Molenbeek 10 Years Ago

10 years ago, a Belgian Muslim journalist named Hind Fraihi went undercover (f) in Molenbeek and wrote a book reporting on the influence of radical Islam there:

Hind Fraihi, a Muslim and journalist who posed as a sociology graduate student, found that she could easily buy extremist literature urging people to take up arms to fight nonbelievers. She met young men being lured from lives of petty crime to violent jihad by local imams. And she interviewed a sheik who sent young men to a military training camp in southern Belgium’s scenic Ardennes and who was recruiting people to fight in Afghanistan and Chechnya.

The response, she recalls: 'People told me I was exaggerating, that I was engaging in sensationalism, and nobody did anything to contain the phenomenon.'

Sound familiar?

 

The Unstoppable Decline of the SPD

Tombstone

Politico watches the German Social Democratic Party circle the drain (from 38% of the vote in 2002 to 22% today, with no end in sight):

“Questions of fair distribution of money and resources are no longer at the forefront of social democratic politics,” said Matthias Micus, a political scientist at the University of Göttingen.

“Being ‘left’ the way the SPD understands it today is no longer primarily about economic questions, but much more about cultural issues like gender politics, the protection of minorities, or when it comes to cultural diversity or immigration,” Micus said.

However, he added, the traditional SPD electorate — the working class — does not really care about those topics.

“This has led to an estrangement of the SPD from its traditional electorate,” Micus said.

You don't say.

Ensemble Pygmalion Plays the St. Matthew Passion


La Passion selon St Matthieu de Bach par Raphaël Pichon

One of my first Bach recordings, and one which I still have, is the B Minor Mass performed by Joshua Rifkin and the Bach Ensemble. Rifkin insisted that Bach's choral works were intended to be sung with one singer to a part. The result was light, feathery, transparent. Every other performance I'd hear sounded clogged and soupy by comparison. But haters still reject Rifkin's purism. They insist that although Bach only had limited space and personnel at his disposal, he would probably have welcomed greater forces to perform his choral masterworks, and composed them with this aspiration in mind. And I have to admit, Rifkin's recording often sounds a bit underpowered.

And now Ensemble Pygmalion has come along, a new original-instruments baroque ensemble from France. I had the good fortune to see them live last Thursday in the Cologne Philharmonic, performing the St. Matthew Passion. And a stellar performance it was. The strings sounded crisp and robust for historical instruments, with secure intonation. The chorus was modest — about 20 singers in all, many of whom peeled off from the group to come to the fore and sing arias. The balance was ideal: Just enough singers to provide a real bite to the choral interjections, but not so many as to obscure contrapuntal lines. The instrumental soloists were all solid, especially the viola da gamba player, who sawed out an electrifying accompaniment. The tempi were crisp but not hasty, pretty much perfectly judged. And the Evangelist was nothing short of stunning, declaiming with absolute conviction.

You can judge for yourself: Directly after performing in Cologne, they did the St. Matthew in Versailles, and French TV has made it available to all on the web.

Trigger warning: I'm about to criticize Bach. Don't clutch your pearls. In the immortal words of Primus, they can't all be zingers. And the St. Matthew, if you ask me, ain't no zinger, at least not all the way through. The second half especially features some long and, if you ask me, pretty tedious arias. Many of the most ingenious ideas — budding choral fugues, appealing melodies in the obbligato to the Evangelist's recitative — are cut short by the demands of the text or of forward plot motion before they can really develop. And then comes another seemingly 14-minute setting of 5 lines of charming but mediocre poetry by Picador.

Come on, admit it: You've checked your watch one hour into Part II of the St. Matthew. But not when Pygmalion sings it. The musicianship invested even the tedious stretches with enough verve and energy to keep me awake. And made the many good bits sublime. Their recording of the short masses by Bach is stellar, go buy it now. And if they perform anywhere near you, don't miss them.

 

Marcel Broodthaer’s Poetry in English

Marcel Broodthaers was a poet before he was an artist, and two of his early collections have now been translated:

What comes across insistently in both collections is Broodthaers’s attraction to thresholds, to points of transition that equally signify ends and beginnings. He makes reference to voyages undertaken and to midday, daybreak, and other such points of passage in our experience of time. Midnight ends not in darkness but at dawn, as its concluding poem “The Morning” closes with a gift of visionary illumination: “A light filters through to me, a / light of the crests of grasses.” One of the more moving poems in the Siglio volume is simply called “Final Poem,” coming at the end of My Ogre Book, suggesting that the book’s particular journey has reached a kind of terminus:

The streets enter from all sides. Blue flies begin to circle. They cast their eyes down to the pavement. They cry out :

That it is morning

That it is war

That life is costly

That it doesn’t fail to run too fast

That a storm has come quick

That it isn’t surprising

And that one has said it well.

Telescoped here is a sense both of distilled experience and of pride: the poet has made it through, at a cost. But on the opposing page, as a kind of envoi, we’re told that the storm has subsided and “That which had been lightning / became the zigzag of my steps”—the finality of the book’s last poem has now been transmuted into new, animated movement, leading to an unknown beyond.

There’s a restlessness on display in Broodthaers’s poetry that reveals something integral about what he achieved through his career’s varied projects. The poems seem to come from a radically different place than the later visual and conceptual work, but what unites all of it is an emphasis on renewal, reinvention, moving onward in the wake of what one has brought to completion.

Nordic Social Democracy Is The Only Desirable Future

Anu Partanen, a Finn, explains why Nordic social-democratic policies enhance individual freedom and flourishing, don't inhibit innovation, and are the only way forward in a world in which full-time jobs with benefits are vanishing: 

But this vision of homogeneous, altruistic Nordic lands is mostly a fantasy. The choices Nordic countries have made have little to do with altruism or kinship. Rather, Nordic people have made their decisions out of self-interest. Nordic nations offer their citizens—all of their citizens, but especially the middle class—high-quality services that save people a lot of money, time, and trouble. This is what Americans fail to understand: My taxes in Finland were used to pay for top-notch services for me.

When I lived in Finland, as a middle-class citizen I paid income tax at a rate not much higher than what I now pay in New York City. True, Nordic countries have somewhat higher taxes on consumption than America, and overall they collect more tax revenue than the U.S. currently does—partly from the wealthy. But, as an example, here are some of the things I personally got in return for my taxes: nearly a full year of paid parental leave for each child (plus a smaller monthly payment for an additional two years, were I or the father of my child to choose to stay at home with our child longer), affordable high-quality day care for my kids, one of the world’s best public K-12 education systems, free college, free graduate school, nearly free world-class health care delivered through a pretty decent universal network, and a full year of partially paid disability leave.

As far as I was concerned, it was a great deal. And it was equally beneficial for others. From a Nordic perspective, nothing Bernie Sanders is proposing is the least bit crazy—pretty much all Nordic countries have had policies like these in place for years.

But wait, most Americans would say: Those policies work well because all Nordics share a sense of kinship and have fond feelings for each other. That might be nice if it were true, but it’s not, as anyone who has followed recent political debates about immigration or economic policy in Nordic countries understands….

Nordic countries are well-ranked when it comes to helping facilitate starting a business. At the most basic level, what the Nordic approach does is reduce the risk of starting a company, since basic services such as education and health care are covered for regardless of the fledgling company’s fate. In addition, companies themselves are freed from the burdens of having to offer such services for their employees at the scale American companies do. And if the entrepreneur succeeds, they are rewarded by tax rates on capital gains that are lower than the rate on wages.

Nordic economies go through cycles like all countries, and they make mistakes like everyone else—Finland is in the midst of a recession right now, whereas the Swedish economy is doing phenomenally well. As in any region, some Nordic companies eventually crash and burn, and others never get off the ground….

In an age when more and more people are working as entrepreneurs or on short-term projects, and when global competition is requiring all citizens to be better prepared to handle economic turbulence, every nation needs to ensure that its people have the education, health care, and other support structures they need to take risks, start businesses, and build a better future for themselves and for their country. It’s simply a matter of keeping up with the times.

Americans are not wrong to abhor the specters of socialism and big government. In fact, as a proud Finn, I often like to remind my American friends that my countrymen in Finland fought two brutal wars against the Soviet Union to preserve Finland’s freedom and independence against socialism. No one wants to live in a society that doesn’t support individual liberty, entrepreneurship, and open markets.

But the truth is that free-market capitalism and universal social policies go well together—this isn’t about big government, it’s about smart government. I suspect that despite Hillary Clinton’s efforts to distance herself from Sanders, she probably knows this. After all, Clinton is also endorsing policies that sound an awful lot like what the Nordics have done: paid family leave, better public schools, and affordable day care, health care and college for all.

The United States is its own country, and no one expects it to become a Nordic utopia. But Nordic countries aren’t utopias either. What they’ve done has little to do with culture, size, or homogeneity, and everything to do with figuring out how to flourish and compete in the 21st century.

In the U.S., supporters of not only Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, but also of Donald Trump, are worried about exactly the kinds of problems that universal social policies can help solve: worsening income inequality, shrinking opportunity, the decline of the middle class, and the survival of the ordinary family in the face of globalization. What America needs right now, desperately, isn’t to keep fighting the socialist bogeymen of the past, but to see the future—at least one presidential candidate should show them that.

A Fine Article About Justice in Texas

I’ve been hard on many German journalists who report on the USA. Sometimes tough love, sometimes tough hate! The cardinal sin of German reporters is not getting facts straight and not correcting mistakes even after I or someone else points them out.

The venial sin – by no means limited to coverage of the USA – is telling us what they think about everything they report. I know you have a lot of profoundly civilized feelings about guns or prisons or the death penalty or racism, Maximilian or Felicitas, but they don't interest me. I neither know nor care very much who you are. Tell us what you saw and heard, not what you think about it, and certainly not what you think we should think about it.

That’s why it’s a pleasure to recommend this fine in-depth piece (g) by Andreas Ross about a ‘drug court’ in Dallas, Texas. The point is to single out those criminals whose basic problem is drug addiction, and to divert them into an alternative program designed to keep them straight and out of jail. It’s still pretty strict – participants have to pass constant random drug tests and can be summarily thrown in jail if they mess up – but it’s been effective. And keeps people out of Texas prisons, which have a deservedly awful reputation. The author drills down into the subject, lets people speak for themselves, and stays in the background, where you always find the best reporters.

Well done!

Democracy v. Predictability

Center-right US commentator Christopher Caldwell on Frauke Petry and the AfD (h/t MM):

The AfD would be only a shadow of itself had Merkel not promised to admit 800,000 Syrian refugees late last summer, driving half the country into a frenzy of charitable activity and the other half into an existential panic. In the event, 1.3 million migrants came—most of them economic immigrants, practically all of them Muslims, and only a minority from Syria. There is no workable procedure to sort the humanitarian rescue cases from the opportunists. They will all, eventually, have the right to bring their families. They are still coming in at the rate of more than 3,000 a day. The March vote came, luckily for Merkel, at a time when the stream had fortuitously paused, as migrants sought to adjust to Macedonia's having closed its border with Greece. This summer the numbers will probably swell.

Merkel reacted with the sangfroid that we have come to expect of presidents in American midterm elections. Like George W. Bush in 2006 and Barack Obama in 2010 and 2014, she very forthrightly said that she had heard the voters' fury, and now she was ready to redouble her efforts to carry out the very policies that provoked it. "In terms of the basic approach," Merkel said in a press conference, "I'm just going to continue doing what I've been doing over the last few months." Her strategy seems to be to gamble that voters do not really feel the worries that they express, and that they will now allow party leaders to go back to making policy unmolested. But this strategy seems more foolish because the situation is getting more risky.

One can ask whether all the historical monitions to AfD voters are really meant or even understood, or whether they are pious blather. Is Merkel really protecting Germany against a "return to the horrors of the twentieth century"? Perhaps she aims to, but in showing herself indifferent to the fate of her country, she is increasing the risk of what she claims to fear. People expect a sign—almost any sign—that their leaders care whether Germany survives or not. This sign need not be belligerent—it could be the slightest acknowledgment. But the public is not receiving it. From anyone.

Now, through the AfD, they have begun to insist on it democratically. No one can doubt that Petry is right to call the recent election "a very good day for democracy in Germany." But that may be precisely the problem, and the problem may be a deeper one than we think. Europe and the United States have built an enormous architecture of international rules on a foundation of democratic nation-states. This architecture consists of international bureaucracies, treaties guiding global corporations and finance, the informal rules of international migration and world "governance." The problem is that the two are at odds. International organizations require predictability: The Elmar Broks of the world describe this need for predictability as "international law." Democracies require flexibility: People must have real choices about how they govern themselves. For a while we found a middle way, offering the people fake choices about how they govern themselves. But they have seen through it. Now that they have, one of the two—flexibility or predictability—is going to have to go. Merkel has chosen to keep predictability. We should not be too confident that her compatriots, or ours, will make the same choice.

 

Remedial Logic for Immigration Debates: The Fake Xenophobia/Few Foreigners Paradox

FallaciesPoster

A recent article in the Monde Diplomatique about Poland bears the title 'Real Xenophobia, Phantom Immigrants'. 

When motivated thinking rules the day, as it does in the European immigrant debate, fallacies spread like weeds. This article is an example. It fits into the trope, repeated over and over by immigration liberals: 'Why do Poles/Germans living in Saxony/Slovakians oppose immigrants so much? There are hardly any living there!'

The fallacy here is so glaring that you might be inclined to think this argument is only for idiots. Perhaps, but most of the people who fall for this howler are just engaging in motivated reasoning, a hallmark of human nature. They will recycle any old argument, however flimsy, so long as it supports their existing opinion. We all do it. Intelligent people do it less than unintelligent people, since they have a superior ability to recognize logical errors. But even the smartest fall into the trap. Studies show only trained philosophers are capable of consistently avoiding motivated reasoning.

In case you're tempted to buy this argument, let's look at why it's bogus. The thinking of anti-immigration Poles is as follows (not singling Poles out, just using them as an example — bez obrazy!):

We oppose immigration because we think immigrants bring problems, and we don't want those problems in our country.

You may disagree with the premise of this argument (immigrants = problems), but there's nothing inconsistent about it. For that matter, Albanians might oppose nuclear power, even though there are no nuclear power plans in Albania, because they believe nuclear plants bring problems.

In fact, this habit of thinking is literally written into European law:

The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action that may or may not be a risk.

As Steve Sailer tellingly observes, when it comes to genetically modified foods or chemicals, European law demands extensive study before any risky activity, no matter how remote the possibility of harm. When it comes to immigration, though, anything goes! 

Poles who oppose immigration are applying the precautionary principle to immigration. The one foolproof way to avoid having a nuclear meltdown in your country is to not build any nuke plants there. The one foolproof way to avoid having any genetically-modified plants in your country (aside from intruders) is to not plant any there.

And the one foolproof way to avoid having any Cologne-on-New-Year's-Eves in your country is to keep immigrants out.

You may consider this illiberal or inhumane, but there's one thing it ain't: illogical.