Criminal Justice: Eternally, Internationally Perfect

Death penalty supporter Antonin Scalia, United States, 2006:

One cannot have a system of criminal punishment without accepting the possibility that someone will be punished mistakenly. That is a truism, not a revelation. But with regard to the punishment of death in the current American system, that possibility has been reduced to an insignificant minimum.

[Source: Scalia’s opinion in the Supreme Court case Kansas v. Marsh]

Death penalty supporter Fritz Neumayer, Free Democrat Party, Germany 1950:

Against arguments concerning the possibility of judicial error and the irreparability of an improper execution, [Neumayer] pointed to the fact that the assistance provided by science and criminal statistics was so far advanced that the possibility of an wrongful conviction on the basis of circumstantial evidence could only be anticipated in extremely rare cases.

[Source: Paraphrase of Neumayer’s arguments during a parliamentary debate on the re-introduction of the death penalty in Germany]

Death penalty supporter Johann von Kloreiniger, Wiesensteig, Germany, 1563:

Verily I do say and atteste, that the Possibilitie that any Person has been put to Death for the horrid Crime of being a Witch, although they were not such, is now but a Trifle. The carefull and scientifick Manner in which we Compelle the Foul Beastes of the Devil to Confess their Hideous Crimes against Nature, using Thumbscrews, Half-Drowning, and Hot Pincers, combined with the Guidance of Divine Providence, permits us to exclude all Doubte Before Ordaining the Drawinge & Quarteringe of these Shamefull and Repulsive Whores of Satan.

[Source: The Astonishinge and Truthfulle Account of My Humble Years of Service as Chief Publick Prosecutor to my Most Noble and Righteous Lord the Margrave of Southeasterne Bavaria, as Invented and dutifullie Transcribed by Andrew von Hammell, Esq.]

I’m Number 105!!

From this post by media journalist Stefan Niggemeier (G) I learn 2 things. 

  • Many people in the conventional German media are frightened of blogs, condescend to them, and do not understand even basic aspects of their operation. Thus, they keep confusing blogs which receive 500 visits per day with ones that receives 500 visits per month. Boy is that dumb and naive.
  • A blog that gets more than 450 hits per day counts as one of the top 100 German blogs. Boy is that low.

My ramshackle little online home, with its never-updated reading list, chaotic blogroll, and laughably crude formatting, scrapes by at between 420 hits per day from the world’s smartest, best-looking blog readers (after a rambling post about Norbert Elias) and 500 hits per day from the world’s smartest, best-looking blog readers (after I mention Knut the Eisbaer or Britney Spears).

This means pitiful little German Joys is scraping around at the bottom of the list of the top 100 German blogs. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this fact.

The Heintje Never Stops

It’s official. If I die, one line of my obituary will read "In 2005, Hammel unwittingly created an online forum for people who love the 1970s German child star Heintje. This turned out to be his most significant contribution to public discourse."

No other post has gathered such a consistent and varied stream of worldwide comments as my ruminations (rather rude ones, I might add) on Heintje.

In a desperate bid for more website hits, and to help Judith the Heintje fan, let me promote the latest Heintje comment to the main page of this blog.

Hi Heintje fans

Heintje cds can be found on www.amazon.co.uk.

I have been trying to find a dvd of his film "Ich sing ein lied fur dich" which I saw at the cinema in Hong Kong in 1970.

Does anybody know where I can find one?

Judith

Go visit the post to find Judith’s email, and help her re-live her fond memories. 

One question: What on earth was a Heintje movie doing playing in Hong Kong?

Err, what’s a ‘Billion’ again?

Another link in the shining chain of ignorance, from the article I linked to in the last post:

It is telling that according to a 2002 National Geographic survey, 30 percent of Americans believed the population of America to be between 1 and 2 billion people.

3% estimated the population of the U.S. as ‘about one zillion.’

Just kidding.

Yanqui Hijo de Puta, Fuera del Mundo!

Eagle ‘Why does the rest of the world hate us?’ Americans ask, with large, moist, puppy-dog eyes. (Well, it’s really more distrust and suspicion than hate).

Many Americans prefer to blame it solely on resentment and anti-American manipulation. There’s some of that around, of course, but that’s not the whole story. I recently read Anatol Lieven’s blistering, largely on-target America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, which details plenty of rational reasons why non-Americans might distrust or resent the United States (hint: it’s the policies and the hypocrisy, stupid!).

Before I get to that, thought, I thought I’d address a more mundane reason why people don’t fancy Americans: Americans are renowned worldwide as being unusually ignorant and judgmental of other cultures. We don’t understand other cultures, and what’s more, we don’t want to understand them, and what’s even more, we show that openly. When we encounter some cultural practice that is different from what’s done in the United States, we tend to immediately call attention to it — and often by suggesting, more or less openly, that it be scrapped and replaced with the "right" American way of doing things.

Americans climb into our cultural (or rather, acultural) Hummers, you could say, and blithely drive them through other nations’ minefields, completely oblivious to the explosions we cause along the way. A recent example: During a recent dinner I attended, an American new to Germany blurted out to a German guest "Hey, you’re a German, maybe you can answer this. What the hell was Hitler thinking?!"

Trust me, it’s one of just dozens of indiscretions I’ve either observed or committed. You could defend this tendency to openly criticize other cultures as refreshing frankness, but people from other nations have much less complimentary words for it. Let me quote from a fine little book called Americans at Work: A Guide to the Can-Do People, written by intercultural consultant Craig Storti. Storti himself is from the Unites States, but has spent over two decades working all over the world:

"[N]ot believing in culture [in the sense of ingrained, traditional ways of doing things] means that Americans have a hard time accepting that there is any legitimate reason — any "excuse" for the odd way foreigners sometimes behave, and they conclude, therefore, that all such behavior is simply arbitrary. The strange things foreigners do may be deliberate or accidental, conscious or unconscious, but the point is they don’t have to act that way…

Americans are much more likely than other nationalities to be unprepared for and therefore to have a strong reaction to "different" behavior, more likely, in other words, to be surprised, confused, or irritated by some of the "odd" things you [i.e., a non-American] may do. They may also be less able to see things from your point of view and less willing, as a result, to listen to your explanation of things or to understand why you don’t agree with them. They are more likely than colleagues from other countries to see you as stubborn and unreasonable.

I can’t exempt myself from this accusation. Although I like to think I’ve become much more polished in the meantime, I still have episodes in which foreign habits and practices strike me as "wrong." Now let me say that some things — like honor killings, puking all over the city center, or mixing beer with cola — are wrong, in some cosmic, transcendental sense. But among many Americans I know who live abroad, there is embarrassingly little curiosity about foreign cultures, and much superficial, chauvinistic criticism. I know this because I occasionally hang around with expatriates, whose primary form of recreation seems to be bitching endlessly about their host countries whenever they can be sure no natives are around (and sometimes, when natives are around). My experience has taught me there really is a difference — the difference Storti identifies — between Americans and people from other nations.

The interesting question is why this should be so. The first explanation is America’s growing isolation from the rest of the world. Statistics show Americans making less and less use of opporunities for deep engagement with other cultures (reading a foreign novel in translation, studying abroad, etc.)

But there’s a deeper cultural difference at work. Most people come from countries have their own treasured cultural practices and local traditions that are deeply-rooted, long-standing, and widely-shared. They therefore understand — and often delight in — other peoples’ interesting habits. If you grew up doing a certain kind of folk-dancing that has been practiced in your country for centuries, you know the peculiar sense of cultural attachment that doing or observing that dancing inspires in you. Therefore, you understand how and why other people might enjoy their kind of folk-dancing, or their gradations of formality in conversation (Japan has 5!), or their yogurt-based national drink, or their 19th-century nationalist poetry. This doesn’t mean they’re all po-faced about it — the tradition is often mocked just as enthusiastically as it is carried out, and this mockery itself becomes part of the tradition.

When people from the United States come into contact with these sorts of traditional practices, by contrast, lots of them either burst out laughing, make a cynical remark, or suggest that the tradition be scrapped. I once saw an American — and a reasonably well-educated one — suggest that a certain country’s yogurt-based ‘national drink’ be replaced by delicious, refreshing Coca-Cola. In my experience, people from other countries almost never react to other nations’ cultural practices this way.

Another example. Here, a Canadian conservative (that is, an American in all but name) named Robert Fulford ridicules the UNESCO cultural heritage program, mocking the very idea that "[a]ncient dances of obscure tribes, almost forgotten rituals and nearly extinct musical instruments must be saved." Of course, you could argue that Fulford’s main target is self- satisfied UN bureaucrats (and a rich target they are), but he nowhere proposes any alternative for preserving these aspects of cultural heritage, or even suggesting that they are worthy of preservation. Fulford couldn’t care less what happens to these practices, because they strike him as trivial or bizarre. It’s that simple.

To sum up, people from the United States have the worst reputation for "intercultural competence" of any national group on earth. And I think this reputation is, alas, largely justified. Feel free to revile me as a Nestbeschmutzer, or share your own tales of Americans’ faux pas in comments.

And this weekend, I’ll get to the book itself. I promise.

Bavaria will Rise Again!

Now, I tend to like most of the Bavarians I meet, but there’s no denying Bavaria is a special place.

Here’s an example. In 1949, when the German post-war constitution (called the Grundgesetz or Basic Law) came into force, the Bavarian state parliament voted against it by 101 to 64. The Chairman of the Bavarian Party then wrote an article called "The Freedom Struggle is Beginning" in the newspaper Die Welt, in which he announced: "The act of rape emanating from [the German capital of] Bonn is, for us, not a Basic Law but rather a Rubbish Law [Grundgesetz / Schundgesetz]. This sorry effort begins the socialization, centralization, and Russification of the German states…"

Practical Tips for Black Hole Explorers

Apropos nothing in particular, this fascinating article, which tells you how to maximize your remaining time if you accidentally cross the event horizon of a black hole:

Falling into a black hole is a strange affair. Because the hole’s gravity distorts space-time, a far-off observer watching an object crossing the event horizon sees time for that object appear to slow down — a clock falling into a black hole would appear, from the outside, to tick ever slower. At the horizon itself, time stops, and the object stays frozen there for the remaining lifetime of the Universe.

But this isn’t how things seem to the in-falling object itself. Indeed, if the black hole is big enough, nothing noticeable happens when a spaceship crosses its event horizon — you could stray inside without realizing. Yet once inside, nothing can save you from being crushed by the hole’s gravity sooner or later.

Muslims in the U.S. Reasonably Content

According to the International Herald Tribune, there are 2.35 million Muslims in the United States and on the whole, they’re pretty well-integrated:

As a whole, the poll found a largely content and hard-working U.S. Muslim population, and one that is fast assimilating.

Though 4 in 10 have arrived since 1990, a large proportion say their closest friends are non-Muslims. Their incomes are close to the national average. Even more than the general public, they say they believe that by working hard they can get ahead.

Eight in 10 said they were "very happy" or "pretty happy" with their lives. But young American Muslims – those under 30 – were more accepting of extremism. They were far more likely than their older counterparts to see themselves as Muslims first rather than as Americans first.

Black Americans who are Muslim converts, however, are more disaffected and more likely to endorse extremism than immigrant Muslims.

Godwin’s Law as a Governing Strategy

Nir Rosen catches Paul Bremer in a violation of Godwin’s Law with, as Rosen argues, real-world consequences:

[Paul] Bremer claims that [Saddam] Hussein "modeled his regime after Adolf Hitler’s" and compares the Baath Party to the Nazi Party. Set aside the desperation of the debater who reaches immediately for the Nazi analogy and remember that there is no mention of such "modeling" in any of the copious literature about Iraq. This ludicrous Nazi analogy permeates the entire article; it also permeated the proconsul’s time in Baghdad, when Bremer imagined himself de-Nazifying postwar Germany, saving the Jews (the Shiites) from the Nazis (those evil Sunnis).

This thoughtless comparison is one of the main reasons why he performed so horribly in Iraq. (Remember, most Baath Party members were Shiites; so in Bremer’s analogy, I suppose most of the Iraqi "Nazis" would be "Jews.")

Stork #17 has laid Egg #O-DE-3344554

Sometimes, a chain of mysterious conjunctions happens in your life, leading you to a deeper truth. For me, that deeper truth is that every discrete object found in nature in Germany has a number. 

Item No.1: A few weeks ago, we found out that every tree in Berlin has a number

Item No. 2: A few days ago, I found out that we know exactly how many storks there are in Germany.  I was doing some post-Ascension errands, and listening to the children’s program Kakadu on Deutschland Radio Kultur.  Children were calling in from all over Germany to talk about storks. Many were extremely excited by one of the various live Internet webcams that show families of storks in Germany (The link is to a Stork Cam in Vetschau, Germany, which promises: " With the brood process, there will be categorically no interference!")

The guest was a woman from the German Nabu, or Nature Protection League (G). Each kid was asked what German state he or she lived in. Most of them didn’t know, which I found cute. After they asked mom or dad which state they lived in, the woman from Nabu told them exactly how many stork breeding pairs were in that state. There are 275 in Saxony (if memory serves), and 128 in Bavaria, although the woman said "The number might not be accurate, because some of them haven’t been reported yet."

At one point, the following exchange occurred, which I found even cuter:

Moderator: And what did you see when you saw the storks at the zoo?

Child: I saw them being fed!

Moderator: Ooh, so you saw the mother stork regurgitate food for the stork babies?

Child: No, a person did it!

Item No. 3: This weekend, I buy eggs at my local organic food store, Kraut & Rueben, at Brunnenstr. 9. They are, of course, organic. And each individual egg has been stamped with a special three-part code. Take a look:

Labelled_eggs

The code tells you that this egg came from the Hof Alpermuehle farm, in Germany, it was produced under completely organic conditions, and it came from stall number 01-12121.

It was delicious.