Merkel and Brexit

Kevin Drum:

For all the praise she gets, Angela Merkel has been one of the most disastrous European leaders in my lifetime. She's as responsible for Brexit as anyone I can think of, thanks to two catastrophic decisions she made.

The first was her insistence on punishing Greece following its collapse after the Great Recession. There's plenty of blame to go around on all sides for the Greece debacle, but as the continent's economic leader Germany held most of the high cards during negotiations over Greece's fate. Merkel had a choice: (a) punish Greece for running up unsustainable debts and lying about them, or (b) accept thatGermany bore much of the blame itself for the crisis and that Greece had no way of rescuing itself thanks to the straitjacket of the common currency. The former was a crowd pleaser. The latter was unpopular and would have required sustained, iron-spined leadership. In the event, Merkel chose to play to the crowds, and Greece has been a basket case ever since—with no end in sight. It hardly went unnoticed in Britain how Europe treated a country that was too entangled with the EU to either fight back or exit, and it made Britain's decision to forego the common currency look prescient. And if that had been a good choice, maybe all the rest of "ever closer union" wasn't such a great idea either.

Merkel's second bad decision was more recent. Here is David Frum: "If any one person drove the United Kingdom out of the European Union, it was Angela Merkel, and her impulsive solo decision in the summer of 2015 to throw open Germany—and then all Europe—to 1.1 million Middle Eastern and North African migrants, with uncountable millions more to come." It's hard to fault Merkel for this on a humanitarian basis, but on a political basis it was a disaster. The barely-controlled wave of refugees Merkel encouraged has caused resentment and more all over Europe, and it unquestionably played a big
role in the immigrant backlash in Britain that powered the Leave vote.


First-Person Testimonial from a Former Refugee Volunteer

This is a young German guy who, by his own information, studies computer science. Let's call him Udo. When huge numbers of migrants began arriving in 2015, he decided to volunteer to help some of them learn German and navigate German society. After negative experiences with the first two migrants he was assigned to help, he was then assigned to a young Syrian man in his early 20s. Let's call the Syrian guy Halil. 

Udo's task was to spend time one-on-one with Halil, teaching him about Germany, helping him with bureaucratic stuff, and generally hanging out. Udo went to restaurants and the movies with Halil, helped him with German, and talked to him for hours about his legal case and his background.

In the video, starting at abour 12:00, Udo describes the experiences with Halil that left him fully disillusioned and led him to stop volunteer work. Here's my summary of the main points in English. 

  • Halil was first registered as a refugee in Italy, and was supposed to be deported back there under existing EU law. Halil hired a lawyer, who won the case and got him a permit to stay in Germany. He then sent Halil a bill for €600. Halil was "outraged" that he was expected to pay for the lawyers' services, because after all, he had won the case.
  • When Udo told Halil that he, Udo, was an atheist, Halil was stunned, and his reaction was somewhat menacing. He said of course there was only one God, Allah, and everyone should believe in him. Halil thought it was a miracle Udo was "still alive" because God would not protect atheists. Halil drinks and smokes.
  • Halil said he believes nobody in Germany has to work, they get free money from the government. He said this is a common belief in Syria, and that is why many people are coming. When Udo explained this is not the case, Halil refused to believe him. Udo found it remarkable that in the age of the Internet, Halili had never bothered to try to find out whether this bizarre rumor was true or not.
  • Back in Syria, Halil was was the 'ass' of the family, his father bossed him around and forced him to run errands. They sent him to get the free money in Germany because he didn't seem to have much of a promising life ahead of him. When asked directly by Udo, Halil said his family had no problems in Syria, and that they were not going to try to follow him because "they're doing OK" there.
  • Halil claimed that he had studied, computer science. Udo was thrilled to hear this, and said "That's great news! Germany needs people like you, with skills. You could have a great future here." But when Udo, who studies computer science himself, actually questioned Halil, it turned out he was completely ignorant on the subject. Either standards in Syria are incredibly low, Udo decided, or Halil had simply told him a bare-faced lie ("knallhart gelogen"). Udo tends to think the latter.
  • Halil said there was drug dealing in the migrant shelter every night. Nobody has ever been arrested for it, and Halil assumed it was either not against the law, or tolerated. When Udo told him it was against the law, Halil became frightened of being arrested. The migrant shelter is right next to a middle school. Udo said it made him angry to learn that there was an active drug market in the migrant shelter right next to a middle school, and that the police were had done nothing. Udo thought the "rumors" about migrant selling drugs were "right-wing propaganda", but no longer believes this.
  • The straw that broke the camel's back, according to Udo, was when Halil reacted with rage to an official letter saying that he should begin looking for an apartment, which would be funded by the state, but that he should limit himself to under 50 square meters (538 square feet). He protested: "How can I live in a place that small?" Udo, being a student, lives in a 23-square-meter apartment, and must pay for it himself. Udo said he fould Halil's demanding attitude so frustrating that he called up the volunteer service and withdrew from the program.
  • Udo concludes by noting that he continues to be sympathetic to refugees and to treat each case on its own merits. However, the media "have not shown" many of the less-appealing sides of the issue. From his own personal experience, he now believes many of the things that he used to consider right-wing lies and propaganda are true.

On his YouTube page Udo has turned off comments, because there was so much nastiness from all sides. I have to say I think what he did takes courage, and I appreciate it. Udo mockery will not be tolerated in the comments here, either.

I have one comment about Halil being the "ass" of the family. I get the strong impression that this is extremely common among migrants. The stories of migrants who appear to have mental problems (low cognitive ability and non-existent impulse control) are legion. Some have burned down their own shelters, many commit crimes on impulse and don't even bother to flee, they get blind drunk on alcohol and engage in all sorts of antisocial behavior. And this doesn't even count the tens of thousands of career petty criminals. There are, by now, thousands, of reports of sexual assaults by migrants. The same goes for migrants on trains or buses who begin staring at a female, then expose their penises and masturbate.

In a crowded train car.

That sort of behavior is not normal anywhere. Which leads me to believe that when families are deciding which young male to send off at to get a job -- or free money -- in Germany, they are likely to send the young men who are "touched in the head". After all, if you have four sons, and three of them are gainfully employed or already fathers, but one has never fit in and causes you constant trouble, who are you going to send off to the West to cast an anchor on the shores of paradise? You send off the Halils. After all, there are no special education classes or government programs for the mentally challenged in most Arab countries. If Halil leaves, your family gets rid of a troublemaker who costs money and constantly threatens the family honor, and in return you get a chance to relocate to Germany. From their perspective, it's win-win.

 


Brexit Fails 47-53

I'm outsourcing this prediction to Kevin Drum:

My sense—though I'd prefer actual data if anyone has collected it—is that secession votes usually follow a pattern: the leavers get an upward bump a few weeks before voting day, but stayers get a bump in the few days before voting day. A fair number of people flirt with the idea of leaving, but then get scared at the last minute and decide to vote for the status quo instead. Basically, in any secession referendum, I figure that Leave needs to be polling at 55 percent or higher to have a realistic chance of winning.

As of today, the polls are still tied, so my guess is that Brexit will fail on Thursday. If I'm right that about 5 percent of the leavers will get cold feet and change their minds, the final tally will be something like 53-47 percent in favor of remaining in the EU. We'll find out in a couple of days.


Immigration Skepticism is a Revolt Against the Elites

Megan McArdle talks to ordinary middle-class English people about immigration in Luton: 

I bought some Polish sausage and pastry at an off-license, some Indian dumplings and Thai noodles at a couple of food trucks, and I sat on a bench in the mall, listening to people from three continents chat with each other in more than half a dozen languages, none of which I spoke.

As an American, this did not strike me as odd; this is what our cities have been like for centuries, particularly on the coasts. One group of immigrants moves in, creates an enclave, then gets rich, assimilates and moves out, making way for the next group that will throw a little of their food, their language and their customs into our vast melting pot. But this is not normal in most of the world. Nor is it necessarily welcome.

Anti-immigration sentiment in the U.S. is often found in places that don’t have enormous immigrant populations, and wonks who proclaim this to be irrational seem not to grasp that those people may be looking at the places that have been transformed by immigration and responding with a fervent “No, thank you.” There’s a lot to be gained from globalism, the mixing of two or more cultures into something new. But something specific and local and much-loved is inevitably lost at the same time, and the people who feel that loss most keenly are the inward-looking people who stay in place, not internationalist elites.

So it’s not that my food was bad -- it was all quite good -- or that there was anything wrong with the immigrants serving and eating it. They all looked like quite nice people. But it was all very different from traditional British food, traditional British people. And no matter how hard we try to argue that it doesn’t matter, it does -- politically, if in no other way. Especially when things aren’t going all that well for the natives.

Somehow, over the last half-century, Western elites managed to convince themselves that nationalism was not real. Perhaps it had been real in the past, like cholera and telegraph machines, but now that we were smarter and more modern, it would be forgotten in the due course of time as better ideas supplanted it.

That now seems hopelessly naive. People do care more about people who are like them -- who speak their language, eat their food, share their customs and values. And when elites try to ignore those sentiments -- or banish them by declaring that they are simply racist -- this doesn’t make the sentiments go away. It makes the non-elites suspect the elites of disloyalty. For though elites may find something vaguely horrifying about saying that you care more about people who are like you than you do about people who are culturally or geographically further away, the rest of the population is outraged by the never-stated corollary: that the elites running things feel no greater moral obligation to their fellow countrymen than they do to some random stranger in another country. And perhaps we can argue that this is the morally correct way to feel -- but if it is truly the case, you can see why ordinary folks would be suspicious about allowing the elites to continue to exercise great power over their lives.

Much of what is foolish and tendentious in the German immigration debate is caused by the failure to realize that immigration affects people in different social classes differently. The Europhile consultants in Prenzlauer Berg associate immigration mainly with delectable ethnic food and cheaper home renovations. As long as they are unable to understand why supermarket cashiers don't share this view, they will continue being (hypocritically, disingenuously) baffled by anti-immigrant sentiment.


Germany's Cunning Plan to Dominate Global Cricket

The Süddeutsche Zeitung has discovered something awesome: Migrants are a hidden gold mine (g)! When it comes to cricket, that is. Before 2015, there were only 1500 cricket players in all of Germany. After "Angela Merkel opened the borders," (the article actually puts it this way) though, cricket-mad migrants from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India streamed in. Now the phones are ringing off the hook at the German Cricket Federation, which still "can't believe" its luck. Officials there are hoping for a dramatic increase in Germany's international cricket standing, which is currently, er, not particularly impressive.

Now, being the Gloomy Gus that I am about these matters, I have to spoil the batsmen's delight with a few nagging questions. First of all, which war was it that Pakistanis and Indians were fleeing, again? Why are people from these stable, peaceful countries still in Germany?

Also, there's are a few things nagging me about this cunning plan to improve Germany's standing in the world of cricket. First, do Germans give a flying fuck about Germany's standing in the world of cricket? Second, if they do, wouldn't the best approach be to import really good cricket players, rather than anyone who happened to make it across the border?

This is like choosing astronauts by running an ad saying: "Astronaut signup day! First ten thousand get in!" Then you randomly select groups of 50 from the 10,000. After forcing them to take off their Chewbacca and Star Trek costumes, you shoot them into space, and see how many survive. After a few decades, billions of euros, and a mere 3,562 dead or disabled, you finally have your crack squad of astronauts!

A briefing room somewhere in the federal ministry for immigration, 2021: "Well, sir, the downside is we let in 40,000 young males from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Only 20% have learned proficient German. Oh, and it turns out 85% of them have no grounds for asylum, they were just economic migrants. 70% are still unemployed and living on government welfare benefits, so the total cost for their maintenance and support has been € 3 billion over the past four years. But the upside is that Germany has moved from #178 to #42 in the international cricket standings!"


A Reinhold-Priebus Controls America

1600

The head of the American Republican Party has one of the strangest names you will ever encounter: Reince Priebus. The Onion mocked it with the headline: "Reince Priebus Forced Back Into Ancient Puzzle Box After Being Tricked Into Saying Name Backwards":

Startled sources at a GOP fundraiser confirmed Thursday that after being duped into saying his own name backwards, ancient elfin mischief-maker and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus was cast back into the gilded puzzle box that has confined him for millennia.

Priebus, a wily, mystical creature who has reportedly carried out right-wing political trickery at numerous points throughout recorded history, was said to be delivering a speech on traditional family values when he unthinkingly read the words “Subeirp Ecnier” aloud off the teleprompter, immediately causing the lights in the Omni Hotel to flicker and sending a powerful, chilling wind through the convention hall.

This weirdness, like so much other weirdness, came from the Fatherland, according to a recent New York Times profile:

“Priebus” is a German name, pronounced like the Toyota Prius with a “b” stuck in the middle. Reince (short for Reinhold, rhymes with “pints”) is 44 but has an older-man’s vibe.

Reinhold! Now that's old school, for an American of German ancestry. Clearly the Priebus family is proud of its German roots. Two things struck me as a bit odd. First, I've never encountered the name Priebus or anything like it here in Germany -- although it's a big country. Second, no German in their right mind would abbreviate Reinhold as Reince, right? I'm thinking Reini.

Insights, anyone?


"A large swath of the Muslim-majority world has a serious problem with gays."

In the New Republic, Omer Aziz takes up a theme I've posted about before many, many times:

Growing up, I attended Koran classes in Toronto every day between the age of 6 and 16. I have traveled around the world and discussed Islam in Geneva, Jordan, Jerusalem, Iraq, and Turkey. I harbor no resentments towards Islam, and despite my current agnosticism, I still call myself a Muslim because the world of Islam has been an integral part of my identity for my entire life. I confess that when discussing Islam with white people, the writer in me tussles with the spokesman who seems to overtake the wheel of my mind, responsibly steering the conversation away from moral gray areas. The offer to become an informant on one’s culture will be familiar to any minority writer, as well as the guilt that comes with confirming a white person’s presumptions that a non-white culture may be inferior. The native informant trap is all too real for any non-white writer and must be avoided; it is doubly real for Muslims who can easily cash in by criticizing their own kind.

With all of that being said, the Orlando killer was a Muslim, and so it is worth stating this in the clearest possible terms: A large swath of the Muslim-majority world has a serious problem with gays. No, Islam does not have a monopoly on homophobia. Countries like Jamaica, Honduras, Uganda, Russia, and China have all passed anti-gay legislation. In America, Lawrence v. Texas, the pivotal Supreme Court Case that struck down the ban on homosexual sex, was decided just 13 years ago, in a 6-3 vote. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton opposed same-sex marriage in 2008. During the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, gays were evicted from their houses, fired from their jobs, and turned away from hospitals. Even after they had left this earth, their dead bodies were rejected by funeral homes. The great Martin Luther King thought homosexuality was a mental illness, which is probably why the great James Baldwin never spoke at the March on Washington.

Still, there is no getting around the truth that homophobia is rampant in the Muslim world. It is clerically justified and socially defended. Fifty-one states constitute the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and ten of them punish homosexual activity with the death penalty, including Afghanistan, where the Orlando killer traced his roots. Nearly all the others have criminalized homosexuality with sentences ranging from one month to life in prison. Gays and lesbians are viewed as demonically inverting nature, as sinners, freaks, deviants, corrupters, insurrectionists, miscreants. Their sexual orientation shames whole families into denouncing them. They live in perpetual fear and perpetual hiding....

Even among far too many Muslims in the West—especially young Muslim males—homophobia takes on either a passive, silent form or an aggressive, vociferous one. In all those years in Koran classes, there was no end to the round-bellied mullahs opining on the Jews or the gays as we children unthinkingly nodded along. The word “faggot” was used as a routine epithet in our vocabulary, a stand-in insult for anything—what did it matter what the Koran said about swearing? Even as an adult, I have found myself time and again in conversations with young Pakistani or Indian or Afghan or Iraqi or Somali men (women tend to be more open-minded), and have heard such grotesquely homophobic comments in such casual tones that it was clear that homophobia was encoded in their—our—brains. I recall one such conversation from a few summers ago when a young Muslim man my age justified the stoning of gays because he said it was in the Koran. When I pressed him on whether he would stone gays himself, he said no, because the Koran stipulated four witnesses to the act and so corporal punishment for gays would never be a concern. (The Koran actually says nothing about stoning gays.) If you are a Muslim and think I am exaggerating about Muslim attitudes towards gays, walk into your local mosque this Friday and inform the imam that you are gay and watch his response. A shield of white liberal guilt protects socially conservative minorities from having their positions challenged, and this shield is harmful—it turns the intellectual space into a cultural ghetto where stale ideas become barriers impermeable to dissent and diversity....

Sexual repression breeds maniacal obsessions. The old men who spend all their waking moments trying to veil women are themselves responding to the self-hatred that comes from self-abnegation. The young men who are tormented by the thought that two gay people might be in love somewhere are, in fact, bedeviled by the belief deep in their hearts that others are free but they themselves are chained to an antiquated morality. Something has gone terribly wrong in the mental and sexual life of a culture—once rich in diversity—when it is hijacked by a conservative puritanism that is autocratically enforced by repressed men.

Laws that are both impossible to follow and impossible not to break create a terrorizing bipolarity in the minds of individuals and the societies they inhabit. Such customs are passed on from generation to generation, abetted by an elaborate facade of traditional purity. These facades are exposed the moment they are challenged, but challenging them comes with consequences, often fatal. Thus, many Muslim families in the West still practice first-cousin marriage despite the many health risks this carries. In what twisted morality is dating bad but borderline incest ok? Homosexuality sinful but grandfathers marrying teenage girls virtuous?...

The fact that a gay bar was attacked by a Muslim man is not to be brushed aside or understated—it is the unconscionable but predictable consequence of a deep-seated homophobia. Which brings me back to the alleged homosexuality of the Orlando killer. His sexual orientation is not a laughing matter, nor is the Muslim-majority world’s attitudes towards gays “irrelevant,” as Yasir Qadhi said. Mateem’s sexual orientation and what Islamic culture says about homosexuality are central to this massacre. The killer’s unrelenting homophobia was a lethal synthesis of what he knew was true about himself and what he knew his fellow Muslims thought of gays. He appears to have been rejecting his own homosexual impulses, which are as natural as heterosexual impulses. His father was himself ruthlessly homophobic. Mateem was afraid of his god, of what his family would say, of how his culture would condemn him, and so his visceral shame became visceral hatred.

Muslim leaders have repeatedly been silent on the sufferings of LGBTQ individuals. They have treated them as though they were unworthy of god’s love. But in debasing gays, Islam’s homophobes have only debased themselves. The battle for civil rights and for dignity will never be won, peace in the Muslim-majority world will never be won, freedom of thought and conscience will never be won, until and unless a sexual revolution accompanies an intellectual one.

One of the reasons to oppose the uncontrolled mass migration of hundreds of thousands of young uneducated Muslim males (all of those adjectives are important -- let's abbreviate them as the suspiciously gay-sounding YUMMs) to Europe is because it will be bad for gays here. I know plenty of gay people, and I appreciate the fact that Germany is one of the most tolerant places in the world. Mass immigration of YUMMs will impair, and possibly destroy that. There are already hundreds of reports of gay or effeminate migrants being threatened, harassed, and beaten in German migrant shelters.

Pro-immigration groups have responded in three ways to this urgent problem.

The first is to denounce anyone who refers to it as xenophobic and racist. However, this strategy quickly ran into a buzz-saw of enraged opposition, and has shown rapidly-diminishing returns. If you spend enough time denouncing reasonable people as xenophobes and racists, the tables quickly turn and you begin to look like the screeching fanatic.

The second is to point out that there are anti-gay people and groups in Germany, as well. While this is certainly true, it's easily countered by two observations. First, while some Germans privately disapprove of homosexuality, it is quite rare for them to openly insult or attack people merely because they are gay. Germany is without doubt one of the most tolerant societies for homosexuals in the world today, and anyone who disputes this has lost touch with reality. Second, the observation that there are Germans with backward views is hardly an argument to import more people with backward views. If you're in a hole, stop digging.

The third response is to call for 'integration' courses in which a pony-tailed social worker explains why it's wrong to insult, beat, or kill gays. This course, it is assumed, will magically cause hundreds of thousands of people to abandon their most deeply-held convictions. This assumption is, of course, a fantasy. No self-respecting European urban liberal would ever agree to despise homosexuals simply because they relocated to a country in which that attitude is common. They may say they believe YUMMs will do the converse, but they probably don't. The question of what happens if the YUMMs don't change their mind is never addressed by pro-immigration groups.

Anyone who wishes to immigrate to Germany for any reason should be grilled extensively on their attitudes toward homosexuals. They don't need to agree to dance in a Christopher Street Day parade in crotchless chaps, but they must endorse complete tolerance toward gays and a categorical rejection of any form of persecution of them. If they show any deep-seated antagonism toward gays, they should be put on a permanent blacklist. Period.

Does this policy hold immigrants to a higher standard than Germans? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. As noted above: if in hole, stop digging.

Would this policy result in the exclusion of genuine refugees because they hate gays? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. If their hatred of gays is so important to them, let them seek refuge in a country in which that attitude is common. Providing asylum is a humanitarian duty, but it is not absolute. It can and should be balanced against the host country's legitimate needs.

Does this policy privilege gay citizens and residents of Germany above foreigners? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug. The needs of people already in your country who have rights should always take precedence over the needs of outsiders seeking to make use of the mere privilege of immigration.

Will this policy privilege worldly, educated, tolerant Muslim immigrants over YUMMs? Yes, and that's a feature, not a bug.

Why is any of this controversial?


"Are 'Safe Zones For Women' Europe's Future?"

Swedish columnist Paulina Neuding bluntly states some uncomfortable truths: 

Indeed, the refugee crisis in Europe is more a matter of culture than of numbers. And cultural clashes are much harder to address than logistics – especially once they leave the regulated confines of the asylum center, which can mitigate potential conflicts with surveillance and design. How will individuals who cannot share a shelter with gays and Christians without harassing them be able to integrate into liberal European societies?

The German and Swedish governments have not placed a high priority on addressing this question. In fact, both have failed to take seriously the cultural differences – on issues like women’s rights, minority rights, family honor, and individual liberties – between asylum-seekers, mainly from the Middle East and North Africa, and the European societies where they hope to live. In Sweden, in particular, a strong commitment to political correctness has severely limited public debate.

In ignoring these differences, the political elites in both Germany and Sweden are risking some of their countries’ most valuable social assets, including security, stability, equality, tolerance, and individual freedom. Yet they fail to note these risks. They act like their hard-won social advantages are inexhaustible natural resources, rather than the product of centuries of development – a product that is far more fragile than is widely assumed.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the threat European societies faces occurred in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve, when more than 600 women were sexually assaulted – and in some cases also robbed – by large gangs of men, most of whom were illegal immigrants or asylum-seekers. Only four of the 153 suspects detained were German nationals.

Though mass sexual abuse is not unheard of in Europe, it has historically occurred only during conflicts – for example, during the Balkan wars of the 1990s and in the areas occupied by the Soviet Red Army at the end of World War II. What happened in Cologne last December has no equivalent in peacetime Western Europe.

Nor was it a one-off event. Shortly after the news of the Cologne attacks broke, it was revealed that similar attacks had taken place at the We Are Stockholm youth festival in the Swedish capital two years in a row, with young refugee men encircling and sexually assaulting teenage girls. Police had to escort 200 male attendees from the festival area last year....

In response to the mounting anecdotal evidence of sexual abuse, Swedish police undertook an analysis of all harassment that has been occurring in public spaces. Their findings confirm that there is a problem with immigrants acting in groups to attack women and girls.

In response to this so-called “culture clash,” Sweden has launched an initiative to educate young asylum-seekers about gender equality. Likewise, Germany created an informational website, offering advice on sex and sexuality, among other topics. Whether or not such initiatives ultimately have an impact, there is no denying that in Germany and Sweden – two of the world’s most open, tolerant, and equitable societies – women and girls now face a new reality....

Large numbers of police, together with safe zones for women, helped to protect against mass sexual assaults at the carnival festivities in Cologne in February. But, as the debate over refugees rages on, one must ask: Are “safe zones for women” Europe’s future?


Insane "Paradoxical" Conspiracy Theory: People Respond to Incentives

One of the reasons I began blogging so much about the migrant crisis is that I simply could not believe the things I was reading in the German press. I've had plenty of occasion to decry the nonexistent fact-checking in German papers, and the gross oversupply of opinion as opposed to reportage. But journalists at least seemed to be relatively intelligent and well-informed most of the time.

Until the migrant crisis, when suddenly, as Wolfgang Streeck pointed out, German politicians and journalists began spewing arguments so naive and flimsy a clever eight-year-old could dismantle them. It was genuinely eerie, as if pod people had taken over editorial offices all over Germany. They looked fine, sounded the same, had generally reasonable opinions on a host of issues, but when it came to migrants, their eyes went glassy and they began reciting nonsense.

Things have gotten a bit better recently, but you still encounter articles like this one (g), about an internal report prepared by Frontex, the European Union's border-control agency. It's on the front page of the FAZ, Germany's most respected broadsheet newspaper:

Frontex estimates 300,000 Refugees from Libya

Paradoxical, but plausible: With more intensive patrols in the Mediterranean, the EU is indirectly helping human smugglers with their business, according to an analysis by Frontext. Refugee routes from Libya are the most common.

The article notes that Frontex estimates that up to 10,000 refugees a week will set out from Africa, and quotes Frontex's Director Klaus Roesler:

One of the reasons for the high number of migrants on the route from Libya is the more-intensive patrols and emergency sea rescues by the EU. This leads smugglers to send even more refugees on the dangerous journey, since they will be rescued by the EU. "This inspires people to set off", Roesler said.

So the EU intercepts ships, provide first aid to their occupants, and take them to the European mainland where they can immediately file asylum claims and claim food, shelter, and benefits. They will be brought to Italy, a country whose prime minister wants to give their children Italian citizenship.

And yet, the prospect of being safely ferried to the promised land seems to encourage more of them to leave. Fancy that.

The FAZ, a venerable sober-sided center-right broadsheet, generally regarded as the most intellectually serious daily in Germany, finds this 'paradoxical.'

Here are a few more headlines I expect to see in the FAZ soon:

Paradoxical Findings: Study Suggests Attacking Bear Cubs May be Linked to Mauling by their Mothers

Neighbors Baffled by Seeming Paradox of Married Couple Having Occasional Sexual Intercourse

Consumption of More than 12 Hours Per Day of Television Linked to Obesity: Scientists Stunned by "Paradoxical" Results

Mountain Climber Falls 5,000 Feet onto Razor-Sharp Rocks: Fellow Climbers Stunned by "Tragic Paradox" of his Resulting Death

Historian Probes Paradox of Increased Death Rates Among Young Males Between 1939-1945


Anglosplaining and the Amusingness Gap

The Economist looks at why the most high-middlebrow shows and books about Germany are written by Brits:

This popularity of Anglo-Saxon storytellers “really is astonishing”, says Hermann Parzinger. He is a German archaeologist (best known for his work on the Scythians) and president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which owns museums, libraries and archives in Berlin. He is working with MacGregor in dreaming up how to curate the Humboldt Forum’s exhibits.

German academics, Parzinger says, write books to impress the five most important experts in their field. Popularity is suspect in German academia. The German word unseriös, etymologically the same as “unserious”, in fact means “lacking credibility”. But Anglo-Saxons, Parzinger thinks, “have it in their blood to make these things suspenseful and interesting even for lay people”. In particular, they know how to integrate into their storytelling “both the high and the low, without anything being banal”. Thus MacGregor effortlessly mixes Luther and Goethe with sausages and garden gnomes into one analysis that makes Germans feel they’ve understood something about themselves.

The Anglos also come across as likeable rather than belehrend, says Parzinger. That German word means “lecturing”, and is often used by Germans of Germans. The greatest fear of intellectuals in Germany and other continental countries is to appear shallow. The greatest fear of Britons is to seem pompous, says MacGregor. So they enliven their knowledge with good delivery and showmanship....

But even among outsiders the Anglos have the edge in Germany over, say, French, Polish, Dutch or Danish intellectuals. These neighbours were often part of German history – as enemies, victims or collaborators. German audiences expect them to reflect that perspective. A French historian talking about the 1940s, say, should probably also expound on Vichy and French collaboration.

The Brits, however, were always “geographically more outside”, says Parzinger, which makes them appear credible. Since the 1960s, for example, it has been all but taboo for German writers to argue anything other than that Germany bears sole responsibility for starting the first world war. Clark gleefully ignored that taboo in “The Sleepwalkers” – and outsold all the Germans, even in Germany. Clark can say the question of guilt is complicated, says Parzinger, but hearing it “from a German would have been more difficult”.

This goes back to a fundamental cultural difference which virtually every Anglo-Saxon picks up on quickly in Germany: Most Germans just aren't funny in ways Anglo-Saxons recognize, and a substantial minority aren't funny at all. Free-floating, value-neutral absurdity; obscene wordplay; sarcasm and irony; casual teasing insults among friends -- these styles of communication are much rarer in Germany than in the Anglo-Saxon world. Unless you know someone fairly well, the safest mode of communication is straightforward communication about mundane details of everyday life or anodyne remarks about current affairs which do not reveal a controversial personal opinion.

This is not to say there ain't no funny Germans, etc. etc. As with everything in life, this is a matter of probability distributions and bell curves, not of absolutes. Behold this scientific-looking graph:

DddThe more to the left you are on this graph, the more sincere and loyal. You become more entertaining as you move to the right. Germany is the bell curve with the peak of 52. England with the peak of 76. The separation is too wide, but it still makes the point. There's plenty of overlap (i.e. decent and funny people) in both directions, but the average Brit you meet is likely to be more entertaining than the average German.

The canon of values the average German has been raised with tend toward sincerity, honesty, credibility, punctuality, and loyalty. You can be a worthy, admirable person on this scale while being crushingly boring. In fact, being crushingly boring can actually be a helpful strategy, since humor, used inappropriately or at the wrong time, can undermine your reputation. Leave humor to the professionals. Or if you are called upon to be funny yourself, have a few memorized jokes or sayings on tap, just in case. Even if they're crushingly unfunny, people will laugh. Out of politeness.

Maybe I can't make you laugh, says the German, but I will take time out of my busy schedule to visit you in the hospital, and bring a thoughtful gift. Which is more important?

Growing up in the Anglo-Saxon world, there's a premium on being entertaining. Your cultural heroes are likely to be comedians rather than violinists or human-rights activists. You're likely to spend hours each day consuming humor. Dull people are ostracized. Unlike in Germany, where you might bring them along even though you know they'll just sit there silently, in England and the USA you will simply avoid them and mock them.

In this atmosphere, even renowned historians often learn to be decent storytellers and amusing chaps, because everyone is expected to be a decent storyteller and an amusing chap. In Germany, you can live a life that you and others would consider rich and full without ever (1) intentionally provoking (2) sincere laughter in another human being.