Study-Abroad Programs Make Americans Prouder to be Americans

Calvert Jones, a professor of political science, tested American students who went to study abroad and compared them to similar students who hadn't. The results were interesting:

First, I tested the core liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact promotes a sense of shared international community, or what political scientist Karl Deutsch called a “we-feeling” across cultural divides. Theorists define this in terms of warmth, shared understandings and values, and trust. Surprisingly, the hypothesis was not supported: None of the indicators for international community was higher on average for students returning from study abroad than for those yet to travel. In fact, those who had just returned from a semester abroad felt they had significantly fewer values in common and were more likely to say their understandings of key concepts were different from the people of their host country. None of this was sensitive to potential moderators like whether or not students opted to live with a host family. Given the intuitive plausibility of the liberal hypothesis, these results are striking.

Jones_Fig1Blue

How about threat perceptions? I asked students to rate how threatening they would consider their study abroad host country if it were to surpass the United States in terms of material power, such as economic growth or military expansion. In theory, cross-border contact should mitigate perceptions of foreign threat and foster expectations of peaceful change and cooperation, despite uncertainty and shifts in the distribution of power. And indeed, given identical scenarios, those just returned from a semester abroad rated their host countries as less threatening than did students about to leave. So the liberal hypothesis that cross-border contact mitigates threat perceptions was supported, even though the hypothesis that it fosters “community” was not.

Finally, I tested a variant on the “clash of civilizations” hypothesis—that cross-border contact, rather than encouraging a sense of shared international community, promotes nationalism. Perhaps troubling for some, the results strongly supported that hypothesis.

Jones_Fig2Red

Students returning from their study abroad experience were considerably prouder of America along a range of dimensions, including its literature, achievements in the arts, armed forces, athletic accomplishments and political influence. They were also prouder to be American, warmer toward American culture and more patriotic. Importantly, however, they did not display a heightened belief in America’s superiority; there was no difference in that attitude across the two groups. So while cross-border contact heightened nationalism, it did not appear to promote a virulent or chauvinistic form of it.

...We are used to thinking about nationalism and internationalism as mutually exclusive; people who are highly nationalistic are often assumed to lack the cosmopolitan mindset of a “global citizen.” Yet study abroad returnees were both more nationalistic and less prone to seeing other nations as threatening. Rather than fostering a sense of shared international community and warm realizations of “we are the same,” cross-border contact may instead encourage a form of “enlightened nationalism”—a sharper sense of national difference, and pride in that difference, tempered by tolerance and the realization that such differences need not be threatening.

It would be tempting to consider this another data point supporting the well-understood finding that close contact with foreign cultures reduces feelings of trust and empathy. Nothing new about that. That's why people generally prefer to live among people similar to themselves.

But not so fast. I think there's a huge limitation to this study: the fact that it was conducted among American college students. First, let's not beat around the bush: Americans know much less about the rest of the world than people in other developed countries, and are a lot less likely to speak a foreign language fluently. So they are generally ill-equipped to hit the ground running in a foreign country.

Americans are also on average the richest people on earth, and American college students come overwhelmingly from the upper-middle class. The contrast in standard of living between American and even UK college students is large. The gap between what an American expects from a university experience and what is on offer in France, Spain, or Germany is gigantic. Shabby, ancient buildings; no legion of mid-level bureaucrats to find you a place to live or guide you around campus or help you find a job; scummy student digs; overcrowded and often dull or inaudible lectures; rampant absenteeism and cheating. Having no standard of comparison, most American students going to an ordinary Spanish university will feel like they have been dropped into the third world.

I wonder if anyone's ever done a study like this among European Erasmus exchange students. I'd be willing to bet the ones who can actually remember their experience after all that partying probably had a very different reaction.


German Prisons 'Astonish' American Visitors

A delegation of Americans just visited several German prisons this year and came back impressed:

Earlier this summer, we led a delegation of people concerned about the United States criminal justice system to visit some prisons in Germany and observe their conditions. What we saw was astonishing.

The men serving time wore their own clothes, not prison uniforms. When entering their cells, they slipped out of their sneakers and into slippers. They lived one person per cell. Each cell was bright with natural light, decorated with personalized items such as wall hangings, plants, family photos and colorful linens brought from home. Each cell also had its own bathroom separate from the sleeping area and a phone to call home with. The men had access to communal kitchens, with the utensils a regular kitchen would have, where they could cook fresh food purchased with wages earned in vocational programs.

...

But for all the signs of progress, truly transformative change in the United States will require us to fundamentally rethink values. How do we move from a system whose core value is retribution to one that prioritizes accountability and rehabilitation? In Germany we saw a potential model: a system that is premised on the protection of human dignity and the idea that the aim of incarceration is to prepare prisoners to lead socially responsible lives, free of crime, upon release.

...

The process of training and hiring corrections officers is more demanding in Germany. Whereas the American corrections leaders in our delegation described labor shortages and training regimes of just a few months, in the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, less than 10 percent of those who applied to be corrections officers from 2011 to 2015 were accepted to the two-year training program. This seems to produce results: In one prison we visited, there were no recorded assaults between inmates or on staff members from 2013 to 2014.

...

In Germany, we found that respect for human dignity provides palpable guidance to those who run its prisons. Through court-imposed rules, staff training and a shared mission, dignity is more than legal abstraction.

The question to ask is whether we can learn something from a country that has learned from its own terrible legacy — the Holocaust — with an impressive commitment to promoting human dignity, especially for those in prison. This principle resonates, though still too dimly at the moment, with bedrock American values.

At conferences the question often comes up whether the dedication to 'inviolable' human dignity that starts the German constitution has real meaning. The prison example shows it does, in my opinion. Nevertheless, many English and American lawyers claim that human dignity is not a meaningful legal value. Justice Thomas, a black conservative justice who voted against gay marriage, explained:

Human dignity has long been understood in this country to be innate. When the Framers proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,” they referred to a vision of mankind in which all humans are created in the image of God and therefore of inherent worth. That vision is the foundation upon which this Nation was built.

The corollary of that principle is that human dignity cannot be taken away by the government. Slaves did not lose their dignity (any more than they lost their humanity) because the government allowed them to be enslaved. Those held in internment camps did not lose their dignity because the government confined them. And those denied governmental benefits certainly do not lose their dignity because the government denies them those benefits. The government cannot bestow dignity, and it cannot take it away.

One American law professor even cautioned readers concerning the 'danger' of human dignity:

The word dignity eludes narrow definition, or for that matter, any generally agreed upon definition. The Court itself has not provided a clear definition of dignity. One scholar, William A. Parent, declares, “[D]ignity is to possess the right not to be arbitrarily and therefore unjustly disparaged as a person.” In another article on “the Jurisprudence of Dignity,” Leslie Meltzer Henry writes that there is no single definition, but that dignity includes various conceptions including institutional status, equality, liberty, individual integrity, and collective virtue. She concludes, “dignity’s conceptions and functions are dynamic and context-driven.”

If dignity is defined so elastically, then conservatives judges might invoke it to strike down not only gun-control laws, but also other progressive legislation. Libertarian groups invoked the “sweet-mystery-of-life” my [sic] language in Casey to argue that the Obamacare healthcare mandate unconstitutionally violated the dignity and autonomy of Americans by forcing them to buy health insurance. In the future, cigarette smokers might argue that anti-smoking bans violate their ability to create an individual identity. And conservative Christian wedding photographers could claim that anti-discrimination laws compelling them to photograph gay weddings violate their dignity and ability to define themselves as conservative Christians. What courts would do when confronted with the clashing dignitary rights of the religious wedding photographer and the gay couple, or the hunter and the victim of gun violence, is anyone’s guess, because dignity is such an abstract concept that its boundaries are difficult to discern.

I find the different attitude toward 'dignity' pretty interesting and have written about it in a few contexts, but I'll spare you the boring details. It's the kind of issue that, to do it justice, requires you to lay down a bunch of ground rules, collect historical examples, and carefully delimit your claims with a bunch of caveats. In other words, to write like a boring academic. If that doesn't deter you, head on over to my academia.edu page. But don't say I didn't warn you. 


Why Are People Leaving Kosovo? (With Pictures)

So, thousands of Kosovars are getting on buses to Germany, filing claims for political asylum, and being accommodated in German shelters. The trend started in 2014, and has skyrocketed in 2015. Tens of thousands of Kosovars have applied for political asylum in Germany in the past two years. Considering Kosovo has a population of only 1.83 million people total -- half the size of Berlin -- these are gigantic numbers.

So, what has happened in Kosovo to prompt this wave of emigration? Has there been a recent crisis?

The answer is no. Kosovo is classified by the World Bank as a lower middle income country. According to the World Bank (which keeps good numbers regardless of what you think of its policies) Kosovo's Gross National Income per capital has increased 60% in the last decade. Average life expectancy has risen by 2 years over the last decade, to 70.8. That is close to the average for developing countries in Europe, and four years longer than the entire group of lower-middle income countries. Its poverty rate is 29.2%, down from 45% in 2006. Kosovo receives millions of dollars in development aid from a number of sources.

I visited Kosovo for over a week in 2010. A friend of mine was a development worker there, and gave me plenty of tips. Kosovo is easy to get around in because it's so small, but has some dramatic mountain scenery. It was very easy to chat with people, because Kosovars love Americans because of the role the US played in achieving independence. Main streets in Prishtina are named after George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and there is a massive sculpture of Bill Clinton downtown. Most younger Kosovars are trying to learn English, and many have learned it pretty well. Kosovo was the only country in Europe I've ever visited where being an American earned me spontaneous hugs, handshakes, and free gifts in stores. Like everyone in that part of the world, Kosovars are generally extremely friendly and hospitable.

Kosovo is quite safe. I like to wander around alone in cities, and I could do this everywhere I went without any problem. The only place that felt a bit sketchy were in the north, where I went to visit Gracanica, a monastery whose magnificent Orthodox cathedral whose interior is covered with 14th-century frescoes. There were a few UN or OSCE security guards there to prevent intercommunal violence, but they looked bored. If you wander into one of the few remaining Serbian enclaves in Kosovo, you'll know it, because the colors of the Serbian flag are everywhere, and you can buy pork. Serbs stared at me a bit in Gracanica, but only with curiosity. Needless to say, I didn't go around telling everyone I was an American up there. Kosovar politics are corrupt, just as they are in virtually all countries in that general region. Many political parties are based around shady millionaires or former paramilitary captains from the liberation war. Some parts of the country are still mined.

Most Kosovars are Muslim, but not at all fanatical about it. Many will say they were forced to convert by the Ottomans, and so their heart really isn't in it. Kosovo has its own kind of rakia, just like every other country in that region. And just like every other country in that region, they insist theirs is the only drinkable version and the others are horse piss. You see very few headscarves, and women in summer wear skimpy clothing. If you make the mistake of thinking that means they're available for a one-night stand, you will be immediately corrected by a brother or cousin. Bridal boutiques are literally everywhere; you get the very strong impression this is a country in which young people's only chance at regular sex is getting married.

Overall, Kosovo is about in the middle in terms of developing countries I've visited. It has all the problems developing countries have -- and there are a lot of those -- but it's not falling apart or in crisis. Starvation and malnutrition is rare, and there is an educational system that functions at a primitive level. If you can possibly afford it, you try to send your kids to private school -- just like in other countries in the region. Nevertheless, illiteracy is disappearing among younger generations, as is the literacy gap between men and women.

So, to sum up: Kosovars are not leaving their country because of war, starvation, epidemics, ethnic cleansing, or other similar issues. There is simmering low-level ethnic conflict between Albanian and Serbian ethnicities, and minorities such as Sinti and Roma do very poorly compared to the majority, which is the case in all socieities. Kosovar is not poor, it's lower-middle-income and making slow but steady progress. It is also received hundreds of millions of dollars in development aid, although there's a lively debate about whether that's done much good.

The reason Kosovars are traveling to Germany and claiming asylum is that (1) their country is relatively poor, compared to wealthier Western European neighbors; (2) Western Europe is incredibly easy to reach by plane, bus, or even informal taxi (g); (3) they have been told they will get 'welcome money' from Germany (false) and a monthly stipend of €140 while they're here (true). They have nothing to lose. If their asylum claim is rejected, as it will be, they may be able to escape repatriation any number of ways, either legally or through concealment. Odd jobs or petty crime may well earn them more money here than they could get at home. And there's always the one-in-a-million shot (almost literally one-in-a-million) that they will actually get asylum or another grant of legal status. If they are repatriated, they will simply return to whatever high-rise they lived in with their families before. I don't blame them for trying to get to Germany. I might even try this in their situation. But, in my view, that doesn't mean Germany has any moral, ethical, or legal obligation to grant them permanent legal residency status.

Here are some pictures I took on my trip to Kosovo. Interesting place! Info in hover text.

027 - Prizren - Barber in Hut
027 - Prizren - Barber in Hut

028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall
028 - Prizren - Election Posters on Wall

 

072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1
072 - Recycled German Bus in Prishtina 1

069 - Prishtina Memorial Fence 2

Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag
Ginger Bookstore Bag


Socialists Against Open Borders

Bernie Sanders is the U.S. Senator from Vermont, and a self-declared 'democratic socialist'. Until very recently, that label was about as successful in US politics as 'unrepentant pederast'. But now Sanders is running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton. Although he has almost no chance of winning it, he is attracting huge crowds and plenty of attention, and is clearly forcing Clinton to the left. Sanders is easily the most left-wing serious candidate for a Presidential nomination in at least 15, if not 50 years. He would certainly be my choice for President.

And he's strongly against open borders:

Ezra Klein

You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing ...

Bernie Sanders

Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein

Really?

Bernie Sanders

Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. ...

...

Ezra Klein

It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?

Bernie Sanders

It would make everybody in America poorer —you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you're a white high school graduate, it's 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

I think from a moral responsibility we've got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer.

Ezra Klein

Then what are the responsibilities that we have? Someone who is poor by US standards is quite well off by, say, Malaysian standards, so if the calculation goes so easily to the benefit of the person in the US, how do we think about that responsibility?

We have a nation-state structure. I agree on that. But philosophically, the question is how do you weight it? How do you think about what the foreign aid budget should be? How do you think about poverty abroad?

Bernie Sanders

I do weigh it. As a United States senator in Vermont, my first obligation is to make certain kids in my state and kids all over this country have the ability to go to college, which is why I am supporting tuition-free public colleges and universities. I believe we should create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. I believe we should raise the minimum wage to at least 15 bucks an hour so people in this county are not living in poverty. I think we end the disgrace of some 20 percent of our kids living in poverty in America. Now, how do you do that?

What you do is understand there's been a huge redistribution of wealth in the last 30 years from the middle class to the top tenth of 1 percent. The other thing that you understand globally is a horrendous imbalance in terms of wealth in the world. As I mentioned earlier, the top 1 percent will own more than the bottom 99 percent in a year or so. That's absurd. That takes you to programs like the IMF and so forth and so on.

But I think what we need to be doing as a global economy is making sure that people in poor countries have decent-paying jobs, have education, have health care, have nutrition for their people. That is a moral responsibility, but you don't do that, as some would suggest, by lowering the standard of American workers, which has already gone down very significantly.


German Hypocrisy on Gene Technology

In a Germany publication called Laboratory Journal (Laborjournal), Ralph Bock, Executive Director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Biology in Golm pens a long polemic against German hypocrisy on the subject of genetic engineering. I don't have the time to translate it just now, although that might be interesting, but I thought I would at least pass it along for my German-Powered™ readers.

Basically, Bock argues that setting aside whether products made with modern genetic engineering are safe (like most scientists, he thinks they are), Germans' aversion to them is hypocritical. Politicians try to curry favor with green voters by banning certain kinds of gene technology in Germany, but that doesn't stop massive imports of products made with gene technology into Germany:

A life without genetic technology on our dinner place, in our medicine cabinets, in our wallets, and in our closets is already well-nigh impossible in Germany, whether we want it or not. Our limitless consumption of meat, our dependence on imported plant raw materials, price competition in the food sector and the absolute necessity of genetic engineering in medicine and pharmaceuticals have ensured this. Nostalgic people among us may deplore this, but that shouldn't lead us into a bizarre culture of (self)deception which can only be upheld by ever-more-absurd camouflage tactics or ever-more-dubious political sleight-of-hand -- aspects of German culture which foreigners quite rightly find puzzling.


You Cannot Film the Police in Germany

The German press is fascinated and disturbed by videos of American police using excessive force, like the one above.

Why do these videos exist? Because in the United States, it is every citizens' constitutional right to film the police doing their job unless they are interfering with police work:

Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

Police often tell people to stop filming, but those cops don't know the law. Unless the videos are obscene, you can post those videos to the Internet with full constitutional protection, and that's exactly what people do. They are then played over and over on German websites.

Can you film cops arresting people in Germany and then post that video straight to the Internet? The short answer is: absolutely not. The somewhat longer answer is: Sure, you can do it, but you could well be sued for tens of thousands of Euro, and have to wait for a court decision about whether the public interest in publishing the video was stronger than the privacy rights of the people displayed.

The crucial background to know about this issue is that German law gives people powerful protections over the use of their own image and voice and the protection of their privacy -- legal protections which most Germans appreciate, and which don't exist to anywhere near the same extent in the US. The question then becomes whether police officers doing their jobs in public enjoy these same protections. Many German courts have held that they do.  

Marvin Oppong, a journalist for the 'torial' (g) blog in Germany who wanted to film his own questioning by police decided to look into the matter in detail. He interviewed several lawyers nad journalists. Here's a summary of what he learned:

  • Can you take pictures of the police? German courts are all over the place on this issue. Some say this is basically allowed in public spaces. It also depends on where. Inside buildings such as train stations you may be prohibited from doing so because of station rules. According to other decisions, the police can also request that you delete the photos or promise not to distribute them in any way or they will sue civilly. 
  • Can you video record your own encounters with the police? Yes, unless it interferes with their work. However, you may face civil or criminal liability if you distribute the results in any way without the officers' consent, since they have a right to control the distribution of their own image. Recording their voices is only permissible in a 'completely open and public' situation. If that is not the case, then simply recording their voices is actually a crime bringing up to three years' imprisonment. You read that right: if the situation is not deemed public (whatever that means), merely recording someone's spoken words is itself a crime. If the policeman knows you are recording his voice and doesn't object, that may be a defense. 
  • Can you publish photos and videos of a police encounter on the Internet? No: German courts have held that publishing videos of a police officer's conduct on the internet creates a 'pillorying' effect that violates the police officer's right to the protection of his personality (Persönlichkeitsrecht in German). This is so even though you are filming the officer doing his or her job in public. You may be able to publish general photos of public events, but a photo that clearly focuses in on one officer will violate that officer's right to control over the distribution of their own image. Which means you will need the officer's permission to publish it.
  • Can police ask you to identify yourself if they see you filming them? Basically, yes. They can also bring you to the police station for questioning if you don't have any personal ID with you.
  • Are the rules different for journalists? Possibly. If they are filming an incident of public importance, they may be able to claim that their right to do their job outweighs the officers' rights.

So, to sum up: if you are a private citizen and see German police officers engaging in questionable conduct in public and post a video of that in the Internet -- as Americans do hundreds of times every day -- you will enter a legal minefield of contradictory court precedents. You will probably expose yourself to tens of thousands of euros in damages as well as possible criminal prosecution. Your only hope is if a court, in your specific case, finds that the public interest served by your publishing the video outweighed all of the restrictions German law places on taping and photographing people. Even police officers doing their job in public.


'Other People's Indians' and Germany's Minority-Filled Prisons

In one of his essays from the 1976 book Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision, Czeslaw Milosz reminisces about the 19th-century American novelist Thomas Mayne Reid. Reid wrote Western novels which became popular after they were translated into Russian, and is probably still more famous in Eastern Europe than in the USA. Milosz noted a curious fact: Reid's novels contained matter-of-fact scenes in which European Americans slaughtered and multilated American Indians and vice-versa -- but when it came to the fate of Montezuma at the hands of the perfidious Papist conquistadores, Mayne penned a gushing tribute to the nobility of the hapless Aztecs. Milosz notes in an aside: 'as often happens, Reid loved Indians, but only “their” Indians.'

'Other peoples' Indians': The tendency to attribute poor integration of minorities in other countries exclusively to the majority's racism, but the poor integration of minorities in your country to deficiencies among the minorities. And the OPI effect is alive and well. Let's take an example. Here's a graph of the percentage of foreigners (adapted from statista) among the prison populations in a variety of European countries:

Untitled

Switzerland tops the list with a whopping 74.2%. Yes, you read that right: 74.2% of the people in Swiss prisons are not Swiss. Germany is nowhere near as skewed; only 27.9% of its prisoners are foreigners. But keep in mind that German only counts foreign nationals in its prisons. If you are of Turkish or Moroccan ancestry but have a German passport, you are not included.

If you define an ethnic minority in Germany the way most legal systems do -- someone whose external appearance is different from the native population and who has been the victim of discrimination by the majority native population -- then the number of ethnic minorities in German prisons, I am sure, would be at least 50%. There are no reliable statistics I have yet seen to prove this, because Germany doesn't keep them (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). But I've visited many German criminal courts, talked to cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and been to German prisons. Everybody recognizes the vast over-representation of ethnic minorities in German prisons as an everyday fact of life that only the most reality-resistant Green Party ideologue would ever contest. I am happy to be corrected on this, but nobody has so far succeeded.*

So, Germany's prisons are filled with a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities, just as America's prisons are. Now is where things get interesting. Why is that the case? Here is the explanation you will find in the average German newspaper:

  • Blacks and certain other minorities are over-represented in American prisons. It is inconceivable that this could be the product of higher rates of violent crime among American blacks. The reason for this over-representation must be discrimination in the American justice system. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] Therefore, America is an irredeemably racist society.
  • Ethnic minorities are over-represented in German prisons. Since there is no racial discrimination within the German criminal justice system, which is staffed by honorable professionals, these conviction rates reflect reality: minorities commit crimes that get you in prison more frequently than ethnic Germans commit them. This is because minorities tragically fail to adapt properly to German society, despite the noble efforts we Germans make to help them. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] The fact of their crime rates must be concealed and obfuscated as much as possible, since it could feed into right-wing stereotypes of 'criminal' immigrants.

I could find dozens of examples to back up these narratives, but since we all know that, I'll just skip it. I will point to an interesting counter-example, though, from Focus of all places: in an article about German prisons, the author notes (g) quotes an expert and a study showing that German judges gave noticeably longer sentences for the same crime when the offender had a Turkish name rather than a German one. But that's still the exception.

Continue reading "'Other People's Indians' and Germany's Minority-Filled Prisons" »


When Can German Police Stop and Question You?

Public service time! In the USA, there is a cottage industry of people spreading the word about what rights citizens have during encounters with police. One of the best videos is from 'Flex Your Rights'. It's just below. The video addresses automobile stops and house searches, but I decided to concentrate on this post on police stopping and questioning people on foot. The video starts just as a a police car pulls up to question a young black male. The cops are investigating illegal graffiti in the area. The lawyer comments on each step of the transaction: 

So what's the situation in Germany? A popular German legal website has a short but informative article here (g). The basic ground rules:

Police must always give you a reason for stopping and questioning you. However, this reason does not alway have to be a concrete suspicion. In certain circumstances police are permitted to stop people as a preventive measure to avoid dangers to public safety (Gefahrenabwehr). These are not intended to assist in investigating a crime, but rather preventing one.

For this justification to apply, it needs to be shown that a danger to public safety exists at a particular location -- for instance, a demonstration in which disturbances are likely to take place, or a well-known drug market where crimes are routine.

Such places are often named specifically in your local state's local-policing law -- for instance Bavaria allows suspicionless public-safety searches where large numbers of prostitutes gather. Also, in special circumstances police can declare entire regions of a city 'danger zones', as Hamburg did in 2014 during left-wing demonstrations.

And what if the police do stop you based on general location? You are required to answer basic questions: your name, your address, your nationality, date and place of birth. The police can ask you to present an identification card (either the German national identity card or a passport), but you are not required to carry this identification around with you everywhere, so if you don't have it with you, that is not against the law.

The police may ask you further questions, such as where you are coming from and where you are going, but you are not required to answer them. A lawyer quoted in the article recommends that you do answer them in a polite but very curt manner, since this is likely to de-escalate the situation.

Note that this applies only when the police stop you without any concrete suspicion you have committed a crime. If they do have such a suspicion, they may be entitled to ask more questions.

The police are also permitted to engage in questioning of random people without individualized suspicion of crime at airports and train stations and trains. The purpose of these stops is usually to try to find illegal immigrants. A German court has found that stopping someone based solely on their appearance or skin color is unconstitutional according to the German Basic Law. (The lawyer in me says they will almost certainly find other ways to justify the search, though.)


Everyone in Indonesia Will Want U.S. Style Air-Conditioning Soon

The Washington Post reports that 87% of American homes have air conditioning, and as every European knows, they don't just have it, they use it, baby, to create nipple-shattering indoor Arctic coldscapes (see how accurate stereotypes are?):

Overall, it's safe to say that Europe thinks America's love of air-conditioning is actually quite daft. Europeans have wondered about this particular U.S. addiction for a while now: Back in 1992, Cambridge University Prof. Gwyn Prins called America's love of air-conditioning the country's "most pervasive and least-noticed epidemic," according to the Economist. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's getting worse: American demand for air-conditioning has only  increased over the past decades.

The U.S. has been the world's leader in air-conditioning ever since, and it's not a leadership Americans should necessarily be proud of. According to Stan Cox, a researcher who has spent years studying indoor climate controlling, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than any other country. In many parts of the world, a lack in economic development might be to blame for a widespread absence of air-conditioning at the moment. However, that doesn't explain why even most Europeans ridicule Americans for their love of cooling and lack of heat tolerance.

Of course, Northern Europe is still colder than most regions within the United States and some countries, such as Italy or Spain, have recently seen an increase in air-conditioning. "The U.S. is somewhat unusual in being a wealthy nation much of whose population lives in very warm, humid regions," Cox told The Washington Post in an e-mail. However, the differences in average temperatures are unlikely to be the only reason for Europeans'  reluctance to buy cooling systems. It's also about cultural differences.

...

"The bottom line is that America's a big, rich, hot country," Cox told The Post. "But if the second, fourth, and fifth most populous nations -- India, Indonesia, and Brazil, all hot and humid -- were to use as much energy per capita for air-conditioning as does the U.S., it would require 100 percent of those countries' electricity supplies, plus all of the electricity generated by Mexico, the U.K., Italy, and the entire continent of Africa," he added.

That's not at all an unlikely scenario: In 2007, only 2 percent of Indian households had air-conditioning, but those numbers have skyrocketed since.  "The rise of a large affluent urban class is pushing use up," Cox explained.

"I have estimated that in metropolitan Mumbai alone, the large population and hot climate combine to create a potential energy demand for cooling that is about a quarter of the current demand of the entire United States," Sivak concluded in a paper published by the American Scientist.

"If everyone were to adopt the U.S.'s air-conditioning lifestyle, energy use could rise tenfold by 2050," Cox added, referring to the 87-percent ratio of households with air-conditioning in the United States. Given that most of the world's booming cities are  in tropical places, and that none of them have so far deliberately adopted the European approach to air-conditioning, such calculations should raise justified concerns.

Nope, Brazilians, Indonesians and Indians are definitely not going to adopt a 'European' approach to air-conditioning, because those countries don't have European climates. Anybody who lives in a humid climate falls in love with air-conditioning the minute they experience it, and never go back. So we'd better get crackin' on much more efficient air-conditioners yesterday. Some Indian zillionaire should sponsor a contest: $10 million to the first team that develops an 80% more efficient air conditioner. The Future of Humanity™ could well at stake.


Projection and Discrimination

The reason I'm posting a lot about criminal justice stats recently is first because I find it interesting but also because I'm working on a piece about German (and perhaps also French) coverage of crime in the USA. 

Specifically, and not to put too fine a point on it: (1) the fact that German reporters, out of ignorance or prejudice, use bogus statistics to exaggerate claims of discrimination in the American justice system; and (2) the reason for this is projection: ("a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.").

Specifically, the thesis is that German and French journalists are (whether consciously or not) distracting their readers from the problems in their own criminal justice systems by projecting discrimination onto the USA. I don't know, that formulation's pretty edgy, but sometimes edgy is fun!

Still in the research phase, but I'll let you know if I can get a German press outlet to publish it.