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Norway Wins the Olympics

With the Winter Olympics now behind us, countries are seeking to evaluate how they fared. In the US, there is plenty of self accolades for the record haul of 37 medals. In Russia, the poor performance of the Federation has led to the resignation of the head of the national team and remarkably brusque comments from Medvedev. And while Canada did not win the overall medal count, gold medals in hockey and curling leave our northern neighbors with plenty to be happy about.

But the real winner of the Olympics is Norway. On a per capita basis, no other country earned as many medals as this small Nordic country. And it is not just Norway. Nine of the top ten per capita medal winners are European countries with populations smaller than 10 million inhabitants. The following chart shows the top 26 medal winners ranked on a per capita basis. (HT: Mark Warren)



What explains the dominance of European countries in the Olympics? History, climate, and geography certainly play a role. David Brooks suggests it also has to do with social capital and natural toughness. I personally wonder if sports are an emphasized expression of national sovereignty in Europe because other forms of national identity, such as currency and foreign policy, are increasingly transnational in scope. Some dedicated federalists in the European Union are pushing for an EU Olympic team, at least according to this web page. But I suspect the likelihood of that ever happening is close to zero.

NATO Television: New Website Offers Useful Information

NATO recently launched a new website through the Public Diplomacy Division called NATO TV.  The site has so far been producing front-line operational footage, interviews on NATO issues, press conference videos, an archive with footage going back to 1945, and more.

Undoubtedly much of the footage will be propaganda, though NATO is billing it as news and "the voice of 26 countries".  However, this propaganda may not be a bad thing, for at least two reasons:

•    First, there is a broad lack of understanding about NATO's role in the post-Cold War world, and reasonably so: today's threats are more complicated and nuanced than ever before, making NATO's role in responding to them more difficult to understand than when it had one main mission: deter a Soviet onslaught.  NATO TV increases transparency on NATO's activities and organization in an easily digestible format.

•    Second, while NATO has accomplished a lot historically, and continues to be a key Alliance for both Europe and the United States today, often the media (including yours truly) only highlight controversies or failures – “the only good news is bad news,” as they say. NATO TV will provide information on positive achievements.

As an example of a NATO TV product, the website is running a series that follows the daily life of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) located in Southern Helmand Province, part of the NATO International Security and Assistance Force (ISAF).  I found the second episode (three of six parts have been released at the time of this post) to be the most interesting.  In it, Sergeant Ryan Messina provides the following quote on progress in Afghanistan from the perspective of a foot soldier:
When you see the way it was, and the effect you have on it, and the way it is now, it has a big impact on you as a person, you feel good about yourself, you feel like you have done something for these people.   
You can find the three videos released so far at the natochannel.tv website.

Western Music in Tehran

"A German orchestra will play Beethoven and Brahms in Tehran in a rare visit by a European ensemble amid tension between Iran and the West," writes The Washington Post:

The 60-member Osnabrueck Symphony Orchestra led by conductor Hermann Baeumer will perform Wednesday and Thursday as part of an exchange that saw the Tehran Symphony Orchestra perform to a packed hall last year in Osnabrueck. (...)
Some hard-line clerics say music comes between the faithful, and God and leads to impure thoughts, therefore being incompatible with the Shiite school of Islam that rules Iran. Secular songs were banned as un-Islamic, and in the early 1980s, police stopped cars to check tape decks and smashed offending tapes. In the 1990s, music gradually made a comeback in Iran under the then reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. Then in December 2005, the hard-line government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a ban on Western music on state radio and television.

Do you approve of the German orchestra's concert as some contribution to possible change in Iran or do you disapprove because Iran should be isolated at this point because of its current policies and because musical exchanges won't lead to change anyway?

James Bond vs. Jason Bourne

Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass, actor and director of the Jason Bourne movie, have criticized James Bond as an imperialist, who likes violence and has no guilt. Scottish journalist Alex Massie cannot leave such serious insults of Britain's super agent unanswered. Interesting transatlantic pop culture "fight" in The Debatable Land.

Personal question: Why are the initials J.B. so popular for (former) special agents who are loners? Jack Bauer, James Bond, Jason Bourne...

Americans Empower Disadvantaged Teenagers in Berlin

"The Miracle of Wedding: In one of the Berlin districts with the biggest social problems an American turns frustrated young people into a successful musical company," writes Thomas Hanke in the German daily Handelsblatt; translation at the US embassy. The above mention American is the 38-year-old New Yorker composer Todd Fletcher.
The US embassy points out in an email: "The project took place under the patronage of U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr., and his wife Sue Timken. At the invitation of the patrons, German Federal President Horst Köhler and his wife as well as Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble and his wife attended the event." Photo Gallery.
I recommend the Handelsblatt article -- published on the Fourth of July -- because it is an example of pro-American articles in the German press and an example of the outreach work by the US embassy. Ambassador and Mrs. Timken have supported many similar efforts in the past, which also got some press coverage.
In this context, check out these Atlantic Review posts about praise and criticism of the US embassy's work in Germany:
First Anniversary: Praise for Ambassador Timken's Work
Medienkritik on How to Improve US Public Diplomacy

How To Talk to Americans

Daniel Mark Harrison, a financial journalist and Englishman in New York, describes the 12 "most subtle but important mistakes English people and Europeans in particular make when they come to America. In fact, I think on many levels, these are some of the reasons for break-downs in political and business communications between the USA and the EU."
According to him, a bit more cultural awareness would
help European economies and improve transatlantic relations: "Building our trans-atlantic political and economic alliances to create a power center which is capable of doing bigger and better things is exactly what both Europe and the United States should be striving for."
Do NOT:
1. Assume that your typically understated demeanor will be recognized and admired by your American colleagues.
2. Politely respond to the question "how are you doing?" with a brief "fine, thanks" and walk away shyly without engaging in much further dialog.
3. Try to exaggerate an overseas experience for dramatic effect. Or, for that matter, underestimate the intelligence of your American companion.
4. Seize every point an American colleague is saying in a debate by analyzing and deconstructing his/her sentence structure word-by-word and pointing out the flaws in his/her logic
5.  Hold back on sharing fairly intimate/personal stories on a first meeting.
6. Assume that anyone who is on some kind of anti-depressant or who has been on one/several is insane and that you shouldn't talk to them.
7. Assume that every American is pro-war in Iraq.
8. Assume that because wealth is greatly admired and sought after in the United States, your inherited wealth will be similarly admired.
9. Draw parallels between European pre-industrial revolution colonialism and America's post-world war II involvement in world economies and politics.
10. Make assumptions about America or American people based on what you have seen on Hollywood movies.
11. Assume that once you've been to one part of America you know it all.
12. Be afraid to ask for a pay rise.
He explains all of this Do NOT advice in detail in his blog Global Perspective. I disagree with several of his explanations and consider some of his advice obvious or not helpful, but some is quite interesting. Just my personal opinion, of course.

What is your advice? What should Europeans avoid in conversations with Americans? What should Americans avoid in conversations with Europeans?  Not the obvious stuff, but the "hidden" dangers of putting one's foot in it (ins Fettnaepfchen treten).
Or more positively put: What is the best way to impress Americans/Europeans, i.e. give a good first impression? Yeah, I know, tough question and very generalized. It all depends on the situation and the individual. Americans and Europeans have probably more in common than differences. Thus making a good impressing on an American or European is not so different. What do you think? Any tips to share?

Related: The American blogger Scot has some great advice for Germans in his blog USA Erklaert: "Warum Amerikaner (Briten, Kanadier) nicht sagen, was sie meinen."

German Movies Nominated for an Oscar (Categorie "Best Foreign Language Film")

UPDATE: Germany's The Lives of Others has won the Oscar!
Director Von Donnersmarck thanked Arnold Schwarzenegger "for teaching me that the words 'I can't' should be stricken from my vocabulary."
I know many Germans, who learned this can-do spirit in the United States. This optimism and positive attitude is one of the main reasons, why many Germans are fascinated by Americans and love the American way of life. [End of update]


"If there is any justice, this year's Academy Award for best foreign-language film will go to The Lives of Others," writes the The New Yorker about a German movie dealing with the system of observation in former East Germany.

The IHT writes "Oscar-nominated 'Lives of Others' arrives in US from Germany, where it prompted national debate."
Trailer with English subtitles below and at google video. You might have to click twice on play.

The
Boston Globe starts its review with this paragraph:
The Bush Administration has taken a pounding for its unauthorized spying on American citizens in the name of national security. But imagine living in a country, the former East Germany, in which the secret police, known as the Stasi, had 100,000 employees and 200,000 informants, and whose stated goal was "to know everything." And all this for a population that never exceeded 16 million. A new German film, "The Lives of Others" (Das Leben der Anderen), which opens Friday, makes the horrors of this police state concrete by focusing on the relationship between a writer, Georg Dreyman (played by Sebastian Koch), and his actress wife, Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), and a Stasi agent named Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) who monitors every minute of their waking lives through the listening devices planted in their apartment. The film has already won a host of prestigious prizes in Europe and is one of five finalists for the foreign-language Oscar this year.
• The only German movies, that won an Oscar for best foreign film, were set in the Nazi era: "The Tin Drum" and "Nowhere in Africa." The last two years the academy nominated films about Nazi-Germany as well: "Downfall" and "The Final Days." I like best The Tin Drum and The Final Days about Sophie Scholl of the resistance group White Rose.

I have created an aStore at Amazon.com with direct links to all four films and a few more good German movies, including "The Boat" and "Beyond Silence," which were nominated for an Oscar in 1983 and 1997, as well as three excellent German movies, which were submitted for the Academy Award, but did not receive a nomination: "Run Lola Run" (1998), "The Experiment" (2001) and "Good Bye, Lenin" (2003).
Three more decent movies ("Manitu's Shoe," "Edukators," and "Rosenstrasse") are included as well.
My favorite German movie is "Run, Lola, Run."  What is your favorite German movie?
German Films has a list of German films submitted for the Academy Award (OSCAR) for Best Foreign Language Film.

• "German films are riding on a wave of critical and commercial acclaim as directors find that they can make people laugh—to everyone's surprise," writes the Economist.com (via: TheYellowDuckPond)

Cultural Diplomacy via Movies and TV Series?

The 12th annual "Berlin & Beyond" seven-day cinema celebration of films from Germany, Austria and Switzerland starts in San Francisco, writes the SF Chronicle:
German-language films are more popular than ever in the United States, says Ingrid Eggers, Berlin & Beyond's program director and co-founder, who has watched the festival's audience grow from several hundred to more than 10,000. She cites recent U.S.-distributed Deutsch hits such as "Downfall" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], "Run Lola Run" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], "The Edukators" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de], and the Oscar-winning "Nowhere in Africa" [Amazon.com, Amazon.de] as reasons for the rise in popularity.
Is that true? Are German films indeed increasingly popular in the US? What would that mean for transatlantic relations on a cultural level? The Karnick blog noticed that American TV series are very popular in Europe and opined that "the reports of an increasingly tense relationship between the United States and Europe may be a bit exaggerated." How can we assess the cultural (or any political?) influence of CSI, 24, Lost, The Simpsons, South Park, Desperate Housewives, ER, Grey's Anatomy and many other American TV series and movies, which are watched by millions of Germans every day?
The San Francisco Chronicle continues to describe the program of the festival and also asks whether you have ever heard of "The Monks"?:
They were a group of five American GIs stationed in Germany during the 1960s who started out playing Chuck Berry covers and ended up becoming one of the first bands to mix pop music with offbeat art. They shaved the tops of their heads and dressed up like monks, and considered themselves to be the anti-Beatles. "The Transatlantic Feedback" captures a reunion of the influential group as the members reunite for the first time in more than 30 years. It screens at 3 p.m. Jan. 17 at the Castro.