While sat in the emergency ward as Emmo was being examined, I let my eye wander into a neighbouring room where sat on the bed was my Bavarian stereotype. In his green lederhosen, cap, knee-length white socks and brown shoes, he was perched on the bed looking around nervously. He wasn’t comfortable there, maybe not with the questions and uncertainty and ultimately with this form of modern life. The hospital corridors screamed of cleanliness and passivity. It was a Thursday afternoon and all was creepy quiet.

While out riding with Em, she spotted a jump and like her character, took off immediately to get some air. Landing on her head via into a beautiful flip wasn’t part of the plan! I have to admit I laughed at first. Then we went to hospital where the doctors confirmed Emo had broken a bone at the top of her neck. A neck brace was immediately applied followd by two nights in hospital!

I said they were odd….

I watched the Bavarian man leave well before that. He walked out directly, taking no chances they might recall him. I use this guy as an example of what I saw in Bavaria. The Bavarian Alps were replete of the stereotypes you come to expect with Oktoberfest. On weekends men dressed up in traditional clothing to drink. Women were spotted in maiden dress. Houses built of wooden slates and chip were irregularly but calmly spaced in clumps with a fence and a bell a church on the highest point and surrounded by open fields of long, thick grass mowed by the odd cow. Above the villages, the mountains followed a more regular output; grass-covered meadows, dense alpine forests and then weathered snow-capped peaks. To spend a week in this small town biking around, visiting castles, villages and lakes while drinking up the local, excellent and very cheap beer


I had come down to the Alps to stay with Emilie who I’d met in New Zealand in 2008. After three days in drizzle and towering glass of Frankfurt (report up soon), the Alps opened up as I headed south. I got genuinely excited as they came onto the horizon. Em lives in Sonthofen, just two stops before the end of the local line which can go no further as the Alps escalate. Despite being almost pathologically afraid of villages, in perfectly glorious weather it was fantastic. Sonthofen and the surrounding vallies is stunning. This season was the perfect time to visit. The mountains retained snow. The fields were in daffodil bloom and the sun shone consistently and brilliantly.

While I started with a stereotype, there is other life in the Alps. Cars are driven and internet is accessible. You can even get a kebab made by a Turk in the small town square. I helped Michael out with an Irish night and went to a cute house gig which later descended into a wine-athon. We visited the famous Neuschwanstein Castle and nipped over towards Switzerland/Austria at Lake Constance. (I later when to Salzburg but more about that later).


Germans are a curious bunch. My only other experiences involved about 6 trips to Berlin to sight-see and stay with Linden and Claudia. Like the idea of ‘the French’, Germans are a hugely diverse bunch. With a strong export-led economy, strong welfare and educational networks and deep-rooted connections to place, Germans are placid with their differences. There is an idea of being German even if it is not played out in traditional cultural references.

Bavaria is the oldest of the old school Germans and maybe their most unique. Riding in the Alps we’d see few people, a sprinkling of houses but glorious rafts of trees, meadows and ravines. Germany is a big country but with only 25% more people than the UK. Its cities are more moderate too. Its 5 largest cities totalled together are still smaller than London. They are a  representative of states rather than nations. After all, Germany was only united in 1871.

I liked Germany a lot. Its problems are moderate compared to Britain’s and moderated by an active state and a feeling of responsibility amongst its companies, states and people. The need to get it right is more important.

Bavaria is pretty unique in my experience. Here we have a group who live in the mountains, appreciate and understand the food chain. We hear little of them for they don’t speak much. Isolation and permanence in the mountains and vallies leave them less interested in the world at large similar to the Alpine Swiss. Probably for the better.

Photos up on facebook tomorrow.

Political Science?

The New York Times ran an article on Sunday by Professor Jacqueline Stevens titled Political Scientists are Lousy Forecasters. In it, she cites evidence of how poor most political science modelling is, mostly because it is government or think-tank funded and therefore comes down on the ‘right’ side of the debate. She also quotes Karl Popper who laughed at political sciences pretensions at science believing science can only be conducted in isolation or controlled conditions, a notion totally at odds with human emotional rather than rational (take note economists) behaviour.

However after returning to university and continuing to work there is some capacity, my advice to political scientists would be do some actual research. You know ‘go out there and ask questions bringing some science into what is right now is political pontificating in ivory towers. I am constantly surprised how reluctant/cowardly academics in political science are to getting their hands dirty and talking to people.

It reminds me of the row between the value of academic Laura Seay and journalist Tristan McConnell. Seay criticised journalist’s understanding and analysis in the Congo. The fact she did it in Foreign Policy, a noted top-down rag is a bad starting point. Despite Congo being her research area, she wrote this piece from Texas. She lamented the incomplete analysis while welcoming the exposure of issues of poverty and violence. While we all wish for thorough research, this can take years. While our professor is happily writing away, getting paid and going home to the family, these problems are not going away. Thorough analysis is welcomed but NGOs and journalists on the ground are savvy and intelligent enough to get to the nub fairly quickly.

What i think we are really hearing is the ground lost by academia in the public mind and to some degree its relevance. Academic research didn’t highlight or predict the fall of Yugoslavia or report the massacres to the world. Its prescription has also failed Bosnia since. If they do comment, it all comes too late. I was even invited to a conference on whether academics should be more public involved. Naturally the first day was reserved for debating what is ‘involved!’

Sociology is always the way forward.

Euro2012 Semi Final Preview

Before I get to this England and France are out.

England are out. Bulldog spirit and defending can only get you so far. We couldnt keep the ball. Rooney was out of touch, Carroll is raw, Young was poor, MIlner isn’t good enough. Gerrard played reasonably but can’t do it all by himself. The defence were the stars which says a lot. Lescott and Johnson proved themselves to be international class (if not world class), Terry was his usual body on the line and Cole is world class. The endless talk of Joe Hart beocming one of the best goalkeepers in the world sounds like media hype to me. Besides he is 26, not 20. Its about time.

For France the reasons are obvious. The defence is actually weak. Rami is never good enough at this level nor is Mexes in reality. Midfield is average but Benzema hits the goalkeeper all night long. He isnt a real goalscorer. He shows that at Madrid where he still doesnt score enough. Blanc gave up before kick off with that team and tactics. Poor show. The worst two game I have seen here involved France. Similarly with England in 2006 and 2010, it must be hugely frustrating for players to spend two years qualifying for a major event and then go out so pathetically.

I said before the tournament Spain would struggle and they have. Without Villa to put the ball home, they pass the ball all day and lack real incision and pace to get behind the opposition. A bigger blow is losing Puyol but there are few teams who can play with Spain so it doesn’t matter here. In a World Cup it would. Against the pace of Portugal, they will miss his organisational skills and leadership.

They will play Portugal who have finally woken up the the pace they possess. If everyone played to their level, they can really compete. Ronaldo has missed more than he’s scored but the rest need to put a shift in. Its a good thing to lose Postiga too. He’s not good enough. Portugal have the talent to win this if their centre midfield works as a unit.

Germany have the organisation to beat Spain, They too lack pace so the likely final will be a dour-ish affair. I am not convinced by the German centre backs or Boeteng. They have conceded 4 goals so far to average teams but midfield forward, they are a very good team, if not as creatively brilliant as many would say. Schweinsteiger is a German Spaniard (less skill but more presence) and a fine player. Gomez is a goalscorer. Klose will look redundant against the best. But Germany will win this.

Italy were good tonight but they lack real penetration. So many chances tonight and no goals. They are more mobile than in the past but lacking in quality traditionally associated with the Azzurri.The Germans should have too much for them especially after tonight’s game.

Predictions (assuming the teams are as expected)

Spain 0-1 Portugal (that’s right!)

Germany 2-0 Italy



Coming to Frankfurt from New York was more than a weather shock. New York teemed with life and verve. In Frankfurt, I felt I’d returned to some static past. It build towers to modern finance and shops to porn. The Occupy Park outside the European Central Bank was about the only sign of life or difference. Its cathedral was pretty-ish, the river ran through it and old town was a small square of baroque houses.


But few go to Frankfurt for its landmarks. Viola took me out to a bar for some drinking culture in a suburb bar full of locals of all ages. Oscar showed me the old town and markets. Michelle brought me out to the countryside. Tomas took me round Heidelburg which was small but cute. Seeing each of my friends made the city valuable. (Seeing/hearing Viola after a few drinks was funnier still!)

Before you start thinking this is a wholly critical post and takes up too much space, let me get to the point. AA Gill, the slightly obnoxious travel writer (and cultural snob) called those who visit countries for beaches or the view selfish. He believed seeing the culture that is the real joy of travel. Take the parks of London in summer on a summer’s day, the only time Britain becomes near classless. Culture is the way people interact, the value given to certain organisation or meaning to some concepts, items or institutions that reflect true sightseeing. In short, it is the culture that is the attraction. It is after all the culture that gives all constructions existence and meaning.


Despte my love of city space, there is life in the smallest of villages as attested to in Bavaria. The notion there is ‘nothing to see there’ always strikes me as odd. After all, what they mean is there is a lack of overt culture generally meaning construction of some expression of ideology or idology. Having seen too many churches, sites of mythology or country vistas, I find it perplexing that many fail to see the wood for the trees. We are the view.

As to the city Germans are polite but not friendly to those they don’t know. I say this  because when dealing with people, they are perfectly sincere in matters. And yet when taking a door or accidently touching someone, they fail to mark the moment. This is all culturally-specific rhetoric of course but continues on from the alleged German inability at small talk. We tested this with our housemate in Nottingham Phil who duly passed, believing that small talk was time-wasting and insincere!


But with Bavarian views, trains that function and beer prices like that (and with barely noticed the recession), the Germans have it collectively better through organisation, hard-work and investment in skills. The sense of mutual advantage Britain sacrificed in the 1970s from the labour strikes to the Thatcherite thought revolution instilling the goals of personal advancement through individualism and consumerism, Britain has missed out.

Frankfurt came aliver at night with its lit-up towers, underground clubs, shots of apple wine with Viola (who remains elegant despite her spikey-er pretensions). She also knows an impressive amount about critical theory. Heidelberg was rainy but full of straight-up, coloured brick houses with small windows nestled next to the river all overlooked by the castle.


So fear not Frankfurt. Your present may seem humdrum but it reflects a modernity and therefore a historical connection to the modern present, an opportunity to rise from others shadows. It’s that that should be recognised, analysed and understanding. With that in mind, Frankfurt ain’t too bad at all.

I don’t believe it….but I agree with Milton Friedman

On this issue anyway. I wrote previously here, how the issues in the euro were linked to two failures. Firstly the failure of risk managers within the banking sector to regulate themselves, putting bonuses ahead of sound investment management and secondly the issues in the euozone are essentially cultural. We have numerous countries with different social and cultural perspectives and unless these can be resolved (which is of course impossible re: the Balkans, then real economic union cannot take place.

After all, the euro is essentially a political project and before an economic project. The failure to address divergent views on economics and society and/or the lack of escape mechanism leaves some states free to continue with unsound policies in the light of monetary union. This is particularly true after the end of the EU social fund which invested heavily in Greece, Portugal and Ireland to the detriment of real growth. Once this funding ending, the gap was filled by borrowing which is never sustainable.

In this article, Friedman moves beyond his usual inhuman mathematical modernism and highlights the importance of the society in state and economic building. Remarkably it is in fact the Germans who were always going to be liable to bankroll the Euro. They, rather than the French are the only powerful state with a real functioning economy with finance to spare. The French economy is a slight mirage of success while the other large economies of Italy and Spain (within the eurozone) are plagued with huge structural issues coming from their societal make-up and near fraudulent economics (poor record on tax payment, state inefficiency, paternalism, huge black market) from the government down.

Ill-directed Rhetoric

The Economist published a decent article on US-China relations recently highlighting the lack of official US attention to the human rights situation in China. This has always been a contentious issue in diplomacy for fears too much criticism will derail economic negotiations which take precedent. US foreign policy is almost exclusively about economics, further its economic logic to aid it own economy. Human rights law obviously becomes a tool when convenient for the greater powers. Beyond that, its pushed only by NGOs, again sorrily for their own normative interests but at least there are less consequences for their hypocrisy.

China follows a similar logic. Its regime’s legitimacy is based firstly on its ability to deliver economically. Coercion follows when economics fail so Chinese foreign policy involving aid in Africa is merely about economics. China takes issue with US preaching on human rights for the very normative, media based nature. After all, US treatment of minorities, invasive nature of its economic policies, forcing countries to conform to US interests through IMF, World Bank and domestic legislation with ‘persuasive’ measures attached.

The Economist states the US is aware of this and needs to get its rights house but it nostalgises as if there was a golden era of US human rights. Presumably the house was in order in the 1980s with the financing of wars in Central America, or in the 1970s with the sponsored assassinations in South America and SAPs, or in the 1960s with the Vietnam War or the 1950s with the McCarthism and Iran overthrow. I haven’t even mentioned Guatanamo Bay, the renditions of the Bush-era, the use of internment cams for the Japanese or the wiping out of the Indians! When was this house in order in recent times? Europe’s politicians are also now politically moving away from the its proclamation of values as a package with economic engagement internationally while becoming increasingly discriminatory (racist) with Europe.

However apart from North Koreans, no one is fleeing to the Chinese embassy for political asylum. The real danger to human rights right now is the old dangers. Firstly political interest is only peaked by economic interest for the major powers. Sovereignty is still an upheld value by the Chinese for the simple reason, if they also foreign mediation and/or intervention in other states, then its role in Tibet, North-West China and North Korea would be questioned.

The second danger is the world’s dumped boyfriend Russia. Its record on human rights is poor and always has been. The control of media, persecutions of non-state actors, control of national resources by the state, lack of judicial independence and contentious elections has created a near one-party state. Russia’s wish to punch at the weight of its size and nuclear forces will be keenly felt in the Arctic as the battle for resources and energy hots up. Despite the Arctic being an international legal territory but like most international law, it’s convenient until it becomes inconvenient.

It is the only state backing the Assad regime in Syria. This week after the shelling killing over 80 people including many children, Russia’s foreign minister implied that while some died in the shelling, some were also killed by gunfire or had their throats cut and therefore murdered by the rebels presumably as a sacrifice to a greater goal. This allegation (and only allegations really matter) has the powerful effect of firstly implicating the rebels as war criminals and secondly highlighted the policy line of Russia. For unfortunately Russia matters here until the time the atrocities become too much. All this reminds me of the siege of Sarajevo and Russia’s backing of the Serbs.

The waters of international law and human rights are very murky once faced by political realities. The human rights we hear are of course our Western human rights, an attempt to enstill what we consider natural onto the greater world. The real hypocrisy is sadly we don’t even enforce them ourselves.