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European Kids Can Take Care of Themselves

There's a recent mini-trend in which Americans inspect European parenting habits with admiration. Pamela Druckerman has made a cottage industry of explaining no-nonsense French parenting habits. European children become adults, in short, by being treated increasingly like adults. They get to play and do silly things, but are expected early on to eat adult food, listen to adult conversations, practice adults virtue such as listening without interruption, showing some respect for their elders, and tolerating boredom. Sara Zaske notes the German approach

Contrary to stereotypes, most German parents I’ve met are the opposite of strict. They place a high value on independence and responsibility. Those parents at the park weren’t ignoring their children; they were trusting them. Berlin doesn’t need a “free range parenting” movement because free range is the norm.

Here are a few surprising things Berlin parents do:

Don’t push reading. Berlin’s kindergartens or “kitas” don’t emphasize academics. In fact, teachers and other parents discouraged me from teaching my children to read....

Encourage kids to play with fire. A note came home from school along with my excited second grader. They were doing a project on fire. Would I let her light candles and perform experiments with matches? Together we lit candles and burned things, safely. It was brilliant. Still, she was the only kid whose parent didn’t allow her to shoot off heavy duty fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Let children go almost everywhere alone. Most grade school kids walk without their parents to school and around their neighborhoods. Some even take the subway alone. German parents are concerned about safety, of course, but they usually focus on traffic, not abductions....

Take the kids outside everyday. According to a German saying “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.” The value of outside time is promoted in the schools, hence the “garten” in Kindergarten. It’s also obvious on Berlin’s numerous playgrounds. No matter how cold and grey it gets, and in Berlin it gets pretty cold, parents still bundle their kids up and take them to the park, or send them out on their own.

 

 

 


Europe, Land of the Free

Ask many American expats and they'll tell you that they feel more free living in Germany than in the States, the land of the free and home of the brave.

One of the many reasons: in America, your boss can require you to piss in a cup, test it for signs that you've ever used drugs. If the results are positive, the company can immediately fire you, without further explanation or any chance to appeal. They can require every employee, from IT consultant to file clerk, to take these tests -- even if their jobs don't implicate safety, they have never shown up to work impaired, and they have only used drugs in their free time. Companies can still do this, even when the employee has a medical marijuana prescription, and even in states where marijuana is now legal

Americans, those rugged, craggy, self-reliant individualists, meekly bent over, grabbed their ankles (so to speak) and consented to letting their bosses demand their bodily fluids from them at the pain of dismissal. Unions might have prevented this, but Americans let unions be destroyed.

In Germany, by contrast, routine drug tests are illegal. Companies can test workers who operate heavy equipment or do other risky jobs, but even then the employer generally has to prove individualized suspicion that a worker may be impaired on the job. Blanket drug testing of all workers without suspicion is blatantly unconstitutional and does not exist.


Aurochs With and Without Questionable Ideology

A translator opines on the difficulty of rendering Aurochs into English:

Walser was prophetic about 100% Germanness. A good decade after his 1917 story, German scientists—Heinz Heck in Munich and his brother, Lutz Heck, in Berlin—started a program to breed back the massive primordial beasts, extinct since 1627. The result was Heck cattle, misleadingly announced to the world by the publicity-savvy brothers as “back-bred aurochs.”

Although the research started in the 1920s, and the first bull said to resemble an aurochs was born in 1932, the whole effort has been remembered, not entirely unjustly, as a project of “Nazi science,” madly breeding a genetically pure super-race. Lutz joined the Party early. Time magazine says “the Nazi government funded an attempt to breed them back as part of its propaganda effort.” But one English journalist, Simon de Bruxelles, seems to have cornered the market on magnificent aurochs headlines, from “A shaggy cow story: how a Nazi experiment brought extinct aurochs to Devon”—

Through the misty early morning sunlight dappling a Devon field a vision from the primeval past lumbers into view. The beast with its shaggy, russet-tinged coat, powerful shoulders and lyre-shaped horns could have stepped straight from a prehistoric cave painting. The vision is … Bos primigenius, the aurochs, fearsome wild ancestor of all today’s domestic cattle, immortalised tens of thousands of years ago in ochre and charcoal in the Great Hall of the Bulls at Lascaux in southwest France…

—to, just last month, the nearly incomparable “Peace in our time after slaughter of Nazi super-cows:”

Britain’s only herd of “Nazi” cattle has been turned into sausages because they were so dangerous that no one could go near them…. The cattle, which have long horns as sharp as stilettos, were an attempt by Nazi scientists to re-create the prehistoric aurochs, a breed of giant wild cattle regarded with awe by Julius Caesar….

Atavistic Northern European grandiosity about aurochs lives on. There’s a new effort to resurrect the ancient breed, the Tauros Project, led by Dutchman Henri Kerkdijk, and an even newer offshoot from 2013: the Uruz Project, complete with a TED event. They want to help “rewild” Holland by “de-extincting” the animals that inhabited earlier ecosystems. It all sounds pretty plausible: as this useful summary explains, scientists sequence aurochs DNA from old bones found in Britain, then go looking for breeds of cattle alive today with segments of aurochs DNA still intact. (“Tauros,” initially called “TaurOs” ≈ Taurus + Os, “Bull + Bone.”) With the sequencing of the complete aurochs genome, celebrated on the Breeding-Back Blog last year, the double-helix dictionary of the aurochs is complete. A few more generations of selective breeding and there we’ll have it.

The aurochs are not being “recreated,” as an online commenter puts it: “They are just being ‘rejoined.’ The genes are still there, spread through the population of cows.” They are being spelled.

Here's a picture I took of an modern quasi-Aurochs recently in the Neandertal Ice-Age Animal Reserve (g), where they are no longer being bred for their chthonic-Aryan qualities. Presumably.

Aurochs with Medium Length Horns


Cognitive Biases and Anti-Vaxxers

Since an 18-month old unvaccinated child in Berlin just died of measles, this new SciShow clip seems timely. The point is that parents who don't get their kids pricked aren't necessarily 'stupid', they're just letting their thinking be guided by cognitive biases, the eternal insidious enemies of rational thought. Here, the culprits are negativity bias, confirmation bias, and omission bias, all of which are crisply and engagingly defined in the video:


Adalbert Stifter's American Fan

Michael Lipkin discovers Adalbert Stifter:

I found Stifter’s novella collection Bunte Steine (Many-Colored Stones) in the deathly quiet German-language stacks of Bartle Library. Over the course of several taciturn afternoons, I waded through the idyllic landscapes and kitschy interiors that make up the bulk of the book. Typical of the book’s style, the third story, “Tourmaline,” opens in a Viennese townhouse belonging to an idle man of culture. Taking unhurried note of the paintings on the wall, the grand piano, the writing desk, the porcelain figurines, Stifter leads the reader through the house until he reaches the bedroom of the man’s wife, where a gilded angel wafts a white curtain over their baby, sleeping in her crib. The terrors of the outer world have been shut out; the pendulum of history has stopped midswing. The clock in this room, writes Stifter, never strikes the hour. Its ticking is so faint as to be scarcely heard....

Youth and childhood are the focus of much of Stifter's work, whose naïve style runs sharply counter to the blasé worldliness of European realism. Unlike Dickens or Flaubert, Stifter describes the world as though he is speaking to a child, not yet ensnared in the web of assumed half-truths and skewed generalizations that constitute adult common sense. By seeing things as though for the first time, Stifter hoped—in vain—to save them from the forces of industrialization and speculative capitalism, forces that liquidate the world’s very materiality. And, to be sure, there is a distinctly pedophilic dimension to Stifter’s obsession with the crystalline purity of childhood and the holy terror with which he avoids any mention of sex. Stifter’s own history with children was a tragic one. He and his wife, Amalia Mohaupt, could not conceive. Their first adopted daughter died young; the second, Amalia’s niece Juliana, ran away from home and threw herself into the Danube.

What Stifter’s naïveté offered me, at the age of nineteen or twenty, was a respite from my increasingly suffocating desires. Living in Binghamton made me vertiginously aware of my own desire to live “well”—which is to say, in New York City, at an extremely high level of material comfort. I found it particularly difficult that spring to read, among other things, Flaubert’s Sentimental Education, which depicts artistic aspiration and idealism as either the resentment of the lower middle-class or, alternatively, the idle narcissism of the rich. In Stifter’s work, by contrast, money is present only in its total absence. From my own incompetence managing even very small amounts of money, I had a strong suspicion that this elision stemmed from deep personal shame. Reduced to poverty by the sudden death of his wealthy father, Stifter was never at ease in the salons of Vienna. It wasn’t until the decade before his suicide that, as a reward for a series of newspaper articles denouncing the Vienna uprisings in 1848, Stifter was appointed superintendent of schools in Upper Austria, allowing him to pay back the substantial debts he owed to various creditors and family members.

 The ideal life, as Stifter saw it, is the one depicted in his novel, Der Nachsommer [Indian Summer], which recounts the friendship between the young protagonist, Heinrich, and the Baron von Risach. Risach, an older man, has withdrawn into a secluded manor, where he has devoted himself to botany, restoring furniture, reading books, looking at paintings and, most importantly, eating (a recurring subject in the diaries of Stifter, who was morbidly obese). No mention of money is ever made. In this novel so boring that, even with the best will, I couldn’t kick myself past page sixty, Stifter shows us how the world might look if the intractable conflicts between human beings, society, and nature could somehow be resolved. In an age that accelerated every aspect of life to breakneck speed, Stifter believed that only literature—slow, deliberate, and loving—could broker the truce.

Race Does Not Exist in France, Says the Front National

In a long piece on the National Front, Susan Dominus interviews the mayor of Fréjus, National Front politician David Rachline: 

I recalled a conversation we had earlier in the day in his office, when I asked him to describe the racial makeup of his high school. “I never count French people based on their origins or their religion,” he said. “I always just consider French people as French.”

It was strange to hear this liberal sensitivity from Rachline, of all people. He advocates the death penalty for rapists.

But Rachline’s deflection on the question of race was not at all surprising to Vincent Pons, a French academic I met in Paris the next day. Pons, a campaign expert — a company he founded provides technological support to candidates — reminded me how difficult it is to map basic American assumptions onto the French political landscape. “In France, officially, we don’t have race,” he said; it is illegal, for example, to ask about race or religion on any government form. “We just pretend that race does not matter, but it’s this crazy thing — of course it matters,” he said. “There are no statistics, so you can make no policy around it. But even if you tried, you’d be accused of making too much of race.”

Citizenship in France is supposed to confer complete equality, but the National Front, and many French all over the political spectrum, believe that privilege comes with the expectation of strict assimilation — no head scarves in school, no race-based interest groups, no questioning of the baby Jesus in the galette, no balking at the school’s lunch of roast pork. When it comes to laïcité, the differences between those on the left, the right and the far right are sometimes most apparent in the varying hostility with which they deliver remarkably similar views.

I'm pretty sure this see-no-evil policy on race and religion in France is on its last legs. Just about every non-Frenchman recognizes the absurdity of pretending  race and religion don't matter, and a growing number of the French are seeing it too. The politics are interesting, though: the National Front seizes upon the irrelevance of race to avoid accusations of racism, and the left believes ignoring race serves its interests as well, especially since members of ethnic and religious minorities are almost certainly overrepresented among prison inmates and welfare recipients. But the other side of the coin is that without reliable statistics, there is no way to reliably quantify the level of racial discrimination in French society. So far the left seems to have concluded that framing discussions in non-ethnic terms brings more benefits than drawbacks, but I wonder how long that will hold out, especially as the French left watches the Front National gleefully seize on the see-no-evil policy.


Should Europe Open its Borders?

The UN Special Rapporteur says Europe should open its borders:

Europe needs to embrace the migrants appearing on its shores and create a meaningful refugee settlement program that will put human smugglers out of business and save countless lives, says the United Nation’s special rapporteur on human rights of migrants.

European Union attempts to “seal” borders will continue to fail and more migrants will lose their lives at sea if fleeing refugees aren’t given the right to settle where they want, François Crépeau said on Thursday from New York.

“I don’t see any other solution for Europe,” he said. “They need to open the borders.” 

François Crépeau is a law professor at McGill University. I'm sure he's a decent fellow, but his statement is the kind of thing that gives legal academics a reputation for being out of touch with reality. There are about a billion Africans, and hundreds of millions of people living in war-torn Middle Eastern countries, within a 7-hour plane ride of Europe. It's hard to put a precise number on how many of them are ready and willing to migrate to open-border Europe, but I'd say 70 million is hardly farfetched. And let's not forget that they aren't interested in migrating to Romania or Poland, their goal is prosperous, stable Northern Europe. And once they come and glimpse living standards light-years ahead of those in their own countries, they will never go back. Of course they will pine for their ancestral homelands, cook their traditional dishes, and deplore their host countries' formal manners and icy climates. But stay they will, and why shouldn't they?
 
If Crépeau thinks Northern Europe is ready, willing, and able to accommodate millions more poor immigrants, he is gibberingly insane mistaken. We have already seen the rapid rise of anti-immigrant parties all over Northern Europe except Germany (but watch this space). And despite the soothing sweet nothings whispered into your ear by certain commentators, these anti-immigrant parties are actually driven by anti-immigrant sentiment. When they say they don't like immigrants, it's not code for anything. They really don't like immigrants. Any European government that proposed a plan to bring a million new poorly-educated, unskilled immigrants into its borders would be ejected faster than you can say 'Présidente Le Pen.' New parties would come along that would make Europe's current anti-immigrant right look like a convention of transgendered social workers.
 
How exactly would Crépeau proposed to prevent this? I imagine he wants European leaders to 'educate' their voters on the need to open Europe's borders to millions of immigrants. This is the time-honored tactic known in German as Vermittlung (education or explanation). Policies which European elites favor but their voters reject -- and there are a surprising number of these -- cannot fail, they can only be failed. The fact that voters reject it is not proof that voters reject it, but that they misunderstand how wonderful / necessary it is because government officials and opinion leaders have not yet found the magic formula to convince them. While leaders search for the formula -- a process which may take decades and often fails -- elites do what they wanted to anyway.
 
In the case of immigration, there is no magic formula. Crépeau really should know this. Given a choice between opening Europe's borders and ruthlessly ratcheting up border controls, European leaders will mouth the appropriate platitutes about human rights and enhancing opportunity, then send out the warships to mine the Mediterranean. And in the cold hard light of political reality and modern statecraft, there is no reason they shouldn't, since that's what their voters prefer. European immigration policies certainly need re-thinking, but policy proposals that ignore reality are hardly worth taking seriously.

Bad Kaarma: 70 Years for Montana Burglar Trapper

Remember Markus Kaarma, the Missoula, Montana man who waited outside his garage for someone to come burglarize it, then fired his shotgun into the garage, killing German exchange student Diren Dede?

Well, as you might expect in America's gun-obsessed paranoid fanatic culture of cowboy-style vigilantism, he claimed self-defense under the frontier-style 'Castle Doctrine' and acquitted. He is now on a celebrity speaking tour among American gun-rights groups.

Sorry, having a bit of fun there. You didn't think I could pass up a chance to poke a little harmless fun at German Besserwisserei, did you? Kaarma was convicted of murder by a jury and sentenced by a judge to seventy (70) years in prison:

He dismissed Kaarma's claim he suffered from "anxiety" and an "anti-social disorder," saying it "doesn't excuse the anguish you have caused."

"You pose too great a risk to society to be anywhere else but the Montana State Prison. Good luck to you, son," McLean said.

"I'm sorry my actions caused the death of Mr. Dede," Kaarma told the judge before learning his fate.

He will be eligible for parole in 20 years. As a law-talking guy, I feel compelled to use this as a teaching moment. Right after the shooting, both Kaarma and his wife, apparently believing Montana law gave them the right to do what they did, spoke in detail. They described how they had been burglarized many times, got fed up, and set a 'trap' by leaving their garage door open and waiting until a motion sensor told them someone was inside. Then Kaarma fired.

When a lawyer reads about people talking so freely about their involvement in a homicide, our reaction is similar to a doctor seeing a pregnant woman down a liter of vodka. If you're ever arrested -- and I hope  some of my readers live life loud enough to risk this -- do not say a word to anyone, no matter what, until you have spoken to a lawyer. This rule applies to everyone, everywhere, no exceptions. It's the equivalent of a fundamental physical constant, one of the basic building blocks of the legal universe. By chatting so volubly about his motives and actions, Kaarma didn't just tie his lawyers' hands, he practically chopped them off.

FWIW, I should add that this penalty, like most American criminal penalties, strikes me as Draconian. It is certainly longer than he would have gotten for a comparable crime in most European countries, including Germany. 


Richard J. Evans on the Use and Abuse of the Third Reich

Richard J. Evans has an interesting essay in the Guardian on changing perspectives on Germany history among historians and the public at large:

Nazism, the society it created, the world of the Third Reich and the people who lived through it all appear as a kind of moral drama where the issues are laid out starkly before us with a clarity we are no longer able to achieve in the morally complex, confusing and compromised world we live in today. It has become commonplace to classify the inhabitants of Nazi Germany and the countries it conquered and occupied as “perpetrators”, “victims” or “bystanders”, as if the Third Reich was one single, gigantic act of criminality to be retrospectively judged as if history were a court of law. Occasionally we might nod in the direction of the few who resisted, but their numbers shrink into insignificance in comparison with those considered guilty or innocent, the actively criminal and their passive victims.

Yet we have not always approached the history of nazism in this way. Indeed, the predominantly moral perspective from which Hitler and the Germany he created are currently viewed is a relatively recent one. For a long time after the end of the war he launched in September 1939 and lost five and a half years later, Hitler was a comparatively neglected topic for historians, as were the Nazi movement and the Nazi state. Evidence was piled up for the Nuremberg trials, but the focus was very much on “war crimes”, the years before 1939 were more or less out of the visual range of the prosecutors, and the death camps at Treblinka, Auschwitz and elsewhere were not the central point of the investigation.

...Sweeping generalisations about “the Germans” are out of place both in serious historical scholarship and in an informed public memory. Wartime propaganda damned all Germans past and present for the rise of nazism and the murderous triumph of antisemitism, but nazism, it should not be forgotten, was a tiny fringe movement until the very end of the 1920s. The regime had to work hard to get popular support once it came to power in 1933, and violence played as important a role as propaganda. Prominent Jews in the Weimar Republic, notably the foreign minister Walther Rathenau, were not despised, marginal figures but enjoyed huge popular support and admiration, expressed in the national outpouring of grief on his death.

It has become increasingly difficult to sustain the view, rooted in wartime allied propaganda and given more sophisticated expression in the work of the dominant school of left-liberal West Germans of the 1970s to 1990s, that the roots of nazism lay deep in the German past. Often seen against the long-term background of modern German history since the era of Bismarck’s unification of the country in the 19th century, the Third Reich is now increasingly also viewed in a broader international, even global context, as part of the age of imperialism, its drive for domination building on a broader tradition of the German quest for empire.