Angela Merkel: The Sharp Axe of Reason

The global recession has hit Germany hard; its economy will likely shrink by 6 percent this year alone. Why should you care? Because it has the biggest economy in Europe and it's the biggest exporter in the world. More than that, you should care because an economic meltdown in Germany could change the course of history. That's not an overstatement. In the 1920s, massive hyperinflation rendered the German currency worthless; at 1 trillion marks to the dollar, a wheelbarrow full of cash wouldn't buy you a newspaper. In response to the dismal situation, the country turned to fascism, allowing the Nazi party to come to power, which in turn led to World War II.

So, at a time like the present, when the German economy stands on the verge of collapse, it would be comforting to know that the country has a calm, rational leader at its helm—one who listens well to others and believes in personal freedom. The good news is that it does, in the form of Angela Merkel, Germany's first female chancellor and its most popular leader since, well, Hitler.

Behind the Iron Curtain

Born in 1954, Angela Merkel grew up poor in East Germany, where her father was a Protestant minister. Because it was a communist country, the government held him in constant suspicion for worshiping something other than the state.

When Angela was a teenager, the Stasi—East Germany's vicious secret police—interrogated everyone in the family. Young Merkel wasn't tortured, just intimidated and asked to spy on her family. She refused.

wallNearly 20 years later, the Berlin Wall came down. Angela, who'd earned her Ph.D. in chemistry, was working as a scientist in an East Berlin lab at the time. When officials announced that travel to West Berlin was no longer forbidden, she did what many East Berliners did that day: She walked to the other side. Standing on the streets of West Germany, Merkel was overwhelmed by the possibilities of freedom. In that moment, she decided to make politics her career.

Merkel wasn't completely without experience. In her youth, she'd served as an officer of "Agitprop" (Agitation and Propaganda) for the state's communist youth organization. Although her work had focused on promoting the sciences, she parlayed her previous experience into a new gig in the burgeoning democratic movement. Within months, she became East Germany's press secretary. Next, after the country officially reunified with West Germany in October 1990, she ran for Parliament and won. The following year, Chancellor Helmut Kohl made her the youngest member of his cabinet.

Part of the reason for Merkel's meteoric rise was that, after spending her childhood behind the Iron Curtain, she appreciated free markets and small government. That led her to join the Christian Democratic Union, a conservative, male-dominated party akin to the moderate wing of the Republican Party in the United States. The Christian Democrats enjoyed using Merkel as their poster child for diversity, which helped her move up the party ranks.

The other reason for Merkel's rapid rise was simply her intelligence. Her experiences as a scientist taught her an analytical approach to problem solving that the popular press would later dub the "Merkel Method." As Germany's minister of the environment in the mid-1990s, she pushed for the creation of the Kyoto Protocol, the international agreement to curb greenhouse gases. It's not surprising that, as a scientist, she would lead the fight against global warming. But as a conservative, it was an unlikely move. By Merkel's calculations, it was all about capitalism. "Unchecked climate change is likely to result in at least a 5 percent reduction—and even a 20 percent reduction—in global GDP," Merkel said in 2007. "Effective action to protect the climate would cost a good deal less—around 1 percent of the global GDP."

Under Merkel's guidance—both as the minister of environment and, later, as chancellor—Germany has introduced an environmental agenda that puts other European nations to shame. For example, while England only produced 3 percent of its electricity from renewable resources in 2007, Germany managed 14 percent. Merkel's goal is that by the year 2030, 45 percent of Germany's electricity will be renewable.

The Rational Choice for Chancellor

Even with her party's full support, getting Merkel elected chancellor in 2005 wasn't easy. Many Germans disliked the idea of a woman governing the country. Others thought she wasn't woman enough. They saw Merkel as a rational and clear-headed politician, but also a cold and calculating one. Despite being married (she's been married twice, in fact), Merkel was roundly criticized for not having children and for her austere physical appearance, which is why in 2005, Angela Merkel started wearing make-up for the first time in her life.

At the end of election season, her party, the Christian Democrats, won only 35.2 percent of the seats in parliament. The other major party, the Social Democrats, won 34.4 percent. Because neither party had a majority, German law dictated that they had to come together and broker a deal to select the next chancellor. The process was tantamount to getting all the moderate Republicans and Democrats in Congress to agree on the same person for president. In other words, it was a mess. After three weeks of debates and backroom negotiations, Merkel was named chancellor on November 22, 2005. However, pundits feared she would have no mandate to lead the country. Within a few short months, Merkel would prove them all wrong.

Almost immediately upon taking office, the new chancellor made her mark on the world stage. Merkel met with leaders from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Russia, and China, and took charge of the European Union summit meeting in December. For much of the previous year, the European Union had operated without a budget, largely because the British and the French spent more time trading insults than working together. Using her studious, analytical mind, Merkel listened carefully to the needs of all 25 member nations and quickly crafted a compromise that appealed to both Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. By the end, the European Union had a budget. The only real moment of tension during the summit came when the delegates were served cold cod soup, a British staple. All eyes were on Jacques Chirac, but to the relief of everyone in the room, he consumed it without saying a word. Soon, Merkel was enjoying an 80 percent approval rating, the highest of any German chancellor since WWII.

During the past four years, Merkel's numbers haven't stayed quite that high, but she's had consistent support from the majority of her people. Germans respect her level-headed style. She supported the Iraq War (as a former resident of East Germany, she believes in ending despotism and protecting human rights), and then criticized President Bush for Guantánamo Bay (same reason). Her relationship with President Obama so far has been strained, mostly because they have fundamentally different philosophies on how to fix the global economic crisis. Obama believes Merkel hasn't done enough to promote stimulus spending in Germany, and Merkel believes Obama underestimates the risks involved with making the economy flush with cash. Her biggest fear is inflation, something Germans know plenty about. No one wants to return to pre-World War II Germany, but thanks to Angela Merkel, that's not really a concern.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine as part of Jenny Drapkin's look at "The 5 Gutsiest World Leaders."



Michael Campanella/Getty Images
10 Memorable Neil deGrasse Tyson Quotes
Michael Campanella/Getty Images
Michael Campanella/Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson is America's preeminent badass astrophysicist. He's a passionate advocate for science, NASA, and education. He's also well-known for a little incident involving Pluto. And the man holds nearly 20 honorary doctorates (in addition to his real one). In honor of his 59th birthday, here are 10 of our favorite Neil deGrasse Tyson quotes.


"The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."
—From Real Time with Bill Maher.


"As a fraction of your tax dollar today, what is the total cost of all spaceborne telescopes, planetary probes, the rovers on Mars, the International Space Station, the space shuttle, telescopes yet to orbit, and missions yet to fly?' Answer: one-half of one percent of each tax dollar. Half a penny. I’d prefer it were more: perhaps two cents on the dollar. Even during the storied Apollo era, peak NASA spending amounted to little more than four cents on the tax dollar." 
—From Space Chronicles


"Once upon a time, people identified the god Neptune as the source of storms at sea. Today we call these storms hurricanes ... The only people who still call hurricanes acts of God are the people who write insurance forms."
—From Death by Black Hole


"Countless women are alive today because of ideas stimulated by a design flaw in the Hubble Space Telescope." (Editor's note: technology used to repair the Hubble Space Telescope's optical problems led to improved technology for breast cancer detection.)
—From Space Chronicles



"I knew Pluto was popular among elementary schoolkids, but I had no idea they would mobilize into a 'Save Pluto' campaign. I now have a drawer full of hate letters from hundreds of elementary schoolchildren (with supportive cover letters from their science teachers) pleading with me to reverse my stance on Pluto. The file includes a photograph of the entire third grade of a school posing on their front steps and holding up a banner proclaiming, 'Dr. Tyson—Pluto is a Planet!'"
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


"In [Titanic], the stars above the ship bear no correspondence to any constellations in a real sky. Worse yet, while the heroine bobs ... we are treated to her view of this Hollywood sky—one where the stars on the right half of the scene trace the mirror image of the stars in the left half. How lazy can you get?"
—From Death by Black Hole


"On Friday the 13th, April 2029, an asteroid large enough to fill the Rose Bowl as though it were an egg cup will fly so close to Earth that it will dip below the altitude of our communication satellites. We did not name this asteroid Bambi. Instead, we named it Apophis, after the Egyptian god of darkness and death."
—From Space Chronicles


"[L]et us not fool ourselves into thinking we went to the Moon because we are pioneers, or discoverers, or adventurers. We went to the Moon because it was the militaristically expedient thing to do."
—From The Sky Is Not the Limit


Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:
Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life.
Read more at:

"Perhaps we've never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there's no sign of intelligent life."


A still from Steven Spielberg's E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial
Universal Studios

"[I]f an alien lands on your front lawn and extends an appendage as a gesture of greeting, before you get friendly, toss it an eightball. If the appendage explodes, then the alien was probably made of antimatter. If not, then you can proceed to take it to your leader."
—From Death by Black Hole

How Apple's '1984' Super Bowl Ad Was Almost Canceled

More than 30 years ago, Apple defined the Super Bowl commercial as a cultural phenomenon. Prior to Super Bowl XVIII, nobody watched the game "just for the commercials"—but one epic TV spot, directed by sci-fi legend Ridley Scott, changed all that. Read on for the inside story of the commercial that rocked the world of advertising, even though Apple's Board of Directors didn't want to run it at all.


If you haven't seen it, here's a fuzzy YouTube version:

"WHY 1984 WON'T BE LIKE 1984"

The tagline "Why 1984 Won't Be Like '1984'" references George Orwell's 1949 novel 1984, which envisioned a dystopian future, controlled by a televised "Big Brother." The tagline was written by Brent Thomas and Steve Hayden of the ad firm Chiat\Day in 1982, and the pair tried to sell it to various companies (including Apple, for the Apple II computer) but were turned down repeatedly. When Steve Jobs heard the pitch in 1983, he was sold—he saw the Macintosh as a "revolutionary" product, and wanted advertising to match. Jobs saw IBM as Big Brother, and wanted to position Apple as the world's last chance to escape IBM's domination of the personal computer industry. The Mac was scheduled to launch in late January of 1984, a week after the Super Bowl. IBM already held the nickname "Big Blue," so the parallels, at least to Jobs, were too delicious to miss.

Thomas and Hayden wrote up the story of the ad: we see a world of mind-controlled, shuffling men all in gray, staring at a video screen showing the face of Big Brother droning on about "information purification directives." A lone woman clad in vibrant red shorts and a white tank-top (bearing a Mac logo) runs from riot police, dashing up an aisle towards Big Brother. Just before being snatched by the police, she flings a sledgehammer at Big Brother's screen, smashing him just after he intones "We shall prevail!" Big Brother's destruction frees the minds of the throng, who quite literally see the light, flooding their faces now that the screen is gone. A mere eight seconds before the one-minute ad concludes, a narrator briefly mentions the word "Macintosh," in a restatement of that original tagline: "On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you'll see why 1984 won't be like '1984.'" An Apple logo is shown, and then we're out—back to the game.

In 1983, in a presentation about the Mac, Jobs introduced the ad to a cheering audience of Apple employees:

"... It is now 1984. It appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money. Dealers, initially welcoming IBM with open arms, now fear an IBM-dominated and -controlled future. They are increasingly turning back to Apple as the only force that can ensure their future freedom. IBM wants it all and is aiming its guns on its last obstacle to industry control: Apple. Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?"

After seeing the ad for the first time, the Apple audience totally freaked out (jump to about the 5-minute mark to witness the riotous cheering).


Chiat\Day hired Ridley Scott, whose 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner had the dystopian tone they were looking for (and Alien wasn't so bad either). Scott filmed the ad in London, using actual skinheads playing the mute bald men—they were paid $125 a day to sit and stare at Big Brother; those who still had hair were paid to shave their heads for the shoot. Anya Major, a discus thrower and actress, was cast as the woman with the sledgehammer largely because she was actually capable of wielding the thing.

Mac programmer Andy Hertzfeld wrote an Apple II program "to flash impressive looking numbers and graphs on [Big Brother's] screen," but it's unclear whether his program was used for the final film. The ad cost a shocking $900,000 to film, plus Apple booked two premium slots during the Super Bowl to air it—carrying an airtime cost of more than $1 million.


Although Jobs and his marketing team (plus the assembled throng at his 1983 internal presentation) loved the ad, Apple's Board of Directors hated it. After seeing the ad for the first time, board member Mike Markkula suggested that Chiat\Day be fired, and the remainder of the board were similarly unimpressed. Then-CEO John Sculley recalled the reaction after the ad was screened for the group: "The others just looked at each other, dazed expressions on their faces ... Most of them felt it was the worst commercial they had ever seen. Not a single outside board member liked it." Sculley instructed Chiat\Day to sell off the Super Bowl airtime they had purchased, but Chiat\Day principal Jay Chiat quietly resisted. Chiat had purchased two slots—a 60-second slot in the third quarter to show the full ad, plus a 30-second slot later on to repeat an edited-down version. Chiat sold only the 30-second slot and claimed it was too late to sell the longer one. By disobeying his client's instructions, Chiat cemented Apple's place in advertising history.

When Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak heard that the ad was in trouble, he offered to pony up half the airtime costs himself, saying, "I asked how much it was going to cost, and [Steve Jobs] told me $800,000. I said, 'Well, I'll pay half of it if you will.' I figured it was a problem with the company justifying the expenditure. I thought an ad that was so great a piece of science fiction should have its chance to be seen."

But Woz didn't have to shell out the money; the executive team finally decided to run a 100-day advertising extravaganza for the Mac's launch, starting with the Super Bowl ad—after all, they had already paid to shoot it and were stuck with the airtime.

1984 - Big Brother


When the ad aired, controversy erupted—viewers either loved or hated the ad, and it spurred a wave of media coverage that involved news shows replaying the ad as part of covering it, leading to estimates of an additional $5 million in "free" airtime for the ad. All three national networks, plus countless local markets, ran news stories about the ad. "1984" become a cultural event, and served as a blueprint for future Apple product launches. The marketing logic was brilliantly simple: create an ad campaign that sparked controversy (for example, by insinuating that IBM was like Big Brother), and the media will cover your launch for free, amplifying the message.

The full ad famously ran once during the Super Bowl XVIII (on January 22, 1984), but it also ran the month prior—on December 31, 1983, TV station operator Tom Frank ran the ad on KMVT at the last possible time slot before midnight, in order to qualify for 1983's advertising awards.* (Any awards the ad won would mean more media coverage.) Apple paid to screen the ad in movie theaters before movie trailers, further heightening anticipation for the Mac launch. In addition to all that, the 30-second version was aired across the country after its debut on the Super Bowl.

Chiat\Day adman Steve Hayden recalled: "We ran a 30- second version of '1984' in the top 10 U.S. markets, plus, in an admittedly childish move, in an 11th market—Boca Raton, Florida, headquarters for IBM's PC division." Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld ended his remembrance of the ad by saying:

"A week after the Macintosh launch, Apple held its January board meeting. The Macintosh executive staff was invited to attend, not knowing what to expect. When the Mac people entered the room, everyone on the board rose and gave them a standing ovation, acknowledging that they were wrong about the commercial and congratulating the team for pulling off a fantastic launch.

Chiat\Day wanted the commercial to qualify for upcoming advertising awards, so they ran it once at 1 AM at a small television station in Twin Falls, Idaho, KMVT, on December 15, 1983 [incorrect; see below for an update on this -ed]. And sure enough it won just about every possible award, including best commercial of the decade. Twenty years later it's considered one of the most memorable television commercials ever made."


A year later, Apple again employed Chiat\Day to make a blockbuster ad for their Macintosh Office product line, which was basically a file server, networking gear, and a laser printer. Directed by Ridley Scott's brother Tony, the new ad was called "Lemmings," and featured blindfolded businesspeople whistling an out-of-tune version of Snow White's "Heigh-Ho" as they followed each other off a cliff (referencing the myth of lemming suicide).

Jobs and Sculley didn't like the ad, but Chiat\Day convinced them to run it, pointing out that the board hadn't liked the last ad either. But unlike the rousing, empowering message of the "1984" ad, "Lemmings" directly insulted business customers who had already bought IBM computers. It was also weirdly boring—when it was aired at the Super Bowl (with Jobs and Sculley in attendance), nobody really reacted. The ad was a flop, and Apple even proposed running a printed apology in The Wall Street Journal. Jay Chiat shot back, saying that if Apple apologized, Chiat would buy an ad on the next page, apologizing for the apology. It was a mess:


In 2004, the ad was updated for the launch of the iPod. The only change was that the woman with the hammer was now listening to an iPod, which remained clipped to her belt as she ran. You can watch that version too:


Chiat\Day adman Lee Clow gave an interview about the ad, covering some of this material.

Check out Mac team member Andy Hertzfeld's excellent first-person account of the ad. A similar account (but with more from Jobs's point of view) can found in the Steve Jobs biography, and an even more in-depth account is in The Mac Bathroom Reader. The Mac Bathroom Reader is out of print; you can read an excerpt online, including QuickTime movies of the two versions of the ad, plus a behind-the-scenes video. Finally, you might enjoy this 2004 USA Today article about the ad, pointing out that ads for other computers (including Atari, Radio Shack, and IBM's new PCjr) also ran during that Super Bowl.

* = A Note on the Airing in 1983

Update: Thanks to Tom Frank for writing in to correct my earlier mis-statement about the first air date of this commercial. As you can see in his comment below, Hertzfeld's comments above (and the dates cited in other accounts I've seen) are incorrect. Stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Frank, in which we discuss what it was like running both "1984" and "Lemmings" before they were on the Super Bowl!

Update 2: You can read the story behind this post in Chris's book The Blogger Abides.

This post originally appeared in 2012.


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