1. East German spy's first experience in a Western supermarket
    Deutschland 83 is a made for German television series in eight episodes.  Picked up earlier this year by Sundance TV,  it is the first German-language series to make it to American TV.

    To get to the show’s website, click here.

    If you get hold of a rental copy of Deutschland 83* on DVD – and I hope you do – be sure to watch the extras at the end, particularly the interview with the two writers of the series, Anna and Joerg Winger, and three of the main stars, Jonas Nay, Sonja Gerhardt and Ludwig Trepte.

    Trepte, you may remember from Generation War (Unsere Mütter, Unsere Väter), where he played the Jewish member of the group of five friends struggling to hold together despite the pressures of World War II.  Both Generation War and Deutschland 83 were produced by UFA Fiction. This more recent series was directed by Edward Berger and Samira Radsi.

    Jonas Nay plays a 24-year-old East German border guard, Martin Rauch, who goes undercover as Moritz Stamm, aide-de-camp to General Edel (Ulrich Noethen - Downfall (2004), The Harmonists (1997)) in the West German army.  He is pressured into this job not entirely unwillingly, since he accepts the ideology of the GDR.  But he is kept there once things get rough and he begins to want out, because his mother’s chances of getting a kidney transplant in the GDR are nil without his cooperation.  A bit too soap opera for comfort, you might think, but it kind of works.

    He also leaves a pregnant girlfriend behind without warning or explanation, who also gets pressed into service along the way.

    Despite a first impression that this may be just another plodding and overly earnest German production, the story takes hold and in short order becomes quite gripping.  The lead character, Martin/Moritz is totally sympathetic and you don’t have to be a pinko commie to find yourself rooting for him each time he makes a narrow escape photographing documents or placing wiretaps.

    Your desire to root for an East German spy speaks volumes about the writing skills of the creators of this marvelous piece of popular history – and that’s why I urge you to make an effort to listen to an interview with them.  They are a German man/American wife team.  He’s got the historical direct connection with the period; she’s got the American desire to lighten things up.  Both wanted to find a way to teach their German children about Germany in the Cold War years, and they realized they needed as much time as they could get away with for the events to unfold properly, and for there to be growth and changes in understanding.  Hence the series format.

    In the twenty-five years since the wall went down and the two Germanys came together, a whole new generation has grown up.  That includes Jonas Nay who was born in Lübeck, a North German city just to the west of the GDR border, after the events of 1983 and even after the fall of the wall.  Jonas speaks for the new generation that has never experienced a divided nation, restrictions on self-expression, foreign travel, or the right to leave one’s home without permission.

    Jonas has an easier time getting prepared for the role than the older actors.  In preparing for the role, reading history, consulting with NATO expert Steffen Meier  and talking with other people from East and West, he simply adds new information to his post-reunification understanding of the world. Older actors, however, sometimes have to contend with emotional scars.  Sylvester Groth (Inglourious Basterds (2009), The Reader (2008) and Stalingrad (1993)), for example, who plays Walter Schweppenstette, the East German Stasi agent heading up Martin’s (Jonas’s) spy operation, was among the thousands who in real life committed the treasonous crime of Republikflucht (“flight from the (GDR) Republic to the west”).  The filmmakers managed to get to use the actual Stasi headquarters for sets, including furniture.  And this meant Groth got to sit in the actual chair of the man who once had his fate in his hands – or would have had, if he had not escaped.  One can only imagine the effort it takes to accomplish the assumption of the persona of your nemesis for an acting job.

    Knowing the background of the events, and the personal lives of the actors gives the film a certain edge.  It tests the success of the reunification process, the degree to which the concepts of “east” and “west” have lost their power to generate hostility.  In Generation War the actors had to put themselves into the shoes of their grandparents; here it’s their parents they are playing, and in some cases their own selves from another time frame.

    Some have compared the series to Mad Men because such pains were taken to recreate the look of the 80s and the differences between East German and West German styles and objects, right down to the sickly green color of the East German telephones and the click of the dials.  Mostly the contrasts work, although when Martin gets his first glimpse of a West German grocery store, it’s a bit overdone.  Yes, they had bananas.  They probably didn’t have this many bunches just hanging there.  A slightly more troublesome limitation is in the plotline.  As is common in thrillers, too few people are portrayed in decision-making positions and their connections are just a tad too coincidental.  Like the fact that the agent who presses Moritz into service is his own aunt, his sick mother’s sister, played by Maria Schrader (Aimée & Jaguar – 1999).  Adds tension, but stretches credibility.  

    As is common in stories with thriller or detective or political plotlines, many decisions are made quickly and without extensive consultation.  But then reality would only bore you, so exaggerating the number of fruit offerings in stores and limiting the number of roles hardly constitute flaws.  More like candy for film buffs who get off on this kind of thing.  The only “flub,” if you will, that actually bothered me were the speech patterns of Errol Trotman Harewood, who plays the character of General Jackson, the American counterpart to General Edel.  At some points you see him using English and stumbling over the simplest German phrases.  At other places, he’s clearly a fluent speaker of German.  They might have hired a linguist, or maybe even used a bit more common sense, but they evidently calculated that their audience needed a bit more help in identifying a black man in a U.S. Army general’s uniform as an American.  

    Again, not a major drawback, and easily compensated for by gripping action, superb acting and the care with which the soundtrack was selected:  the song “99 Balloons,” popular in the day, and offerings by David Bowie, New Order (“Blue Monday”) and Eurythmics (“Sweet Dreams”), Fischer G, Grace Jones, and others, including a great scene where Martin learns what a Walkman is, and listens to Duran Duran (“Hungry Like a Wolf”).

    Generals Jackson and Edel are responsible for arranging the stationing of American Pershing II Missiles on West German soil.  It’s this decision which is the event of 1983, and thus the reason for 83 in the title.  It’s a Ronald Reagan move, and it’s done at a time when the Soviets have a particularly paranoid leader in Yuri Andropov.  From a German perspective, making West Germany a target for a deterrent attack by Soviet nuclear weapons makes this moment a high point of the Cold War, a stand-off event similar to the problem Kennedy had with Soviet weapons in Cuba.  

    What’s missing from the story is the fact that the Pershing II missiles were set up in response to Soviet SS-20 theater missiles, and the fear on the part of the West German and American “militarists” had some foundation – the peaceniks were making the Americans the bad guys, not the Soviets.  But seen in retrospect now, even modern-day Americans (other than hardliner Reagan supporters) can feel sympathy for the peaceniks, and ultimately for the East German spy who (without spoiling the plot) rises above his role to become a player in the larger game.  

    It’s not Americans against the Soviets, in the end.  It’s warmongers against diplomats, and an opportunity to plant a foreshadowing of the notion that people in the two Germanys are going to have reason to seek common solutions to cold war standoffs.   The fact that the story was put together by a German and an American supports the notion as well that the lines between East and West may not matter as much as the ones between those invested in maintaining antagonism and those committed to breaking down barriers.

    Deutschland 83 thus provides a rich source of discussion material for those seeking to trace the path through past antagonisms to where we find ourselves now, where kids in Berlin walk back and forth across now imaginary lines and have been known to ask, “Wall?  What wall?”

    It’s also a series that will satisfy countless numbers of binge-watchers for years to come.

    in German, with English subtitles

    photo credit

    ·     * It’s available on Netflix.   Also, according to one Indian website, “following its US success, the series has now been placed by FremantleMedia International with Channel One (Russia), Sky Italia (Italy), Hulu (US), Sundance TV (English-speaking Canada), Super Ecran (French-speaking Canada), RTE (Eire), Stan (Australia & New Zealand), Telenet (Belgium), RTL Klub (Hungary), Hotvision (Israel), TV4 (Pan-regional Scandinavia) and Kino Lorber (US – DVD and iTunes)” - 

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  2. 2734 Ellsworth - before energy saving devices
    I made a trip down to Home Depot the other day to get a switch that would enable me to turn both bed lamps on and off at the same time.  I hate having to run from one side of the bed to the other.  I was on my way to the electrical goods section when I had one of those moments that make you believe in miracles. Walking straight up to me was this Greek god of a young man, smiling from ear to ear. Wow. Must have done something right in my previous life, I think to myself.  This man clearly loves me.

    The homunculus who sits on my left shoulder and whispers temptations into my left ear says, "Use a hotel.  Don't bring him home.  And pay cash.  No need to leave a money trail."  The right shoulder homunculus then chimes in, "Don’t throw away twenty-one years of married life for 48 hours (I am a positive thinker) of ecstasy."

    "It's only been two years.  The rest doesn't count," says the leftie.  "Besides, your husband will never believe you had the energy to go one hour, much less forty-eight.”

    In the space of the few seconds I try clear my head of the cacaphony, the god extends his hand.
    “Can I talk to you for a few minutes about a way for you to save on your energy bill?”

    I try not to burst into tears.  “Uh, yeah, I guess so,” I say, hoping to regain some dignity.

    Justin, we’ll call him, launches into the pitch.  Solar panels.  No cost to me.  The savings will start immediately.  All I need to do is agree to have somebody come out and see if my house is suitable.

    There’s no way I’m going to say no to this guy.

    The very next day his colleague Frank comes to the house.  An ordinary looking guy this time, not a Greek god.  Obviously this company knows how and where to distribute their talents.  Up the stairs he goes, tries to take the third-floor bathroom fan out so he can look at the rafters.  No luck. Takes pictures on his i-Phone of my fuse box.  Then climbs onto the roof, makes some sketches, and drives off promising to be in touch.

    I wait several days.  And the idea of doing something for the environment begins to grow.  As does the idea of saving ten percent a month or more on my electric bill.  Now how do I make signing the final papers with Justin a condition of the contract without being too obvious.

    More days go by.  Still no word.  Then an e-mail.  "Dear Mr. M.," it says, "We are so sorry, but your roof doesn’t have enough space to hold enough solar panels to make the job worth while."

    Well damn.  So much for making the world a better place.

    Next thing I’m on the phone with my friend Jason, trying to get some sympathy for having to live in such a small house.  It’s a nice house.  Three stories.  If it fell over it would be a ranch style.  But it’s true, it’s more like a tower than most houses in the neighborhood.

    2734, with energy saving devices installed
    No problem, says Jason. Jason is Danish. He grew up in Denmark.  That means he never saw the sun more than four or five times between the ages of seven and seventeen.  “Wind,” he says.  “In Denmark we don’t think about solar energy.  It’s overcast most of the year anyway.  What you need is wind energy.”

    I remind him that a) this is not Denmark, b) if I don’t have enough room for solar panels, I have even less room for windmills, and c) California has 300 days of sunshine a year, so what the hell is he talking about?

    Jason isn’t the kind of guy who takes no for an answer.  He goes to work and pretty soon I have a way to get back on the horse of energy conservation.  See the photo to the right.

    Maybe it can work.  I like the added touch of the rainbow streamers.  We are a gay household, after all.


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  3. I blogged the other day about the pope’s visit and about the confusion so many of us have about what exactly he represents.  I admitted I find myself drawn to the man and urged others to take a nuanced view of him as both a leader of a retrograde institution and a kindly soul underneath a whole pile of crap doctrine.  He’s only human.  Big deal.  He has opinions, and once we remind ourselves that adoring crowds have chased after all sorts of men in leadership positions – such is human nature – and that he is still only human, we can get back to our coffee and our newspaper.  Computer screen.  Whatever.

    I feel the urge to modify that view this morning.  According to articles reported in the Guardian, and in the American press, as well, Pope Francis actually met with Kim Davis while he was in the U.S., and his statement on the plane supporting her refusal to carry out her duties as clerk may actually have been made with some guile.  Certainly there is guile in the refusal of official spokespeople to reveal the fact for some time. 

    So much for diplomatic skills and for remaining above the secular fray.  Mr. B has proven that he is a politician from Rome and need not be taken quite so seriously.  By coming down on the side of religion over secular law, he's just blown his credibility as a neutral observer.  If he ever had any.  Come on now, let’s not pretend we’re surprised!

    But let’s not miss the significance of this revelation, either.  My friend Bill Lindsey, the Catholic theologian, has this to say on his blog this morning:
    …if this story is accurate [it has now been confirmed – Alan], then the story is beyond disgusting. Many LGBT people and those who care about us will read this story to mean that, if the pope has "wrapped his protective mantle" around a woman who wants to claim religious grounds for dehumanizing us and trampling on our human rights, he has done precisely the opposite for us as human beings — he hs cast us off as human detritus, and given us a clear signal that the leaders of the Catholic church decisively hate us.  
    Bill has also come to a dramatic conclusion:
    If you're like me, LGBT Catholic folks and people who care about LGBT human beings, now's the time to give up on the Catholic church. I will never listen with respect to another word this pope says.
    I've had it. 
    And he provides evidence in that same blog entry earlier today that he’s in good company.  There appears to be no shortage of other like-minded Catholics for whom this is the last straw.

    I’d love to be able to dance around with “told ya so!  told ya so!” but I can’t.  I didn’t predict this.  I really thought Francis might roll back the anti-Vatican II efforts of his predecessors.  I got that wrong.

    My father didn't want to vote for JFK because, he said, "Catholics take their orders from the pope."

    It wasn't long after that when JFK made the announcement that his first loyalty would be to the U.S. Constitution, not his religious leader or his religious beliefs.  And he kept that promise, as far as I'm able to determine, as have all Catholic leaders with a respect for the law.  Thank you, Jesus, for that familiar admonishment attributed to you that one should "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesars..."

    The progress we've made to rid ourselves of racism, sexism and homophobia is not complete. That's no secret. And the Roman Catholic church is known for foot-dragging all along the way. It is conservative to the core, and changes slowly. Read about the Rat Lines from Croatia to South America, as the Church helped Nazis escape after the war. Remember the prayers on Good Friday for the conversion of the Jews. Remember that to this day the church holds out against women having any real power in the organization of the church. And remember that homophobic bullies find solace in the thought that they are in tune with church doctrine. Catholic authorities may cluck over how "they went too far" in beating that poor gay kid to a pulp, but “too far” suggests going some distance is acceptable. Some will even add, "Their heart was in the right place."

    I had a blow-up with somebody recently over their support for the Messianic Jewish preacher Jonathan Cahn.  If you don’t know this guy, check him out.  He digs around for hidden messages in the Scriptures and has found not one but two cows born with the number 7 on their foreheads, all of which lead him to conclude that the end of the world is near and America is going to be destroyed because it gave itself over to homosexuals.  No kidding.  End of the world.  Had no idea we had such power.

    Anyway, I called this guy a jerk and suggested there was something wrong with people’s intelligence if they got suckered by his wacko notions.  Should not have insulted anyone’s intelligence.  It only makes for bad feelings. I got all riled up because I know how such rabble rousing against gay people leads directly to bullying.  After all, what’s wrong with roughing up a fag when you know he is responsible for the end of the world?  Isn’t that the least you can do to fight back?

    There’s an obvious difference between beating up fags and praying for the Jews – the former is directly violent, the latter only indirectly so – but the origins of the animus are similar.

    Until 1959, on Good Friday priests led their congregations in the prayer, Oremus (let us pray) et pro perfidis Judaeis. “Perfidis,” those of us who don't know Latin are reminded, means “faithless.”  We’re not actually using words like “dastardly” or “reprehensible” in referring to the Jews.  Just “faithless.” 

    You can see why Jews got upset and, as with Galileo, the church has since recanted (see - it can be done) and conceded that maybe God does actually listen to the prayers of Jews   But for a time, the church dictated that one should not even kneel during these prayers because, as the Benedictine leader Dom Guéranger, now being considered for canonization, put it:
    The Church has no hesitation in offering up a prayer for the descendants of Jesus' executioners; but in doing so she refrains from genuflecting, because this mark of adoration was turned by the Jews into an insult against our Lord during the Passion.  
    What can I say?  This is how the church feels – Jews are unbelievers and should be prayed for.  Women are lower than men in importance and should be kept in their place. Gays are sinners.  Condoms are bad. Those are our views, says the church.  And as the gun salesman says, “I just sold the guy the gun.  I’m not responsible for what he did with it.”

    Tell that to the Germans, now struggling with 55,000 refugees pouring through Munich Central Station in the past two weeks alone and taxing their services beyond endurance.  There is some serious discussion going on in Germany these days about the wisdom of selling arms throughout the Middle East.

    Words have consequences.  If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have rules against shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater.  When the pope says Kim Davis had a right to follow her conscience and disobey the law, he may not be responsible for riling up the bullies – not directly – but like Jonathan Cahn, who blames gays for the end of the world, he’s certainly retarding the progress of the Enlightenment view that all  men and women are worthy of equal rights before the law.

    The current head of the Roman church has disappointed many who interpreted his kindly words about the importance of pastoral care and "Who am I to judge?" to signify change.  But there is another way to look at what just happened.  Remember the story of the scorpion and the frog? The scorpion wants to cross the river and asks the frog to take him on his back.  "But you'll sting me!" the frog protests.  "Now why would I do that?" says the scorpion.  "If I did that, we'd both die."   So the frog takes him and halfway across the river the scorpion stings the frog.  As they sink beneath the waters the frog asks why he would do something so awful. "Because I'm a scorpion," the scorpion says.  "Stinging is what I do."

    photo credit goes to Lexington, KY TV station WKYT, who I assume owns the copyright

    This link will take you to a news video - don't know how long it will stay up - and a report quoting the chief homophobe organization Liberty Council stating, "You don't make an appointment with the pope.  The pope comes to you."  And the pope, they say, promised to send pictures of the meeting, which they will then share with the public.


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  4. NBC News reported just now that Pope Francis has weighed in on the right of government officials to follow their consciences and not obey the law when they believe to do so would run contrary to God’s will.  Let’s call that the shit hitting the fan.

    Between you and me, this is gotcha journalism.  Somebody asked the pope a question and, whether he realized it dealt with the Kim Davis case or not,  he gave what is probably a sincere response.  Given time, I can imagine he might give a sincere response reflecting a different position.  I can imagine him quoting the familiar “Render unto Caesar…” line, for example.  But I predict (and I’ll be happy to be proven wrong) this remark of his is going to cause a stir.  For a few days, at least, until the next media sound bite alarm is set off.

    I also imagine there is going to be some backtracking here.  The pope, or his supporters, some of them, are going to argue he wasn’t actually interfering in American politics; he was merely restating church doctrine, which everybody knew he was going to do all along.  And he has stated repeatedly, remember, that we ought to stop our confrontational ways and stress the kinder gentler message the church wants to preach. But the toothpaste is out of the tube and it’s not going back in.

    What’s going to be missed on the left, as gay rights supporters get their knickers in a knot – love that British expression – is that the pope is absolutely right.  One should be free to follow one’s conscience.  No government should be allowed to make a person go against his or her conscience.  If I believe a law is immoral I have a god-given right (and I don’t need to believe in God to say this) to ignore it.  It’s called civil disobedience.  Let’s not forget, however, that I have to suffer the legal consequences – my ass may end up in jail. I have a moral right to act according to my beliefs, but I don’t have a legal right to be free of the consequences.

    And then there’s another, ultimately more important, issue. Sometimes your conscience has things wrong.

    The whole notion that Kim Davis has a god-given right to act on her conscience assumes that there is a moral reason for disparaging gay people.  And when you want to know where that comes from, the trail takes you back to the church door.  The pope is wrong, and ultimately cruel, when he preaches that there is something morally disordered about gay people.  Both are interpreting a biblical injunction against same-sex relations and elevating the issue in importance over adultery and divorce, to the level of murder and theft.  The pope is equally wrong about insisting we have sex only when we are set on making babies.  This isn’t the only messed-up item on his priority list. 

    Amidst all the adoration of this gentle man, much of it well-deserved, in my opinion, we must not lose sight of the fact that this fellow represents a medieval world view in which homosexuality is a threat to the family because it suggests sex is about something other than making new souls for the Lord.  A world view in which women need to play their role as wives and mothers and not confuse things by trying to be priests and CEOs.  It is possible to be a warm grandpa type you just want to hug and be a representative of an antiquated world view at the same time.  It’s time for a reminder that the values of Western civilization have evolved since the church called all the shots.  We now believe, contrary to church teachings, that all human beings – regardless of sex and gender, race and creed, should have equal rights before the law.  Time to say it loud and say it proud.  We have made great social advances over many of the world views of an anti-democratic old boys network from yesteryear called the Roman Catholic Church.

    Kim Davis is an American citizen who is breaking the law.  There is a church-state conflict going on here, and we need to make sure the state does not back down. Those of us who depend on the American Constitution to protect us from religious bigotry are lost if one or another religious bigot – even a warm wonderful old man bigot from Buenos Aires – is allowed to call the shots.

    All the pope’s remarks on civil disobedience have accomplished is to keep the debate going on whether homosexuality is evil.  If it isn’t, there is no cause for civil disobedience and the question of whether Kim Davis is behaving well is moot.

    The pope is right about some things, wrong about others.  He is right, in my opinion, about climate change, right about our need to get rid of the death penalty, wrong about women and gays.  That’s my opinion.  If yours differs, let’s at least recognize that this is not God who has spoken; it is a man with a perspective and a whole set of human limitations when it comes to understanding right or wrong.

    We’re being obliged to relive the Kim Davis issue.  OK, so we’ll do it once more…

    If Kim Davis refused to do her job and give marriage licenses to Jews because, according to her, they killed Jesus, we would throw her ass in jail and get really mad at her.  If she refused to do her job and give marriage licenses to Roma people because she was convinced “gypsies are thieves,” we would throw her ass in jail and get really mad at her.  If she refused to do her job and give marriage licenses to African-Americans because she thought they did not make stable families, we would throw her ass in jail and get really mad at her.

    She is not acting on those particular prejudices held by an uncomfortably large number of Americans.  She is refusing to do her job and give marriage licenses to lesbians and gay people because she thinks they are sinners and helping sinners is wrong.  She is misguided and she is breaking the law.  We should throw her ass in jail and get really mad at her.

    We shouldn't stay mad, of course.  But we shouldn't let her off the hook, either.

    The pope is back in Rome.  I understand he had a wonderful time and finds Americans especially friendly.

    I’m a fan, Jorge Bergoglio.  Would love to have you as my grandfather.  (OK, so you're only three years older than me.  But you would do the job so well!)

    So glad you had a great time in my country.

    Hope you’ll change your mind some day about gay people.  (And women, while you’re at it.)

    Wish you well, in either case.

    photo credit


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  5. Arthur Applebee
    I just got some very sad news.  Arthur Applebee, my dissertation advisor at Stanford, died yesterday of heart failure.  Apparently he had been ill for about a year, and this came as no surprise to those close to him.  But we had not been in touch, and the surprise hit me hard.

    Arthur Applebee and his wife, Judith Langer, were a couple known to be especially close.  To know one of them was to know the other.  They were not only a married couple; they were colleagues who worked together in the area of literacy and reading and writing and assessment, and education generally.  They were – and I have no doubt Judith still is – exceptionally good teacher/researchers.

    I owe Arthur more than I can say.  (And since they worked so closely, much of this applies to Judith, as well).  I met them at a party once, some time after my advisor, Robert Politzer, became ill and his many advisees found themselves out to sea.  If you know anything about doctoral programs, you know that in this medieval hierarchical world, a dissertation advisor is pretty close to a god.  Over the years, I’ve heard many people make the statement, “Without …, I never would have made it through.”  I echo that statement absolutely.

    When he learned that I was one of the Politzer orphans, he suggested I stop by his office right away and fill him in on my dissertation plans.  I had actually settled with an anthropologist as a replacement – a very good one – but it soon became obvious that what I wanted and needed was an educator.  My whole focus was on education first, anthropology and the social sciences second, and I was not in a satisfactory place. 

    In very short order, despite Arthur’s initial unfamiliarity with what I was after – the uses Japanese foreign students were putting their American degrees to, he found his way in in no time.  I was persuaded in that first hour talking with him that I had struck gold.  He was encouraging from the first moment on.

    Besides having a daunting list of academic accomplishments, including twenty-five books, he was a master at academic advising.  He knew how to get me disciplined, how to prioritize the tasks I was faced with, what would fly and what wouldn’t.  He had an especially keen sense of the practical and the useful and at the same time loved to get carried away by new ideas.  He had a philosophical bent and I never had a conversation with him that wasn’t stimulating. 

    The best part of the story, for me, was that his intellect was matched by the calm decency he displayed toward everybody around him.  He knew how to push, but he also knew how to respect your limits.  He made me work, and I never went to a session with him unprepared.  Somehow he created an aura where that just didn’t seem worthy.

    When Judith applied for tenure at Stanford and failed to get confirmed, they decided together to take an offer in Albany, where they could work and build a program as a team.  All of us who knew them knew instantly that was the right decision for them.  Whether they continued to believe that, I can’t be sure.  I went off to Japan, to another world, another life, and left the world of graduate school behind.  Since I was not in their immediate academic areas of writing or assessment, where I might have run into them again over the years at conferences, we never met again. 

    His name came up from time to time and occasionally I would run into others who knew him.  I never met anyone who worked with him who didn’t have high praise for his work and for his character.  He was a very fine man.

    He got me through the PhD.  He urged me (how could I have hesitated?) to take the job which became the center of my life for eighteen years before I retired.  As I sit here, nearly ten years after retiring, I marvel at the good fortune I had to run into Arthur Applebee at just the right time.  Without him, the good life I have today simply would not exist.  It’s easy, of course, to say I might have found another route to this place, but I honestly don’t see how I could have fared even half as well with what other resources were available to me at the time.  My only regret is that I did not tell him this while he was still alive.

    I have cut and pasted the photo above from a LinkedIn website.  If there is a problem with copyright, I will of course search for another.  I hope not.  This smile captures the man so beautifully.


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  6. I have a niece who works for the UNHCR, the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees.  Frankly, I don’t know how she does it.  She’s been all over the place, from Ivory Coast to Nepal to Pakistan to Libya, and there have been times when I worried about her health.  People in her position have to go to bed at night knowing if they just stayed a little later at the office they might have saved another family, another life.

    These are heroic people.  Not all are on the front lines, of course, and I don’t want to overdramatize here, but the nearly three thousand deaths in the Mediterranean that are part of this last week’s daily focus on the Syrian refugee crisis make the case for me.  This is a world crisis and it demands more of our attention.

    According to UNHCR statistics, about half of the refugees are coming from Syria.  Another 13% from Afghanistan.  Third in line are the Eritreans at 8%.  Then, it goes down from 3% to 1% for Nigerians, Somalians, Pakistanis, Iraqis, Sudanese, Gambians, and Bangladeshis.  And stopping at the top ten is a completely arbitrary decision here.  The world is a hostile place, and it is estimated that the total number of refugees is about 60 million.

    And speaking of arbitrary, notice how when you focus on one part of the picture somebody’s going to come down on you for not focusing on another part of the picture.  Why all this fuss over the Syrians, says Arthur Chrenkoff in the Observer a couple days ago.     I don’t know where he is getting his numbers, but he claims most refugees are not Syrians but “a miscellany of African, Middle Eastern and South Asian…”  He makes this point to cast aspersions on the lovefests going on in Munich and Hamburg and Dortmund where volunteers are rushing in with smiles and hugs and chocolate and shoes and diapers and signs in Germanized English reading: “Welcome in Germany!”  Most refugees, he points out, are single, healthy-looking young men.   So they’re looking for jobs, right?  Not desperate.  Not fleeing from persecution.

    What’s the implication here?  That they ought to stay in refugee camps in Lebanon, where they are now a quarter of that overstretched nation’s population?  Or Greece, where their hopes of a future are worse than dismal, given the country’s financial crisis?  A PBS News program last night documents the tale of a Palestinian refugee in Lebanon, a doctor, now trying desperately – and failing – to gather five thousand dollars to get his family to Europe.  Economic refugees?  The closer you look for a meaningful distinction between these categories, the murkier it gets.  All refugees are to some degree economic refugees.  There is a difference, and while you need to be sure you don't let in a rich kid at the same time you leave a poor kid outside the door, prefacing that term "economic refugee" with “merely” is seriously unworthy.  And you need to show me much better evidence that this is an either/or situation and not a both/and situation.  

    Chrenkoff has it in for bleeding-heart liberals.  Born in Poland, the erstwhile apologist for the Iraq war lives in Australia and is among many who have made a life work of bewailing the West’s ignorance about the full extent of life's miseries behind the Iron Curtain.  That makes him a darling of the right and when I first saw his name on the article I was tempted to dismiss it out of hand.  But with the word “crisis” being bandied about, it seems to me we ought to give everybody a hearing.  It’s so easy to get carried away with our own sense of right when the media floods us with images of adorable children at risk of life and limb.

    So what is it Chrenkoff is saying, exactly?  And how well does he represent the reasonable conservative's position that opening the doors and letting the world flood in is a policy that is going to hurt us in the end.  

    Here’s what Chrenkoff has to say about the big picture: 
    • He cites the UNHRC figures – 60 million displaced people, about 20 million officially classified as refugees.  Many of those are “economic refugees.” 
    • 1.2 billion people survive on less than a dollar a day; 2.8 billion on less than two dollars.  “If the answer to ‘my country is awful/war torn/poor’ is ‘just move right in’ the West better get ready for a couple billion new arrivals,” he warns.

    There’s no mistaking his intention here, and the title of his article sums it up - Europe’s compassion for refugees is phony.  We’re not really serious about helping those most in need.  Whatever we think we’re doing, in the end we’re serving our own self interest.  Chrenkoff doesn’t go into specifics, but let me put on a cynic’s hat for a minute and make his point for him.  (Note he gets to deny he ever intended any of my implications.)

    Merkel, for starters.  For some time now she has been criticized for not having any views of her own, for being the consummate politician who follows events finger to the wind, and serves the interests of global corporatism in making sure Germany’s economic miracle stays the course.  Now here she is, mother of the planet’s current “most beloved nation,” her picture plastered everywhere.  Headlines read “Merkel sehr gut” (Merkel very good!)   Oh, happy day for Angela Merkel.

    What this is really about, cynics say, is not a change of heart by ordinary Germans.  It’s about the fact that Germany cannot keep the engine of industry running without importing workers. What looks like a crisis is in fact a great stroke of luck fallen right into Mutti’s lap.  Syrians are relatively hard-working people.  They are white.  Pretty much.  They are educated.  Very trainable.  Good future prospects.  A win-win situation.  We take in refugees from Syria, make an effort not to look smug and superior while Poland and Slovakia put up their “Christians Only” signs, and the Americans are shamed – Germany takes in 800,000, the U.S. 1500? 

    Aside here: Just saw a news item that Obama is promising to up that to 10,000.  Nice big jump.  But that's still only one in 400 Syrians in need compared to Germany's one in 5 Syrians in need.   Could do better than that, seems to me, particularly since you'd imagine the cheap labor argument would be a winner with Republicans.  Have I got that wrong?

    But back to alleged German opportunism vs. the argument against alleged foreign hordes.  As always, when you make the cynics’ argument for them, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.  The cynics are often right, and even when they’re not, they’ve usually got a point.

    The problem with this line of thinking, though, is that it’s an ivory tower position.  From up on high, those little ants running around on the surface don’t amount to much.  And there’s always somebody in greater need than the homeless person you encounter outside your grocery store you give a dollar to.

    You’ve got osteoporosis?  Well, I’ve got it too, and arthritis besides, so don’t expect a flood of tears from these eyes.  Relativizing pain and discomfort is one of the nastiest tricks of otherwise decent rational people.

    Most of the refugees are men, and that means they’re only after a better life?  Isn’t it obvious that most of these men, if they succeed, will be sending for families, or at least sending money back to those families to feed and clothe and educate them?  How do you construe that as an illegitimate pursuit?  And did you really think families from Africa and the Middle East would send their daughters, maybe, and not their sons out into the world to seek a way out of a life with no good prospects?  Are you really only a refugee if you come with the entire family?  Here we are surrounded by the enemy.  We could send out a scout to go for help, but we’d better send out an entire family or people will not take us seriously.

    Merkel may not be as heroic as she is currently being portrayed, but she is not just a manipulator of current events.  She still has to contend with a significant number of people in her own party, the CDU (and even more in the CDU's twin, the Bavarian CSU) who are anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner. 

    Merkel was given an honorary degree in Bern, Switzerland, the other day.  Following the ceremony there was a Q&A session.  “You’re doing a lot to help the refugees,” one woman asked.  “What are you doing to protect our Christian values?”

    Call me naïve for not spotting the self-serving politician in her answer, if you will.  But I thought she did a bang-up job of answering the question. 

    First off, she said, we in Europe should recognize that we are responsible for a lot of the misery in the Middle East.  It’s not just that problems are coming to us.  In some cases there are even IS fighters of German origin.  “We can’t behave as if this had nothing to do with us.”  Of course we have to arm ourselves against terror, but Europe’s history is so filled with gruesome confrontations, it seems to me, that we ought to be very careful when we complain about things going on elsewhere in the world.  We have no reason for arrogance.  “And I say that as German Chancellor.”  The best approach to take in the face of religious people of another faith, she suggested, is to arm yourself with greater knowledge of your own faith.

    Not too shabby, it seems to me.

    For a self-serving politician.

    photo credit and source for the title of this article is the Frankfurter Rundschau http://www.fr-online.de/home/1472778,1472778.html


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  7. Mercy without justice, they say, is the mother of dissolution.  Justice without mercy is cruelty.

    There have been several opportunities in the past few days to ponder the ways in which we are tossed around on the waves of chance.  Do we live by order based on reason and fair play and let our better nature shine through our system of justice?  Or do we live by our impulses to do good and pride ourselves on our flexible nature?  That is the moral question behind the recent celebration of the change of heart in regard to Syrian refugees now pouring into Northern Europe.  In a perfect world, we would not be faced with this choice.  We would have better policies, savvier institutions for dealing with crises, more resources allocated to the needy.  All things are never equal, however, and we are always forced to make choices.  Mercy is being prioritized over justice at the moment.  But that leads to the question, how long can we keep it up?

    Angela I - the chancellor caught
    in a politically awkward moment
    To many questions, actually.  There have been refugees dying by the boatload in the Mediterranean for some time now.    Apparently it took a photo – that photo of the dead three-year-old lying face down at water’s edge – to galvanize world opinion.  (I'm not going to show it here.  I've seen it too many times and it's simply too hard to look at.)  Something must be done.  One day Angela Merkel is telling a little Palestinian girl from Lebanon that she can’t bend the rules and let her stay in Germany, that there are many people in greater need than she is in, and so she will have to go back to Lebanon, where she began her life as a refugee.  And practically the next, the same Angela Merkel is telling the Hungarians to open the gates.  Suffer the Syrians to come unto me, says Angela, and in a flash, this conservative politican is the love child of people of good will from Africa to the Arctic Circle.  Just so you don’t think this is just a German change of heart, please note that Sweden just announced it would now grant all Syrian refugees in their country permanent status.

    You see the enormous power of the media at times like this.  A clip of a refugee telling his fellow Syrians, “Don’t come to Hungary!”  Another clip of Hungarians piling refugees on trains headed for Germany and then waylaying them to a refugee camp outside of Budapest suggests the Hungarians must be a nasty sneaky bunch.  No wonder nobody would seek asylum in Hungary.

    But that’s not the whole story, and it’s cruelly unfair to the Hungarians.

    First off, the Hungarians are (were – it has all changed now) following the rules established by the ECRE, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.*  The Europeans came up with a plan, usually referred to as Dublin III these days, on how best to approach this new Völkerwanderung (mass migration of peoples).  This plan has been in effect since it came into force on September 1, 1997.  Some countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Denmark, specifically) took a bit longer to get on board, but as of now, every single European country (Denmark has some reservations) has agreed to follow the rules – a refugee gets fingerprinted and registered in the first country he enters while seeking asylum.  Hungary was simply trying to follow the law.  Justice, you see.  Not mercy, in this case.

    The problem with Dublin III (and the two earlier agreements) is that this puts the burden on the countries on the perifery.  Greece, for example.  While Greece is struggling mightily to keep from going bankrupt, according to Dublin III any Syrian who enters Europe on a boat to Lesbos or Kos is Greece’s responsibility to take care of.  And it’s those Greek islands, along with others like Lampedusa, the Italian island just off the coast of Libya, where they land.  And Syrians know that if they stay in Greece – or even Hungary – the chances of getting their children educated are nothing like what they are likely to be in Germany.

    Do you want to be the one to tell them they need to stay in Greece?

    And look at what is not being said here.  These are refugees!  They are supposed to be taken in and given food, clothing and shelter.  The crisis will end one day and they will go home.  They are not immigrants; they are refugees.  They don’t get to make demands.  They take what they can get.

    So no education for your kids.  Learn to say ευχαριστώ  (efkharisto) and move along now; there are many others we need to get to.

    I'm with you, young lady.  I think Garemny is
    a pretty cool place!
    Not so fast, says the Syrian mother and father.  There is no end in sight to this tug of war between ISIS and Assad.  Why should my twelve-year-old sweep streets in Thessaloniki until he is twenty-two?  If we get into Germany, he will go straight into middle school and when he is twenty-two he can be a graduate of Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

    So the media kick in.  That video of Angela Merkel I, the German justice Angela, stroking the hair of the little Palestinian girl gets set against Angela Merkel II, the German mercy Angela, being held up by a Syrian refugee as if she were Madonna.  Any doubt which image better suits the zeitgeist?  No politician in her right mind would fail to seize this opportunity.

    Angela II - the chancellor in the eyes of a
    Syrian immigrant
    It’s a rerun of the Greek crisis (and don’t you love how the Greek debt crisis has become a back-burner issue). There, it was the law-and-order folk, Angela I at the helm, talking about the moral hazard of forgiving Greek debts for the nth time.  Don’t you know they’ll just keep taking advantage?  And the bleeding hearts talking about how the bankers of the west worked hand-in-glove with the corrupt politicians of Greece to fleece the working man and sell out his country.  And how that means we need to show mercy to the Greeks and not condemn them to decades of unbearable austerity?  Angela I couldn’t show flexibility there.  Her corporate bosses were in charge.  But on the refugee issue, the media, not the corporate bosses, are calling the shots.  All the rationality in the world doesn’t amount to a bucket of spit when the world has to take in a little boy with his cute little feet still in tiny sneakers and his nose buried down in the sand.

    While we're at it, it's worth noting that people can't even agree on terms.  No sooner is a word pressed into service than it takes on political connotations, politicians contextualize it, and it takes on a life of its own.  I've listened to debates on German television over whether there is any real difference between Migranten, Flüchtlinge, Asylanten, and Asylbewerber,  which translate more or less as "migrants," "refugees," persons seeking or already granted asylum (i.e., it's ambiguous), and asylum seekers, respectively.  The BBC saw fit to make an issue of terminology given the political penchant for dividing people into real refugees and (merely) economic refugees.  They wrote:
    A note on terminology: The BBC uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum. This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.
    We can take great pleasure – I certainly did – in seeing one act of generosity after another flash across our TV and computer screens – like the Austrian kid who joined a convoy of Germans and Austrians to drive across into Hegyeshalom, on the Hungarian side of the border, pick up families of refugees and drive them across the line to Nickelsdorf, in Austria, and an hour more into Vienna.  Are you people smuggling? asks the reporter.  “No,” the kid says, “I’m just being helpful.”  And we can ask ourselves if this is a real change of heart among the peoples of Western Europe.  Is it that people have gotten kinder?  Or is it that the media are driving this phenomenon and editors have their fingers in the wind and are guessing we're overdue for some human interest stories?  Are the media really driving the story?  Or are they merely riding the story, and it’s the people who have had their fill with the smooth-running but soulless system of German (and Hungarian, and Swedish and you-name-it) justice and want something more?

    However you come down on that question, if it's even answerable, that’s only half the story.  The other half is the fact that on August 24, Germany decided to suspend the Dublin III regulations and process refugees without regard to their having been in another European country before arriving.  The Czech Republic followed on September 2.  Hungary, Slovakia and Poland, on the other hand, are sticking to the rules.  Except when they don’t, as when Hungary let the refugees on the trains – and nobody asked for tickets, by the way – and even provided busses.  Good guys and bad guys?  Justice vs. mercy?  How are we to frame these events coming down these past days?  Is it really a Völkerwanderung (mass migration), as German conservative politicians are trying to frame it?  The implication being every nation has the right to determine who comes in and who stays out.  Or is it a crisis of humanity, as the progressives claim, the implication being that when the boat is sinking you get everybody into lifeboats; you don't worry so much about the china.

    Eritrean refugees in front of the U.S. Embassy
    in Tel Aviv
    It’s probably going to be only a matter of days before the tide turns again.  What happens if the Syrian refugees in Turkey and Jordan decide their kids, too, deserve a German education?  Or give some serious thought to what it means to step on Swedish soil and be instantly granted permanent asylum?  What happens if the Eritreans begin asking why their plight is any less dire than the Syrians’?  Is our new-found sympathy for the Syrians going to bring back off the back burner the plight of 1.3 million displaced Sudanese?   I know how to make enemies quickly of my lefty friends by asking naughty questions about Bhutanese refugees in Nepal or Karen refugees trying to get home to Burma.  Don’t dilute, don’t trivialize, don’t relativize, they will say.  And don’t dismiss this with your cynicism about how euro-centric this current issue is.

    And I will listen to them.   What am I going to do, join the guys on the other side who insist people coming across the Mexican border are rapists and murderers?

    It’s hard to keep a nuanced perspective, to recognize the complexities, to resist the demonization of the good folks who have prioritized justice over mercy.  But the right thing is to try, I think.

    At the same time, this story is far from over.  And there are going to be lots of twists in the plot line before we’re done.

    Mercy’s nice for now.  But mercy without justice is not the final answer.

    * Not to be confused with the German authority for dealing with such matters, known as BAMF. And that's BAMF as in Bundesamt für Migranten und Flüchtlinge, by the way and not Bad-Ass Mother-F***ers, as in Marvel Comics.

    photo credits:

    Lady Justice being advised by mercy: https://www.pinterest.com/nigeltarrant/lady-justice/

    I love Garemny - http://mashable.com/2015/09/05/refugees-arrive-germany-austria/ - an AP wire photo by Jens Meyer

    Angela I: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/angela-merkel-makes-palestinian-girl-facing-deportation-from-germany-cry-on-television-10393719.html

    Angela II: http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/europe/71832406/refugee-crisis-germans-clap-and-sing-to-welcome-10000-arrivals


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  8. We sometimes forget the definition of dilemma.  It means a struggle between two choices, both of which have claim to legitimacy.  When you have good fighting evil, you may prefer evil, but you know what’s right.  When you find yourself facing a dilemma, you know you’re going to lose something no matter what choice you make.  And you're likely never to know if you made the best decision.

    People are speaking of the refugee crisis as a dilemma.  Institutions in the receiver countries are swamped.  They can’t process all the people, can’t house and give them medical care, find them schools, teach them the local language and see to their rapid integration into society.  Or so they claim.  This is debatable, and one wonders if more money and manpower wouldn’t do the trick.  (I think they would, but that may well be nothing more than wishful thinking on my part.)

    The other side - my side - says this is not really a dilemma, because these are human beings in dire need.  The picture of the three-year-old who washed up on a beach in Turkey has gone around the world and in this case the hundreds of thousands of words that picture was worth have turned all sorts of people around.  Yes, they are saying.  Open the borders.  Bring in the volunteers.  Let’s get to work.

    I blogged yesterday about how glad I was to have some good news for a change and how proud I was of the people of Munich, especially those who went outside and beyond the governmental organizations to organize themselves on Face Book.  Really heartwarming that 3000 people who had walked across desert, crawled under barbed wire, piled into rubber dinghies, got separated from their children and other loved ones and faced thugs and hostility all along the way, finally saw a welcome sign.

    But no sooner do I push the “post” button on the blog than I get an e-mail from my cousin in Hamburg.  She’s exhausted from processing asylum seekers through X-ray machines all day looking for TB and feels she needs to find another job or collapse.  It’s one thing to know what the right thing to do is – take in desperate people – and another to be able to do it.

    The solution is obvious.  Apply more resources.  But that becomes a political question and everybody knows government is not good at acting quickly.  Look at Katrina, if you have any doubts there.  And we can't ride roughshod over all the questions conservatives have - how many criminals and other serious undesirables are piggy-backing on the refugees; what about the national brain-drains we are causing; how do we deal with all the impracticalities?  

    A quick aside here.  When the U.S. was taking in Vietnamese refugees after devastating their country, they tried distributing them around the U.S. But as soon as the refugees got two nickels to rub together they found their way back to friends and family, to places with a critical mass of their home folk so they could find restaurants serving pho and churches that would say mass in Vietnamese.  To scatter people is to destroy their culture.  It's a bureaucrat's solution, not a seriously considered one.

    The image of the volunteers driving in from outlying towns to help bring food and clothing to the refugees at the Hauptbahnhof makes you feel good about the human race.  But it also makes you think there is something tragically incompetent, and possibly worse, about the German government.  So I decided it was time for a little fact-checking.  Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung, a left progressive paper and one of Germany's most respected, published some statistics on the refugee crisis which turn out to be very informative, I think.  

    Let me list some of those facts here:

    I’ll put them in the form of Q&A, as responses to questions posed by the law-and-order folks worried about being swamped by “more immigrants than one can be expected to handle.”

    Q1. Why can’t the Arab countries take in more refugees?  Why must they come to Europe?

    A1. In terms of the ratio between refugees and number of citizens of the country, the wealthy countries of Europe aren’t taking all that many.  For every refugee that ends up in Bavaria, there are 142 Bavarians.  For every refugee in Jordan, 11 Jordanians.   UNHCR figures cited show the number of Syrian refugees in Europe to be at 123,600, according to a survey done in July 2014.  Compare those numbers with 363,576 in Iraq and Egypt, 602,182 in Jordan,  789,678 in Turkey, 1,117,095 in Lebanon. [Note: these figures are of necessity dated and no longer give an accurate picture.  But they nonetheless correct some of the worst assumptions, I believe.]

    Q2. But that’s only Syrian refugees.  What about the total number of refugees?

    A2. Turkey: 1.6 million; Pakistan 1.5 million; Lebanon 1.15 million; Iran 950,000; Ethiopia 659,500; Kenya 551,400; Chad 452,900; Uganda 385,500; China 301,000; Germany 216,973.

    Q3. Still, isn’t Germany taking in more refugees than anybody else in Europe?

    A3: No.  They are fifth in terms of refugees per one million inhabitants, after Sweden, Hungary, Austria, and Malta.  To be fair, that’s still a lion’s share compared to most countries.  Portugal: 55; France is at 970, Finland at 715, Britain at 490, Ireland at 385.  Also, to be fair to most of the countries with low numbers of refugees, they tend to be those farthest away from the entry points, and often, like Finland, several borders away.  To attribute these low numbers to hostility and xenophobia exclusively would be going too far.

    Q4. The strongest opposition to taking in asylum seekers seems to come from the states of the former East Germany.  Is that because they are taking the most?

    A4. No. The opposite is true.  They are taking the least.  It is the city states which are taking the largest number of immigrants per inhabitant: Bremen (56), Hamburg (60) and Berlin (73).  These are followed by states of the former West Germany: North Rhine/Westphalia (87), Hesse (101), Saarland and Lower Saxony (111 each).  The states taking the fewest are in the East: Thuringia (206), Brandenburg (211) and Saxony (238).

    Q5. But what really matters is not the number of refugees who come, but the number of refugees who are given permission to stay.  Doesn’t Germany have an unusually large number, relatively?

    A5. No.  For every 10,000 Norwegians, 10.6 refugees are given residence permits.  For every 10,000 Swedes, it’s 9.6.  For every 10,000 Germans, it’s 2.1.  In between are Switzerland, Belgium, Austria, the Netherlands and Denmark, all of whom grant residence to a higher number per 10,000 local residents.

    Q6. How is it Germany takes so few, then, relatively?

    A6. According to the regulations established by the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), known as the Dublin agreement, responsibility for refugees falls on the first country a refugee seeks asylum in.  Since Germany is surrounded by other EU countries, they are off the hook – at least according to these regulations.  These regulations are now being recognized as detrimental to the best interest of refugees.  According to the ECRE’s official position statement on the matter, “Ultimately ... the Dublin Regulation should be abolished and replaced by a more humane and equitable system that considers the connections between individual asylum seekers and particular Member States.”

    Q7. Isn’t the problem, though, that along with “legitimate” refugees are a whole bunch of “economic refugees” – people whose lives are not at risk and are only coming to make more money?

    A7. The distinction is bogus.  Most come from war-torn areas like Syria and Afghanistan.  But many come also from places with economies destroyed by recent wars, places like Serbia and Kosovo and Montenegro and Albania and Iraq.   Kosovo, despite its valiant attempt at independence, cannot stand on its own.  It has an unemployment rate of 50%.  In Albania, unemployment is a mere 18%, but 7% of the population, according to World Bank figures, live on less than 55 euros per month.  It most cases it would be accurate to say that refugees come not for a "better" living so much as for an "adequate" living.

    Q8. After all is said and done, though, in the end aren’t refugees a terrible burden on the German economy? 

    A8. Asylum seekers cost the economy 12,500 euros per refugee.  That’s about 3.3% of the GDP.  On the other hand, each foreigner living in Germany pays about 3300 euros more in taxes than he or she receives in benefits.  With education and training, that ratio of payments to benefits increases.  It is in Germany’s best interest to take these people in, give them an education, and make them productive contributors to the economy.  It is estimated that those given residence will end up contributing 118,400 euros to the economy on average over their lifetime.  The challenge is to get these people educated.  At a rate of 200,000 new immigrants per year, if even only 30% of them are “highly qualified” and 50% of them are “average qualified” the average German’s tax burden will be reduced by 400 euros. 

    I am taking these Süddeutsche Zeitung figures on faith.  As always, the devil is in the details, and the details need to be checked, and checked again by people with the ability to assess them correctly and accurately.

    But this is what I’ve come up with so far, such as it is.

    Photo credit:  I have taken this photo at the top from the blog of John Feffer, published just over two months ago on June 28th.  It is a blog very much worth reading.  Feffer details the scope of the refugee crisis and the failure of the modern world to address it adequately.    One thing he points out that I did not address, because I focused on the German perspective, was that the United States has accepted no more than 700 of the four million refugees that have poured out of Syria since the crisis began.  That question I attributed above to conservatives about criminals piggy-backing on the refugee population?  Straight out of the Republican playbook.

    Give me your tired, your poor.

    Give me a break.


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  9. from this morning's Guardian (see below)
    The news today comes from Munich’s Central Station. Everybody who goes to Germany learns the word Hauptbahnhof right off the bat.  It’s every traveler’s point of reference.  Today it’s a scene of near chaos because the Hungarians have relented and allowed the trains filled with Syrian refugees to proceed.  For days they held them up until it became clear Budapest’s Keleti Station would burst at the seams if something didn’t give.

    When I lived in Munich in 1960-61 I went in and out of that station dozens of times.  Always I was filled with excitement.  On my way to someplace new, to Venice, to Hamburg to meet my uncle for the first time, to Vienna.  Or to meet friends I had met on the boat from Brindisi to Athens.  There’s nothing like a major international train station to make the heart beat fast and the imagination run wild.  I like to think some of that positive karma continues to flow from the people who have reached their destination there today.

    In this morning’s Guardian is a picture of a kid and an old man and a young German policeman with a scruffy beard – not the image of the old “we must have order” Germany at all.  The policeman has put his hat on the kid’s head and there are smiles all around.  “Germany greets refugees with help and kindness” reads the headline.  It’s sentimental and surprising and heart-warming and wonderful and you think to yourself – Germany, the Promised Land – that I should have lived this long!

    I love this new Germany.  I’m proud as hell that they have taken in the lion’s share of refugees.  Shame on the rest of the EU for not stepping up and taking more.  And it's a necessary antidote to some of the examples of the other Germany, the slow-moving, the fearful, the xenophobic folks in Saxony.

    No discussion on the plight of the immigrants from Africa and war-torn Syria is going to be fair.  The two sides both have compelling arguments.  Conservatives argue nobody can allow people to flood in in an undisciplined fashion.  It’s bad for the country, bad for the refugees themselves.  There has to be some order imposed, some regulation.  And that means barriers to keep people out.  At the other extreme are the people who look into the faces of the desperate and see the need.  To them there is evil in the law’s delay.  It’s a problem that demands instant action.

    I’m touched by the fact that volunteers are rushing to Munich’s Hauptbahnhof with food and water and clothing and nappies for the babies, and that they organized themselves on Face Book, and not through the usual channels, which were apparently too slow.  It’s a modern solution to a modern problem.  People are taking the train in from surrounding towns to join in the welcome.

    I know this is a media thing.  One can look at the dark side, the bureaucratic delays, the obvious arguments that the more you welcome the needy the more needy you end up getting.  And one can look, as this Guardian article did, at the warmheartedness of people who know how to cut through the crap and make good things happen.  You’re not getting the whole picture.  You’re getting the picture you want to see.

    Fine.  I want to see this picture.  I want to see Germans learning to be flexible.  I want to believe the lefties who say because Germany’s population isn’t growing it needs immigrant labor to maintain the economy.  I want to see Germany continue on this path of making Hitler turn over in his grave by becoming a land of mixed races and creeds and life philosophies and opportunity.

    I’m with the Guardian on this.  This is a very bright event, and I think we should celebrate it.


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  10. "We can do without 'tragic special cases' and 'cultural enrichment"
    from "experts" - No to the (refugee center) in [the local area],
    Stop sign reads: Stop the flood of asylum seekers.
    Two images from Saxony, in Germany, the state where Leipzig and Dresden are located, tell a story.  In the town of Heidenau, the other night, neo-Nazis set fire to a refugee center.  This is an extremist act and it has received universal condemnation, but the neo-Nazis have tapped into a xenophobia that is real and growing.

    It is growing loudest at the moment in a state with a relatively small but increasing percentage of foreigners.  Locals supporting this xenophobia argue they want to head off the kind of troubles found in Berlin and other places with large numbers of foreigners.  In Dresden, a group which called itself Pegida was founded a year ago.  Pegida stands for “Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the West.”  They marched weekly for several months.  Other groups, including one in Leipzig which called itself “Legida” were part of a spin-off of like-minded nationalists.

    Urgently seeking:
    • cook (female)/cook (male)
    • waitress/waiter
    • religion: doesn't matter
    • Refugees: welcome!
    • Pegida/Legida supporters: our need is not that great!!
    “Foreigners” these days is usually understood to mean migrants.  They are of two sorts: refugees, like those streaming in from Syria, and the less desperate simply seeking a better life, like those coming from Kosovo, which has an unemployment rate around 50%.  Loud arguments can be heard over whether this is a distinction worth making. Conservatives, including Merkel’s union government, say it is, that people in serious need should be welcomed but programs need to be improved to tell the difference so the others can be sent home before they get hooked on life in Germany.  Merkel made the news not long ago when caught telling a young Palestinian refugee that she ought to go back to Lebanon, where she came from, since Lebanon was not in crisis.  Merkel became the poster child for the hard-hearted government bureaucrat overnight.  Progressives say Germany has far more room and a far greater need for immigration than conservatives want to admit.

    It’s got the country split down the middle, with some people increasingly aware of the need to take in people in need and others concerned with chaos that might ensue if this process is not done carefully and systematically.  Some, like the neo-Nazis, play off the fear and urge zero immigration, despite the fact that without it Germany would collapse economically.

    It’s become arguably topic number one.  This week I’ve run through a number of talk shows, all dealing with the issue.  “Is Germany xenophobic,” and “What do we do with all the people coming?”  Everybody’s got an opinion.  Angela Merkel is being roundly criticized for failure to act.  One talk show host asked, “Can this problem be ‘merkeled away’?” and I wouldn’t be surprised if the term catches on.

    A complex and troubling issue, with human lives at stake.  I don’t mean to reduce it to these two photos, but on the other hand, I think these two photos tell you quite a bit about the people of Saxony. 


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