Germany and Italy forbid glorifying Nazis or fascism, but disagree over whether these tasteless, kitschy wines qualify as harmful to society.
A bartender pours a glass of Lundarelli Führerwine. (AP)
The Fuhrer is causing a furor. Italian winemaker Vini Lunardelli's breathtakingly tasteless line of Nazi-themed wines has offended again, with two American tourists understandably peeved about discovering some bottles adorned with Adolf Hitler's image in a shop in Veneto province. The Italian-produced wines bear dozens of different labels displaying, with no hint of irony, such names as "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!" (a Nazi slogan meaning "One people, one empire, one ruler"), "Der Prosecco Vom Führer," and, simply, "FÜHRERWEIN." Another line bears the images and slogans of Benito Mussolini and his fascist regime.
The American tourists, incensed (one of them noted that her father lived through Auschwitz), protested to Italian authorities and to the local, and then international, media. "We would think of it as neo-Nazism," one told the U.K. Telegraph. "It makes you wonder about the sympathies of the local people." You don't have to be Jewish or the child of a Holocaust survivor to find the wine labels appalling and odious, but it doesn't hurt. Local prosecutors say they've opened a formal inquiry, and a cabinet-level Italian minister issued a statement to "reassure our American friends" and to condemn the wines for "compromising the image of Italy abroad."
Italian officials might be expressing shock, but the Vini Lunardelli wines have been offending for almost two decades, and this is not their first international incident. There's no doubt that Führerwine is offensive, and it's difficult to know the vintner's motivations for sure. But it might reflect less "neo-Nazi sympathies" and more a crass willingness to exploit shock value and Europe's particular sensitivities to the fascist legacy -- not to mention the international media attention that comes with infuriating foreign governments -- to make a few bucks. And it seems to be effective.
Lunardelli launched their "Historical Series" in 1993, printing labels bearing "personages of Italian and world political history." The first Führer vintage was introduced in 1995, becoming "a great marketing success," the winemaker later toldDecanter. In 1997, the German government began lodging official complaints. Germany takes the Nazi legacy very, very seriously: neo-Nazi parties are illegal, Hitler's autobiography Mein Kampf has been officially banned for decades, and the German Parliament almost blocked approval for a relatively straightforward genetic testing law, apparently over the echoes of Nazi eugenics programs. By 2003, Germany's battle against Lunardelli had so escalated that the German justice minister wrote a formal letter to her Italian counterpart asking for Italy consider shutting down the "contemptible and tasteless" wines. The German state of Bavaria, the closest to Italy, opened an investigation as to whether any bottles had crossed the border.
Nothing came of it at first. Then, in early 2007, some German tourists ended up buying some number of the wines while in Italy. It's not clear how their purchases became public, but it re-sparked the old controversy. In September, Italian police finally moved against the wines, confiscating bottles for their "glorification of the perpetrators of crimes against humanity." The public prosecutor, according to Lunardelli, accused the winemakers of being Nazi apologists. Like in Germany, Italian law forbids the glorification of the 1930s fascist regime that helped spark World War Two, which cost tens of millions of lives. But, one month after police had seized the wines, an Italian judge ruled that they were OK to sell; the second time that Lunardelli had been exonerated of promoting fascism.
It's a sign of Germany's sensitivity to anything remotely hinting of Nazi sympathies that the government would not only formally investigate whether a bottle of Führerwein might have entered the country, but publicly request that the Italian government intervene to stop production. It's also an interesting contrast to Italy's own laws, which while similar in intent to Germany's, appear to be laxer in restricting speech, at least when it comes to these wine labels.
I don't have an answer as to whether or not the wines promote Naziism and fascism, but it's worth noting that this doesn't seem to have been Lunardelli's intent. "We would not have produced them unless there was a demand," the winemaker toldDecanter in 2007. "In fact the Hitler labels were not our idea, they were specifically requested by customers in Germany and Austria. ... When they saw the labels with Il Duce and Che Guevara, they suggested a series with Hitler." The company's website proudly boasts the line, not as a victory in Aryan soft power, but as a marketing triumph. "Thanks to this invention, the wine company Alessandro Lunardelli has obtained a lot of attention from the media all over the world both for the originality of the idea and for the quality of the wines." They say that line, which has 50 different labels, now makes up half of their sales.
In any case, some of the labels carry images of Stalin, Marx, and Che Guevara, not savory figures by any means but sworn enemies of Hitler and fascism, suggesting that the line is indeed less about glorifying any singular ideology than about shock value and the free marketing that comes with, for example, stories like this one.
The wines are interesting test case for Europe's decades-old speech restrictions against glorifying the nightmarish regimes of the 1930s and 1940s, meant both to guard against the rise of all-too-real neo-Nazi or neo-fascist parties and to maintain the carefully instituted national histories that hold these ideologies as a horrid mistake. It seems unlikely, as the Italian courts may have concluded in allowing continued Lunardelli production, that slapping Hitler's face on a cabernet label is going to increase popular support for a return of the Third Reich.
Still, Neo-Nazism and the ethnic nationalism behind it remain real, if marginal, forces in Europe. Treating Hitler and his Nazi slogans as kitsch, as fodder for a bit of silly shock value, would seem to risk divesting these images of the horror and shame that two generations of Germans and Italians have ingrained to remind themselves of one of history's greatest crimes. Buying a bottle of Der Prosecco Vom Führer might just be a bit of harmless fun, but maybe, from the German perspective, that's exactly the problem.
How Vladimir Putin is making the world safe for autocracy
Since the end of World War II, the most crucial underpinning of freedom in the world has been the vigor of the advanced liberal democracies and the alliances that bound them together. Through the Cold War, the key multilateral anchors were NATO, the expanding European Union, and the U.S.-Japan security alliance. With the end of the Cold War and the expansion of NATO and the EU to virtually all of Central and Eastern Europe, liberal democracy seemed ascendant and secure as never before in history.
Under the shrewd and relentless assault of a resurgent Russian authoritarian state, all of this has come under strain with a speed and scope that few in the West have fully comprehended, and that puts the future of liberal democracy in the world squarely where Vladimir Putin wants it: in doubt and on the defensive.
As I mentioned in this post in late November, and in this followup, and also in a discussion with Diane Rehm on her new podcast series yesterday, Donald Trump’s lies differ from those we have encountered from other national figures, even Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton during their respective impeachments. The difference is that Trump seemingly does not care that evidence is immediately at hand to disprove what he says. If he believes what he’s saying, at least in that moment, why shouldn’t we?
For the record, the latest entry of this sort is the repeated insistence by Trump and his associates that he won a “landslide” or “major” victory. For instance, this was his transition team’s response to reports of Russian attempts to swing the election in his favor:
Should you drink more coffee? Should you take melatonin? Can you train yourself to need less sleep? A physician’s guide to sleep in a stressful age.
During residency, Iworked hospital shifts that could last 36 hours, without sleep, often without breaks of more than a few minutes. Even writing this now, it sounds to me like I’m bragging or laying claim to some fortitude of character. I can’t think of another type of self-injury that might be similarly lauded, except maybe binge drinking. Technically the shifts were 30 hours, the mandatory limit imposed by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education, but we stayed longer because people kept getting sick. Being a doctor is supposed to be about putting other people’s needs before your own. Our job was to power through.
The shifts usually felt shorter than they were, because they were so hectic. There was always a new patient in the emergency room who needed to be admitted, or a staff member on the eighth floor (which was full of late-stage terminally ill people) who needed me to fill out a death certificate. Sleep deprivation manifested as bouts of anger and despair mixed in with some euphoria, along with other sensations I’ve not had before or since. I remember once sitting with the family of a patient in critical condition, discussing an advance directive—the terms defining what the patient would want done were his heart to stop, which seemed likely to happen at any minute. Would he want to have chest compressions, electrical shocks, a breathing tube? In the middle of this, I had to look straight down at the chart in my lap, because I was laughing. This was the least funny scenario possible. I was experiencing a physical reaction unrelated to anything I knew to be happening in my mind. There is a type of seizure, called a gelastic seizure, during which the seizing person appears to be laughing—but I don’t think that was it. I think it was plain old delirium. It was mortifying, though no one seemed to notice.
The personality test isn't perfect, but it plays to people's desire to understand themselves and others.
A group of young adults shyly meet for the first time on the second floor of an empty Manhattan shopping mall. The stores are all closed for the weekend, and other than a man stopping in the lobby to read his phone, this group is the only sign of activity.
“I actually really like clubbing,” shares one guy.
The group goes silent.
“Get out of the circle,” a woman whispers.
Everyone in this group took the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a personality test. They all tested as the same type (one that tends to be introverted), joined an online group for others who got the same result, and decided to meet up.
Which explains why they’re meeting in an empty food court: It’s perfect for a group of people who like quietude. In this crowd of 20-something New Yorkers, the clubber is, truly, an oddball.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
A profanity-filled new self-help book argues that life is kind of terrible, so you should value your actions over your emotions.
Put down the talking stick. Stop fruitlessly seeking "closure" with your peevish co-worker. And please, don't bother telling your spouse how annoying you find their tongue-clicking habit—sometimes honesty is less like a breath of fresh air and more like a fart. That’s the argument of Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett, the father-daughter duo behind the new self-help book F*ck Feelings.
The elder Bennett is a psychiatrist and American Psychiatric Association distinguished fellow. His daughter is a comedy writer. Together, they provide a tough-love, irreverent take on “life's impossible problems.” The crux of their approach is that life is hard and negative emotions are part of it. The key is to see your “bullshit wishes” for just what they are (bullshit), and instead to pursue real, achievable goals.
David Hume, the Buddha, and a search for the Eastern roots of the Western Enlightenment
In2006, i was 50—and I was falling apart.
Until then, I had always known exactly who I was: an exceptionally fortunate and happy woman, full of irrational exuberance and everyday joy.
I knew who I was professionally. When I was 16, I’d discovered cognitive science and analytic philosophy, and knew at once that I wanted the tough-minded, rigorous, intellectual life they could offer me. I’d gotten my doctorate at 25 and had gone on to become a professor of psychology and philosophy at UC Berkeley.
I knew who I was personally, too. For one thing, I liked men. I was never pretty, but the heterosexual dance of attraction and flirtation had always been an important part of my life, a background thrum that brightened and sharpened all the rest. My closest friends and colleagues had all been men.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
A chain helmed by the nominee for labor secretary has unseated Chick-Fil-A as the perfect encapsulation of this cultural moment.
Despite his predilections for KFC or taco bowls, or his appearances in ads for Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, the president-elect is really a Carl’s Jr. kind of guy. The California-based chain is best known for its oversized burgers, hypersexualized ads, and confusing affiliation with Hardee’s—the fast-food chain it acquired back in 1997. Like Trump, Carl’s Jr. aspires to flashiness and brashly appeals to men. It’s slogan? Eat Like You Mean It. Trump made this unspoken kinship official on Thursday, when he announced Andy Puzder, the longtime CEO of Carl’s Jr and Hardee’s, as his choice for labor secretary.