My Contribution to the Enlightenment Now

A friend who’s reading Steven Pinker’s defense of the European Enlightenment, Enlightenment Now, alerts me to the fact that I am name-checked on page 210:

pinker name check.JPG

Nice to encounter a fair and reasonable summary of your work in a best-selling book, especially one whose argument you find congenial.

If you’d like the longer version of this argument, you can buy, or borrow, or otherwise acquire my 2010 book, Ending the Death Penalty: The European Experience in Global Perspective. And if you’re wondering: Yep, it’s written for non-lawyers.

What to Wear to Your Murder Trial

From my days as a criminal defense lawyer, I still remember the case of Robert L. Simpson, a Chicago-area defendant on trial for armed robbery and capital murder. While acting as his own lawyer during a death penalty trial in 1993, "he wore a black satin jacket inscribed with "Pimping Ain't Easy" across the back." The reporter also noted this illuminating exchange: "Jerry Dotson, a 22-year veteran of the Chicago police and the officer who was shot by Simpson, said he still keeps a photo of Simpson in his locker. When Simpson asked why, Dotson replied, 'Because you shot me.'"

Yasser S., is on trial for participation in the alleged honor killing of a mother of 5 from Solingen, Germany. The trial aroused some interest because the trial took place despite the body never having been found. On Friday, the skeletal remains of the woman were located after a two-year search. Here's a picture of Yasser S. from 2016:

Der-angeklagte-yasser-s-2016

Skeletal remains, indeed. § 187, by the way, is the Section of the California Penal Code for murder. Perhaps someone should have told his lawyers.

The Fallacy of Context Omission

Black bloc

[Black bloc in Heiligendamm, 2007, source]

A Croatian protester, , has arrived in Hamburg to protest the G20 summit and doesn't like the security precautions:

Arriving in Hamburg this week feels like entering a dystopian nightmare. As the city prepares to host the G20 summit this Friday and Saturday, many roads are blocked and high-security zones have been established. More than 20,000 police, many heavily armed, are patrolling the streets, backed up by drones and the latest surveillance technology. Helicopters are permanently “parked” in the clouds, so the sound of their rotors becomes a sort of background music you soon stop noticing. Perpetual police and ambulance sirens, emergency lights and water cannons accompany the orchestra of power.

This is an example of a type of argument I find especially irritating. As everyone who even briefly follows the news knows, there is a reason for these security precautions. And not just because there are a lot of powerful people at summits.

The reason is that, in 2007, the G8 held a summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. Germany is a favorite target for demonstrators, because it's easily reachable from all over Europe and has liberal laws on freedom of protest. Thousands of protesters, including at least 2,000 violent black-bloc militants, descended on that city. The result was burning cars and barricades, violent clashes, thousands of injuries on both sides (g) and millions in property damage. (Reliable estimates are hard to come by, because the Wikipedia entries on the 2007 G8 protests seem to be lively battlegrounds of editing and counter-editing.)

In other words, the G8 summit in Germany in 2007 turned into a violent catastrophe during which only random chance prevented loss of life. To prevent a recurrence, German security officials have instituted tight security for all later summit meetings, resulting in a much lower level of violence and destruction.

However, Horvat never mentions this context. He wants us to obediently shudder in horror at terrifying, Orwellian security precautions, without mentioning why they were taken. He apparently wants us to pretend the black bloc doesn't exist, and/or that the authorities shouldn't respond to their violence.

This is what I call the Fallacy of Context Omission. It doesn't seem to quite fit in with any existing recognized fallacy, but perhaps I missed something. The structure is simple: You decry a controversial state of affairs, and invite the reader to become morally outraged about it, without mentioning the context that led to the state of affairs and provides a rationale for its existence.

Examples:

Situation: Overpopulation of deer is causing serious problems, so authorities issue more deer permits.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The authorities have authorized a massacre of innocent deer because they despise animals!"

Situation: Cops put up more radar checkpoints because traffic accidents have risen significantly.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The cops are taking away our freedoms because they need more cash from fines!"

Situation: Heroin deaths and public drug use have increased, so the city creates methadone clinics and safe rooms.

Invitation to moral outrage: "The city authorities are subsidizing drug use!"

You get the picture. This fallacy shows a contempt for the reader's intelligence and understanding, since it presupposes (or demands) the reader's ignorance of obviously relevant facts.

The irony is that Horvat is a philosopher, so you would ordinarily assume he would be more attuned than most people to the need to avoid fallacies. But alas, he's the kind of philosopher who is more likely to "interrogate" logic than to use it.

Quantifying the Public-Elite Divide on Immigration in Europe

The British think tank Chatham House just completed phase two of an interesting study. The first phase polled 10,000 Europeans on a host of public policy issues, including immigration. The top-line result — a whopping 56% of European oppose further immigration from Muslim countries — came out in February 2017. That took wind out of the sails of European press commentators, who were busy denouncing Donald Trump's plans to…stop further immigration from Muslim countries.

Perhaps inspired by this glaring disconnect between public opinion and published opinion, Chatham House decided to conduct a follow-up survey of European elites, which it defined as "individuals in positions of influence at local, regional, national and European levels across four key sectors (elected politicians, the media, business and civil society) – with 1,823 respondents (approximately 180 from each country) who were surveyed through a mix of telephone, face-to-face and online interviews."

A few days ago, the findings came out in a report called "The Future of Europe: Comparing Public and Elite Attitudes". The result: Europeans are hugely more skeptical about immigration, especially from Muslim countries, than the elites who govern them. Here are a few charts:

Attitudes 1

Attitudes 2The report concludes: "These views reveal latent public sympathy for the core messages of the radical right on these topics. There are big socio-demographic differences, however, between those who hold such views. Citizens aged over 60 and with a lower level of education are notably more likely to view European and Islamic ways of life as irreconcilable. On some questions, there is also significant support among the elite sample. One possible explanation for such views among the elite is anxiety over the perceived challenge from Islam to liberal values, a concern that has become manifest in debates in France and the Netherlands over moves to impose partial bans on Islamic dress that covers the face. It may also be a consequence of recent Islamist terrorist attacks and of the fears of an increasingly divided society."

A few observations. First, the authors of the report are using the term "radical right" in the sense of "outside the mainstream". That's obtuse. When only 25% of of Europeans think immigration's been beneficial overall, and nearly twice that number think it's harmful, these views are mainstream. The problem is not that voters have been somehow "seduced" into endorsing "radical right" views. The problem is that only the right has taken up mainstream thinking on this issue. The democratic problem is not the popularity of the "radical" right. The democratic problem is the failure of any mainstream party to reflect the views of a majority of citizens in many EU countries. In the long term, this is an unsustainable and potentially dangerous state of affairs.

Second, these numbers reflect the bubble in which elites live. When urban elites (and yes, I include myself) think about immigration, they spontaneously associate it with (1) great ethnic food and (2) the individuals they know who come from these countries. I can't count the number of times I've heard educated, prosperous Europeans (they have a lot of discreet charm, but they're pretty conformist) make exactly these two points at dinner parties. "Oh, there's a great new Ethiopian place which opened up just a few streets away. Yay immigration!" and "The Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program is so nice and smart. Yay immigration!" Sometimes, you hear both cliches in one comment: "The nice Iranian guy in my physics Ph. D. program brought in a delicious lamb dish for us all to share last week! Yay immigration!"

Unless they actually live in run-down, gritty areas of German or French cities (spoiler alert: they don't), these urban elites will be unfamiliar with the nastier realities of immigration. There is no chance of them living next to a run-down high-rise which is taken over by immigrants and turned into a garbage-strewn sinkhole of bottom-barrel prostitution and drug-dealing (g). Nor do they live in streets where spontaneous mobs of clan members beat and terrorize police and bystanders (g). Nor is anyone going to build refugee shelters (g) in the high-rent inner-city neighborhoods they love. If any of these things do happen, our urban elites will discreetly move to more prosperous surroundings, without ever admitting exactly why (not enough dog parks…need more room for the kids…a friend of mine told me about this great place that just came on the market…)

Some form of this divide has, of course, always existed. However, it seems to me that it is growing rapidly now, and that the willingness of elites to frankly acknowledge the divide — much less actually do anything to bridge it — is steadily decreasing. That spells trouble, methinks.

One Chart to Rule them All

Many thanks to Marek M., who pointed me to this chart based on a report provided by the German government to the Bundestag on 15 December 2016 (pdf, numbers from p. 245).

This is it — the one chart everyone needs to see before forming an opinion about immigration to Germany. The One Chart to Rule them All.

The brown line is the number of deportations from Germany in a year. The blue line is the number of illegal entries.

Illegal entries and deportations

Just let that sink in for a minute. 

Now, a few brief comments.

First, the notion that the 2015 influx is just a blip which will work itself out in the long run is false. In the mid-1990s, German policymakers suddenly decided that they would no longer try to actually deport all the people who entered Germany illegally. Starting in 2009, they essentially gave up on the idea of deporting any more than a tiny fraction of illegal immigrants. Even before the migrant influx of 2015, Germany as a whole was only managing to deport about 10% of all the people in Germany who had already been denied asylum

Second, this breakdown in law and order is a result of many thousands of individual choices by actors in every single branch of the German government.

State governments. Organizing and enforcing deportations is the responsibility of individual German states, so the overall total abdication of deportations is a reflection of policy changes in all 16 German states. Some are much more dedicated to enforcing the law than others, but overall, the trend is downward.

Immigration bureaucrats. The individual decision-makers at immigration agencies can invoke dozens of exceptions to permit people who have already been denied asylum to stay in Germany. They can recognize a special exception for family members, or because of medical problems, or find that conditions in the immigrant's homeland are too unstable, or simply decide not to 'enforce' an existing immigration order.

By far the most common technique they apply is Duldung (toleration), in which someone who has no legal right to be in Germany is allowed to continue staying here as a matter of toleration — basically, the administrator uses his or her discretion to decide that if an illegal immigrant isn't causing a significant problem or has some argument why he should be allowed to stay, he will be permitted to stay in Germany for a temporary period, which can be renewed indefinitely.

Bureaucrats all over the world, like most people, have a noticeable preference for deciding cases in such a way as to create as little work for themselves as possible.

If Bogdan presents you with an obviously fake-looking medical certificate from a notoriously corrupt doctor, you have one of two choices. Either you continue Bogdan's 'tolerated' status, in which case he goes home happy. Or you start a tedious, time-consuming investigation into the genuineness of the certificate. Followed by the tedious, time-consuming, emotionally draining, stressful process of actually getting Bogdan deported. Bogdan has many chances to appeal a deportation order, so the process will take years. During which both Bogdan and his children will set down ever-deeper roots, making uprooting them that much more difficult.

Example: The attempt of police to pick up a rejected Afghan asylum-seeker to deport from a trade school in Nuremburg recently resulted in an all-out riot in which hundreds of the student's classmates blocked a street and threw bottles and even a bicycle(!) at the police, resulting in nine injured police officers:

 //players.brightcove.net/2540076170001/ByveBcs0_default/index.html?videoId=5454810052001#t=40s

Who wants all that aggravation?

Notice that this bureaucratic inertia results in perverse outcomes: a well-integrated illegal immigrant who admits he could be deported but argues that he should be allowed to stay simply because he's making a contribution will be at high risk of being deported. An illegal immigrant who lies to authorities and manipulates the system (like the Afghan (g) whose deportation caused the riot) will have a greater chance of being allowed to stay, since disproving his bogus arguments and denying his appeals will take so much effort. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.

The courts. The German government sometimes passes laws designed to modestly adjust immigration laws to make them somewhat more restrictive. But none of these will have much effect if courts are generous in recognizing exceptions. German courts are notoriously all over the map when it comes to handling immigration appeals; some are soft touches, while others are rigorous. But the highest German courts often hand down decisions based on the German constitution or human-rights treaties which blow massive holes in the legal framework designed to enforce deportations.

One example is the 2013 decision by the German Federal Constitutional Court (g) on paternity questions in immigration cases. German law rather unwisely provides that a father's decision to officially acknowledge paternity of a child cannot be questioned. This law immediately set up a loophole in immigration law: pregnant women could fly to Germany and request asylum. They would immediately be granted temporary asylum based on a provision of German asylum law which extends automatic recognition to all pregnant mothers.

While being cared for in Germany (at German taxpayers' expense), the human trafficker running the operation pays € 5,000 (the going rate, according to reports) to a German male, who then files an official recognition of paternity. Since the child is now the child of a German father, the child automatically becomes a German citizen when born. And the mother automatically gets a residency permit, since it would be inhumane to break up the family. The father could theoretically be required to pay child support, but the ones who participate in the racket are all on welfare anyway, so they are exempt from child-support obligations. Immigration authorities went to court to argue that they should be able to conduct official paternity tests to disprove the claim of fatherhood, but the Federal Constitutional Court rejected their appeal in 2013. Allowing the authorities to contest the fatherhood claim, the Court reasoned, would create an unacceptable risk that the child might end up stateless.

The result? There are now 700 suspected cases (g) of this form of immigration fraud in Berlin alone. According to the investigative report, many of the mothers ended up becoming prostitutes, working for the human traffickers who imported them and financed the fake fatherhood certificates. The report linked to just above profiles a particularly ironic case: the German 'fake father' who claimed he had a child with an illegal Vietnamese immigrant was actually a far-right extremist an prominent member of the extreme-right NPD party. Apparently the prospect of a quick € 5,000 was more important to this neo-Nazi welfare case than protecting the racial purity of the German Volk. Are you as shocked as I am?

The system is completely broken. Only the foolishly honest or stupid actually get deported, the cunning and the criminal get to stay. Further, everyone across the world understands this: if you somehow manage to set foot in Germany and have some reasonable understanding of German law, there is about a 90% chance you will be able to remain in Germany for the rest of your life, regardless of all the carefully-wrought provisions of German law.

UPDATE: I updated this post on 7 June to reflect that the chart itself is not actually contained in the report, and that the numbers on which the chart is based appear on p. 245 of the linked document.

Allahu Akbar, Mr. Muffinpaws

Nintchdbpict000272867473

(source)

There are around 600 so-called "dangerous persons" (g) (Gefährder) living in Germany. These are people on an official government watch list because they're considered at high risk of committing terrorist attacks or other acts of violence. Most of them are Islamists. Some of them are in custody, others are not, some are under strict surveillance, others aren't. As with a lot of things in Germany, it's complicated.

In February of this year, German cops raided one of these men. He was a foreign national from "country N" (I'll presume Nigeria), born and raised in Germany, now a radical Islamist. He wanted to join up with ISIS in Syria, but couldn't manage the funds and paperwork, so he mulled over attacks in Germany with his chat partner, Abdullah K. who either was or pretended to be an ISIS recruiter.

The opinion (g) of the Federal Administrative Court authorizing his deportation lists the possible targets identified in these chats: stabbing police officers, building a car bomb, attacking a "university party or gay parade", attacking people in a pedestrian zone with a kitchen knife or car bomb, throwing stones from a highway bridge, or driving a car or truck into a crowd. In messages marked by truly shitty spelling, our nice Nigerian friend went on for pages and pages about how it was necessary to set Germany "in flames", spread "fear", "we can do more damage here at home", etc.

To prove he wasn't as dangerous as all that, his lawyers tried a novel defense:

The danger posed by the applicant is not contradicted by the fact that he recently acquired a young cat, since the symbol of the cat is an Islamically-justified expression of masculine tenderness and Salafist fighters from the West, in particular have used cats to convey the message of the masculinity of Jihadis. (see Dr. Mariella Ourghi, Ideas of Masculinity Among Salafists, Website of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation)

And here is what Ms. Ourghi has to say (g):

In 2014, we encountered a new aspect of the presentation of Jihadi masculinity, observed mainly among militants from the West. They present themselves in videos giving sweets to children, which is intended to express caring affection. Even more frequently, they post photos of themselves hugging and petting cats. The symbol of a cat as a sign of masculine tenderness in Islam is explained by the fact that the Prophet Muhammad and his companion Abu Huraira (literally "Father of the kitten") were known to be cat-lovers. The fact that it is primarily fighters socialized in the West who used cat photos appears not to be coincidental, since it corresponds to modern conceptions of masculinity in the West. One part of this is that most women today view tenderness and affection as an important part of a fulfilled relationship, and demands this from men…. Posing with cats therefore is aimed at potential marriage candidates, to convey the image of an affectionate lover in addition to that of strong masculinity.

German intelligence, if you're reading this blog (which would be flattering), I admit that I have two cats. However, I swear I'm a peaceful guy. Please don't deport me back to the USA — can you really call it a safe country of origin?

The Students Without Qualities

The German newspaper Die Welt reports (g) on the case of a 14-year-old Jewish student from in the Friedenau suburb of Berlin who was harassed and attacked by his fellow students after he revealed he was Jewish. According to him, one of his fellow students told him: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.” He eventually had to leave the school.

A Jewish student being harassed, beaten, and insulted in the capital of Germany? This should be a major scandal, right?

Well, no. It has gotten some press coverage, as the Welt article shows, but not very much. Does this mean Germany really doesn't care about violent anti-Semitism?

Well, yes and no. To explain the response, we need, as always, to ask the question: Who is engaging in anti-Semitism? The Welt article, of course, never tells us. In that story, the young man is being attacked "by other children" or "by his classmates". Male? Female? Older? Younger? Ethnicity? Nope, none of that, thank you very much. All the Welt thinks you need to know about these violent anti-Semites are that they are "students".

They're the Students Without Qualities. Fans of the American sitcom Community might be reminded of the Greendale Community College mascot, the "Greendale Human Being": 

Only at the end of the story do we get a brief hint of who might be behind these attacks: "According to Tagesspiegel, 75% of the students at the school do not speak German as a native language, and many come from Turkish and Arab families."

Let's now turn to Tagesspiegel, the Berlin newspaper that first reported on the case in German. There, we come gingerly closer to the truth. After indeed reporting that there were many Turkish and Arab students at the school, the Tagesspiegel states (g) laconically, almost in passing: "According to the school's principal Uwe Runkel, this is also true of the criminal suspects [in the anti-Semitic harassment]." Blink and you might miss it, but here we finally have the truth: the anti-Semitic harassment did not come from Germans.

Fortunately, in this case we don't have to rely on the cloudy abstractions of the German press. The incident was originally reported in the English-language Jewish Chronicle:

Emma, who is British, said her son, Phillip (not their real names), 14, had been moved to an English language high school in Berlin .

Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural.

She said it had never occurred to Phillip to deny his Jewishness, and one day he mentioned it to his classmates.

One of them responded: “Listen, you are a cool dude but I can’t be friends with you, Jews are all murderers.”

The verbal abuse escalated to physical violence, until earlier this month, “when he was attacked and almost strangled, and the guy pulled a toy gun on him that looked like a real gun. And the whole crowd of kids laughed. He was completely shaken.”

“It was terrible,” Phillip said, “but I didn’t have time to think what’s happening at the time. Now when I look back, I think, oh my God.”

Emma said she decided then and there that “I am not sending him to this school any more, and that was it.”

The case underscores concerns that educators and parents have expressed for years in Berlin about the antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children.

Berlin’s Jewish high school receives between six and 10 applications a year from parents who want to move their children away from schools where they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment, said Aaron Eckstaedt, principal of the Moses Mendelssohn Jewish High School in Berlin.

The requests generally are “in reaction to antisemitic statements coming overwhelmingly from Arabic or Turkish classmates,” he said, adding that “in most cases, the families complain about the relative lack of response from state schools” to the problem.

Being the target of anti-Semitic attacks seems to motivate people to actually want to know who's behind them. Indeed, the sub-head of the article reads: "Case illustrates long history of antisemitic harassment of Jewish pupils, particularly by Arab and Turkish children."

Now, to be fair, the principal has expressed dismay and regret:

When contacted by the JC, [the principal] Runkel said he regretted the antisemitic bullying of Phillip. He added he had hoped to help the student feel safe and also to make perpetrators face the consequences of their actions, but that obviously “for the parents it wasn’t fast enough”.

He said “a general approach in the school to antisemitism” was clearly needed, and was being developed.

Ahh, the "general approach" — the Gesamtkonzept! You can't do anything in Germany without one. I am sure the principal actually is disgusted by a Jewish student being insulted and "almost strangled" at his school. But things get quite awkward when the anti-Semites in Germany turn out to be, er, not so German after all.

Although Turks and Arabs are allowed to point out the fact that anti-Semitism is endemic in Turkey and the Arab world, ethnic Germans can't really come right out and do so, for fear of being charged with stoking prejudice against Germans of Turkish and Arab descent. And there are a lot more of those than there are Jewish residents of Germany.

It's delicate, you see. Very, very delicate.

The problem with all this delicacy, though, is that sometimes people need clear information: "Emma said she and her husband had originally been attracted to the school, Friedenauer Gemeinschaftsschule, which has a large proportion of Arab and Turkish children, by the fact it was so multicultural." Apparently, nobody informed these folks that sending a Jewish child to a German school with a large Muslim population might not be such a good idea.

Euphemisms can be dangerous.

In any case, Phillip got the message: "As for Phillip, he would not necessarily recommend that other children reveal their Jewishness to classmates unless it’s 'a nice, quiet school.'"

Germany’s Dumbest Inadvertent Condom-Machine Suicides

There's a show in the United States called "America's Dumbest Criminals", which does what it said on the tin. The show's main fodder is grainy surveillance camera footage, with some "dramatic re-enactments" when that wasn't available. Über-stoned robbers who forgot their wallets at the crime scene or shoot themselves, drunk drivers plowing into anything you can imagine, inadvertent confessions, you name it. The show's tagline was "names have been changed to protect…the ignorant".

I have the feeling this show has probably launched a thousand jargon-clogged dissertations ("Social Exclusion, the Authoritarian Personality, Cognitive Shaming, and the Re/In-Scription of Culpability on the 'Ghost' Body of the Offender in 'America's Dumbest Criminals'"), which we may safely ignore. Germany doesn't seem have an equivalent of this show, but there are plenty of articles (g) and video features (g) with the same theme (some variant of Deutschlands dümmste Verbrecher).

Mocking criminals for their stupidity seems a pretty harmless response to crime. From a criminological point of view, these shows seem to be a useful counterweight to the stereotypical movie portrayal of criminals either as ruthless masterminds (USA) or the hapless victims of psychological disturbance or turbo-capitalism (Germany). In fact, most criminals are neither cunning nor mentally ill, but generally are indeed very, very dumb. Studies from both the US and UK show that prison inmates, on average, have IQs in the mid-80s, about 1 standard deviation below the mean of 100, which is a big difference, and that lower intelligence is associated with more violence among prisoners. I can't find numbers for Germany offhand, but I can't imagine why they would be significantly different.

Which brings us to the guy who blew himself up yesterday in Dortmund. He was trying to rob a Deutsche Bahn ticket machine in Scharnhorst (g) in Dortmund, but instead inflicted "massive facial injuries" on himself and died at the scene. A few years ago, another young man killed himself while trying to blow up a condom machine (g) in sleepy little Borken (pop. 42,000), Germany. 

The first level of stupidity here is that these guys killed themselves. And that's a pretty significant level of stupidity! But the second level is why ticket and condom machines? I travel a lot on the German railways, and trust me, it is the exception to see someone paying for an expensive ticket with cash. Although perhaps the machines aren't cleaned out very regularly, and it piles up. I can't really say, since I've never broken into one.

But a streetside condom machine? I haven't ever seen anyone use one of these, have you? Besides, the maximum value of anything there is usually no more than 6-8 euros for the "luxury items" such as the notorious "Travel Pu**y" (let's keep it clean here, folks) or the "Vibrating Penis Ring"*. I have no idea how much is inside the average German condom machine, but I bet the explosive was probably more expensive. And even if the explosive was made from cheap homemade materials, the risk is obviously fairly astronomical.

Are these criminals really stupid for targeting ticket and condom machines here, or am I missing something?

* The "Travel Pu**y" is frequently encountered in the men's bathrooms of German bars and rest stops, and not just there. I tried to buy one once. Naturally it goes without saying that I didn't plan on using it for its intended purpose. [Methinks you doth protest too much — ed.], I wanted to amuse my drinking buddies.

I put in my 6 Euros (a costly jape, but my bar tab was in the high 30s by then, so I figured why not?), but nothing came out. And then it hit me: nothing will ever come out. There is no such thing as an actual Travel Pu**y. What are you going to do when you get nothing for your 6 Euros? Complain to the waitress that you were denied your Fetid Loser's Ejaculation Receptacle? Of course there's a number on the machine, but I'm sure the call center is staffed with sultry-voiced 20-something women, for the same reason.

Citizens, awaken! There is no such thing as The Travel Pu**y!

German Word and Rule of the Week: Knöllchen

A Düsseldorfer on Facebook recently found this underneath her windshield:

Knoellchen

It reads:

"You're parked illegally!

Ticket!

Joke we're just kids playing

we're sorry"

I found this pretty adorable. Almost makes me want to reproduce.

There are a few errors on the ticket, though. For one thing, there's no thorough explanation of your legal rights and the deadline for submitting an objection. For another, they describe the ticket as a 'Knolle'.

Knolle means bulge, lump, or more technically nodule. There is a slang expression for a traffic ticket here in the Rhineland, but that is Knöllchen, the diminutive form of lump. You get a 'little lump' on your windshield if you park illegally. Ain't that cool?

I'd be willing to bet the German kid who wrote this actually no-shit dreams of growing up to be a parking cop. Job security, civil servant status, reasonable hours, a tiny little bit of authority to exercise — what's not to love?

Genetic Confounds and the Causes of Crime

Criminologist Brian Boutwell on the genetic influences on behavior, including criminal behavior:

Variety in our gene pool matters when we seek to understand why some people can dunk a basketball or compose a sonnet, and why some people persistently break the law. The effects of genetic differences make some people more impulsive and shortsighted than others, some people more healthy or infirm than others, and, despite how uncomfortable it might be to admit, genes also make some folks more likely to break the law than others.

…Imagine that you’re curious whether certain parenting styles influence self-control in children. It’s not hard to find evidence that the way parents treat their children is associated with the child’s level of self-control later in life. But parents don’t just pass on life lessons for learning self-control to their kids, they also pass along their genetic material. Half of your genetic material was inherited from Mom and half came from Dad. If you ignore the element of genetic transmission, you might falsely attribute any correlation between parent and child as being due to social transmission.

The way parents treat children is, in part, a product of their own personality and temperament. Personality is partly heritable, so the observation that parents and children tend to have similar levels of self-control could be due to social transmission, genetic transmission, or both.

Most of the evidence about the causes of crime overlooks genetic transmission. Yet, some research has found that once you account for genetic influences on self-control, previously identified social transmission effects (read: parenting) on the child’s self-control become unstable. In other words, when you control for genetic transmission (the alternative explanation that most criminologists overlook), the effect of parenting on self-control diminishes or goes away entirely.

Consider another type of parenting effect — one that shows up in the news frequently — spanking. Not long ago, we examined the relationship between spanking and behavioral problems in children. Once we controlled for genetic transmission, there was no spanking effect in the way that most scholars think about spanking effects. Put another way, our evidence did not support the conclusion that spanking causes behavioral problems in the sense that most psychologists would argue.

The conundrum of heritability transcends parenting. For instance, it’s obvious that crime isn’t randomly distributed across neighborhoods. It seems to be a relatively stable factor that defines an area over many generations. Equally nonrandom, though, is the process by which people sort themselves into neighborhoods. People cluster into areas based on a host of factors, including the primary factor of income. Here’s the kicker, if any of the traits that affect residential choices are heritable and you ignore that influence, your findings regarding the impact of neighborhood factors on crime could be in jeopardy.

A remarkable study in Sweden recently found that highly disadvantaged neighborhoods had more crime. Yet that neighborhood effect disappeared when risk factors concentrated within certain families were taken into account. Once again, social transmission effects weakened (and, in this case disappeared) when other factors like genetic transmission were controlled for. Does this finding guarantee that similar results will emerge in other samples around the world? No. But criminologists rarely consider the possibility that their own studies could be polluted by hidden genetic effects.

The more technical term for this phenomenon is genetic confounding, and there is reason to believe that it is endemic to much of the research coming out of the social sciences in general, and criminology in particular. Our own research into the issue suggests that even a modest amount of unmeasured genetic influence can pollute and infect your findings. As a result, much of what we think we know about the causes of crime could be overstated or just flat wrong.

I first became interested in genetic influences on behavior and opinion when I was writing my book on the death penalty. I wanted to know what kinds of argument and information change peoples' views on capital punishment, and found that the answer was, basically, none. The typical arguments people use against capital punishment are human rights, cost, reliability, deterrence, possibility of executing the innocent. And study after study showed that these arguments usually only changed a small percentage of peoples' minds, and that the changes were often temporary.

One reason for that is that your views on capital punishment are influenced by your genes. Since the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 — the most important scientific achievement of the past 20 years — researchers have been able to tease out the genetic influences on all sorts of behavior and personality traits. There's no reason that should exclude crime — in fact, the kinds of personality traits which lead to a higher likelihood of crime are well-known to be heritable.

Every time you read about a social-science survey on the effects of education, parenting, or environment on this or that human trait, you should scan the report for any signs that the authors took genetic confounds into account. If they didn't the report is worthless. It's that simple.

‘Lessons of History’ Taught to Empty Classrooms

Many aspects of German life, people will tell you, have been shaped by the 'lessons' Germans have learned from things which happened 80 years ago.

'We' learned, you'll hear everywhere, that state killing is wrong, which is why 'we' adopted Art. 102 of the post-war German constitution, which bans the death penalty. And which is why 'we' lecture other countries on why they, too, should end executions.

Whenever you hear a German saying something like this, ask them: Who's 'we'? They'll be puzzled at first, never having given this question a moment's thought. But then you can Socratically lead them to the realization that 'we' refers only to the educated upper class. When the Basic Law was being debated in the late 1940s, the death penalty was still wildly popular in Germany, with approval routinely between 70 and 80 percent. And the man who proposed that abolishing the death penalty be part of the German constitution was Hans-Christoph Seebohm, a right-winger who also wanted a constitutional ban on abortion.

Which brings us to video surveillance of public places in Germany. Once again, the amorphous 'we' raises its head: 'We' suffered through two dictatorships during the 20th century in which governments spied relentlessly on their citizens, which is why 'we' don't trust or want surveillance cameras. 

Except that a recent poll shows 83% of Germans do want more surveillance cameras (g) in public places.

When History was teaching its Lessons, the people — like German university students today — skipped class.