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June 2011
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August 2011

"The aim of this paper is to fill this scholarly gap with the male organ."

That sentence made me tingle with pleasure. It comes from a paper (pdf), soon to be a viral internet sensation, that investigates the correlation between average erect penis length and economic growth in a large set of countries. The basic finding is the 'U-shaped curve', showing that penis size at either extreme of the continuum is associated with worse economic performance: "The GDP-maximizing length can be identi ed at around 13.5 centimetres. One striking result is the collapse in GDP after male organ exceeds the length of 16 centimetres."

As for penis size, the paper notes: "The physical dimension of male organ varies considerably across countries, the average being 14.5 centimetres. For example, South Korea and Zaire [now Dem. Rep. of the Congo] have average sizes of 9.66 and 17.93 centimetres, respectively." Germany clocks in at a respectable 14.48 centimeters, the UK: 13.97, and US: 12.9.


Norway's Civilized Prisons

Norwegian prison guards frolicking and gamboling with inmates

Blood & Treasure observes:

There's a surprisingly bad, Daily Mail-sque photo article at FP on Norway's prisons, full of pictures of inmates enjoying themselves in healthy activities rather than being beaten, raped, or forced to shit in a bucket like criminals deserve.

Two statistics.

Norway's incarceration rate: 66 per 100,000 inhabitants. US incarceration rate: 738 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Recidivism rate after prison in Norway: between 40 and 45 percent. In US, approximately 67 percent. (And the Norwegian figures were for life, I believe; the US ones are just for "within 3 years of release."


Breivik's Motivations

Roger Cohen on Breivik:

Breivik has many ideological fellow travelers on both sides of the Atlantic. Theirs is the poison in which he refined his murderous resentment. The enablers include Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, who compared the Koran to “Mein Kampf” on his way to 15.5 percent of the vote in the 2010 election; the surging Marine Le Pen in France, who uses Nazi analogies as she pours scorn on devout Muslims; far-rightist parties in Sweden and Denmark and Britain equating every problem with Muslim immigration; Republicans like former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Representative Peter King, who have found it politically opportune to target “creeping Shariah in the United States” at a time when the middle name of the president is Hussein; U.S. church pastors using their bully pulpits week after week to say America is a Christian nation under imminent threat from Islam.

Muslims over the past decade have not done enough to denounce those who deformed their religion in the name of jihadist murder. Will the European and U.S. anti-immigrant Islamophobic crowd now denounce what Breivik has done under their ideological banner? I doubt it. We’ll be hearing a lot about what a loner he was.

Huge social problems have accompanied Muslim immigration in Europe in recent decades, much greater than in the more open United States. There is plenty of blame to go around. Immigrants have often faced racism and exclusion. The values of Islam on women, on marriage and on homosexuality, as well as the very vitality of the religion, have grated on a secular Europe. The picture is not uniform — successful integration exists — but it is troubling.

Nothing, however, can excuse the widespread condoning of an anti-Muslim racism once reserved for the Jews of Europe.

I'm rarely convinced by arguments that tie the actions of lone individuals to overheated rhetoric. Every society has a small sub-set of unstable loners who could go off on a homidical rampage, and who are just waiting for some sort of ideological or emotional trigger. This time, it was a weird European right-wing Islamophobia; the next time it might be radical Islam or that perennial candidate, adolescent alienation.

However, I think Cohen has a bit of a point here. There are two strains of the European debate on immigration that go beyond legitimate policy debate. The first is the notion of Islam as a fifth column, waiting patiently to 'out-breed' the Europeans and re-conquer all of Europe for the True Faith. The only proof offered by those who make this argument are generally statements by Islamist rabble-rousers who have marginal influence. The notion that European Muslims, as a whole, are all participating in some sinister plot is, of course, preposterous. Although this argument is wrong (let's not forget that noted fuckwit Mark Steyn has predicted that "more and more Europeans will convert to Islam...[and] Christianity is going to be an underground religion in Europe") it's worse than wrong -- it's the sort of poison that justifies a comparison with European anti-Semitism, since it dehumanizes European Muslims by painting them as a sinister, implacable enemy within. Stretches of the nastiest anti-Islam screeds read like the 'Race and Nation' chapter of Mein Kampf. The second nasty strain of the European debate is the gratuitous insults and scorn, such as Marine Le Pen comparing Muslims praying in the streets in French cities to the Nazi occupation of France, or pork-sausage-and-wine parties being held outside of mosques.

The fifth-column analogies and the scorn and taunting send an unmistakable message to European Muslims: you're not welcome here and will never be welcome. A healthy chunk of the population of the country you live in despises you and wants you gone. And, of course, as Breivik's rampage shows, 'natives' who enable the Muslim hordes are, in a sense, worse than the foreigners themselves. This message is purely destructive and poisonous. Of course, I'm not suggesting that these points of view be banned; that usually backfires. Nor is any critique of immigration policy out-of-bounds. I'm specifically limiting myself here to the 'fifth column' arguments and taunting, which are unnecessary to even the most stringent critique. But if the only choice is between scorn and demonization versus multi-kulti platitudes (and, of course, that isn't the only choice), give me the platitudes anytime. The platitudes lead to lame comedies -- the demonization, as we have seen, to much worse.


Simpatia as Governing Principle

Peter Popham on Italy:

During my years of residence in Rome, it very slowly dawned on me that when, say, a plumber or a car mechanic or indeed a waiter greeted me with a particularly broad and oily sort of smile, it was generally the prelude to a ridiculous bill. Yet the smile was not fake, the mood of simpatia was not affected – he was genuinely delighted to take me to the cleaners. If I lacked the generosity of spirit to understand and appreciate my role in the improvement of his luck, that was my double misfortune.

You see this operating throughout Italian society. This is a country which, because of its enormous coastline – 4,500 miles of it – has been invaded over and over again, some 29 times in all. Until unification, it was under the boot of multiple foreign powers. Italians have been able to call their land their own only for a century and a half. And because the peninsula cannot be insulated – in the past decades, Albanians and Bosnians have poured across the Adriatic, and Lampedusa, entry point from North Africa, remains an open wound – the Italian response is to circle the wagons: to disarm the new arrivals with simpatia (if they are rich or powerful enough to merit it) but at the same time quietly to close ranks.

That is why the closed shop, a fading memory of the bad old days for people in Britain, is the way Italy still functions at every level. It's why there are no brown or black faces behind the counters in the post office or among the ranks of taxi drivers, why university heads have no embarrassment about giving tenured positions to their closest relatives, why in politics the same old party hacks are recycled year after year – and why so many young Italians of energy and talent flee abroad as soon as they can.

Many of them, of course, flee to Britain: land of the gruff and the grim, i quadrati ("the squares", in the sense of rigid as opposed to flexible), the people for whom food is just fuel and agreeability of character a sure sign of superficiality; the race who seem to carry a portable policeman around in their heads, the better to put people right and point out the rules; the people for whom queue-jumping is on a par with bestiality.

They will also discover, if they stick it out, that it is very difficult to get to know English people, even once you have penetrated their carapace of antipatia and squareness, and that even the most intelligent of us are, by continental standards, bizarrely anti-intellectual; as Orwell pointed out, "the English are not sufficiently interested in intellectual matters to be intolerant about them." Yet very often the Italian sticks around, and the reason he won't and can't go home is because British society works, after a fashion. Immigrants get jobs in the post office. Italians get picked as professors. Men and women in their thirties attain political power. Merit has a chance.

We are being sucked towards a melancholy conclusion: that la simpatia, for all its charm, is a disastrous principle by which to run a society, because far from being the wellspring of morality it is the trick by which morality is short-circuited, and that allows privilege and patronage to rule unchallenged. It's the cunning mask donned by a survival instinct nurtured through centuries of foreign domination, and it is one of the things which make it so hard for this nation to reverse its own corrosive and destructive and amoral tendencies.


Greening Potsdamer Platz

The BBC's Stephen Evans reports on guerilla gardeners in Berlin:

Modern Berlin may be a prosperous place but its troubled past has left its mark on the city's character, including a tendency to the alternative. Among the counter-culture railing against society are arsonists, saboteurs, artists and even gardeners.

Petrus Akkordeon, as he calls himself, emerges from the S-Bahn station on to Potsdamer Platz and plants a small flower.

What could be simpler?

Up he comes from the underground into the soulless square, takes out his trowel and digs and gouges between the cracks of the paving stones and plants the shoots - a line of green in the grey of the granite.

Potsdamer Platz today is a long way from what it once was - the pulsating heart of Weimar Berlin, the city's hub of charm and cafe society.

It was where the tram routes met, where the literati met and, no doubt, the not-so-literati. It was the place of chatter and deals and morning-after-the-night-before coffee.

Today, it is, I think, a pretty soulless place.

It was devastated in the war and left desolate after it - split down the middle by the Berlin Wall. On the wasteland freed for development by the Wall's demolition has arisen the cold glass of the Sony Centre, with its windy canyons of offices.

A new sort of desolation, you might think. Until that is, Petrus arrives with his gardening tools.

Petrus Akkordeon, you see, is a guerrilla gardener. He told me he does it to make people happier.

"Everything is grey," he says. "No flowers. No trees. And if you plant one flower, the whole place changes."

"For several seconds, it's a nice place. People see these flowers and feel better for a moment. There's a man planting on Potsdamer Platz, he must be crazy," he says, describing himself, of course.

A fitting protest against the abomination that is the Potsdamer Platz, which combines the anonymous sleekness of a suburban American office park with the bone-chilling monumentality of Nazi architecture. Descending into the mammoth square cave of the U-bahn entrance, you feel utterly dwarfed and insignificant. The only less inviting place in Berlin is the new Hauptbahnhof, which, in addition to being utterly confusing and having elevators apparently powered by molasses, has all the charm and flair of Cincinnati's lamest mall.

Evans uses the guerilla gardeners to meditate on the conflict over how Berlin is changing:

Sometimes I call into a small wine shop near where I live. It is run by a man called Peter who has lived here in fast-gentrifying Prenzlauer Berg since he was 13, way before the Wall came down.

I like him a lot and we discuss excellent German wine and moan about how the area has been overrun by yummy mummies pushing baby buggies the size of BMWs, and about how Bob Dylan growl-alikes howl outside the chi-chi cafes to yuppies on their Macs and iPhones.

So much worse than the rather congenial East Berlin way, which is to just get a crate of beer and three or four kitchen chairs and put them on the cobbles outside and drink and talk on the street.

But the two ways squeeze each other. The new trendy bars and the little groups of the old East Berliners on the same stretch of cobbles, jostling for space in Berlin as the city remakes itself.


The Wild West of Free Speech

FBI-Loompanics_1981-1995
From Boing Boing comes this result of a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. government for FBI files on Loompanics, a U.S.-based distributor of books about smuggling, explosives, drug production, political activism, and other spicy subjects. The West German police were not amused to find out that someone in West Germany had ordered the books "Total Resistance", "Psychedelic Chemistry" and "CIA Improvised Sabotage Devices" to be sent to Germany, and suspected that the materials would be used to foment 'dissension'.

The files, acquired by Government Attic, a website that specializes in obtaining access to U.S. government documents, show (.pdf) that the FBI dutifully followed up on the request by their German cousins, but were unable to help them, since it's legal to publish books describing and advocating illegal activity in the U.S. I'm sure the Germans were disappointed.


Elite Consensus and the Euro

Yglesias:

Ryan Avent seemed to me to have the basic logic of European fiscal consolidation right: “The point at which euro-zone leaders said, ‘From here on in, we’re in the same boat with them’, was back when the euro zone was created. That boat has sailed.”

Except I gather that what happened is that the Eurozone’s political leaders spent the 1990s not explaining this correctly to the citizens they purported to represent. Or, specifically, the leaders of France and Germany didn’t explain it. How exactly this worked is a bit mysterious to me. Of course politicians all over the world lie, but normally you expect partisan competition to at least put this kind of issue on the table. But there seems to have been an adequate degree of elite consensus to keep the fundamental question off the table. Somehow the Brits and the Swedes escaped this fate, but the other nations of Europe (including formally non-euroized but practically pegged Denmark) are now caught up in a kind of grim machinery of financial doom. The only way to make the system workable is a level of fiscal and political integration that is, apparently, totally unacceptable to the voters. Which is fine, but the decision should have been put to them before getting the countries bound up in a remorseless logic of integration. A lot of people are going to be put through an awful lot of avoidable suffering before this ends, and I’m guessing nobody’s going to say “sorry” or admit to error. If the continent’s mainstream political parties manage to end up discrediting themselves in the process, it’ll be hard to say they don’t deserve their fate no matter how distasteful some of the rising extreme movements are in many ways.

The Euro crisis shows the power of elite consensus on agenda-setting in Germany and other European countries. After Maastricht, it became the consensus among virtually all German mainstream political parties that creating the Euro would be a Good Thing. It had something for everyone: the business-friendly types praised increased efficiency, the anti-nationalist Europhiles pointed to how it would cement bonds of peace and commerce. The question then became simply how to make it happen. The fact that ordinary Germans were strongly opposed to the Euro was of secondary concern. In an interview with Helmut Kohl I saw, he said that, after managing reunification, the action he was most proud of was pushing through the legal basis for the Euro in the mid-1990s, given that 75% of Germans were against it. The voices of skeptics -- who predicted essentially exactly what has happened -- were ignored.

The idea that the people could be opposed to a policy because they understand it and have good reasons for disagreeing with it cannot be acknowledged, at least when it comes to policies that the elite has already decided are Good Things. This is a problem that German politicians always refer to by the term Vermittlung, that is, 'getting the message across'. If the public stubbornly refuses to support a policy that the elites know will be good for them, it must be because the politicians haven't been explaining it properly. So they will try to package it ever more pleasingly. It's this packaging that ended up being part of the problem. German voters were told that they would never have to bail out profligate countries, that each nation would preserve its own sovereignty, that nations would be bound to strict 'growth and stability' targets, etc. All these promises were based on tendentious -- not to say misleading -- interpretations of extremely complex legal instruments.

And now, Germans are now experiencing buyer's remorse about the Euro. Actually, no, they're experiencing impotent rage, not buyer's remorse, because they actually didn't buy the Euro themselves -- it was decided over their heads, by a non-partisan permanent overclass of senior bureaucrats and mainstream politicians. Now, this is not to say that the Euro was necessarily a bad idea, or that all elite consensus views are wrong -- many are quite sensible! It's just that in political systems with strong party discipline and strong cross-party consensus among political elites, certain debates get shut down much earlier than they should.


Sachbearbeiter Venom Painful, Rarely Fatal

Greg Edgecombe of the British Natural History Museum describes mid-level German government bureaucrats:

"It would be unfair to call them cranky little bastards," said Edgecombe, strongly implying that they are cranky little bastards. They're not heavy on brain matter, and it looks as though there's not much leisure or pleasure in their lives. Since they don't copulate, there's no opportunity for ecstatic sexual release, though [they] do know how to slow-dance. The male reaches out his antennae and taps the last segment of a female. He performs some gyrations to signal that he's making a sperm packet. There's a special organ for spinning the packet, which Edgecombe referred to as "a sad ass little willy."

Er, that was actually about centipedes. Click here for an amazing video of a B-6 Ministerialdirigent hanging from the roof of a cave catching and eating bats.


Leisure Park Germany Redux

Matt Yglesias provides the following fascinating chart (no, that's not an oxymoron, at least to a wonk like me):

Fredgraph-3

Yglesias comments:

I think it’s sensible of the Germans to have taken a lot of the gains from their increased productivity in the form of reduced working hours. But if you look at the German line in detail, you see a cyclical element. Each time a recession ends, it’s associated with an uptick in hours worked. That’s because you do recover specifically from a recession through an increase in the demand for labor that expresses itself first in longer hours and then in less unemployment. Then, in Germany at least, the underlying trend toward less work and more leisure comes back into play.