Democracy in Hungary under scrutiny

What, I wonder, would be the reaction if a Hungarian who had no English, who had never visited the country, were to write an editorial savaging the United Kingdom for not being a real democracy as it has no proper constitution, decrying that the head of state is the result of a coitus, not an election, and the little freedom of speech left is being destroyed by David Cameron through a royal charter (a royal charter, not even the fig leaf of a law, I mean how fascistic and anachronistic can you get?)

Tibor Fischer is right, nobody would take that very seriously. Point taken. Still, four revisions to the Hungarian constitution in the past eighteen months sounds like a lot. Some think it’s reason to worry.

Avoiding incest? There’s an app for that.

An app that helps you avoid accidentally sleeping with your cousin? More useful that you might think, at least in Iceland. Why? A tiny population and a completely different approach to last names:

One of the developers of the new app, Arnar Freyr Aðalsteinsson, explained: “Icelandic names differ from most current Western name systems as our surname reflects the immediate father (or in some cases mother) of the child and not the historic family lineage. For example, my last name indicates that I’m the son of Aðalsteinn (my father’s name) so therefore I am Aðalsteinsson.”

“The idea for the incest-prevention feature comes from our culture,” he said. “Accidentally sleeping with a relative has been a running joke in Icelandic culture for a while.”

Better than jokes about doing so on purpose, I suppose.

Iceland is also one of the countries that regulates what first names can be given to children (or adults for that matter) — just recently a girl legally known as “Girl” had to go to court to use the name her mother gave her.

If everybody is listed by their first name in the phone book, though, you’d think more variety would be a good thing.

Get over it

Australian MP Dennis Jensen, on Twitter:

Hell, how long ago was colonialism? Get over it … every country in the world has been successfully invaded in the past!

He went on to criticize the “victim” mentality of Aboriginal peoples and the “injustice” of programs designed to close the gap between Aboriginal and white Australians in life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity.

But aren’t those programs supposed to help Aboriginal peoples do just that, “get over it”? Jensen can’t honestly expect them to “get over it” on their own. The notion of pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps is a fine one, but if it is to be the standard it should be applied across the board.

White Australians did not simply succeed as a result of their individual pluck and fortitude — the British administration and later the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments made that possible, and in the process inflicted profound grief, suffering, and loss on Aboriginal peoples. Children were removed from their families and their communities.

Indeed, that is exactly what Jensen’s own party acknowledged in 2008 when it signed on to Australia’s National Apology:

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

That same apology includes a promise of Wiedergutmachung, a promise “to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.”

Creating equality of opportunity is more easily said than done. Opportunity is cumulative (look at the success of first-generation college students vs. students with a family history of university education, for instance), but for hundreds of years Aboriginal peoples were denied it. Australian Aboriginal policies are not Hammurabi’s Code — this is not “eye for an eye”, these policies do not seek to deprive white Australians of opportunities in the same way (some) white Australians deprived Aboriginal peoples — but they do attempt to address systematic inequality by offering Aboriginal peoples additional opportunities.

Of course the extent of such policies and programs should be open for debate, and of course Australians should hope for a day when such policies are no longer necessary. But to ask people to just “get over” colonialism is a bit much.

Jew in the Box

I love–love–the Jewish Museum in Berlin, so I’m sad I won’t have a chance to see their exhibit “The Whole Truth: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Jews”, which includes a Jewish man or woman sitting on display.

Some critics have drawn parallels to 19th-century “people shows” (Völkerschauen) which put Africans, American Indians, and other groups on display in zoos and other public venues. Such critics seem to ignore or not realize that many of the individuals on display in the 19th-century were willing participants, compensated for their performances. Some might see that as making little difference, but this 21st century example also benefits, I suspect, from a more reflective audience. The “Jew in the Box” works because it is controversial, because it does raise concerns about being a throwback, because it is a little ironic.

It’s a postmodern exhibit, and nothing makes that more clear the me than one simple fact: reading this article, I was much more interested in Germans’ questions and reactions than what the author had to say in response. I wish I could go see this, but for me the object on display is not the “Jew in the Box” but the interaction.