One of These Things is Not Like the Others

Over at the Washington Post, an American and a Swedish professor team up to write an op-ed entitled "No, Sweden isn't Hiding and Immigrant Crime Problem, This is the Real Story". They run through the litany of excuses and explanations (expanded definition of rape laws, a culture which encourages crime reporting) without providing any relevant citations or links which I can see.

But the most remarkable claim is that Sweden provides its citizens with much more information about crime than American does because of Sweden's ideal open-information laws, which go back to the 18th century. Let me provide a few quotations -- not in the original order:

[T]he government of Sweden is a model in making data accessible and actions transparent...

Sweden’s information landscape [is] a model for other countries to emulate...

Citizens in Sweden can use this information to hold their government accountable...

...Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers.

Can you tell which of the four statements is not like the others? 


'Bei' und 'Noch' in Eastern Wisconsin

DeutscheHauser-annot-2
Source: Milwaukee's German Newspapers [http://milwaukeesgermannewspapers.blogspot.de/]

In my free time I've been dipping into the Netflix documentary 'Making a Murderer', which is about the trial of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin junkyard owner, for the murder of a young woman. It's pretty damned interesting, if you have a weakness for American courtroom drama.

One of the things that struck me is how German the American Midwest still is. Americans of German descent, like me, still form the largest ethnic group in America, with some 46 million people. Huge numbers of them settled in the Midwest of the United States during the 19th and early 20th centuries, and in fact German was spoken as a native language by millions of people in places like Indiana, Wisconsin, and Illinois until well into the 20th century.

These days, German-Americans get no attention. German-Americans integrated completely into American society, keeping only their last names and perhaps a few scattered bits of tradition. And in fact, many changed those names to try to appear more Anglo-Saxon. Not only because some of the names were long and hard to pronounce, but also because fighting Germany in two world wars didn't do much for German ethnic pride. As I was growing up, the fact that my family was of German ancestry played almost no role at all, and the same was true for most everyone of German extraction I knew. After World War II, the notion of expressing much interest in your German heritage was seen as suspect in cosmopolitan circles.

So I was interested to see just how German the state of Wisconsin (largest city: Milwaukee) still remains.

Banner-ArbeiterZeitung(2)

The prosecutors and cops in the Steven Avery documentary have names like Gahn, Kratz, Wiegert and even Fassbender (!). The victim's name was Teresa Halbach. Avery's defense lawyers are named Strang and Buting. But what was even more interesting is the recordings and testimony of various witnesses. These were mostly country folk without much education, using nonstandard grammar: he ain't gonna win, don't none of this matter, etc.

But one thing both the educated and uneducated people had in common was using the English word 'by' just like the German word bei. Bei, in German, is like chez in French: it's an all-purpose proximity adverb meaning at someone's house, next to someone or something, near someone or something, the company you work at (I work bei Siemens), etc. English uses different phrases for all of these things: I'm going to John's house, I'm standing next to John, I work at Exxon.

But the people being interviewed for this documentary -- and not just the ones with German names -- used by in the German sense! I was by him (meaning at his house) the whole afternoon, I went up and sat on the stairs by (next to) Brendan, etc. They also used 'yet' in the German sense: instead of saying "she was still alive", they'd say "she was alive yet", just the way a German would use the word noch. This has nothing at all to do with accent, all of these people spoke perfectly normal Midwestern, with its slightly nasal vowels.

Scholars are pretty familiar with these aspects of Midwestern dialect, but I wonder how many of the Weicherts in Wisconsin and Monheims in Minnesota realize that their German heritage pops up in the way they speak every day?


Kevin Drum Sees a Glimmer of Light on Sweden, Crime, and Immigrants

Donald Trump seemed to suggest that some terrorist incident happened in Sweden a few days ago. For this he was justly mocked. Then it turned out he was merely commenting on a news report he had seen on Fox about crime in Sweden in general. This is the report he was referring to: 

As with most Fox reporting, this is a mixture of exaggeration, anecdote, and legitimate information. Like many reports you'll see anywhere, for that matter. American liberals have jumped quickly to Sweden's defense. But as Kevin Drum points out, some of the defenses are bogus:

Donald Trump at his pep rally yesterday on immigration:

You look at what's happening in Germany, you look at what's happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this. Sweden. They took in large numbers. They're having problems like they never thought possible.

Nothing happened in Sweden last night, which has prompted lots of IKEA and ABBA joke memes. However, Zack Beauchamp thinks Trump was probably referring not to something that happened recently, but to the alleged "rape epidemic" in Sweden ever since they started taking in lots of Middle Eastern immigrants. This is apparently a staple of the Breitbart-o-sphere. Unfortunately, Beauchamp then says this:

The problem, though, is that this “rape epidemic” is as fake as the Bowling Green Massacre.

Canadian reporter Doug Saunders rigorously investigated the narrative, and concluded that it “falls apart as soon as you speak to anyone knowledgeable in Sweden.” Official Swedish statistics do indeed show a high rate of rape, but that’s because Swedish law has an extremely expansive definition of what qualifies as rape under the law.

....These panics about immigration, instead, reflect a long history of sexual panics in the West about non-white immigrants. Etc.

Whenever I see writing that carefully avoids providing comparative statistics, my BS detector goes off. Sure enough, Saunders didn't "rigorously" do anything. He linked to an old report that tallies crime rates for the years 1997-2001—which is all but useless in 20171—and then glided quickly past his eventual acknowledgment that the foreign-born have "a higher rate of criminal charges than the native-born." If you're interested, here's the actual data from the report (tables 3 and 6 in the appendix):

These are very big differences. Now, Saunders also links to a study which suggests that "half to three-quarters" of the difference can be accounted for by socioeconomic status. Maybe so. But crime is crime. If you're the victim of assault from a Syrian refugee, you don't really care if it happened because he's Syrian or because he's poorer than average.

There's plenty more to legitimately say about this. If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous. Other statistics suggest that the children of the foreign-born have much lower crime rates than their parents. And as Beauchamp says, "rape" in Sweden is defined pretty broadly.

Still, if we bring up this subject at all, we have to present the statistics fairly. In the US, immigrants seem to commit crimes at lower rates than native-born Americans. But Sweden is a different country, and the statistics suggest that foreign-born immigrants do indeed commit crimes there in much larger numbers than native Swedes.

UPDATE: I don't know just how interested everyone is in the minutiae of Swedish crime, but here's the crime rate over the past decade:

Some are up, some are down, but the overall trend appears fairly flat despite the large rise in immigrants over this period. On the other hand, preliminary figuresshow that crime against persons was up 7 percent in 2016, including a 13 percent increase in reported rapes and a 14 percent increase in child abuse.

1Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don't know why Sweden hasn't done anything more recent.

A few observations:

  1. "These are very big differences."
  2. "If poverty really is a causal factor, maybe it means Sweden needs to be more generous." Sweden already provides some of the most generous social welfare benefits in the entire world, including to asylum-seekers.
  3. "And as Beauchamp says, 'rape' in Sweden is defined pretty broadly." No, it's not
    "I think it is a bit of a myth that the Sexual Crimes Act is so much tougher than in most other countries. The truth is that it is not that different,” Mårten Schultz tells IPS.
    In 2005, the definition of rape in the Swedish Sexual Crimes Act was broadened to include, for instance, having sex with someone who is asleep, or someone who could be considered to be in a “helpless state”. This applies to situations when someone would not be capable of saying “no”. A typical situation where the law could be applied is if someone who is drunk at a party falls asleep only to wake up and realize that someone is having sex with them.
    That would constitute rape according to the 2005 law, and not “sexual abuse”, which was the case before the law was amended. In this respect the new law did not criminalize behaviour that previously had been legal, but rather broadened the definition of what constitutes rape to include a larger number of sexual crimes." 

     

  4. The second graph in Drum's post shows steady crime rates. As I've pointed out before, this is what you would expect in a country with an aging native population committing fewer crimes, mixed in with a burgeoning immigrant population committing far more crimes per capita than native residents. If Sweden's immigration policies were different, crime rates would be on a steady downward trajectory.
  5. "Apparently this is the most recent report that examines crime rates by area of origin. I don't know why Sweden hasn't done anything more recent." I do.

And now, the tiresome but necessary caveats.

1. Does this mean all immigrants are criminals? No, the majority of immigrants in Sweden have never and will never commit a violent crime. The statistics show there is a higher crime rate among immigrants. That is all. If the rate of sexual assaults per year is 2 per 100,000 for native Swedes, but 20 per 100,000 for immigrants, this means it is indeed 100% accurate to say that the rate of sexual assault by immigrants is 10 times as high as that of Swedes. However, it is still extremely rare even among immigrants.

2. Does all of this mean that Sweden is collapsing? No, Sweden has imported a raft of complex social problems, but is not going to drown in a sea of flames.

3. Do I think Sweden should stop allowing immigration? No, I think Sweden should stop allowing immigration of too many of the wrong kind of people. Many fewer semi-literate unaccompanied young males with no job skills. Many more women and children refugees (for humanitarian reasons) and well-educated people (for reasons of enlightened self-interest. It's really not that hard, it's how most countries manage things.


-itzes, -ows, -dorfs- and -hausens

Moritz Stefaner, at truth and beauty, put together a list of the geographical frequency of place names in Germany. The whole map can be seen here. A few selections:

Place names Unspecified

I get that -ow and -itz are going to be mostly in the East, since they are usually transliterations of Polish words. But it would be interesting to know why certain other kinds of place names appear in such geographically distinct patterns.


Danisch v. MDR: Clash of the Titans

Godgam
MDR (right) has the full power of broadcasting behind it (see tower). Danisch, on the left, is armed only with time, a fast Internet connection, and a ZFG attitude.

One of the most amusing and distinctive voices on the German blogging scene is Hadmut Danisch. He studied computer science for years but didn't get a doctorate. He is convinced that this was because of a conspiracy against him. He has documented this conspiracy in a book called Adele and the Bat (Adele und die Fledermaus) (g) which you can download from his website.

The book is 797 pages long.

That should probably give you an idea of the fanatical dedication Danisch brings to his projects. Danisch also doesn't like gender ideology, mass immigration, university bureaucracy, and a few other things, and has written copiously about them.

Now, I've never met Danisch and I don't read his blog regularly. I do check in once in a while, and am never disappointed. You could call Danisch a bit of a crank because of his obsessive tendencies. But he's a highly intelligent, dedicated crank, and unlike most cranks has a sense of humor.

Which makes his latest feud, with the German MDR public broadcasting agency, so fun to read. The background, in a nutshell: The right-wing AfD political party hosted an event at the University of Magdeburg. Students there decide to try to prevent this exercise of freedom of expression by blocking the entrance to the lecture hall, interrupting the presentation and even hurling fireworks. The protest degenerated into a fistfight (g). The AfD speakers had to be escorted from the room under police protection, which they termed a complete success for their cause, as it surely was. As we can see, the odious trend of no-platforming has reached Germany.

Danisch used large excerpts of several MDR articles to comment on these events, and shortly thereafter received a warning letter from a lawyer claiming to represent MDR and the author of one of the pieces. The letter accused Danisch of all manner of sins, including using copyrighted material without permission and painting a false picture of MDR's reporting of these events. The letter demanded that he sign and return a cease and desist agreement within days.

This sort of thing is depressingly typical in Germany, especially against bloggers who have no powerful institutional backing. German law provides outstanding protections for freedom of speech on paper, but in reality there are all sorts of doctrines, from the law of insult to an over-broad interpretation of intellectual property, which can be used to intimidate critics whose statements are well within the bounds of freedom of speech. Many bloggers, confronted with a long letter from a lawyer citing dozens of statutes and legal decisions and threatening € 250,000 fine, will sheepishly delete the blog entry and sign the cease-and-desist order.

As you might have guessed, Danisch is not that kind of blogger. Instead, he puts on his lawyer hat (g) and mounts a thorough critique of the warning letter, invoking everything from legal precedents on the fairness of short deadlines to the amenability of the plaintiff to service to the lawyers' ethical creed to the latest interpretations of copyright and free speech laws. There's even a long and instructive disquisition on whether someone who gets a warning letter from a lawyer is allowed to post it online. His overall point is that the MDR and its reporters have zero legal grounds to object to his free-speech commentary, and that their lawyer is simply trying to intimidate and confuse a critic with bogus legal arguments: "They wanted to neutralize (kaltstellen) me."

I'm not going to tell you to read the whole thing, because it goes on for a loooooong while, and even I haven't had the time to read it all. But even a brief overview leaves you with the impression that MDR really screwed with the wrong guy here. I'll be waiting for the next stage in what promises to be an epic battle.


Humorless Queue-Bargers

American writer Rebecca Schuman on her book about Germany, Schadenfreude, A Love Story:

Kafka is the muse of the book. Does his work encapsulate the German character—even though, as you are reminded again and again in the book, he wasn’t German at all? Do Germans find it annoying that the German-language writer who’s most widely read in English wasn’t even German?

They find it SO annoying, and I actually think that particular arc—someone saying, “Oh, you’re German—I love Kafka!” and then the German getting an opportunity to be pedantic (Ektually, zet’s not right is the national phrase of Germany, and I say that with love)—is the single most German thing in the world.

His work, though, definitely encapsulates the Austrian character (Prague, where he lived, was nominally Austrian for a lot of his life) with its endless bureaucratic entanglements. When I lived in Vienna for a year—a chapter, by the way, that got cut from the book—I had such a hard time getting registered for the university. I had to wait in line for 5 hours, and then when I finally got to the front, the worker was just like, Oh, I forgot to move you from one column to the other one, like it was the most normal thing in the world to require someone to come in for five hours to ask for a minor clerical task they didn’t know needed to be done. I got back to my desk at the research institute where I was doing my Fulbright and I said to my Austrian colleague: “I just realized that Kafka wrote nonfiction.”...

Do you have German friends who’ve read the book? What do they think of your portrait of their culture?

Just one so far, and he thinks it’s spot-on—but he’s very Americanized and has a great sense of humor about his mother culture. One of the most endearing things about Germans is that they neither understand nor enjoy exaggeration as humor. Given that hyperbole is my primary form of communication, I imagine many Germans will disagree with their culture’s portrayal. However, the second-most-endearing thing about Germans is that a sign of true friendship with a German is that you stay up all night screaming at each other in disagreement but still remain best friends. Germans don’t really believe in small talk and they don’t think that “certain subjects” are to be avoided in polite company, and they are pedantic as hell, but they don’t get offended easily. It’s one of the best things about them.

Is there a humor mechanism that replaces comic exaggeration, for the Germans? Or are they as humorless as some stereotypes suggest? (I grew up in England where the trope about Germans is that they always barge to the front of queues. I think this mostly speaks to the profound respect the English have for the queuing process.)

Oh, the queue thing is true. When I lived in Berlin I went to a Blur show in the dead of winter and had to check my coat. (It was a great show, by the way; Damon Albarn did an A-level in German and addressed the audience in German!) Afterward, I spent no less than 45 minutes in an obscene grinding mosh pit of German bodies, when a proper queue would have taken 5 tops. For a culture that prizes order so much that the idiom for “everything OK?” is Alles in Ordnung? the queuing habits are inexplicable.

As far as the humor thing—well, the stereotypes are true and they aren’t. The two most popular types of humor in German are slapstick and just bone-dry sarcasm. A great German “joke” is to say the meanest and most tragic thing possible and then follow it with a slight grimace. (Somehow it works.) Kafka, for example, was absolutely, rip-roaringly hilarious, obviously in a very dark way. Most people don’t know this about him, and early translations of his work (most of which are canonical) don’t play this up at all.

Might be a fun, light read. 


Trump is no Hitler. He's Much Dumber.

The English historian Richard Evans is one of the foremost experts on Germany history writing in English. In fact, he wrote by far the most thorough and important book on the death penalty in Germany. In English. It had to be translated into German. You would think a German might have been interested enough in the subject, but no, an Englishman had to step in.

Evans is also an expert on the Third Reich, having written many readable books on the subject. Isaac Chotiner of Slate interviews him about Trump. Chotiner starts out with the important note that "America is not Germany, and this is not 1938, let alone 1933." He then asks Evans for his observations about the commonalities between Trump and authoritarian leaders:

Isaac Chotiner: What do you make of Trump as a leader in these early days, and how would you compare it to the way other authoritarians have started their time in power?

Richard Evans: When you look at President Trump’s statements, I’m afraid you do see echoes, and they are very alarming. For example, the stigmatization of minorities. First of all, the Trump White House failed to mention the Jews in its statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day. And that is very worrying because the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews was not just a genocide; it had a special quality, because Hitler and the Nazis regarded the Jews as an existential threat to Germany. They used hyperbolic and exaggerated language about Jews. If the Jews were not killed, the Nazis said, they would destroy Germany completely, whereas other groups that the Nazis stigmatized, discriminated against, and indeed murdered, like the handicapped, were only to be gotten out of the way. If you look at the language the Trump team has been using about Islamic extremist jihadis, it is exactly the same: They are an existential threat to America. They will defeat, dominate, and destroy America. That is a very extreme kind of language and a very disturbing echo.

Trump has also been attacking the judiciary. What is the importance of that, and what echoes do you see there?

I think if you look at Hitler’s seizure of power, which happened between his appointment in January 1933 and the summer of 1933, it was achieved by two means. One is by legal, or pseudolegal, means, and there he had to rush legislation past the national parliament in order to give him supreme power to make laws. These laws included, in the end, setting up a one-party state, and also closing down oppositional newspapers, and so on. And of course Hitler’s propaganda chief, Joseph Goebbels, was an inveterate and incorrigible liar. He was an inventor of news. And he also was very strongly attacked in the liberal and left-wing press and threatened to shut it down, and in the end he actually did. Or he took it over.

The other one is violence on the streets. That is a particular characteristic of fascism and Nazism, after World War I had really got people used to violence and military bands roaming the street beating up their opponents. That is obviously not happening in America today. I think anyone who wanted to destroy America, American democracy, and American institutions is going to use the power of the state to do so. They won’t have their own private armies. That, I think, is a difference.

Again, if you look at the courts, that’s one of the most interesting aspects of what Trump has been doing. He clearly has a contempt for the courts and the law, which echoes that of the Nazis very, very clearly. The courts and the law enforcement agencies did stand up to Hitler. A very famous example is, later in 1933, the trial of the people who Hitler had alleged had burned down the Reichstag earlier in the year. The courts acquitted all but one of them, thus completely undermining Hitler’s claim that the communists started the fire. Hitler then bypassed the courts. He set up a parallel system of justice, the so-called special courts and the people’s courts. In the end, the courts knuckled under, but it was quite a fight.

Although I was surprised, reading your books, at how some courts kept independence longer than I would have thought.

Yes, some in the judiciary were conservative, but they did have respect for the law and institutions of the law, and for the constitution as well.

There has been a debate in the press and among progressives about whether, crudely speaking, the guy is a buffoon and crazy and has no plan, or whether he is canny and smart and has a real plan for authoritarianism. Was this debate similar to ones about Hitler, once he came to power?

Absolutely, yes. Many people thought that Hitler was a buffoon. He was a joke. He wasn’t taken seriously. Alternatively, they thought that he could calm down when he assumed the responsibilities of office. That was a very common belief about Hitler. There is a major difference in the sense that Trump speaks off the cuff in a very unguarded, spontaneous way. I think that’s true with his tweets. Hitler very carefully prepared all his speeches. They might seem spontaneous, but they were carefully prepared....

Was Hitler capable of talking about something other than himself for an extended period of time?

Yeah, he went on about the Jews.

I know you are being slightly sarcastic, but I do think that is an interesting difference.

You drew a comparison between Islam now and the Jews. Trump himself could not sit and talk about Islam for more than 30 seconds. He can bring it up in a speech, and then he will start talking about himself.

Yeah. But Hitler did bring everything back to himself. His standard speech begins with his own partly fabricated life story, where he basically was poor, and he was different. He got his identity in the war fighting for Germany. Germany instead collapsed. He rebuilt Germany and so on. It does go back to himself. When you look at his rambling and incoherent table talk, which was recorded during the war at lunchtime and dinner times by his entourage or written down, there again it’s quite narcissistic. He’s constantly talking about himself, or he’s laying down the law about all kinds of subjects of one sort or another. He’s got quite an obsessive personality, as I say. He talked in his public utterances a lot about the Jews and how he thought they’d destroyed Germany and they were going to destroy the world unless he organized Germany against it. But I would say he did have quite a lengthy attention span. He could concentrate and focus on things.

Yeah, OK. That’s one difference. That’s good.

He could certainly concentrate.

Or, to put it another way: Trump is no Hitler. He's much dumber.

I think Evans has it about right. As I've written before, America's political institutions are quite strong enough to resist any attempts to undermine them, even if Trump were to attempt this. And despite much hyperventilating commentary, he's not. Every President has blasted the press and uncooperative judges at one time or another -- the only difference is that Trump does so publicly, in crude and childish terms. I am fairly confident Trump will crash and burn before his first four years are up, and the consequences might be sobering indeed. But he's not going to turn America into a police state.


Where Trump and Europeans Agree

You wouldn't know it from watching Tagesschau or reading the German mainstream press, but there's at least one thing Europeans and Trump agree on:

A majority of Europeans want a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, a poll has revealed.

An average of 55 per cent of people across the 10 European countries surveyed wanted to stop all future immigration from mainly Muslim countries.

The Chatham House study, conducted before US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigration to the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries, found majorities in all but two of the ten states opposed immigration from mainly Muslim countries.

Only 20 per cent disagreed, while 25 per cent said they did not know.

A ban was supported by 71 per cent of people in Poland, 65 per cent in Austria, 53 per cent in Germany and 51 per cent in Italy.

In the UK, 47 per cent supported a ban.

In no country did more than 32 per cent disagree with a ban.

I wonder how much coverage this poll will get in Germany. My prediction: almost none, except in "certain" press outlets (you know who you are).