Oct 122017
 

Robert Kagan had an op-ed in the Washington Post lamenting the state of the Republican party as the party of Trump. It was interesting and principled food for thought, which is also the opinion I drew when I heard him speak as a law student. He had come to speak at my German law school during my semester there, and what follows is a lightly-edited version of what I posted after hearing his comments. Originally posted November 19, 2005, and interesting little time capsule, especially in light of Brexit.

As part of a continuing series of “Transatlantic Lectures,” Bucerius invited Robert Kagan to speak last week. I admit, I was wary of his presentation going into it. He had been described to me as being a Neocon, and therefore someone whose world views I would often find quite frightening in their obstinate and isolationist arrogance.

But while I think his argument requires rebuttal, I don’t think it requires excoriation. He didn’t present himself as the kind of Neanderthal conservative who threatens allies with “either you’re with us or against us” admonitions, or rushes to rename foodstuffs in protest of those who would resist acquiescing to all of America’s wishes. Rather, Kagan impressed me as one of those all-too-rare Americans who understands there is a world out there beyond our borders and actually has made an effort to get to know it. Moreover, he recognized that Americans and Europeans are different, and that there are very good reasons – historical and cultural – for those differences. He didn’t therefore rabidly insist that Europeans do things the American way, but at the same time, his argument nonetheless recommended Europe be more like America in a key way: by becoming an equivalent military power. Continue reading »

Jul 172017
 

The following is the second part of the travelogue I wrote following a two-week trip to Israel and the Balkans 7/24/04-8/08/04.  Slightly edited a few times since.

After leaving Israel I landed in Frankfurt Saturday evening and had a few hours to catch my night train to Vienna. I dug out the reservation I had made the previous week and found the car with my berth. The compartment was empty, except for me. I made my bed and went to sleep.

Do I need to continue here? Or can you tell that something is about to go wrong?

The train stops in other major cities on the way to its destination. In Mannheim a family got on and came into my compartment. That was fine, there was room for five more people. Unfortunately there were 6 new people. And I was the one in the wrong place. Actually, not so much the wrong place as the wrong time. I was traveling on July 31, and apparently the reservation had been made for that exact spot – on August 31. Fortunately the extra person agreed to sleep elsewhere so I got to stay where I was. Just so much for best laid plans and all.

I only had an hour in Vienna to change trains, so after buying some food for the journey I got on board for the very long trip through the tip of Austria, into Hungary with a stop in Budapest (tourism officials boarded the train, handing out maps and making hotel reservations before arrival), before heading south into Serbia. Following what I think was the Danube the terrain was flat and unremarkable, although full of agriculture (and a lot of sunflowers). The train was on schedule when it hit the Serbian border but then went very slowly into Belgrade. I thought it was interesting that by the time we arrived, new cars had been added. Cars with destination signs saying “Moscow-Belgrade” and “Kiev-Belgrade.” I definitely wasn’t in Kansas anymore… Continue reading »

Jul 102017
 

With so much news coming out of Hamburg this week I decided it was time to repost what I’d written about my visit to Neuengamme, a concentration camp not far from the city.  I had spent several months in Hamburg as a law student, and this was a field trip organized by the law school.  The following, a combination of two posts originally written in October 2005, joins other items I’ve reposted from the blog I kept back then that reflected on my time there, particularly with respect to what it was like being Jewish in Germany and learning about the history of Jews in Germany

Keeping the holidays around here is challenging. My days are particularly packed, with more classes than usual as two of them wrap up this week. Yesterday began with Conflict of Laws, followed by Comparative Torts. Then almost immediately thereafter many of us boarded a bus for a field trip to the Neuengamme Concentration Camp.

It was one of those gorgeous fall days the holiday often falls on, sunny and pleasant. But we spent it in an environment whose modern serenity belied its past. Although this camp wasn’t dedicated to the extermination of Jews, per se, many did perish there (along with many, many others). On an occasion of contemplation, it was quite the place to spend the afternoon. Continue reading »

Jul 132014
 

A few things happened today: Germany won the World Cup, and I ended up in several unsettling conversations about the current contretemps between Israel and Hamas, which somehow led to a German friend saying something to the extent that the Holocaust was 70 years ago and it was time for Jews to get over their sense of victimhood.

I won’t debate that point here right now (I’ve already railed in unconstructive astonishment on social media…) but I decided that the convergence of events today warranted republishing this post I wrote in law school, during the semester when I studied in Germany.

I’m really enjoying my time here in Germany. I’m learning a lot of interesting law, meeting lots of really nice people, learning the language… I’m really glad I came, and as an American student I’m being made to feel very welcome at the school, in the city, and in the country.

But I’m not just an American. I’m also Jewish, and it’s hard to think about being Jewish in Germany without stumbling upon the elephant in the room: what happened 60-70 years ago. It’s the history we’ve all inherited – but to what end? I know relatives and acquaintances who refuse to set foot in Germany, not out of any sense of personal fear (although there probably is some distrust that the virulent anti-Semitism is truly a thing of the past) but more out of a lingering anger for those horrible crimes perpetuated against so many people, and particularly against people like us.

I can’t dismiss their feelings: they are a reasonable reaction to an incomprehensibly horrible tragedy that I would not want to minimize, nor encourage others to minimize. But at the same time, it’s completely unintuitive to me to dig my heels in and continue to punish a nation of strangers. On the contrary, it seems that the complete opposite is called for. Hatred festers in the distrust unfamiliarity breeds. The thing to do, it has always seemed to me, is to take affirmative steps to not be strangers anymore. Continue reading »

May 112014
 

Warren Agin’s blog post on the survivability of contracts during bankruptcy prompted me to resurrect this blog post I had written on my law school blog during my semester studying in Germany.

In my French class* yesterday:

Me (reading aloud): “La resolution de contrat, lorsque celui-ci est syn… synal… synallagmatique?”

Teacher (in French): “It’s the same word as in German.”

Me: [sigh]

Actually, the word exists in English too: “synallagmatic.” But it’s not a word I’ve ever encountered before, not even in law school. Although interestingly, Dictionary.com says it means “bilateral” in Louisiana civil law. I suspect, however, that it may mean “bilateral” in a distinctively civil law sense. In the common law system of contracts, when we mean bilateral we say “bilateral,” but then our whole perception of the directional dynamics of a contractual agreement may be significantly different from those in civil law systems.

Take German law, for instance. German contractual law includes the concept of separation. This means that in any transaction involving the transfer of ownership of some good, there are at least three separate agreements bound up in the transaction:

– A contract for the sale of the good
– A contract to transfer the ownership of the good, and
– A contract to transfer ownership of the money used to pay for the good

These agreements may be thought of as three strands twirled into one rope. And, by analogous extension, as we all understand ropes to work, cutting one strand will not necessarily cause the whole rope to be cut. (This separate strand-cutting is known as the principle of abstraction.) In other words, just because one contract fails does not mean the entire deal fails too.

To a common law American, this situation may seem strange. If one of those strands gets broken, how can the rest remain? We generally see each strand as a condition necessary for the contract to retain its overall enforceability. For instance, if the ownership of the bargained-for good has been transferred, but the money has not been paid, how can the party who received the good still keep it? Under American contract law, he couldn’t. But even under German law he likely couldn’t either, although via different legal reasoning than American law.
Continue reading »