Operation Glasshole™ Concluded

Yesterday, I donned protective gloves and wading boots, and finally finished cleaning up one short stretch of the Düssel river. Here's the video: 

As you can see, another 100 or so bottles, to add to the 100 or so I had fished out before. Plus, this round brought us:

  • A steak knife
  • 7 more bicycle locks
  • a pair of sunglasses
  • one (1) women's boot
  • a 1.5- meter length of rusting steel re-bar
  • a disc-shaped battery-operated IKEA light fixture, complete with rotting batteries
  • 5 plastic bags or pieces of plastic sheeting
  • 1 more umbrella
  • 1 section of metal grille
  • several plastic cups
  • three metal rods and/or picture frame elements
  • one laminated official notice on white A4 paper from the City of Düsseldorf which was formerly attached to the bridge, warning people not to lock their bikes to it until 16 October 2016 because of bridge maintenance.
  • what appeared to be one-half of a foam soccer ball
  • a still-stoppered fake mother-of-pearl perfume bottle
  • several parts of an ironing board
  • a few unclassifiable pieces of metal and plastic which looked like auto or machine parts

I displaced at least 10 juvenile and 2 adult spiny-cheeked crayfish from inside various bottles.

At the end of the day after making several tours of inspection, I could see no more junk. There were still hundreds of bottle caps, but I have my limits. One couple passing by asked me whether I was fishing for eels. After I was done, I had a chat with the Slavic woman who runs the convenience store next to the bridge. She called me "poor guy", and apparently assumed my clean-up operation was a form of punishment. I informed her that I had just gotten fed up and decided to clean up the river. She said "Well, that's nice of you, but let me tell you, people are just going to keep throwing stuff into it. I sit here all day and watch them."

I said that almost all the stuff was covered in silt, which made it seem as if it had been there a long time. She said that, on second thought, that she hadn't seen much littering lately: "There was a group of people who were doing most of it who moved away." She made a certain gesture indicating what sort of people they were, but I couldn't really decipher it. It sort of looked like a mixture of air-bottle glug-glug (drunks) mixed with some kind of arm-waving. Possibly a Nazi salute. But I can't be sure.

This gives me some hope that most of the garbage came from short bursts of antisocial behavior years ago; possibly a gaggle of winos colonizing the riverbank for a few days, throwing their empties (mostly 200 ml flasks of Stepanoff vodka) into the stream. And then, of course, the garbage was passively tolerated by thousands of local residents who crossed the bridge over the years, wrinkling their noses in disapproval but doing nothing about it.

One mystery that's provoked plenty of discussion on my Facebook page is the bicycle locks. A few of them had obviously been cut, but most of them seemed to be intact. Which raises the question of why anyone would throw what appears to be an intact bicycle lock into the stream? My only guess is that some people steal bikes by picking the locks. Then they reattach the lock and throw it in the river, presumably to get rid of evidence. It seems like a fairly ludicrous precaution, given that local police don't even try to solve individual bike thefts. But who knows?

Any guesses about this mystery?

The Disgusting Things I Found in the Düssel

Yesterday I took advantage of the nice weather and went fishing for garbage in the local stream that runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel.

The main find was bottles. At least 100 of them. Everything from small schnapps bottles to beer bottles to hip flasks of cheap vodka to actual wine bottles. All covered in and/or filled with nasty blackish gunk. Here are three of them, and what looks like a decaying can of Red Bull, just to give you an idea:


But wait! That's not all! Once I actually got into the middle of the river, I found all sorts of other garbage, including 7-8 bike locks, an umbrella, various metal rods, a lightbulb, a pair of scissors, clothes, and rotten plastic bags. Here's just a selection:


Finally, exhausted, I had to give up. It's pretty tiring wading through mud and hauling heavy sacks of garbage up the riverbank. And I found all of this in only a 10-meter-long section of the river south of a well-traveled bridge.

There's still a bunch of junk in only this section of the river. So I'm going to go back today, and hope to at least get this section cleaned up.

Düsseldorfers, you should be ashamed of yourselves. Really, light bulbs? Umbrellas?

On a cheerier note, it turns out that rubber boots are surprisingly comfortable! Also, it seems that at least some life forms can survive in this filth. The ducks stay away from this part of the river, probably having cut their feet on broken glass. But I did one adult and a few juvenile Kamberkrebs, the spiny-cheeked crayfish. Unfortunately, this is an invasive species from America which is an asymptomatic carrier of crayfish plague, which has devastated native European crayfish populations. I probably should have ended them, but I didn't have the heart.

And now, off to start Phase 3 of Operation Glasshole™. I should get some kind of medal for this.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase II Preparation Intermediate Status Report

Both here and on Facebook, where I post much more interesting stuff much more frequently, the question has been raised: what happened to the bottles I removed?

The answer is I dumped them all in a nearby recycling box.

Germans, notorious as among the stingiest penny-pinching races on earth (sorry guys, you know I love you but it's true), are now collectively spit-taking in a combination of intense disapproval, anguish, and Angstlust: "Dear God!! You mean you just threw away bottles worth €1.78?!??! Typical wasteful American."

Allow me to explain. The bottles were, as I earlier remarked, all covered in some sort of black slime, inside and out. Probably some combination of tannin from rotting tree leaves and fine particulates from automobile exhaust. It would have taken 2 or 3 minutes of hand-washing to clean each one.

Further, the labels had all long since rotted off the bottles. Nowadays, it is the label on the bottle that contains the all-important bar code which machines use to calculate the deposit. Without a label, you're done for.

Now I hear many Germans saying: "So what? Technically, stores are still required to give you the deposit back if you present them with a bottle, even if it doesn't have a label. After all, it's the glass that's important for recycling, not the label. I once saw a rail thin, boil-covered man with mushrooms growing in his beard actually manage to convince a supermarket manager to give him an 8-cent deposit on an unlabeled beer bottle after a 5-minute argument. See, it can be done!"

I've seen that man, too. But I don't want to be that man. So no, I am not earning anything on the bottles.

On another note, it turns out that wading boots are quite cheap. I thought they might be kind of expensive, but that's only because I live near a Sack & Pack luxury camping-supplies store, which has wading boots hand-crafted by transgendered Tibetan orphans selling for €170 per boot. Online, you can get cheap rubber boots for 7 Euros, so that's what I bought.

Once Phase II is complete, I will furnish a thorough report.

Operation Glasshole™ Phase I Status Report

A little over a month ago, I noted that the small creek which runs through my neighborhood, the Düssel (after which Düsseldorf is named) was full of bottles, since glassholes have been throwing bottles into it over the years.

So today I took a pole and a net and started work. Here is the before and after pictures of the part of the river I worked on:


As you can see, a slight improvement, but much work remains. Once I got down to the level of the river, I could see there were many more bottles than visible from the top. It took me half-an-hour to remove about 25 of them, but at least 100 remained. All the bottles were covered in some sort of black grime, and filled with black liquid the color of motor oil. A few of them were being used as homes by freshwater crayfish, whom I summarily evicted. Sorry dudes, go find a rock or a tree stump.

Only when you cleared off the grime could you see what these litter-lovin' Untermenschen were drinking. Most of the bottles were ordinary brown beer bottles whose labels had long been washed away. Doubtless these bottles contained Oettinger, the local cheap & nasty choice for the undiscriminating booze-bag. Some were Carlsberg, a surprisingly civilized choice. Many, predictably, were Frankenheim Blue, a sugary mix of beer and soda which is also used as a Class 3 industrial solvent and barely deserves the designation fluid.

After a while, though, I realized that fishing these bottles out of the river one-by-one was a waste of effort. I was working retail, when I should have been wholesale. So to get the remaining 100 bottles, I am going to buy or rent a pair of wading boots, and go in there with one of them litter grabber thingies. I'm sure that physically entering the river, even to clean it up, probably violates 2 laws and 4 regulations. But frankly my dear, I just don't give a damn. If they fine me, I'll crowdfund my defense. Judging from the approving looks I got, I think I'll get plenty of contributions.


43% of Criminals in Hamburg...; or Why Germans Are So Ignorant About Crime in Their Country

Much debate in Germany revolves around the question of whether foreigners commit more crimes than Germans. Whenever this subject comes in mainstream German television talk shows, the responses fall into four predictable categories:

  • Those on the center-left (and everyone to the left of them) get up on their hind legs and immediately start lobbing rhetorical smoke-bombs about "over-generalizations" and "stoking prejudice" and "doing a disservice to the millions of hard-working...", etc.
  • Those on the far right consider all immigrants potential criminals, but hardly care, since they would oppose even the most law-abiding immigrants because they want to keep Germany Deutsch. However, their views don't really matter, since people this far right are never given a chance to air their views on mass media.
  • Those on the center-right do occasionally mention statistics, but are too afraid of being labeled xenophobic to say anything specific. They quickly revert to waffle about "criminal structures", "inadequate integration", "challenging and supporting", etc.
  • Those on the right (including the AfD, which contrary to common belief does not (g, pdf) oppose all immigration) say what the numbers show: that foreigners are over-represented in crime statistics. Representatives of this political tendency were almost never invited onto German talk shows until the rise of the AfD made this inevitable. Aside from the AfD, the only other talk-show guests who mention this are are representatives of the Hungarian or Polish or Czech governments who are invited to be the ceremonial punching bag of everyone else on the show, including the moderator.

These programmed responses and euphemisms make informed debate on this issue nearly impossible. One by-product is that most Germans have no idea that foreigners are vastly over-represented in German crime statistics. Dozens of times, I pointed this fact out in class, only to be challenged by students who didn't believe the numbers, some accusing me of "peddling right-wing propaganda". Needless to say, all of the students were keenly aware that blacks are over-represented in American prisons relative to their numbers in the population. Yet they had no idea the same thing was happening in their own country.

So now, in the service of just plain information, a story that appeared in the Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper a few weeks ago, then quickly fell down the memory hole. The report was based on a confidential police report leaked to the newspaper. The story appears to be pay-walled, but a confidential source furnished me with the paper originals at a 4 AM meeting in an abandoned parking garage, in return for guarantees of confidentiality and a substantial cash payment. I can now reveal the following statistics:

  • In the first half of 2106, Hamburg police investigated 38,000 criminal suspects.
  • Of these, 16,600, or 43%, did not have German nationality.
  • 3882 suspects, or 9.5% of the total, were "refugees" (that is, recent migrants)
  • These numbers do not reflect offenses merely against immigration laws, those were removed from the calculation to avoid distortion.
  • In all of 2015, Hamburg authorities investigated 68,868 criminal suspects, of which 28,400 (41 percent) were foreigners.
  • The crimes most often committed by refugees were assault (1014 cases). Refugees were also responsible for 30.6% of all thefts and 27.5% of all drug smuggling and distribution offenses.
  • Refugees also committed 18.2% of all cases of "sexual insult" and 18.9% of all more serious sexual offenses. A majority of these cases resulted from New Years' Eve in Hamburg.

There are currently about 25,000 refugees in Hamburg, out of a population of 1,814,597 (g) million. So refugees are 1.37% of the population. But it sure looks like they are committing crimes way out of proportion to the raw numbers.

We can't say exactly how over-represented refugees are among criminals in Hamburg, since it's entirely possible a single refugee enriched the crime stats with 7 pickpocketings, 3 simple assaults, and one sexual assault. This is known to police and criminologists as the 80/20 rule of thumb: 80 percent of all crimes are committed by 20% of the people; 80% of all police calls are to the most unruly 20% of the city, etc.

Without a detailed breakdown of the identity of the offenders, we can't know for certain just how disproportionate the rate of crime among refugees is. And of course cops and politicians will use this gap in the knowledge -- which they themselves created -- to constantly muddle the issue: "This doesn't necessarily mean refugees are more criminal, because it just might be a small number of refugees committing most of these crimes." Kind of like the boy who killed his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court as an orphan. This also raises the question of why Germany imported these one-man crime waves and allows them to stay, but those are questions for another post.

It should also be remembered that there is some unknown number of people who have German citizenship, and are thus accounted for as German nationals, but were not born in Germany. German authorities intentionally fail to keep records on these numbers, but they're probably at least another 15-20% of criminals.

So, to sum up, here are a few : Most immigrants aren't criminals, but most criminals are immigrants, or were not born in Germany. Most immigrants are law-abiding, but immigrants as a whole commit crimes at a much higher rate than Germans.

See, now you know the truth. Let it set you free!

Child Brides A Problem in Europe in 2016

Another problem Europe imported

Should a 14-year-old married girl who migrates to Europe be viewed as a child - or a spouse?

The issue has put European governments in a spin: forcing a policy U-turn in Denmark, new legislation in the Netherlands and an agonised debate in Germany.

Analysts say early marriage is often carried out in refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey by families trying to protect girls from poverty or sexual exploitation. Elsewhere, poor families might marry off their young daughters in exchange for dowries.

The question is one of rights and protections - but which? When authorities stop minors cohabiting with their older spouses, are they combating child abuse or breaking up (often already traumatised) families?

Depending on where you go in Europe, you'll find a radically different range of responses to the issue.

This really shouldn't be a problem if we apply a few simple principles:

  • If some other cultures in the world approve of child marriage, that's fine. They should be permitted to carry on that custom without interference.
  • In modern Western culture, this practice is illegal and against public policy. It should neither be permitted on European soil or recognized in any way.
  • This means any marriage in which one partner is underage should be automatically dissolved by law when a couple emigrates to Europe with plans to resettle. Filing an asylum application is proof of intent to resettle. Each partner to the marriage will be processed singly.
  • If the parties do not agree to this, they will be summarily returned to the refugee camp from which they emigrated.

This policy should be posted everywhere in Turkish refugee camps, so people will understand before they set out for Europe. Child marriage is accepted in certain cultures and that's OK over there, within that culture. It is not accepted in Europe, and Europe has every right to absolutely ban it under all circumstances. Europeans aren't trying to bring Leather Pride parades to downtown Damascus, and people from Syria shouldn't try to bring child marriage to Europe. 

Every cultural practice in its proper place. What's so hard about that?

Royal Intermarriage Prevented Wars

This fascinating paper (pdf) by Seth G. Benzell and Kevin Cooke argues that intermarriage among European royal houses played a significant role in decreases in the number of wars in early modern Europe:

Specifically, we show exogenous increases in kinship network distance lead to an increased likelihood of war. While our framework predicts we should also see a decreased likelihood of fighting as allies, evidence on this is inconclusive. We conclude that the rise in kinship connections is an important factor in the well-known long-run decrease in the frequency of war.

We tentatively estimate that increased kinship ties explain 30 percent of the decrease in European warfare. Suppose, conservatively, that the presence of a kinship connection reduces the chance of war between a pair of states by .67 percent. This number is a lower bound on the effect of disconnecting onpath deaths in the latter part of our sample. Relative to pre-1600, the share of monarchs connected after 1800 increased by 53 percentage points. Preventing all these new ties from being formed would therefore be expected to increase the share of dyads at war after 1800 from 1.17% to 1.53%. This is approximately 30 percent of the decrease in war over the same period.

Our data provides a rich environment to study the influence of interpersonal relationships on long-run macroeconomic, political and institutional outcomes. In this paper, we have focused on the relationship between kinship and conflict. However, the same data and network tools might well be applied to more traditional economic questions. We think future work investigating the long-run implications of kinship networks for trade, growth, and development will be fruitful. Another interesting path for future study is explicitly modeling the network formation in this environment. Strategic marriages played a major role in international relations during our period of interest. Building a structural model of strategic marriage and fertility decisions is also an interesting direction for future research.

We New Worlders, almost all of whom grew up in republics, always find odd to think that the mere fact that Prince X married (or refused) Princess Y would change the lives of millions of people. But it did!

...And There Is an Alternative

It's 2016. Centrist liberal Barack Obama is still in the White House. And the policy of his government is to deport people who illegally enter the U.S. and commit crimes:

Uruchi’s sudden fall — from immigrant advocate to undocumented inmate — has stunned many who knew her. At Casa, the immigrants rights organization where Uruchi worked, colleagues were caught by surprise. Two weeks before pleading guilty to drunken driving, she had led a demonstration outside the Supreme Court urging the justices to support undocumented immigrants, but she never hinted she was one of them. She had spent threeyears helping others fight deportation. Now she faces that very fate.

Her arrest has exposed her husband’s undocumented status and upended her children’s lives. Any day now, Uruchi, 33, could be sent back to Spain. Under Obama administration guidelines, her DUI conviction makes her a priority for deportation. And under the visa waiver program she used to enter the country 14 years ago, she forfeited her right to legal appeal. Her only chance is a plea to Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials for a stay of deportation, citing her otherwise clean record, community service and two American-born kids.

“These stays are not commonly granted,” said Kim Propeack, communications director for Casa, which is helping Uruchi. “And they are not granted without a fight.”

Will she get a stay because of her overall good record? Maybe, maybe not. But she illegally stayed in the USA, and then committed a crime by driving while her blood alcohol was over twice the legal limit of 0.8. She is in a bad legal position because, unlike millions of other people, she did not follow a legal route to residence in the U.S. She could have, but she didn't. She took unfair advantage of a visa-waiver program which makes things a lot easier for law-abiding Spaniards, thus endangering the entire program.

Despite what you read, the U.S. is not a police state. It has an immigration policy far more liberal than Germany's. For instance, it grants automatic citizenship to children born on its soil. Even if Trump were elected, its attitude toward immigrants would still be far more accepting than almost any other country. 

But it also has enough self-respect to pass laws saying:

  • if you lie to gain access to the country, jumping in line past people who obey the law,
  • have no valid reason to be there because you don't qualify for asylum,
  • and then violate one of its laws --

-- you're gone.

I would call that  a wise, sensible, balanced immigration policy. If it were applied in Germany, the drug dealers in the Görlitzer park and the Frankfurt Central Station would be long gone. And the benefits to everyday Germans would be enormous.

In the immigration debate, it can't be repeated often enough: the current German mainstream consensus on immigration is, in international comparison, way off on the crazy extreme fringe. Other nations governed by the rule of law and (comparatively) humane ideals have a mainstream, centrist policy which permits controlled, beneficial, legal immigration and actively combats the other kind. As it should.

Germany, alone among advanced nations, abandoned border enforcement and allowed its laws to degenerate into such chaos that almost nobody can be effectively deported. The AfD has a lot of positions I disagree with. But on immigration, a vote for the AfD isn't a vote for repression and quasi-fascism, it's a vote to bring Germany back into the mainstream after a bizarre experiment in which it allowed its legal system to collapse into a state where deportation is nearly impossible, then opened its borders to hundreds of thousands of people who have no business being in the country.

The winners of this bizarre experiment are the AfD. And they'll keep winning until Germany moves much farther back into the mainstream on immigration than it has so far.

Junkies to the Right of me, Dealers to the Left


Underneath the central train station in Frankfurt am Main is a large network of underground passageways lined with shops. It's ugly, but it lets you navigate to the various parts of this massive central transportation hub without crossing the busy streets which surround the central station.

And now, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports (g), it's home to gangs of drug dealers, mostly young males from North Africa who "arrived with the stream of refugees". They hang around in small groups, openly offering and selling marijuana, crack, heroin, and pills. With them, of course, come the junkies, who sometimes shoot up in crevices and under stairways, in view of passers-by.

The police no longer bother to arrest them, since simple drug dealing is not a jailable offense in Germany, and they're back later the same day. The fact that these are illegal immigrants committing crimes on German soil in a highly public place means nothing, since drug dealing does not affect their asylum applications. Of course, the vast majority of these applications are frivolous, but they will take years to decide anyway. And, of course, won't result in actual deportation even if the asylum application is rejected.

This is all happening in literally one of the busiest transport hubs in the world, used by 450,000 (g) people every day. Which means every day, probably hundreds of parents have to come up with answers to questions from their curious children: What's wrong with that man? What' sticking out of that woman's arm? What's 'grass'? And thousands of foreigners get their first impression of the financial capital of Europe as a place where the state is so disorganized or bankrupt or weak that it can't even stop a drug market in the heart of the city.

And, of course, thousands of Germans commuters will ask why their elected representatives and their legal system can't seem to stop this humiliating spectacle. They live in a heavily-regulated society which has red-light cameras to detect traffic violations, requires an ever-increasing number of special permits which motorists must buy to drive various places, and has teams of roving enforcers making sure mom-and-pop shop owners don't play the radio without paying royalty fees.

But this state cannot prevent people who are not even legally in the country from openly dealing drugs and ruining yet another public place.

I find it hard to blame more and more Germans for voting for the only political party to bluntly say: "This is unacceptable and must stop immediately, and if that requires changes to the law and to our funding priorities and especially to our immigration policies, the time to start with those changes was yesterday." What mainstream opinion denounces with that tiresome cliche "populism" sounds like common sense to more and more Germans. The AfD is quickly catching up with the rapidly-imploding Social Democratic Party.

Americans are familiar with cities like Frankfurt going to hell in a handbasket, 'cause we watched it happen to New York on our TV sets: "New York City is depicted as a dysfunctional, crime-plagued, vermin-infested, smog-choked, polluted, grimy, sleazy, seedy, corrupt, racially-divided, poverty-ridden, morally-and-financially-bankrupt Wretched Hive filled with Apathetic Citizens, hostile jerkasses, violent psychotics, drug addicts, deviants, a crumbling infrastructure, and not enough parking spots."

Unless there's a big change, many of these German citizens (and not just the ethnic Germans) will turn their back on the decaying, increasingly lawless public sphere by sealing themselves off in gated communities and secure apartment blocks, putting their children in private schools, and buying a car.

Germans, to escape all this, will begin living like Americans. Just look up the phrase "white flight".