Author Archives: Webmanager

Japan’s future may be bleak – but not so bleak after all

In mid/late February I had the chance to join a 9-day study trip organized by my university to go to Japan. It was my first visit to the country and here are some thoughts on the economic prospects of Japan:

When I was a child (that was at the turn of the 80s and 90s), people in Germany (and I guess elsewhere) used to smile over the weird Japanese tourists who traveled 8 European cities in 6 days. Today the Japanese tourists are hardly realized among increasing shopping tourism from China. But China is not only flooding European shopping streets with its newly-rich, it has also become a point of attraction for ambitious young students as a destination for internships, studies and a possible career. In the meantime Japan appears to have disappeared somewhere in the Asian nirvana. I guess its image (if there is any) is to be some sort of a rich and friendly country. But it is not really known as the place to be (like China) nor for anything else really. The slightly more informed person will know that Japan’s prime minister changes every few months (making it even harder to remember anything about the country) and it somehow manages to get credit even though it has had higher debt levels than Greece or Italy. While China is rising, Japan simply does not seem to take place in Europe anymore. For those few public policy Continue reading

Copy-paste journalism – plagiarism in the media?

I have been working on a paper on dating for a while (hopefully ready for publication in summer), so I try to gather articles on the subject when they appear in the news I read. It so happened that the Economist published an article (Sex and Love: The modern Matchmakers) in its current edition (from 11 February 2012) reviewing a published journal article by Eli Finkel of Northwestern University. Finkel is assessing if online dating websites are as successful as they claim to be. Apparently she finds that there is no evidence for this.

After I consumed that article last weekend, I was stuck yesterday when another story on online dating appeared in the BBC online news – interestingly referring back to the same article by Finkel. And to make things worse, today the German edition of Spiegel Online published another article, again, refering to the same Finkel journal article. Continue reading

Travel light – on packing and sleeping

I came across three useful travel tips that I should I should share. (And note to self.)

The funniest, and maybe most useful, is from last weekend’s Financial Times. Always wondered how to max your hand luggage? – Here is the solutionn – the Dutch version of ‘wearable luggage’. This is a coat into which you can put up to 10kg of luggage and later (e.g. after check-in) fold into a bag. Very handy for flying with hand luggage only! Find out more at their website (Note that they are selling with 25% discounts until end of October).

Spiegel Online ran a nice article (unfortunately only in German) on how the freak travellers (backpackers) minimise the weight of their luggage. The bottom line is to buy a scale. But not the one you think. We are talking about the ones you normally use for food or letters etc., i.e. one to measure the 50 grams some stuff weighs too much. More in this (how to pack) and this article (how to spread in your backpack).

Read this blog if you consider a longer stay-over in an airport (or an overnighter). Nice reviews of experiences of sleeping over in various airports world wide. A particularly relevant read for Ryanair & co travellers. – My Facebook agreement with Manila having been voted the world’s worst airport has created a debate among friends, and it turns out that some Asian airports have probably not (yet?) received the (negative) attention they deserve. But Manila is a seriously crappy airport, with no proper connections between the four terminals and clueless staff all around. Point made.

Singapore’s lack of cycling facilities

Spiegel Online is featuring this short article about a new global index on the quality of cycling in global cities. The index was prepared by a Danish blogger and cycling expert who runs the blog No surprise, Amsterdam and Copenhagen top the ranking of 20 cities. Sadly though only one Asian city makes it into the index: Tokyo (a very positive top 4). Unfortunately, it is not clear if other Asian cities are excluded because they have not been considered for assessment or because of their low quality of cycling infrastructure. Of all the big Asian cities I have seen, none struck me with any kind of an impressive cycling environment (Taipeh possibly having the biggest chances though).

Singapore (for once) trailing global cities in life quality?

After having spent a bit of time in Singapore, I wonder why this city is not investing far more attention and infrastructure to cycling. Surely, the all-year humid climate and temperatures for 30 degress during the day are not permitting a cool 10-minute bike-ride to university as relaxed as in Berlin. But then again, the government is very keen to emphasise health issues and constraining car traffic with some of the highest obstacles (i.e. prices) to car driving in the world. Would it not make more sense to start providing bike lanes on at least the big roads? Nowadays, you do not even know where to go as a cyclist in Singapore because roads are crowded and dangerous – and pavements are often too narrow even to walk.

Just like Continue reading

How Eurobonds are the way forward

Market pressures on ailing Euro-zone countries persist and the Merkels and Sarkozys struggle to find an answer. The latest hype gaining ground is the idea of Eurobonds. These would be jointly issued bonds by all Euro-zone (or even EU) governments to finance government debt by national (or sub-national) governments.

Ironically, I remember several interesting discussions with my Italian federalist friends who have always lobbied within JEF and UEF to support the introduction of Eurobonds – to allow the EU (budget) to run deficits primarily for EU-wide infrastructure projects. I have always (and continue to) oppose this idea because I think we do not need another layer of debt  in the EU while there is sufficient room for mobilising funds to invest in EU-wide infrastructure projects from the ineffective CAP and structural policy – and where necessary also from national coffers. While the financing mechanism for these Eurobonds would be the same, the current discussion is promoting Eurobonds on a very different level.

Eurobonds to solve the debt crisis

Eurobonds as advocated these days are seen as a tool to lower borrowing costs for peripheral Eurozone countries (Greece, Ireland etc.) who struggle with run-away interest rates on newly issued debt. They are practically cut off from the market, hence EU intervention mechanisms like the EFSF are now used to finance their debt. In some ways the EFSF is not so much different from the Eurobonds discussed today except the fact that the EFSF is primarily seen as a crisis intervention – and not a permanent – vehicle. Because (just like with the EFSF) Eurobond debt is guaranteed by countries like Germany or the Nordics borrowing is cheaper for such jointly guaranteed Eurobonds. So, why should we not issue Eurobonds Continue reading

Über das Wesen der Vorzugsstimmen im Wahlrecht

Bis vor kurzem war ich recht überzeugt, dass der zuletzt in Deutschland vorherrschende Trend zu Vorzugsstimmen im Wahlrecht (z.B. Bremen, Hamburg) eine gute Sache ist. Beim Lesen von Robert Putnams “Making Democracy Work” bin ich auf eine Beobachtung aus Italien gestoßen, die mich nachdenklicher macht. In diesem ausgezeichneten Buch beschreibt Putnam, wie die Möglichkeit der personalisierten Vorzugsstimmen in Süditalien signifikant stärker wahrgenommen wird (oder zumindest wahrgenommen wurde) als im Norden, wo die Wähler weitgehend die bestehenden Listen unterstützen.

Putnam erklärt diesen extremen Unterschied damit, dass Wähler in Süditalien v.a. über Patron-Verhältnisse gegenüber ihren Abgeordneten verfügen. Weil es weniger “soziales Kapital” unter den Bürgern im Süden gibt, verbleibt ihnen für die Lösung ihrer täglichen Probleme in erster Linie der Gang zum “eigenen” Abgeordneten. Andere Institutionen wie staatliche Einrichtungen sind zu schwach und horizontale Kontakte (z.B. über ein Engagement in Vereinen) bestehen kaum. Putnam weist durch seine Umfragen sogar nach, dass süditalienische Abgeordnete völlig andere Aufgaben in ihrer Wahlkreisarbeit wahrnehmen als jene aus dem Norden. Dazu gehört die Suche nach Jobs genauso wie die Hilfe beim Erlangen von Lizenzen oder anderer Behördengänge.

Weil den Wählern in Süditalien nicht anders/besser über funktionierende staatliche Institutionen geholfen wurde, blieb ihnen in der Wahrnehmung nur der direkte Weg zum Abgeordneten. Dieser wiederum kann durch seine Rolle als Patron für tägliche Probleme seine besondere Stellung in einer vertikalen Machtkonstellation mit den Bürgern weiter verstärken. Putnam nennt das “patron-client exchang relationship” (S. 94) und elitär. Natürlich ist ein solches System extrem korruptionsanfällig, es schwächt eine aktive Zivilgesellschaft oder zerstört sie gar.

Nun ist die Kausalitätskette Continue reading

Deutsche Plagiatskultur und das Versagen der Wissenschaftsinstitutionen

So traurig es auch ist, aber auch die letzten Plagiatspromotionen von (CDU & FDP-)Politikern werden nicht die letzten gewesen sein. Jede seriöse Aufarbeitung von Promotionen durch Externe erfordert eine gute Portion Zeit, wenn sie ernst gemeint ist. Immerhin steht seit einigen Wochen mit VroniPlag eine brauchbare Plattform zur Verfügung, die diesen Prozess beschleunigt und die Ergebnisse transparent darstellt.

Für ein Land, das sich global als Wissenschaftsstandort definiert und vermarktet, sind die Enthüllungen der letzten Monate aber nicht nur peinlich. Sie sind für seine Zukunftsfähigkeit auch gefährlich, wenn nicht endlich auch auf Seiten der Universitäten und in der überliegenden Wissenschaftspolitik Konsequenzen gezogen werden. Natürlich sind in erster Linie die entsprechenden Plagiateure die Kriminellen und Schuldigen. Betrug wird sich nie komplett verhindern lassen. Aber eine “Wissenschafts-“Kultur, die siolch einen Massenbetrug wie in Deutschland zugelassen hat, macht sich zumindest mitschuldig. Die einfallslosen Kommentare der verantwortlichen Doktorväter von Guttenberg & Co kommen mir mittlerweile fast schon wie Hohn gegenüber ehrlich arbeitenden WissenschaftlerInnen vor. Dass deutsche Professoren (zumindest in den Sozialwissenschaften, in denen ich mich bewege) sich weiterhin für das Maß aller Dinge halten – und wie kaum anderswo in der Welt mit Previlegien versehen sind – ist mit einem Blick von außen umso unverständlicher.

Ein ganzes Wissenschaftssystem scheint bei den deutschen Promotionen zu versagen. Ein Blick über den deutschen Tellerrand hinaus mag verdeutlichen warum – und was das deutsche System von der Mehrheit wissenschaftsführender Staaten unterscheidet.

1. Außer bei unseren deutschsprachigen Nachbarn gibt es kaum Länder in der Welt, wo der Dr.-Titel formeller Teil des Namens wird. Was für ein statusfokussierter Quatsch. Genau das Continue reading

Ex-Bundeswehrsoldaten als Öko-Bauern?

A Greater Mission – 13 Min. Preview from Dulanie M. Ellis on Vimeo.

Zum Glück sind wir in Deutschland noch weit von den Herausforderungen entfernt, die die USA mit ihren Veteranen haben. Mit dem kontinuierlichen Einsatz in Hoch-Risiko Krisenherden wie Afghanistan wird aber auch die deutsche Gesellschaft zunehmend vor dem Problem stehen, heimkehrende Soldaten nicht nur eine wirtschaftliche und soziale Perspektive zu bieten, sondern sie v.a. auch psychologisch so zu betreuen, wie das noch solchen Einsätzen notwendig ist. Erfahrungen gibt es damit bisher wenig, aber wenn das Thema nicht ernst genommen wird, dann kann das nicht nur für die Betroffenen sondern für die gesamte Gesellschaft zu unerwünschten Folgen kommen.

In den USA gibt es seit einiger Zeit ein spannendes Programm, das Veteranen in der Landwirtschaft und speziell als Öko-Bauern integriert. Dieser Trailer einer spannenden Doku zeigt auf beeindruckende Weise Continue reading

Mladic’ arrest is no reason to celebrate

Yesterday was a very good day. One of the most disgusting criminals of the last decades has been arrested and should be brought to justice soon. Ratko Mladic was a key operator in the ‘Balkan wars’ of the 1990s – Europe’s darkest moment after Nazi Germany. The arrest of Mladic should remind us of three things. Firstly, no matter how bad your actions, no matter how much of a safe haven you think you have – they will catch you at last. Secondly, the war and hate Mladic and his false friends have seeded in the western Balkans is far from overcome. Bosnia and Herzegovina is years away from a functioning state (let alone society) and too many conflicts remain unresolved. It is shocking how a war of a few years can destroy communities, societies, economies and very fundamental trust between neighbours within the same street for decades. Thirdly, and most importantly, the arrest of Mladic is not a day to celebrate. It is a reminder! – It should (but I wonder if it does) remind us that all what he has done could happen again if Yugoslavia were to break up today. Despite all talk and good intentions Europe (i.e. the EU) still lacks the very capacities and the inner trust it needs to prevent such disasters in the future. If there is any lesson to draw from Mladic’ arrest yesterday, then it is to become serious about a truly common foreign policy for Europe. The western Balkans still need it, the Caucasus needs it, the southern and eastern Mediterranean need it – and most importantly we EUropeans need it.

Film tip: My favourite (and most moving) film about the Bosnian war is the BBC’s semi-documentary ‘Warriors‘.

Holding governments accountable

The Open Budget Index (OBI) for the year 2010 assessed 94 countries from around the world in terms of their budget openness and accountability. The drive was coordinated by the International Budget Partnership, a Washington DC based independent think-tank.

Of the 94 countries reviewed, only 24 yielded satisfactory results when it came to maintaining a transparency in their budgets. Despite some notable improvements, many of the countries surveyed have numerous milestones to achieve. The situation in Southeast Asia is even more worrying as none of the seven countries surveyed achieved a satisfactory score (i.e. at least 60 out of a possible 100 points). Singapore was, however, not included in the recent survey.

The importance of budget transparency for democratic, economic and social development

Transparency is a central theme of the good governance discourse. For economic and social development, in particular in a transitional/developing region like Southeast Asia, access to and information about budgets can make a real difference to citizens’ lives Continue reading