I’m No Germanophile

Germany FlagRegular readers of this blog are well aware that I am a Francophile and an Anglophile. What I am not is a Germanophile, or as I would put it (because I’m not a nice man) a Krautophile. The amazing thing is that it is not because of the Nazis. But I’ll come back to that issue. The problem for me is that culturally the Germans have an attitude—an attitude that I am familiar with because of individuals I have known.

No one walks around thinking that they are morally superior because they are really good at math. They might be obnoxious in many other ways but not in that way. But when it comes to things like diet or credit rating, many people really do think in terms of morality. I know from my own experience of being thin throughout my life that there was nothing I was doing that make me thin. Similarly, most people with stellar credit ratings have never been tested: they have had easy, affluent lives and have never been forced to make a decision about which of too many bills to pay.

But it is worse than this. Many people develop a kind of addiction to feeling morally superior. These are the kinds of people who will pass up a drink in order to feel superior to those who don’t. I don’t especially have a problem with these people. Everyone has mechanisms for feeling special. But the mere fact that they are acting as they do to feed this feeling of moral superiority means that they are not, in fact, morally superior. It’s like people who think religion is a game where they behave in order to get into heaven. What kind of lame-ass God wouldn’t see through that?

Germany Coat of ArmsThis is the impression that I’ve always had of Germany. As a culture, it seems to act as though it is better than everyone else. And this has really been on display since 2008. To a large extent, Germany is the European Union. It is over 20% of the whole economy. And it hasn’t been hit that hard by the recession. Yet it’s attitude toward the other countries in the EU (especially in the south) has been like a cross parent toward a naughty child. If only the other countries would behave like them, everything would be fine. Of course, that isn’t true. And as Paul Krugman likes to say, “Economics is not a morality play.”

Germany stands as the naturally skinny broccoli-loving girl looking down her nose at the pudgy girl with her unfortunate genetics and attraction to fatty foods. But as usual, it’s even worse than that. Because in the case of Germany, its smug attitude toward the other EU countries is harming those countries. It would be like the skinny girl, instead of eating a slice of pizza force fed it to the pudgy girl.

Paul Krugman posted a number of articles the last couple of days on this subject. It all started when the US Treasury Department released a report that showed that Germany’s trade surplus was hurting the global economy. I haven’t read the report, but Krugman produced a graph that showed that since the financial crisis, Spain’s account balance has gone from -10% to about +1%. That’s what we would expect. But during the same time, Germany’s account balance has been constant at about 6%. This is very simple: the way to recovery is not for everyone to have a positive account balance because that can’t happen. Germany is a rich country; they should be importing more. But instead, they are pointing a finger at the poorer countries and complaining they aren’t more like Germany.

In another article, Krugman notes that the European Commission (EC) estimates of structural unemployment in Spain are way wrong and this is forcing the country to do more austerity than even it thinks is reasonable. So the EC was going to change the way it was calculating this rate, but Germany stepped in and blocked it! It’s almost unbelievable.

That brings us back to the Nazis. I think that the German people were largely victims of the Nazis. But you can see how a culture that thinks itself morally superior to everyone else might breed a political movement like the Nazis. Regardless, that attitude is now not only hurting Europe, it is hurting the whole world. Germany has nothing to feel superior about.


For the record, the United States is very much like Germany in this regard. I could definitely see fascism taking root here the same way it did in Germany in the 1930s. And we as a people have a tendency to think of ourselves as better than other people. We aren’t the biggest economy for historical reasons. We are the biggest economy because we are “exceptional”! And look, I’m very fond of many of our eccentricities. But every country has its own style and things that make it special. Being simply better than other countries in an absolute sense is not one of them. I am not a fan of hubris and this is something that both Germans and Americans have in abundance.

Regional Violence and American Nations

American NationsI read a great article by Colin Woodard over at Ten Miles Square, Violence Is a Regional Issue. It is based on the work in his book, American Nations. In it, he divides the United States up into eleven regional cultures. I haven’t gotten the book yet, but he provides historical and sociological reasons why the the regions are different.

For example, he notes that “Puritans, Quakers, and Dutch farmer-artisans” settled the northeast and the midwest. Their sense of working together for the common good resulted in a more liberal culture. Compare this to the deep south that was settled by “swashbuckling Cavaliers of noble or landed gentry status, who took their values… from the knightly, medieval standards of manly honor and virtue.” Hence the conservative attitude of that region, “Every man for himself and if you become a slave, well, you deserve it!”

What most struck me was this map:

American Nations Map

In my lifetime, I’ve only ever lived in three places for any amount of time: San Francisco, Portland, and Settle. So The Left Coast really stuck out to me because Woodard is absolutely correct: we are a distinct culture. And although we share a lot with our El Norte neighbors below, we are distinct from them. And we are utterly distinct from The Far West. So I’m inclined to take his theory very seriously and I look forward to reading the book.

Most of the article is simply about another piece Woodard wrote, Up in Arms. You should check out the whole article because he describes each of the regions. But he highlights how conservative areas are also more violent: both in terms of legal and illegal violence:

Kieran Healy, a Duke University sociologist, broke down the per capita, age-adjusted deadly assault rate for 2010. In the northeastern states—almost entirely dominated by Yankeedom, New Netherland, and the Midlands—just over 4 people per 100,000 died in assaults. By contrast, southern states—largely monopolized by Deep South, Tidewater, and Greater Appalachia—had a rate of more than 7 per 100,000. The three deadliest states—Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, where the rate of killings topped 10 per 100,000—were all in Deep South territory. Meanwhile, the three safest states—New Hampshire, Maine, and Minnesota, with rates of about 2 killings per 100,000—were all part of Yankeedom.

Not surprisingly, black Americans have it worse than whites. Countrywide, according to Healy, blacks die from assaults at the bewildering rate of about 20 per 100,000, while the rate for whites is less than 6. But does that mean racial differences might be skewing the homicide data for nations with larger African-American populations? Apparently not. A classic 1993 study by the social psychologist Richard Nisbett, of the University of Michigan, found that homicide rates in small predominantly white cities were three times higher in the South than in New England. Nisbett and a colleague, Andrew Reaves, went on to show that southern rural counties had white homicide rates more than four times those of counties in New England, Middle Atlantic, and Midwestern states.

The pattern for capital punishment laws is equally stark. The states dominated by Deep South, Greater Appalachia, Tidewater, and the Far West have had a virtual monopoly on capital punishment. They account for more than ninety-five percent of the 1,343 executions in the United States since 1976. In the same period, the twelve states definitively controlled by Yankeedom and New Netherland—states that account for almost a quarter of the U.S. population—have executed just one person.

He doesn’t make any value judgments about this. But it is interesting that the regions of the United States that are most inclined to consider themselves the “real America” are the places that are the most violent and intolerant. Think about that they next time you hear Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz demagogue about Red State America.

60 Minutes Punked on Benghazi

The Embassy HouseAs I discussed this last week, the Benghazi “scandal” is back in the news because of a really terrible bit of reporting by 60 Minutes. It was based primarily on claims made by Dylan Davies (referred to in the report as Morgan Jones as though he really has to worry about retaliation). I’ve been amused by a number of reporters being surprised that he managed to luck out and get the 60 Minutes interview the same week his book on the same subject came out, The Embassy House. Do they really not know how books are publicized? Just to be clear: 60 Minutes ran its story because the book was coming out this week.

But there is more than yet another writer using 60 Minutes to sell his book. Karen DeYoung at the Washington Post got hold of Davies’ report to his employers. This was submitted three days after the Benghazi attack and it paints quite a different picture. In it, there is no scaling of 12-foot walls and no knocking out of terrorists. There is mostly just, I was unable to get to the compound because the roadblocks. Davies is supposedly sick, but his ghostwriter was around to speculate that the real lie must have been the report he filed. He said that Davies probably just said that because his supervisors told him not to go to the compound.

There is another possibility, of course. Davies could be lying now. I don’t say this just because he’s pushing a book that he undoubtedly got paid quite a lot for. Everyone who can seems to be selling out; that alone doesn’t make them liars. What I find more suspicious is how Davies paints himself as a fucking Rambo in this book. His superiors said to stay away. But there were people in trouble. So without a thought to his own safety, he rushed to the compound, scaled the wall, defeated a terrorist, and was an eyewitness to history! Give me a very big break.

Regardless what you think of this guy, you have to question his veracity. After all, lying on a two and a half page official report is not the kind of everyday lying that people do. And there are details in the report. For example, in the book he say that he made an unauthorized trip to the hospital to view Christopher Stevens’ body. Ah, another clandestine operation for our Rambo Does Benghazi narrative! But according to DeYoung, in the report he provided a much less exciting version, “He learned of Stevens’s death, Davies wrote, when a Libyan colleague who had been at the hospital came to the villa to show him a cellphone picture of the ambassador’s blackened corpse. Davies wrote that he visited the still-smoking compound the next day to view and photograph the destruction.”

None of this especially matters. Benghazi is still a non-story. And the revelations that Davies is probably a guy trying to be in fantasy that soldier he never was in fact doesn’t matter to the Republicans in Congress:

“Outside his narrative of his own individual actions that night, [Davies’s] information about key Benghazi events appeared consistent with a well-established consensus of an inadequate security posture,” said Frederick Hill, a spokesman for House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

So it doesn’t matter if Davies is a liar, his story agrees with the narrative we are pushing, so it’s all good. But the Republicans didn’t need any of this. They just make it up as it goes along. But how far the mighty 60 Minutes (which is standing by the story) has fallen. It is a totally irrelevant “news” program unless you want a heads up on the next week’s big books and television series.

A Bit of George Boole

George BooleOn this day in 1734, the American explorer Daniel Boone was born. I think of him as part of the leading edge of imperial expansion. The man was basically at war with the native tribes his whole life. He’s not exactly a hero, but he’s entirely typical of “great men” of the period. I was surprised that he lived to be 85 years old. [I originally noted this back on 22 October, but that was the old calendar. I thought I would move him here because it is the right date and I want to focus on just what a villain Boone was.]

Marie Antoinette was born in 1755. Were she and her husband Louis XVI all that bad? Not especially. But as I warned in The Revolution Will Be Televised, people are not that rational when they rise up. So if the people of the United States ever rise up from behind the finals of Dancing With the Stars, it won’t just be the “bad” rich like the Koch brothers who get hanged; it will also be the “good” rich like Warren Buffett. And do you know what? I don’t really care.

A couple more living conservative villains have birthdays today. First there is Paul Johnson who is 85 today. He’s one of the great apologists for conservatism. I remember reading Modern Times: A History of the World from the 1920s to the 1980s. In it he makes the case that imperialism was mostly a good thing and didn’t the British lose out with all the money they sent to India. Remember: Johnson is a sober, establishment type of conservative. He is all you need to know to counter this argument that today’s conservatism is so much more extreme than it used to be. If you mean now compared to 200 years ago, maybe. But throughout my lifetime it has been just as extreme, just not as stupid.

The respectable neo-Nazi Pat Buchanan is 75. He’s interesting in that it shows that no level of extremism and racism will keep you off the television. But his level of racism will get you labeled outside the mainstream of conservatism. As we know, a big part of the support for conservatism is racism. But the movement expects this racism to be subtext. I say to all conservatives: embrace Buchanan! At least he’s honest about what he thinks. (Actually, he isn’t. Like most conservatives, he tries to finesse his opinions. But he’s more forward than most and that’s how we know what he is. I’m sure if Buchanan and Ted Cruz were off alone, there’s little they would disagree about.)

KD Lang is 52 today. Look: I mean no disrespect. But this nonsense with the lowercase letters causes all kinds of problems for typesetters. So I’ll admit that she goes by “k.d. lang.” But even that raises lots of questions. Is there a space after the first period? And if not, why is there is there one after the second? I don’t think she’s quite thought this all through. Anyway, she is a fine singer. Here she is doing an excellent version Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”:

Other birthdays: the great character actor Ray Walston (1914); comic book artist Steve Ditko (86); songwriter J D Souther (68); and reformed conservative David Brock (51).

The day, however, belongs to the great mathematician George Boole who was born on this day in 1815. He did a lot of different work during his lifetime including important work on one of my favorite things: differential equations. But he is known as the founder of computer science because of his important work in algebraic logic. This is why “Boolean arithmetic” is named after him. The amazing thing about this (and I love this stuff too) is that so much can be done with it. You start with basic assumptions like what an AND operator does. And you end with streaming this great little video about George Boole’s work:

Happy birthday George Boole!


Why has Google not created a doodle for George Boole?!