Stuffing Pregnant Women with Marmot Meat

Marmot-edit1.jpg

A while ago I visited Zürich and bought this book, Vom Essen und Trinken im alten Zürich ('On Eating and Drinking in Old Zürich'). I saw it at a flea market and just liked the quality -- thick, glossy paper, lots of interesting and well-integrated illustrations, solid and durable binding. A fine example of the bookmaker's art. (You know, real bookmakers).

I've been dipping into it a bit lately, and it turns out to be full of Fun Facts.© As was pretty normal for medieval Europe, people needed protein and ate anything that moved, from eels to finches to sparrows to hawks to frogs to hedgehogs. Smaller birds would just be roasted on a spit and eaten whole, their tiny bones providing the sought-after crunch factor. To conceal the fact that some of these meats are pretty revolting, they would be slathered in fat and whatever spices came to hand. Things got a lot easier after 1500, when trade brought eastern spices, sugar, coffee, tea, and other delicacies first to the rich, then to everyone except the poorest people.

We also learn that medieval and early-modern Germans avoided eating malodorous cheese, giving it the nickname Schreck-den-Gast (scare the guest). During times of scarcity, the Zürich authorities would create exhaustive, precise rationing lists, most of which survive (Remember, they're Swiss). According to one such list, pregnant women were to receive extra rations, including extra portions of marmot (groundhog) meat. 

That'll teach those strumpets!


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.


Sacralizing Victims and Demonizing Opponents

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt on the left's tendency to sacralize victim groups, and the use of demonization and motive-questioning as a rhetorical strategy. Once you get the concept, you see it all over the place. In fact, much public debate consists of people trying to fit their experience into the paradigm of victimization, so they can then claim the benefits of sacralization for themselves. Thus many leftists decline to point to the glaring faults in Greek society for fear of being drummed out of the anti-neoliberal tribe, and German policymakers claim to be really on the side of poor, long-suffering German taxpayers (not influential German banks), whose generosity nobody seems willing to recognize.

Or take the debate about Thilo Sarrazin's book Germany Abolishes Itself. Most of the book consists of nothing more than a sobering, detailed presentation of the facts: almost every measure -- educational achievement, income, crime, etc. -- shows immigrant minorities in Germany to be faring, on average, drastically worse than ethnic Germans (g). The disparities are eye-poppingly huge. But even mentioning these disparities (much less accompanying them with ignorant insults as Sarrazin did) is delicate, because Germans of Turkish origin really are a disadvantaged minority subject to discrimination, and thus are subject to being sacralized by the left. So many on the left confidently denounced the book without having read it, in fact often praising themselves for refusing to read it on principle. Similarly, when a tabloid points out the clear overrepresentation of minorities among sentenced criminals (especially in violent crime by young people), the reaction is to denounce the 'populism' of the 'rabble-rousing' paper, without even addressing whether the reported statistics are, in fact, accurate or whether the alleged crime actually took place. And Sarrazin, for that matter, styles himself as a victim of majority political correctness as well, for being vilified for bringing up these things in the first place.*

The instinct to sacralize victims groups is understandable, perhaps laudable under certain circumstances. But it also leads people to ghettoize themselves into filter bubbles. I can't remember how many times Germans have reacted with shock when I told them, for instance, that I read Sarrazin's book or enjoy reading Bild once in a while or visit the more intelligent right-wing websites (not just the ranting opinion-spouting ones). They seem to confuse exposing yourself to information as endorsing all the viewpoints it's wrapped in. The mere act of reading a verboten website seems to many of them an act of inexplicable, even suspicious betrayal. It's a sort of tribal groupthink that I find just a tad, well, unsatisfying.

Continue reading "Sacralizing Victims and Demonizing Opponents" »


German Parents Dismayed at American Media Campaign Against Their Son

Paul Nungesser, the German exchange student at the center of a major campus-rape scandal in the United States (the woman who accused him of rape was invited by a US Senator to Obama's State of the Union address!) has decided to come out and publicly fight for his reputation, and his parents -- from Germany -- are supporting him:

“What really struck us as outrageously unfair,” says Nungesser’s father, Andreas Probosch, a schoolteacher who speaks near-perfect English, “was the university’s non-reaction to Emma Sulkowicz's public campaign. After investigating the allegations against Paul for seven months they found them not credible, but when Ms. Sulkowicz went to the press and claimed Columbia had swept everything under the rug, why didn’t they stand by his side and say, ‘We do have a process and we followed that process and we stand by the acquittal’? Instead they declined to comment and just threw him under the bus.”

Both Probosch and Nungesser express bafflement at the practice of letting colleges handle allegations of violent rape. But if such a process must exist, says Probosch, “doesn’t [it] only make sense if people accept its outcome?” In this case, he says, “Paul went through this whole process with endless hours of hearings and interviews and cooperated in every way possible. And yet if you Google him, in half of the articles you´ll find, he is still labeled a serial rapist.”

For Nungesser’s mother, Karin, the situation is laden with additional irony as a self-described committed feminist. Paul Nungesser’s comment to The New York Times, “My mother raised me to be a feminist,” caused predictable controversy; but his mother, at least, agrees. She points out that she and her husband took an equal role in parenting and that gender issues, which were part of her journalistic work, were often discussed in their home when her son was growing up: “I think we did not just tell him that men and women are created equal, but we lived it.”

Karin Nungesser fully understands the desire to support someone who comes forward with an accusation of rape: “This is a good cause—but even in a good cause, you have to try to check the facts.” What she views as the failure to check the facts in this case appalls her not only as a feminist but as a journalist. “We can’t understand to this day why the major media never asked Paul about his side,” she says. “Going back to our own history, the media in western Germany were built upon the model of The New York Times. It was the idea of good journalism, of good fact-checking, of not doing propaganda.”

You know, I can't give legal advice and this is not legal advice, but even under American libel law, which is much less restrictive than its German counterpart, you are not allowed to go around referring to an identifiable person as a 'rapist' unless they are, you know, a rapist. No legal system worthy of the name permits citizens to falsely accuse each other of serious violent crimes. This is defamation. Nungesser was cleared of all charges by the university and Sulkowicz declined to press criminal charges against him because it was 'too draining'. So at least since December, when his name became public, she should think very very carefully about continuing to refer to him in public as a 'rapist', assuming she is still doing so. And Nungesser and his parents should consult a lawyer.


Two Truths About Greece

Boarded Doors Psirri

I've been to Greece several times and have Greek friends, so the recent election has sparked my interest. It seems to that the polarized debate over the Syriza victory is a classic case of motivated reasoning and opinion overkill on both sides. I want to make two brief, seeminly-but-not-genuinely contrary observations which you don't often see made in the same spot by the same person.

First, Greece is a corrupt, inefficient second-world country. This is something Greeks complain to one another about endlessly, but are hesitant to fully admit to outsiders on grounds of national pride. But it's the truth. Access to many jobs, including government jobs, is regulated by informal patronage networks, which often keep the best candidates sidelined. The Greek public education system varies hugely in quality and large portions of it are horribly dysfunctional, which means every parent who can afford to sends their children to private school. There is an ingrained culture of rule-breaking, tax evasion and black-market work that is only now slowly beginning to change. (Many Greeks will tell you this is a product of centuries of Ottoman rule). Kickbacks and bribes are still part of life, although apparently receding slightly. Much of the Greek economy is made up of labor-intensive, low value-added, non-export-generating jobs that generate little economic vibrancy. Greece has its own kind of license raj, in which sloth-like bureaucrats enforce pointless or antiquated regulations. Greece still doesn't have a modern, functional, reliable system of land title registration. There's only a weak culture of civic engagement and participation. For most Greeks, it makes more sense to simply adapt to the current horribly dysfunctional system, since challenging it as an individual is pointless and potentially even dangerous. This may well be changing, but the main reaction to Greek social dysfunction I witnessed during many visits in the mid-2000s was basically a sort of jovial what-are-ya-gonna-do despair.

In other words, when scolds say Greece needs massive reform, they are right. Most Greeks would enthusiastically agree with that sentiment when expressed by a fellow Greek.

Second, the troika's policies caused needless suffering among ordinary Greeks. The approach of the troika, which basically forced Greece into a round of significant austerity just as its economy was collapsing, was deliberately chosen from among a broader palette of options. Greece could have exited the Euro, of course, although that might have been even worse. Or Germany could have followed expansionary policies to increase inflation in Northern Europe while providing generous support to Greece. Germany, and Northern Europe more broadly, chose not to do so for a number of reasons, including the difficulty of selling such a policy to voters and the not-unjustified concern that it would ease the pressure for Greek reforms. But the fact remains that the EU and international institutions could have chosen policies to address the Euro crisis that would have had much less disastrous effects on southern European countries, but chose not to do so. Northern European countries consciously chose to put their own economic interests ahead of European solidarity.

The reason German politicians have looked so cynical during this crisis is that they want the world to interpret their calculated pursuit of their own economic interests as the principled, neutral enactment of strict but commonsensical policies with which every decent person must agree. In other words, like most of us, they want not only to pursue their own self-interest, but also be praised and admired for doing so. They often become angry when this doesn't happen, but they shouldn't be surprised.


A Bit of Merkel-Bashing to Start the Weekend

Schadenfreude is neither edifying nor wholesome.

But there's something satisfying seeing German politicians getting the sort of self-righteous condemnation most German journalists routinely spatter on the rulers of certain other nations:

Angela Merkel is the most monstrous western European leader of this generation. Politicians who inflict economic cruelty on a mass scale, trashing the lives of millions as they do so, do not end up in courts to face justice. But Merkel undoubtedly stands tried and convicted in the dock of history already....

All Europe’s leaders have to offer is broken societies and broken people. Over half of young people in Spain and Greece are without work, leaving them scarred: as well as mental distress, they face the increased likelihood of unemployment and lower wages for the rest of their lives.

Workers’ rights, public services, a welfare state: all won at such cost by tough, far-sighted people, all being stripped away....

That’s why Greece has to be defended urgently – not just to defend a democratically elected government and the people who put it there. European elites know that if Syriza’s demands are fulfilled, then other like-minded forces will be emboldened. Spain’s Podemos, a surging anti-austerity movement, will be more likely to triumph in elections this year. Syriza has already achieved change: the European Central Bank’s limited quantitative easing is partly a response to its rise.

And, of course, in seeing German journalists rushing to the defense (g) of policies they would condemn if those policies served the interests of a country not named Germany.

As it is always with humans, where you stand depends on where you sit. Or to cite a recent study of cognitive bias and motivated reasoning among Americans:

In one [study], we asked people whether President Bush acted rightly by using a loophole to make appointments in defiance of Senate opposition. Most Republicans said he did the right thing while most Democrats said he acted wrongly. We then put Obama’s name in for Bush with a different group of respondents and asked the same question. This time the vast majority of Republicans opposed the appointments while most Democrats said he did the right thing.

We posed a similar question about use of the signing statement—Bush’s and now Obama’s controversial practice of signing a bill while stating that he will not enforce portions of it. Again, Republicans were more sympathetic to the practice when the question invoked Bush, Democrats when the question invoked Obama.

Like the football fans, most partisans see a neutral process in a favorable light if it advances their parties’ goals and in an unfavorable light if it does not. And this is true even if partisanship is not salient. We asked another group of respondents whether they supported same-sex marriage and whether they thought Congress could either mandate nationwide recognition of same-sex marriage or prohibit states from recognizing same-sex marriage. Same-sex marriage supporters were much more likely to believe that Congress could mandate it than ban it; opponents believed the opposite.

We call this phenomenon “merits bias”—a bias in favor of evaluating a rule or institution in terms of whether it advances one’s political goals.

The merits bias is relevant in the German case: a broad majority of non-German economists argued from the very beginning that expansionary austerity violated fundamental textbook economic laws and couldn't possibly work, but German elites convinced themselves otherwise because (1) the policies appeared to serve Germany's short-term economic interests; and / or (2) the institutions they served had already announced support for the policies.


Answering for America

Ann Jones, who lives in Norway, presents a list of questions she's constantly asked about America that will be drearily familiar to any expat in Europe. The main issue is why the US doesn't yet have universal healthcare. She praises the Norwegian social-welfare model, which is a bit unfair, since Norway is rich enough from its oil wealth to triply gild every tree in the country if it wanted. But of course, other countries with fewer resources have done this as well. 

Jones goes on to list more questions: 

Implications of brutality, or of a kind of uncivilized inhumanity, seem to lurk in so many other questions foreign observers ask about America like: How could you set up that concentration camp in Cuba, and why can’t you shut it down? 

Or: How can you pretend to be a Christian country and still carry out the death penalty?

The follow-up to which often is: How could you pick as president a man proud of executing his fellow citizens at the fastest rate recorded in Texas history?  (Europeans will not soon forget George W. Bush.)

Other things I've had to answer for include:

* Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?

* Why can’t you understand science?

* How can you still be so blind to the reality of climate change?

* How can you speak of the rule of law when your presidents break international laws to make war whenever they want?

* How can you hand over the power to blow up the planet to one lone, ordinary man?

* How can you throw away the Geneva Conventions and your principles to advocate torture?

* Why do you Americans like guns so much?  Why do you kill each other at such a rate?

To many, the most baffling and important question of all is: Why do you send your military all over the world to stir up more and more trouble for all of us?

...It’s hard to know why we are the way we are, and -- believe me -- even harder to explain it to others. Crazy may be too strong a word, too broad and vague to pin down the problem. Some people who question me say that the U.S. is “paranoid,” “backward,” “behind the times,” “vain,” “greedy,” “self-absorbed,” or simply “dumb.”  Others, more charitably, imply that Americans are merely “ill-informed,” “misguided,” “misled,” or “asleep,” and could still recover sanity.  But wherever I travel, the questions follow, suggesting that the United States, if not exactly crazy, is decidedly a danger to itself and others. It’s past time to wake up, America, and look around.  There’s another world out here, an old and friendly one across the ocean, and it’s full of good ideas, tried and true.

Ann Jones knows where she prefers to live, and so do I. And the list is not the dumbest, since it concentrates on areas in which the U.S. actually is exceptional, not areas in which the US merely shows one form of a social disorder which is present in every other nation. For the past 15 years, we really have been going all the world bombing and invading, and it certainly has caused problems for lots of European nations.

But still, let me provide a few correctives:

"Why can’t you Americans stop interfering with women’s health care?" The US can be largely exonerated on this one. Sure, there's a political controversy about abortion and a large and active anti-abortion movement. But American abortion regulations are, from a purely legal perspective, comparable to many European nations' laws, and more liberal than many Catholic countries. The United States provides more freedom to women and men in many other areas: it allows practices such as in vitro fertilization, surrogate parenting, and fertility treatments which are banned or regulated in many European countries. 

"Why can't you understand science?" Pfft. This is a product of biased press coverage: American fundamentalist yahoos and fanatics are favorites in German and French newspapers, but represent the views of only a minority. The questioner here is ignoring the basic ground rule of comparing like with like. The cognitive upper class understand science well in any country, and the cognitive underclass in any country either don't know about, don't understand, or reject many key scientific findings. Your ability to be a good clothes-stacker in a mall in Keokuk, Iowa or Dibbersen, Germany is totally unaffected by your belief in Biblical creation or ignorance of the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Most humans think it's a waste of time to spend a lot of time learning about abstract ideas that are completely irrelevant to how they spend all their waking time. And irrational beliefs are omnipresent. Germans eagerly follow horoscopes and take homeopathic sugar pills. In Japan, one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world, millions of people believe beckoning cats and various other charms and tokens will bring them love, financial success, and good luck, yet Europeans delicately refrain from criticizing these ludicrous superstitions, presumably on grounds of multi-culti delicacy.

"Blind to climate change?" Simple, because it's in the financial interest of certain powerful sectors of the American economy to question climate change, and they have convinced a minority of the population to do so as well. This is foolish and potentially harmful, but the US, unlike most European countries, has a massive and powerful resource-extraction sector. Every country has disproportionately powerful and aggressive lobbies. French and Japanese farmers, for instance. In any event, the real damage to the climate is going to be done by the billions of Indians an Chinese acquiring cars and air-conditioners and other energy-using gadgets, and that's going to happen regardless of what Americans believe about climate change. 

"Why do you murder each other?" The overall U.S. murder rate is about 2-3 times higher than in most places in Europe, but still low by international standards. And here's another interesting fact: if you count only murders among white Americans, the murder rate, 2.64 per 100,000, sits comfortably between the overall murder rate of Norway (2.2) and Malta (2.8). Here's a January 2014 study on the subject (pdf):

According to the FBI SHR data, in 2011 there were 6,309 black homicide victims in the United States. The homicide rate among black victims in the United States was 17.51 per 100,000. For that year, the overall national homicide rate was 4.44 per 100,000. For whites, the national homicide rate was 2.64 per 100,000.

Black Americans, about 13% of the US population, commit somewhere between 60 and 70% of all murders in the USA, for a murder rate 5-6 times higher than that of white Americans. Just as in Germany and France, violent crime is not distributed evenly across the entire population, it is markedly concentrated among ethnic minorities. About 70% of all prison inmates in France, after all, are Muslims. Let that sink in for a minute. To be sure, the overall murder rate in America is high by European standards, and that can mostly be explained by guns. Most studies conclude that about 50% of the difference between the USA and economically and demographically similar countries is explained by the prevalence of guns -- especially unlicensed handguns -- in the US.

"Your Presidents break the law to make war whenever they want." A bit starkly formulated, but I would say 'guilty as charged'. Also torture, rendition, black sites, etc. 

"Power to blow up the planet to one man." Actually, considering the likely aftermath of any nuclear strike anywhere, there are probably at least 7 men who have the power to blow up the planet. In any case, the likelihood of nuclear weapons ever being used is incredibly tiny, and the likelihood of the US starting a nuclear exchange is basically nil. President Obama has announced that he would like to see a nuclear-free world, and has presided over historically unprecedented reductions in nuclear weapons stockpiles. I'm not sure what the 'one man' complaint is supposed to mean, either. Is the US supposed to surrender control over its nuclear weapons to some sort of international commission? Six words: Not. Going. To. Happen. Anywhere. Ever.

So those are a few rebuttals, or at least new perspectives. The US is never going to resemble Norway or Germany .


A German Exchange Student in the Middle of a Campus Rape Shitstorm

Meet Paul Nungesser, a German exchange student at Columbia University in New York:

Speaking carefully, with a slightly formal bearing and an accent so faint that it can be hard to place, Mr. Nungesser, who is from Germany, says he believes sexual assault is an important cause for concern. “My mother raised me as a feminist,” he says, well aware of how those words will strike some people, “and I’m someone who would like to think of myself as being supportive of equal rights for women.”

Yet according to campus activists, Nungesser is a 'rapist' and 'sexual predator', and his actions have sparked a 'national movement' to address the supposed (my skepticism expressed here) campus-rape crisis in America. 

This year, Columbia University student Emma Sulkowicz became an emblem for how colleges mistreat victims of sexual assault on campus. After Sulkowicz reported an alleged rape to the Columbia administration and the college found the accused not responsible, she began hauling her 50-pound dorm mattress across campus as a powerful symbol of an adjudication system she claims is confounding, ineffectual, and unfair. The act has grown into Sulkowicz’s undergraduate art thesis project and inspired a national movement, Carry That Weight, that advocates on behalf of campus sexual assault survivors. In the shadow of her campaign stands Paul Nungesser, the student Sulkowicz says raped her. Today, the New York Times published the first interview with Nungesser himself. It’s the most intimate, high-profile portrait so far of a college student who was accused of rape—one who says that the system has failed him, too.

In his time at Columbia, three female students have accused Nungesser of sexual misconduct. He's denied each accusation, and has not been formally disciplined by the university. When one student accused Nungesser of groping her at a party, the university initially decided against him, but he successfully appealed the ruling. After another student accused him of intimate partner violence, the university dropped the case when the alleged victim stopped cooperating with the investigation. And when Sulkowicz accused Nungesser of raping her, Columbia declined to find him responsible, citing lack of evidence.

In lieu of any formal finding, Nungesser had paid a social cost. “He has gotten used to former friends crossing the street to avoid him,” Ariel Kaminer reports in the Times. “He has even gotten used to being denounced as a rapist on fliers and in a rally in the university’s quadrangle. … His name has been plastered on campus bathrooms and published in easily searchable articles. His face is visible online, too, in photos that detractors have posted as warnings to strangers.” Because Columbia failed to discipline Nungesser, Columbia bloggers, activists, and supporters have stepped in to exact their own punishment, and national media has fanned the flames.

Paul Nungesser, I have some advice for you. Your ordeal may seem pretty horrifying now, but when you return to Germany, hire a ghostwriter and publish an account of your situation (suggested maximum-sales title: 'How I Became the Victim of a Puritanical American PC Witch-Hunt'). It will sell millions, and you'll never have to work a day in your life.


'Deeply Bogus and Deeply Boring'

Andrew Gimson, a former Berlin correspondent for the Daily Telegraph, has written a solid little article on the 'Conservative Home' website about the main misconceptions his countrymen have about Germany (h/t MTW):

1. Angela Merkel

The British have no idea what makes the Chancellor tick. The Germans too have no idea what makes her tick. Merkel is inscrutable even to her own Christian Democratic Union: a party accustomed to being led by Catholic men from the Rhineland. For the last 14 years it has been led by an unknown woman who spent the first 36 years of her life in East Germany, where her father was a Protestant clergyman....

2. The German language

Few of us understand it. To think one can understand a country without knowing its language is a presumption.

3. German manners

But even if one knows the language, one may find oneself unable to comprehend the manners. Take the elementary and unavoidable question of when to use a first or Christian name and call someone “Du” – the familiar form of the word “You”. One of my most treasured souvenirs of my time in Germany is “A short Guide on The Correct German Form” compiled by Lieutenant-Colonel Jan-Dirk von Merveldt, of the Royal Green Jackets, for the use of British officers stationed in Germany. Merveldt’s family emerged in Westphalia in 1159, both his parents were German and he spent the first 14 years of his life in Germany. He confirms that in many circumstances we are liable to get things wrong: “This British habit of liberal use of first names is regarded by many Germans as irritating, excruciating, unwelcome, over familiar and an invasion of privacy – although no German will actually ever admit it to you.” ...

4. The drinking customs

This is a deep subject on which I am not qualified to give guidance: an example of something most of us don’t even know we don’t know about.

5. The slowness

Germans tend to have a different and less impatient sense of time. Doing something properly, with craftsmanlike deliberation, is more important than doing it fast. This has a bearing on politics: changes tend to be debated for 20 or 30 years before actually occurring. To reform the EU in two years might be quite difficult. It is true that the fall of the Berlin Wall occurred in a rush, and forced the Germans to display their gift for improvisation. But the popular demand to reform the EU is not quite so strong.

6. The geography

This may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning, but it is a subject which the British often ignore or underplay. Germany has more neighbours than any other country in Europe: nine with whom it shares a land border, and about the same again once one includes those which can easily be reached by sea....

7. The history

This again may seem too obvious to be worth mentioning. But it is unfortunately the case that very few people in Britain know much about German history before 1914, or after 1945. We even tend to overlook the large role played by Britain in the creation after the Second World War of free institutions in West Germany, a subject on which Thomas Kielinger touched in a recent piece for the Daily Telegraph. Concentrating on the First World War, and then on the monstrous events of 1933-45, and knowing nothing about what came before or after, is not a good way to set about understanding Germany. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has now produced, in Germany: Memories of a Nation, a series of 30 radio programmes which offer a brilliant account of some of what any educated Briton would hope to know about Germany. I have missed most of them when broadcast live, but find that even for someone as technologically backward as myself, it is possible to arrange to listen to one or more of these 14-minute programmes while doing the washing up....

8. The politics

The West German tradition of consensus politics is different to the Westminster tradition of adversarial politics, and is therefore difficult to explain to or bring alive for British readers. Here again is an aspect of Germany we do not really understand. And the German political class discusses these matters in a way which to the British ear can seem at once deeply bogus and deeply boring...

9. The similarities

And yet there are close similarities between Britain and Germany. We share an admiration for the Royal Family, and a fondness for beer and dogs, among many other things. And in both countries, one finds a conviction that it would be more sensible to run our own affairs, than to have them run for us from a city in Belgium....

'Deeply bogus and deeply boring' is tough but fair. After landing here, I quickly realized that all speeches with the word 'Europe' in the title given by German politicians, lawyers or other boffins are terrifyingly similar, as if they were all written by the same 1997-era algorithm. The speaker immediately switches into Euroblather mode, reeling off a bunch of inoffensive on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand abstractions nobody could possibly disagree with: 'We must ensure that prosperity is shared in a fair and equitable manner without stifling enterprise.' / 'Europe must balance its commitment to the integrity of its borders with a concern for human rights.' / 'Europe must rise to the challenges of the 21st century by drawing on its rich heritage.', etc. The speaker often seems even more bored than his audience. Martin Sonneborn pretty much summed it up with his campaign slogan for the European Parliament: 'Yes to Europe! No to Europe!'

I wouldn't mind adding a few more emendations and corrections of my own as time permits, but alas it doesn't (busy semester). But go nuts in comments, if you like!