German Word of the Week: Reanimieren

Here’s a headline from Austria about an accident during a youth outing. A boat capsized, and two girls were rescued from drowning and resuscitated:

reaminated

The German word for resuscitation is “reanimate”. Which makes me think two things:

1. That’s a lot less fussy and pretentious than “resuscitate”.

2. H.P. Lovecraft would approve.

Ähnliches Foto

Graphic Designers and their Goddamn Chameleons

A friend in Düsseldorf spotted this sign offering a €50 reward for the return of their veiled chameleon (which is called a ‘yemen chameleon’ in German):

chameleon

It reads “It may sound unlikely, but unfortunately, our chameleon seems to have run away.

REWARD 50 EURO.

He’s probably curled up in a corner of our apartment, but we wanted to cover every base. He’s not dangerous or poisonous, just kind of a punk.”

The little arrows next to the picture say he “likes to eat flies and crickets”,  “moves slowly and is fragile”, and has a “helpless, usually skeptical expression”.

This is what happens when you live in a city full of creative types. (1) They keep foofy-ass pets, and when they lose them, (2) painstakingly craft the most eye-catching missing posters you’ve ever seen.

In fact, I’m not sure this isn’t mainly an ingenious freelancer marketing scheme. (‘Did this missing-chameleon poster catch your eye? Wouldn’t you like your ads to do the same?’).

Learning to Read, Write, and Murder

From the explainer accompanying the great Twitter feed Medieval Death Bot:

1. Who were clerks and just why did they murder everybody?

Clerk is an umbrella term for a variety of offices in the Middle Ages. A quick google of the term points you towards the clerical side of clerkdom, the word coming from the Latin clericus which also gives us the word ‘cleric’, which is technically an accurate description, but not really the whole picture. Some literature on the Middle Ages impedes proper research as well, the word clericus being translated as something like ‘secretary’ or even ‘deputy’, which makes tracing the occupation through society difficult.

In general, clerk referred to anyone who had a job that incorporated writing and keeping accounts. And there were a lot of clerks. They were in every part of  religious and secular society keeping records of everything that needed keeping record of. Important households and individuals employed clerks (and subclerks) by the handful. In Peter Brears’ Cooking and Dining In Medieval England, there are about a dozen different kinds of clerks mentioned just in relation to the kitchen and food preparation.

However, clerk was also a term used for scholars. Most of the murders of or by clerks would be of this sort, making these clerks young men aged anywhere from eleven to about nineteen, likely far away from home at school and with full access to alcohol. The bulk of these clerk murders come from the Records of Medieval Oxford which makes these groups of drunken, armed clerks wandering the streets, trying to cause trouble, students at Oxford. They often found the trouble they were looking for; groups of clerks murder a single clerk, or two clerks get into a ‘strife’ at a tavern and one of them ends up killing the other, etc etc.

The following reports give us a good look at some very traditional clerk murders in detail:

William de Bufford – 1302 – on Wednesday after the feast of the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin the said William stood in the door of his house immediately after curfew, and John de Bellgrave and John de Cliffe, clerks, came there and made an assault on the said William; and John de Cliffe with a sword gave him the aforesaid wound on the shoulder, and John de Bellgrave with a dagger gave him the said wound on the left side, whereof he died; but he lived for 17 days after he was wounded, and had all his church rights.

William de Roule – 1303 – “a clerk named William de Roule from the bishopric of Durham died in his lodging where he abode in the parish of St. Mildred… The jurors say upon their own that one Louis, of North Wales, clerk, and one David ab Oweyn, clerk, of Wales, and others whose names are unknown, were in a street called School Street about the hour of curfew; and two of the companion of the said William de Roule, who were outside Smithgate, came there, and when they would pass, Louis and the other assaulted them, and at once they raised the hue; which when the said William heard as he was in his lodging, he came forth with a staff to help his companions; and the said malefactors at once beat him, whereof he died.

Philip Port – 1305 – John de Berdon… late in the dusk of the evening, came to lodging where the said Philip abode… and as he was in his chamber called him and asked him to come with him to a beer tavern, promising that he would give him drink; and he came out and went with him; and John after drinking withdrew; and so Philip began to go towards his lodging after curfew, and when he came to the corner under the wall towards East Gate, five clerks whose names they knew not came and made an assault on him; and he would have fled from them; and they followed him and caught him and wounded him as aforesaid, and slew him, and at once they fled.

Philip was wounded in the front of his head from one ear to another, so that all his brain was scattered outside; and he had another wound across his face to within the teeth, four inches long and one inch wide, and his right hand was cut off and lay beside him, and as it seemed to all who were there he had been wounded on the head with a hatchet, called in English sparth (halberd).

The murders by clerics in the sense of parish clerks and priests are rare, and their deaths often accidents, such as Robert de Honiton who accidentally fell through a trap door in the bell-tower attempting to ring the bells on New Year’s Eve.

In the end, the clerks that crop up often in the tweets are just drunken university students causing trouble after dark, and generally not priests.

University students? Drunk? Heaven forfend!

Will the Bilk Horse’s Head Survive?

It’s local history time! Which is easy, when you live in Bilk, a neighborhood in Düsseldorf which is actually older than Düsseldorf itself: Bilk was first mentioned as ‘Villa Bilici in a document from February 14, 799.

But now to more recent history. If you walk down the street where I live, you will notice something fairly odd: a horse’s head:

Horsehead General view

As you can see, the building has a sign for “paper processing” and a few names and very old telephone numbers. But the most striking feature is the horse’s head. I attached my camera to a long pole to get some close-ups of it:

Horsehead Brunnenstr. 27 rightHorsehead Brunnenstr. 27 left

Did people look at me strangely while I was holding a 3-meter pole with a camera attached to it? Nope. This is Düsseldorf, a town which is lousy with artists and photographers, both amateur and professional. You can’t swing a dead cat here without someone taking a picture of it.

The story behind the horse’s head is told in the latest issue of the local magazine devoted to the history of the neighborhood, the Bilker Sternwarte (g, pdf).

The building, which is now Brunnenstr. 27, was constructed in 1888/1889 by Jakob Torney, a construction foreman and developer. The building was later acquired by one Anton Schmalscheidt in the late 1890s, who installed stalls for ten horses on the ground floor, and ran a carriage business from the house. (The house is known as the Schmalscheidt house). This is probably when the horse’s head you see above you was made. We don’t know who made it.

The main client of the carriage business was the Julius Schulte and Sons paper factory founded in 1886, which still exists (g) and lends its fragrant aroma to the neighborhood every summer. They used horses to transport their paper to a nearby train station, until the paper factory finally bought a tractor for this purpose.

Unfortunately, plans are now afoot by Holatec, a business which currently owns the building and operates from it. They want to tear it down and make it into student apartments. Local politicians filed a petition to have the building designated a historical landmark, but the petition was denied on December 5, 2017. The local landmark commission found the building did not have enough historical value. There have been demonstrations (g) by local residents who want to preserve the building. They stood outside it, making “clop-clop” noises with coconut halves.

The local Green party representative for District 3 of the city said (g): “We are very much interested in allowing people to continue to live in Brunnenstraße 27. We also expressly support the idea of student apartments here. But why does the entire building need to be torn down, instead of integrating the new construction into the existing building? For many residents of Bilk, this will mean the disappearance of a piece of their neighborhood which makes it a great place to live.”

Will the horse’s head building be saved? Stay tuned — I will keep you informed of every twist and turn in this utterly fascinating (by German local-history standards) story.

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.

How Fake is American Niceness? How Is American Niceness Fake?

Two chatty German Youtube girls who live in Texas discussing whether American niceness is fake.

Ask any European who's been to America (except New York, and sometimes even then) what their impressions are, and "niceness" will be one of the first things they mention. Strangers smile, ask how you're doing, sometimes call you "honey". Most Europeans instinctively find this insincere, and ascribe it to superficiality and/or with corporate pressure to present a chipper, eternally happy exterior. Others see it as hypocritical. An American English professor makes the argument in the Washington Post:

In fact, Trump epitomizes the conventional version of American niceness, which assumes that Americans are fundamentally decent and benevolent people with the best of intentions, whose acts of aggression are reluctant and defensive necessities designed to protect us. (Or, as the office of first lady Melania Trump put it in response to the president’s latest Twitter tirade: “When her husband gets attacked, he will punch back 10 times harder.”)

In a sense, this is quintessential American niceness: a tendency to insist on one’s own affability and friendliness while dismissing all unwarranted or unnecessary acts of cruelty as necessary evils. This is the kind of amiability that obscures the shadowy side of American life. On the other hand, Americans have also historically attempted to transform our niceness into a national attitude rooted in justice and mutual respect by acknowledging American cruelty and using it as an impetus to live up to an ideal of moral integrity based on the courage to tell the truth.

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to comment on American amiability, comparing it with the “unsociable mood of the English.” In the 1840s, Charles Dickens, who couldn’t imagine an Englishman being happy living in the United States, nonetheless described Americans as “friendly, earnest, hospitable, kind.” By the end of the 19th century, the link between Americans and niceness had become accepted tradition, with Rudyard Kipling noting in 1891: “It is perfectly impossible to go to war with these people, whatever they may do. They are much too nice.”

Americans themselves regarded their famed niceness as the cornerstone of a democratic personality. The actress and writer Kate Field remarked in 1873: “To try to please everybody, is democratic; to be indifferent to everybody is aristocratic: consequently, Americans, men and women, are the best bred people in the world.” As a refreshing alternative to European stuffiness, American niceness conveys democratic informality while sustaining the myth of American exceptionalism: Americans are not just nice but the nicest people on earth. As Walt Whitman once put it, Americans are “the peaceablest and most good-natured race in the world.”

Since the 19th century, Americans’ belief in our own niceness has never wavered. Yet even then, American niceness obscured a tendency to refuse accountability for aggression and offense — and even unspeakable cruelty.

Europeans have two different "niceness" problems with the US.

The first is that the niceness is fake.

I don't think this problem is very important. American niceness is just being pleasant, friendly, and obliging to random people you meet. This is one of those common things, an accurate stereotype. Especially in really nice places, like the South, people are indeed damned friendly and helpful. 

This sort of ordinary, everyday niceness is, in my view, an unambiguously good thing. It just makes life easier for all concerned. Who cares if it's superficial? I take a consequentialist view of this kind of niceness: if it works, it's good.  A world in which everyone constantly expressed their deepest, most honest reactions would quickly drown in blood. Niceness is great social lubricant, every society should aspire to as much of it as possible.

That being said, the American advantage here isn't that great. When it comes to niceness, there is probably a bigger niceness gap between urban and rural people in any one country than there is between people in general in different countries. Berlin, New York, Paris, London — you're not going to be showered in gooey, spontaneous affection in any of these places. But in rural Germany and France — and even in fairly large cities  – people are quite friendly, as long as you at least try to speak their language and observe common behavioral norms.

The other kind of niceness problem is not that the niceness itself is fake, but that it is somehow hypocritical or inconsistent. This is a somewhat more sophisticated niceness critique, and the one that's being made in this op-ed. This one goes: "Oh sure, Americans are nice and friendly to other Americans or to 'acceptable' kinds of strangers such as tourists, but this is just an attempt to paper over inequality, racism, and militarism. Who cares how nice Americans are in America while their government is dropping more explosives on Cambodia than all the Allies used during all of World War II? Who cares whether that guy in the truck gave you a ride to the next gas station when he supports capital punishment and has Trump stickers all over his bumpers?"

This is a more serious objection, but it's not really logically consistent. The bombing of Cambodia had nothing to do with being friendly and helpful to strangers. The bombing of Cambodia would not have been more or less acceptable if Americans had been ruder at home. What these Europeans are complaining about is not American "niceness", but American moral posturing as the "shining city on the hill" which is a beacon unto the nations and the most morally upright of countries, etc. And to that extent, they're on solid ground. Too many Americans swallow this sort of guff about their country.

The association comes from the fact that the people most likely to uncritically swallow (only positive) American exceptionalism also tend to be really nice. But they're not nice because they believe in an air-brushed version of American history. You can like them for being nice while rejecting their blinkered opinions.

Piercing the Shields of Icelandic Homosexuals

Sadly, the late website Stuff White People Like (dogs, roller derby, TED talks, the World Cup, black music that black people don't listen to anymore) lives on only as a kind of never-updated Internet ghost ship. If it were still active, one of the best candidates for a new entry would be testing medieval weapons. The internet now abounds with videos of middle-aged white men testing out halberds, cross-bows, murder holes, and various other instruments of medieval mayhem. As a middle-aged white male, I confess to scoping a few of these with interest: The ancient way sing in my blood, as well!

Here's a recent video from Hurstwic, a Massachusetts-based martial-arts school which specializes in recreating weapons and battles described in Icelandic Sagas: 

As the video amply shows, these white people are Not Screwing Around — there are interviews with Icelandic professors and other Icelanders, in an attempt to recreate conditions as faithfully as possible.

A recent video was a bit more unpreposessing. Here, we see Steve the Beer-Guzzler shooting arrows at Doug, Merciless Conqueror of the Sprinkler System, who attempts to protect himself with an authentic Icelandic shield: 

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Hurstwic comments: "We’ve been curious about swimmers using their shields to protect their backs (such as Björn in Bjarnar saga Hítdælakappa)."

I looked up this saga on Wikipedia, where I stumbled across this startling revelation:

It is notable for a passage that appears to describe a man being found to possess primitive pornography; a woodcutting depicting anal sex between two men.

Þess er nú við getið að hlutur sá fannst í hafnarmarki Þórðar er þvígit vinveittlegra þótti. Það voru karlar tveir og hafði annar hött blán á höfði. Þeir stóðu lútir og horfði annar eftir öðrum. Það þótti illur fundur og mæltu menn að hvorskis hlutur væri góður þeirra er þar stóðu og enn verri er fyrir stóð.

Translation:

Now it is mentioned that an item was found amongst the possessions Thordur left behind at shore, an item that was no more friendly. It was two men, and one bore a blue hat on his head. They were leaning over and one was looking over from behind the other. This was considered a terrible find and all were agreed that both parties seen standing there were in a bad position, but the one in front a much worse position still.

Well, I suppose that depends on your preferences, doesn't it? In any case, this proves the pen really is mightier than the sword. Thordur the man is long gone, but 'Thordur the Shirt-Lifter' (forebear of Tom of Finland?) will never be forgotten.

I can't find any attempts by these groups to authentically recreate Thordur's Woodcut. Maybe I'm searching the wrong websites.

German Word of the Week: Hä?

Ahh, German women. What can you say about them? On average, they tend to be clean, orderly, practical, tallish, amply-chested, of normal weight, with shoulder-length straight hair, and less heavily-tattooed than their sisters to the North, at least for now. They also really like to attach tiny stuffed animals to the zippers on their backpacks.

There, was that inoffensive enough? 

But enough of flimsy stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. One thing that German women, and only German women do, is say "hä?". The sound of this is about halfway between the English "heh" and "Hey!". It's an exclamation, said as a reaction to something the woman finds distasteful or implausible. It's universally accompanied by an unflattering grimace. Its meaning is basically: WTF?

But good writer not tell, he show.

So here's a hä? caught in the wild. This is 2 seconds from a recent commentary by German TV host Anja Reschke:

We'll ignore the substance, as we so often do on this blog. What's important is that Reschke has just summarized an argument she disagrees with, and inserted her very own hä? to show her disgust. Let's have a closer look at that expression:
Hae

The hä? is the German answer to American vocal fry — a speech pattern that is almost exclusively female. I've only ever seen men do it when imitating women.

The hä? seems to be unique to Germany. In fact, it's one of the first thing people notice about German women, once they get to know them well enough to see them drop a hä? Once, at a party, I had the chance to watch a French man react to his first hä?, which was delivered with gusto by a sozzled German co-ed.

He instinctively backed up and dragged me with him, saying: "Oh my God, she's about to throw up!"

Cities Which Don’t Punish Human Nature

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Dutch pissoirs, which reduce problems with public urination. Some of them even retract into the ground outside peak hours. There are many of these in Germany as well.

This is one of the reasons Northern Europe has the most livable cities in the world — because they are easy to live in. In so many other cities, if you have to take a leak, this begins a desperate search for nearby cafes. The cafe owners are well aware you might just want to piss there, and will be guarding the bathrooms like hawks. Wait staff apparently go through a rigorous training program to detect and deter bathroom walk-ins. Some of the cafe owners decide to profit from the situation, locking their bathrooms (or stationing a beefy Slavic chambermaid in front of the entrance, which amounts to the same thing) and charging you 50 cents.

So what do you do? You do what any normal male human would, you find a secluded spot, and bleed the lizard. 

The typical response to public urination outside Northern Europe is camera surveillance, increased police patrols, Draconian penalties, and/or public humiliation. This might be necessary to protect sensitive buildings, but it also applies to even relatively harmless pissing beside a garbage dumpster. There are no public bathrooms even in the areas where people are constantly drinking and walking. The city is designed in such a way as to make it impossible to follow the law, and then, when people predictably don't, the law is made ever more intrusive and coercive. No account is taken of human frailty or weakness.

This is not to say that public urination isn't a problem. Rampant public urination is nasty, unhygienic, and fosters a dangerous sense of social decay. Many states are too disorganized or underfunded to even address a relatively insignificant problem like this, and it shows.

The Dutch, with their pragmatism, simply build human frailty into their calculation. They understand that it's humiliating to citizens and visitors to make them run an obstacle course or fork over money just because they have to pee. This is just another way in which Dutch cities aren't designed to extract the maximum amount of cash and work from the people who live in them, but to actually offer them safe, comfortable, affordable places to work, play, and live. People like getting high and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can if they want. People like screwing and are gonna do it anyway, so in the Netherlands, they can pay for sex. People are gonna need to pee, so let them do it in comfort and privacy. 

It's all so simple, once you think about it.

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?