England Crushed by the Jackboot of the Nanny State

England just introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags at stores, which is apparently engulfing Albion in pandemonium, madness. While clawing over the bodies amid the stinging smoke, the editors of one English tabloid came up with a brilliant, devious, cunning plan to evade Big Brother's latest overreach: Bring your own shopping bag. The article prompted this inspired tweet: 

Germany has suffered under the yoke of bag fees for generations now. Which means any and every self-respecting environmentally conscious German -- and that's pretty much all of them -- has become an expert in bag technology. In a German store, you are expected to whip out your own reusable bag and pack your own groceries aber schnell bitte. Any deviation from this standard of conduct will be met with disapproving glances. 

You need the right bag. Everywhere I go, I carry a foldable ChicoBag which expands from the size of a pack of cigarettes to basically infinity. That's for spontaneous purchases. For more intensive shopping, you need a bag that will (1) fold up flat like IKEA furniture; (2) maintain its shape on its own when unfolded, (3) has various sized handles; and (4) has a velcro strip on the top inside so you can seal the top and make sure bulky objects don't fall out.

1The very best bag for this -- and I've tried a hell of a lot of them -- is the Edeka shopping bag. This comes from the high-end Edeka line of German supermarkets, which are the cleanest, most orderly supermarkets you will ever see. They fill all 4 criteria and are big, stable, and indestructible. They even have little flanges on the inside so you can stabilize bulky objects against the side of the bag. They're fucking ingenious.

England, fear not. The survivors will crawl out of the smoking ruins of a once-great land, painstakingly knit their own reusable bags from scraps of torn, bloody fabric, and get on with their lives. Germans will soon send over shipments of recycled, reusable bags in the spirit of European solidarity, and you can put the bloody-fabric bags in the Museum of the Great 5p Bag Crisis.

Bilk Rocks the World with a Gay Schützen-King and his Husband


Schützenvereine, literally 'Marksmen-Clubs', are a centuries-old German tradition with roots in medieval citizen-militias. Today, they gather every couple of months to hold parades in elaborate costumes, get drunk, do some charity stuff, get sozzled again, practice some shooting in case the Huns return, and then end the day drinking meter-long beers in the local pub until sprawled in front of the Kotzbecken. They choose their own 'King' and 'Queen' of the club to preside over official ceremonies.

And the part of Düsseldorf I live in, the virbantly-diverse-in-a-good-way and totally gay-friendly neighborhood of Bilk, has just chosen Germany's first gay Schützenkönig, the 'King' of the Marksmen Club. That's him on the right there, he's a local Social Democratic politician named Udo Figge. The national broadsheet FAZ (g) has picked up the story. Apparently there was some talk of arranging a proper 'Queen' for Udo, but then the other Schützen would say: 

So that's him in the photo above with his husband of 13 years. Schützenvereine are fairly traditional organizations, so the King & King setup has met some resistance, but the head of the main organization says gays are welcome in 'Marskmen Clubs' and have the same rights as anyone else.

When it comes to Schützenvereine it's not about your orientation, it's all about your ability to wear ludicrous costumes, lead parades of amateur musicians, sing drinking songs, and get pants-wettingly drunk in various pubs in your part of down. 

Solving the Demographic Crisis the Wrong Way

Some argue that the current influx of a million refugees a year is a blessing for Germany because it will solve Germany's demographic crisis: low birth rate equals not enough young workers to support retiring oldsters.

Germany indeed does have a bit of an age imbalance, although views differ on how problematic that is. Germany has tried to increase the birth rates of ethnic Germans, without much luck.

So immigration will have to be the answer. Now you have a choice. You could either:

1.    Open your borders during one summer and permit an influx of 1 million random strangers from faraway lands with wildly differing education levels, chosen according to the principle of whoever can travel and bribe a smuggler gets in, everyone else is out of luck;


2.    Adopt a policy of allowing legal, regulated, controlled immigration of 100,000 young people per year, priority to those with language skills and education and a proven track record of integrating well into different cultures (hint: Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, Koreans), while screening out security risks. Once the demographic imbalance is corrected, reduce the numbers.

Which approach seems more likely to succeed?

AMA with a Syrian Refugee in Germany

A Syrian refugee living in Germany did an AMA recently, and the result was fascinating. He's a young man who ran a successful Internet cafe and left because of threatened conscription. He's gotten asylum and has been in Germany 9 months, learning German.

I've pasted a few of the exchanges I found the most interesting. Reformatted them hastily, since I find reddit's format a bit hard to follow.

First, my favorite exchange of all: 

thegingerduck: How did you learn English? Did you learn while in Syria?

StraightOuttaSyria: Movies, TV-shows, books, music, youtube, internet in general.

thegingerduck: Are you doing the same for german?

StraightOuttaSyria: Yup, the radio and tv are always on, discovered some great German bands and singers, can't read books now but will asap.

OgGorrilaKing: It's Rammstein isn't it? You've been listening to Rammstein.

StraightOuttaSyria: I've been listening to them even before coming to Germany :D

Arntown: Yeah, and for advanced learning try Herbert Grönemeyer. If you can understand him, you're better than 50% of the Germans :D

Asked what the biggest culture shocks were:

  • Public drinking
  • Relationships ( female - male )
  • General acceptance for LGBT
  • Sex-Ed in school? Good luck with that
  • Shared Showers

What does he think of Western airstrikes against ISIS? "It's awesome, like really it's the best thing that happened since the start of the revolution and civil war in Syria."

What it's like to live in ISIS-run areas:

Great question.

They have very strict rules you need to follow, but generally they try to keep the population under their control "comfortable", because they wouldn't be able to fight an inside war and expand their "Caliphate" too, actually, the regions under ISIS control are the regions with the most access to water and electricity in Syria.

so yeah, so many rules, very strict rules, but if you follow you'll live ok.

Another question has to do with the image of Europe:

There are rumors about refugees being fed obvious lies about the welfare system in Germany: Things like getting top notch housing, a car and a well paid job upon arrival. What do you think of it?

Answer: SO MUCH LIES. they all think of Europe as a paradise on Earth, these lies are fed very much through the smugglers who try to convince you to go to Europe, as I suggested in another comment, I think the Europe should build a website putting every decision and news related to the refugees in it so they can get an authentic source of news and know who it is in Europe.

Good Syrian dishes: 

In the years to come I expect we will see Syrian restaurants and take-aways appear in the EU. What are good / unique dishes we can look forward to? Any good vegetarian dishes?

Answer: Look for "Fatte" "فتة", it's great

On how the EU should manage the crisis: 

What are your thoughts About how the EU should manage the refugee crisis? Glad you made it welcome to germany.

StraightOuttaSyria: Obviously I'm happy many people can get a chance for a better life. But the way it happens now is wrong, mass numbers will hurt the people before the host countries, and eventually will lead to more troubles. There are many way they can help the people and get everything under control, as I've said couple of times, get them legal status in Turkey, then sort the people who need to get to Europe, and pick them from the camps. These are some of the simplest ways.

And on ISIS infiltrators:

Do you believe that ISIS terrorists are disguising themselves as refugees to get into Europe and the US?

StraightOuttaSyria: It's a quite big possibility, but hopefully the authorities run a good background check before granting anyone asylum.

redditor401: No offence to you, but judging by the way you got in, I don't think that's really happening, lol.

Merkel Should Apologize and Ask for Help

Germany, which will receive around 130,000 migrants this month alone, is overwhelmed. Signs of crisis and breakdown are everywhere, and there are still hundreds of thousands of migrants in the pipeline. Desperate German (and some European) politicians continue to try to get other European countries to accept more of the million migrants Germany lured to the continent. 

So far they've tried two methods.

The first method is appeals to European "solidarity" and European "values". This doesn't work, because those are lofty abstractions, and nobody agrees on their meaning.

The second method is by threatening to withhold EU funds to countries that don't take "enough" migrants. This doesn't work, because it looks like Germany bullying other countries to clean up its mess. It enrages countries which are much poorer than Germany, threatening to gravely damage the EU itself.

There is a third option, although one that, in my experience, German civil servants never consider: Apologize. A short speech for Merkel:

Europe (or the rest of the world), Germany has been a main driver of this crisis. We failed to anticipate a flow of refugees that anyone could have seen was coming. We didn't prepare. We made a decision to ignore Schengen that sent the wrong signal, luring hundreds of thousands more people. We take full responsibility for this problem. But right now, we are faced with a number of refugees which we simply cannot handle. So in the spirit of humility, we apologize for our previous actions and ask for help.

The migrants are not to blame, at least not the migrants who are actually fleeing war and persecution. They should not suffer unduly for our mistake. We ask you to take significantly more refugees. In return, we will agree to tax our citizens to provide a lavish financial aid package that will reduce the financial burden to a minimum. We will also agree to immediately implement and help pay for strict border controls on the EU outer border, to ensure that we do not get further streams of refugees when we can't cope with the ones we already have.

Other nations of Europe (or the rest of the world), please accept our apology and help us out. We'll remember it the next time you need a favor. That is solidarity.

Maybe it will work, maybe not. But it would be a big improvement on threats and abstractions. 

Small German Leather Postal Bag from 1952

For funky charm, there's nothing like a German flea market. One of the finest is just a short bike ride away, in a street called Im Dahlacker (g). It's a covered indoor market open every Wednesday and Saturday. There, you can find anything from commemorative egg spoons to used letters to Richard Clayderman CDs. A large selection of eerie dolls. A pamphlet on how to make your own clown figurines. A painting featuring a black-painted banana being slit with a knife, with red paint oozing out.

And this square black leather case for a postman:


Hard to tell exactly what it was for: I presume that even in the dire post-war year of 1952, the average German postman had more mail than would fit into this wine-bottle-sized square case. Maybe it was for a flashlight? Who can say? At any rate, based on the liberal use of stamps on the inside of the cover, I bet there are dozens of bureaucratic entries tracing the entire history of this piece of West German government property. In fact, I'm not even sure it was legal for me to buy it under the Government Property Registration and Transfer Act of 1973. I suppose I'll find out soon enough. 

Open Borders Advocates Are Everywhere You Look

Some commenters here have accused me of setting up straw-men. Nobody except cray-cray black-bloc nutcases really advocates open borders. You're simply making up this silly argument to taint advocates of more liberal migration with the extremist brush.

The problem is all those dozens of commentaries and interviews in the German press outlets in which people explicitly advocate open borders.

Here's the latest in an endless succession of them: an interview (g) in the German magazine Stern (weekly circulation 700,000 copies (g)) with 'migration researcher' François Gemenne. For convenience's sake, I have bolded the parts of the interview in which Mr. Gemenne ... advocates open borders (my translation):

Nobody leaves their home country jut because Germany, for example, opens its borders. Nobody stays home because those borders are closed. Open or closed borders have no influence on whether people try to migrate or not.

...It's naive to think the situation can be solved by closed borders. The very idea that migration can be controlled or limited is absurd.

...So I say again: Open the Borders! This would essentially eliminate illegal migration. This would also be a significant step toward solving the problem of misery among migrants.

...We have not yet fully accepted that migration is a part of our reality and a fundamental right of every person. The right to go where living conditions are better. To try and prevent migration is like preventing the sun from rising: completely senseless.

I rest my case.

Gemenne's first point is something you hear a lot, and it's a howler. The same logic could be used to scrap laws against theft: 'Hey man, people are always going to steal, out of greed, need, or whatever. Putting locks on your doors and passing laws won't get rid of the problem.'

And yet every society has such laws, and you have locks on your doors and bicycles. Why? Because of a little thing called 'marginal deterrent effect'. Humans balance their desire to take other peoples' stuff against (1) how easy it is to take the stuff; and (2) not get punished. Add a few extra barriers to taking your stuff and you increase the amount of time needed to take it and therefore the chance of getting caught. You may not deter an experienced burglar who has targeted you, but you certainly will deter dozens of casual opportunistic thieves who will move on, looking for an easier target.

Case in point: Israel recently constructed a new fence on its border to Egypt to control illegal immigration from Africa. The results: "While 9,570 citizens of various African countries entered Israel illegally in the first half of 2012, only 34 did the same in the first six months of 2013, after construction of the main section of the barrier was completed."

Kureishi in English for German Teens FTW

Düsseldorf has public bookshelves (g) dotted around the city. These are hardly, well-designed glass-walled boxes the size of a telephone booth (designed by architect Hans-Jürgen Greve) in which you can leave and pick up books for free. Most of the offerings are long-forgotten historical romances with names like 'Prince of the Thuringians' or 'Stolen Homeland', but I've also found a history of garden gnomes, a Polish cake cookbook, a manual of German parliamentary procedure, and other amusing things.

But the hippest find so far has been:

Kureishi front real

Dry, angry wit! But it gets better. I opened it to find a German schoolgirl's name written in the front cover and some annotations on the blurb:

Kurieshi front cover

So an English-language novel about Pakistani counterculture types coming to terms with sex, drugs and rock and roll was assigned (or at least) accepted as official class reading by a German Gymnasium for a 17-year-old girl.

Germany, you have regained my respect. 

Children Bring Misery to New German Parents


The Washington Post reports on a study finding that having a child decimates the happiness of German couples:

In reality, it turns out that having a child can have a pretty strong negative impact on a person's happiness, according to a new study published in the journal Demography. In fact, on average, the effect of a new baby on a person's life is devastatingly bad — worse than divorce, worse than unemployment and worse even than the death of a partner.

Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä followed 2,016 Germans who were childless at the time the study began until at least two years after the birth of their first child. Respondents were asked to rate their happiness from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied) in response to the question, "How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?"

"Although this measure does not capture respondents' overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child," they wrote.

The study's goal was to try to gain insights into a longstanding contradiction in fertility in many developed countries between how many children people say they want and how many they actually have. In Germany, most couples say in surveys that they want two children. Yet the birthrate in the country has remained stubbornly low — 1.5 children per woman — for 40 years.


On average, new parenthood led to a 1.4 unit drop in happiness. That's considered very severe.

To put things in perspective, previous studies have quantified the impact of other major life events on the same happiness scale in this way: divorce, the equivalent of a 0.6 "happiness unit" drop; unemployment, a one-unit drop; and the death of a partner a one-unit drop.


The effect was especially strong in mothers and fathers who are older than age 30 and with higher education.

Surprisingly, gender was not a factor.

The third category was the most significant and was about "the continuous and intense nature of childrearing." Parents reported exhaustion due to trouble breast-feeding, sleep deprivation, depression, domestic isolation and relationship breakdown.

A few points. First, that's a clever study design. It gets at revealed preferences (what people do) rather than stated preferences (what they say), and also minimizes social desirability bias -- people answering questions the way they think is socially acceptable rather than the way they actually feel.

I've seen this happen in my social circle. Well-educated Germans in their late 20s or 30s like to lead busy lives and go out and meet with friends and go skiing and go to concerts and have sex and keep up with the latest TV series etc. Most of them have never had to care for a child and don't know what it's like. They have been brought up in a society that favors self-realization and productive work, not self-sacrifice and duty. They find child-rearing boring, stressful, and a shocking transition from web design or PR or journalism. They know they should love their kid and do, but that doesn't mean that they don't also think changing diapers and sitting around at playgrounds is a total waste of their intellectual abilities.

Of course, this has always been the case. But in previous generations, the answer was clear: a young writer, architect, or lawyer building a career cannot be expected to care for a child. They don't know how it's done and don't have the patience for it. Besides, their talents are better used doing what they're good at and have been trained to do. So you hire a nanny. Someone with little education, who enjoys dealing with children, has plenty of experience and patience.

Hiring nannies or au pairs has become too expensive for most middle-class couples in the West and is also socially frowned on by judgy types on the right (you should be a real mommy) and the left (you're exploiting that Albanian woman). Historically, immigrant women have been nannies to more-established middle-class couples. Perhaps this could be a partial solution to current immigration problems? (Tongue loosely in cheek).

German Bloggers Accused of Treason For Publishing Budget Documents

Two German bloggers at the website netzpolitik.org (g) are now being investigated for treason (g) -- yes, treason -- for publishing leaked documents detailing the budget of the Federal Agency for Protection of the Constitution, the German state's domestic spy agency. There is a federal level APC and one in every state. They are highly controversial. Originally envisioned as a way of identifying right-wing threats to the German post-war social order, they are accused by left-wing groups of having an establishment bias, and primarily investigating left groups.

At this point the two men behind the website have only gotten letters telling them an investigation has begun. But the punishment is 'at least one year in prison'.

Germany has been conducting a completely pointless debate for the past two years over whether Germany should offer Edward Snowden asylum. That will never happen. Perhaps the focus should not shift to whether German bloggers should be offered pardons from allegations of treason for publishing documents the government didn't want Germans to see?