I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it


Louis insists he’s here to be of assistance
I’ve been laid up this week, which is why I’ve included the photo of Louis prepared to administer first aid. It’s been quite an interesting time to observe current events, and because of a lot of time on my hands, I’ve read my fill of op-ed pieces about the refugee crisis here in Europe

There are plenty of well thought out arguments about how the refugees should be more evenly distributed among all the European countries, and because I attempt to read sources from all across the political spectrum, I’ve also considered the argument that these refugees shouldn’t be coming here at all. 

As an outsider who’s chosen on his own volition to come here, I’ve given a lot of thought to what it means to be a German and a European, even. The demographic reality is that this is an aging population, and if handled correctly these refugees could foreseeably contribute to a society that is projected to one day be dramatically lacking in manpower. I’ve heard for years that the low birthrate here in Germany is sure to cause headaches for future generations. 

The political situation on the ground isn’t easy, though. I’ve read multiple accounts of how expensive it is to house each refugee, which is bound to irritate the proverbial man on the street. Watching the trains filled with refugees being welcomed so warmly here, you could already predict the people muttering under their breath that there isn’t room for everyone. There has to be a limit, right?

The new compound noun you can read in the media the last several weeks is ‘Willkommenskultur‘, which simply describes the welcoming culture that has been on display hereabouts. Even that can’t last, though. 

However, both sides of the debate about whether or not these people should be welcomed here are missing an important part of the story. We’ve known that this crisis was coming for a long time now. There have been boats full of people crashing into Lampedusa for years. Conventional wisdom says that nothing happens on an issue like this until push comes to shove. Well, now we’re being shoved. 

My understanding is that when refugees arrive on your shore or at your border, you’ve actually got to take them in. There are clearly logistical considerations and I’m incredibly relieved that it’s not my responsibility to manage such an intake of people. Yet these are people fleeing war torn countries. Are there people rushing in for better economic conditions than in their home countries? Could there be people arriving here with nefarious intentions? Of course. It’d be ridiculous to pretend that those aren’t obvious eventualities. They need to be dealt with.  

I appreciate living in a country where such things are dealt with. I assume we’re going to keep doing this until we like it. 

forgiving the unforgivable

soldiers responsible for the flags at the memorial for the murdered athletes and coaches of the Israeli Olympic Team

One never knows what people will like. My last blogpost was one I’d saved, because although I thought it was morbid and dark, I thought it’d spur some conversation. Not in the least.

Amy over at Lucy’s Football commented on it, but she’d comment on me cutting and pasting swaths of the phone book. She’s on my team. Getting her into the conversation is sort of a given.

Why did I even go as negative as I did in Five things to harass the Dying? Well, believe it or not, there was method to my madness. I knew I’d be going to the ceremony commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics that day.

When I was having my first cup of tea that morning, I really pondered what it must’ve been like to be a family member of one of the slain Israeli athletes. Could I really forgive what was done in the name of making a political statement? If the people who perpetrated the crime never apologised or even saw that what they’d done was wrong, then how could forgiveness even be a topic under discussion?

I suppose the forgiveness is part of what’s slowly happening between the Jewish people and the German State. Think about it for a second, will you?

Your people were murdered in the millions in a methodical manner during a war that somehow engulfed most of the planet. Then nearly thirty years later the international community watches as your citizens are brutally murdered in the same country in which those wartime atrocities had taken place. How would you feel?

I know it’s very popular to criticise Israel, especially on the left, and I won’t begin to defend the way the present day Palestinians are being treated. It’s a travesty. Full stop. However, when I look at the way the Israeli citizens are treated in very symbolic ways, I can’t help but feel that there is some sort of prevailing anti-semitism on the world stage.

When the two athletes were killed at 31 Connolly Straße in the Olympic Village in Munich in the early morning hours of 5 September 1972, the world watched as those in control of the Olympics decided that the show must go on. Really? Two athletes had died at the hands of terrorists.

Because of enough of an outcry the Games were halted on that day while the police tried to figure out the best way to handle the situation. It was only much later that night that the remaining members of the team (both athletes and coaches), as well as one West German police officer, were killed by the terrorists.

Well,‘ you ask,’Certainly, they stopped the Games then, didn’t they?

You know where this is going, right? After what was deemed a suitable period of honorable waiting, the Olympics went on. The prevailing wisdom was that stopping the event would be letting the terrorists win. Twelve people had been murdered at the Olympics, and the Israeli government should somehow be grateful that there was a memorial service for those who were killed. I don’t think that’s how they saw it. Am pretty certain they saw it very differently.

I’m prepared for preposterous comments here as a result of this topic. Please be warned that I’ll delete any ridiculousness. If you can’t be civil, go somewhere else. I’ve got little, if any,time for nonsense. Really, I don’t.

Here’s what I wrote about in The Munich Eye after attending the memorial: Flags at half staff for the victims of the 1972 attacks. Notice how respectfully I tried to deal with it without getting overly political. Of course, I’m aware I could be emotional on the topic. I decided my blog was where I’d make my editorial comments.

Five things to harass the Dying

thoughts of mortality are understandable especially when one’s on a Greek island like Astypalea (photo from 2010)
Recently, I was handed a German article about five things one should or could say to the dying to help them in their journey to the afterlife.
Never to pass up an opportunity to take the piss, I’ve decided to write my own list. Here are Five things to harass the dying:
  • Remind them what they’ve done or what they did
  • Point out to them that this (their life, their family, everything good and bad that they’ve done) will eventually be forgotten
  • Whatever palliative medicine they’re receiving, take it away and no matter how they beg for it, don’t give it back
  • Invite each of their enemies over (unexpectedly) for one last little chat
  • Make as many references to your plans once the dying person is finally gone

Now, I realise this isn’t the nicest of lists, but I have one very pointed question for those of you who may or may not be offended.

Why are we trying so hard to make things easier for the dying?

Certainly, if they’ve had a good life and made some sort of peace with everyone in it, then the above list will be useless. It won’t touch them. They’re immune from my machinations.

Lucky them.

Please don’t think I’ve done any of these things on my list. I’m actually quite pleasant and caring to the people in my life who’re at death’s door. I learned quite a lot while watching my father slowly die of complications related to his diabetes.

He died six years ago last week, and lately my thoughts’ve been swirling around topics of mortality. It’s actually quite understandable.

So, what’d possess me to make such a heartless list of cruelty like the one above? What’s wrong with me?

Well, I’ve got a simple answer for you in the form of a few questions.

Why? Why should I forgive what’s been done to me? What benefit does it serve?

I know a bit about Buddhism, and I know the tenet that carrying around such bitterness is akin to taking poison. Not only am I aware of this, but I even try to practice forgiveness. And most of the time I’m pretty good at it. Most of the time.

But like an irregular French verb, there are always exceptions. And what to do with those? Aren’t there some things that’re unforgivable? I believe that the jury’s still out on that one.

getting a baby’s consent is no easy matter

a delicate matter of judicial curiosity

Several years ago, I was reading Gary Shteyngart‘s 2006 Absurdistan, and there was one thing I found rather curious. It’s possible that everyone knows about this, but in my circle of friends the topic of late-in-life circumcision rarely, if ever, comes up. Ahem…as it were.

This is undoubtedly a sensitive subject, and I assumed the author was using it for effect. The main character, Misha, insists that losing his foreskin was a traumatic experience. That this event was something that continued to plague him. To cause him emotional anguish. It was part of the satire, right? This wasn’t a real thing. And if you were so inclined to have such a medical procedure when you were a teenager or young adult, then you have only yourself to answer to.

I filed this in my mental file as a non-issue. Used by a novelist to make a point. Nothing more. Nothing less.

But the subject has reared its ugly head again. Well, not specifically late-in-life circumcision, but you’ll soon see how it’s related. See, a German court has made a curious ruling on circumcision. Just the old-fashioned baby snipping. Before I get to my point, let me let Der Spiegel’s English page describe the facts of the case:

Circumcision Ruling Is ‘a Shameful Farce for Germany’

The press in Germany has, for the most part, supported the outcry about this decision, and you can see reactions from several prominent papers listed at the bottom of the article. To summarise, the court ruled that circumcision amounted to inflicting bodily harm on the baby. Ok, that seems a bit weird to me.

It’s been in the news for weeks. In the printed media, there’ve been many German doctors who have publicly questioned the practise of circumcision. The entire uproar has seemed bizarre to me. I assumed that what I’ve repeatedly heard was true. Male circumcision was hygienic. Case closed.

Apparently, that’s not necessarily the case. Or the data is more inconclusive than one might have been led to believe. I’m suddenly really curious about the whole story. Are the German doctors politically motivated? Are they hostile to religion?

Then I read this in the Guardian:

Circumcision ruling condemned by Germany’s Muslim and Jewish leaders

Not sure you really need to read the whole thing, but it does tell the same story in simply another way. There was one part that stuck out, though.

‘After much deliberation, it concluded that a circumcision, “even when done properly by a doctor with the permission of the parents, should be considered as bodily harm if it is carried out on a boy unable to give his own consent”.

It ruled the child’s body would be “permanently and irreparably changed”, and that this alteration went “against the interests of a child to decide for himself later on to what religion he wishes to belong”.’

Here I really had to do a double take? Consent? From a baby?

Oh, no. That’s the point. The baby can’t give consent. He’s being de-foreskinned against his will. Or potentially against his will. Suddenly Misha’s issue doesn’t seem so preposterous. Well, actually. It still does.

Yet, is the widely-held belief false that this is a practise done for hygienic reasons? Are the doctors, as well as this specific court, persecuting religion?

It seems hyperbolic, when Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt says that this is the, “…worst attack on Jewish life since the Holocaust”. But is it really?

Look, I’m really curious about this. If you can shed light on this, I’d love to hear your explanation. Leave a comment if you like. Don’t be a jerk, though. I don’t have any sort of comments filter, but if you write something inflammatory, I’ll delete your idiocy in a heartbeat.

What’s the deal with this ancient custom? Is it a barbaric act that the Germans are making a stand against? Because it’s a religious practise, does that mean that questioning it makes us intolerant bigots? We’re dealing with integration next week over at The Munich Times this week. This actually might become a topic of emigration if it’s not resolved adequately.

right is right and wrong is wrong

who wouldn't let that car pass an emissions test?

That people lie, cheat and steal isn’t newsworthy. It’s human nature, right? If raised properly, then one assesses an ethical dilemma and simply does the right thing. It’s easy. No grey area at all. People with much more time than we have can be bothered with grey areas. We have things to do.

Yet as is so often the case, it’s not that simple. I heard a thing about fraud earlier  on npr (National Public Radio), and it got me thinking. That’s normally when the trouble starts. Here’s the offending piece that got all this started:

Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things

First of all, I’m sure you like the title partially because you think of yourself as a good person. Most of us do. We’re the protagonists of our lives and we sail through vanquishing different forms of questionable behaviour. Well, some of us do.

Don’t believe the scolding press that tells you everyone’s only out for himself. In my experience, most people are trying to do the best they can. I truly believe that. Despite the fact that this position isn’t jaded or weary, I hold to it. People are good. Mostly.

So why do people bend the rules? 

Here the radio programme set it out quite succinctly:

‘Typically when we hear about large frauds, we assume the perpetrators were driven by financial incentives. But psychologists and economists say financial incentives don’t fully explain it. They’re interested in another possible explanation: Human beings commit fraud because human beings like each other.

We like to help each other, especially people we identify with. And when we are helping people, we really don’t see what we are doing as unethical.’

That doesn’t seem like such a stretch, does it? Sounds logical to me.

They use the example of emissions testers. A sleek, expensive BMW pulls up coughing out black smoke, and that baby’s going to fail that emissions test. As well it should. However, if a more modest vehicle drives up to be tested, the emissions tester is more likely to identify with that driver and let the car slide.

When the emissions tester commits the fraud, he’s not doing it out of greed. It actually comes down to being nice. In that moment, the bigger picture of that decision doesn’t exist. The researcher goes on:

‘…cognitively, emissions testers can’t appreciate the consequences of their fraud, the costs of the decision that they are making in the moment. The cost is abstract: the global environment. They are literally being asked to weigh the costs to the global environment against the benefits of passing someone who is right there who needs help. We are not cognitively designed to do that.’

Am I the only one who finds this fascinating? I can’t be. The implications are too huge.

We can’t just lump all the people who make unethical decisions into a group and call them ‘bad’. I mean, you can. And many people certainly do without any crisis of conscience. I like how the npr story ends, so I’ll let it speak for itself. It’s a dilemma I don’t brush away lightly:

‘…we could just keep saying what we’ve always said — that right is right, and wrong is wrong, and people should know the difference.’

these genes would make an ugly sister

these genes would make an ugly sister

Although I don’t have a sister, I found out some weird news this week. Turns out I can legally artificially inseminate my sister, but it’s against the law for me to actually have intercourse with her. That’s a relief, right?

Wait, what? It’s true. Them’s the rules.

Unless you’re in Germany or pay attention to German media, you likely haven’t heard about this. Here check out my colleague Michael Owen‘s take on the whole thing in Incest laws in Germany may be a bit outdated.

Here’s the section of his article that I found most intriguing:

‘Many developed countries have no laws banning incest, though often they are not allowed to marry. These include France, Japan, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Finland and Brazil to name a few. The countries which do have strict laws forbidding incestous relationships tend to be former countries of the British Commonwealth like Canada and Australia, and include the USA. Germany‘s law on incest is quite peculiar. If a woman would like to be artificially inseminated by the sperm of a lineal relative, i.e. by a brother or her father, this is allowed. But if she becomes pregnant through coitus (sexual intercourse), this is outlawed. The law is actually a law against sex between two consenting adults. Incest is not banned for the safety of the possible progeny, but is a kind of legislation on what happens within the bedroom.’

Perplexing, isn’t it? Now, let me be really candid here. When I first heard about this, I thought, ‘Of course incest is illegal. As well it should be. Right?

Yet I read about this in so many papers, and the general consensus was that laws against incest were old-fashioned. Not everyone, mind you. Just many more than I expected. And it made me really ponder the whole issue. Why was I not only repulsed by the very thought?

Was it purely an issue of religious beliefs that then seeped into my sense of right and wrong? Was it a matter of ethics?

I immediately found myself insisting that there’d be birth defects in not only the next generation but in the ones to come. If you’re truly libertarian in your beliefs, then maybe you can insist that the government has no right to interfere with the actions of two consenting adults. And it’s not like I relish the idea of interfering with people’s private lives.

However, I must admit that I still don’t like it. I think there are some situations where the State must set rules to protect people from themselves. My gut reaction is that this is exactly that sort of matter.

So all of this is academic…theoretical. You know, the having no sister thing. But if I did, I hope I would know better than to procreate with her.

No matter what the law was.