4% of Americans Tell Pollsters They Have Been Decapitated

From an NPR interview with a writer who worked on a game show in which contestants tried to guess how Americans answered various questions: 

SMITH: So when you say you're a writer for a game show, what does that mean?

WILK: Great question. Nobody knows. I have no idea.

SMITH: (Laughter).

ROMER: David gets to work cooking up questions to give the polling company. The polling company does its job.

WILK: And it was the only question that we ever wrote where we ever got a response from them saying, is this actually what you want us to be polling? And we said, yes. And the question was - we were going to ask people, have you ever been decapitated?

SMITH: (Laughter). But...

WILK: They were sure we had made a mistake, and we had not.

SMITH: As far as David remembers, by the way, 4 percent of Americans answered that they had been decapitated.

ROMER: Seems high.


Iceland is a Prosperous American Suburb

If there is one thing the world has enough of, it's "why can't we all be like Iceland?" articles. Here's the latest:

I wanted to know about the kind of society Iceland had cultivated and- what its outlooks were. How did women and men see each other and themselves? What was their character like compared to other countries I had lived in? Were women more confident, men more open-minded, children better cared for? Was life there, in any way, more balanced?

I suspected I would find enlightened ideas that benefit society, not just business, although I found that the two weren’t mutually exclusive. I spoke to innovators across genders in education, health, industry, science and the arts whose ideas exceeded my imagination.

And guess what? The author's gee-whiz tour of Iceland finds all sorts of wonderfully progressive policies. Paid family leave for daddies! Mandatory quotas for women! The world's first openly gay female head of state! Great schools filled with sensitive, caring social-pedagogues! And so on, and so on.

Many will remember probably the most stomach-turning piece of virtue-signaling the world has ever seen -- the Facebook campaign in which 11,000 Icelanders volunteered their homes to Syrian refugees, under the founder's motto: "They are our future spouses, best friends, the next soul mate, a drummer for our children's band, the next colleague, Miss Iceland in 2022, the carpenter who finally finishes the bathroom, the cook in the cafeteria, a fireman, a television host. People of whom we'll never be able to say in the future: 'Your life is worth less than my life.'"

Are you dabbing the second tear of kitsch from your eyes yet?

But guess what? None of those 11,000 virtue-signalers ever had to make good on their promise, and of course they knew that full well, since the government has a cap of a whopping 500 refugees a year.

Whoops! Did I just write 500? Sorry, the actual number is 50. Fifty. Per year.

But the empty promises of all those smug Icelanders earned Iceland yet another round of fawning publicity. The article continues the typical litany of the nauseatingly goody-two-shoes oh-so-gentle progressive paradise:

Icelandic society is proactively striving for gender equality, which sits at the centre of progress, and there are policies in place to promote gender equality in all spheres of society. Many stepping stones have led to the current gender equality legislation, including the use of gender quotas. As proven by the need for affirmative action policies in the USA, we are not yet evolved enough to choose fairly of our own volition.

After this rather sinister aside, the author does point to some of the more gloomy facts about Iceland, including this: "Iceland recently outranked the US in adult obesity (67.1 percent of Icelandic adults are overweight or obese compared to 66.3 percent of US adults)." Ha! Take that, Icelandic self-image!

You know what Iceland is? Iceland is a rich American suburb. (Or a German suburb, for that matter.) The population of Iceland is a laughably miniscule 330,000 people. And Iceland is 93% Icelandic, and 98% Northern European. Further, Iceland's median national IQ is 101, placing it 6th in the world. If you go to any large well-off suburb of the United States, you will see Icelandic living conditions: orderly homes, quiet evenings, honest officials, clean schools, smart students, modern gender roles, almost no violence, nice people, organic food, wooden toys, recycling, wine importers, futuristic espresso machines, tasteful earth-toned natural-fiber clothing, clean-lined architecture, yoga studios, women earning more than men, soccer, the whole nine yards. The one difference will be that the American suburb, although majority white, will still be more ethnically diverse than the Nordic purist's fantasy of Iceland.

Iceland is a fine place. I plan to visit one day, and I'm sure I'll be as enchanted as everyone else seems to be. But the world should stop looking at Iceland for lessons, because Iceland is a suburb, not a model society than can be replicated at will anywhere else.


Nobody, Not Even You, Really Cares about Mass Surveillance

One reason why German journalism is often so naive is that many journalists seem never to have been trained to skeptically evaluate underdog stories. The German presumed-underdog list includes: Indian farmers, Palestinians, American death row inmates, African sharecroppers, artists, writers, indigenous/minority activists, human-rights lawyers, small-time entrepreneurs, folk healers, slum dwellers, etc. When interviewing an underdog, German journalists never critically question anything that person says, nor do they check that his behavior actually conforms to his claimed principles.
 
Another case in point: German magazine Der Spiegel filed a criminal complaint (g) claiming it has been subject to illegal mass surveillance by the NSA and other agencies, and asking the federal prosecutor of Germany to investigate the allegations. The German federal prosecutor announced it will take no action, meaning the case won't proceed. They cited a 'lack of concrete evidence' to back up the editors' suspicions. The editors are angry, but this is not big news in Germany.
 
Despite what you may have read, the majority Europeans and Americans don't really care about mass surveillance. They claim to, but the empirical social scientists' mantra is:
 
Stated preferences are meaningless, revealed preferences are not.
 
A revealed preference for maximal privacy would involve people encrypting all their communications. But they don't. Why download some app and think up yet another password when you have no proof you're being overheard, and even if you were, you would never know, and would never meet the person who heard your call, and even if you did, that person would never mention it? If you are not willing to incur any inconvenience or cost to realize your stated preference (100% privacy), you reveal that you don't really care about it as much as you claim to.
 
Voting behavior shows this as well. Germans claim to be deeply concerned about NSA spying, but the majority vote for parties which either endorse and cooperate with the spying, remain silent about it, or who mouth lip-service about how much they disapprove without ever actually doing anything.
 
German internet start-ups have repeatedly tried to profit from a model which promises supposedly privacy-obsessed German users 100% privacy and no data sales to corporations, but they have all been crushed by Facebook, Twitter, and others.
 
I could provide more examples, but you get the point. And one reason there is no genuine revealed preference for more privacy is because there have been almost no abuses. Intelligence agencies promise us that they don't care about and don't listen to the vast bulk of the data; they have algorithms that look for interesting stuff and they focus only on that. They also promise they haven't shared the data with anyone outside the law-enforcement community.

And so far, they have kept their promises, as far as anyone knows. There haven't been any stories I can find of the NSA blackmailing some ordinary citizen with recordings of his calls to his mistress, or of NSA leaking sexy pictures to the tabloids. Of course, you can always argue this is all going on in secret, etc., but things like this generally come to light. And they're apparently not happening.
 
Meanwhile, no matter what European governments say, their law-enforcement agencies eagerly accept the help of the NSA:
While normal wiretaps and mobile phone surveillance can be done by small intelligence and police services such as those in Belgium, grabbing huge amounts of phone data and electronic signal intelligence — and rapidly processing it — was beyond their capabilities.

The Belgian authorities knew they needed help, and had made a decision, which has not been previously reported, to involve an ally with a vested interest in dismantling a dangerous ISIS network: They called on the US National Security Agency (NSA).

The two officials described the scene at the funeral, where a known suspect was filming on his cell phone: “The guy is filming on a smartphone — that tells us he’s going to send that file to someone, right?” the security service source said. “We had the NSA hit that phone very hard.”

The NSA refused to comment on the operation, but a spokesman for the Director of National Intelligence forwarded an article in which James Clapper said: “The NATO Alliance faces an increasingly complex, diffuse threat environment. Consequently, we are always striving toward more integrated intelligence to stay a step ahead.”

On March 15, just a few days after the funeral, Belgian police made a move based on the information they had garnered from the NSA. Alongside French investigators, they raided an apartment in the Brussels neighborhood of Forest. It ended in a firefight; four officers were wounded and one of the occupants was killed. But investigators learned from fingerprint and DNA evidence that Abdeslam and a co-conspirator, Mohamed Abrini, had been there, although the two men escaped over city rooftops during the shoot-out.

It was an embarrassing blow to the investigation, but the NSA was at least now helping the Belgians track the suspects via their phones. Having lost his safe house, Abdeslam was forced to move around and communicate with people outside his rapidly shrinking network. Abdeslam and Abrini called a friend searching for a new place to hide out.

That’s when, according to the military intelligence official, they got him: “Finally … we have this asshole.”

If you polled Europeans on whether it was right for the Belgian authorities to enlist the help of the supposedly infamous and hated NSA to catch a terrorist fugitive, 70-80% would say 'yes'. The number would probably be even higher among French and Belgian people.

Ordinary people have no problem with their communications being monitored, as long as (1) they don't know it's happening and no abuses come to light; and (2) the authorities can claim some legitimate purpose for doing so. You may find this apathy reassuring, you may find it appalling (this is not a normative argument about whether surveillance is good or bad), but it is the case.

If I were designing a remedial training course for journalists, one of the key lessons would be to always, always perform an independent check to see if your subject's revealed preferences line up with their stated preferences. Even if your subject is (what you consider to be an) underdog. Especially if he's an underdog.


A Surgeon Who Leaves the Wound Half-Open

I noticed in the comments to my post about Denglish a few instances of what I call the "close is good enough" school of communication. Commenters took me to task for pointing out the error in the sentence, stating that it wasn't really important because, in context, the meaning of the sentence was clear. I supposed some of this is derived from descriptivism, the idea that however people are using language right now basically defines what's correct.

I have never understood this line of reasoning. A sentence which you have to think about and read over again to understand is a bad sentence, period. Forcing your reader to resolve extra complications caused by your mistake wastes their time. There is no gray area. There are no excuses. 

It's as if a surgeon left a wound half-open: "Meh, it'll heal up on its own anyway, no need to waste expensive surgical silk". Or a train conductor braking too hard, causing drinks to spill: "Meh, who cares, we got where we were supposed to, didn't we?" Even if the wound does heal on its own and the train does reach the station, the surgeon and the conductor both acted like lazy gits. It would have cost just a little extra effort to do the job right.

Why not just do it right?

 


30 Million Germans Can Be Wrong

While writing the last post, I was about to insert a sentence about the Tagesthemen news broadcast aired last Thursday between the first and secocnd half of the Germany-France soccer match. However, I couldn't find it in time.

But now I have!

As I watched the news segment about the recent killings of two black men by police, I practically did a spit-take when the voice-over narration stated (here (g) at about 7:00) that "black men are 9 times more likely to be shot by police than whites". As the last post shows, that certainly can't be right. Yet it was broadcast to something like 30 million (g) Germans, most of whom surely swallowed it like the credulous lemmings they are.

The assertion in the German TV news was probably based on this Guardian article, which notes that young black males were nine times more likely to be shot by police than other population groups. But that statement is completely meaningless on its own, unless you live in a world in which 75-year-old grandmothers are as likely to commit rape, armed robbery, or assault as 21-year-old men. (If you do, you have my condolences).

Why might it be the case that young black males are more often the target of police violence? If you guessed that one reason might be that they commit more crimes, you are right. Here is a graph from The Color of Crime, a survey published by a nativist-conservative website in the US (As with all websites, I don't endorse everything you might find there, but I have never seen a critique of this report as inaccurate):

Fig-5Blacks make up 13% of the population, but nationwide account for approximately 50% of murder suspects and convicted murderers. That is, they commit murder at a rate almost four times higher than their representation in the population. And the comparison with arrest rates in other racial groups is shown by the chart above. In New York City, blacks were arrested for murder at a rate 30.9 times higher than whites.

Not 30.9 percent higher, 30.9 times higher.

Even if you attributed 2/3 of this disparity solely to biased policing, multiple arrests, arrests which didn't result in conviction, etc. (absurdly unlikely, given that murders universally have the highest clearance rates and the most reliable convictions of all crimes), there would still be a staggering racial disparity. And the disparity in shootings -- unlawfully firing a gun -- is almost 100 times.

The racial disparity in criminal offending varies from region to region, and it is smaller than New York's in many regions. But it is very large -- a matter of multiples, not percents -- everywhere in the USA. And everywhere measurements are made, young black males top the list of social groups most likely to commit violent crimes.

Anyone who discusses biased policing in the USA without mentioning these uncomfortable facts is playing you for a sucker.


The World's Most Pro-Immigrant Societies Have Strict Border Controls

A Canadian friend sends me this op-ed from the Globe and Mail with a hearty endorsement:

Fortunately our policy makers ... know that support for immigration is highly conditional, and that the social contract with the public can easily be broken.

What is that contract? People want immigration policy to serve the national interest, not the immigrants’ interest. They want skilled immigrants who have something to offer Canada, who work hard, learn one of our official languages and won’t be a burden on the welfare state. Immigrants who have already settled here are among the first to agree.

People don’t sour on immigration for economic reasons. As a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, they sour on immigration if they feel it is a threat to national identity. Nor is race a big factor. The biggest factors are culture and assimilation. People want immigrants who will embrace our values – Western liberal values – of tolerance, inclusion and women’s equality. We also expect newcomers to put down roots and pledge their loyalty to Canada first. (If they embrace hockey, so much the better.)

Europe is in crisis because too much European immigration doesn’t look anything like this. The British ran into trouble because they’ve had too much immigration, too fast. Countries that can’t control their borders always face a backlash.

...Australia solved its border problem by diverting asylum-seekers to remote offshore processing camps. Humanitarians and refugee advocates are outraged, but Australians aren’t. They must be doing something right – Australia, like Canada, is among the most successful immigration countries in the world. About 28 per cent of Australians are foreign-born, according to the Pew Research Center.

When a boatload of Tamils arrived in Canadian waters in 2010, the Harper government detained them (some were eventually accepted as refugees), and the public heartily approved. This was widely taken as a sign that Canadians are racist. In fact, we’re no more racist than the Australians or the English. We simply think it should be up to us to choose who gets in.

As I've said many times, neither this blog nor its author is anti-immigrant. The questions, as always, are How many? Which ones? It would probably be a good thing if Germany simply copied Canada's immigration policy. Literally translate the laws into German, and be done with it. If Germany did that, it would soon begin attracting capable, talented immigrants who have the intellectual and cultural qualities that will enable them to adapt quickly to German society. Soon, they will begin finding and creating jobs.

Instead, Germany seems perversely dedicated to inviting huge numbers of immigrants who lack any of the prerequisites for successful integration. They will enter the social-welfare system, and many will never leave. The ones who do leave will compete with working-class Germans for low-skilled jobs, sparking rage and resentment. This is the worst immigration policy imaginable. It will drive ever-deeper wedges into German society, and will permanently associate immigration with crime and dependency in the minds of German voters. It will also lead to crumbling support for the welfare state.

This policy continues to be supported by the delusional belief that there are no significant cultural differences between potential immigrants -- that there is essentially no way to determine whether any immigrant is likely to adapt successfully to life in Germany. Therefore, it is impermissible to discriminate among potential immigrants -- inviting the ones who are likely to succeed, and keeping the others out. Although just about every other nation on earth (like Canada) agrees that this kind of selection is possible and is in fact essential to sound immigration policy, large sections of the German political elite cling to the opposite belief.

The idea that there is something wrong with choosing among immigrants is one of the most dangerous political delusions shared by the German political class. Fortunately, the number of people in power who believe this seems to be dwindling every day. I will keep blogging occasionally about the issue until it dwindles to a tiny fringe belief, and Germany finally abandons its dangerous Sonderweg and adopts an adult immigration policy.

That may take a while, but progress is slow and steady. To paraphrase something Churchill once said about the US, Germany always does the right thing -- after trying everything else first.


Germany's Cunning Plan to Dominate Global Cricket

The Süddeutsche Zeitung has discovered something awesome: Migrants are a hidden gold mine (g)! When it comes to cricket, that is. Before 2015, there were only 1500 cricket players in all of Germany. After "Angela Merkel opened the borders," (the article actually puts it this way) though, cricket-mad migrants from places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India streamed in. Now the phones are ringing off the hook at the German Cricket Federation, which still "can't believe" its luck. Officials there are hoping for a dramatic increase in Germany's international cricket standing, which is currently, er, not particularly impressive.

Now, being the Gloomy Gus that I am about these matters, I have to spoil the batsmen's delight with a few nagging questions. First of all, which war was it that Pakistanis and Indians were fleeing, again? Why are people from these stable, peaceful countries still in Germany?

Also, there's are a few things nagging me about this cunning plan to improve Germany's standing in the world of cricket. First, do Germans give a flying fuck about Germany's standing in the world of cricket? Second, if they do, wouldn't the best approach be to import really good cricket players, rather than anyone who happened to make it across the border?

This is like choosing astronauts by running an ad saying: "Astronaut signup day! First ten thousand get in!" Then you randomly select groups of 50 from the 10,000. After forcing them to take off their Chewbacca and Star Trek costumes, you shoot them into space, and see how many survive. After a few decades, billions of euros, and a mere 3,562 dead or disabled, you finally have your crack squad of astronauts!

A briefing room somewhere in the federal ministry for immigration, 2021: "Well, sir, the downside is we let in 40,000 young males from India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Only 20% have learned proficient German. Oh, and it turns out 85% of them have no grounds for asylum, they were just economic migrants. 70% are still unemployed and living on government welfare benefits, so the total cost for their maintenance and support has been € 3 billion over the past four years. But the upside is that Germany has moved from #178 to #42 in the international cricket standings!"


Insane "Paradoxical" Conspiracy Theory: People Respond to Incentives

One of the reasons I began blogging so much about the migrant crisis is that I simply could not believe the things I was reading in the German press. I've had plenty of occasion to decry the nonexistent fact-checking in German papers, and the gross oversupply of opinion as opposed to reportage. But journalists at least seemed to be relatively intelligent and well-informed most of the time.

Until the migrant crisis, when suddenly, as Wolfgang Streeck pointed out, German politicians and journalists began spewing arguments so naive and flimsy a clever eight-year-old could dismantle them. It was genuinely eerie, as if pod people had taken over editorial offices all over Germany. They looked fine, sounded the same, had generally reasonable opinions on a host of issues, but when it came to migrants, their eyes went glassy and they began reciting nonsense.

Things have gotten a bit better recently, but you still encounter articles like this one (g), about an internal report prepared by Frontex, the European Union's border-control agency. It's on the front page of the FAZ, Germany's most respected broadsheet newspaper:

Frontex estimates 300,000 Refugees from Libya

Paradoxical, but plausible: With more intensive patrols in the Mediterranean, the EU is indirectly helping human smugglers with their business, according to an analysis by Frontext. Refugee routes from Libya are the most common.

The article notes that Frontex estimates that up to 10,000 refugees a week will set out from Africa, and quotes Frontex's Director Klaus Roesler:

One of the reasons for the high number of migrants on the route from Libya is the more-intensive patrols and emergency sea rescues by the EU. This leads smugglers to send even more refugees on the dangerous journey, since they will be rescued by the EU. "This inspires people to set off", Roesler said.

So the EU intercepts ships, provide first aid to their occupants, and take them to the European mainland where they can immediately file asylum claims and claim food, shelter, and benefits. They will be brought to Italy, a country whose prime minister wants to give their children Italian citizenship.

And yet, the prospect of being safely ferried to the promised land seems to encourage more of them to leave. Fancy that.

The FAZ, a venerable sober-sided center-right broadsheet, generally regarded as the most intellectually serious daily in Germany, finds this 'paradoxical.'

Here are a few more headlines I expect to see in the FAZ soon:

Paradoxical Findings: Study Suggests Attacking Bear Cubs May be Linked to Mauling by their Mothers

Neighbors Baffled by Seeming Paradox of Married Couple Having Occasional Sexual Intercourse

Consumption of More than 12 Hours Per Day of Television Linked to Obesity: Scientists Stunned by "Paradoxical" Results

Mountain Climber Falls 5,000 Feet onto Razor-Sharp Rocks: Fellow Climbers Stunned by "Tragic Paradox" of his Resulting Death

Historian Probes Paradox of Increased Death Rates Among Young Males Between 1939-1945


Erdogan: A Strong Leader Governing in his Country's National Interest

If there's one thing German mainstream journalists excel at -- and I'm tempted to say there is just one thing -- it's to point the finger of moral judgment at other countries. About half of all mainstream German press coverage consists of some reporter you've never heard of denouncing of country X's domestic policies, even though these have nothing to do with Germany.

The latest example is Turkish President Erdogan's decision to lift parliamentary immunity (g) for dozens of politicians in Turkey's parliament. We are assured by German journos that this is an unprecedented step in hollowing-out Turkey's democracy, that it's the hallmark of authoritarian rule, etc. Which it may be, who knows?

And more importantly, who cares? Certainly not the average German. In fact, the average German doesn't know what parliamentary immunity is. Being rational humans, average Germans pay most attention to things that matter in their daily lives, not legal abstractions. As Bryan Caplan pointed out almost a decade ago in his book The Myth of the Rational Voter, no more than 10-20% of people in most democracies bother to stay informed about the issues. They are the educated elite who have plenty of leisure time. The rest of the population views keeping up with the issues as a waste of time.

One thing that actually does affect Germany is who gets to enter the country. And here, Erdogan is showing his talent for statecraft. After successfully extorting billions of Euros from Europe by exploiting the migrant crisis, he is now setting his sights on offloading problem cases onto Europe. Under the recent agreement between the EU and Germany, the EU has agreed to resettle one Syrian refugee for every refugee sent back from Greece to Turkey by boat.

And Turkey is doing something clever. Relying on rights it was granted as part of the agreement, Turkey is yanking healthy Syrians with college degrees and/or valuable skills out of the 'Resettlement to Europe' line (g) and canceling their exit permits. The uneducated and those with expensive diseases, on the other hand, are free to go. They will land in Germany and promptly integrate into the German welfare state, racking up billions in medical costs -- yes, billions -- that the German taxpayer -- not the Turkish taxpayer -- will have to finance.

One might denounce this policy as cruel or cynical, and no doubt German journalists will. But of this there's no doubt: it is in Turkey's national interest. Turkish voters are no doubt just as ignorant as voters anywhere else. But they understand that inviting skilled workers who will find jobs or create jobs and pay taxes is in Turkey's interest.

Erdogan has a plan, and is pursuing it. Germany's immigration priorities seem to change every week. Germany is as ruthless as any other country in economic policy (see Bayer contemplating the purchase of Monsanto, the punching-bag of German journalists since 1985). But for some reason, Germany cannot seem to figure out what its interests are in refugee policy, or how or even whether to pursue them.

As Machiavelli said: "He who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation."

Erdogan is playing Germany like a two-dollar violin. No wonder he's so popular in Turkey. And Merkel's so unpopular at home.