Krauts with Attitude

Krauts with AttitudeYesterday, Brad Plumer over at WonkBlog wrote an article called Today in European Stereotypes, which contained some really interesting data from a couple of different sources. Plumer chose to provide the data in stages in order to present it as a mystery story. And he was very effective. I for one clicked below the fold.

But I would rather just come right out and show, I don’t know, the hypocrisy of the Europeans—in particular the Germans, or as I like to call them, the Krauts. (In this time of racial sensitivity, it is nice to know you can still hate the Germans. I’ll be all for easing up on them the moment they stop being assholes.) Most of the nations of Europe believe that Germans are the hardest working people. Most of the nations of Europe believe that the Greeks are the least hardworking people.

But here is a list of the countries and how many hours they work on average in parentheses:

  1. Greece (2109)
  2. Poland (1939)
  3. Italy (1778)
  4. Portugal (1714)
  5. Ireland (1664)
  6. Spain (1663)
  7. UK (1647)
  8. Germany (1419)
  9. Netherlands (1377)

There were no data for France. Also note how many hours Italians work, because they are generally considered almost as lazy as the Greeks.

Now, I know what many of you are thinking: just because they work a lot of hours doesn’t mean they are productive. Certainly Plumer brings this up. And even he doesn’t seem quite aware of what his data indicate. The issue isn’t about productivity. Productivity is more an issue of management: if you mechanize a production line, productivity goes up. Relatively small increases are due to workers moving faster. This is the bottom line: Greek workers put in almost 50% more hours than Germans. Italians put in 25% more.

There are little doubt many reasons why people work more hours in southern Europe. But these numbers ought to put to rest this idea that Germany is not in crisis because they are virtuous and southern Europe is in crisis because they are not virtuous. No one is more aware of Greece’s screwed up political system than the Greeks. But it is the Greek worker and not the Greek politician who is harmed by the austerity that Germany is imposing on Greece and much of the rest of Europe.

Everyone would be a whole lot happier if the Germans would pull their heads out of their asses.

First Thoughts: Synecdoche, New York

Synecdoche, New YorkActually: first and second thoughts.

Karl Paniczny suggested that I watch Synecdoche, New York, the directorial debut of Charlie Kaufman. He suggested that it might be my kind of film. I don’t have much to say, because I’ve seen it only once. But that was more than enough to have first and second thoughts.

It is a remarkable film. And it may not be successful. But if it is a failure, it is the failure of genius. Anyone can make a mainstream film.[1] It takes hard work and great talent to make a film like Synecdoche, New York.

A couple of things struck me while watching it. One was that there were many allusions to other films. I don’t know if this was intended, but I was reminded of other films several times. Also, the film is filled with brilliant ideas. Just a few: Hazel buying a house that is always on fire; Caden reading his daughter’s diary that apparently fills in automatically as she grows older[2]; the final theater project that is utterly confused with reality.

To me, the film is about the fiction (or “theater” if you insist) of life. In particular, it is about the duality of a writer’s work and his life. Speaking as someone who knows, I think it is more true of a failed writer than a successful one. It is easier for a successful writer to compartmentalize these two lives. The failed writer is always asked what his work means whereas everyone can understand commodities.

This leads me to my greatest concern about the film. At one point Caden tells his assistant:

None of those people is an extra. They’re all the leads of their own stories. They have to be given their due.

That’s pretty heavy handed, all by itself. But later, roughly the same line is repeated. All I could think was that Kaufman gave in to the money men.

Regardless, I look forward to watching the film a few more times. Even more, I look forward to seeing his new film Frank or Francis, which Wikipedia describes as, “a musical comedy about internet anger culture.” It makes me feel like dancing. And shouting.

[1] Ever notice that any given movie star manages to direct (And often write!) a passable movie? It’s because they get loads of help and all the department heads they surround themselves with are professionals. Note how no actor goes on to be a focus puller in movie. They are “directors” with a nod and a wink. I would say the same thing about most celebrity writers. Recently, I spent about 90 seconds reading Stephen Colbert’s entire I Am a Pole (And So Can You!). That’s 32 pages for $15.99. Can you guess how it ends? I did! The only intelligent thing I ever heard Russell Crowe say was that if they ever used his music in a movie of his we should shoot him. Any star who is an aspiring writer (or whatever) should send their work out anonymously to figure out if they really have talent. In general, I’m sure the answer will be a resounding, “No!”

[2] There is a similar sequence involving a self-help book sold to Caden by his psychologist.