Jan 022018

Personal blogs are so 1990s, yes?

This is not the late 1990s. Hey, it’s not even the early Naughties, and has not been for a while. I have had my own tiny corner of the Internet (then hosted on university Web space as it was the norm in the day) since Mosaic came under pressure from Netscape and the NYT experimented with releasing content as (I kid you not) postscript files, because PDF was not invented yet. I did this mostly because I liked computers, because it was new, and because it provided an excellent distraction from the things I should have been doing. By and large, not much changes over 25 years.

Photo by karimian

Later (that was before German universities had repositories or policies for such things), my webspace became a useful resource for teaching-related material. Reluctantly and with a certain resentment, I have copied slides and handouts from one site to the next, adding layers of disclaimers instead of leaving them behind, because some of this stuff carries hundreds of decade-old backlinks and gets downloaded / viewed dozens of times each day.

And of course, I started posting pre-publication versions of my papers, boldly ignoring / blissfully ignorant of the legal muddle surrounding the issue back in the day. Call me old fashioned, but making research visible and accessible is was the Web was invented for.

In summer 2008, I set up my own domain on a woefully underpowered shared webspace (since replaced by an underpowered virtual server). A bit earlier in the same year, already late to the party, I had started my own “Weblog” on wordpress.com, writing and ranting about science, politics, methods, and all that. A year down the road, I converted www.kai-arzheimer.com to wordpress, moved my blog over there, and have never looked back continously wondered why I kept doing this.

Why keep blogging?

In those days of old, we had trackbacks and pingbacks & stuff (now a distant memory), and social media was the idea of having a network of interlinking personal blogs, whose authors would comment on each other’s posts. Even back in 2008 on wordpress, my blog was not terribly popular, but for a couple of years, there was a bunch of people who had similar interests, with whom I would interact occasionally.

Then, academically minded multi-author blogs came along, which greatly reduced fragmentation and aimed at making social science accessible for a much bigger audience whilst removing the need to set up and maintain a site. For similar reasons, Facebook and particularly Twitter became perfect outlets for ranting “microblogging”, while Medium bypasses the fragmentation issue for longer texts and is far more aesthetically pleasing and faster than anything any of us could run by ourselves.

Photo by kjarrett

It is therefore only rational that many personal academic blogs died a slow death. People I used to read left Academia completely, gave up blogging, or moved on to the newer platforms. Do you remember blogrolls? No, you wouldn’t. Because I’m a dinosaur, I still get my news through an RSS reader (and you should, too). While there are a few exceptions (Chris Blattman and Andrew Gelman spring to mind), most of the sources in my “blog” drawer are run by collectives / institutions (the many LSE blogs, the Monkey Cage, the Duck etc.). I recently learned that I made it into an only slightly dubious looking list of the top 100 political science blogs, but that is surely because there are not many individual political science bloggers left.
So why am I still rambling in this empty Platonic man-cave? Off the top of my head, I can think of about five reasons:

  1. Total editorial control. I have written for the Monkey Cage, The Conversation, the LSE, and many other outlets. Working with their editors has made my texts much better, but sometimes I am not in the mood for clarity and accessibility. I want to rant, and be quick about it.
  2. Pre-prints. I like to have pre-publication versions of my work on my site, although again, institutional hosting makes much more sense. Once I upload them, I’m usually so happy that I want to say something about it.
  3. For me, my blog is still a bit like an open journal. If I need to remember some sequence of events in German or European politics for the day job, it’s helpful if I have blogged about it as it happened. Similarly, sometimes I work out the solution to some software issue but quickly forget the details. Five months later, a blog post is a handy reference and may help others.
  4. Irrelevance. Often, something annoys or interests me so much that I need to write a short piece about it, although few other people will care. I would have a better chance of being of finding an audience at Medium, but then again on my own wordpress-powered site, I have a perfectly serviceable CME which happens to have blogging functionality built in.
  5. Ease of use. I do almost all of my writing in Emacs and keep (almost) all my notes in orgmode code. Thanks to org2blog, turning a few paragraphs into a post is just some hard-to-remember key strokes away.

Bonus track: the five most popular posts in 2017

As everyone knows, I’m not obsessed with numbers, thank you very much. I keep switching between various types of analytic software and have no idea how much (or rather little) of an audience I actually have. Right now I’m back to the basic wordpress statistics and have been for over a year, so here is the list of the five posts that were the most popular in 2017.

Photo by diff_sky

Nov 282017
Germany, what the actual fuck?

If you have any interest at all in European politics, you will have noticed by now that the pre-coalition talks in Germany have collapsed on November 19. Because this could mean (amongst other things) fresh elections, and because Germans do not normally do crisis these days, and because a paralysed Germany has all sorts of implications for Europe, everyone got very excited for a while. Right now, my money is on a reprise of the so-called Grand Coalition (centre-left/centre right), if and when the SPD realises that they should be able to get major concessions.

In the meanwhile, if you want to catch up with the situation or a simply in the mood for a bit of Angst watching, here is a list of links I liked

Germany, what the actual fuck?

  1. During the night, @JerremyCliffe provided a running commentary on twitter. A week may be a long time in politics, but this is still very useful. If you don’t follow the man yet, now is the time
  2. Statement by the Federal President on the morning after, indicating that he is not keen on a snap election (in German)
  3. Here is a long-form analysis by @TheDanHough, in which he very neatly dissects the mess the parties have landed us in
  4. These are my own two Euro cent on the state of play in Germany after the FDP’s walkout
  5. Politico on the growing dissent within the SPD
  6. Merkel, who previously said she would prefer new elections to running a minority government, now says that she is not in favour of fresh elections. Move on, nothing to see here
  7. Seeing the signs of the times, SPD leader Schulz no longer rules out “getting involved in formation of German government, in whatever capacity” and wants to give party base vote on final deal (but not on decision itself?)
  8. Here is a bit of scaremongering about the impact of the German impasse on the European Union
  9. Writing in the New York Times, @annakatrein is similarly pessimistic about Germany, Europe, and the world
  10. Ending on a somewhat lighter note
Jan 272017

With the upcoming (well, sort of) election and the shenanigans in the SPD, the world is watching Germany. The other day, I was interviewed by a journalist working for Diário de Notícias.

Just like the next guy, I love the sound of Portuguese, but I don’t understand any more than the odd word that comes my way. If you are like me, you might be interested in the transcript that I authorised:

  • Is Schulz a stronger candidate than Gabriel?

Yes, insofar as he is currently more popular in the polls. If that translates into a real advantage remains to be seen.

  • What are his strongest and weakest points?

Unlike Gabriel, he has not been Merkel’s deputy for the last four years and so may appear more credible when he attacks her during the campaign. On the other hand, he has not held public office in Germany (apart from his spell in local politics that ended some two decades ago), and the CDU/CSU and the FDP will portray him as a lefty who is in favour of eurobonds and a lenient approach to the Eurocrisis.

  • Could this hurt Merkel’s ambitions of a fourth term?

I don’t think that the Schulz will lure many voters away from the CDU, but he might be more able than Gabriel to mobilise some reluctant SPD supporters.

  • Do you see a possible a wining coalition between SPD, Linke and Greens?

There is still a lot of bad blood between the SPD and the Left, and the Left is hugely unpopular with West German voters. Also, the Left is far away from the other two parties with respect to foreign policies, and the Greens have just endorsed a Spitzenkandidatenteam that appeals to the eco-conservatives. For these (and other) reasons, politicians of all three parties are reluctant about such a coalition, to say the least. Also, on current polling a red-red-green coalition is infeasible by a considerable margin.

 Tagged with:
Mar 132016

A mere three hours after the event, it’s obviously too early to write something coherent about the three state elections that were held in Germany today. So let’s try it anyway:Ballot - Vote

  1. For the time being, Germany has a viable Radical Right Populist Party. A result of ~24% in the Eastern state of Sachsen-Anhalt is a bit of a shock, but no huge surprise. The real clincher are the (low) double digit figures in the Western states of Rheinland-Pfalz and Baden-Württemberg. In the latter, the AfD is stronger than the SPD.
  2. The AfD cannibalised all the smaller right-wing parties including the NPD.
  3. This was not (just) a referendum on Merkel and her policies. While the issue dominated the campaigns, personalities and state-level factors were important. And the two CDU leaders who toyed with a (very tame) rebellion against Merkel did not gain from it.
  4. The volatility is shocking. Period
  5. German states have parliamentary systems, but popular minister presidents exerted an almost presidential effect. The contrast could not be more striking: In Baden-Württemberg, Kretschmann’s Greens are the strongest party (in itself something that is hard to believe), whereas their junior partner, the SPD, is heading for single-digit territory. One key reason is Kretschmann’s enormous popularity. In neighbouring Rheinland-Pfalz, minister president Dreyer has always been more popular than both her opponent and her SPD. But the latter steadily recovered in the polls over the last couple of weeks pull ahead of the CDU to become the strongest party with a respectable result. The Greens, on the other hand, lost two thirds of their support and might still end up without parliamentary representation. Being the smaller party in a coalition run by a popular minister president is not an attractive proposition these days.
  6. Turnout is up, yet it’s the non-established AfD that benefits from it. As a rule of thumb, right-wing outfits in Germany have always performed best in low-turnout, second-order elections. But this time, exit polls suggest that at least in the East, former non-voters gave the AfD a huge boost.
  7. And the Liberals are back.
Oct 112015

In the last couple of weeks, much has been said and written about the turning tide in German public opinion on refugees, the growing rift between Merkel and the CSU, the potential of a back-bench rebellion against the chancellor and party leader etc. But one of the most interesting (in my book) details is buried in the nitty-gritty details of Friday’s Politbarometer report, which I turned into a little bar chart to illustrate my point.


Source: Politbarometer poll in early October 2015

So 64 per cent of the Christian Democrats’ supporters still approve of Merkel’s policies (and that includes the allegedly outraged CSU voters). But support is significantly lower amongst supporters of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Socialists (Left). This could be written off as coloured by partisan sentiment. It might even be the case that some lefties are unhappy because they want more generous policies. But compare this with the approval rating amongst supporters of the left-liberal Greens. Unlike the SPD and the Left, the Greens gun chiefly for the upper-middleclass lefty vote. Cue my article on competition between traditional left-wing parties and working class parties 2.0, i.e. the radical right.

Dec 072014

On Friday, the state parliament at Erfurt voted in Bodo Ramelow as Minister-President of Thuringia. He is the first member of the Left party to hold such an office, backed by the first ‘red-red-green’ (Left/SPD/Greens) coalition ever. 25 years after the fall of the wall, that is still a highly controversial constellation. Ramelow has been trying to diffuse the issue for months, and kicked off his reign with an apology to the victims of the former socialist state party SED, the pre-predecessor of the Left. His election also marks the end of a 24-year-spell during which the state’s Christian Democrats held the top executive job in this state.

The real significance, of course, lies beyond the woods of Thuringia. Taking over the office of the Minister-President is perhaps the most important step in the long game of normalising the Left that began in the mid-1990s, when the PDS (the predecessor of the Left) tolerated a red-green minority government in Saxony-Anhalt. Normalising red-red-green coalitions, on the other hand, is even trickier business. The Greens merged in the 1990s with what remained of  the East German dissident movement, and this legacy makes any co-operation with the heirs of the former oppressors highly unpleasant. The SPD, on the other hand, has two swallow the fact that at least in Thuringia, they are no longer the strongest force within the left camp. Moreover, the SED was the result of a forced merger between the East German SPD and the east German communist partner, and the final ingredient in today’s Left was a group of SPD dissidents who broke away from the SPD ten years ago. That is a lot of shared history overshadowing the present.

From the SPD’s point of view, however, there is clearly a ray of sunshine to this story: The SPD is now part of 14 (out of 16) state governments and has 9 Minister-Presidents amongst their number, four more than the Christian Democrats. That certainly makes governing as Merkel’s junior partner in Berlin a little more bearable.

bodo ramelow photoPhoto by DIE LINKE. Thüringen

Dec 112013

SPD votes on the coalition agreement

It’ another slow week for German politics, what with the Mandela Memorial, near-civil war in Thailand, the standoff in Ukraine and the South Korean/Japanese Chinese skirmishes. BUT: a small-scale CDU party conference of some 180 delegates has approved unanimously of the CDU/CSU/SPD agreement (a ‘Coalition Treaty’ in German parlance, though it can not be challenged in/enforced by the Constitutional Court). Delegates at a similar CSU conference have done their bit a month ago. Much more interesting is of course the case of the SPD, which put the agreement to a referendum by their 472,000 rank-and-file members.

The all-postal ballot will end tomorrow at midnight, and we will know the result on Saturday. So far, more than 300,000 people have voted. That alone is remarkable.

What if?

Last weekend, a conference of the party’s youth organisation passed a resolution that recommends members should vote against the agreement. The party leadership was less than delighted.

No one knows exactly what the rest of the members think. It’s entirely conceivable that a majority votes against, while it is inconceivable that the current leadership (broadly defined) that negotiated the agreement could survive such an embarrassment. The most likely outcome would be elections in February, though I’m sure that Merkel and the Greens would have another series of fireside chats if push came to shove. And if there were elections, the SPD would tank.

I’m sure the SPD members will bear this twin scenario in mind when they make their choice.

Nov 262013

Coalition Talks: Not Quite as Speedy as Papal Election (and less fun)

It’s crunch time in Berlin: A mere two months after the election, both the SPD and Merkel’s CDU have announced that they want to resolve all remaining issues during yet another sleepless night of haggling (the Bavarian CSU is more reluctant). Tomorrow, they want to present the ‘coalition treaty’, a 170+ page agenda for the next four years. If the SPD’s restless rank-and-file will approve of this document is (quite literally) a question for another day.

The SPD kicked-off the talks with the announcement that they would no longer unconditionally rule out coalitions with the Left at the federal level (“but hey, no pressure”). It took the CDU some time to respond to this, but they did so with a vengeance: In Hesse, which held a land election on the day of the Federal election, the CDU has now entered coalition talks with the Greens. If these talk succeed, it would be the first CDU/Green coalition in a large non-city state (a coalition in Hamburg broke down relatively quickly, and so did a CDU/FDP/Green coalition in tiny Saarland).

Kanzleramt in Berlin
Werner Kunz / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

First and foremost, this is a remarkable development in itself: Hesse has possibly one of the most polarised subnational party systems. Just a few years ago, then CDU leader and long-term minister president Roland Koch quite happily campaigned on the fact that the leaders of the SPD and the Greens had foreign-sounding names. But after the inconclusive election and four full rounds of sounding exercises involving all parties, a CDU/Green coalition is not longer unthinkable.

The Real Result: Less Segmentation?

But the Hessian regrouping also has a long-term, two-level strategic element (although all parties deny it): If the FDP does not rebound, the CDU needs an alternative. And much by the same token, the Greens don’t want to tie themselves too closely to the ailing SPD.

Black-green coalitions have been the stuff of political war games and academic debates for the last two decades. Now, they could become a reality. I’m not sure if the September election and this long, protracted negotiations in Berlin will indeed bring about a viable agreement between Christian Democrats and the SPD. But at any rate, they seem to have quickly reduced segmentation in the German party system.

Nov 182013

This weekend, the SPD held their regular (bi-annual) party conference in Leipzig. In some alternate reality, this conference would have approved of the SPD/Green coalition agreement. Short of a resounding victory of the left, however, the leadership took a very interesting gamble when they decided in September that the party base should have a vote on the CDU/SPD agreement when (and if) the current negotiations with the Christian Democrats come to a happy conclusion.

But the event was nonetheless interesting for a number of reasons. First, even before the conference began, the leadership announced that the party would abolish their long-standing policy of non-cooperation with the Left party in the Western states and on the national level (the SPD had no such qualms in the East). This vow of abstinence had proved more and more problematic over the last years, and getting rid of it well ahead of the next election looks like a clever move. But making such a move during the ongoing negotiations was not exactly a subtle hint and also opens up the (very theoretical) possibility of changing sides during this parliament’s lifetime, what ever that may be.

Because I love you...........(EXPLORE)
kakeyzz—- / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Second, the current leadership was re-elected as planned, but the results were “honest”, which is SPD-speak for lousy. The party’s middle elites happily used the opportunity to vent their anger over the lost election and their frustration with the emerging coalition agreement. Third, the negotiations went on during the conference, but it was leaked that cordial agreement and professional respect had once more turned into shouting matches, and that impasses had been reached after weeks of seemingly smooth progress.

It doesn’t take my inner Machiavelli to smell a ruse within a feint within a plot. After Merkel has basically accepted the introduction of a national minimum wage (she rather disarmingly quoted a survey which showed 78 per cent support for the policy amongst her voters), the SPD more or less openly demand at least two major concessions which are symbolically charged and highly visible while being cheap in economic terms: gay marriage and dual citizenship. Moreover, the leadership hint that the members could still vote against the agreement. This is the classic board strategy (“Personally, I fully agree with you, but the board will never approve the deal if you don’t accept X”). That is one nice stratagem.

But unlike the rank and file members, parts of the SPD middle elites and probably the Christian Democrats, the SPD leadership is afraid of new elections in January. Given the current state of public opinion, the party might lose some more, which would cost them their offices. And Merkel’s CDU has a “board” of their own: their Bavarian sister party, which must also approve of any coalition agreement. German politics will remain interesting (by German standards) for weeks to come.