Sunday, March 22, 2015

Apostrophes

Yesterday Red Baron read in a blog about the "grocer's apostrophe" in English. I became interested in comparing this special inverted comma with the Deppenapostroph (goof's apostrophe) in German.

First and above all the apostrophe stands for a dropped character, i.e., an elision. When its (sic!) missing it's even more annoying than when there is one too many.

In the "Cashier Talking Points" below you will find two "grocer's missing apostrophes" where according to the blog's author the second one is a twofold blunder with "Pretzel Crisps" being plural: Promote that they are on sale.

©Jerry Coyne
As far as the grocer's apostrophe (or grocers' apostrophe) proper is concerned Jerry Coyne tells the following story: When I worked for the Cambridge Food Co-op in grad school, for instance, I had to put up with this sign on the spuds: "Potatoe's."  Red Baron admits that potato is a difficult word even for former US vice presidents trying to spell its plural correctly.

What about the apostrophe of the English Possessive Case (Sächsischer Genitiv/Saxon genitive)? Also here the apostrophe stands for an elision. In old English the genitive of dæg (day) was dæges that was slurred to day's: It's a hard day's night.

In modern English the possessive is particularly used in case of persons: Walter's car, Jesus' or Jesus's words. This is what Red Baron was taught. Constructions such as Freiburg's University were not promoted in my English school grammar of 1946 although now are perfectly at ease in my modern English grammar of 1964.


Since 1901 the German language has no longer supported a Possessive Case. However look at all four Wurststands on Freiburg's Münsterplatz more than one century later:




No teacher taught them the Deppenapostroph
The trend toward the Deppenapostroph in German is frequently regarded as bad Denglisch. However, that's not all. Increasingly you will also find the misplaced inverted comma in those exceptional "German" words that form their plurals with an "s": Pizza's instead of Pizzas or Büro's instead of Büros.

The Nec plus ultra (©Wikipedia)
You even read bolder constructions disfiguring the correct plural of Nudel (noodle) Nudeln to Nudel'n. These "modern" plurals are usually used to catch the eye of their shocked readers.
*

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Heidegger's Götterdämmerung?

The philosopher Martin Heidegger was a Nazi "of the first hour". Red Baron wrote down Heidegger's story on his website Freiburgs Geschichte in Zitaten. In 2014 the philosopher's notebooks, Schwarze Hefte, were published clearly demonstrating his antisemitism.

Following the Nazi takeover Heidegger usurped the post of rector of the University of Freiburg in spring 1933. In his inaugural speech he fabulated: Das Wesen der deutschen Universität kommt erst in Klarheit, Rang und Macht, wenn zuförderst und jederzeit die Führer selbst geführt sind - geführt von der Unerbittlichkeit jenes geistigen Auftrags, der das Schicksal des deutschen Volkes in das Gepräge seiner Geschichte zwingt (The essence of the German university will only achieve clarity, rank, and power if first, foremost, and always the leaders themselves are guided - guided by the relentlessness of that spiritual mission that forces the fate of the German people in the imprint of its history).

Martin Heidegger with Rector's Chain among his taller colleagues and student corps
at the procession for the opening of the winter semester 1933/34 in Freiburg (©BZ).
Erich Kästner whose books the Nazis burned as degenerate literature at the Opernplatz in Berlin on May 10, 1933, commented on Heidegger's speech sarcastically: Möge er der größte Philosoph unseres glorreichen Jahrhunderts sein oder seyn und bleiben! Ich glaube und hoffe, dass ihm eines Tages im Pantheon, Sokrates und Seneca, Spinoza und Kant nicht die Hand geben werden (May he be the greatest philosopher of our glorious century and remain so! I believe and hope that one of these days Socrates, Seneca, Spinoza, and Kant will not shake hands with him in the Pantheon).

At the end of the 19th century the University of Freiburg had created a chair of philosophy with emphasis on phenomenology and hermeneutics. The first chairholder was neo-Kantian Heinrich Rickert followed in 1916 by Edmund Husserl. By his phenomenological thinking Husserl greatly influenced epistemology, aesthetics and sociology. When he retired in 1928 his pupil Martin Heidegger took over. Although Heidegger's role in the Third Reich overshadows his merits as a philosopher Freiburg's "Heidegger Chair" is an institution.

At the beginning of 2015 Freiburg's University decided to scrap the Heidegger Chair changing the position of a tenured professor into a junior professorship. The idea was to attract young philosophers with the possibility transforming the junior post into a full professor in case of merit.

This idea did not please the establishment. A storm broke lose. More than 2600 philosophers signed Professor Markus Gabriel's petition: Save Phenomenology and Hermeneutics in Freiburg carefully avoiding Heidegger's name.

Freiburg's university rector fought back accusing the opponents of adhering with dynastic fervor to a personality cult. He insisted: The fundamental concern of the University of Freiburg is the advancement of young scholars.

In the following Rüdiger Safranski, author of a Heidegger biography and spokesman of Save Phenomenology and Hermeneutics in Freiburg, excused the philosopher: Heidegger gehört 1933 ganz einfach zum intellektuellen Mob, das heißt zu dem Teil der geistigen Elite in Deutschland, dem zu Hitler etwas Erhabenes einfiel (In 1933 Heidegger simply belonged to the intellectual mob, i.e., he was part of the intellectual elite in Germany who came up with something sublime about Hitler). Rüdiger attacked the narrow minds of Freiburg's university who like to do the right thing at the wrong place: Das ist einfach Geschichtsvergessenheit und verrät fehlenden Stil im Umgang mit philosophischen Traditionen (Transforming the Heidegger Chair simply is historical amnesia and just reveals missing style with philosophical tradition).

Red Baron however thinks that a university is not a museum conserving the past but should instead prepare for the future. Milestones once gloriously passed only make sense within past structures. Today it is reasonable to give scholars a good start. It is the younger people who generally have innovative ideas and question outdated conventions.

Heidegger's Götterdämmerung? At the University of Cambridge nobody would transform the Newton Chair*.
*officially known as Lucasian Chair of Mathematics

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Love locks

Love locks on bridge railings are a nuisance. A year ago it happened in Paris that a railing broke due to the additional weight. All those ardent vows went down the drain, pardon, the Seine. Red Baron reported already about the annoying practice. This blog is just a "German" update.

Padlocks on railings. In Freiburg not a real problem yet.
To avoid an accident as in Paris the city authorities in Bremen would like couples to refrain from decorating the railings of a particular footbridge with padlocks. They looked for a way to communicate the message.

One German word all foreigners know is verboten. Therefore it even has such a bad reputation with my compatriots that nowadays you rarely find it written in public. Constructions such as Es ist untersagt, den Rasen zu betreten (Stepping on the lawn is not allowed) or Bitte hier nicht pinkeln (Don't piss here please) replaced the harsh: Es ist verboten!

The city authorities in Bremen refrained from using words at all but remembered the German proverb: Ein Bild sagt mehr als tausend Worte (A picture is worth a thousand words). They placed the following sign on the footbridge already groaning under the load of more than one thousand metallic vows of love.

©Eckhard Stengel
Remember, we are in Germany. So the authorities hastened to declare that their sign is not a German prohibition traffic sign according to the official catalog. Although it shows the normal circle-backslash symbol its diameter is distinctly smaller. Bremen's sign should just warn couples: No chance. We shall remove your padlocks straightaway.
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Friday, March 13, 2015

Burned Brezels

Sorry for the mixed language but the title of this blog at least is alliterated. What is called in German Brezel is known in English as pretzel. It seems that Anglophone lovers of the "slung" goody like it hard. The German "b" becomes a "p" in English and while in the German language the letter "z" alone stands for a sound like "tz" Anglophones must place a "t" in front of the "soft z" to make it sound like "tz".

So you like your pretzels hard and crusty but not as hard as the ones of an archaeological find in Regensburg. In fact, as the photo shows only parts of burned pretzels were dug out together with three charred rolls (Semmeln) again too hard for consumption.

To the left the burned rolls. For comparison:
The parts of the charred pretzels are placed on top of freshly made pretzels.
Today, March 13, falls on a Friday. Friday the 13th is a combination where some of my superstitious compatriots would rather stay in bed for the whole day. So the burned pretzel story goes like this:

At the site in Regensburg where the archeologists located the "over-baked" goods a baker named Johann Georg Held had his bakery in the 18th century. The mishap most likely happened on a Friday the 13th, when Johann Georg furiously chucked the results of his Black Friday into a hole in his bake house. Even mice refused the spoilage so that 21st-century archeologists are now touting their find as the primordial mother of all Bavarian pretzels although my loyal readers know that pretzels on a stained-glass window in Freiburg's Munster church are much older.

The combination of baking and pretzels rings a bell. In his comic Max and Moritz of 1865 German cartoonist Wilhelm Busch presents two details. In the Easter season the two rascals enter through a chimney into the local bake house to steal Brezeln but not those of the salty type. So the translator correctly calls them cracknels.


Aber schon mit viel Vergnügen
Sehen sie die Brezeln liegen.
But the cracknels, precious treasure,
On a shelf they spy with pleasure.

The chair breaks and:


Schwapp! - Da liegen sie im Brei. Schwapp! - into a trough of dough!

Max and Moritz eventually wrapped in dough are pushed into the baker's oven:


In dem Ofen glüht es noch
Ruff! Damit ins Ofenloch!
There's the oven, all red-hot,
Shove 'em in as quick as thought.

I remember having seen a similar oven at my grandparents' farm. Note, the baking technique has not changed from the Middle Ages to the middle of the 20th century.
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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Do We Need God?

Following the Paris assassinations on January 7, 2015, many people asked the same question as Ryan Bell in his article Why you don't need God: Why do we need religions when fundamentalists are ready to kill people of another faith in the name of God?

CNN supported Ryan Bell's paper with 31 statements of avowed atheists. Red Baron selected ten of them not at random but according to what I regard as the most relevant remarks. I placed them into a new order forcing my personal annotations into a logical sequence. While formulating my comments I found out that among the persons I had picked were the so-called Four Horsemen of the Non-Apocalypse: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, the group of prominent atheists humorously referred to as the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse mentioned in the Book of Revelation in the Bible.
(All photos in this blog ©CNN)

Katherine Hepburn
I  will start with famous actress Katharine Hepburn who simply stated: I'm an atheist, and that's it. I believe there's nothing we can know except that we should be kind to each other and do what we can for each other.

She possibly meant that she is an agnostic, saying it is impossible to prove or disprove God's existence while atheists "believe" there is no God.


James Cameron
In this sense film director James Cameron calls himself a converted agnostic: I've sworn off agnosticism, which I now call cowardly atheism.

Are atheists better off than agnostics because they have given up torturing their brains?

As Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict, once wrote: There are neither unwavering believers nor convinced atheists for both will have doubts in the course of their lives.

Indeed, while writing the blog I read that famous French author and agnostic Michel Houellebecq would prefer to believe in God: I say to myself it would simply be better to believe and stop thinking but I do not succeed. Agnosticism is the tribute to intellectual honesty ... I find it easier to believe in God when I am in the countryside ... The experience of our solitude facing creation leads us back to a holistic contemplation of the universe and to a theistic vision of the world.


Sir Richard Branson
And there are more declared atheists regretting somehow their atheisms. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, believing in evolution and humanitarian efforts said: I would love to believe; it's very comforting to believe.

Well, this comfort you will find in the basic trust as a verse of the old hymn of 1641 by Georg Neumark suggests: Wer Gott dem Allerhöchsten traut, Der hat auf keinen Sand gebaut (Whoever trusts in God the Almighty has not built on sand).


Stephen Hawking
Here comes one recent scientific argument for atheism. Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking wrote: It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going. Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.

Spontaneous? What does this mean? Was there something before the Big Bang and why there is anything at all?


Peter Higgs
Hawking's view is somewhat poorly assisted by British physicist Peter Higgs. The Nobel Prize winner for the particle bearing his name, does not like that colleagues call the Higgs boson that gives mass to all other particles the God particle: First of all, I'm an atheist. The second thing is I know that name (started as) a kind of joke and not a very good one. ... It's so misleading.

It seems that Higgs still has the first line of Genesis in his head: In the beginning God created heaven and earth.

Does this mean that God created mass from nothing but once there was mass evolution took over and did the rest?

Richard Dawkins
Prominent atheist Richard Dawkins, one of the Four Horsemen goes back in history when he argues: We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in and Dawkins gives up when he ironically states: Some of us just go one god further.

Indeed, I find it strange that in my youth I was told monotheism is superior to polytheism. Was one of the reasons that, e.g., in Greek mythology the gods were too human in their desires? Did in fact man/woman create gods in his/her image as Ludwig Feuerbach claimed? And did the Apostle Paul when in Athens first flatter and then trick his listeners by invoking the unknown god?

In fact, Red Baron likes Paul's fascinating story you will find in Apostles 16-28: While Paul was [ ... ] in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean." (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring' ..."

Daniel Dennet
Philosopher Daniel Dennett, another of the Four, wrote: You don't get to advertise all the good that your religion does without first scrupulously subtracting all the harm it does and considering seriously the question of whether some other religion, or no religion at all, does better.

Should you really count your blessings against your mishaps and then make the decision about your religion? Nobody will do so but everybody will make up his own religion based on what he has learned, experienced. What should I think of the message I once read on a votive tablet in a Bavarian church: Thank you, O Lord, that you did not answer my prayer?

Emma Thompson
British actress Emma Thompson is suspicious too: I regard religion with fear and suspicion. It's not enough to say that I don't believe in God. I actually regard the system as distressing: I am offended by some of the things said in the Bible and the Quran, and I refute them. I'm an atheist; I suppose you can call me a sort of libertarian anarchist.

It is true that the more you read the Bible (I don't know enough about the Qur'an) the more you are confused. Generations of theologists have tried to separate the wheat from the chaff, the truth from the scribblings of the storytellers and still: the interpretation of the Bible is left to the priests. Let me just mention here the Eucharist quarrel between Catholics and Protestants: Bread and wine is body and blood or bread and wine signifies body and blood. In the Latin text of the New Testament you will find neither est nor significat.

Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens, a British author and antitheist and number three of the Four, regards religion as the main source of hatred in the world and continues: There are days when I miss my old convictions as if they were an amputated limb. But in general I feel better, and no less radical, and you will feel better too, I guarantee, once you leave hold of the doctrinaire and allow your chainless mind to do its own thinking.

Did Hitchens eventually become an atheist because religious fanaticism has brought so much untold sorrow to mankind?

Sam Harris
Sam Harris, neuroscientist and the last of the Four, claims that when there is no God we still need some sort of ersatz religion to keep up society: We will see that the greatest problem confronting civilization is not merely religious extremism: rather, it is the larger set of cultural and intellectual accommodations we have made to faith itself.

Harris quite rightly does not place the danger of fundamentalism in first place but weichgespülte (softened) religions. Indeed, all Churches are in a dilemma with modern societies: Should they water down their doctrines on divorce, abortion, homosexuality (just to name a few) to make their faith attractive to an enlightened majority or should they preach to the naïve: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Matthew 5:3].

Red Baron wrote before: The longing for some sort of belief even drives enlightened people into all sorts of spiritualism, astrology, karma, voodoo, you name it, proving that there is a human need for religion or some sort of ersatz religion. The new atheist movement is an ersatz religion without any doctrine "preaching" love, peace and charity as the core values of human society.

However, here we go again. In Wikipedia you read: New atheism is politically engaged in a variety of ways ... Internal strategic divisions over issues - i.e., reducing the influence of religion in the public sphere, mainstream acceptance of atheism, and promoting an atheist identity - have been notable, as are questions about the diversity of the movement in terms of its gender and racial balance."

Shouldn't these doctrineless new atheists instead be united?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Pee Power

These days urine or rather urinating men dominate the German press. Red Baron did not want to enter the debate about peeing until I came across a picture from the University of the West of England. On campus peeing men produce urine-tricity generating light to help keep women safe at night. A noble cause worthy of writing a blog about it.

On campus (©DerSpiegel)
Here on the Continent the situation is quite different. Peeing in Freiburg, although done in a green city, does not produce any electricity. Wildpinkler (wee-ers in public) avoid public toilets and let it flow freely all over the place, preferably in dark corners. The city government is confused and feels so peed on that Mayor Salomon stated: Auch wenn ich immer an allem schuld sein soll, da kann ich nichts dafür (Even though I will always be to blame for everything, I am really not responsible for it).

Passive measures against Wildpinkler:
Barred entrances on Freiburg's Schustergasse (©BZ/Michael Bamberger)
It is quite obvious that these wee-er men (and a few women) lack education in literature. Already in Georg Büchner's drama Woyzeck written in 1836 the doctor confronts his retarded patient with the misdeed of Wildpinkeln claiming that sphincter muscles can be controlled:

Doktor: Ich hab's gesehn, Woyzeck; er hat auf die Straß gepisst, an die Wand gepisst, wie ein Hund. – ... Woyzeck, das ist schlecht; die Welt wird schlecht, sehr schlecht!


Woyzeck: Aber, Herr Doktor, wenn einem die Natur kommt.

Doktor: Die Natur kommt, die Natur kommt! Die Natur! Hab' ich nicht nachgewiesen, daß der Musculus constrictor vesicae dem Willen unterworfen ist? Die Natur! Woyzeck, der Mensch ist frei, in dem Menschen verklärt sich die Individualität zur Freiheit. – [schüttelt den Kopf] Den Harn nicht halten können.
Doctor: I saw you, Woyzeck; you pissed on the street, pissed on the wall like a dog. – ... Woyzeck, that is bad, the world is getting bad, very bad.

Woyzeck: But Sir, doctor, when nature comes.

Doctor: Nature comes, nature comes! Nature! Didn't I prove that the musculus constrictor vesicae is subjected to will? Nature! Woyzeck, man is free, in man individuality idealizes to freedom. – [shaking his head] Not retaining his urine.


Aparently the doctor is mistaken about the potentiality of the musculus constrictor vesicae. Freiburg has a stinking problem and our helpless authorities are presently deliberating whether the situation is worse than in other German cities.

Meanwhile certain walls in Hamburg's red light district Sankt Pauli are painted with hydrophobic paint containing nanoparticles so that when pissing against them pee is reflected back to the wee-er.

St. Pauli pees back (©Der Spiegel)
In Freiburg there are no nano reflectors yet. Instead WIR asked for a Stadtkümmerer. Red Baron read in the Badische Zeitung a funny commentary: The city caretaker should – when listening to the sound of splashing water – rush a chamber pot to the scene instead of using the taser.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

The Sleepwalkers

Phew! I made it. Ultimately as an e-book Christopher Clark's The Sleepwalkers did not add up to 1000 pages, as Professor Krumeich had spread around, but only 666. Suddenly on page 562 I had reached the end of the text with the remaining pages being annotations and references. This happened already last December but due to the murders in Paris and the following events around Charlie Hebdo I had to change priorities. Here now comes my account about The Sleepwalkers:

At the end of the 19th century all nations were greatly influenced by a misunderstanding of Darwin's theory of evolution: When in competition only the strongest will survive. Somehow in strange contrast the key political players in the years before August 1914 were men caught in a crisis of masculinity and as Clark continues: Following the Sarajevo assassinations the understanding of policy was marked by "uprightness,” “backs very stiff,” “firmness of will,” and “self-castration”. The actors in this European tragedy were men driven by patriotism and paranoia, by ambition and intrigue. They were sleepwalkers, watchful but unseeing, haunted by dreams, yet blind to the reality of the horror they were about to bring into the world. How did their attitude project on to the political situation on the evening of the Great War?


Among European nations the British with their Calvinistic mindset felt they were the chosen people. Britannia was not only ruling the waves but large parts of the world too.

The French had long regarded themselves as Europe's cultural masters with their language being the lingua franca on the Continent. They had not forgotten the loss of Alsace-Lorraine to the 2nd Reich. By financially supporting the Russian military build-up France exerted pressure on Germany. Along these lines the construction of railroads running east-west for rapid troop movement seemed to be most effective.

Russia suffered fron an inferiority complex*. At the beginning of the 20th century the tsar wanted to change this status. In building up military strength he intended to set Russia's role as determining power at the Balkans with eyes firmly riveted on the Dardanelles still under Osman control. Following the Sarajevo assassinations and Austria's ultimatum to Serbia the Russian foreign minister Sazonow stated: Were Russia to abandon its ‘historic mission’ to secure the independence of the Slav peoples, she would be ‘considered a decadent state’, would forfeit ‘all her authority’ and her ‘prestige in the Balkans’ and ‘would henceforth have to take second place among the powers’.
*and still feels inferior and even humiliated. President Putin recently said about his European neighbors: They need our raw materials but they always regard us as a second-class nation. In another context Putin remarked that the sanctions the Western countries had imposed on Russia were meant to prevent Russia's strengthening. He continued that even without Crimea and East Ukraine this would have happened.

And Germany? It was not the fleet race that annoyed the British but rather the economic strength of the 2nd Reich becoming a fierce competitor on the world market. Germany, a nation born late, suffered (and still suffers) from a fact that Henry Kissinger had competently described: Being too big for Europe, too small for the world. Still, as Chancellor Bernhard von Bülow said in the Reichstag (German parliament) on December 6, 1897: Mit einem Worte: wir wollen niemand in den Schatten stellen, aber wir verlangen auch unseren Platz an der Sonne (In one word: We don't want to eclipse anybody but we demand our spot in the sun too). Austrian author and satirist Karl Kraus commented: Der Anspruch auf einen Platz an der Sonne ist bekannt. Weniger bekannt ist, dass sie untergeht, sobald er errungen ist (The demand for a spot in the sun is known. It is less known that, when the spot is achieved, the sun will set). How true.

Facing the Triple Alliance of 1907 (France, Great Britain, and Russia) and with the constellation discussed above in mind the German Generalstab (general staff) was convinced that a European war was inevitable. Considering the Russian progress in armament, the 2nd Reich was better off with an early date. At the beginning of the 20th century German generals insinuated that by 1916 the Russian steamroller would be ready to roll over Germany. The idea of a preemptive war was in the air. Clarke writes: Historians have rightly criticized the rigidity of German military planning, seeing in it the fruits of a political system in which the army pursued its own dreams of ‘absolute destruction’, free of civilian control or oversight.

The domination of military over civilian power in Germany was what US senators emphasized in their debate before America entered the European war. In his speech Senator Swanson from Virginia called for a crusade when he said: Now, since Russia has taken her stand with the nations of the earth that believe in self-rule and stand for self-government* this terrible war is purely a battle between democracy and autocracy, and there should be no question of the attitude of this Government, or where, when challenged to enter, it should align itself. It is the democracy of the world against German Prussianism, Austrian absolutism, and the unspeakable Turk, who is a stench in the nostrils of the Christian nations of the world and ought long ago to have been driven not only out of Europe but out of the Holy Land, which he has despoiled.
*Senator Swanson is referring to Russia's February Revolution. On March 8, 1917, Tsar Nicholas II had abdicated and was replaced by a Provisional Government, an alliance between liberals and socialists, who wanted political reform. They set up a democratically elected executive and constituent assembly. At the same time, socialists also formed the Petrograd Soviet, that later in October took over with dictatorial power.

Following the Sarajevo assassinations the French government considered a war with Austria-Hungary as an optimal starting point for a continental war with German forces being tied at the Balkans. Otto von Bismarck had already predicted in 1888 that some damned foolish thing in the Balkans would one day trigger a great European war and the Chancellor had continued: The whole of the Balkans are not worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier. Now the situation had arrived. In a last-minute effort the kaiser sent a telegram signed Willi to his cousin Nicky, asking him to take back the order for general mobilization. And Tsar Nicholas followed up: I will not become responsible for a monstrous slaughter. 

However 24 hours later all this was forgotten. War propaganda had taken over. Clark writes about Russian-French falsifications of documents with the French producing a telegram trying to make Berlin appear the moral fulcrum of the crisis by blaming Germany for six days of war preparations that, however, had not happened.

On the other side of the Channel the British were still hesitating. Was it really possible that a quarrel on the Balkans could draw the Triple Entente powers into a war when none of the three was directly attacked?

While the French had convinced the Russians to cut loose, the British Cabinet decided on August 2 to march along only if one of the following conditions were met: An attack by the German fleet on the undefended Atlantic coast of France* or a  substantial violation of Belgian neutrality would compel us to take action.
*The fleet agreement of 1912 between the Entente powers had left the defense of France's Atlantic coast to the British fleet with the French fleet concentrated in the south assuring the British commercial routes in the Mediterranean.

In the minds of many statesmen, the hope for a short war and the fear of a long one seem, as it were, to have canceled each other out, holding at bay a fuller appreciation of the risks ... and

One thing is clear: none of the prizes for which the politicians of 1914 contended was worth the cataclysm that followed. Did the protagonists understand how high the stakes were? ... and

As Professor Krumeich had asked at the end of his talk on the outbreak of  World War I: Why didn't they use the telephone?

They were just sleepwalkers!
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Sunday, March 1, 2015

Armageddon

In the Book of Relevation 16:16 it is written: Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon 

Last Tuesday evening Red Baron listened to a lecture by Professor Matthew Sutton from Washington State University titled:

The Antichrist and the Rise of the American Christian Right

Professor Sutton and his audience (©Carl-Schurz-Haus)
For me religion is something rather private although most Christians belong to a congregation - For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them*. These congregations may be as powerful as the Catholic Church.
*Matthew 18:20

In Germany the influence of religion on politics is on the decline. In our pluralistic society Christian Churches fight rearguard battles against abortion and same-sex marriage but no one will lament that the Lord no longer holds his hand over Germany. Red Baron learned that statements such as these were made on television in the States following the 9/11 attacks: Wake-up America. Turn back.

Infidelity, sensualism, wars, despising
of the government, apostasy, Bolshevism,
isms of all kinds (©Matthew Sutton)
Professor Sutton told his audience about Christian fundamentalists in America who since the middle of the 19th century believed that the last millennium will soon dawn. Women's right to vote, homosexuality, Biblical criticism, and evolution are evil and the war against evil is on. Before the final "Rapture" will come as many people as possible must be turned to the "right" faith in order to be saved.

The interpretation of the Bible in particular the Book of Revelation gave those fundamentalists their arguments. Signs of the times like the rebirth of the state of Israel pointed in the direction of Armageddon. Some fundamentalists even went so far as to consider Hitler God's tool driving the Jews to Palestine.

American politicians, although cautious in their statements not to be taken for fundamentalists, easily jump on the bandwagon of the Evangelicals when it serves their purposes. That was even true for presidents. However, at present some fundamentalists question whether the Magic Negro in the White House indeed is a Christian or is he rather the Antichrist?

©Matthew Sutton

To get some structure in my writing: here are some key points from the announcement of the lecture organized by the Carl-Schurz-Haus in Freiburg:

Starting in the early 20th century, a colorful and charismatic group of radical Protestants, anticipating the end of the world, paradoxically transformed it. Perceiving the United States as besieged by Satanic forces - communism and secularism, family breakdown and government encroachment - Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and many others took to the pulpit and airwaves to explain how Biblical end-times prophecy made sense of a world ravaged by global wars, genocide, and the threat of nuclear extinction. Rather than withdraw from their communities to wait for Armageddon, they used what little time was left to warn of the coming Antichrist, save souls, and prepare the United States for God’s final judgment.

The world has seen this before. There have always been particular periods in the course of history when Christians anticipated the final judgement. Already the primitive community lived in the imminent expectation of Christ's return for: Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (John 16:16).

©Matthew Sutton
The magic year 1000 saw all of Christendom preparing for the end of the world.

Luther, disgusted by the abuses in the Roman Church, was convinced that the Antichrist had usurped St. Peter's Chair. The reformer believed in an imminent eschaton.

And a recent poll revealed that nearly 50% of Americans think that Jesus will return by 2050. Why should one care about global warming for now the end is near and humanity faces the final curtain?

It seems that the scourge of the 21st century is religiously motivated fundamentalism. The abuse of religion as an instrument of political power runs as a common thread through history. While ISIS slaughters people of another faith in the name of Allah Christian fundamentalist movements brainwash people, deprive their followers of their free will and ... money.

What is wrong here? Did we not see the Enlightenment already at the end of the 18th century? Why do we need religions at all? That will be the topic of another blog.
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