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:

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DSC_0033

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

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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

Eraserhead

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?


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.


Berlin-Brandenburg Airport Makes its International Debut

Until now, I've only seen brief mentions of the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport fiasco in the English-language press. But now, Bloomberg brings all the gory details into the Interwebs, in all their goriness:

“Professor, let me understand this,” Loge said. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?” Loge refused the airport an operating license. Schwarz stood up and walked out without another word.

The next day, in a hall packed with government officials and journalists, Schwarz sat grimly behind a table with four other officials, including Mayor Wowereit, and announced the unthinkable: The airport wouldn’t open as scheduled. The inaugural bash and overnight move from Tegel were scuttled.

It was merely a prelude to a debacle that is still unfolding. Three years later, Berlin Brandenburg has wrecked careers and joined two other bloated projects—Stuttgart 21, a years-late railway station €2 billion over budget, and an €865 million concert hall in Hamburg—in tarnishing Germany’s reputation for order, efficiency, and engineering mastery.

At the very moment Merkel and her allies are hectoring the Greeks about their profligacy, the airport’s cost, borne by taxpayers, has tripled to €5.4 billion. Two airport company directors (including Schwarz), three technical chiefs, the architects, and dozens if not hundreds of others have been fired or forced to quit, or have left in disgust. The government spends €16 million per month just to prevent the huge facility from falling into disrepair. According to the most optimistic scenarios, it won’t check in its first passengers until 2017, and sunny pronouncements have long since given way to “catastrophe,” “farce,” and “the building site of horror.” There is a noted German word for the delight some took in the mess, too. 


Certain People are Torturing and Murdering Seniors in Germany. We Refuse To Tell You Anything About Them.

Germans are well-informed about all recent police shootings in the USA, but are embarrassingly ignorant about crime in their own country. The reason? The Platonic guardians of the mainstream press have decided that many facts about exactly who is committing what kind of crimes must be kept from the unwashed masses. Here's an example: the local newspaper the Rheinische Post has an article  (g, my translation) about gangs of criminals who break into senior citizens' homes, steal their stuff, and torture them to find out where they have their money hidden or to get their PIN numbers:

Investigators are especially concerned because the criminals' methods are becoming ever more brutal. A case from Tönisvorst last year made headlines: an 81-year-old retiree was brutally abused and killed by a group that was later apprehended. They tortured him to try to find out where his money was hidden. In Hagen, a 75-year-old woman was robbed in her apartment and killed. In Herne a few months ago, a retired pair was robbed and tortured. In Düsseldorf, four criminals attached a married couple in their apartment.

The article reports almost 800 such attacks all over Germany last year, and that the numbers are increasing in Germany's most-populous state, Northern Rhine-Westphalia. The article reports that those seniors who survive are terrorized and suffer from post-traumatic shock, never feeling safe again in their own apartments. Sounds like a pretty serious problem! Fortunately, the article contains detailed descriptions of exactly who these criminal gangs are, how to identify them, and how to minimize the risk that your grandparents will be tortured to death in their own homes.

I'm just kidding. The article doesn't provide a single detail about any of these criminals. Not even the ones who have been caught and sent to prison. The author of the article has decided that you don't deserve this information, because you might, er, draw the wrong conclusions. German journos all share the same tiresomely unoriginal worldview, which is that reporting the truth about crime will cause ordinary Germans to become ranting xenophobes.

Why would the author think that? Probably because a large number of the criminals are from Eastern or Southern Europe or Turkey (g). This article from Germany's center-right Focus magazine was virtually the first link in the Facebook comment discussion of the Rheinische Post article which delicately left out all those problematic facts: "Most state investigatory agencies say the recent increase in these crimes are due to gangs of thieves from East and Southern Europe, as well as Turkey. The numbers of suspects from outside Germany rose in 2009 from 27.9 to 38.4 percent." Considering those numbers are from 2009, if the trend has continued, we're probably looking at at least half, if not considerably more than half. And that's just counting the suspects who (presumably) don't have German citizenship, not the home-grown variety with an 'immigrant background'.

The Focus article (from 2013) also reports that 75% of break-ins in Germany go unsolved. I wonder if the fact that 75% of the criminals get to enjoy all the money they make from robbing senior citizens might have anything to do with the increase in these crimes?

Of course, this see no evil-hear-no evil-speak no evil approach is comically futile. Under every article in German newspapers that leaves out obviously important information about the ethnic background of criminal suspects, the comments immediately point out how obvious the self-censorship is, and where to go to get around it. The Sueddeutsche Zeitung (g) and the FAZ (g) both managed to report that the criminals were mostly Eastern Europeans. I wonder if one of the reasons mainstream German journalism is in crisis is that it so often treats readers like children.