Section 25 of the State Hunting Law in Northern Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) provides (g, my translation)
(4) Those who are entitled to protect hunting conditions (Jagdschutz) are permitted:
1. To detain persons who enter a hunt area without permission or who commit another violation of hunt regulations or who are found equipped for hunting outside the general approved hunting paths, to gather personal information from these persons and to seize from them killed animals, firearms and other weapons, traps, dogs, and ferrets.
2. To shoot and kill dogs and cats which are becoming feral. A feral dog is defined as a dog which hunts, follows, or seizes wild animals outside the control of its master (orig. Führer!). A feral cat is defined as a cat found in hunt area more than 200 meters from the nearest house....
According to the German nature group NABU, German hunters in NRW alone kill around 8,000 cats a year (g) under this law. The Green Party in NRW is trying to eliminate this law (g), but the hunters are fighting back, claiming that culling cats protects songbirds and other species. The controversy rages!
Germans, or at least German journalists, are obsessed with nuclear energy. Any list of the themes on which the German press is the most openly biased campaigning coverage, nuclear energy has to be in the top 10, if not the top 5.
So it's not surprising that the nuclear accident in Fukushima prompted an flood of hyperventilating scare stories in the German media, which were enough to actually prompt a major change in policy -- the so-called Energiewende. And this isn't just my impression: a study of Fukushima coverage in Germany concluded that coverage of the earthquake in Germany was dramatically different than in other countries: the German-language media focused more on the reactor catastrophe, provided more dramatic pictures, explicitly linked the reactor disaster to the question of German nuclear reactors, and included more direct journalistic editorializing against nuclear energy and demands that Germany shut down its reactors.
I don't have time to look up the views of ordinary Germans on nuclear energy, but it's hard to imagine the wall-to-wall indoctrination hasn't had its effects. I was thinking of this because of a recent post from Razib Khan's excellent Gene Expression blog. The subject is what Americans think about the dangers and potential of nuclear energy, broken down by political views and education:
Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 1300
Not very dangerous
As you can see liberals do tend to be more skeptical of nuclear energy, but it is not stark. In fact, attitudes toward nuclear power seem to be as strongly, if not more so, variant on a populist vs. elite axis than conventional ideology. Here’s the second question replicated for education:
Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 1300
Not very dangerous
But, when you look only at college educated individuals the ideology divide doesn’t go away. In fact, it seems more extreme.
Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 370
College educated only
Not very dangerous
That’s strong circumstantial evidence that the gap here is one of cultural norms and values, and not facts.
Note that many people favor nuclear energy while at the same time conceding that it's dangerous or harmful to the environment. It's also interesting to note that college-educated people think it's less dangerous than those who didn't attend college.
I've been following with fascination the debate in the U.S. about the relationship between crime rates and early childhood lead exposure. One of my favorite bloggers, Kevin Drum, recently wrote a fantastic piece for Mother Jones arguing that America saw dropping crimes rates in the 1990s in part because the U.S. banned leaded gasoline in the 1970s, saving an entire generation of children from exposure to lead, a fiercely potent neurotoxin which permanently lowers intelligence and disrupts impulse control in children. Read it here. Drum reports on reactions to the article and takes on critics here.
There has been a surprise 8% drop in crime across England and Wales,
according to official figures, suggesting the long-term decline in
crime since the mid-1990s has resumed.
As near as I can tell, crime declines are always a surprise
to the folks who look for answers solely in social trends. But Britain's
continuing decline isn't a surprise to everyone. Europe adopted
unleaded gasoline in the mid-80s, and EU countries all showed drops in
lead emissions in subsequent years. In Britain, lead emissions began to
decline about a decade later than the United States, but they made up
some of that gap via a much steeper drop. So, to the extent that the
crime decline is a function of less lead exposure among children,
they're about five years or so behind us. This means they probably still
have a few years of crime decline ahead of them.
So, you might be wondering, if Germany began seriously reducing lead emissions in the the mid-1980s, what impact might that have had on teenage criminality in the late 1990s, when children born in the mid-1980s became adolescents? Here's the relevant graph for Germany, from this source (g, .pdf):
The top line shows total criminality, the middle line criminality among German adolescents, and the bottom line among immigrants. Interesting, isn't it? The much smaller decrease you see among non-German offenders could well be explained by the fact that some percentage of them probably did not grow up in Germany.
Of course, the standard caveats apply that correlation is not causation, other factors are at work (especially the crime increase following reunification), etc.. But if you want to be convinced that lead exposure is a powerful (though, of course, not the only) explanatory factor, read Drum's piece -- and, more importantly, the studies it links to.
If this theory holds, it has to be one of the best pieces of news in a long time: because of a wise policy choice made decades ago, we will enjoy less crime -- and less of all the social ills and expense it causes -- for years to come. Kind of restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?
Over the weekend I visited friends in Cologne and decided to bike back. I took a leisurely tour through the Zonser Grind, a nature reserve in the form of a fat peninsula into the Rhine. It looks like this from the air:
It's even nicer up close: the landscape is made up of a broad pebble beach on the wide, slow-moving Rhine, then come grass-covered dunes and rows of poplars and stump willows (Kopfweiden) in which owls, crows, and orioles flit about. It's pretty hard to reach, not only because it's a peninsula but also because the base of the peninsula is taken up mostly by factories, both working and apparently abandoned. You have to endure a lot of industrial grimness before you enter nature. The result is that, even during fine weather like yesterday's, you'll easily be able to find a meadow all to yourself.
Looking for more information about it, I quickly came across the official government portal for nature reserves in Northern Rhine-Westphalia,which lists the legal details (g) concerning the status of the reserve. From this page, we learn that the "digitalized area" of the reserve is 392.4 hectares, while the "official area" is 328.59. We also learn that the designation as a nature reserve will expire in the year 9999.
So visit the Zonser Grind while you can, since you've only got 2,882,405 days before someone obliterates it with an orgasmatron factory.
Just when you think you knew everything about the Nazis, along comes the German Society for Garden Art and Landscape Culture* with an exhibition on Nazi gardening: Zwischen Jägerzaun und Größenwahn. Freiraumgestaltung in Deutschland 1933–1945. I'll try to translate this directly, so you can get an idea of the turgidity of German gallery-speak: 'Between the Hunters' Fence and Megalomania: Free-space Design in Germany 1933-1945'.
There was apparently even a National Socialist way to design your garden. Take it away, Hans Hasler: 'All culture and thefore all art and its styles -- this truth has now become generally-accepted in Germany -- always emerges and lives from a national and racial essence. The false image of an "international culture", or a "world culture" belongs to the past, at least for us Germans.' (German Garden Art, 1939).
New to me was the controversy swirling around a particular kind of garden fence, the so-called 'Hunters' Fence', made of diagonal wooden slats:
The article assures us that it was long considered the 'essence of Nazi garden design', but apparently the conference has exploded this myth, along with others, such as that Nazis zoos contained mainly 'Germanic' animals, or that Nazi gardens were known for their straight axes and sharp edges. Apparently Germans favored hunters' fences and right angles long before the Nazis, and still do to this day. I'll leave you to work out the implications of this.
FINAL UPDATE: OK, I've inserted a few more links and done a bit of editing, so I'll leave this as the final version.
Let me reiterate one critical point: the purpose of this list is not some sort of a scorecard for an asinine whose-country-is-best locker room contest. Many of the stereotypes of America listed in the left-hand column have more than a grain of truth, and there are plenty of counter-arguments to mitigate the criticisms of Germany. This is not meant to be an even-handed scholarly analysis. It is just a handy cheat sheet to use when a certain (blessedly rare) kind of pompous, overbearing German launches into an anti-American tirade. In my experience, these episodes have become much less frequent since George W. Bush left office. But nevertheless, you never know when you'll get cornered at a party with one of these people, and this list can help the hapless Yank move from defense to offense.
UPDATE 12 April: Since a few commenters have implied I'm making these criticisms up or don't know what I'm talking about (which I do), I've decided to go through the list, revising a bit and adding links to back up my points. Still an ongoing process...
By popular demand, here's the list I mentioned in a recent post. As noted, the list is largely not of defenses to these stereotypical shortcomings of American society (many of which I find accurate). Rather, they are lists of similar/comparable shortcomings in German society. If I can't think of a comparable fault, I just say Touche.
The point of this informal, highly unserious list is just to provoke reflection and provide talking-points to wrong-foot German chauvinists, not make anybody feel bad. I haven't provided links to proof of the German shortcomings, but I'm pretty sure they're accurate, and proof is available if you know where to look.
Americans are hostile to science because they reject evolution / global warming
About 2/3 of Germans (g) believe in homeopathy; Germans have a widespread, exaggerated fear of certain technologies such as nuclear power and genetically modified food.
The American criminal justice system discriminates against minorities because they're overrepresented in prison
Judged by that metric, so does Germany (g). The typical response of the German chauvinist to this uncomfortable fact is the overrepresenation of minorities in German prisons shows their bad character and failure to integrate into society, while the predominance of blacks in American prisons shows exclusively the racism of the US justice system. I always find this amusing.
Americans eat garbage fast food / have no idea about quality, freshness, etc.
Touche! Yet German cuisine isn't up to much, and ordinary Germans seem to like US fast food as much as ordinary Americans do. Perhaps even more, given that they pay much higher prices for it (g).
Americans worship money and are obsessed with the lives of the rich and famous
Many rich Americans earned their fortunes, while many rich Germans simply inherited theirs, and haven't done a thing to contribute to society in decades, except perhaps open an art gallery. Germans may not be quite as openly money-obsessed as Americans, but easily make up for it by their lust for titles, nobility, and social status.
The American education system privileges the rich and well-educated
Racist attitudes are at least as widespread in Germany (g) if not more so. Germany had to be prodded repeatedly by the EU to pass a law banning racial discrimination among private actors, and only did so in 2006, after a loud debate, and had to take 'anti-discrimination' out of the law's title to get it passed. The law continues to permit many forms of discrimination and has been criticized as toothless (g). Germany was criticized by the UN as late as 2011 for ongoing discrimination against non-Germans. Many Germans believe it's OK for private business owners and landlords to discriminate, while such practices have been made illegal and stigmatized by society in the US since the 1960s. You won't hear an American say anything about a black person that Germans haven't said about Turks -- most recently in a book written by a prominent German politician which became one of the bestselling non-fiction books in German history (g). Also, 1933-1945.
Americans don't love nature or the environment
Wrong. Americans were creating national parks and raising environmental awareness long before Germans were. Americans burn about as much fossil fuel per capita as Canadians do, for basically the same reason -- big countries, lots of space to cover.
Americans are obsessed by the military/easily led into war without considering the consequences
Americans file crazy lawsuits like the hot coffee lawsuit
Germans file lawsuits over ludicrously trivial matters, such as €1500 for the fact that a hotel room had only two single beds instead of a double bed (g) or because an employee was called by the informal 'du' instead of the formal 'Sie' (g). And besides, what's so bad about litigiousness? Most of the world's population desperately yearns to live in a country in which the powerful can be called to account and disputes can be reliably settled without violence.
The fact that large numbers of Americans don't have health insurance is scandalous
Americans are uneducated and lack knowledge of history & the outside world
A much higher percentage of Americans has college degrees than Germans. Embarrassingly, German universities punch well below their weight in international comparisons (in part because cheating is rampant among German university students), while American schools regularly top almost every ranking. Plus, Americans are far ahead of Germans in understanding & using the Internet, an inexhaustible source of knowledge. Who created Wikipedia?
Americans often vote for foolish/unqualified politicians
Lobbying is just as widespread in Germany and the EU, and 85% of laws passed by the German Bundestag originate in Brussels. Further, the situation on lobbying and campaign donations in Germany is much more non-transparent than in the US.
There are dangerous ghettos in American cities filled with disaffected, outcast populations
Germany, like all modern nations, has neighborhoods and cities which are concentrations of the poor and minorities. In German, they're called Soziale Brennpunkte (g), roughly translatable as 'socially-deprived hot spots.' There are many of them all around Germany. In Gelsenkirchen, for example, 21.5% of the population lives from government assistance (g). Not to mention no-go areas where far-right and neo-Nazi groups predominate. The only difference is that Germans tend to stack their poor on top of each other in run-down housing projects, while in the US they tend to live on the ground next to one another. And in America, they have more guns.
America is a violent society
Ever notice how giant police cordons are required to keep German soccer fans from beating each other to a pulp? More statistically, the overall crime rate in Germany is almost twice that of the United States, according to one study, although that probably overstates the matter due to different ways of counting crime. Nevertheless, overall rates of violent crime in Europe and the US are comparable and Europe has higher property crime rates. Murder rates are higher in the US, mainly because of guns. In Germany as elsewhere, your likelihood of encountering violence is overwhelmingly dependent on where you live and who's in your social network.
Many American workers work for pitifully low wages with no job security
Americans have a sexual double standard that combines prudishness with porn
Americans discriminate against Muslims since 9/11
Germans were doing it long before 9/11 and haven't stopped. American Muslims are much better integrated into American society than German Muslims are; a comprehensive 2007 study (pdf) described American Muslims as 'largely integrated, happy with their lives, and moderate with respect to many of the issues that have divided Muslims and Westerners around the world.' -- a state of affairs Germany can only dream of.
American television shows lots of garbage
So does German television. Ever seen a 2-hour-long Volksmusik program? The best American television drama and comedy (The Wire, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Community) beats comparable German fare hands-down in terms of realism, freshness, quality of writing, universal appeal, and even social criticism.
Germany lacks a culture of aggressive, oppositional investigative reporting and passed its equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act about 30 years after America did. Lots of German papers are full of pompous opinion pieces and court stenography of the rich and powerful. Plus, Germany has Bild, an influential (g) tabloid full of T&A, nationalism, reactionary platitudes, scandal-mongering, and crappy reporting (g). Nothing quite like Bild exists in the U.S.
Americans are superficially cheerful and fake
Germans are superficially cold, reserved and rude. And sometimes not just superficially.
Americans lack a culture of literature and reading
The percentage of people who genuinely read quality literature is tiny in all societies, and many German 'literary' novels have to be heavily subsidized, sell 200-300 copies maximum, and are so derivative, navel-gazingly self-indulgent or dully Germany-specific that they attract zero interest in other countries. The same is true of most German art-house movies as well.
American society is too car-dependent and lacks good public transportation.
UPDATE in response to Marcellina's comment:
Americans are uncultured and don't provide enough state support to museums, symphonies, etc.
Note how I had to leave wine out of this one to even make it a fair fight. Everywhere there's a Starbucks, and that's everywhere except maybe nuclear missile silos, you can get a cup of coffee brewed with reverse-osmosis-purified water and expertly-roasted, freshly-ground, 100% Arabica beans. Germany's beers, while consistently tasty, are also boring, predictable, uniform, and old-fashioned, when they're not sickening beer-cola swill. This is a product of German brewers' adherence to a pointless 500-year-old law that cripples their ability to innovate. Germany had to resort to naked protectionism (g) to try to protect its beers from the glorious diversity of foreign beer, and even so, the German beer industry is withering. By contrast, the average American grocery store on any streetcorner stocks a much wider selection of beer from all over the world than all but the most exclusive German luxury shopping stores.
There's an English phrase that always comes to my mind when I watch a particularly preachy episode of Tatort ("crime scene"), the weekly crime show that is a German institution. The phrase is "after-school special". An after-school special, was a TV show, usually a drama, that played at 4 pm or so, just as kids would come home from school. The scripts taught us kids to to tolerate all races; be proud of who we were; accept people who are different; be kind to the handicapped; avoid drugs, smoking, alcohol, and sex; not let strangers touch us "there"; and so on. The clip above gives you an idea of what we're dealing with (and, as an extra bonus, it features the title "The Boy who Drank Too Much"!).*
German publicly-financed television has a so-called Bildungsauftrag, roughly, "duty to educate". Now there's nothing wrong with requiring broadcasters who are financed by TV fees to provide educational programming. The talk shows and documentaries you see on regular German television -- as much as we might mock them -- are streets ahead of anything on American TV. The show Titel Thesen Temperamente (g) which runs every Sunday on the main German broadcast station, shows a fantastic dog's breakfast of 8-10 minute long clips about everything from jazz pianist Michel Petrucciani to discrimination against homosexuals in Turkey to Tiken Jah Fakoly (including a tour of his home and studio in Bamako, Mali), to anti-right-wing activists to Werner Herzog's new films to the Nazi past of the Alpine climbing group. Just about every one of these segments would have been deemed too controversial/hifalutin/boring/full of non-Americans for any of the 500 channels of American television. Except the stuff about Nazis, of course. Nazis always sell.
The problem is that this duty to educate often seeps into the dramas. Tatort, nominally a crime thriller, often reeks of after-school special. Frank Junghänel provides an example (g) in the Frankfurter Rundschau (my translation):
The problem is often the stories...they always have to be relevant. If there's a case from the 'beekeeper milieu', we're guaranteed to find out that the bees ate some genetically-modified rapeseed. Then the detectives will spontaneously discuss the dangers of adulterated honey, [Detective] Freddy Schenk will wring his hands over his granddaughter's future, and, at the end, the pharmaceutical industry will be outed as the villain, having sponsored experiments with rapeseed...
These after-school-special theme episodes are rarely highlights. But Tatort produders want to remain true to their mission to educate the public. "I'm trying to motivate the screenwriters to be more flexible with their narrative structures", says Tönsmann. "The theme should develop from the story, not be imposed beforehand." Screenwriters tend to want to explain too much. "We want to reduce the didactic element." At home, he likes to watch DVD series such as "The Wire." It plays in Baltimore, and shows police mostly at work.
The article goes through an entire laundry list of weaknesses in Tatort scripts: the sensitive would-be literati who write them have no idea about real police work, the situations are often ludicrously exaggerated, the characters make implausibly long and well-organized speeches, didacticism makes things boring and predictable, the same targets get whacked again and again. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the after-school special in the USA was designed for teenagers, while Tatort, broadcast on Sunday night, is watched (mostly) by adults.
Which leads to the uncomfortable conclusion that the people who write for German public TV stations think of their audience as largish children still in need of moral instruction. According to Tatort, adult Germans need to be taught that neo-fascists are bad, asylum seekers/transvestites/nonconformist teenagers are misunderstood and unjustly persecuted, corporations (especially pharmaceutical and agricultural corporations) are evil, sexual abuse destroys lives, yet even pedophiles deserve a second chance, vengeance is always an wrong, Eastern European crime gangs and their rich German customers exploit women, your cheap clothes come from stinking sweatshops, etc.*
As Junghänel's article shows, there are some producers and writers for Tatort who are aware of the after-school special problem. The mention of The Wire is promising: High-end American TV has recently gotten very good indeed at Balzacian realism, and The Wire is among the best shows ever made. It's based on careful observation of reality, and its writers generally let the chips fall where they may: if a scene was logical and right, it got shot, regardless of whether it might have happened to confound or confirm a stereotype.
An example: one character, Kima Greggs, is a detective who -- even though she's a a gay black woman -- is not shown to be unusually noble, self-sacrificing, or wise. She's out on patrol when a bunch of mostly-white officers are arresting some black men, and one of them turns around and assaults a cop. Big mistake. A cluster of uniforms surrounds the hapless arrestee, beating the living crap out of him. Greggs runs over to the scene. Does she deliver a lecture on racial tolerance or police brutality to the beefy white cops? No, she joins in -- because a good cop always protects fellow officers, and that includes making sure anybody who attacks a cop lives to regret it. And of course there's no disciplinary proceeding, because (a) the guy really was resisting arrest, and (b) nobody's going to snitch. This would be the point at which a robot programmed with politically-correct Tatort episodes would begin shrieking "does not compute" and finally explode in a shower of sparks. Good riddance.
Why did it take so long for a bike maker to install a USB charger powered by your pedaling? "The Starke 1 and 2 models come with a USB port that uses power generated from a dynamo front hub to provide a charging point for gadgets like GPS units and smartphones."
When a news event occurs that neatly overlaps with the attitudes shared among the mainstream German press corps, coverage becomes amusingly/annoyingly uniform. And one of the most uniform convictions of the German press corps is that nuclear power is alarming, dangerous, and bad. And, of course, that it is their job to ensure that most Germans share this view. Thus the breathless, near-hysterical coverage of the Fukushima partial meltdown. Super GAU!* Atomic Nightmare! Horrifying Disaster! the headlines screech, running around in circles and tearing their hair out.
The Washington Post reports the studies showing that, actually, nuclear power is still pretty safe compared with most other forms of power generation:
Compared with nuclear power, coal is responsible for five times as many worker deaths from accidents, 470 times as many deaths due to air pollution among members of the public, and more than 1,000 times as many cases of serious illness, according to a study of the health effects of electricity generation in Europe.
“The costs of fossil fuels come out quite high, while the costs for nuclear generally come out low,” said Anil Markandya, an economist at the University of Bath in England and scientific director of the Basque Centre for Climate Change in Spain, who co-authored the study published in the Lancet in 2007.
There is also much uncertainty about how many people might be harmed by a big nuclear accident.
At Chernobyl, two people died during the accident and 28 others died of radiation illness in the first four months afterward. (Some estimates of the early deaths put the number as high as 57 ).
Since then, there have been 6,800 cases of thyroid cancer in people who were children at the time of the accident, according to a recent report by the U.N. Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation, with the number still rising. As of 2005, only 15 were fatal.
To date, there is no clear increase in leukemia or other cancers, or deaths from non-cancer diseases. However, various expert groups estimate that 4,000 to 33,000 premature deaths might occur as a consequence of the accident.
Through 2000, 42,304 of the people in the study had died. Of those deaths, 822 were “excess” — probably a result of the radiation.
So, if you're interested in crusading against excess deaths caused by environmentally unsound power generation, you should be trying to close coal plants, especially in China, which killed more people last month -- if not last week -- than every nuclear plant accident combined.
Needless to say, the Fukishima crisis is serious, where will we store the fuel, nuclear is not the long-term solution, etc. etc. I myself recycle with the best of them, and pay extra for green energy. My point here is about the curious herd insincts of the German press, and their odd tendency to turn every problem into a CRISIS, a CATASTROPHE, a DOOMSDAY APOCALYPSE or a HORRIFYING HUMILIATION. It makes you want to grab their newspapers and slap them around a little bit: "Get a hold of yourself, you hysterical piece of newsprint!"
* GAU, that ubiquitous piece of domesticized bureaucratese that has puzzled many a German learner, actually has nothing to do with Gau, a slighly antiquated term for "district". It stands for the German acronym for the phrase Largest Assumable Accident (literal translation) -- i.e. worst-case scenario.