German Word of the Week: Schlammbeiser

Schlammbeisser 1

And now, to keep things classy, we move from public masturbation to feces. This is from a recent Atlas Obscura post:

Until 1913 the town Giessen, Germany had one special profession. It was the "Schlamp-Eiser," the men who walked the city and collected the feces of the citizens of town. 

Relatively early in the Middle Ages Giessen came up with a latrine innovation: They built small wooden boxes on the outside of the walls of the houses which included a pit latrine connected to a wooden pipe, which led feces down into a wooden bucket placed in the small spaces between the houses.

When the buckets were full, the feces had to be brought somewhere, but the spaces in between the houses were extremely narrow and it was hard to reach the buckets. Hence the Schlamp-Eiser was born. Using a long bent iron bar, men pulled out the filled buckets, collected the feces in a large cart, and transported the waste to the Rodtberg outside the town.

Word of the strange innovative waste system spread fast and spiteful onlookers started calling the citizens of Giessen "Schlammbeiser," which roughly translates to shit-eater.

...Normally the old-fashioned profession would be forgotten by now, if it wasn't for the obnoxious nickname the profession brought to the citizens of Giessen, which stuck up until today. For decades people were unhappy with the insulting term, but over more recent years citizens came to embrace the nickname, and today the Schlammbeiser name is used in cultural facilities, clubs and other places around the town. There is even a statue dedicated to the old Schlamp-Eiser. The bronze statue, built in 2005, is located right in the city center in front of the house where the last Schlamp-Eiser lived. 

This seems a bit odd to me: Schlammbeiser isn't any sort of German word. Schlamm is, but -beiser is not. Schlammbeißer would be approximately "mud (or sewage) biter".

Is this just a matter of some regional dialect, or is there another reason for the odd spelling of Schlammbeiser? Perhaps just a elision of Schlamp-Eiser? But then again, Schlamp isn't a word in modern German either, as far as I know. Schlampe is, but not Schlamp.

Any theories?

Bleg: Has Angela Merkel Ever Criticized the German Justice System?

At a conference in Vienna, I made a statement that might well turn out to be bullshit, as is often the case with me. What I said was:

"In all her years as Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel has never made a public statement in which she has (1) called for reform of the German criminal justice system or (2) criticized its unfair treatment of ethnic minorities."

I certainly can't remember her ever doing such a thing. In fact, I can't remember her ever saying anything at all about the German criminal justice system, except for platitudes congratulating judges and cops for their selfless service, etc.

The point was to contrast her with Obama, who has made countless such statements. And to make the point, which I do over and over on this blog: Europeans who obsess on the flaws, real or imagined, of the U.S. criminal justice system generally have no idea how their own system works, and blissfully presume it works just fine. 

30 Million Germans Can Be Wrong

While writing the last post, I was about to insert a sentence about the Tagesthemen news broadcast aired last Thursday between the first and secocnd half of the Germany-France soccer match. However, I couldn't find it in time.

But now I have!

As I watched the news segment about the recent killings of two black men by police, I practically did a spit-take when the voice-over narration stated (here (g) at about 7:00) that "black men are 9 times more likely to be shot by police than whites". As the last post shows, that certainly can't be right. Yet it was broadcast to something like 30 million (g) Germans, most of whom surely swallowed it like the credulous lemmings they are.

The assertion in the German TV news was probably based on this Guardian article, which notes that young black males were nine times more likely to be shot by police than other population groups. But that statement is completely meaningless on its own, unless you live in a world in which 75-year-old grandmothers are as likely to commit rape, armed robbery, or assault as 21-year-old men. (If you do, you have my condolences).

Why might it be the case that young black males are more often the target of police violence? If you guessed that one reason might be that they commit more crimes, you are right. Here is a graph from The Color of Crime, a survey published by a nativist-conservative website in the US (As with all websites, I don't endorse everything you might find there, but I have never seen a critique of this report as inaccurate):

Fig-5Blacks make up 13% of the population, but nationwide account for approximately 50% of murder suspects and convicted murderers. That is, they commit murder at a rate almost four times higher than their representation in the population. And the comparison with arrest rates in other racial groups is shown by the chart above. In New York City, blacks were arrested for murder at a rate 30.9 times higher than whites.

Not 30.9 percent higher, 30.9 times higher.

Even if you attributed 2/3 of this disparity solely to biased policing, multiple arrests, arrests which didn't result in conviction, etc. (absurdly unlikely, given that murders universally have the highest clearance rates and the most reliable convictions of all crimes), there would still be a staggering racial disparity. And the disparity in shootings -- unlawfully firing a gun -- is almost 100 times.

The racial disparity in criminal offending varies from region to region, and it is smaller than New York's in many regions. But it is very large -- a matter of multiples, not percents -- everywhere in the USA. And everywhere measurements are made, young black males top the list of social groups most likely to commit violent crimes.

Anyone who discusses biased policing in the USA without mentioning these uncomfortable facts is playing you for a sucker.

Bleg: Local/National Press Reports of Violence in Refugee Shelters?

One thing I've noticed recently is that the national, mainstream German media rarely focuses extended attention on violence and crime in Germany's overcrowded refugee shelters. To get this information, you usually have to scour the websites of local German newspapers. 

When you do, the results are shocking. The picture is of hundreds of random strangers packed into close quarters with very little privacy and no security. There are nowhere near enough German police to bring order to shelters housing 500,000? 600,000? people, and even if there were, the police wouldn't speak the language. Many shelters, therefore, seem to have no security, or only 'private security guards', i.e. rent-a-cops, who are likely low-paid, not trained for this job, and unable to speak Pashto or Arabic. Some of them even turn out to be Islamic extremists or members of organized crime.

I think this is a gigantic scandal. Mainly because women are being raped and Christians, Yezidis and gays threatened with death -- and the criminals doing these things are getting off scot-free and are permitted to move around Germany freely. Also, my personal view is that Germany has allowed far too many people in too quickly without sufficient checks. I get the strong impression that the security situation in many of these places is out of control. (You don't have to agree with that, by the way.)

Lawless zones of random violence, right here in Germany.

So my bleg, if you are so inclined, is to include in comments links to local or national German press coverage of violence in German refugee shelters. Preferably to sources without a clear political bias, although I'll accept those too, if they actually have facts to report, not opinion, speculation or rumors. After I collect enough of these, I'll translate them into English for a worldwide audience and post a longer piece, perhaps even submit it to a newspaper. 

A Shout-Out to My Readers and Commenters

I'm not a sentimental man, but I'd just like to take a minute to thank all the readers and commenters of this blog. According to Typepad, that extremely fickle mistress (lookin' at you, MM), these are the stats so far, and the recent trend:



As you can see, the ratio of posts to comments is 1 to 3. The comments are the life-blood of this blog. The difference between screaming in a padded room and having a pleasant conversation over mimosas. And unlike so many bloggers, I have never had to disable, remove, or screen comments, except to prevent spam. No matter what the language, the discussion in comments is always civilized, even when you're tearing me -- or another commenter --a new asshole.

And ohne Scheiß, as they say in Cologne, I've learned an incredible amount from the comments to this blog. Just today, I learned how to download classical concerts from Youtube in good sound quality. That's just the tip of the iceberg. I've even used stuff from the comments in my boring academic publications. Don't expect a cut of the profits (currently € 0.00) though.

I don't have to tell you to keep it up. I know you will, and I'm counting on it.

Bleg: Better Quality Audio on Youtube Downloads?

And now for something completely different!

This is a golden age of classical music concerts on the web. You can download hundreds of full-length videos of orchestral concerts on Youtube. I usually use aTube Catcher or a website to save them.

The only problem is that the sound is usually encoded at MP3 128Kbps. This is not really satisfactory. Does anyone know if there's a way to improve the sound? Some sort of advanced options box that can be checked? I have a hard time believing that someone would upload a classical music concert in high-definition video, but encode the audio at well-below the current industry standard.

Any help will be gratefully accepted!  

Bleg: Who is on the Murder Commission and Where is Their Report?

Justice Minister Heiko Maas formed a commission last year to reform the definition of murder in Germany's Penal Code. The current version dates from 1941 and is supposedly tainted by the National Socialist criminal-law philosophy of 'criminal types' -- that is, focusing on the nature of the criminal rather than the act.

You can read everywhere on the Internet that Maas formed an 'expert commission' that submitted a long report with suggested reforms (g) to the definition. However, after quite a bit of searching, I haven't been able to find any information about either the commission or the report. It must be out there somewhere, right? Can anyone help?

Bleg: Help me Catch a Cannibal Murderer!

WARNING: A confessed murderer and cannibal is on the prowl in Japan! Here's an interview with him:

Everyone knows who he is, actually. In fact, he's a minor celebrity. So I really want you to help me catch an article about a cannibal murderer. 

The cannibal murderer is Issei Sagawa, a soi-disant Japanese intellectual who killed and ate a woman in Paris in 1981. This is what happened to him afterward, according to you-know-who:

Sagawa's wealthy father provided a lawyer for his defense, and after being held for two years without trial Sagawa was found legally insane and unfit to stand trial by the French judge Jean-Louis Bruguière, who ordered him held indefinitely in a mental institution. After a visit by the author Inuhiko Yomota, Sagawa's account of the murder was published in Japan under the title In the Fog. Sagawa's subsequent publicity and macabre celebrity likely contributed to the French authorities' decision to deport him to Japan, where he was immediately committed to Matsuzawa hospital. Examining psychologists there all declared him sane and found sexual perversion was his sole motivation for the murder. Because charges in France had been dropped, the French court documents were sealed and were not released to Japanese authorities. Consequently Sagawa could not legally be detained in Japan. He checked himself out of the hospital on August 12, 1986, and has remained free. Sagawa's continued freedom has been widely criticized.

So, on the surface we have not only a miscarriage of justice, but also quite possibly an example of two different legal cultures defining legal sanity in different and interesting ways. Just the sort of thing that really rings my bell.

Which brings me to the next mystery: an online law journal that seems to have published only a few issues, then vanished! Here is a citation to an article about Sagawa:

  1.  Morris, Steven (September 20, 2007)."Issei Sagawa: Celebrity Cannibal"New Criminologist, the On-line Journal of Criminology (New Criminologist). Archived from the original on June 14, 2011.[dead link]

As you can see, the link is very dead indeed. To add to the mystery, the New Criminologist started a Twitter account (under the logo Vitam Impenderi Vero) which then mysteriously died after only 4 tweets. The journal's online presence seems not just to have gone dormant, but been deliberately erased. Shoved down the memory hole, if you will!

Can anyone find this article for me? As a bonus, can anyone explain what happened to New Criminologist? 

Bleg: German News Coverage of Failures of German Justice

I am working on an op-ed piece and perhaps an article about journalistic coverage of the German criminal justice system which I hope to publish on paper, in German, in some German newspaper.

The subject is going to be what I perceive to be the imbalance in German-language coverage of the American criminal justice system versus the German criminal justice system. That is, German-language newspapers are full of coverage (of widely varying quality, much of it error-filled) about Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, American death row inmate X or Z, but rarely cover problems in the German criminal justice system. Before asserting this, I want to try to make sure it's true!

So what I am looking for is articles in the German-language press by Germans which deal with potential justice problems in courts in German-speaking countries including:

(1) wrongful convictions;

(2) racial, ethnic, or religious disparities in conviction rates or sentencing;

(3) allegations of racial or ethnic or religious bias among German prosecutors and professional or lay judges;

(4) interviews with prisoners currently serving prison sentences in Germany who claim that they are completely innocent of the crimes of which they were convicted; and/or

(5) detailed examinations of systemic problems in German criminal justice or prisons, things such as underfunding, outdated regulations, disproportionate penalties, or the use of unreliable evidence.

I'm interested, in particular, in well-researched studies or in-depth reportings, not just stories like 'this lefty activist claims he was convicted only because the judge was a right-winger and we lefty activist journalists of course totally believe him and feel no need to research the allegations any further!!' There's a lot of that about in Germany, and it's generally justly ignored.

Also I'm not super-interested in stories about the RAF, which I consider to be an irrelevant side issue. I'm interested in well-considered stories about why random anonymous criminal Achmet got 4 years in prison for the exact same crime that random anonymous criminal Detlef got 2 years for.

Thanks in advance for any links in comments.