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2004-12-30

Misunderstanding of democracy 

Judge Richard Posner of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, who also continues to teach at the University of Chicago Law School ... is, of course, best-known for his seminal work establishing economic analysis of law as the major intellectual event in American legal scholarship of the past thirty years. Over the last twenty years, he has also become recognized as one of the most important and influential federal judges in the United States.
This eminent man is guest-blogging at Leiter Reports (via Crooked Timber).

In his really thought-provoking first post, Richard Posner writes this paragraph:
Rawls and others have thought that religious beliefs shouldn’t be allowed to influence public policy, precisely because they are nondiscussable. But this view rests on a misunderstanding of democracy. Modern representative democracy isn’t about making law the outcome of discussion. It is not about modeling politics on the academic seminar. It is about forcing officials to stand for election at short intervals, and about letting ordinary people express their political preferences without having to defend them in debate with their intellectual superiors.
I believe that Posner here wonderfully captures the crux of modern democracy, and hints at what makes it so rewarding as a field of reflection or activity, beyond the appeal of many more theoretical, less 'dirty' subjects.

2004-12-23

Martin Camaj, Lule 

Martin Camaj (1925-1992) was an Albanian poet who spent his working life in Germany. Some information about him is available at Shkoder.net [DE] and [EN], at the Albanian Network Group [AL], and at Robert Elsie's website [EN].

I especially like his poem 'Lule' (Lule means flower, and is also a female first name), copied below from Shkoder.net in the German translation by the excellent Hans-Joachim Lanksch. Only the first part is also online in Albanian. Apologies to my readers without the German - Happy Holidays to you all the same!
L U L E

I

Heute abend sagte man mir daß ein Mensch starb
darum bin ich traurig, Lule.

Die Liebe ist die einzige steinerne Stütze
wenn jenseits des Zaunes
die Pfeile des Eises fliegen.

Zwei Herzen leiten die Blitze mehr
als zwei Schwerter Rücken an Rücken
die Schneiden nach außen.
Der Gedanke an das Ende, Lule
flieht, wenn du da bist, wie ein wilder Vogel
dorthin, woher das Dunkel kommt.

II

Das Schwarz deiner Augen möchte ich nicht
auf schmalen Stegen treffen.
Die Flamme des Auges will ich auf dem Feld
und dein Apfelherz
auf einem Ast ausgelegt, in der Höhe
eines Armes über der Erde.
Sei stumm in der Dämmerung,
der freundlichen, auf dem Feld
und vor weitherzigem Wind
der jede Grasspitze umarmt.
Lule, zieh das bleiche Gewebe vom Mond
und breite es aus auf der Erde.

III

Deine Augen - Samtblumen - kennen keinen
Frieden. Bring nicht den Wind des Nordens mit
sondern Feuer, daß wir zusammen es erhalten
in dieser langen Nacht.
Lule, die Liebe
weilt hier solange der Mond
im Angesicht unsrer Feuer steht
und bis das Licht des Morgenrots
die letzte Glut verzehrt!

IV

Du bist in meinem Herzen
und ich kann mit keinem Laut sprechen
um die Stille des Fühlens nicht zu zerstören.
Deine Stimme erkenne ich unter den Klängen
von tausend Wasserstrahlen.

Die violette Blume die aufblüht
hat zartbenetzte und schimmernde Blättchen.
So auch deine morgendlichen Lippen.

Du hast hinter den Brauen den Schatten des Sterns
der nur eine Seite entschleiert
und meine Hoffnung, mit der Gestalt deines Schattenbildes
in den Händen, leidet in Schmerzen,
tödlich vielleicht.

V

Mein Fühlen fließt und verliert sich
in deinem bitteren Lächeln.
Tausend Stimmen springen auf
- Schwerter reifer Lilien -
wenn du den Wünschen drinnen
nein sagst. Dann kommt der Regen
und die Spitzen der Lilien werden sanft.
Zwischen die schwarzen Haare und die Brauen
hefte ich den Blick
um den Faden des einzigen Gedichts
meines glutheißen Alters zu finden.

VI

Abgesplittert bin ich, Lule
und ziehe von Ort zu Ort
in Stürmen kalter Nordwinde, gehetzt.
Wenn ich Halt mache, blicke ich in mich
und sehe dein Gesicht und vor dir
Wege von Oleandern gesäumt.
Drei Schritte dahinter
erstreckt sich verbrannte Erde
mit Steinen und Felsen ins Endlose.

Komm wieder am Morgen
in der Zeit des Liedes das gesättigt ist
im Anbruch des Tages.
Wenn du kommst, keimen über verbrannten Ähren
aus Wurzeln neue Triebe.

VII

In der Zeit des Liedes
das der Steinkauz singt
fiel das Licht aus dem Auge eines Sterns
wie ein Meteor auf mich
und beschien dein Gesicht:
es war die Verdammnis des Nachtgeborenen!

Bin Reiter auf schmalen Steigen,
berühre nie wieder
das Morgenrot deiner Haare.

Ich wandere mit den Schatten der späten Nacht
und sehe deine Finger
das weiße Blatt eines Lebens
schließen.

2004-12-22

Yushchenko's clueless Viennese doctors, according to Austrian weekly 

Austrian weekly Profil covers this week with the chronological 'inside story' [DE] of Viktor Yushchenko's treatment at the Viennese private hospital Rudolfinerhaus.

According to the report, the doctors at the hospital and various external local experts they consulted were unable to determine the cause of Yushchenko's symptoms during the period from September to December. Perhaps crucially, at the end of September the laboratory of the Viennese institute of forensic medicine, which was given the task to analyze the blood samples, was unable to detect the dioxin due to a lack of appropriate equipment.

Only after television pictures showed clear indications of chloracne in November, several international experts came forward with the dioxin hypothesis. New blood samples were taken and sent to reference labs of the European Union, one of them in Amsterdam, and these labs then confirmed the diagnosis of dioxin poisoning.

All in all, the Rudolfinerhaus does not come out as a paragon of medical excellence in this story, all the more with the internal disagreements among the hospital's leading staff, which eventually lead to the resignation [DE] of director Lothar Wicke, a story that is told by the Yorkshire Ranter.

2004-12-21

2005 a good year for the global poor? 

The Economist on Making poverty history in 2005. Fingers crossed.

2004-12-20

Very smart of you, Mr. Schüssel 

Austrian chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel is an intelligent man, I grant him that. Yet sometimes his joyful manipulations of public perception are extremely tedious. Michael Völker gives an accurate account [DE] (in DerStandard) of Schüssel's management of political news creation within a single day last week, combining 1. his--expected--defeat in Brussels over the Turkish EU-entry negotiations, 2. his sensational if insubstantial announcement of an Austrian referendum over Turkish membership in ten years time, and 3. the nomination of a female former track-and-field champion as the new interior minister.

As Völker writes, it doesn't even matter whether the softy interior minister overshadows the referendum story or vice versa, as long as the really significant event, the go-ahead for Turkish entry negotiations, is suitably obfuscated. Völker is quite right - at the end of the day, what the chancellor does is to intentionally mislead the public. And that can hardly be considered appropriate. Is it the job of the chancellor to prove every day that his constituents are dumber than he is? To whom exactly is he trying to prove that?

2004-12-16

Winter 

Hello again from Vienna, the city of month-long winter fogs. Today a new variant seems to be in the making, the 'snow fog'. No, you don't want to ask. Snow fog greets me as I'm trying to climb out of bed after a week of illness, and that's a seasonal norm too.

A reader in an online forum of a newspaper requests that before letting Turkey join our EU, they should establish their own unions first. Maybe he was thinking of a Turkey-Ukraine union? Yawn.

On the local side, we now have a clearer view of the field of candidates for the next municipality elections:

Mayor Michael Häupl, heavyweight former biologist socialist intellectual turned gemütlich [cosy] for the SPÖ, with a good chance to defend the absolute majority;

Maria Vassilakou, intensely marketed poster-woman for the Greens with street-fighting spirit;

(new) 'Gio' Hahn, former betting-company executive and liberal poster-boy for the conservative ÖVP, who denies being conservative at all, and who's supposed to win back those young Bürger-votes that have defected to the Greens;

hc Strache, FPÖ, after a bad, bad autumn wrecked by his fencing adventures and his self-nomination as interior minister.

Looks like it will be entertaining, and like nobody will seriously challenge Häupl.

2004-12-03

Another rant against permanent restrictions on labour market access 

According to a new poll reported in DiePresse [DE], currently 75% of Austrians are against Turkish EU-membership, and only 14% are in favour.

This fact explains the actions of some Austrian politicians, is (partly) caused by these actions - and still does not justify them.

What does it mean to impose permanent restrictions on access to the labour market in other EU member countries? It means that even in, say, 80 years, certainly an unimaginably long time in terms of politics, and even if, by then, Turkish GDP/head were to be at or above the EU average, Austrian politicians would still have the option, every time Austrian unemployment rises, to exclude Turkish citizens (but not Italian or Polish citizens) from assuming jobs in Austria. This is certainly ridiculous. And what's more, if anyone were to argue for this, they would have to use cultural arguments rather than economic ones, because the essence of permanence is that it ignores time-bound economic imbalances in the real world(such as GDP/head difference), as is made evident by the scenario above.

So the EU is about to impose culturally-based discrimination on access of its own citizens to certain EU labour markets?? That's not even realpolitik, that's a populist backlash against political rationality. I was surprised that Edward Hughes seems to have some sympathy for the proposal, albeit based on his confidence in some demographic and economic predictions.

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