Should Germany spend more on its military?

Jan Techau, director of the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund (GMF) in Berlin, told Katrin Bennhold of The New York Times:

The life we [Europeans] have had for the last 70 years is possible because of the American security guarantees we have had, largely for free. That is the reason we are not Ukraine and live in a Russian sphere of influence.

The GMF is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization founded in 1972 . Its mission is to strengthen transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan helped to rebuild Western European economies after the end of World War II.

According to the World Bank, Germany now spends 1.2 percent of GDP on defense. Should Germany spend more on defense? Do we want Germany to build up its military even as the political power of the right grows in Europe and elsewhere?

The United States spends 3.15% of its GDP on defense. The Russian Federation and China spend 4.3% and 1.9% respectively of their GPDs on defense. Oman and Saudi Arabia lead the list spending 12% and 10% respectively of their GDPs on defense.

The right percentage of GDP for a country to spend on defense isn’t obvious. Even so, German spending seems low given the size of its economy and its importance to the European Union.

Poland and the Jews

A Week in Auschwitz is a blog written by an unnamed British female PhD student whose research focuses on the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s adaptation to the digital age. She is also Administrator for the Holocaust Research Institute at Royal Holloway, University of London. The blog has been around since 2012 and is thoughtfully written.

The author has written a post entitled In Defence of the Auschwitz Museum in which she responds in an enlightening way to a recent allegation that the Museum is “rewriting” Holocaust history “one tweet at a time.” The author of the blog explains that:

Antisemitism existed in Poland before, during, and after the Holocaust, just as it did in many other countries in Europe. That’s a fact. That’s indisputable. However you define ‘complicity’ – reporting Jews in hiding, killing Jews, settling into the homes of deported Jews and auctioning off their possessions – it happened. To suggest that Auschwitz-Birkenau had Polish ‘roots’, however, is misleading and unjustified.

She adds that the Museum operates in a challenging political environment and, in her view, is doing its best to navigate those waters in a responsible way:

Auschwitz Museum is a State Museum which receives a significant portion of its funding from governmental organisations (last year, 24% of the Museum’s budget was derived from Ministry of Culture and Heritage funds). If the Museum were to speak out against the current ‘Holocaust law’ – however far-fetched it is – what then? What would happen to this funding, which is needed to preserve the Museum and ensure that people from all over the world can still visit safely? (footnote omitted)

This strikes me as a useful perspective on what has become a highly charged issue.

Podcast: The U.S. Government’s Hunt for Josef Mengele

Spycast is a podcast created by the International Spy Museum in Washington, DC. The podcast is hosted by Dr. Vince Houghton, the museum’s historian and curator.

Josef Mengele (1911-1979) was an SS physician who conducted inhumane medical experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz. He was known as the “Angel of Death.” 

In this podcast Dr. Houghton interviews David Kennedy, Curator of Collections and Exhibits at U. S. Marshals Museum, Inc. in Arkansas, David Turk, U.S. Marshals Historian, and Howard Safir, who headed up the Witness Protection Program for the Marshals service.

In the immediate postwar period, Mengele was in US custody but was released because US officials did not know he was wanted as a war criminal. In this podcast, the three people interviewed explain that the United States government — at the request of then Senator Al D’Amato — sought to locate and apprehend Mengele. However, their efforts were unsuccessful.

Mengele died in Brazil in 1979 at the age of 67. Public CIA records show that Senator D’Amato continued searching for Mengele until at least 1985. In 1986, Mengele’s son Rolf Mengele admitted that he had helped to conceal the whereabouts of his father. Then in 1992, Rolf provided a DNA sample and that ended up matching the remains that were presumed to be Josef Mengele.

Spain’s Far-Right Vox Party Sees Breakout Moment in New Election – The New York Times

With Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s decision on Friday to call for new elections, Vox, which got its election breakthrough in El Ejido, will now have a chance to test its appeal on a national stage. Its entry will break a taboo for Spain, which until now has resisted the pull of far-right nationalism alive in much of Europe.
— Read on www.nytimes.com/2019/02/16/world/europe/spain-elections-vox-far-right.html

Travel: Bluffworks Pants

Travel pants are useful. I was looking for pants that would:

  • Be washable;
  • Resist wrinkles;
  • Have pockets designed to foil pickpockets;
  • Look presentable in the city (I wasn’t looking for pants I could only wear on safari.)

The best travel pants I’ve found are from BluffWorks in New York City. Bluff Works pants are the creation of Stefan Loble. Loble’s goal, in his own words, was:

to create pants equally comfortable for biking to work, presenting to a client, and wrestling on the grass in Central Park. And when all that was done, I wanted to throw them in my drawer to be worn again – without ironing or doing laundry.

Loble succeeded. These pants are really wash and wear. Wash them in the washing machine and then pop them in the dryer. They come out nearly wrinkle free and pretty much stay that way. You can also wash them in a hotel sink and they will dry pretty fast. I try to give them a full day to dry out. After 24 hours, I am sure they will be completely dry.

BluffWorks offers several different models of pants. I prefer the “Original Pants.” The pants look very presentable — almost like wool. You can wear them in casual settings or dress them up with a nice shirt and a sweater or a blazer and walk into a nice restaurant and look fine.

The pants have two zippered pockets: One pocket is hidden in the left front pocket and is large enough to hold a passport. The other zippered pocket is in the back and sized for a good size travel wallet. The pants are available in two fits – regular and relaxed. I wear the regular. I think the pants look best in Charcoal Gray. I also like them in Navy. I am not fond of the Khaki color, which I think is too light.

BluffWorks travel pants have been reviewed on the Snarky Nomad website. Eytan Levy, the author of that website, prefers the Chinos because the fabric is stretchy. I think the Originals look more natural. Both are worth checking out. You might order both and return the the ones you don’t prefer. SnarkyNomad also has travel tips relating to money, safety and packing.

Bluff Works pants are everything they are advertised to be. They are enjoyable to wear whether or not you are traveling.

The Visual Science Lab / Kirk Tuck: Mr. Robert Roaldi suggested: “Might be fun if you wrote a piece on why it’s better to stick with one system rather than trying them all. :)”

I’d rather not shoot with the same cameras forever. I like to try new stuff. I want to see if there’s really a difference in dynamic range with new sensors. I like the live view of current mirrorless cameras. I like EVFs better than optical finders (oh! the Heresy!!! Burn him. He must be a witch) and I like being able to inveigle my clients into paying me more money for a bit of video programming on the side.
— Read on visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2019/02/mr-robert-roaldi-suggested-might-be-fun.html

Blogging: Thoughts about Micro.blog

Micro.blog is “a network of independent microblogs. Short posts like tweets but on your own web site that you control.” For $5 a month the service will host your micro.blog. You can use your own domain if you wish. You can export your data anytime you want. There is no advertising. For an additional $5 a month you can also use the platform to distribute short podcasts.

I have tried Micro.blog for blogging and to me it’s like a cross between Twitter and WordPress. Although a micro.blog post can be as long as you like the service is best suited for short posts like Twitter. Micro.blog has a timeline, much like Twitter. I don’t know the size of the community but it seems small and friendly. The population is mainly male and tech oriented. The timeline loads slowly compared with Twitter and I had difficulty finding interesting accounts to follow. In contrast, on Twitter, I find lots of interesting accounts to follow. 

Micro.blog distinguishes itself from Twitter in part because you get to own your own data. One developer — Belle Cooper — recently left micro.blog disputing this. Belle explains that the whole business model of Micro.blog is based on users not owning their content:

You might be able to own your domain name, but if you have a hosted Micro.blog blog, the content itself is hosted on Micro.blog servers, not yours. You can export your data, or use an RSS feed to auto-post it to somewhere you control directly, but if you’re not hosting the content yourself, how does having a custom domain equal self-hosting your content and truly owning it?

I think Belle is right about this. I have a hard time seeing how Micro.blog is any different from Squarespace or any other closed-source platform where you post your content and later can export your posts anytime you want. I really wouldn’t put WordPress in the same camp as it is open source.

In the end, I decided with reluctance to leave Micro.blog and to focus on WordPress, which has a large community and many options for customizing your content.

Music: Lara Fabian

The 49-year-old Lara Fabian sings beautifully and speaks four languages: French, Spanish, Italian and English. She was born in Belgium to a Flemish father and an Italian mother. I especially love her French music. Fabian is best known for the dance pop song “I Will Love Again,” which was released in 2000 and peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.

I saw her perform in Washington, DC in 2018 at the Warner Theater and her voice knocked my socks off.

Her music is in the same genre as Laura Pausini with whom she has performed. Together they are an exceptional treat.

Laura Pausini and Lara Fabian – “La solitude”

You can hear her passion for life — and her fluent English — in this interview:

Spotify Playlist

All about the Benjamins?

Sam Goldman, assistant professor of political science and executive director at the Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom at George Washington University, writing in The Washington Post:

History suggests that the United States’ sustained and often enthusiastic support for Zionism and the State of Israel is not a product of Jewish influence. On the contrary, it is primarily the result of arguments and organization undertaken by, for, and among gentiles.

Professor Goldman is the author of “God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America” in which he discusses American Christian support for a Jewish state dating to Puritan New England. These American Christian roots run long and deep.

Superhuman powers are often unfairly ascribed to Jewish Americans. Yet Jews amount to less than two percent of the country’s total population. What’s more, it’s not “all about the Benjamins baby 🎶.” When it comes to political science, Morris Ogul, the late chair of the University of Pittsburgh political science department, taught wisely that single factor analysis just doesn’t cut it.

Celebrating Judaism in the Face of Antisemitism

Deborah Lipstadt of Emory College has written a helpful new book chronicling the myriad forms of antisemitism. This is useful and necessary but not especially uplifting.

In the book’s final chapter — Celebrating the Good in the Face of the Bad — Lipstadt cautions the reader not to focus on the negative. She explains (p. 241) that Jewish culture and history — not antisemitism — form the foundation of who she is. Antisemitism is not the linchpin of her identity because Jewish tradition (p. 242) “is far too valuable to be tossed aside and replaced with a singular concentration on the fight against hatred.”

This is a wonderful and important reminder especially for secular Jews.