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Zimmerman: Still not Getting It

Thanks for the comments to the last post. One of the points I made there was that '[p]eople learned just enough about the case to satisfy their preconceptions' without bothering to learn the whole story.

Lo and behold, some of the comments prove my point. Camus wrote '[T]here was no evidence that Martin in any way challenged, or threatened Zimmerman.' This is wrong: Martin physically confronted Zimmerman, pushed him to the ground, punched him repeatedly in the face, and hit the back of his head against a concrete sidewalk, resulting in superficial but no doubt painful injuries:

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You can argue that the Martin was justified in beating up a guy who was following him, or that the injuries weren't sufficient to merit a response with deadly force, but you can't deny Martin injured Zimmerman.

Here's another misconception: Berliner wrote that 'What made the Zimmerman case special was the possible applicability of the "stand-your-ground" law, which goes much further than the right to self-defense provided by the German law.'

First, Zimmerman never invoked the stand your ground law at trial. His lawyers repeatedly stated that they didn't need that doctrine, because Zimmerman's actions were justified under traditional self-defense law. The law played a minor role in the trial, but there is absolutely no evidence the law determine the outcome of the case. Zimmerman would have had exactly the same chance of being acquitted if there were no stand your ground law at all.

Second, George Zimmerman would quite likely have been acquitted in Germany as well. Germany actually has a stand-your-ground law, and people in Germany have been acquitted for killing other people in situations similar to George Zimmerman's. Apparently most Germans are ignorant of the fact that their legal system works very similar to America's in this situation -- including having a version of stand your ground. The only difference is that in America, citizens can get a license to carry a concealed gun much more easily than in Germany.

I explained both of these points in a former post, so if you're not convinced, I invite you to read it.

The fact that smart Germans (i.e. my commenters) still believe these cancards about the Zimmerman case is a sad indicator of the laziness either of the German media or German news consumers.

Several commenters made a final point that the reason for the skewed coverage in the German media was probably the disproportionate coverage in the American media. That's a good point. However, I still think German biases played a subordinate role here. Many American media outlets presented a one-sided version of the case, and German coverage generally went right along with this. But that's not a complete excuse. Journalists should actively seek out information that directly undermines their preconceived notion of events, to make sure they're delivering a full and accurate picture.

 


A Racial Hate Crime the German Media Have Ignored

Last month, the German media joined the American media in a luxurious orgy of hand-wringing about the George Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. As you no doubt recall, George Zimmerman was acquitted after a jury found he acted in self-defense when he shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager. That event prompted a wave of national soul-searching that evaporated into thin air in a few weeks with a quiet 'pfft' sound, as these things do in America. Meanwhile, the magpies of the media have found new bright, shiny objects.

As you may also recall, I thought the posturing over the case was a bit over-the-top. People learned just enough about the case to satisfy their preconceptions, and then, for the purposes of signaling and showing their in-group allegiances, loudly broadcast their opinions. In particular, there was no genuine evidence that George Zimmerman acted out of racial animus. The Obama administration, after loudly announcing they might try to prosecute him for a racial hate crime under federal law. Then, being no fools, they almost immediately it be known that doing so would probable be impossible because of lack of evidence. If Zimmerman is ever prosecuted at the federal level for a civil-rights crime, I will eat my hat.

Just in time, we now have another crime, this time in Duncan, Oklahoma, where two black teenagers and one (apparently) white teenager allegedly shot a visiting white Australian student in the back, killing him. Initial reports claim they decided to murder somebody simply because they were bored, but as the Christian Science Monitor and the Daily Caller report, one of the black men tweeted: '“90 percent of white ppl are nasty. #HATE THEM.” Another, referencing the Zimmerman trial, stated: “Ayeee I knocced out 5 woods since Zimmerman court! :)” The Urban Dictionary defines “wood,” or pecker-wood, as a derogatory term for white people.' I need hardly add that if George Zimmerman had tweeted that he HATED 90% of black people because they were 'nasty', we would never have heard the end of it. But the local authorities in Oklahoma still aren't charging these men with hate crimes.

Now, I have no idea whether they're guilty or exactly what the tweets from the young black man mean in context -- although if there's an innocent explanation for them, I'm all ears! The point is that because this news story didn't fit in with prevailing German narratives about the U.S., it's gotten about 1/100th of the attention of the Trayvon Martin case.  There was a flurry of German news stories about it about 5 days ago, all stressing the 'they shot him out of boredom' angle, but nothing more since then. And many of the Americans loudly signaling their utter outrage at George Zimmerman have been deafeningly silent over this crime. This is a point that American conservatives have been making, which of course makes it even more critical for American liberals to ignore it. Now, I'm certainly no American conservative, but they've got a point here. Even a blind squirrel, as the saying goes, finds a nut once in a while. The Martin case got saturation coverage and this one is getting embarrassed silence because of one thing: PC double standards.


German Bitchy Resting Face: The Suspicious Grimace

Above is a mildly amusing video seeking to 'raise consciousness' about people who have naturally bitchy expressions. This is a universal problem. For one thing, the British newspaper the Daily Mail quickly embraced the phenomenon, and who can argue with the World's Tabloid?

For more proof, look at this photograph, taken at a German automatic restaurant in 1965, taken from a historical article in Der Spiegel about automat restaurants:

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The woman on the right has the archetypal German facial expression, which I call the 'suspicious grimace', or SG (misstrauische Grimasse in German). It's a look that says 'What the hell is he doing here? Why is he looking at me? Is he going to come up to me and fondle me or hit me or ask me for money? I wish he'd go away.' This is the default facial expression of all Germans over 30, especially middle-aged and older females. I see it at least 15-20 times on my 10-minute bike ride to work.

I could go out right now with a hidden camera to any German city and, within an hour, bring you at least 50 photographs of random strangers -- mostly older women -- with exactly this expression. In fact, I've often thought of doing just that, but you can get in trouble in Germany for using someone's image without their permission, so I haven't actually done this. Note that as with BRF, the SG is not necessarily a sign of bad temper. If you strike up a conversation with one of these people and defuse the initial assumption that all strangers are potential perverts or criminals, even the grumpiest-looking frump often proves to be quite pleasant.

What explains this national trait?  Is it genetic? Is it because most Germans are more fearful and insecure (pdf) than many other nationalities? Is it a lingering national memory of totalitarian government? Is is a curdled form of the remote, serious facial expression considered to convey personal dignity and reserve? Your guess may well be as good as mine -- we'll see in comments.

If you want to see what Swedes do when they notice strangers paying attention to them, follow the jump.

Continue reading "German Bitchy Resting Face: The Suspicious Grimace" »


The New Faces of Caligula, Vitellius, and Cato the Younger

The Ny Carlsberg Glyptothek is a museum primarily devoted to sculpture founded by a member of the Carlsberg beer dynasty. It has quite a comprehensive collection of Roman portrait busts. Here are a few of the more interesting ones.

First, here's a rare surviving bust of Caligula with a reconstruction of its original coloring:

2-Caligula with Original Coloring

I wonder if the resemblance to Joffrey Baratheon, the young psychopathic king on Game of Thrones, is accidental:

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And now to hands-down the least flattering portrait bust of a Roman Emperor you will ever see:

1-Copenhagen Portrait Bust of Vitellius

Behold Vitellius, the Homer Simpson of Roman Emperors. Fat, profligate and cruel, Vitellius was one of the ill-fated lot who ruled for a few months in AD 69, the 'Year of the Four Emperors.' Suetonius describes him as '[s]tained by every sort of baseness' and notes his other charms: 'He delighted in inflicting death and torture on anyone whatsoever and for any cause whatever.'

Finally, here's a bust that's probably of Cato the Younger:

3-Portrait Bust of Cato the Younger -- Copenhagen NCG

Now that's the face of pained patrician integrity. It's also the face of Christopher Walken:

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More Misery Made in Germany

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The Washington Post has a long piece about the despair that is engulfing Spain, where unemployment is now 26.3% and youth unemployment is a staggering 56.1%:

On a scorching July afternoon last year...Francisco Lema walked to the rear of his fourth-floor apartment, clutching a note from the city of Cordoba. The bank had foreclosed on his home months earlier, an act that in Spain still leaves underwater homeowners on the hook for any debt not recouped at auction. On top of that, Cordoba’s tax office had just sent the jobless bricklayer a letter demanding back taxes on his lost home. On the verge of being evicted again for being late with the rent, Lema stepped out onto his balcony, letter in hand, and jumped.

Once again, it bears noting that while some of this misery was an unavoidable consequence of the global economic crash, quite a bit was also caused by unnecessary, counter-productive, economically senseless austerity policies which leading German politicians and bankers continue to support. And that in the coming Parliamentary elections, German voters are likely to return those same politicians to power.