The Coming Exodus from Baltimore

I've been getting, and refusing, a few German press inquiries about recent events in Baltimore. I don't do hot-take live interviews. Someone was arrested and suffered a fatal injury; we are still a long way from knowing all there is to know about that incident.

Another reason I didn't give an interview is I have nothing new or reassuring to say. American cities occasionally erupt in riots after high-profile sporting events or police killings, something that happens in poor parts of cities across the globe. 67%-black Baltimore itself has been a watchword for urban despair for generations, as the 1977 Randy Newman song Baltimore shows:

Hard times in the city

In a hard town by the sea

Ain't nowhere to run to

There ain't nothin' here for free

 

Hooker on the corner

Waitin' for a train

Drunk lyin' on the sidewalk

Sleepin' in the rain

 

And they hide their faces

And they hide their eyes

'Cause the city's dyin'

And they don't know why

 

Oh, Baltimore

Man, it's hard just to live

Oh, Baltimore

Man, it's hard just to live, just to live

Baltimore's problems were also clinically dissected 30 years later in The Wire. Most talented people with valuable job skills have already left Baltimore, unless they are associated with medical or university institutions located there. Whenever poor parts of American cities burn, politicians usually convene a blue-ribbon commission, a report is issued, and there are various halfhearted efforts at urban revitalization for a few years afterward. Here is a recommendation from a 1965 report issued after rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles:

We propose that the programs for the schools in disadvantaged areas be vastly reorganized and strengthened so as to strike at the heart of low achievement and break the cycle of failure. We advocate a new, massive, expensive, and frankly experimental onslaught on the problem of illiteracy. We propose that it be attacked at the time and place where there is an exciting prospect of success.

The program for education which we recommend is designed to raise the scholastic achievement of the average Negro child up to or perhaps above the present average achievement level in the City. We have no hard evidence to prove conclusively that the program advocated in this report will accomplish this purpose. 

Then attention fades, the money dries up, and conditions regress to the mean. I see no reason this time will be different. A few years or decades from now, Baltimore or some other city will burn, and again people will wonder at the fact that nothing has changed, and the people there are just as desperate and poor as they were before.

There are a few reasons for this eternal recurrence of the exact same debates. First, many problems of poor inner-city areas cannot be solved. Other problems could theoretically be solved, but doing so would involve huge investments of money, talent, time, and patience. People usually claim to be sympathetic to the problems of inner-city residents, but most voters don't want large amounts of their tax money diverted to try to fix their problems. I suspect the advice most Americans would give to residents of Baltimore is: 'Leave'.

Forcibly busing poor kids to rich areas and vice versa -- to combat racial segregation -- was tried once in America and turned out to be a disaster. This isn't just an American problem, either: Malmö, Stockholm, Paris, Marseille, Copenhagen all have heavily-immigrant problem zones that erupt into rioting once every few years. (Germany is an interesting counter-example). If even the world's most social-democratic countries can't find the resources, solutions, and political will to create lasting, meaningful improvements to life in urban poverty pockets, there's no chance the USA will.

So the exodus from Baltimore will continue.


They Will Be Sent Back

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

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

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

...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Am deutschen Wesen, or German Smoothiemakers Show Us the Way

One day, we will look back on the spasms of social-media shaming that are currently in vogue and wonder: what were we thinking?!? I try to make it a habit to think 'what were we thinking?'while we still are thinking it. So I have always thought that the proper response to being called out by tiresome scolds is not the groveling apology your PR firm wants you to give, but either complete obliviousness or a satisfied smirk.

And a group of German smoothie-makers is showing us the way. True Fruits recently started a couple of new advertising campaigns that twisted the knickers of German SJWs. One of their bottles is emblazoned with the logo: 'Get you sausage-like fingers away from this bottle!' According to Indyvegan, a German language website trying to raise a shitstorm (g) over True Fruits, this is fat-shaming, or in German, fatshaming. (Yes, English is the international language of PC scolding. Depressing, isn't it?)

But that was just the beginning. One of their white fruit juices wasn't selling well, so they decided to put it in a black bottle labeled 'Blind Taste Test' and provide the following analogy (my translation):

Ever set up an ugly girlfriend who's awfully sweet with a date? That's what we felt like with our white smoothie, our tastiest smoothie. Because of its pale and unfruity appearance, it wasn't getting near enough chances for a spicy rendezvous with you. So we had no choice but to click off the light so that you could concentrate solely on its inner values. #swallowinthedark

 As Indyvegan then put it, 'Customers felt that this text was lookist (lookistisch, believe it or not), since it suggested you should prefer dark places to get to know people who don't conform to the commonly-held ideals of beauty.' There's more in this vein, practically writes itself.

And then True Fruits did something inspiring. On its public websites, it responded to similar complaints like this. (If you're anything like me, you may want to put on some swelling string music and have tissues ready):

"We took a look at your comments and decided they were totally crackbrained bullshit (the German word is of course Bullshit) from wanna-be moral apostles. After we finished laughing, we decided that even the slightest hint of a serious answer would be a total waste of our lives. So a short piece of advice to all the whiners: if you don't like it, go. Spare us your whimpering, 'cause we like our sense of humor."

"We're good-looking, arrogant chauvinists who don't catch your drift."

"Go cry your eyes out somewhere, you weenie*."

"We're not perfect ourselves and once in a while we encounter statements of jokes that we might feel directly or indirectly target us. And you know what we do or don't do then? We'll tell you: We don't soil ourselves and whine like a toddler who didn't get his second pudding after dinner. You can do that, if your synapses leave you no other option. But please don't blubber all over us."

When Indyvegan the website asked for an interview, the firm took one look at the questions and declined, saying there was obviously no point in further discussion. If you don't like our advertising strategy, True Fruits continued, "we recommend that you and your readers simply avoid our products and our websites in the future." The email response was signed by Fee (Fairy!) Surges, the speaker. They also broadcast a video (g, on Facebook) with a sarcastic fake apology on April 1.

I've drunk some True Fruits before, they're tasty. I hereby announce that in the future, I will be drinking as much True Fruits as my budget allows. 

Continue reading "Am deutschen Wesen, or German Smoothiemakers Show Us the Way" »


American Economist Asks Dying German Social Democratic Party Why They Destroyed Themselves

American economist Mark Blyth got an award from Germany's dying center-left Social Democratic Party for his writings on the failure of European austerity policies, and decided to explain to the German Social Democrats exactly how they managed kill their own political party for no reason:

I sat in my office at Brown University on December 16, 2014, an email popped into my inbox with the title “Herzlichen Glückwunsch – Sie sind der 1. Preisträger des Hans-Matthöfer-Preises für wirtschaftspublizistik.” This was the award given by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), the research foundation closest to the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), and the Hans-Matthöfer Stiftung for the best economics publication in German in 2014. I was, to say the least, surprised.

My 2013 Oxford University Press book, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea, had recently been translated into German by the publishing arm of the FES. Indeed, I had been there a month earlier, in Berlin, to do a book launch, which was very well attended. Since then the book has been reviewed, positively, in the German press, with Suddeutsche Zeitung giving it a rather glowing review. Something odd was going on.

...

Consider that during the negotiations to form the current coalition with German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, the SPD could have made an issue out of how the policies designed to heal Europe were causing great harm, a fact acknowledged even by the International Monetary Fund by 2012. But they chose not to do so....But not speaking up when such inappropriate policies are being applied to Germany’s European partners is collectively disastrous. Indeed, what is so tragic in this crisis is how the center-left throughout Europe have not just accepted, but in many cases actively supported, policies that have done nothing but hurt their supposed core constituencies.

[Following excerpts are from the prize acceptance speech. I've put the really juicy bits in my own added italics:] There can be no doubt that the debtor countries of Europe need major reforms in taxation systems, labor markets, business regulation, and a host of other areas.

But…

    1. When we say “structural reform” we really have no idea what those words actually mean, and we often fall back on them as a back-handed acknowledgment that austerity has failed, or
    2. We misunderstand what we did when we refer to prior episodes of structural reform, and thereby miss that it is impossible for anyone else to do what we once did.

Let me explain. “Structural reform” used to be called “structural adjustment.” And European lefties like us used to condemn it as absurd, ridiculous, “neoliberalism gone mad” — and yet we seem quite happy to unleash these policies, despite the damage that they have done in the developing world, upon our European partners.

When you ask for the content of what structural reform means, it seems to be a checklist of lower taxes, deregulate everything in sight, privatize anything not nailed down, and hope for the best. But are these policies not disturbingly American, if not Thatcherite? Indeed, isn’t this everything that the SPD is supposed to be against, and much of which the German public would never put up with?

...

Today it is a profound irony that European social democrats worry deeply, as they should, about the investor protection clauses embedded in the proposed Transatlantic Investment Treaty with the US, and yet they demand enforcement of exactly the same creditor protections on their fellow Europeans without pausing for breath for the money they “lent” to them to bail out their own banking systems’ errant lending decisions.

Something has gone badly wrong when social democracy thinks this is OK. It is not. Because it begs the fundamental question, “what are you for — if you are for this?” The German Social Democrats, for we are all the heirs of Rosa Luxemburg, today stand as the joint enforcers of a creditor’s paradise. Is that who you really want to be? Modern European history has turned many times on the choices of the SPD. This is one of those moments.

It’s great that my book has helped remind you of the poverty of these ideas. But the point is to recover your voice, not just your historical memory. Your vote share isn’t going down because you are not shadowing the CDU enough. Its going down because if all you do is that, why should anyone vote for you at all?

I hope that reading my book reminds the SPD of one thing: that the reason they exist is to do more than simply to enforce a creditor’s paradise in Europe.

I recall writing a few years ago: "Yet in Germany, coverage of the Greek healthcare collapse virtually always attributes it vaguely to 'the crisis' in general, not to the austerity measures forced on Greece by the troika, which are anything but inevitable (or alternativlos in Merkel's infamous phrase) and to which there are plenty of reasonable alternatives that would not impose massive suffering on ordinary citizens." But Blythe has much more credibility than I do. As is often the case, it takes an outsider to point out the hypocrisy of another country's elites. Or, as Orwell once put it, to see what is in front of one's face requires a constant effort.


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.


Japanese Revere, Eat Insects

You might notice I've been on a Japan kick recently, so here's a pice from Aeon in which Andrea Appleton describes Japanese insect love

Insects have been celebrated in Japanese culture for centuries. ‘The Lady Who Loved Insects’ is a classic story of a caterpillar-collecting lady of the 12th century court; the Tamamushi, or ‘Jewel Beetle’ Shrine, is a seventh century miniature temple, once shingled with 9,000 iridescent beetle forewings.

Insects continue to rear their antennae in modern Japan. Consider ‘Mothra’, the giant caterpillar-moth monster who is second only to Godzilla in film appearances; the many bug-inspired characters of ‘Pokémon’, and any number of manga (including an insect-themed detective series named after Fabre). Travel agencies advertise firefly-watching tours, there are televised beetle-wrestling competitions and beetle petting zoos. Department stores and even vending machines sell live insects.

Nor do the Japanese merely admire insects: they eat them too. In the Chūbu region, in central Japan, villagers rear wasps at home for food, and forage for giant hornets that are eaten at all life stages, while fried grasshoppers or inago are a luxury foodstuff. Entomophagy once had a place in Western culture too: the ancient Greeks ate cicadas, the Romans ate grubs. But while modern Westerners blithely eat aquatic arthropods – lobster, shrimp, crab, crayfish – we’ve lost our taste for the terrestrial kind.


European Kids Can Take Care of Themselves

There's a recent mini-trend in which Americans inspect European parenting habits with admiration. Pamela Druckerman has made a cottage industry of explaining no-nonsense French parenting habits. European children become adults, in short, by being treated increasingly like adults. They get to play and do silly things, but are expected early on to eat adult food, listen to adult conversations, practice adults virtue such as listening without interruption, showing some respect for their elders, and tolerating boredom. Sara Zaske notes the German approach

Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents I’ve met are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility. Those parents at the park weren’t ignoring their children; they were trusting them. Berlin doesn’t need a “free range parenting” movement because free range is the norm.

Here are a few surprising things Berlin parents do:

Don’t push reading. Berlin’s kindergartens or “kitas” don’t emphasize academics. In fact, teachers and other parents discouraged me from teaching my children to read....

Encourage kids to play with fire. A note came home from school along with my excited second grader. They were doing a project on fire. Would I let her light candles and perform experiments with matches? Together we lit candles and burned things, safely. It was brilliant. Still, she was the only kid whose parent didn’t allow her to shoot off heavy duty fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Let children go almost everywhere alone. Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone. German parents are concerned about safety, of course, but they usually focus on traffic, not abductions....

Take the kids outside everyday. According to a German saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the “garten” in Kindergarten. It’s also obvious on Berlin’s numerous playgrounds. No matter how cold and grey it gets, and in Berlin it gets pretty cold, parents still bundle their kids up and take them to the park, or send them out on their own.

 

 

 


Europe, Land of the Free

Ask many American expats and they'll tell you that they feel more free living in Germany than in the States, the land of the free and home of the brave.

One of the many reasons: in America, your boss can require you to piss in a cup, test it for signs that you've ever used drugs. If the results are positive, the company can immediately fire you, without further explanation or any chance to appeal. They can require every employee, from IT consultant to file clerk, to take these tests -- even if their jobs don't implicate safety, they have never shown up to work impaired, and they have only used drugs in their free time. Companies can still do this, even when the employee has a medical marijuana prescription, and even in states where marijuana is now legal

Americans, those rugged, craggy, self-reliant individualists, meekly bent over, grabbed their ankles (so to speak) and consented to letting their bosses demand their bodily fluids from them at the pain of dismissal. Unions might have prevented this, but Americans let unions be destroyed.

In Germany, by contrast, routine drug tests are illegal. Companies can test workers who operate heavy equipment or do other risky jobs, but even then the employer generally has to prove individualized suspicion that a worker may be impaired on the job. Blanket drug testing of all workers without suspicion is blatantly unconstitutional and does not exist.


Bad Kaarma: 70 Years for Montana Burglar Trapper

Remember Markus Kaarma, the Missoula, Montana man who waited outside his garage for someone to come burglarize it, then fired his shotgun into the garage, killing German exchange student Diren Dede?

Well, as you might expect in America's gun-obsessed paranoid fanatic culture of cowboy-style vigilantism, he claimed self-defense under the frontier-style 'Castle Doctrine' and acquitted. He is now on a celebrity speaking tour among American gun-rights groups.

Sorry, having a bit of fun there. You didn't think I could pass up a chance to poke a little harmless fun at German Besserwisserei, did you? Kaarma was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced by a judge to seventy (70) years in prison:

He dismissed Kaarma's claim he suffered from "anxiety" and an "anti-social disorder," saying it "doesn't excuse the anguish you have caused."

"You pose too great a risk to society to be anywhere else but the Montana State Prison. Good luck to you, son," McLean said.

"I'm sorry my actions caused the death of Mr. Dede," Kaarma told the judge before learning his fate.

He will be eligible for parole in 20 years. As a law-talking guy, I feel compelled to use this as a teaching moment. Right after the shooting, both Kaarma and his wife, apparently believing Montana law gave them the right to do what they did, spoke in detail. They described how they had been burglarized many times, got fed up, and set a 'trap' by leaving their garage door open and waiting until a motion sensor told them someone was inside. Then Kaarma fired.

When a lawyer reads about people talking so freely about their involvement in a homicide, our reaction is similar to a doctor seeing a pregnant woman down a liter of vodka. If you're ever arrested -- and I hope  some of my readers live life loud enough to risk this -- do not say a word to anyone, no matter what, until you have spoken to a lawyer. This rule applies to everyone, everywhere, no exceptions. It's the equivalent of a fundamental physical constant, one of the basic building blocks of the legal universe. By chatting so volubly about his motives and actions, Kaarma didn't just tie his lawyers' hands, he practically chopped them off.

FWIW, I should add that this penalty, like most American criminal penalties, strikes me as Draconian. It is certainly longer than he would have gotten for a comparable crime in most European countries, including Germany.