Heidelberg Debate on ‘Morality and Criminal Justice’

Here, as promised are the videos of the talk I gave with Robert Blecker in Heidelberg on 4 May 2012. The introduction is by Franz-Julius Morche, one of the organizers of the conference, and the moderation is by Dr. Markus Englerth. Many thanks to both of them, to Robert Blecker, and to the audience, who asked some good questions.

How to Capture the Heart of a ‘German Female Student’

Be benevolently sexist, whatever that means:

In Studies 1 to 3, German female students (total N = 326) rated the likability and typicality of male targets: a nonsexist, a benevolent sexist, a hostile sexist, and (in Studies 2 and 3) an ambivalent sexist. When targets were presented as response profiles in the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory (Glick and Fiske 1996) (Studies 2 and 3), the benevolent sexist was rated to be most likable but least typical, whereas the ambivalent sexist was rated to be highly typical. Thus, women were aware of a link between benevolent and hostile sexism and approved of men’s benevolent sexism, especially when it was not paired with hostile sexism. Likability ratings were moderated by participants’ own benevolent sexism and feminist attitude.

Also, both women and men who endorse 'benevolent sexism' are happier. That paper defines benevolent sexism as an attitude that requires men to 'cherish, protect, and care for' women as long as women 'conform to traditional gender roles.'

You Can Take the Engineer out of Germany, but…

…you can't take the (über-thrifty) Germany out of the engineer:

Well this is rich. NBC Bay Area reports that Thomas Langenbach, identified as a VP at SAP's Palo Alto Integration and Certification Center, has been charged with four felony counts of burglary over ill-gotten LEGOs.

Authorities say the German software engineer generated his own fake bar codes, printed stickers with them, then slapped those cheaper bar codes over more expensive kits. And then, it is alleged, he sold that hugely-discounted LEGO loot on eBay for a profit.

I used to have a huge blue denim bag full of legos — they were once that cheap. If Greece has to exit the Euro, perhaps it should adopt the Lego as its new currency.

Miles Davis Meets Nancy Reagan, Sparks Fly

Like so many musical innovators, Miles Davis was a blackguard. He consumed galaxies of narcotics, inflicted bizarre mood swings on anyone near him, issued completely contradictory orders to his bandmates, treated women like objects (thereby gaining the devotion of dozens of them, of course) and took shit from no-one, as this gem from the Guardian shows:

Davis was a man of few words. When he did speak, his words often had a similar effect to a hand grenade being lobbed into the room. In 1987, he was invited to a White House dinner by Ronald Reagan. Few of the guests appeared to know who he was. During dinner, Nancy Reagan turned to him and asked what he'd done with his life to merit an invitation. Straight-faced, Davis replied: "Well, I've changed the course of music five or six times. What have you done except fuck the president?"

You have to imagine him saying this in his trademark guttural growl. For more on this reprehensible genius, the Mike Dibb documentary from 2001 is first-rate.

Cautiously Sipping the Apple Kool-Aid

Last weekend, when the weather was almost surreally gorgeous (cool and sunny), I spent a day bicycling around the city and hanging out in various parks. During that time, I stupidly lost my mobile tunes setup, a Sansa Clip+ mp3 player and Klipsch Image S4 headphones. They're probably still lying there somewhere in the Düsseldorf Südpark, unless a magpie has already incorporated them into its nest.

To replace my mobile soundgear, I stuck with Klipsch, but decided to upgrade to the X10i in-ear headphones, which have an integrated remote control that only works with Apple stuff. So far, the sound quality, while predictably outstanding, is hardly distinguishable from the much-cheaper S4 headphones, but I haven't worn in my new ones. In general, though, Klipsch in-ears are head and shoulders above any others I've tried. Rich bass, beautifully distinguished mid-range, and crisp treble. But it's all pointless if the headphones aren't comfortable. Klipsch are specially designed to have an ear-friendly oval shape, and ship with a set of fully interchangeable ear-inserts in various shapes and sizes. You can easily switch until you find inserts that fit your ear. If you're just starting out, get the S4s. They deliver audiophile sound quality for 1/3 the price of the competition, and will probably be the only in-ears you'll ever need.

Now to my first-ever Apple product, an Ipod Nano. It gets rave reviews, looks beautiful, sounds beautiful, and isn't that much more expensive than the competition. Plus, it integrates with the remote control on the headphones cord, which is a huge plus. And, in fact, the Nano is a beautiful thing. Tiny, square, with a clear, bright screen, the famously intuitive controls, a solid clip, and excellent sound quality. But I have to say one thing: The fact that you must use iTunes to communicate with the Nano instantly claws back all of the user-friendliness. The no-frills Sansa Clip was so much easier: it showed up as a normal storage device, and you could just drag and drop audiobooks or music to the relevant folders, and the machine would automatically treat them accordingly. You have to spend hours navigating the hideous bloatware that is iTunes before you can reliably make sure you've put everything where you want it on the Nano. Nothing about iTunes works as you would expect it to, and workarounds to common problems are baffling and complex. Plus, you can only really manage the Nano with one computer. If you hook it up to another computer, the iTunes program on that machine huffily threatens to erase your Nano!

So, when it comes to the Nano itself, I have cautiously sipped the Apple Kool-Aid, and found it delicious. But when it comes to iTunes, I have spewed the Kool-Aid across the wall in a deadly crimson arc.

P.S. If anyone knows a work-around to be able to use the Nano without iTunes, I'd love to hear about it.

A Very Special Socialpedagogical Tatort Episode

ok, ok, i'll vote for the pirate party! i mean, couldn't you have just given me a freaking pamphlet?

For the first time in a while, I had the time and leisure to watch Tatort last Sunday. From a dramatic perspective, The Forest is Black and Silent (a line from a German folk song) was OK, but from a sociological perspective, it was gripping. Mild spoiler alert!

The plot: Detective Lena Odenthal (Ulrike Folkerts) is called to the Palatinate Forest, Germany's largest national forest, to investigate a body found at the foot of a cliff. By the time she gets there, the body's mysteriously vanished. She descends the cliff to investigate, and is whacked on the head and taken hostage by a group of five young men. They're hiking around in the forest, wearing cheap outdoor gear, and don't seem to have much idea what they're doing. Things gets serious, though, when they steal Odenthal's service weapon and threaten her with it. At the same time as they're burying a corpse in a shallow grave.

The five young men are all juvenile delinquents with long records for theft, robbery, drugs or sexual abuse. They've been sent to a forest camp with military-style discipline for a last-ditch attempt at 'resocialization.' The camping trip they were on was a so-called AZOK exercise, the German acronym for 'everyone together or no-one'. It was supposed to teach them lessons about trust and solidarity, but Everything Went Horribly Wrong, and a few people died. However, as we later find out, one of the deaths was from natural causes, and the other was, perhaps, provoked.

Eventually, Odenthal's partner realizes she must have been kidnaped, finds out there was a troupe of juvenile delinquents in the area, and puts two and two together. He visits the group home and learns about the kidnapers' backgrounds: they all come from broken and/or violent homes, and lived in crumbling housing projects, surrounded by scenes of social decay. Some were beaten or sexually abused by relatives. As the kidnaping progresses, we also see that the five boys are not the dangerous psychopaths they seemed to be at first. One is a skeletal junkie, desperate for a high, who almost kills himself eating what he thinks are 'magic mushrooms'. Another suffers from night terrors and wets his pants. At the end, when the whole group is trying to cross a river to freedom, it emerges that most of them can't swim, so they have to be rescued by the very cops from whom they're fleeing. It turns out that the young hoodlums weren't the cold-blooded killers we were led to believe after all.

This Tatort was an unusually rich source of sociopedagogical (to directly translate a German word) edification. We learned, as an audience, that (1) social deprivation is a serious problem in Germany; (2) (apologies to Auden) those to whom violence is done do violence in return; (3) first impressions of dangerous-looking juvenile delinquents can be misleading; (4) even the most hardened-seeming thug is capable of acts of kindness or remorse; and (5) that nobody is permanently beyond redemption, and a humane state devotes considerable resources even to seemingly-hopeless cases.

So, a fine example of what I call pro-social propaganda. The world is not portrayed as it empirically is, but as it aspirationally ought to be. The desirability of the humane values that underlie the script is continuously signposted, so that even the less-sophisticated viewers will understand what to think. At the same time, though, the message isn't so blunt that it will completely turn off more sophisticated viewers. At least that was my verdict, and that of some German media (g). It is easy — very easy — to mock this sort of Gutmenschentum (roughly, bien-pensant tendentiousness), but at the same time, I can't help preferring it to the orgasms of mindless violent-crime voyeurism, torture, and gore* that splatter across American television screens on a nightly basis.

In America, this plot would have played out as follows: Odenthal is slowly raped to death by the sneering, soulless young superpredators while she begs for her life. Eventually, her professional and personal partner, Mario Kopper, finds her mangled remains. He drops to his knees, screams 'NEEEINNN'! (birds scatter from nearby trees), and vows vengeance. Kopper is forced to give up badge and gun because of obvious personal stake in investigation, runs off into forest, now being pursued by police himself. The hunters are now the hunted. For the remaining 80 minutes, Kopper tracks down each of the 5 juvenile criminals, killing them in a variety of creative ways: a brain-splattering crossbow bolt through the eye, slow strangulation, a spike-filled trap, giant rockslide. Many long, loving, suspiciously erotic shots of gurgling, twitching bodies in death throes. The final confrontation is on a precipice, where Kopper and the lone survivor fight a 10-minute duel before Kopper finally throws evil miscreant off the cliff. We watch as he falls, screaming in fear, then his body explodes into crimson goo on the rocks far below. 'You messed with the wrong Kopper, punk.'


* From the website I linked to:

C.S.I. contains a great deal of violence and sexual content. Throughout each episode, the crimes committed are slowly reconstructed and shown in flashback sequences, and violent acts may be replayed several times throughout the hour. Graphic images, including close-ups of corpses with gunshot wounds, autopsies, and other bloody injuries, are common. Sexual situations are extremely graphic. In the past, scenes included a man with a biting fetish, men receiving S&M beatings from a dominatrix in a sex club, a grown man with a sexual desire to dress like and be treated as an infant, and a woman making a sex video for her 15-year-old stepson. A recent episode a plot during which a serial killer hacked up victims after raping them with foreign objects and hid them in blocks of cement. Foul language on C.S.I. includes "damn," "hell," “crap,”, “suck,” “screw,” “bastard, "bitch," "ass," and "asshole." The series airs at 9:00 p.m., when some children are still awake, and reruns frequently even earlier.

And yes, I know 'CSI' and '24' are hits in Germany, as well. It just goes to show that when Germany apes American culture, it often reaches straight into the toilet bowl (to use a German saying).

Europe’s ‘Toothless’ Promises of Equality

Every European constitution outlaws discrimination on the basis of religion or ethnic origin, as does Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights: 'The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.'

A new Amnesty International report tests whether these promises have any real-life impact, and comes to unsurprising conclusions:

Women wearing headscarves have little chance of finding employment in many European countries, according to a report on discrimination by Amnesty International, which criticizes politicians for their lack of action.

In its report entitled "Choice and Prejudice," the human rights organization studied discrimination against Muslims in five European countries – Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland – and concluded that discrimination exists in a number of forms.

"There is a general consensus that discrimination on the basis of skin color is unacceptable," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director for Europe and Central Asia. "But this isn't the case with discrimination due to religion, especially Islam."

Actually, all European constitutions say no individual can be discriminated against because of ethnic origin and religion. The main problem in most countries, Dalhuisen said, is not a lack of anti-discrimination laws but their effective implementation, which he referred to as "toothless." Discrimination, he added, is largely tolerated.

For its part, the German 'Equal Treatment Law' (known by its German abbreviation as the AGG), has loopholes large enough to fly an Airbus through. For instance, while repeating that discrimination is a bad thing that people shouldn't do, the law doesn't attach sanctions to intentional racial discrimination by any landlord who rents fewer than 50 units (g). In fact, one could be forgiven for getting the impression that many European countries deal with social problems by passing laws that officially 'deal with' them, and then move on to the next bright, shiny object, without ever asking whether the laws, in fact, actually work.

There are three main problems:

  1. First, there is no effective way of forcing employers or landlords to actually divulge relevant information about individual hiring decisions, or general patterns of employment. There's simply no equivalent of automatic, wide-ranging American-style discovery in most European countries, which means plaintiffs face burdens in proving discrimination unless employers are stupid enough to deliver them 'smoking guns' in the form of openly racists comments or memos.
  2. European minorities haven't learned a culture of public advocacy and personal accountability. When there is a clear case of a qualified person being denied an apartment or job or opportunity based solely on their appearance or ethnic background, naming and shaming needs to follow. Marches, demonstrations, picketing, boycotts, and sit-ins get attention and sympathy. Just as was the case in the USA of the early 1960s, and in fact in just about all societies, mainstream majority Germans are not going to care about the rights of minorities unless they are forced to do so.
  3. The financial penalties are too lax. The German law is quite vague on the subject of penalties, mainly saying that a victim of discimination should be compensated for 'losses.'  But how are you going to prove specific economic losses caused by the fact that you were denied an apartment based on the sound of your last name? To be effective, anti-discrimination laws need to permit symbolic damages for violations: behavior will only change when employers and landlords need to fear large, unpredictable money damages for acts of proven intentional discrimination. German law allows precisely this in cases of 'insult': you can be forced to pay someone thousands of Euros or even go to prison for injuring someone's honor by a nasty public insult. But the German law doesn't clearly authorize such damages (much less a prison sentence) in cases of intentional discrimination, which, one would have thought, is a direct insult to human dignity and personal honor.

If European societies are serious about effectively combating discrimination, we'll need to start seeing stories like this:

Her face framed by a white scarf covering her head and hair — considered “a private part” for Muslim women — Susann Bashir grew sad Friday afternoon recalling her final encounter with a former boss.

She said she had already endured years of harassment by co-workers and had started pursuing a religious discrimination case against her employer when the supervisor, during a routine meeting in his office, snatched her scarf and exposed her hair.

Bashir sued, and this week a Jackson County jury awarded her [$120,000 in compensation and] $5 million in punitive damages against Southwestern Bell/AT&T, where she worked as a fiber optics network builder for more than 10 years [The punitive damages will be reduced on appeal].

Bashir said she endured religious discrimination nearly every day of the last three years she worked in the company’s downtown Kansas City office.

…Thursday’s overall award appears to be the largest jury verdict for a workplace religious discrimination case in Missouri history, Coopman said.

The previous largest such verdict came in 2009, when Mohamed Alhalabi, an Arab-American Muslim, was awarded $811,949 in St. Louis County Circuit Court in a case against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

That same year a Jonesboro, Ark., jury ordered AT&T to pay $1.3 million to two former employees fired for attending a Jehovah’s Witnesses convention.

Bashir was living in North Kansas City in 2005 when she converted to Islam. According to court documents, that’s when her troubles at AT&T began. Just months before she converted, she had been commended in the company newsletter for doing good work, she said.

In court documents, Bashir said her work environment became hostile when co-workers made harassing comments about her religion and referred to her hijab as “that thing on her head.”

“I was shocked. I thought, ‘What is going on?’ ” she said during an interview at her lawyer’s Kansas City office. “Nobody ever cared what I wore before. Nobody ever cared what religion I was before.”

Bible verses were left on her desk. Co-workers asked if she was going to blow up the building and called her a “towelhead” and a terrorist.

…Bashir said the entire incident was mentally and physically taxing for her and tore her family apart. She is going through a divorce. In October, she moved with her daughter to Anchorage, Alaska, where she is an apartment manager.