Monday, April 28, 2014

What a Waste

That politicians manipulate their voters is a platitude. In order to be re-elected even if they do not tell straight lies they stretch the truth. I still remember the slogan of a German minister of social affairs: Die Rente ist sicher (The old-age pension [run by the government] is sure). Well, that is basically true but now it turns out that future old-age benefits will be so low that many a person will drift into Altersarmut (old-age poverty) following retirement.

In previous blogs Red Baron has dealt with another critical political topic: The disposal of radioactive waste that politicians like to cover by a smoke screen. Recently two small notes in the Badische Zeitung (BZ) reminded me of the still unsolved storage problem although our elected representatives boast: The permanent disposal of radioactive waste must not be left to future generations. In the following discussion it is fair to distinguish between low to medium level and high level radioactive material.

So far I have thought that the former class of radioactive waste had found its future home in an old salt mine named Konrad in Lower Saxony. Now Baden-Württemberg's environmental minister of the Green Party warns that the capacity of 300,000 cubic meters of the mine in northern Germany may not be sufficient to store all containers with low to medium level radioactivity. At the former Nuclear Research Center Karlsruhe alone 13,000 containers wait for their final home. There are many more stored in so-called Zwischenlager at nuclear power reactor sites. These interim storage facilities are authorized for 40 years. Nevertheless, a court in the state of Schleswig-Holstein recently declared radioactive storage at the former reactor site of Brunsbüttel illegal due to deficiencies in the protection against terrorist attacks. Surely security measures are not better at other Zwischenlager.

The situation of radioactive storage will soon become dramatic with the out phasing of eight of Germany's power reactors in the near future. The other bad news is the important delay in the fitout of Mine Konrad that was supposed to start operation this year. Optimists speak of a delay of five years while pessimists aim at a distant 2021. Is it really progress that a state minister has put his finger on this open sore? Red Baron is sure that the smoke screen will soon come down again.

The second note in the BZ concerned our Swiss neighbors and the storage of high level radioactive waste. In the late 1990ies Red Baron observed the research efforts of some Swiss physics colleagues in a lab below the Jura mountains. They were trying to confirm that the geological formation of opalinus clay presents a safe enclosure for the safe storage of high level radioactive waste over extremely long periods. Here I gave my opinion about "safe" storage of waste containing deadly Plutonium.

Since then a special task force started a search for disposal sites in Switzerland. Now I read that the search for a final storage site will not be finished in 2020 but rather delayed until 2027. Such a delay is politically highly welcome with many possible sites located in the High Rhine valley close to the border with Germany. Presently a couple of minor issues mar the German-Swiss relations as the fly-over noise of planes from Zürich Airport and the bank secret with respect to untaxed German money in Switzerland. Apparently politicians consider those issues easier to handle than a proposal for a storage site for highly radioactive material close to the German border.

A presentation of possible storage sites for high level radioactive waste in Switzerland
close to the German border (©Badische Zeitung in 2010)
If everything works out fine and the Swiss people decide positively in a national referendum around the year 2028 the final storage facility will hopefully start operation in Switzerland in 2060. Surely, Red Baron will no longer be concerned.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dr. Faustus

Markus Gabriel's philosophy the New Realism has a feature that he describes in his TED talk on YouTube: The concept of an existing World gets rid of the infinity of things and facts. The fear of infinity makes us reasoning in a multitude of worldviews, be they scientific (catchword: world formula) or religious (catchword: death is not the end), etc. In particular, the idea that everything is connected and interacting is wrong because there is no overall structure. However, many things are connected such that man introduces worldviews to make things simpler. None of these worldviews works; they are all expressions of our fear of infinity. As already mentioned before: We are alone, but as free autonomous human beings, we have the privilege of infinite possibilities of exploring.

Following his argument that the World does not exist, Gabriel elaborated on the meaning of life in an interview: The purpose of life is not something all-embracing. It develops out of the attitude of each individual who happens to be part of a community. Men (Women) do not live and work alone, so it is quite common that persons abandon their freedom, their ego in the interest of groups, communities, or religions. Such an attitude that Gabriel calls personal nihilism will frequently lead to crises in life or of faith. Typical examples are firm believers developing doubts and atheists catching themselves, thinking there may be something behind their existence.

In all these arguments I recognize Goethe's Faust who states at the summit of his personal crisis:

Habe nun, ach! Philosophie,
Juristerei und Medizin,
Und leider auch Theologie
Durchaus studiert, mit heißem Bemühn.
Da steh ich nun, ich armer Tor!
Und bin so klug als wie zuvor;
I've studied now Philosophy
And Jurisprudence, Medicine,
And even, alas! Theology
All through and through with ardor keen!
Here now I stand, poor fool, and see
I'm just as wise as formerly.

We see a desperate Faust who wants to break out, regain his autonomy, his infinite possibilities of exploring even for the prize of "pacting" with the devil. In fact, Mephistopheles opens for Faust all freedom of action. Getting Gretchen pregnant is only one of Faust's deadly sins. Therefore in the Christian tradition, the saga of the historical? Faust ends in a catastrophe in the nearby townlet of Staufen as we read on the wall of the restaurant and hotel Zum Löwen, "Anno 1539 ist im Leuen zu Staufen Doctor Faustus so ein wunderlicher Nigromanta gewesen, elendiglich gestorben und es geht die Sage der obersten Teufel einer, der Maphist stopilis den er in seinen Lebenszeiten nur seinen Schwager genannt, habe ihm, nachdem der Pact von 24 Jahren abgelaufen, das Genick abgebrochen und seine arme Seele der ewigen Verdammnis überantwortet (Anno 1539, in The Lion at Staufen Doctor Faustus who had been such a whimsical necromancer died miserably, and according to the legend one of the supreme devils Maphist stopilis - whom he called in his lifetimes only his brother-in-law, broke his neck after the pact of 24 years expired and surrendered his poor soul to eternal damnation)."

Breaking the neck of  Dr. Faustus. Wall painting on The Lion at Staufen
This end is in sharp contrast to the hero's destiny in Goethe's Faust. In part II of the drama near the end, a choir of angels announces, "Wer immer strebend sich bemüht, Den können wir erlösen (Whoever strives with all his might, That man we can redeem)." I find Goethe's conclusion that a free autonomous human being using his (her) infinite possibilities of exploring until his end will be redeemed comforting.

You will find this basic idea of "using your talents" in the New Testament in the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30): For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one, he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey ... When the lord came back from his trip, the two servants with the five and the two talents had gained on them. Then he who had received the one talent came and said, "Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed. And I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground. Look, there you have what is yours." But his lord answered and said to him, "You wicked and lazy servant, you knew that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not scattered seed. So you ought to have deposited my money with the bankers, and at my coming, I would have received back my own with interest" ... And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

It is interesting to read that Jesus even accepts the help of bankers to gain on money that - considering current interest rates - is hardly possible these days.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why the World Does Not Exist

In 2013 Markus Gabriel, the young philosophy professor at the University of Bonn, wrote a book with the provocative title: Warum es die Welt nicht gibt (Why the World does not exist).

On June 23, 2011, Gabriel had lunch with his Italien colleague Maurizio Ferraris in Naples. When they had finished their ristretti they had also finished or instead founded a new approach to philosophy. This so-called New Realism is an advancement of both metaphysics and constructivism. Somewhat simplified Gabriel states: Whereas metaphysics claims that the World is different from how it appears to us, constructivism claims that we construct things in recognizing them. New Realism, however, claims that when we realize something by seeing, hearing, or sensing, there is really something.

Gabriel's reasoning starts with a standard definition of the World: The World is the totality of things and facts. Things have specific properties, but facts consist of concepts, and concepts are never fully settled. Gabriel then introduces Sinnfelder (fields of context) and formulates the first law of New Realism:

Existence is the recognition in an area of context (FOC).

According to Martin Heidegger, the World is - in Gabriel's language - the field of the context of all FOCs in which all other FOCs appear.

©Ullstein Verlag
We now assume for a moment that the World appears in a field of context S1 being one of many other FOCs S2, S3, etc. If the World is the FOC in which all other FOCs appear, then any other FOCs appear in S1 as subfields, for in S1 the World appears and in the World everything appears. This situation Gabriel illustrates in a few sketches: The World does not appear in the World or for short: The World does not exist.

Another argument goes like this: A thing cannot exist isolated; it has to appear in a field of context. This field of context can only exist if it appears in another FOC, and this again in another one. When we continue the argumentation, we shall never reach the last field of context, i.e., the World in which everything appears. Ergo: The World does not exist.

We always look at things, i.e., items, notions, and concepts under certain aspects, and place them into specific fields of context. A table can be regarded in the FOC of physics as an ordered ensemble of elementary particles. That is different from the FOC of furniture where a table could be placed, and that again is different from the community FOC, i.e., the table as a place where people eat, drink, and communicate. Gabriel continues: Some things are connected, but not all things are connected, again an argument that The World does not exist. Here shall I stop. For further explanations of New Realism, you must read Gabriel's book.

For Hamlet To be or not to be that is the question, but it was Heidegger who asked the question of all questions: Was ist Sein? (What is this: To Be?). Young Markus Gabriel asks offhand: Was soll das Ganze alles? (What is the purpose of all this?)

Whereas constructivist epistemology and metaphysics look for the authenticity beyond the fields of context - we may know or miss - Gabriel claims that there is nothing behind that settles things. Since an overall structure does not exist, we are not determined by it. That means that we are alone, but we, as free autonomous human beings, have the privilege of infinite possibilities of exploring.

Comforting, isn't it? Watch Markus Gabriel on YouTube.

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Red Baron loves books. Unfortunately I have too little time (left) to read all what I once bought, still buy, and want to read. My love for books started with fairy tales. By the way, my blog about My Fairy Tales is the second most read of all my blogs so far.

The other day I read an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) about an early Frankfurt book fair. I knew that before the war Leipzig and not Frankfurt was Germany's place for books but with the German division West Germany revived the Frankfurt Book Fair. Now my country has the luxury of two book fairs in times where paper books are more and more replaced by electronic media.

Philipp Erasmus Reich (©Wikipedia)
How did it happen that in the 18th century Leipzig took over from Frankfurt becoming the home of Germany's book fair? The man behind the change was Philipp Erasmus Reich, called the prince of Germany's booksellers, who 250 years ago on April 20, 1764, packed all his books in Frankfurt and wrote a letter to the elector of Saxony: Following the last Frankfurt fair I and other colleagues bid farewell to the city and so to speak buried the book fair thereat.

In fact, Reich buried an agonizing fair for in April 1764 only 34 publishers had been present in Frankfurt whereas in May of the same year 179 booksellers attended the Leipzig book fair. One reason of the change was that at the start of the 18th century modern German science and literature had moved to and was at home in the area between Hamburg, Berlin, Breslau, Jena, Halle, and Göttingen. Another reason was the fight of publishers against pirate editions. In South-West Germany, Switzerland and Austria printers had begun systematically to reprint books from Saxony, Prussia, Hannover, and Hamburg. An existing imperial system of protection did not work anymore. Since even the emperor in Vienna encouraged the pirating of books the imperial book inspector in Frankfurt turned out to be useless.

Some of Red Baron's books arranged on IKEA's Billy shelf units
With the lack of space Red Baron started to buy e-books when available. As many peopIe I miss the touch and feel of a paper book but there are other advantages reading e-books on an iPad: the possibilities of marking and noting of text are remarkable.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Georg Herwegh

Georg Herwegh (©Wikipedia)

Red Baron must apologize to Georg Herwegh, a German poet of liberty. A recent article in Die Zeit announcing the edition of Herwegh's complete works changed my attitude that had been greatly influenced by Heinrich Heine satirizing Georg's flowery words in a poem Die Tendenz written in 1841:

Deutscher Sänger! sing und preise
Deutsche Freiheit ...
... aber halte deine Dichtung
Nur so allgemein als möglich.
German singer! Sing and praise
German liberty ...
... but just keep your poetry
as general as possible.

Emma Herwegh (©Wikipedia)

However, Georg Herwegh was more than just a flowery poet. German craftsmen and workers chose him as their, although untalented, military leader in 1848 to guide them via Strasbourg into Baden to support Friedrich Hecker's uprising, his fighting for a republic. Needless to say that Herwegh's support operation was a failure, a military disaster. Georg and his beautiful wife Emma escaped and fled to Switzerland. In his exile Herwegh kept the flag of freedom flying. In particular, he supported the underprivileged workers of his time writing 1863 his famous socialist verses called Bundeslied:

Mann der Arbeit aufgewacht!
Und erkenne Deine Macht!
Alle Räder stehen still,
Wenn Dein starker Arm es will.
Awake you working man
And discover your potency!
All wheels will stand still
When your strong arm decides.

Referring to the many German territories with borders between them and ruled by princes and privileged groups with the help of undemocratic constitutions the professor for constitutional law from Freiburg, Karl von Rotteck, had declared in 1832: Ich will die Einheit nicht anders als mit Freiheit, und will lieber Freiheit ohne Einheit als Einheit ohne Freiheit (I want unity but not without liberty, and I prefer liberty without unity to unity without liberty).

Back in Baden - due to an amnesty in 1866 for political refugees of the 1848/49 uprisings - old Herwegh saw Bismarck forge the Second Reich in 1871 according to his declaration: Nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden – das ist der große Fehler von 1848 und 1849 gewesen – sondern durch Eisen und Blut (No declaration or majority decisions will decide the big problems of our time - this was the big mistake in 1848 and 1849 - but iron and blood).

Following German unification as the result of the War of 1870/1871 against France Herwegh wrote in protest in January 1871 his Epilog zum Kriege:

Schwarz, weiß und rot! um ein Panier
Vereinigt stehen Süd und Norden;
Du bist im ruhmgekrönten Morden
Das erste Land der Welt geworden:
Germania, mir graut vor dir!
Black, White and Red! Around one flag
South and North now stand united.
You became the first country in the world
In murder wreathed with glory.
Germania, you terrify me!

In writing these lines, did Herwegh augur the murderous wars of the coming century? At the beginning of World War One in August 1914, Friedrich August von Kaulbach painted a  gruesome Germania. Some art expert say that her distraught looks reflect Germany's preparedness to fight the war others her patriotic martial inebriation. To me Germania's eyes are just full of German angst.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

EU Coffee Makers

In keeping a close eye on their climate target figures on CO2 emissions for 2020 the European Union (EU) already banned all incandescent bulbs of more than 25 watts in Europe. In this respect Red Baron is a model student. Already in 1995 I had started to change all power hog light sources at home to fluorescent lamps and I am presently converting this second generation light sources to LEDs thus making my CO2 footprint even smaller.

As far as vacuum cleaners are concerned the European Union had decided that starting on September 1, 2014, machines with a power consumption of more than 1600 watts must no longer be sold in the EU. In 2017 the power of vacuum cleaners will be further reduced to 900 watts. Sorry, my present vacuum cleaner consumes 2200 watts and it is unlikely that I shall replace it in my lifetime.

Photo ©dpa
This week the EU hit again! Today the Badische Zeitung (BZ) reported about a new Regulation for coffee makers. Starting on January 1, 2015 all machines sold in the EU must be equipped with an automatic shut-off of their warming plates. The lapse of the time was fixed to less than forty minutes for non-insulated coffee pots. I do not think that Wally with his ongoing coffee consumption would ever feel such a time limitation  but I could imagine that such an attack on coffee makers in the US is unconstitutional. Non obstat that I personally consider keeping a coffee warm an offense against good taste.

All cartoons on Wally and his coffee consumption are ©Scott Adams
Red Baron likes his coffee hot and fresh. My machine produces the correct quantity needed for direct consumption without any after-warming. At present there is no regulation on that but with the EU you are never sure.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


One of those terrible German words meaning nothing else than data retention. With the NSA active all over the world everybody knows what data retention means. However, here I am referring to the European Union.

In 2009 Brussels passed the EU Directive 2006/24/EC that obliged its 28 member states to introduce a system of data retention. Many countries already had national laws concerning the storage of telephone and Internet data for the prevention of (organized) crimes and terrorism. Hence the EU Directive was rather thought to harmonize national legislation in view of the duration of retention and an easy exchange of data.

Germany was a special case in so far as in 2010 the Bundesverfassungsgericht (Federal Court) had declared our national law on data retention as unconstitutional. The old Black-Yellow coalition was unable to consent on new legislation. So this became a task for the new Black-Red coalition in place following our general election in fall last year. While the CDU-Innenminister (secretary of interior) wanted to jump on the project right away, the SPD-Justizminister (secretary of justice) put the brakes on. He proposed to wait until the European Court of Justice had decided about the lawsuit of Irish civil rights activists and the Carinthian government (Austria) against Directive 2006/24/EC. The Court's verdict came on April 8, 2014: The present Directive violates basic civil rights and therefore is null and void.

Was our minister of justice right to postpone new German legislation on data retention?

No, says the minister of interior, for the Court decision does not concern existing national laws and Germany needs new legislation immediately, a law that must be wise, constitutional, and have a majority appeal.

Yes, answers the minister of justice, we are not in a hurry. Now we know what our Federal and the European Court might accept such that we likely are to get our new national legislation conform to their decisions.


The new one billion Euro building complex of Germany's Bundesnachrichtendienst
 (BND, I call it Mini-NSA) in Berlin (©dapd)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Greek from Toledo

Yesterday the Badische Zeitung (BZ) made Red Baron aware of another anniversary in 2014. One of my favorite painters El Greco (The Greek) was born 400 years ago on April 7.

Whenever you visit a picture gallery with old paintings those of El Greco immediately stick out fitting neither the Renaissance nor the Baroque styles of his epoch. The choice of colors (most important for El Greco), the form of his figures, and the composition of his pictures are far ahead of his time. Masters like Van Gogh, Marc, and Macke took up El Greco's audacity in painting but only 300 years later. Both Franz Marc and August Macke were killed on the Western front in the First World War.

Laocoön in the Vatican Museums (©Wikipedia)
Everybody has at least seen pictures of Laocoön and his sons. An ensemble sculptured in marble - now in Rome in the Vatican Museums - shows the scene where the previously blinded priest Laocoön and his two sons are killed by sea serpents. This is how goddess Athena made him double pay his warnings concerning the wooden horse the Greek had left behind when they lifted their siege of Troy. While Laocoön proposed to burn the horse the Trojans took it within the city walls with all the consequences we know from the movie.

Suffering without measure.
At the end of the article the BZ showed a copy of the picture of Laocoön and his sons painted by El Greco. The father fighting with a serpent knows that one of his sons lying at his side was already crushed to death. In agony he is turning his dead eyes into the direction of his second son who in vain fights the attack of a second serpent. The un-natural flesh tones of the bodies and the threatening clouds put the observer into a depressive mood. What makes the situation so hopeless are those indifferent bystanders. They are looking at the scene with bored interest but make no move to help Laocöon and his sons against the attack of the serpents. In the back you distinguish the city of Toledo, El Greco's home. Some experts interpret Laocoön's deadly fight as an allegory of the horrors of the inquisition being extremely active in Toledo at El Greco's time.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Robert Wagner

Vonau's book describing Wagner's role in Alsace

Last Monday Red Baron listened to a presentation by le professeur Jean-Laurent Vonau, historian de Strasbourg, about Robert Wagner. My American friends will immediately think of the husband of Natalie Wood but here I refer to the so-called bourreau d'Alsace (executioner of the Alsace) of the same name. His original name was Robert Backfisch as the lecturer informed the big audience. 

Backfisch literarily translated means fried fish but is rather an archaic German label for a teenage girl. The origin of the word is not clear. Some attribute it to the Mediaeval Latin word baccalaureus for an unfinished student, others think that it has to do with fishing and the English word back, i.e., the throwing back of fish into the water being too small to be kept. Whatever the final explanation may be: Backfisch is not a name for a man who wants to make his way in life in particular when he is an unconditional Nazi follower and admirer of Adolf Hitler. Eagerly, at the age of twenty-six, Robert opted for his mother's name Wagner.

There he was in good company with his master Adolf. Hitler's father Alois had been an "illegitimate" child born to Maria Anna Schicklgruber. Later Maria Anne married a Johann Georg Hiedler who was not Alois' father. Nevertheless Maria Anna's husband adopted young Alois at the age of five but when registering the boy the government official transformed the name Hiedler into Hitler. This is why in 1889 Alois' son was born as Adolf Hitler and not as Adolf Schicklgruber. Some historians claim that a guy with the name of Adolf Schicklgruber would have never made it to become der Führer.

Back to Robert Wagner. During the First World War he bravely fought at the Western front and was highly decorated. As many young soldiers he was depressed by the outcome of the war and in particular by the Treaty of Versailles making Germany the one and only war culprit. He joined Hitler early and on November 9, 1923, he not only took part in the infamous Beer Hall Putsch but managed to convince his colleagues at the Munich officer training school to join him. He therefore was condemned for high treason and imprisoned at the Landsberg fortress together with his master. When the Nazi Party was again permitted in February 1925 Wagner under his adored Führer's spell rapidly climbed the party hierarchy being a Kämpfer der ersten Stunde (Combatant of the first hour).

Comrades awaiting their sentences in front of the Munich Justizpalast (court house).
The man on the right is Robert Wagner (©Bundesarchiv)
For the following I shall limit Wagner's biography - you may dislike to read in Wikipedia - to a few facts. In May 1933 he was not only Gauleiter in Baden but became Reichsstatthalter, i.e., the deputy of der Führer in south-west Germany. Following France's defeat in 1940 and with the incorporation of Alsace into the Reich Wagner increased his power now residing on both sides of the Rhine River either in Karlsruhe or in Strasbourg.

Gauleiter Wagner's task was to Germanize and to nazificate the annexed Alsace. To this end he recruited many of his Kreisleiters (district leaders) among Alsatian autonomists. These so-called nanciens (people from the city of Nancy) had fought against French rule and had been prosecuted by the former government. At the beginning of the war the French government afraid of a fifth column had evacuated "unsure" people from Alsace into southern France sometimes under inhuman conditions. The Statthalter had most of them repatriated receiving them with open arms.  In some sort of an exchange Wagner now deported "incorrigible" French persons into the part of France under the Vichy government. Between July and September 1940 more than 23,000 disliked French people and Jews were forced to leave Alsace for Vichy-France, a zone unoccupied by the German Wehrmacht.

Once in full swing Wagner became active in Baden in fall of the same year. On October 21 through 23, all Jews, a total of 6504, from Baden and Palatinate were herded up and jammed into nine trains that took three days and four nights to reach Gurs a former detention camp in Vichy-France. Located at the foot of the Pyrenean Mountains the Camp de Gurs had served for the internment of Spanish refugees who had escaped into France during the Spanish civil war. Proudly Wagner reported to his Führer: Baden ist als erster Gau judenfrei (Baden is the first district free of Jews). In August 1942 the Jews having survived the detention in Gurs - about 4300 - were transported to the extermination camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Freiburg's memorial for the deported Jews in the form of a German traffic sign
at the Square of the Old Synagogue near the university campus.
Professor Vonau only briefly mentioned this crime against humanity. For him Wagner's ultimate crime was that he had introduced the general compulsory military service in Alsace recruiting young men into the German army and even into the Waffen-SS: French people were forced to shoot at their compatriots. Deserters were court-martialled and shot. Today's views on Wagner and his crimes are quite different on the two banks of the Rhine River.

In Wikipedia we read: At the end of the war, Wagner was arrested by the French, tried, convicted and sentenced to death by the Permanent Military Tribunal in Strasbourg in 1946. The sentence was carried out by firing squad on August 14, 1946.