Begin Japanology with Peter Barakan

I went to Japan last Christmas and loved it. Everywhere is clean, the people are courteous, street life is lively and safe, free public restrooms everywhere, spectacular shrines temples and gardens, handmade things made of natural materials. The entire country seems to be curated by people with discreetly minimalist good taste mixed with a bit of wabi-sabi aesthetic. I just scratched the surface, but it's quite a surface. 

While surfing around for things Japanese, I came across the oddly-named TV series Begin Japanology, produced by Japan's national television channel. The understated host, longtime Japan resident and fluent English speaker Peter Barakan (apparently he's half Burmese and half English) presents half-hour shows dedicated to everything from Kyudo to festivals to incense to fireworks to shopping streets to sake to masks to swords to folding fans to Western Japanophiles to pickles, plums, sushi, and calligraphy. Here's one on incense, which, it turns out, has its own highly formalized ceremony: 

By now there seem to be hundreds of episodes -- a long but not exhaustive Youtube playlist is here.  The production values are reasonably high, without being ostentatious. There's often a slight twist: the episode on kendo features an in-depth profile of a young kendo master with one arm who routinely beats two-armed opponents without being given any advantages. Barakan profiles many fascinating Japanese, from retired managers who carve masks in their spare time to famous tea masters, actors, puppeteers and architects. Barakan, a congenial, low-key host, also has a weakness for ordinary Japanese who are trying to maintain some of the many traditions which teeter on the verge of extinction. As with many Japanese shows, there's a lot of pleasantly burbling background music, some of it a bit incongruous.

The shows focus on traditional, non-controversial topics, so I don't think we're going to see a episode on soaplands anytime soon. But within their limited scope, these shows are well-done, with thoughtful scripts, interesting subject choices, and a few modest surprises here and there. Highly recommended.


African Immigrants and the Peter Singer Problem

Those who advocate open borders, or at least a huge liberalization of EU immigration policy, have an ally in the influential Australian philosopher Peter Singer, who has argued that all people in the West must make painful financial sacrifices of most of their disposable income to help the world's poor:

Peter Singer has argued in Practical Ethics (1993) that you are morally deficient if you eat meat, or if you fail to give a good bit of your income – 5% if you earn more than $100,000, and at least 10% of income over $150,000 – to help the world’s most destitute. It’s actually worse than that. If you take Singer’s arguments seriously, you should be giving nearly everything you have to charity. (Singer himself doesn’t go that far, giving away only 20% of his income. Nobody’s perfect.)

...Singer’s basic argument is simple, relying on two main principles. Somewhat paraphrased, these principles are, first, maximize pleasure and minimize suffering; and second, all pleasure or suffering counts equally. (Because of Singer’s particular interests, the bit about minimizing suffering plays a larger role than the bit about maximizing pleasure.) You can question how to apply these principles in particular situations, but for Singer there are no principles more fundamental.

One immediate consequence of Singer’s principles is that animal suffering should weigh as heavily in your decisions as human suffering: that’s part of what he means by ‘all suffering counts equally.’ Animals may not suffer as much as humans, but whatever their suffering, it’s as significant as an equal amount of human suffering.

Another consequence of treating everyone’s – sorry, every organism’s – suffering the same, is that your suffering doesn’t count more than anyone else’s. Since there are so many people in the world who suffer more than you, it follows that you should give a substantial part of your wealth to alleviate that suffering...

To convince you that you should give more of your wealth to alleviate suffering, Singer uses a persuasive analogy. Suppose you see a child drowning in a pool. You can rescue the child at no danger to yourself, but at the cost of ruining your new suit (PE, p.229). Clearly, you are morally obliged to wade in, suit be damned. But, says Singer, if you are a moderately well-off citizen of a first world nation, donating 10% of your income to CARE or Oxfam will similarly relieve much suffering, with only a modest impingement on your lifestyle (p.222). As with the drowning child, you can’t just walk by. You have to grab your chequebook and wade on in.

Using similar principles, Singer concludes that you must be a vegetarian, 'that you shouldn’t give your own children extraordinary advantages' and that we should encourage very old people to kill themselves -- perhaps even kill them ourselves -- so that we can spend the €200,000 it costs to prolong Grandma's life for 4 months to immunize 1000 poor children. Some of these things Peter Singer believes, others are thought experiments designed to foster discussion (and boy, do they ever). He cheerfully admits people will never do most of these things, but they should.

I don't know whether Peter Singer has endorsed open borders between Europe and Africa, but I can imagine he would. And therein lies the problem: almost no Westerners have ever lived up to Peter Singer's idea of completely moral conduct, and they never will. And most of them are OK with that, don't like being scolded as immoral, and think that they are nevertheless decent people. The counter-arguments to Singer are manifold, starting with Hume, who declares it to be perfectly normal and understandable that we care more about those closest to us than those far distant. (The linked article sets out all the critiques). Catholic social teaching holds the same view. And virtually every human alive does too, especially if we judge them by their actions, not their words. Plus, you can't develop a workable ethical system without context-based compromises:

In real societies, and especially in large-scale modern societies, there are a profusion of competing ethical principles. In speaking of ‘competing principles’, I don’t just mean that different people have different principles (although they do), but that there are many principles, in competition with each other, guiding any single person’s actions. All those principles can’t all be true all the time. We harmonize them, to the extent we can, by adjusting the contexts in which we see them as applicable.

If ethical rules arise out of the rough and tumble of harmonizing our own interests, including our social impulses, with the interests of others, and with the contingencies thrown up by an infinitely-various natural world, then the rules we come up with are likely to be partial rules for the here and now, not universal rules which will work in all situations, especially those far from our experience; and there are likely to be a large number of rules, each applicable in a small if ill-defined context. For even the most basic ethical rule, there will be contexts where it clearly applies, contexts where it clearly doesn’t apply, and a large grey area in which there can be indecision and controversy. ‘Thou shalt not kill’, for example, is an unimpeachable moral principle, but we can still argue about its range of legitimate application. Self-defense? Just wars? Abortion? Euthanasia? Animals? Vegetables? Around the sizeable edges, there is plenty of room for dispute. It’s not a criticism of a rule to admit that it’s not always clear where it applies.


Why Not Get the Federation of Expellees on Your Side?

One thing that anti-death penalty forces in the US have been doing for years is reaching out to conservatives. Everyone knows all the arguments of lefty death penalty abolitionists and most people disagree with them. Usual suspects, heard it all before, etc. But when those arguments, or similar ones, come from conservatives, people may give the message a second chance. The movement against mass incarceration and capital punishment in the US has gained momentum recently in part because conservatives, not just the usual suspects, have joined in.

Why not reach out to the Federation of Expellees, or the Bund der Vertriebenen? This is the organization that represents the families of the 12 million Germans expelled from Eastern Europe after World War II. It's got a reputation for being right-wing in outlook, since some of the people who got expelled were either active Nazis or collaborators. But at the same time, these are people who claim to be intimately familiar with the wrenching agony of being displaced and dispossessed by war and its aftermath. They might be convinced to issue a statement saying that Europe should massively increase the number of refugees it will accept from Syria and Iraq, especially Christians and other religious minorities who face massacre by Islamic extremists. After all, it is their signature issue. Heck, they may even have already done this, but if so I can't find anything on their website. People would sit up and take notice if the Bund der Vertriebenen called for the German government to accept 200,000 Syrian war refugees from Lebanon and Turkey. Germany has the resources to settle 200,000 immigrants, and if they were all actual, documented refugees from war zones, the political will might exist as well.

This would not address the issue of economic refugees, but nothing is going to convince large numbers of Europeans to accept millions of new immigrants just because those people can't find good jobs at home. Many pro-immigrant groups seem to intentionally obfuscate the line of demarcation between economic refugees and those fleeing war and deadly persecution, lumping everyone together with feel-good slogans like 'No person is illegal'. But this is dumb and shortsighted, since the average citizen of an EU country is likely to have much more sympathy for war refugees than economic ones. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.


They Will Be Sent Back

The Guardian has seen a draft of the new EU plan for combating boat refugees:

Only 5,000 resettlement places across Europe are to be offered to refugees under the emergency summit crisis package to be agreed by EU leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

A confidential draft summit statement seen by the Guardian indicates that the vast majority of those who survive the journey and make it to Italy – 150,000 did so last year – will be sent back as irregular migrants under a new rapid-return programme co-ordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex. More than 36,000 boat survivors have reached Italy, Malta and Greece so far this year.

...

Instead, the EU leaders are likely to agree that immediate preparations should begin to “undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture and destroy vessels before they are used by traffickers”. The joint EU military operation is to be undertaken within international law.

But the head of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, said on the eve of the summit that saving migrants’ lives should not be the priority for his maritime patrols despite the clamour for a more humane response after the deaths of 800 refugees and migrants at the weekend.

Way back in February, your humble blog-master said:

Given a choice between opening Europe's borders and ruthlessly ratcheting up border controls, European leaders will mouth the appropriate platitudes about human rights and enhancing opportunity, then send out the warships to mine the Mediterranean. And in the cold hard light of political reality and modern statecraft, there is no reason they shouldn't, since that's what their voters prefer.

As long as European voters and societies are not willing and prepared to accept tens of millions of refugees from Africa and the Middle East -- and they're not -- this is the policy you're going to get. I would say there should be many more places devoted to actual refugees from war zones or facing imminent injury or death from ethnic persecution, since that is the core of what refugee protection is for. But to stop the pull factor, you'll need to destroy the boats before they can launch. If they do launch, rescue the refugees, process them, and then send them back unless they can prove they are not economic refugees.

This may sound harsh, but it will save lives in the long run. And if you think enforcing strict border controls is beyond the pale, have you noticed that Australia and the U.S. -- racially diverse nations composed (largely) of immigrants, which have a comparatively welcoming attitude towards foreigners -- have tight border control policies? President Obama, that notorious racist xenophobe, has presided over an unprecedented levels of deportations at the US-Mexican border, and has seen attempted border crossings drop.

Any announcement will bring the predictable denunciations, but that is pure signaling. People who have no constructive solutions for this thorny issue will nevertheless write self-congratulatory screeds denouncing whatever the EU does, and heaping scorn and vilification on EU policymakers. This makes them feel good, signals their superior morality, and does nothing to help refugees. If you want to liberalize EU immigration policy, you need to start at home, by convincing your fellow citizens that they should support such a move. And here's a pro-tip: calling them racists, xenophobes, and/or Bild-addled troglodytes may make you feel terribly virtuous, but it doesn't work.


The Animal Anal Alarm™

So, I have cats. Like dogs, cats sometimes like to lick you. This can be pleasant and invigorating. But when Fido jumps up on you when you return from work and plants a big wet kiss on your cheek or hand, somewhere in the back of your mind you're thinking: 'I wonder how long it's been since Fido gave a tongue-bath to his anus.' In fact, your dog may have just eagerly gulped down a family-sized portion of some other dog's -- or even his own -- fecal matter.

Why can't technology provide a solution to this problem? If you can wear something on your wrist that knows whether you're sleeping or how many steps you climbed, you should be able to invent some sort of accelerometer-GPS-quantum-gizmo that can tell when your pet last french-kissed the old bunghole. So as Fido closes in for the greeting, you sneak a peek at the digital collar display. If it reads '210 minutes', you're probably OK. If it reads '6 seconds', EVASIVE ACTION.

Who wants to help me kickstarter this and become a millionaire?


German Pharmacist-Interrogators Despise Your Diseased Feet

Firoozeh Dumas moved from America to Germany and experienced the opinionated world of German customer service at the pharmacy or, as she calls it, the shame shack:

Let’s say you have a borderline embarrassing medical condition. Here’s how it goes down in America: You go to Target, walk past the dollar bins (keep walking, your local landfill thanks you), stroll to the pharmacy located near the free restrooms, pick up your over-the-counter medication, amble toward the registers while deciding which one of the many available cashiers will have the pleasure of ringing up your purchase, and finally pick up a pack of gum or the latest Disney princess Band-Aids. A minute later, the cashier asks, “Did you find everything you needed today?”

I moved to Germany two years ago, and my German friends tell me that they dislike this fake American friendliness. But it’s not fake! If you ever respond to the cashier with, “I did not find the all-in-one solar-paneled suntan spray with built-in fan that doubles as a beer mug,” said cashier will call over a colleague whose sole purpose will then be to find this object in the vast caverns of Target. Granted, maybe both of these employees hate their jobs, but you will never know that by their pleasant behavior. That’s America.

[Now to Berlin] I ... approached the pharmacist. “I am looking for medicine for foot fungus, fusspilz,” I added, in a low voice.

“This is for YOU?” she asked loudly, pointing to me. Her English was fine. Volume control, not so much.

... As soon as I confessed, a second pharmacist popped up, like a jack-in-the-box, from behind the counter. She said something to the first pharmacist, who said something back. It all sounded very judgmental. “What did they say?” I asked my daughter, who is not only my restroom decoy but also my translator.

“You have foot fungus?” the second pharmacist asked. Why was she getting involved? I did not need, or want, two pharmacists.

“Yes,” I said, again.

She then reached for a small box behind the counter.

The first pharmacist said, “You use TWO times,” holding up two fingers. “Every day.”

“Wear socks, then wash socks,” the second one added.

“Wash socks in HOT water,” the first one said.

“But not with other clothes,” No.2 added.

“Separately,” No.1 said.

“More laundry! Lucky me!” I said, trying to be funny, which never works in Germany.

“This is because you have foot fungus,” No.1 reminded me.

“Yes, I do,” I confessed again.

I paid for the ointment, while my daughter selected a lollipop.

As we left the shame shack, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the Target employees whose names I may not remember, but whose earnestness I do. I miss you.

I had minor surgery a couple years ago. Before leaving, a seemingly normal German doctor in his late 50s came by to advise me about wound care at home. I asked him when I could next take a shower. He said: 'Wait 2 days. And don't use soap of any kind.'

'Why not?' I asked.

'Why, do you normally use soap when you shower'?

'Uh, of course.'

'Well, I don't. You shouldn't either. Nobody should. By all means shower, but avoid soap. All that stuff does is clog your pores and stick germs to your body, and it's terrible for the environment. The only reason people use it is the big companies have convinced them by marketing that they need to smell like flowers. Your body is covered in natural oils that have protected it for hundreds of thousands of years when soap never existed. Soap destroys that natural protection layer. Don't use it, ever.'

'But what do you use to avoid stinking like a French whore?'

'Nothing. Just a nice shower of plain water every couple of days.'

He was standing about a meter away from me and never came close enough for me to test his theory.

I still use soap when I shower. 


Should Europe Open its Borders? Let's Think this Through.

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Can anyone spot the fallacy in this popular Internet meme? If you guessed 'comparing apples to oranges', collect your prize! Holland and Belgium have virtually identical standards of living, so nobody's desperate to get from one to the other. Mexico and the USA have one of the highest differences in standard of living ever measured, so millions of people from Mexico and places south are desperate to get into the United States, and 11 million Mexicans alone are living undocumented in the USA right now. That's why that fence exists, and it's also why President Barack Obama, noted liberal, has presided over extremely tough enforcement of American immigration laws.

After up to 700 people just died trying desperately to get from Africa to Europe, I think we can begin to understand what a more accurate comparison might be. Now, of course, the drowning at sea is a horrible catastrophe, but I try to avoid Betroffenheitsgelaber (sorry, kind of untranslatable, think lip service) on this blog. The last time hundreds died in the Mediterranean, EU representatives solemnly swore that they were utterly horrified and change was urgently needed: "We cannot stand by and watch idly while more people perish in the Mediterranean. Since then many more have since drowned in the sea. 3000 already this year. Every single life lost off our coasts is a stain on our civilization." Since that solemn vow, EU policy has barely budged, and people keep drowning. Talk is cheap. 

There have been plenty of responses to Europe's disastrous immigration policy, including a Canadian law professor urging the EU to simply open its borders, to Heribert Prantl of the Süddeusche Zeitung. This omnipresent talk show guest and professional center-left opinionator urged something relatively similar in a recent and much-cited opinion piece (g, my translation):

The EU must create legal paths to immigration. The EU must suspend visa requirements for a certain time. The EU must accept refugee applications in the countries where the refugees originate. Refugees from hellish states (Syria) must be settled in EU countries. The EU has won the Nobel Prize. An EU that watches as people die should have the prize revoked. An EU that regards and exploits the Mediterranean Sea as its ally is a murderous union.

American immigration skeptic and gleefully blunt contrarian Steve Sailer, surprisingly, joins Prantl as to exactly one point:

A simple reform would be to modernize the refugee application system to the 21st Century and run it solely over the Internet. You can apply from your local Internet cafe in your own country, and if you are Einstein, Solzhenitsyn, or Coetzee, you get in. If you aren’t, too bad, stay home. If you show up without your application being already approved, you get a year in a work camp and a one way ticket home.

This would stop the drownings quick.

The current refugee system is like if you showed up at Harvard in person and demanded they let you be a student, so they say, well, we’ll take a couple of semesters to process your application, so in the meantime here’s the Harvard course catalog!

Funny how Harvard doesn’t work that way.

The main problem with EU immigration policy is the double standards and ambiguities. The land borders of the EU are controlled and hard to access. Also, you must reach an EU state to apply for refugee status. So, because you have to somehow set foot on European soil and probably can't do it overland, the terrifyingly dangerous sea voyage remains your only option. And since some people do make it occasionally, more and more immigrants dare the voyage, thousands every week. As psychologists and slot-machine designers have long known, intermittent, random rewards serve as an even stronger behavioral incentive than constant rewards.

So the current situation of random rewards is the worst possible outcome. Seems like the only two alternatives which would reduce the possibility of further sinkings are either a huge liberalization a la Prantl, or an absolute shutdown: You apply for asylum online in your home country and must submit identifying information such as a fingerprint or retinal scan. If you're rejected, that's it. Only those with granted permits will be allowed into the EU, all others will be intercepted at sea and deported back to their home countries immediately, no exceptions. Option number two will probably result in some people who might have valid asylum claims not getting asylum, but if rigorously enforced, would probably reduce the number of drownings.

Number two is liberalization similar to what Prantl describes. Keep in mind, though, that allowing millions of new immigrants from Africa into the EU is going to have lots and lots of unforeseen consequences, like (further) erosion of social trust. As one recent study put it: 

Several empirical studies have indeed documented a negative relation between ethnic diversity and generalized trust, an attitude that is considered an important measure of social cohesion. Levels of generalized trust are not just lower among ethnic minorities themselves, but they are also suppressed among majority populations when they face diverse surroundings (Alesina & La Ferrara, 2002; Banting, Johnston, & Soroka, 2006; Bjørnskov, 2006; Hero, 2003). Recently this debate was reinvigorated by the publication of the Putnam (2007) article “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century,” demonstrating a negative impact of ethnic diversity in American society. Based on the results of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, Putnam argues that at least in the short run diversity is likely to weaken community cohesion.

So with that in mind, I have a catalog of questions for Prantl and others who want to see immigration restrictions drastically eased. Yes, I know it's far easier to simply denounce those in power for not having found a solution to this problem yet, but that doesn't actually help anybody. Here are the questions any policy is going to have to answer.

1.    First, who is a 'refugee'? Someone who is facing genocide? Someone facing imminent death or injury based on his or her ethnicity/political views? Someone who is merely facing discrimination and harrassment? Someone who has no economic prospects in their home country because of war, corruption, economic dysfunction? 

2.     Note that if you choose the last category, we will be talking about millions of people. There are 1.1 billion people in Africa alone, and I would imagine at least 40 million would jump at the chance to come to Europe.

3.     Assuming you choose a more restrictive definition than economic refugee, how would you tell them apart? Just by having them sign a form? Would you have hearings where they can present evidence and call witnesses? Where? If you say 'in their country of origin', how many extra diplomats are you going to need? Will they be able to file an appeal of an adverse judgment? Where?

4.     Assuming you choose the most liberal option, you're going to be bringing in an extra 10% of the European population. Which countries would have to take how many people? Assuming distribution according to current population, Germany would have to accept about 8 million new refugees, probably larger than the population of the 6 biggest German cities combined. And that's a minimum. Poorer EU states would probably ask to take fewer than their share. 

5.    Let's cut that number in half to make this easier. Germany now has to find housing and provide food for 4 million new people, many of them illiterate and unskilled. After all, many African countries have perhaps 50-60% literacy rates, and those who can read probably have the best chances in their home countries. Where are you going to put them? And who pays for their upkeep and support? The local government, the state government, the federal government, or the EU? Funding disputes already have levels of the German government at each others' throats. Finding billions for 4 million new immigrants will drive these disputes thermonuclear.

6.     Are you going to allow family reunification? How close a relative do you have to be? How would this be proven? Where would the hearings take place, and who would pay for them? What if an immigrant commits a crime? Blunt truth: They're disproportionately likely to do so, which explains why they're massively over-represented in French and German prisons. As I've pointed out on this blog before, French prisons are 70% Muslim. Let that sink in. 70%. Do they get one crime before deportation? Two? Also, what if they can't or won't learn Dutch or Czech? Not the easiest languages to learn, especially for illiterate people.

7.    And now for the backlash. Opinion writers and liberal activists don't have to worry about immigrants taking their jobs, but bricklayers, delivery drivers, cashiers, warehouse workers, etc. sure do. They will notice massive downward pressure on wages for low-skilled work. So, you either ban the immigrants from working and pay the massive resulting welfare bills, or you let them work and face social upheaval. Current levels of immigration have fueled a huge boom for the European nationalist right, imagine what quadrupling the levels of immigrants would do.

8.    Now, who makes this policy? The EU? If so, then what happens when Hungarians vote in a government or a referendum that rejects it. Will all the immigrants slated for Hungary be re-routed to other EU states?

9.    And now to European voters. If you asked German voters whether they would be willing to pay extra taxes to accommodate 4 million new immigrants, I have zero doubt what the answer would be. Now you can denounce these people and mock them and create Internet memes about how xenophobic they are, but they don't care. You can also denounce the political parties that represent them, but that accomplishes nothing. The Front National already knows you hate them and they are fine with that. How are you going to build a cordon sanitaire against a right-wing party that gets 40% of the vote?

Those are just a few of the hundreds of questions that have to be addressed when you think about immigration policy. I have yet to see any lefty critic of current EU immigration policy even try to provide an empirically sound answer to any but a few of these questions. Some policy problems have simple solutions, this one doesn't. It's a problem from hell, and liberal critics of the EU's current regime should switch from simply bitching about what some politician said to trying to find workable answers to this problem from hell.  


Me and the German Press: A Troubled Relationship

Just got another press inquiry from a German TV station, this time about the recent study of unreliable FBI hair-comparison evidence, which was used in hundreds of convictions. There were also a few calls after the Charleston shooting.

I've decided to no longer give spontaneous, off-the-cuff interviews about whatever US criminal-justice story is burning up the German Internets. I tell them I'll read up on the issue in my spare time until I have a secure understanding of the facts and legal background, and then be happy to answer questions in a few days. I told this nice lady that I didn't know enough about the story to comment intelligently (especially in a 2-minute interview), and that probably wasn't going to change, since I'm not really interested in it. 

They are always disappointed, while I am relieved. I hate telephones anyway, I have no idea why they still exist.


Coming to Terms with Günter Grass

Marian Wirth allowed me to post his pithy assessment of Grass, hoisted from a comment feed on another website:

Grass was pretty much the last surviving founding father of German post-war literature. He became instantly famous with his debut novel and used the financial independence and the fame to promote authors younger and/or less successful than him, to improve Germany's position in the world and to boost interest in German as a language all over the world.

It still confuses me to hear foreign authors praise Grass - celebrities like Salman Rushdie, who spent the day Grass died defending him on Twitter, as well as national celebrities in, say, Brazil or Nigeria, who tell you how much they adore Grass ever since they read the TIN DRUM as a teenager and I'm always like "WHAT?!" when I hear that because everything about Grass and his most notorious book is so German that I have still trouble believing it even got translated into English.

Bottom line: He was THE most important figure for German literature and one of the leading brand ambassadors for German culture. Even people who disagreed on everything with Grass can't deny that and it drives them crazy, I can tell you.

Grass was a man of many talents. Unfortunately, he got famous for writing novels, his least developed talent.

He was a world class boozer, smoker and dancer.
He was an outstanding sculptor.
He was a phenomenal graphic artist.
He was an efficient SPD canvasser.
He was one of the three leading anti-Semites in Germany, and a decent poet, resulting in the ugliest piece of anti-Semitism published in Germany after the second world war.

His novels are more or less unreadable, since he subscribed to the leading principles of German post-war literature such as the following: avoid direct speech at all cost. Direct speech and dialogue are evil, leave them to the Americans and their movie-script like writing. It's your job to make the readers suffer. Insurmountable blocks of text are your thing. Long winding, meandering sentences filled with German guilt and with guilt to be a human being enjoying life are your profession.

I have read several of his novels, though failed twice to read the TIN DRUM (I'll give it a third try soon). "Too Far Afield" took me over a year to get through. My favorite Grass novel is The Meeting at Telgte.

Politically, he was wrong on everything after 1990. Not only was he wrong on everything, his criticism was always over the top, mean, vile and presented in an apodictic fashion that made it impossible to argue against it. This rant is presented in a similar way to make it more obvious what drove me away from Grass.

So much for an executive summary of what needs to be said about Grass. Vale, rest in peace etc. should still apply, of course.