Der Spiegel interviews (g) the Israeli-American-German journalist Tuvia Tenenbom, who's been called the Jewish Hunter S. Thompson. He's a rubicund old Jewish kibitzer who travels the world and reports what he sees in blunt, unvarnished, politically-incorrect language that you'll either find crudely oversimplified or refreshingly direct.
He's written books about Germany, America (this one was called "brutal, irreverent, and cutting"), and just published in German a book called "Alone Among Refugees" (g), which recounts his travels through Germany visiting refugees and activists on all sides of the issue. A few of his thoughts on comparative freedom of the press and opinion:
Spiegel: Mr. Tenenbom, what is your opinion on the media landscape and freedom of opinion here in Germany?
Tenenbom: There's no more journalism, especially in Germany. Instead there's activism. Journalism no longer just report what happens, but what we're supposed to think....
Spiegel: So to you, the best journalists are those who...
Tenenbom: ... report facts. And don't tell us what's right and wrong.
The reporter asks him about positive comments he has made about the personalities of German right-wingers such as neo-nationalist intellectual Götz Kubitschek and anti-immigration activist Lutz Bachmann:
Tenenbom: I'm not naive. I know very well what they say and think. But to treat someone respectfully or like them doesn't require that I share their opinions. And by the way: Every other American thinks the things which Götz Kubitschek says, and what Lutz Bachmann says.
Spiegel: Well, that hardly makes it better.
Tenenbom: I just want to say: Should we treat all Americans this way [i.e. ostracize them because of their views]? No. And you know what? Many Germans think the same way, they're just afraid to say it aloud. And so what? All these people are entitled to call themselves Europeans. There is simply a difference of opinion between one point of view which existed earlier, which is based on the preservation of one's own culture -- you could call that narrow-mindedness -- and another movement which doesn't want borders or nation-states and wants to see cultures mixed. Those are two valid arguments, two acceptable wishes. Let the voters decide! But don't call these people Nazis merely because they want to preserve German culture.
Here's a screenshot of the Google entry for the Düsseldorf-South tax headquarters:
The tax bureaucrats get only 2.3 stars? Sounds like a certain ungrateful city on the Rhine could use a lot more tax audits to boost morale.
But what's more surprising: At the bottom there's a link to the meal-delivery service lieferando! Click on it (g), and you find that Düsseldorf's tax bureaucrats will be happy to whip up some vegan sweet potato curry, chia pudding with chocolate, or a Japanese teriyaki plate.
Once again, it's time to play guess the real story. The papers today are full of praise for the police for hindering a planned riot (g) at the Leverkusen bus station. Around 200 people had planned to travel there to engage in some sort of planned gang fight. The police intervened, arrested some people, conducted ID checks, and managed to prevent the worst. They didn't find any firearms, but did find various kinds of knuckle-dusters.
Neither the police nor any of the news outlets have given any details about who these people were or why they were gathering.
Which means one thing to any informed reader of German news: they must have been non-Germans. And indeed, the German tabloid Express gingerly informs us that most of those arrested had "an immigration background".
Now, it's by no means unheard-of for ethnic Germans to get together in planned fights. These are usually fanatical 'ultra' football fans -- young, working-class types. Here's a documentary about them called "Category C" -- after the classification schedule German police use to judge how "violence-ready" different groups of football fans are:
Whenever ethnic Germans get together and beat the crap out of each other, there's invariably detailed reporting, extensive hand-wringing, and musing about What It All Means.
When non-Germans do the same thing, a soft, comforting blanket of euphemisms is spread over the events, obscuring any interesting facts.
So, does anyone know what exactly was going on in Leverkusen? Was it Turks v. Kurds? Or two extended clans? Albanians v. Serbians?
The German newspaper Die Weltreports (g) on the case of a 14-year-old Jewish student from in the Friedenau suburb of Berlin who was harassed and attacked by his fellow students after he revealed he was Jewish. According to him, one of his fellow students told him: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.” He eventually had to leave the school.
A Jewish student being harassed, beaten, and insulted in the capital of Germany? This should be a major scandal, right?
Well, no. It has gotten some press coverage, as the Welt article shows, but not very much. Does this mean Germany really doesn't care about violent anti-Semitism?
Well, yes and no. To explain the response, we need, as always, to ask the question: Who is engaging in anti-Semitism? The Welt article, of course, never tells us. In that story, the young man is being attacked "by other children" or "by his classmates". Male? Female? Older? Younger? Ethnicity? Nope, none of that, thank you very much. All the Welt thinks you need to know about these violent anti-Semites are that they are "students".
They're the Students Without Qualities. Fans of the American sitcom Community might be reminded of the Greendale Community College mascot, the "Greendale Human Being":
Only at the end of the story do we get a brief hint of who might be behind these attacks: "According to Tagesspiegel, 75% of the students at the school do not speak German as a native language, and many come from Turkish and Arab families."
Let's now turn to Tagesspiegel, the Berlin newspaper that first reported on the case in German. There, we come gingerly closer to the truth. After indeed reporting that there were many Turkish and Arab students at the school, the Tagesspiegelstates (g) laconically, almost in passing: "According to the school's principal Uwe Runkel, this is also true of the criminal suspects [in the anti-Semitic harassment]." Blink and you might miss it, but here we finally have the truth: the anti-Semitic harassment did not come from Germans.
Fortunately, in this case we don't have to rely on the cloudy abstractions of the German press. The incident was originally reported in the English-language Jewish Chronicle:
Emma, who is British, said her son, Phillip (not their real names), 14, had been moved to an English language high school in Berlin .
Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural.
She said it had never occurred to Phillip to deny his Jewishness, and one day he mentioned it to his classmates.
One of them responded: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.”
The verbal abuse escalated to physical violence, until earlier this month, “when he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”
“It was terrible,” Phillip said, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when I look back, I think, oh my God.”
Emma said she decided then and there that “I am not sending him to this school any more, and that was it.”
The case underscores concerns that educators and parents have expressed for years in Berlin about the antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.
Berlin’s Jewish high school receives between six and 10 applications a year from parents who want to move their children away from schools where they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment, said Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin.
The requests generally are “in reaction to antisemitic statements coming overwhelmingly from Arabic or Turkish classmates,” he said, adding that “in most cases, the families complain about the relative lack of response from state schools” to the problem.
Being the target of anti-Semitic attacks seems to motivate people to actually want to know who's behind them. Indeed, the sub-head of the article reads: "Case illustrates long history of antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children."
Now, to be fair, the principal has expressed dismay and regret:
When contacted by the JC, [the principal] Runkel said he regretted the antisemitic bullying of Phillip. He added he had hoped to help the student feel safe and also to make perpetrators face the consequences of their actions, but that obviously “for the parents it wasn’t fast enough”.
He said “a general approach in the school to antisemitism” was clearly needed, and was being developed.
Ahh, the "general approach" -- the Gesamtkonzept! You can't do anything in Germany without one. I am sure the principal actually is disgusted by a Jewish student being insulted and "almost strangled" at his school. But things get quite awkward when the anti-Semites in Germany turn out to be, er, not so German after all.
Although Turks and Arabs are allowed to point out the fact that anti-Semitism is endemic in Turkey and the Arab world, ethnic Germans can't really come right out and do so, for fear of being charged with stoking prejudice against Germans of Turkish and Arab descent. And there are a lot more of those than there are Jewish residents of Germany.
It's delicate, you see. Very, very delicate.
The problem with all this delicacy, though, is that sometimes people need clear information: "Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural." Apparently, nobody informed these folks that sending a Jewish child to a German school with a large Muslim population might not be such a good idea.
Euphemisms can be dangerous.
In any case, Phillip got the message: "As for Phillip, he would not necessarily recommend that other children reveal their Jewishness to classmates unless it’s 'a nice, quiet school.'"
Not that readers of this blog need it, but Vanity Fair's great piece on Uwe Boll gives us a bit of background:
Boll made his name, such as it is, mostly by dragging the already abhorred genre of the “video-game movie” to previously unthinkable new lows. His video-game adaptations BloodRayne, In the Name of the King, and House of the Dead are rated 4 percent on Rotten Tomatoes; Alone in the Dark has a 1 percent rating. In 2007, BloodRayne received Golden Raspberry Award (Razzie) nominations for worst director, worst picture, worst actress, worst supporting actor, worst supporting actress, and worst screenplay. Two years later, Boll received a “Worst Career Achievement” Golden Raspberry Award.
“The man simply cannot direct,” Razzies co-founder John Wilson told me. “He doesn’t know where to put the camera. He doesn’t know how to suggest to an actor how to deliver their lines. Doesn’t know how to come up with an edit where you can tell where the hell you are and what’s going on. That’s kind of basic.”
Cast and crew members have denounced the films. “BloodRayne was an abomination,” said BloodRayne star Michael Madsen. “It’s a horrifying and preposterous movie.” Willam Belli, who acted in and had a co-writing credit on Blubberella, compared viewing the finished product to “watching a car accident with clowns.” ...
At the height of his infamy, a petition titled “Stop Uwe Boll” garnered 357,480 digital signatures, and the domain uweboll.com simply contained the entreaty, “Please stop making movies.” Now, at last, he has. With no fanfare—with hardly any acknowledgement at all, in fact—Boll’s swan song, Rampage: President Down, was recently made available on iTunes and Netflix.
And then Uwe quits filmmaking and...opens a restaurant in Vancouver!
We meet at Bauhaus, in the Gastown district of Vancouver, the restaurant he opened just before he decided to quit filmmaking. “That’s the wiener schnitzel,” Boll says over the pounding noises coming from the kitchen. “They have to hammer it.” There is one gigantic painting on the Bauhaus wall that says, in giant letters: “ART.”
Boll’s passion for food rivals his passion for film, and the reviews for Bauhaus are far more positive than those he received for his movies. A Globe and Mail food critic praised the veal tenderloin in demi-glace as evoking a “voluptuous Boll-inspired warrior goddess easing into a mud bath.”
Summing up the appeal of his new calling, Boll says, simply: “It’s less complicated than filmmaking.”
And I bet you didn't know it was Dr. Boll: "Along with a doctorate about narrative structure in television and literature—yes, technically, it’s Dr. Uwe Boll—Boll wrote around 15 screenplays by his early 20s."
Germans love Japan. I live in Düsseldorf, home to one of the largest Japanese expat communities in Europe, and it shows. There's an annual Japan Day, a cultural institute (the Eko-Haus) -- complete with temple, garden, bell, and a traditional Japanese house -- and excellent Japanese food everywhere you turn.
When I visited Japan, most of the other tourists seemed to be from Northern Europe. Like me, they all raved about the discreet hospitality, the cleanliness, the attention to detail, the love of traditional handicrafts, the organization, the quiet, the world-class museums, the excellent fresh food everywhere, and all the many other things that make Japan such an intense pleasure to visit (seriously, drop everything and go now). Northern Europeans have an instinctive preference for cleanliness, order, and discretion, and they immediately sense they are among kindred spirits in the Japanese. And if you think that's a crude generalization based on outdated national stereotypes, loosen up. We're not in a seminar room here.
But of course these are only surface impressions. They obscure two central facts: First, many of the things cultured Europeans love about Japan (the tea ceremony, Noh theatre, Kabuki) are like organ music in Europe: followed only by a tiny, graying minority of aficionados.
Second, Japanese society overall is in long, possibly near-terminal decline.
Which brings us to an interesting 2007 book about Japan written by an American journalist who spent years there: Shutting Out The Sun: How Japan Created its Own Lost Generation (book excerpt and interview here). The first part of the book deals with the bizarre Japanese phenomenon of hikikomori: young people, 80% male, who simply drop out of society altogether. They cannot take the pressure to conform, the endless high-stakes testing, the cram schools, the bitter rivalry to get into the best colleges, and the myriad other pressures of Japanese life.
So they simply drop out, like Bartleby. They retire to a room in their parents' house, and never leave. They usually change their sleep schedule to stay inside during the day and leave, if at all, only at night. They don't go to school, don't work, just sketch or read or play video games or watch porn. Their parents allow them to stay and provide them with food and other necessities, and often cover up the fact that their son or daughter has become a recluse to save face.
The defining factor of hikikomori is that they're not mentally ill. They are also usually of above-average intelligence, since it is these children who are under the most pressure to perform. Usually, their reclusion starts after some stinging failure (failed exam, university rejection, bullying) along the assembly-line route of school-college-job. These people have simply decided to reject a society which they see as forcing them through a bunch of meaningless and terrifying hoops, all in service to a failing and irrelevant social model which nobody seems to be able to change. Estimates are that there are between 500,000 and a million hikikomori in Japan. The consensus seems to be that this precise phenomenon happens only in Japan.
The author, Michael Zielenziger (who speaks Japanese) interviews a number of hikikomori and the counselors and psychologists who try to help them. What's refreshing about his book is that Z pulls no punches. He obviously likes the Japanese, has enormous admiration for their many achievements as a society. He's not simply spewing a rant, he backs up many of his assertions with interviews, statistics, and other staples of good journalism. And many of the harshest indictments come from Japanese themselves. But still, to use an appropriately American phrase, he tears Japan a new asshole:
American and Japanese psychologists have demonstrated that when faced with a social situation they do not like, Americans readily try to influence others to change their behavior. Japanese, by contrast, are far more likely to adjust their own behavior to the demands others make upon them, to accommodate the wishes of the collective....
The group harmony this homogeneous people struggled so obsessively to achieve—through the pressure to conform, the resistance to criticism, the repression of dissenters, and a desperate, almost pathological need to keep “outsiders” at bay—carried a dark and destructive seed. Not only did this system seriously constrain individuality to the point of “infantilizing” many of it own people, effectively robbing them of their own identities; it also stripped the nation of its ability to adjust to the unforeseen changes in the world and in business practices that the inexorable process of globalization was now stirring up. Until this moment, Japan had been able to appropriate the trappings of the modern world without creating for itself a critical consciousness, a truly democratic sensibility, or a vision of how a “unique” people might interact easily and equally with the rest of the world. “The essence of Japan is to have no essence,” one famous Japanese political scientist concluded, arguing Japanese had never learned to properly differentiate between the instrumental and the ideal. His society, he said, was like a pot crammed with octopus, unable to discern a world separate from its own outsized tentacles. By analogy, he suggested, Western societies, where Judeo-Christian values had taken hold, or the Chinese culture, where Confucianism remains central, more resembled the sort of whisk broom used in a traditional tea ceremony, in which a sturdy, unitary wooden base splays itself into a finely separated tip, with space for each long and articulated tine of bamboo fiber to stand free and apart from the others....
As I got to understand it better, I saw that, rather than a vibrant free market, Japan actually functions more like a highly controlled, quasi-socialist system where bureaucrats feel they know best how to organize the system of production, and have the power to make life unpleasant for those who don't agree....
Predictably, the book has stimulated as many howls of outrage as it has nods of understanding. Which is a good thing.
Polite society these days enforces an unspoken code of never criticizing other cultures. You wouldn't want to be accused of cultural imperialism, or Orientalism, or condescension, or any of the other mortal sins of orthodox politically-correct sensitivity. But these taboos do what taboos always do: reduce everything to mush.
Some cultures are just more successful at certain things than others. In fact, some cultures are more successful at almost everything than others (here's lookin' at you, Scandinavia!). Everyone who's lived abroad understands this. And a bracing, well-informed critique is more honest and useful than a bunch of feel-good pabulum. The book was published in Japan. Many of his interviewees told him, they would never have spoken to a Japanese journalist, since they would be ashamed to discuss embarrassing secrets with someone who shared the same complex social codes.
It's not the be-all and end-all, but is a refreshingly blunt and lively book. Perhaps one day I'll write something similar about Germany. Germany, I love you, but I know just about all of your dirty secrets....
Living in Germany as an English-speaking expat is probably easier than living in France. France may be more charmante, but in Germany, stuff works. Having stuff work is a type of charm in itself. The kind that's important when you have to actually live there.
Paul Taylor, an English ginger and comedian who lives in the Hexagon has an amusing YouTube series called "What the Fuck, France?" which explore some of the peculiarities of French life. As you might expect from the title, they're extremely sweary. Why? Because English people are extremely fucking sweary, you fucking knob. Yes, I know that's a fucking cultural stereotype, you condescending prick, but stereotypes exist for a fucking reason.
Here Taylor takes on dubbing, the bane of every expat's existence:
I will say, in Germany's defense, that German dubbing is extremely good. They've had decades of practice, and they're German. As I said, stuff works here.
The odd thing is I was just in Paris over the weekend, and I can't help noticing that France is rapidly catching up to Germany in the having-stuff-that-works department. The metros and buses run on time and have clear signs, the system of tickets is a hell of a lot simpler than in any German city, and everything's quite clean and orderly, even in the shabbier parts of town. There is still more dogshit on Paris streets, though.
Yet one day, sooner than you think, we are going to reach the Continental Singularity. As Germany gets more random and disorderly and France improves, there will come a time in which the orderlines efficiency of France's infrastructure, bureaucracy, and daily life are all as efficient as Germany's, a condition last seen only in 1788.
By the time the firemen got there, there was no choice but to let the entire place burn to the ground in a controlled fire. Residents accuse a 21-year-old Somali man of intentionally setting the fire, and he has been arrested. Somalia, by the way, just peacefully elected a new President who was formerly a mid-level state bureaucrat in Buffalo, New York: "[T]he U.N., African Union, European Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development and a host of nations, including the United States and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement congratulating Farmajo and thanking his predecessor for the peaceful transfer of power."
But it's not as if you could legitimately ask anyone to actually live there. Even though 10.5 million people somehow do.
Back to the arson. This sort of thing happens more than once a week in Germany. And no, it's not right-wingers tossing Molotov cocktails at the shelters. Right-wingers have burned down many migrant shelters, but they almost exclusively do so before anyone has actually moved in (g). The vast majority of fires set by migrants have occurred in occupied shelters. Fortunately, nobody has yet died.
These fires are due either to carelessness or mentally unstable/sociopathic young males taking revenge for all manner of perceived insults, from serving food during the day to non-Muslims during Ramadan to various idiotic personal grievances. According to the XY Einzelfall website (g), there were 89 episodes of arson of migrant shelters in 2016 alone. About half were accidental, half were intentional. Now, the last time I quoted this source, a reader said: "But some of these are hoaxes invented by right-wing media. You should check out Hoaxmap, a map of Germany which lists these hoaxes."
So I did. Hoaxmap currently contains 464 items of apocryphal anti-migrant propaganda which have been refuted, including trivial urban legends such as "they stole my geese!" or "they urinated in a cemetery!". As for false accusations of arson, Hoaxmap lists a grand total of...2. Neither of which was included in the XY-Einzelfall database.
I don't have to tell you who is going to foot the bill for the hundreds of millions of Euros in costs these fires have caused (one incident in Düsseldorf alone, in which migrants burned down a huge storage facility at the local convention center, caused €1o million in damages). Many migrants are now "aging out" of the shelter system and being sent out to seek local apartments all over Germany, government rent vouchers in hand. Yet many property owners are skeptical of renting to migrants, especially unaccompanied young males. All those pictures of buildings completely incinerated by migrants do have an effect.
Now, of course, the German government could have predicted and prevented this by not allowing the country to be flooded with hundreds of thousands of random young males from the world's trouble spots. Women and children refugees are much less likely to, you know, intentionally incinerate their own homes. But Germany decided to allow anyone in, including the 60% of all migrants who presented no documentation of their identity whatsoever (g).
Which means there are going to be a lot more random fires popping up all over. Statistically speaking, coming soon to a neighborhood near you!