Jörg Albrecht's Drive-By Insult of Charles Murray

If Germans often have peculiar ideas about the rest of the world, you can often chalk it up to the journalists on whom they rely for information.

Case in point: I open up German's leading broadsheet, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, and there's a long article (g) by the German science journalist Jörg Albrecht.* Much of it is a detailed discussion about Nicholas Wade's recent book A Troubled Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. Albrecht prefaces the discussion thus (my translation):

Since the book has been on the market, there has been a reprise of the discussion triggered twenty years ago by the psychologists Richard Herrnstein and the political scientist Charles Murray. Their message, put forward in an 800-page doorstep called 'The Bell Curve', was, to abbreviate slightly, that negroes (Neger) are on average dumber than whites, that this is true from birth onward, and that therefore there's not much reason to invest in their education.

Wade's book is not quite this coarse (grobschlächtig).

There is no higher responsibility for a translator or someone writing about a book in a foreign language than to give a reasonably fair representation to his or her readers. I read The Bell Curve shortly after it was published to see what all the fuss was about, and I can say Albrecht's characterization is, as it was intended to be, nothing but a drive-by insult. Like so much German journalism, his description of The Bell Curve is not meant to enlighten readers, but to condescendingly warn them away from ideas the journalist disagrees with. 

Also, importantly, the word Neger, which I translated as 'Negro', is a racial insult. In context, in German, it's not as explosive as 'nigger' in English, but it's regarded as intentionally insulting and is never used in polite conversation. Blacks are never referred to by racial insults in The Bell Curve, except in quotations from other works. Whatever you think of Charles Murray's ideas, he never uses racially insulting language.

I think I'll tweet this to Charles Murray in case he might wish to pursue matters.

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200 Break-Ins and Still Going

A few weeks ago I posted a scholarly paper from 2011 noting that overall in Europe, crime rates have been increasing over the past few decades, while they've been decreasing in the USA. The authors of the paper put forward some tentative explanations for why this might be, and one of them was that (1) sending people to prison does deter crime, and (2) Europe doesn't imprison enough people. I like the contrarian aspect here: the United States earns a lot of criticism from Europeans for being too harsh on criminals (much of it justified) , but what if Europe is being too lenient?

Which brings us to a recent news story (g) from Hofheim, a burg in the German state of Hessen. A 30-year-old man heard suspicious noises in the basement of his apartment building, went down to investigate, and found a burglar rummaging around there. The burglar had a screwdriver with him. The man punched the burglar a few times and held him until police arrived. The man is going to be charged with assault, but may be able to plead self-defense.

The police note that you are allowed to detain someone in this situation, but not assault them. Of course, they advise residents who find a burglar to dial the police emergency number 110, not to confront them. But 85% of residential burglaries in Germany go unsolved, and burglaries are increasing. And even if the police find the criminal, that hardly guarantees you'll get your property back. So if the guy leaves before the police arrive, you can probably give up hope of finding anything he stole. Under these circumstances, how can you blame someone for wanting to stop the burglar right away? 

Which brings us to the perpetrator in the Hofheim case, a 17-year-old who, according to police, has already compiled a record of over 200 property crimes, including break-ins, bike thefts, and the like. That's not a typo, 200. Like all mainstream German press reports about crime, this one is almost tauntingly vague about details. In particular, we learn nothing more about the burglar or why, in particular, he is still free after committing 200 crimes.

But shouldn't that be the first question anyone asks? Presumably each individual crime was not considered serious enough to warrant a custodial sentence, particularly for a 17-year-old. And apparently German law lacks the facility to take into account a history and pattern of crime when sentencing an offender for each fresh offense. That's my guess, but if you've got more information, I'd be happy to have it.

This is why I don't get as excited about the Bild tabloid as many people I know. I can easily imagine a headline with the blurred-out picture of the young man: '200 Thefts -- And the Court's Can't or Won't Stop Him!' The breathless headline would immediately be condemned by Bild critics as pandering to Joe Sixpack's ignorant lust for revenge. And if the thief is named Ali S. or Mehmet G., xenophobia as well.

But if it is the case that the justice system is not taking property crimes seriously -- and a 15% clearance rate and 17-year-old roaming about with a record of 200 thefts seems to show it isn't -- this is an important policy issue. There should be a debate about this, and police and judges should be confronted and forced to respond about why they are apparently unable to protect citizens' property. If the 'respectable' press won't do this, then only Bild will bother.

To the Middle Class, Germany is Broke and In Decline

[I'm cross-posting this from the immigration blog, since it seems to fit here too]

One of the slogans that pop up in the migrant crisis is that German exports are booming and the country is rich, therefore it can and should accept millions of new migrants.

True, unemployment is low and exports are booming. But that has nothing to do with how ordinary middle-class Germans see their country's financial position. Chancellor Merkel and her party have long sung the praises of the 'lean state', (Schlanker Staat). This translates, as a practical matter, into severe budget cuts in the public sector and privatization. Of course, the German Social Democratic also did party did its part to hollow out the German welfare state in the early 2000s, under Chancellor Schröder. They still haven't recovered from the damage that step did to their reputation.

The result is that many ordinary middle-class Germans experience their country as broke and in decline. They grew up in a country with a solid welfare state and well-funded public services, and have steadily watched those things disappear, slowly but surely, as a result of successive waves of budget-cutting and privatization. Germany doesn't have enough teachers, enough cops, enough university places, enough preschool places, enough money for street repair, for school repair, enough money to keep the trains running on time. 

Some cases in point: In the past decade or so, Germany has cut (g) 16,000 police jobs all over the country, including 3,300 in the most populous state, and 2,900 in Berlin. This comes at a time when violent crime in Germany has been increasing steadily. These cuts explain why migrant shelters are (under)staffed by poorly-trained private security forces working in precarious jobs for minimum wage.

According to a recent confidential government report which a German newspaper had to sue to gain access to, 12,000 bridges in Germany (g) need renovation. 3.8 million square meters need urgent repair, a task that will cost tens of billions of dollars. Since local governments don't have the money for the repairs of their streets, they are turning to private industry (g). The national train concern Deutsche Bahn has increased prices every single year for years at a rate higher than the inflation rate (g), while at the same time on-time performance is reaching historic lows (g).

Germany also doesn't have enough teachers. In Germany's most populous state, Northern Rhine-Westphalia, there is a current deficit (g) of 3,560 teaching jobs to handle current student needs, and other federal states have similar problems. The problem is so severe that many German newspapers have created special 'teacher shortage' (g) rubrics to report on the situation. And these projections are based on the needs of current students, without taking into account the arrival of hundreds of thousands of migrant children who will need years of labor-intensive remedial instruction. A leading German newspaper recently asked readers (g) to comment on the state of the public schools their children go to, more than 70% half said the schools were in bad condition, 90% said they had been called on to donate time or materials to repair their children's schools, and many said they didn't let their children use the bathrooms in school because they were so dirty and dangerous.

German governments at all levels have gotten out of the business of building state-subsidized affordable housing. They are not only not building new apartments, they are selling the ones they already own. As a result, rental prices and homelessness have increased (g) in Germany regularly over the past 10 years. According to a recent study, 39,000 more people started living on the street in Germany over the past two years: 'The Federal Working Group for Help for the Homeless expects by 2018 a further 61 percent increase in homeless people. By then, around 540,000 people will have no place to live. The cause for the increase in homelessness are, according to the group, high rents and the increasing poverty of lower income groups.' And Germans are angry about increasing rents. A 2013 study (g) by a tenants' association showed that 90 percent felt that there were not enough affordable apartments in large cities, that 97% believed subsidized housing should be maintained, and 89% felt that the state was not doing enough to provide affordable housing. And this was, of course, before hundreds of thousands of new migrants began competing for low-income housing with government vouchers in their hands.

This might be a good time to mention that real wages in Germany have been stagnant for years, and that many new jobs being created are part-time contract labor with no benefits. It is true that Germans still have an excellent standard of living in many ways, but perceptions matter, and lots of Germans perceive that costs are exploding while their incomes stagnate.

This is the needed background to the current immigration debate. Politicians of all stripes warn that Germany must avoid a situation in which middle-class Germans have to compete with hundreds of thousands of refugees for affordable housing and public transportation, and in which the special needs of migrant children drains resources away from German children. This is already happening, and will get much worse in the coming years. Training teachers and building new affordable housing takes years. Further, it will only happen if there is the political will to spend tens of billions of dollars to do it. That does not exist.

So far, Angela Merkel and other mainstream German politicians appear convinced that middle-class Germans will willingly accept competition for housing and scarce public resources and a further reduction in their standard of living, all so that the 'lean state' can accommodate hundreds of thousands of foreigners on the cheap.

I think those politicians are wrong. If middle-class Germans become convinced that their political leaders care more about the needs of foreign newcomers than struggling middle-class Germans, things will get very ugly indeed.

Sunset on the Düssel, 29 October 2015

Düsseldorf is named after the Düssel river, which used to be a mighty torrent flowing into the Rhein. Somewhat improbably, there is an English-language Wikipedia entry for it:

The Düssel is a small right tributary of the River Rhine in North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. Its source is between Wülfrath and Velbert. It flows westward through the Neander Valley where the fossils of the first Neanderthal man were found in 1856. At Düsseldorf it forms ariver delta by splitting into four streams (Nördliche Düssel, Südliche Düssel, Kittelbach, Brückerbach), which all join the Rhine after a few kilometers.

Düsseldorf takes its name from the Düssel: Düsseldorf means "the village of Düssel". The name Düssel itself probably dates back to the Germanic thusila and means "roar" (Old High Germandoson).

Nowadays the Düssel is much-reduced, and is routed underground in many places. Nevertheless, it's allowed to surface pretty often, and when it does, the city planners have done the most with it, using it to create ponds, lakes, mirror pools, and babbling brooks. Here's a GoPro timelapse of the southern tributary which runs through my neighborhood, yesterday, at sunset:


Eurhythmics from the East

For those of you who don't speak German, this curious gem of a video from the International Socialist Peace and Freedom Conference of 1974 (held in Rio de Janeiro) shows the East German women's rhythmic gymnastics team introducing their new outfits for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.

All 22 ladies show off the daring new 'Progess and Equality' themed uniforms, half black and half multicolored, which were the first in East German history not designed by Margot Honecker, wife of East German Premier Erich Honecker and Minister of Education.

The voice-over commentary is by Erich Mielke, Director of the East German Ministry for State Security (Stasi). Having the secretive super-spy appear on mainstream television programming was part of the short-lived 'Protecting You, Protecting the State, Protecting the Future' program, which was designed to improve the reputation of East German spy agencies. Mielke was removed from the spotlight after he made comments about the apparent facial hair growth of some of the gymnasts, which is just visible from certain angles in this video.

'Emily's Magical Bejeweled Codpiece'


"Tom, museum curator and expert in Renaissance jewelry, doesn’t think his boyfriend Peter is 'The One.' Peter is perfectly happy with Tom, but Tom is obsessed with the artist Benedetto Emilio Nesci—exciting, passionate, extraordinarily talented… and dead for over 400 years. 

Tasked with researching a bejeweled codpiece, Tom abandons his professional ethics—and his sanity—to try on the codpiece and is transported halfway around the world and back in time, right into Florence, Italy and Nesci’s workroom."

Read more here.

Violent Crime is More Common in Europe than the USA

An interesting 2011 paper looks at crime rates since 1970 in the United States and 8 major European countries. The authors, mostly Italian, come to a conclusion that will surprise many people: Europe has become more dangerous than the United States: 

In 1970 the aggregate crime rate in the seven European countries we consider was 63% of the corresponding US figure, but by 2007 it was 85% higher than in the United States. This striking reversal results from a steady increase in the total crime rate in Europe during the last 40 years, and the decline in the US rate after 1990. The reversal of misfortunes is also observed for property and violent crimes.

A few charts:

Crime Rates in the USA and Europe Violent crimes usa europe
An important caveat is that these numbers exclude homicide. The US homicide rate is currently 3-4 times higher than in most European countries. As I've pointed out, this fact is due mostly to two factors: the extremely high rate of black-on-black homicide in the US (52% of all persons arrested in the USA for homicide are black), and of course the wide prevalence of guns in the USA.

Homicide is actually not terribly relevant to public safety. It's much more rare than all other violent crimes, and is overwhelmingly concentrated among certain subgroups. Most homicides occur within an existing relationship, and many others occur among criminal subgroups such as gangs or drug users. The chance of an ordinary European or American being murdered by a stranger in a crime of opportunity is infinitesimally small.

As for general background violence in society, Europe is, statistically, more dangerous. It's interesting to speculate about why this might be. I suspect mass hooligan confrontations between football fans probably plays some rule: Every weekend there are dozens of unruly confrontations between rival football fans which may generate dozens of arrests at once. But still, these have been going on for quite a while.

The authors of the study perform statistical analyses to try to determine why European crime has increased. They do not identify immigration as a significant factor, although they say this is mainly for lack of data. The one factor they do identify as significant is length of incarceration. They argue that Europe's comparatively lenient criminal-sentencing regimes help to explain the crime increase. They find that length of criminal sentence does have an effect on crime rates, and suggest that Europe should increase prison sentences.

At the end of the day, the universal rule for all developed societies holds: crime is concentrated among poor and minority areas, and if you avoid these, your chances of being the victim of a violent crime are minimal. But still, anyone who praises Europe as safer than the USA needs to update their stereotypes.