the Bavarian Landtag or state parliament quickly passed a law eliminating college tuition on 24 Apr 2013.

(FOKES beg AIR en   GAY gen   SHTOO dee en geh BOO ren.)

“Kein Buch mit sieben Siegeln”

“No books with seven seals.” Slogan for a movement being shared and discussed at the 2013 Leipzig Book Fair that publishes simplified-language versions of adult books to entertain adults with reading difficulties and help them practice reading. As someone who learned to read German as an adult by forcing my way through children’s books, stopping to look up words on every page, I really appreciate this project! It should also open new markets for publishing companies, in and outside Germany.

(K eye n   BOOCHH   mit   ZEE ben   ZEEG ell n.)

“Den kleinen Kreis der Kenner zu einem grossen Kreis der Kenner zu machen”

Much-loved words of Bertold Brecht in the 1930’s. He said, “What is democratic is turning the small group of people ‘in the know’ into a large group of people ‘in the know.'”

(Dane   KLY nen   k rice   dare   kenner   tsoo   eye nem   GROSS en   k rice   dare   kenner   tsoo   MOCHH en.)

“Eine kluge Erinnerungskultur”

“A smart memory culture,” what every society needs to devise in order to teach new generations about the past. What history shall we share, how will we communicate it, how will we refresh it? The theme of this year’s Buber-Rosenzweig award was “Giving the future a memory” [“Der Zukunft ein Gedächtnis“]. In her interesting speech at the ceremony, Dr. Charlotte Knobloch talked about “eine kluge Erinnerungskultur.” She quoted Hessian general district attorney Fritz Bauer, whose hard work made the Auschwitz trials happen, as saying “Nothing belongs to the past. Everything is present-day and can become the future again” [“Nichts gehört der Vergangenheit an. Alles ist Gegenwart und kann wieder Zukunft werden.”] and called for mehr Mut! More courage.

(Eye neh   clue geh   err IN err oongs cool tour.)

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