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.
A new survey suggests the logistics of going to services can be the biggest barrier to participation—and Americans’ faith in religious institutions is declining.
The standard narrative of American religious decline goes something like this: A few hundred years ago, European and American intellectuals began doubting the validity of God as an explanatory mechanism for natural life. As science became a more widely accepted method for investigating and understanding the physical world, religion became a less viable way of thinking—not just about medicine and mechanics, but also culture and politics and economics and every other sphere of public life. As the United States became more secular, people slowly began drifting away from faith.
Of course, this tale is not just reductive—it’s arguably inaccurate, in that it seems to capture neither the reasons nor the reality behind contemporary American belief. For one thing, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly religious, despite years of predictions about religion’s demise. A significant number of people who don’t identify with any particular faith group still say they believe in God, and roughly 40 percent pray daily or weekly. While there have been changes in this kind of private belief and practice, the most significant shift has been in the way people publicly practice their faith: Americans, and particularly young Americans, are less likely to attend services or identify with a religious group than they have at any time in recent memory.
A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.
On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.
Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.
Poor white Americans’ current crisis shouldn’t have caught the rest of the country as off guard as it has.
Sometime during the past few years, the country started talking differently about white Americans of modest means. Early in the Obama era, the ennobling language of campaign pundits prevailed. There was much discussion of “white working-class voters,” with whom the Democrats, and especially Barack Obama, were having such trouble connecting. Never mind that this overbroad category of Americans—the exit pollsters’ definition was anyone without a four-year college degree, or more than a third of the electorate—obliterated major differences in geography, ethnicity, and culture. The label served to conjure a vast swath of salt-of-the-earth citizens living and working in the wide-open spaces between the coasts—Sarah Palin’s “real America”—who were dubious of the effete, hifalutin types increasingly dominating the party that had once purported to represent the common man. The “white working class” connoted virtue and integrity. A party losing touch with it was a party unmoored.
Two decades ago, Osama bin Laden officially launched al-Qaeda’s struggle against the United States. Neither side has won.
Exactly two decades ago, on August 23, 1996, Osama bin Laden declared war on the United States. At the time, few people paid much attention. But it was the start of what’s now the Twenty Years’ War between the United States and al-Qaeda—a conflict that both sides have ultimately lost.
During the 1980s, bin Laden fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviets withdrew, he went home to Saudi Arabia, then moved to Sudan before being expelled and returning to Afghanistan in 1996 to live under Taliban protection. Within a few months of his arrival, he issued a 30-page fatwa, “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” which was published in a London-based newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and faxed to supporters around the world. It was bin Laden’s first public call for a global jihad against the United States. In a rambling text, bin Laden opined on Islamic history, celebrated recent attacks against U.S. forces in Lebanon and Somalia, and recounted a multitude of grievances against the United States, Israel, and their allies. “The people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Jewish-Christian alliance and their collaborators,” he wrote.
The many obstacles trans men and other transmasculine people run into when feeding infants
When Trevor MacDonald started chestfeeding about five years ago, he didn't know anyone who had attempted it, nor had any of his doctors ever encountered someone who had. In fact, he was shocked that his body could even produce milk. As a trans man—someone who was assigned female at birth but has transitioned to identifying as male—he was born with the mammary glands and milk ducts required for lactation, but he'd had his breasts removed. Once he had his baby, his care providers supported his desire to nurse, but it was up to him figure out how.
MacDonald began blogging about chestfeeding from his home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and soon discovered a whole community of transmasculine people around the world in the same boat, looking for guidance. For trans men and transmasculine folks, putting a baby to their chest to suckle can lead to complicated feelings about their gender. Many lactation support services are available for “nursing mothers,” which sounds unwelcoming to men and non-binary individuals. And many trans people say doctors don’t understand their bodies or experiences.
Most corporations try to make a profit by limiting costs. Movies corporations manage to record a loss by maximizing fees to their studios
Here is an amazing glimpse into the dark side of the force that is Hollywood economics. The actor who played Darth Vader still has not received residuals from the 1983 film "Return of the Jedi" because the movie, which ranks 15th in U.S. box office history, still has no technical profits to distribute.
How can a movie that grossed $475 million on a $32 million budget not turn a profit? It comes down to Tinseltown accounting. As Planet Money explained in an interview with Edward Jay Epstein in 2010, studios typically set up a separate "corporation" for each movie they produce. Like any company, it calculates profits by subtracting expenses from revenues. Erase any possible profit, the studio charges this "movie corporation" a big fee that overshadows the film's revenue. For accounting purposes, the movie is a
money "loser" and there are no profits to distribute.
We’ve been flying around the country for the last three years, visiting dozens of towns that are reinventing themselves after some kind of big economic or demographic change. I have also, in a way, matched those flights stroke by stroke in America’s public swimming pools. On our first day on the ground in any town, I search for a public pool. I started swimming around the country as a way to maintain some sense of normal in my physical activity after all that flying. And then I came to appreciate it as another window into the culture and spirit of the towns we visited. I wish Ryan Lochte could share some of my experience.
Like much of America—and I’m betting most of the many hundreds of kids I have seen swimming in pools around the nation, too—I was glued to the Olympic swimming events. Katie Ledecky, Maya DiRado, Michael Phelps, truth-teller Lilly King. And then, enter Ryan Lochte.
Has the vice president made a lasting contribution in foreign policy?
Joe Biden is now the vice president who will not be president. He’s been VP for seven and a half years, preceded by decades of work on U.S. foreign policy in the Senate, but the question remains whether he is distinctive in any memorable way for his work in international affairs. Was he simply a glad-handing flack pushing the Obama agenda, a manic schmoozer of foreign leaders? A gaffe-prone foreign-policy dilettante who, in the long run, won’t matter?
Biden puts some people off. His critics argue that despite his passion for worthy causes—from efforts to stabilize Iraq to the “cancer moonshot” to his task force devoted to “a strong middle class”—his bouts of imprecision and occasional foot-in-mouth foibles get in the way. An adviser to retired General Stanley McChrystal reportedly referred to Biden as “Bite Me.” Former Defense Secretary Bob Gates wrote in his memoir, Duty, that Biden has been “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Polling within the margin of error among African Americans, the Republican tries new outreach—but his approach seems doomed to failure.
Although Donald Trump has long claimed to “have a great relationship with the blacks,” the polls tell a different story, with Trump frequently polling in the single digits among black voters. Over the last few days, the Republican nominee has added a new passage to his stump speech, reaching out to the African American community.
Our government has totally failed our African American friends, our Hispanic friends and the people of our country. Period. The Democrats have failed completely in the inner cities. For those hurting the most who have been failed and failed by their politicians—year after year, failure after failure, worse numbers after worse numbers. Poverty. Rejection. Horrible education. No housing, no homes, no ownership. Crime at levels that nobody has seen. You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it's safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats. And I ask you this, I ask you this—crime, all of the problems—to the African Americans, who I employ so many, so many people, to the Hispanics, tremendous people: What the hell do you have to lose? Give me a chance. I'll straighten it out. I'll straighten it out. What do you have to lose?