Both ‘Die Zeit’ Corrections Now Online, the Countdown is Over

Happy to report that Die Zeit has now published a correction to the article from August 2014 which I identified a few weeks ago. And has inserted links to the correct statistics and a note explaining the correction (g). They have also appended a note to the article from yesterday (g) whose error I pointed out, but only about the number of police killings in the USA, not the racial breakdown. However, since that error appeared online only yesterday, was almost immediately corrected after I pointed it out, and the correction was identified in a comment, I see no problem.

Many thanks to Jochen Wegner, the online editor of Die Zeit, for quickly taking action once he was informed. I probably should have gotten in touch with him before, but I somehow missed his name. I can say that in this case, Die Zeit has shown an admirable concern for accuracy when informed of errors. It would have been better if the errors had never appeared. Hire more fact-checkers, Die Zeit.

Reporters without Borders will be getting a 30 Euro donation from me tomorrow. 

Robert Plomin Explains the Impact of Genes on Educational Performance

Professor Robert Plomin, a behavioral geneticist at King's College London, explains in this fascinating Guardian podcast that genes explain about 60% of differences between children in educational achievement. It applies to all areas, from math to humanities.

These differences show up very early, as early as 4 years old. Different schools or teaching methods explain at most 20%. Plomin notes that educator training materials which tout unproven educational methods are worthless. And sets out a program for genetically screening children to direct educational resources at those who most need them, in a personalized manner.

He is the co-author of G is for Genes: The Impact of Genetics on Educations and Achievement

Socialists Against Open Borders

Bernie Sanders is the U.S. Senator from Vermont, and a self-declared 'democratic socialist'. Until very recently, that label was about as successful in US politics as 'unrepentant pederast'. But now Sanders is running for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton. Although he has almost no chance of winning it, he is attracting huge crowds and plenty of attention, and is clearly forcing Clinton to the left. Sanders is easily the most left-wing serious candidate for a Presidential nomination in at least 15, if not 50 years. He would certainly be my choice for President.

And he's strongly against open borders:

Ezra Klein

You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the US are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing …

Bernie Sanders

Open borders? No, that's a Koch brothers proposal.

Ezra Klein


Bernie Sanders

Of course. That's a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. …

Ezra Klein

It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn't it?

Bernie Sanders

It would make everybody in America poorer —you're doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don't think there's any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don't believe in that. I think we have to raise wages in this country, I think we have to do everything we can to create millions of jobs.

You know what youth unemployment is in the United States of America today? If you're a white high school graduate, it's 33 percent, Hispanic 36 percent, African American 51 percent. You think we should open the borders and bring in a lot of low-wage workers, or do you think maybe we should try to get jobs for those kids?

I think from a moral responsibility we've got to work with the rest of the industrialized world to address the problems of international poverty, but you don't do that by making people in this country even poorer.

Ezra Klein

Then what are the responsibilities that we have? Someone who is poor by US standards is quite well off by, say, Malaysian standards, so if the calculation goes so easily to the benefit of the person in the US, how do we think about that responsibility?

We have a nation-state structure. I agree on that. But philosophically, the question is how do you weight it? How do you think about what the foreign aid budget should be? How do you think about poverty abroad?

Bernie Sanders

I do weigh it. As a United States senator in Vermont, my first obligation is to make certain kids in my state and kids all over this country have the ability to go to college, which is why I am supporting tuition-free public colleges and universities. I believe we should create millions of jobs rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and ask the wealthiest people in this country to start paying their fair share of taxes. I believe we should raise the minimum wage to at least 15 bucks an hour so people in this county are not living in poverty. I think we end the disgrace of some 20 percent of our kids living in poverty in America. Now, how do you do that?

What you do is understand there's been a huge redistribution of wealth in the last 30 years from the middle class to the top tenth of 1 percent. The other thing that you understand globally is a horrendous imbalance in terms of wealth in the world. As I mentioned earlier, the top 1 percent will own more than the bottom 99 percent in a year or so. That's absurd. That takes you to programs like the IMF and so forth and so on.

But I think what we need to be doing as a global economy is making sure that people in poor countries have decent-paying jobs, have education, have health care, have nutrition for their people. That is a moral responsibility, but you don't do that, as some would suggest, by lowering the standard of American workers, which has already gone down very significantly.

German Hypocrisy on Gene Technology

In a Germany publication called Laboratory Journal (Laborjournal), Ralph Bock, Executive Director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Biology in Golm pens a long polemic against German hypocrisy on the subject of genetic engineering. I don't have the time to translate it just now, although that might be interesting, but I thought I would at least pass it along for my German-Powered™ readers.

Basically, Bock argues that setting aside whether products made with modern genetic engineering are safe (like most scientists, he thinks they are), Germans' aversion to them is hypocritical. Politicians try to curry favor with green voters by banning certain kinds of gene technology in Germany, but that doesn't stop massive imports of products made with gene technology into Germany:

A life without genetic technology on our dinner place, in our medicine cabinets, in our wallets, and in our closets is already well-nigh impossible in Germany, whether we want it or not. Our limitless consumption of meat, our dependence on imported plant raw materials, price competition in the food sector and the absolute necessity of genetic engineering in medicine and pharmaceuticals have ensured this. Nostalgic people among us may deplore this, but that shouldn't lead us into a bizarre culture of (self)deception which can only be upheld by ever-more-absurd camouflage tactics or ever-more-dubious political sleight-of-hand — aspects of German culture which foreigners quite rightly find puzzling.

You Cannot Film the Police in Germany

The German press is fascinated and disturbed by videos of American police using excessive force, like the one above.

Why do these videos exist? Because in the United States, it is every citizens' constitutional right to film the police doing their job unless they are interfering with police work:

Taking photographs and video of things that are plainly visible in public spaces is a constitutional right — and that includes the outside of federal buildings, as well as transportation facilities, and police and other government officials carrying out their duties.

Police often tell people to stop filming, but those cops don't know the law. Unless the videos are obscene, you can post those videos to the Internet with full constitutional protection, and that's exactly what people do. They are then played over and over on German websites.

Can you film cops arresting people in Germany and then post that video straight to the Internet? The short answer is: absolutely not. The somewhat longer answer is: Sure, you can do it, but you could well be sued for tens of thousands of Euro, and have to wait for a court decision about whether the public interest in publishing the video was stronger than the privacy rights of the people displayed.

The crucial background to know about this issue is that German law gives people powerful protections over the use of their own image and voice and the protection of their privacy — legal protections which most Germans appreciate, and which don't exist to anywhere near the same extent in the US. The question then becomes whether police officers doing their jobs in public enjoy these same protections. Many German courts have held that they do.  

Marvin Oppong, a journalist for the 'torial' (g) blog in Germany who wanted to film his own questioning by police decided to look into the matter in detail. He interviewed several lawyers nad journalists. Here's a summary of what he learned:

  • Can you take pictures of the police? German courts are all over the place on this issue. Some say this is basically allowed in public spaces. It also depends on where. Inside buildings such as train stations you may be prohibited from doing so because of station rules. According to other decisions, the police can also request that you delete the photos or promise not to distribute them in any way or they will sue civilly. 
  • Can you video record your own encounters with the police? Yes, unless it interferes with their work. However, you may face civil or criminal liability if you distribute the results in any way without the officers' consent, since they have a right to control the distribution of their own image. Recording their voices is only permissible in a 'completely open and public' situation. If that is not the case, then simply recording their voices is actually a crime bringing up to three years' imprisonment. You read that right: if the situation is not deemed public (whatever that means), merely recording someone's spoken words is itself a crime. If the policeman knows you are recording his voice and doesn't object, that may be a defense. 
  • Can you publish photos and videos of a police encounter on the Internet? No: German courts have held that publishing videos of a police officer's conduct on the internet creates a 'pillorying' effect that violates the police officer's right to the protection of his personality (Persönlichkeitsrecht in German). This is so even though you are filming the officer doing his or her job in public. You may be able to publish general photos of public events, but a photo that clearly focuses in on one officer will violate that officer's right to control over the distribution of their own image. Which means you will need the officer's permission to publish it.
  • Can police ask you to identify yourself if they see you filming them? Basically, yes. They can also bring you to the police station for questioning if you don't have any personal ID with you.
  • Are the rules different for journalists? Possibly. If they are filming an incident of public importance, they may be able to claim that their right to do their job outweighs the officers' rights.

So, to sum up: if you are a private citizen and see German police officers engaging in questionable conduct in public and post a video of that in the Internet — as Americans do hundreds of times every day — you will enter a legal minefield of contradictory court precedents. You will probably expose yourself to tens of thousands of euros in damages as well as possible criminal prosecution. Your only hope is if a court, in your specific case, finds that the public interest served by your publishing the video outweighed all of the restrictions German law places on taping and photographing people. Even police officers doing their job in public.

Berlin-Brandenburg Airport Makes its International Debut

Until now, I've only seen brief mentions of the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport fiasco in the English-language press. But now, Bloomberg brings all the gory details into the Interwebs, in all their goriness:

“Professor, let me understand this,” Loge said. “You are talking about having 800 people wearing orange vests, sitting on camping stools, holding thermoses filled with coffee, and shouting into their cell phones, ‘Open the fire door’?” Loge refused the airport an operating license. Schwarz stood up and walked out without another word.

The next day, in a hall packed with government officials and journalists, Schwarz sat grimly behind a table with four other officials, including Mayor Wowereit, and announced the unthinkable: The airport wouldn’t open as scheduled. The inaugural bash and overnight move from Tegel were scuttled.

It was merely a prelude to a debacle that is still unfolding. Three years later, Berlin Brandenburg has wrecked careers and joined two other bloated projects—Stuttgart 21, a years-late railway station €2 billion over budget, and an €865 million concert hall in Hamburg—in tarnishing Germany’s reputation for order, efficiency, and engineering mastery.

At the very moment Merkel and her allies are hectoring the Greeks about their profligacy, the airport’s cost, borne by taxpayers, has tripled to €5.4 billion. Two airport company directors (including Schwarz), three technical chiefs, the architects, and dozens if not hundreds of others have been fired or forced to quit, or have left in disgust. The government spends €16 million per month just to prevent the huge facility from falling into disrepair. According to the most optimistic scenarios, it won’t check in its first passengers until 2017, and sunny pronouncements have long since given way to “catastrophe,” “farce,” and “the building site of horror.” There is a noted German word for the delight some took in the mess, too. 

‘Other People’s Indians’ and Germany’s Minority-Filled Prisons

In one of his essays from the 1976 book Emperor of the Earth: Modes of Eccentric Vision, Czeslaw Milosz reminisces about the 19th-century American novelist Thomas Mayne Reid. Reid wrote Western novels which became popular after they were translated into Russian, and is probably still more famous in Eastern Europe than in the USA. Milosz noted a curious fact: Reid's novels contained matter-of-fact scenes in which European Americans slaughtered and multilated American Indians and vice-versa — but when it came to the fate of Montezuma at the hands of the perfidious Papist conquistadores, Mayne penned a gushing tribute to the nobility of the hapless Aztecs. Milosz notes in an aside: 'as often happens, Reid loved Indians, but only “their” Indians.'

'Other peoples' Indians': The tendency to attribute poor integration of minorities in other countries exclusively to the majority's racism, but the poor integration of minorities in your country to deficiencies among the minorities. And the OPI effect is alive and well. Let's take an example. Here's a graph of the percentage of foreigners (adapted from statista) among the prison populations in a variety of European countries:


Switzerland tops the list with a whopping 74.2%. Yes, you read that right: 74.2% of the people in Swiss prisons are not Swiss. Germany is nowhere near as skewed; only 27.9% of its prisoners are foreigners. But keep in mind that German only counts foreign nationals in its prisons. If you are of Turkish or Moroccan ancestry but have a German passport, you are not included.

If you define an ethnic minority in Germany the way most legal systems do — someone whose external appearance is different from the native population and who has been the victim of discrimination by the majority native population — then the number of ethnic minorities in German prisons, I am sure, would be at least 50%. There are no reliable statistics I have yet seen to prove this, because Germany doesn't keep them (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). But I've visited many German criminal courts, talked to cops, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and been to German prisons. Everybody recognizes the vast over-representation of ethnic minorities in German prisons as an everyday fact of life that only the most reality-resistant Green Party ideologue would ever contest. I am happy to be corrected on this, but nobody has so far succeeded.*

So, Germany's prisons are filled with a disproportionate number of ethnic minorities, just as America's prisons are. Now is where things get interesting. Why is that the case? Here is the explanation you will find in the average German newspaper:

  • Blacks and certain other minorities are over-represented in American prisons. It is inconceivable that this could be the product of higher rates of violent crime among American blacks. The reason for this over-representation must be discrimination in the American justice system. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] Therefore, America is an irredeemably racist society.
  • Ethnic minorities are over-represented in German prisons. Since there is no racial discrimination within the German criminal justice system, which is staffed by honorable professionals, these conviction rates reflect reality: minorities commit crimes that get you in prison more frequently than ethnic Germans commit them. This is because minorities tragically fail to adapt properly to German society, despite the noble efforts we Germans make to help them. [Illogical but frequent further conclusion:] The fact of their crime rates must be concealed and obfuscated as much as possible, since it could feed into right-wing stereotypes of 'criminal' immigrants.

I could find dozens of examples to back up these narratives, but since we all know that, I'll just skip it. I will point to an interesting counter-example, though, from Focus of all places: in an article about German prisons, the author notes (g) quotes an expert and a study showing that German judges gave noticeably longer sentences for the same crime when the offender had a Turkish name rather than a German one. But that's still the exception.

* To add an unnecessary caveat, the mere fact that minorities are over-represented in prisons does not mean that the average ethnic minority has criminal tendencies. In a blessedly low-crime society such as Germany, the fact that crime rates are higher among minority communities is consistent with the vast majority of those minorities being law-abiding citizens.

When Can German Police Stop and Question You?

Public service time! In the USA, there is a cottage industry of people spreading the word about what rights citizens have during encounters with police. One of the best videos is from 'Flex Your Rights'. It's just below. The video addresses automobile stops and house searches, but I decided to concentrate on this post on police stopping and questioning people on foot. The video starts just as a a police car pulls up to question a young black male. The cops are investigating illegal graffiti in the area. The lawyer comments on each step of the transaction: 

So what's the situation in Germany? A popular German legal website has a short but informative article here (g). The basic ground rules:

Police must always give you a reason for stopping and questioning you. However, this reason does not alway have to be a concrete suspicion. In certain circumstances police are permitted to stop people as a preventive measure to avoid dangers to public safety (Gefahrenabwehr). These are not intended to assist in investigating a crime, but rather preventing one.

For this justification to apply, it needs to be shown that a danger to public safety exists at a particular location — for instance, a demonstration in which disturbances are likely to take place, or a well-known drug market where crimes are routine.

Such places are often named specifically in your local state's local-policing law — for instance Bavaria allows suspicionless public-safety searches where large numbers of prostitutes gather. Also, in special circumstances police can declare entire regions of a city 'danger zones', as Hamburg did in 2014 during left-wing demonstrations.

And what if the police do stop you based on general location? You are required to answer basic questions: your name, your address, your nationality, date and place of birth. The police can ask you to present an identification card (either the German national identity card or a passport), but you are not required to carry this identification around with you everywhere, so if you don't have it with you, that is not against the law.

The police may ask you further questions, such as where you are coming from and where you are going, but you are not required to answer them. A lawyer quoted in the article recommends that you do answer them in a polite but very curt manner, since this is likely to de-escalate the situation.

Note that this applies only when the police stop you without any concrete suspicion you have committed a crime. If they do have such a suspicion, they may be entitled to ask more questions.

The police are also permitted to engage in questioning of random people without individualized suspicion of crime at airports and train stations and trains. The purpose of these stops is usually to try to find illegal immigrants. A German court has found that stopping someone based solely on their appearance or skin color is unconstitutional according to the German Basic Law. (The lawyer in me says they will almost certainly find other ways to justify the search, though.)

Everyone in Indonesia Will Want U.S. Style Air-Conditioning Soon

The Washington Post reports that 87% of American homes have air conditioning, and as every European knows, they don't just have it, they use it, baby, to create nipple-shattering indoor Arctic coldscapes (see how accurate stereotypes are?):

Overall, it's safe to say that Europe thinks America's love of air-conditioning is actually quite daft. Europeans have wondered about this particular U.S. addiction for a while now: Back in 1992, Cambridge University Prof. Gwyn Prins called America's love of air-conditioning the country's "most pervasive and least-noticed epidemic," according to the Economist. And according to the Environmental Protection Agency, it's getting worse: American demand for air-conditioning has only  increased over the past decades.

The U.S. has been the world's leader in air-conditioning ever since, and it's not a leadership Americans should necessarily be proud of. According to Stan Cox, a researcher who has spent years studying indoor climate controlling, the United States consumes more energy for air conditioning than any other country. In many parts of the world, a lack in economic development might be to blame for a widespread absence of air-conditioning at the moment. However, that doesn't explain why even most Europeans ridicule Americans for their love of cooling and lack of heat tolerance.

Of course, Northern Europe is still colder than most regions within the United States and some countries, such as Italy or Spain, have recently seen an increase in air-conditioning. "The U.S. is somewhat unusual in being a wealthy nation much of whose population lives in very warm, humid regions," Cox told The Washington Post in an e-mail. However, the differences in average temperatures are unlikely to be the only reason for Europeans'  reluctance to buy cooling systems. It's also about cultural differences.

"The bottom line is that America's a big, rich, hot country," Cox told The Post. "But if the second, fourth, and fifth most populous nations — India, Indonesia, and Brazil, all hot and humid — were to use as much energy per capita for air-conditioning as does the U.S., it would require 100 percent of those countries' electricity supplies, plus all of the electricity generated by Mexico, the U.K., Italy, and the entire continent of Africa," he added.

That's not at all an unlikely scenario: In 2007, only 2 percent of Indian households had air-conditioning, but those numbers have skyrocketed since.  "The rise of a large affluent urban class is pushing use up," Cox explained.

"I have estimated that in metropolitan Mumbai alone, the large population and hot climate combine to create a potential energy demand for cooling that is about a quarter of the current demand of the entire United States," Sivak concluded in a paper published by the American Scientist.

"If everyone were to adopt the U.S.'s air-conditioning lifestyle, energy use could rise tenfold by 2050," Cox added, referring to the 87-percent ratio of households with air-conditioning in the United States. Given that most of the world's booming cities are  in tropical places, and that none of them have so far deliberately adopted the European approach to air-conditioning, such calculations should raise justified concerns.

Nope, Brazilians, Indonesians and Indians are definitely not going to adopt a 'European' approach to air-conditioning, because those countries don't have European climates. Anybody who lives in a humid climate falls in love with air-conditioning the minute they experience it, and never go back. So we'd better get crackin' on much more efficient air-conditioners yesterday. Some Indian zillionaire should sponsor a contest: $10 million to the first team that develops an 80% more efficient air conditioner. The Future of Humanity™ could well at stake.

Projection and Discrimination

The reason I'm posting a lot about criminal justice stats recently is first because I find it interesting but also because I'm working on a piece about German (and perhaps also French) coverage of crime in the USA. 

Specifically, and not to put too fine a point on it: (1) the fact that German reporters, out of ignorance or prejudice, use bogus statistics to exaggerate claims of discrimination in the American justice system; and (2) the reason for this is projection: ("a theory in psychology in which humans defend themselves against unpleasant impulses by denying their existence in themselves, while attributing them to others. For example, a person who is rude may constantly accuse other people of being rude.").

Specifically, the thesis is that German and French journalists are (whether consciously or not) distracting their readers from the problems in their own criminal justice systems by projecting discrimination onto the USA. I don't know, that formulation's pretty edgy, but sometimes edgy is fun!

Still in the research phase, but I'll let you know if I can get a German press outlet to publish it.

Understanding Comparative Crime Rates

Some comments I've been getting here and elsewhere show some people may be unfamiliar with demographic statistics. So here's a short post to put things in perspective:

  1. The Country of Utopia has 1 million inhabitants, split between two population groups: the Martians and the Plutonians.
  2. There are 900,000 Martians and 100,000 Plutonians.
  3. In 2014, there were 27 murders committed by Martians, and 30 murders committed by Plutonians.
  4. So, the raw number of murders committed by each population group is similar. However, raw numbers are meaningless.
  5. The most common measure in criminology, sociology, and demographics is rate per year per 100,000 people. Almost every population-level statistic you see uses this measure.
  6. So, in 2014 there were 3 murders per 100,000 committed by Martians, and 30 murders per 100,000 committed by Plutonians.
  7. This means the murder rate among Plutonians is about 10 times higher than the murder rate among Martians. (This is generally the ratio in the USA when it comes to murder rates among whites and blacks.)
  8. This also means that only .003% of Martians and .03% of Plutonians committed murder in 2014.
  9. In other words, when it comes to murder, the vast majority of both Martians and Plutonians are law-abiding citizens.

So, the statement that 'those Plutonians are all criminals' is an moronic over-generalization. The statement: 'there is a much higher rate of murder among Plutonians' is accurate.

Now if only .03% of Plutonians are murderers, why is it that some Plutonian neighborhoods may be unsafe to visit? That's because the murder rate within the Plutonian population is not evenly distributed. 50% of Plutonians are female, and 50% of Plutonian males are under 10 or over 45. These groups present very low risk of violent crime. For simplicity's sake we'll leave out socio-economic status (poorer people universally have higher crime rates) and focus only on age. 90.5% of all homicides are committed by males, and the vast majority are committed by young males. So to continue with our example:

  1. Let's say that 24 of the 30 homicides were committed by Plutonian men between 10 and 45 years of age: that is, 25,000 people.
  2. That means the murder rate among young Plutonian males is 96 per 100,000. That is 3.2 times higher than the general murder rate for all Plutonians, and 32 times higher than the rate among all Martians.
  3. Let's assume the same effect holds for Martians (not 100% true but close): the murder rate for young Martian males is 3.2 times the overall base rate of 3, or 9.6 per 100,000.

So this means that all things considered, if you want to minimize your risk of being the victim of a homicide, you should probably avoid neighborhoods with large concentrations of young Plutonian males, since they have the highest homicide rate in Utopia. Nevertheless, of course, even in this sub-group, the vast majority of young Plutonians are law-abiding, so your risk of being killed is still very low (especially since these rates are for an entire year and you'll just be there a day). However, assuming that the rates for other crimes show similar characteristics for the rate of homicide (again, this is generally true, but lots of caveats apply), your risk of being the victim of some crime in a high-young-male-Plutonian neighborhood may well be non-trivial.

I hope that clarifies things.