Paul Hockenos on German Arrogance

In Foreign Policy:

One year ago, Germany was named the “best country” in the world, according to a poll by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. The poll relied on criteria measuring entrepreneurship, power, public education, and quality of life, among others. But for a growing number of Germans, the important thing was that it offered confirmation of their own self-image. Their country slipped to fourth in this year’s poll, behind Switzerland, Canada, and the United Kingdom, but that seems unlikely to do much to dim the self-confidence of a country enjoying a surging economy and growing international cachet.

Whether the field is migration or manufacturing, fiscal policy or renewable energy, Germans increasingly believe that they, and they alone, know best, at least judging from the attitude newly on display everywhere from newspaper columns to parliamentary speeches to barroom chats over beer. In German the phenomenon is summed up in one word: Besserwisserei, a know-it-all attitude, which the Germans themselves admit is somewhat of an engrained cultural trait.

But it’s increasingly clear that one country’s allegedly evidence-based Besserwisserei is another country’s intolerable smugness. Just ask Germany’s European neighbors, and others, including the United States, where resentment of Germans has been percolating for years, under constant threat of bubbling over….

German high-handedness is eliciting angry charges of “moral imperialism” from Hungary, and its central European neighbors, including Slovakia, Poland, and Croatia, largely concur. Meanwhile, during the first round of the French presidential election, candidates from more than one party chastised Merkel for dictating a German eurozone policy. “We order it, you obey, and tout suite,” is how the German publisher Wolfram Weimer critically summed up Germany’s new modus operandi during the bailout negotiations in an article titled “Virtuous Totalitarianism”. U.S. economist Paul Krugman repeatedly blasts Germany for “moralizing” on European fiscal policy, namely Germany’s obsession with budget discipline, which he considers entirely counterproductive. Since Germany’s setting of the onerous terms for the eurozone’s recovery packages, beginning in 2011, surveys in Europe show that many fellow Europeans consider Germans arrogant, insensitive, and egotistical (while, strangely, praising their dependability and influence in Europe)….

Of course, another reason German smugness can get under the skin is the fact that Germany simply isn’t nearly as universally superlative as it might prefer to think. A close corollary of Besserwisserei has always been hypocrisy. So Germany may browbeat other countries about their deficits today, but other Europeans remember that in the 2000s, when the German economy was in the dumps, and again during the financial crisis, Berlin consistently ran budget deficits in excess of eurozone rules — and avoided penalties for it. The deficits were critical for Germany to get its economy going again.

Meanwhile, Germany insists that other countries follow its lead on climate change, shutting down nuclear power stations and switching to clean energy generation. But Germany is Europe’s biggest burner of dirty coal (seventh in the world), and it’s not on track to hit the Paris Agreement’s reduction targets for 2020. Its best-selling export is big, expensive, gas-guzzling luxury automobiles, including diesels. The Dieselgate scandal caught Volkswagen and other German car manufacturers cheating on emissions tests.

And it’s no accident that the scandal was uncovered in the United States, far from the reach of German political and cultural power — nor that Germany’s discussion about the scandal has been just as focused on how the German auto companies in question can be saved rather than about the financial or moral atonement they might owe. “It’s obvious that the EU should take over emissions testing and that the commission should impose huge fines on Germany,” Lever says. “But it won’t, because it’s Germany, that’s why. It shows how much power Germany has now.”

Separate the Colors, Leave the Lids On

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The local news visits the largest glass recycling facility in Europe, in Dormagen. The report clears up a few mysteries about the ubiquitous glass-recycling boxes you see in Germany.

First of all, separating glass by colors actually does matter. You typically hear Germans saying it doesn't, because the trucks which clear the containers seem to dump everything haphazardly into the trailer compartment. Wrong! What bystanders can't see is that the trucks have separate compartments for each color of glass.

Glass of the wrong color, as well as non-glass items such as ceramics or even gun parts (according to the plant manager) are removed from the stream by hand. The rest is automated.

Oh, and although every box has a warning sign tells you to remove the lid before you recycle the bottle, this turns out to be wrong. The machines can easily remove lids, which are recyclable themselves, and intact bottles with lids are "more hygienic" for the human sorters to handle.

This has been your public-service post for the month of October.

There’s Vegans, and Then There’s German Vegans

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American public radio highlights a recent report by German nutritionists warning about the potential risks of a vegan diet: 

Berlin resident Moza Kabbar … says there's a huge boom in enthusiasm for veganism in the city.

But not everyone in Germany is on board. In a new paper, the German Nutrition Society says a vegan diet can't provide everything your body needs.

"With a pure plant-based diet, it is difficult or impossible to attain an adequate supply of some nutrients," states the German Nutrition Society's new position on the vegan diet. "The most critical nutrient is B-12," which is found in eggs and meat. The group says if you follow a vegan diet, you should take supplements to protect against deficiencies.

According to the German nutritionists, other "potentially critical nutrients" that may be a challenge to get in a vegan diet include omega-3s — found in fatty fish — as well as minerals such as calcium, iron, iodine, zinc and selenium. So the group recommends that vegans get advice from a nutrition counselor and be "regularly checked by a physician." In addition, the society recommends against a vegan diet for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, children and adolescents.

Advocates for veganism say the new position from German nutritionists goes too far.

"With a little planning and knowledge, rest assured, you can get everything you need from a vegan diet for great health … at any age," Jimmy Pierson, a spokesperson for the Vegan Society, based in England, told us by phone….

But to make sure you're covering all your bases, "I would recommend [taking] a standard multivitamin," [U.S. dietitian Lisa] Cimperman says. It's a good insurance policy for vegans.

As for putting kids on vegan diets, the American Academy of Pediatrics says children can be well-nourished on all kinds of vegetarian diets, "but nutritional balance is very difficult to achieve if dairy products and eggs are completely eliminated," the position states. The academy recommends that if your child is following a vegetarian diet, "you need to guard against nutritional deficiencies."

Allow me to engage in some armchair sociologizin' here. Notice that this American news source quotes a Brit and an American, who both say perfectly sensible things about veganism. The target audience for the German nutrition report is not people like this. The target is German hard-core ideological vegans. These exist in the UK and US also, but I'd wager there are more of them here in Germany.

Why? Because Germany is the land of philosophical Idealism, deontological moral absolutes, and sayings such as "To be German means to do a thing for its own sake" (g, Wagner) and "A German is someone who cannot tell a lie without believing it himself." (Adorno). And, since the late 1960s, a public discourse which is drenched in moral judgment.

Many German vegans are vegans not just because it's healthy, or because they don't want to see animals exploited. They think in rigid ideological categories. They are fundamentally convinced, like fundamentalists, that mankind was fundamentally never meat to consume animal protein, and that doing so is fundamentally immoral. Not only that, taking supplements would be an admission that a vegan diet is not fundamentally sufficient, weakening its claim to be the only fundamentally morally acceptable way to feed oneself.

You encounter the word fundamentally a lot in German. Also the word konsequent, which describes someone whose actions align scrupulously with their stated principles. I have met many German vegans. The majority are sensible and take supplements. But there's a pretty large minority who absolutely refuse to do so, seeing it as an unacceptable ethical compromise. The notion that they would change their habits when they have children is also seen as…an unacceptable ethical compromise. After all, what is more important than passing on your own fundamentally morally superior values of absolute nonviolence and sustainability to your children, so they will continue the lonely, voice-in-the-wilderness crusade for a better world? Assuming, of course, that the neural tube defects leave them able to communicate.

These are the people the German nutritionists are trying to reach. Of course, hard-core ideological German vegans will ignore the message, because that's the kind of people they are.

As Wickham Steed put it: "The Germans dive deeper — but they come up muddier."

Behold! I Shall Fish the Bottles Out of the Düssel

Take a look at this:

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This is the Düssel river, the local Rhein tributary that gives Düsseldorf its name. Some rivers are so big, cities are built around them, not over them. The Düssel isn't that big. The city fathers of Düsseldorf did actually keep the river, mind you. However, it flows underground most of the way through the city, only popping into view occasionally. But when it does come into view, it's a refreshing change. And as here, near the Karolingerstraße, a bit of riverbank has been preserved, creating a nice park-like atmosphere.

Granted, it's only a little brook, and the riverbank is only about 5 meters on either side before the streets and buildings begin. But even a small bit of nature and green in the city does a surprising amount to make a place more livable. Trust me, I've lived in cities which don't know how to do this.

But here's the thing: you see those shapes in the water? No, they're not fish. There are fish in the Düssel, but they're much smaller. Those things are bottles. 

Fucking bottles.

Over the years, subhuman fucksticks have finished their bottles of cheap beer and casually tossed them into the river. Even though there's a bottle deposit in Germany, which poor people rely on, scouring the city for deposits. You could simply put the bottle on the bridge over the river, and it would be gone in literally 5 minutes, collected by some retiree living on a miserly pension. Also, no more than 2 meters from where I shot this photo, there are not only trash bins but a fucking glass recycling box.

But did Jackass McShitforbrains (or perhaps Güldüz Al-Antisocial) use any of these opportunities? No. He just threw the fucking bottle into the cool, clear, pristine water of the river. So every single time a human crosses this bridge and pauses to enjoy a nice view, he's reminded of the fact that certain humanoid entities exist who would fuck up a nice little view out of sheer laziness or spite.

I have never actually seen anyone throw a bottle in the Düssel. Actually, that's pretty fortunate, because if I did, I would probably fly into a rage and try to beat them to death. I'm not joking. One of the reasons Northwestern Europe is such a nice place to live is that people take care of public spaces. One of the many curses of the developing world is that people in those countries have no understanding of why it's important to keep public spaces clean. They are often scrupulously neat in their private homes, but think nothing of throwing garbage anywhere in the open. This is one of the key conflicts that arise when immigrants from the Third World arrive in Germany: they go picknicking in the park and leave a mound of dirty diapers, trash, bottles, plastic bags, disposable barbecues, and food remains just sitting in a pile in the middle of a pristine meadow of luscious green grass. 

Now, part of this is because the countries they come from don't have functioning garbage-disposal infrastructures, etc. But there's also a cultural component, as anybody who's ever lived in a country like India can tell you. Even in middle-class families, there's a sense that the interior of the home is a focus of pride and should be kept spotless, but if you don't own the land — especially if nobody owns the land — then it's fair game to just throw anything away there. As a 2013 book call The Concept of the Public Realm puts it:

Take something as simple as streets and public parks. Since they lie outside the family home, they are seen as a no-man's land, an empty space, almost a wilderness. While the Indian home is clean and tidy, streets and even parks are unacceptably dirty. Streets are used as garbage heaps, and rubbish and leftover food is thrown around in parks. Even the front of the house is sometimes turned into as a garbage heap. Since public spaces are not seen as theirs, Indians generally take no care of them and expect the civic authority to do so. And if it does not, as is generally the case, things are left as they are. It is striking that few Indians protest against dirty streets and lack of pavements and zebra crossings, almost as if they cannot see how things can be otherwise (Kakar and Kakar 2007, p. 21).

Not that India deserves to be singled out. The problem also exists all over the Arab world and even in Italy, although it's much less serious there.

In any case, I've had enough. I already have a really long pole which I use for certain camera shots. I just ordered a pool net strainer. When the weather cools down, I am going to go out there and clean out those bottles. You'd think some German would have done this already, but there's an old German proverb — as accurate now as it ever was — which goes: "A German is someone who, when he sees a mess, sneers in disapproval (die Nase rümpfen) instead of cleaning it up." 

Well, fuck that shit. Just as Tyrell Corporation's motto is "more human than human", mine is "more German than German". I am going to clean out those goddamn bottles, and post before-and-after pics to prove it. If that doesn't earn be the German Service Cross, I don't know what will.

England Crushed by the Jackboot of the Nanny State

England just introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags at stores, which is apparently engulfing Albion in pandemonium, madness. While clawing over the bodies amid the stinging smoke, the editors of one English tabloid came up with a brilliant, devious, cunning plan to evade Big Brother's latest overreach: Bring your own shopping bag. The article prompted this inspired tweet: 

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Germany has suffered under the yoke of bag fees for generations now. Which means any and every self-respecting environmentally conscious German — and that's pretty much all of them — has become an expert in bag technology. In a German store, you are expected to whip out your own reusable bag and pack your own groceries aber schnell bitte. Any deviation from this standard of conduct will be met with disapproving glances. 

You need the right bag. Everywhere I go, I carry a foldable ChicoBag which expands from the size of a pack of cigarettes to basically infinity. That's for spontaneous purchases. For more intensive shopping, you need a bag that will (1) fold up flat like IKEA furniture; (2) maintain its shape on its own when unfolded, (3) has various sized handles; and (4) has a velcro strip on the top inside so you can seal the top and make sure bulky objects don't fall out.

1The very best bag for this — and I've tried a hell of a lot of them — is the Edeka shopping bag. This comes from the high-end Edeka line of German supermarkets, which are the cleanest, most orderly supermarkets you will ever see. They fill all 4 criteria and are big, stable, and indestructible. They even have little flanges on the inside so you can stabilize bulky objects against the side of the bag. They're fucking ingenious.

England, fear not. The survivors will crawl out of the smoking ruins of a once-great land, painstakingly knit their own reusable bags from scraps of torn, bloody fabric, and get on with their lives. Germans will soon send over shipments of recycled, reusable bags in the spirit of European solidarity, and you can put the bloody-fabric bags in the Museum of the Great 5p Bag Crisis.

Open Borders Supporters Everywhere You Look: Katrin Göring-Eckhardt

There are millions of Germans who favor open borders, among them some of the most powerful people in the country. Case in point:

Katrin Göring-Eckhardt is one of the leading members of the German Green Party. It wins between 10-15% of the vote in national elections, which is a lot in a parliamentary system like Germany. Easily enough to make or break coalitions.  The Green Party has been in governing coalitions in many German states and was in the ruling coalition for all of Germany just recently.  She has said (g, my translation) "I really hope Chancellor Merkel decides to go to a refugee hostel sometime, listens to the stories the people tell, and then says: 'Yes, these are the new citizens of our country'."

She did not say "These are the migrants whom we will house humanely while their legal status is decided." Nor did she say: 'These are the refugees to whom we will provide temporary refuge to until conditions have improved in their home countries and they can return." Nor did she say: "These are the immigrants who may one day qualify for permanent residency status in Germany."

She said that Chancellor Merkel should expressly promise all the migrants she meets that they are already citizens of Germany, merely by virtue of arriving on its soil.

This is open borders, pure and simple. No country in modern history has ever implemented such a policy, for very good reasons.

I hope this settles the argument about whether 'open borders' is merely a straw-man argument. Real people with real power in Germany want it to happen, or at least claim they do.

The Urdenbach Marshes in Summer

Yesterday I biked down to the Urdenbach Marshes south of Düsseldorf. It's a large nature reserve which used to be on the path of the Rhein until the river made a curve. City planners are now diverting brooks in the nature reserve to allow it to revert to marshland. It's now home to plenty of waterfowl, and the authorities are even planning to introduce water buffalo, although the locals aren't all that thrilled and may stop the plan. Unlike marshes in most parts of the world, this one isn't full of things that want to kill you. The sweet, intoxicating odor of decay and burgeoning life is everywhere. Before I move on to the pictures, one bleg: can anyone identify the light-purple labiate flowers? They're everywhere near the raised path. I looked everywhere, but could only find flowers which look a lot like these, but not quite the same. Frustrating.

UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond
UK Algae-Covered Marsh Pond

 

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.

Green Party Pedophiles: A Case of Sacralized Victims

 

I've blogged before about social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, especially his writings about 'sacralization' and political discourse. Crudely oversimplified by me, the theory goes: he proposes that much of what we consider someone's political ideology is choices about who is open to criticism or mockery. Humans have a strong tendency to divide ourselves into tribes in many different ways. In politics we define ourselves by sacralizung certain people, groups, values, and institutions. Conservatives identify with family, authority, church, entrepreneurship. Thus, they exempt these institutions from criticism among their own tribe, and rush to their defense when they are attacked by left-liberals. Left-liberals, for their part, have just as strong a desire to find sacred objects or ideas that elevate human life above selfish struggle and identify individuals with a greater cause.

The sacralized groups and objects can change over time; many conservatives no longer think marriage has to be protected from gays anymore, and few seriously think the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements are infallible. For liberals, the workers were once sacred, but then came the 1960s and 1970s, when a lot of the workers turned out not to have very educated or progressive views about women, minorities, and gays. So left-liberals tended to identify with these historical targets of discrimination. And, as things go, sacralized them. Each member of a particular minority group was considered a living embodiment of social injustice, and liberals worldwide began to identify each other by deep concern over how these groups were treated. These social movements, of course, brought plenty of wholesome social progress which only reactionaries would want to turn back.

But it also brought plenty of excesses, such as mid-1980s gay pride parades, those cavalcades of perversion that, as the Onion put it, set back acceptance of gays by decades. Another part of sacralizing victims is taboo on criticizing the statements or actions of gays, ethnic minorities, women, the disabled, and other designated minority groups.

Which brings us to the German Green Party. Founded in the late 1970s as the Alternative List, it was at first a chaotic but stimulating party for people who felt excluded by the three-party system prevailing in Germany. The early Greens comprised gays, environmental activists, pacifists, vegetarians, and the like, and its platform was green, anti-nuke, pro-gay, and multicultural. In the following decades, the Green party itself and most of its concerns have become completely mainstream, so we can say the 'march through the institutions' worked. In the early 1980s, a widely-despised social group found a home in the Green Party: pedophiles. They analogized themselves to gays: people ostracized by society by their unconventional sexual orientation.

And some (not all!) regional Green Party branches, disastrously, bought the argument. Pedophiles were permitted to join the party and even hold leadership positions. Pro-pedophile groups called the 'Urban Indian Communes' protested Green party political gatherings, insisting (g) that the Party adopt planks advocating the decriminalization of sex between adults and children. Fred Karst, convicted of pedophile offenses several times, started a 'working group' within the Green party called 'Old and Young.' It was an official party organization within the 'Gay Issues' group of the party. The members of the group often organized special trips where men could cavort with boys (my translation):

The working group was a meeting-point for pedohiles, who among other things organized special road trips for young men — and abused them. The group belonged to the 'Gay Issues' group within the Green Party and was thus an official component of the overall party. "We are ashamed for the institutional failure of our party" says Berlin regional Green Party director Bettina Jarasch. "This blindness to abuse of power still baffles and enrages me."

Things could go so far because of a special characteristic of the Berlin greens. A so-called "minority dogma" guaranteed the "Young and Old" working group far-ranging autonomy and a special rule: opinions which couldn't command majority support could still be propagated for years in the party's name — including the idea that sexual relationships with children were legitimate.

The last pedophiles were kicked out of the party only in the mid-1990s. The Greens, faced with renewed revelations in 2013, commissioned a political scientist from Göttingen, Franz Walter, to create a report on how pedophiles were allowed to gain so much influence within the party. One of his conclusions in the report (g, pdf) was that of the four main factors contributing to acceptance of pedophiles, two were (1) a tendency to 'affective solidarity' with excluded outsider groups that led the Greens to unconditionally accept their demands and grant them disproportional influence in the party; and (2) a 'strongly anti-repressive' tendency within the party which led members to sympathize indiscriminately with those who faced 'repression' by the state, including pedophiles and imprisoned RAF murderers.

Fortunately the Green Party has finally realized what a horrible mistake the party made, has unequivocally denounced pedophilia, and has promised counseling and compensation to victims. But the startling prospect of a major political party with national representation allowing child molesters to propagandize from within its ranks demonstrates the dangers of exempting marginalized groups from all criticism.

German Hunters Shoot Thousands of Cats Every Year*

Section 25 of the State Hunting Law in Northern Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) provides (g, my translation)

(4) Those who are entitled to protect hunting conditions (Jagdschutz) are permitted:

1. To detain persons who enter a hunt area without permission or who commit another violation of hunt regulations or who are found equipped for hunting outside the general approved hunting paths, to gather personal information from these persons and to seize from them killed animals, firearms and other weapons, traps, dogs, and ferrets.

2. To shoot and kill dogs and cats which are becoming feral. A feral dog is defined as a dog which hunts, follows, or seizes wild animals outside the control of its master (orig. Führer!). A feral cat is defined as a cat found in hunt area more than 200 meters from the nearest house…. 

According to the German nature group NABU, German hunters in NRW alone kill around 8,000 cats a year (g) under this law. The Green Party in NRW is trying to eliminate this law (g), but the hunters are fighting back, claiming that culling cats protects songbirds and other species. The controversy rages!

* Count your blessings I avoided the obvious pun.

What Americans Think about Nuclear Energy

Germans, or at least German journalists, are obsessed with nuclear energy. Any list of the themes on which the German press is the most openly biased campaigning coverage, nuclear energy has to be in the top 10, if not the top 5.

So it's not surprising that the nuclear accident in Fukushima prompted an flood of hyperventilating scare stories in the German media, which were enough to actually prompt a major change in policy — the so-called Energiewende. And this isn't just my impression: a study of Fukushima coverage in Germany concluded that coverage of the earthquake in Germany was dramatically different than in other countries: the German-language media focused more on the reactor catastrophe, provided more dramatic pictures, explicitly linked the reactor disaster to the question of German nuclear reactors, and included more direct journalistic editorializing against nuclear energy and demands that Germany shut down its reactors.

I don't have time to look up the views of ordinary Germans on nuclear energy, but it's hard to imagine the wall-to-wall indoctrination hasn't had its effects. I was thinking of this because of a recent post from Razib Khan's excellent Gene Expression blog. The subject is what Americans think about the dangers and potential of nuclear energy, broken down by political views and education:

Column: POLVIEWS(r:1-3″Liberal”;4″Moderate”;5-7″Conservative”)

Selection filter(s): year(2010-*) 

Views on nuclear energy N ~ 400
  Lib Mod Cons
Strongly favor 16 13 12
Favor 49 50 64
Oppose 28 27 16
Strongly oppose 7 9 8
       
Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 1300
  Lib Mod Cons
Extremely dangerous 26 23 16
Very dangerous 25 29 23
Somewhat dangerous 33 32 31
Not very dangerous 14 13 22
Not dangerous 3 3 8

As you can see liberals do tend to be more skeptical of nuclear energy, but it is not stark. In fact, attitudes toward nuclear power seem to be as strongly, if not more so, variant on a populist vs. elite axis than conventional ideology. Here’s the second question replicated for education:

Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 1300
  No college College  
Extremely dangerous 26 11  
Very dangerous 27 21  
Somewhat dangerous 31 34  
Not very dangerous 11 28  
Not dangerous 4 7  

But, when you look only at college educated individuals the ideology divide doesn’t go away. In fact, it seems more extreme.

Nuclear power dangerous to the environment N ~ 370
College educated only
  Lib Mod Cons
Extremely dangerous 14 16 5
Very dangerous 28 22 14
Somewhat dangerous 38 35 28
Not very dangerous 15 24 42
Not dangerous 5 4 11

That’s strong circumstantial evidence that the gap here is one of cultural norms and values, and not facts.

Note that many people favor nuclear energy while at the same time conceding that it's dangerous or harmful to the environment. It's also interesting to note that college-educated people think it's less dangerous than those who didn't attend college.

Crime on the Decline Germany, Probably Because There’s Less Lead Around

I've been following with fascination the debate in the U.S. about the relationship between crime rates and early childhood lead exposure. One of my favorite bloggers, Kevin Drum, recently wrote a fantastic piece for Mother Jones arguing that America saw dropping crimes rates in the 1990s in part because the U.S. banned leaded gasoline in the 1970s, saving an entire generation of children from exposure to lead, a fiercely potent neurotoxin which permanently lowers intelligence and disrupts impulse control in children. Read it here. Drum reports on reactions to the article and takes on critics here.

And now for Europe:

Here's the latest crime news from the Guardian:

There has been a surprise 8% drop in crime across England and Wales,
according to official figures, suggesting the long-term decline in
crime since the mid-1990s has resumed.

As near as I can tell, crime declines are always a surprise
to the folks who look for answers solely in social trends. But Britain's
continuing decline isn't a surprise to everyone. Europe adopted
unleaded gasoline in the mid-80s, and EU countries all showed drops in
lead emissions in subsequent years. In Britain, lead emissions began to
decline about a decade later than the United States, but they made up
some of that gap via a much steeper drop. So, to the extent that the
crime decline is a function of less lead exposure among children,
they're about five years or so behind us. This means they probably still
have a few years of crime decline ahead of them.

So, you might be wondering, if Germany began seriously reducing lead emissions in the the mid-1980s, what impact might that have had on teenage criminality in the late 1990s, when children born in the mid-1980s became adolescents? Here's the relevant graph for Germany, from this source (g, .pdf):

TatjugendThe top line shows total criminality, the middle line criminality among German adolescents, and the bottom line among immigrants. Interesting, isn't it? The much smaller decrease you see among non-German offenders could well be explained by the fact that some percentage of them probably did not grow up in Germany.

Of course, the standard caveats apply that correlation is not causation, other factors are at work (especially the crime increase following reunification), etc.. But if you want to be convinced that lead exposure is a powerful (though, of course, not the only) explanatory factor, read Drum's piece — and, more importantly, the studies it links to.

If this theory holds, it has to be one of the best pieces of news in a long time: because of a wise policy choice made decades ago, we will enjoy less crime — and less of all the social ills and expense it causes — for years to come. Kind of restores your faith in humanity, doesn't it?