A few half-baked observations which I took over from Facebook. Consider this an open thread:
+ Trump is a venal, empty chiseler and narcissist, but other countries have elected cretins before and survived (I'm lookin' at you, Italy).
+ The fact that Trump said some rude things didn't matter. Both because his message overwhelmed them, and because ordinary people (1) say words like 'bitch', 'fuck', and 'pussy' all the time; and (2) find Hillary's pre-masticated euphemisms boring and condescending.
+ Most of Trump’s campaign bluster was just that. He won't be able to actually do those crazy things, and knows this. He lies to get what he wants, and that's what his campaign rhetoric was.
+ He will quickly get bored with the tedium of actual governance, and delegate. Much will depend on whom he picks.
+ To the extent that his election thrusts a big fuck you finger to smug, insular elites inside their self-congratulatory filter bubbles, it's a good thing. Those people could profit from a bracing lesson in humility.
+ Identity politics is a dead-end. It elevates race, gender, sexual orientation and other aspects of identity to virtues in and of themselves, and views everything reductively through that narrow lens. Once you open that Pandora's box, you realize that white people can do identity politics too. Hillary’s anti-Bernie speech in which she repeatedly pointed out that ‘breaking up the banks’ would not eliminate racism, sexism, homophobia (those modern heresies) etc. was a perfect example of this worldview. As we've just found out, this sort of posturing leaves a lot of people cold.
+ Trump has promised to reduce America’s needless military presence abroad and let other countries regulate their own affairs with minimal US interference. If he actually follows through on this, the results would be positive. Hillary's hawkishness would have been more dangerous than Trump's isolationism.
+ Trump doesn’t care about climate change, but then again that genie is out of the bottle and can’t be forced back in. The world is already getting warmer, and all the various climate accords would have done little to change this. Now’s the time to look into other solutions.
+ Everyone take a deep breath. The US will survive, the world will survive. There will be a referendum on Trump's first two years in 2018, and a chance to kick him out two years after that.
And who knows? Maybe he'll mature in office. Nah, that ain't gonna happen.
Schlecky Silberstein stumbled upon this instant Internet classic -- an American from San Antonio decides on the spur of the moment to visit legendary Berlin nightclub Berghain and, as his Yelp review indicates, is scarred for life. I'm putting it after the fold because, well, this is Berghain we're talking about. You've been warned.
The Washington Post reports on the Ulm Minster:
The spire atop Ulm Minster, the world’s tallest church, juts 530 feet into the air above the German city for which it is named. In its 639th year, however, the Gothic structure could be laid low by a gross and unfortunate hazard: Too many revelrous Germans are ducking into the church’s alcoves to relieve their full bladders and queasy stomachs against the ancient walls.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on it for half a year now and, once again, it’s coated with urine and vomit,” Michael Hilbert, head of the local building preservation agency, told German broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
Those charged with maintaining the building, like Hilbert, worry that abrasive chemicals in the bodily fluids are abrading the sandstone blocks that form the church’s foundation. Making matters worse, the potential damage to the stone comes after the church recently completed an expensive renovation....
To stanch the flow of expelled waste, police patrols have increased in the area. Ulm also doubled city fines for public urination to 100 euros, or $110.
But neither the increased fines nor the extra patrols appear to have curbed the acidic eliminations. (Most sandstones are able to weather acids, like those in acid rains, without significant damage, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Certain sandstone types, however, contain carbonate cements that dissolve when exposed even to weak acids.)
This is another instance of the curious German aversion to video surveillance. Like nuclear power, inflation, and debt, Germans have an intense cultural aversion to video surveillance. This is largely explained by the Nazi excesses in monitoring the population, as well as the European culture of privacy, which gives you rights over your own image, even in public. But these legitimate concerns are endlessly exaggerated and hyped in public discussions here, so that there is an organized lobby against video surveillance even where it would be a cheap, obvious, and effective way to solve serious problems.
As here. This is not a hard case. Just set up a bunch of obvious video surveillance cameras and signs where the problem is worst. Post images of the offenders online.
The predictable riposte from Green Party members, the most strident opponents of video surveillance, is that this won't stop everybody from pissing on the church. I've heard this argument literally hundreds of times from Green Party member about virtually every proposed expansion of government or police power.
One of the strange defects in German debate culture is that almost nobody makes the obvious counter-argument to the Greens: that a measure doesn't have to be 100% successful to be worth doing. We have laws against murder, yet murders happen nevertheless. Some people will still piss on the church after the cameras are installed, but there will be many fewer of them. Perhaps the cameras might catch people who are engaged in innocent activity (although what that might be is a bit hard to imagine). Of course, nobody would see these images except the people who monitor the camera feeds.
The idea that this miniscule infringement of the privacy of people who know they are in a public space outweighs the importance of preserving the world's architectural heritage is, frankly, ludicrous. I'd be willing to bet that all the privately-owned businesses within a kilometer of the Ulm Minster already have video surveillance. The notion that a masturbation video emporium (g) in Ulm can manage to protect itself, while one of the world's greatest Gothic churches cannot, is, well, beyond ludicrous.
Grow up, Germany. We're counting on you.
In the New Haven Independent, the outreach director of a refugee resettlement charity in the United States takes issue with Donald Trump:
When asked in the most recent presidential debate about the Syrian refugee crisis, Donald Trump Jr. said his proposed ban on Muslim immigration to the U.S. has become a plan of “extreme vetting … because we don’t even know who they are.”
But we do know who they are.
The U.S. vetting process for refugees is already the most rigorous in the world. Refugees who are being considered for resettlement to the U.S. undergo seven background checks by national security agencies and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security personnel. But refugees are not just threats we need to vet, nor are they simply victims we need to save.
I have the privilege of knowing who refugees are. Through my work at IRIS — Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services, a not-for-profit that is resettling almost 500 refugees to Connecticut this year, I interact with refugees every day. The refugees I know are not terrorists or just victims. They’re the gay man from Baghdad who shows me pictures of his cat, the Afghan single mom who does YouTube yoga, the Congolese toddler who’s learning to wink, the fisherman who Skypes with his parrot back in Iraq, the Syrian teens who text while they ride their bikes.
Two things. First, note that the refugees mentioned here are almost all women and children, or people who, like the gay man from Baghdad, obviously appear to have grounds for refugee status. This is what happens when you screen migrants before you let them into your country.
Second, note that the woman who wrote this anti-Trump article, a proud liberal who actually helps run a refugee charity, does not complain about the background checks. She even seems proud of the fact that the U.S. vetting process is "rigorous". That is, even as a liberal who is intimately familiar with the problems of refugees, she accepts that every single asylum applicant will be exhaustively screened by "national security agencies".
Contrast this with the reaction to the latest bomb-maker migrant in Germany, an ISIS terrorist named Jaber Al-Bakr who entered Germany as a "refugee". This case is worth a short digression. Albakr had already prepared 1.5 kilograms of the high-explosive TATP in an ordinary apartment building in Chemnitz, Germany. Watch what just 10 grams of that stuff can do here. If this notoriously unstable compound had exploded, dozens of his neighbors would have been killed and injured. The police, acting on information given to them by the American NSA (g), which had gathered it through phone surveillance, found out about his activities. But Albakr escaped blanket surveillance (g) by elite German security services, was on the loose for days, and was only captured by fellow Syrians who recognized his wanted photo and tied him up while he was sleeping
His capture was celebrated by the German mainstream press as a victory for Germany's intelligence services, despite the fact that German intelligence would never have known of him had it not been for the NSA, and that he was literally allowed to walk right past German cops and escape from surveillance, and that Germany was on edge for days with a known terrorist free in their midst, and that police were unable to catch him on their own.
I'd say celebrating this train-wreck as effective intelligence work shows how low standards are in the German mainstream press, who are desperate to reassure readers that everything's fine with the refugees, move along here, nothing to see.
But then something else happened. Albakr was allowed to hang himself in his prison cell. There is no video surveillance in the cell where this experienced bomb-maker was being held, and authorities, after initially ordering checks every 15 minutes, decided there was no need for such precautions and reduced the suicide checks to once only every 30 minutes. He seemed "calm" in interviews, you see.
After this orgy of SNAFUs, the conservative CSU party demanded background checks for all refugees and that German intelligence services be given full access to the database of information on migrants (which, surprisingly enough, they don't have now). The reaction from left-wing German politicians was a litany of the same old cliches: More surveillance won't help (g), we shouldn't put all refugees under blanket suspicion (g), there's no reason to act (g).
The contrast is clear again: the liberal American friend to refugees accepts that background checks are necessary and uses that fact to reassure Americans that it's appropriate to take more refugees. Humanitarian relief must be balanced by legitimate security interests.
The German center-left political mainstream, despite several attacks and many more close calls, continues to resist universal background checks on refugees prior to entry, the policy of just about every other nation on the planet.
Who are the extremists here?
From the December 1992 edition of the American satirical monthy Spy Magazine:
Yesterday I took advantage of the nice weather and went fishing for garbage in the local stream that runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel.
The main find was bottles. At least 100 of them. Everything from small schnapps bottles to beer bottles to hip flasks of cheap vodka to actual wine bottles. All covered in and/or filled with nasty blackish gunk. Here are three of them, and what looks like a decaying can of Red Bull, just to give you an idea:
But wait! That's not all! Once I actually got into the middle of the river, I found all sorts of other garbage, including 7-8 bike locks, an umbrella, various metal rods, a lightbulb, a pair of scissors, clothes, and rotten plastic bags. Here's just a selection:
Finally, exhausted, I had to give up. It's pretty tiring wading through mud and hauling heavy sacks of garbage up the riverbank. And I found all of this in only a 10-meter-long section of the river south of a well-traveled bridge.
There's still a bunch of junk in only this section of the river. So I'm going to go back today, and hope to at least get this section cleaned up.
Düsseldorfers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, light bulbs? Umbrellas?
On a cheerier note, it turns out that rubber boots are surprisingly comfortable! Also, it seems that at least some life forms can survive in this filth. The ducks stay away from this part of the river, probably having cut their feet on broken glass. But I did one adult and a few juvenile Kamberkrebs, the spiny-cheeked crayfish. Unfortunately, this is an invasive species from America which is an asymptomatic carrier of crayfish plague, which has devastated native European crayfish populations. I probably should have ended them, but I didn't have the heart.
And now, off to start Phase 3 of Operation Glasshole™. I should get some kind of medal for this.
From a presentation on expanding the market share for moist toilet paper presented at the European Tissue Symposium:
From an NPR interview with a writer who worked on a game show in which contestants tried to guess how Americans answered various questions:
SMITH: So when you say you're a writer for a game show, what does that mean?
WILK: Great question. Nobody knows. I have no idea.
ROMER: David gets to work cooking up questions to give the polling company. The polling company does its job.
WILK: And it was the only question that we ever wrote where we ever got a response from them saying, is this actually what you want us to be polling? And we said, yes. And the question was - we were going to ask people, have you ever been decapitated?
SMITH: (Laughter). But...
WILK: They were sure we had made a mistake, and we had not.
SMITH: As far as David remembers, by the way, 4 percent of Americans answered that they had been decapitated.
ROMER: Seems high.
While we're on the subject of Iceland, a Facebook pal writes: "a friend of mine traveled extensively through the country and came across this fresco of a tanned male supermodel Jesus in a woolen turtleneck sweater. In comparison to this vision of The Utter Beyond, Michelangelo's Last Judgment or Bernini's St. Theresa just evaporate into insignificance. I name it Comfy Jesus:"