Leaving Paris for Berlin

I’m sitting on a train heading to Germany, about to depart Paris. I’m less comfortable writing about myself than some other urbanists I admire like Alex Baca and Kristen Jeffers, but I will still try to explain.

I didn’t intend to live here long-term. As I said two years ago, I moved here for the universities, and stayed even after I left academia, and even as I stayed, I didn’t know it would be for such a long period of time. I kept renting on three-month cycles because with my self-employment and variable income landlords wouldn’t rent to me on an annual contract. Many of the renewals were uncertain, depending on various circumstances like whether I would hear from NYU about grants. But this turned into my longest stint living in the same apartment in my adult life: two years and three months. And now it’s ending.

I spent 2017 building my professional life, sending pitches to anyone I could find an email for. I knew I was in an expensive city, but even then, I looked at housing costs elsewhere and didn’t think I’d even save money net of moving expenses. I still don’t; I don’t expect my living expenses to fall in Berlin once you add mandatory health insurance to rent. This is not why I’m leaving.

Rather, the situation in 2018 got to the point that I needed to ask myself where I really wanted to live. The rule was, anywhere in the EU or where EU citizens could live freely, like Norway. In July I visited London, which was an option depending on how EU migrant rights would be treated under Brexit, but between high rents and trademark Theresa May hostile environment rules in the Brexit deal, it wasn’t so attractive.

So far, all of my moves had been job-related: New York for grad school, then Providence, Vancouver, and Stockholm for a string of postdocs, then Paris to intersect my grad school advisor while I was waiting on an answer from Calgary. Working from home means I had to choose where to live based on which city in Europe I actually liked. I had to ask myself the same question every three months:

Do I like Paris?

For a while, I really did like it here. I saw things that I never got to see in the United States or in Sweden: at the nearby high school, as well as at Bois de Vincennes, white and Arab and black children were playing together. Eastern Paris is the kind of integrated neighborhood that, in North America, everyone pretends to want to build and yet nobody seems capable of building.

I knew about the diesel pollution from my first winter here, but things seemed to be getting better, with a steady decrease in the proportion of cars powered by diesels, Anne Hidalgo’s pedestrianization of streets and city squares, and the Macron cabinet’s hike in taxes on fuel. My best recollection is that the pollution was less bad in the winter of 2017-8 than in 2016-7, and I took it at a sign things were getting better.

The Gilets Jaunes

Macron is not a popular president. Polls consistently put his approval rate in the 30s, even as, as the median French politician on the main issues, he was and still is handily winning reelection against the cadre of sacrificial lambs offered by the parties on the left and right. Previous protest movements concerned labor issues, sometimes winning, as when they defeated his 2017 labor law reforms (since passed in a weaker form last year), and sometimes losing, as when the railway workers struck to fight the SNCF governance reforms.

And then came the Gilets Jaunes, so-called because of the mandatory reflective yellow vests within cars. Their initial grievances were the diesel taxes and the reduction in the speed limit on non-motorway roads from 90 km/h to 80. The taxes were no more popular than any other tax hike, and they got sympathy early, protesting in the usual French way of blocking roads.

Even then, in late November, there were signs they were nastier than the usual. CRIF warned about anti-Semitism at the protests; SOS Racism warned about harassment of immigrants. White Christian France did not listen. Then the Gilets Jaunes escalated to rioting, and even as the public grew hostile to their methods, the state dithered.

The political movements outside En Marche maintained their support. I never had any illusions about La France Insoumise and other far left movements, but the Green Party joined in, echoing the fake news of the extreme right about how what really matters is taxing ship fuel rather than cars. Soi-disant green protesters tried to connect their agenda to that of the Gilets Jaunes, saying “the fight for the climate and the fight for purchase power are the same.” Antifa joined in, having some internal fights with the most overtly fascist members, but not with the main of the movement, which is still about half National Front voters. Nobody saw fit to mention the racism. Politics in France is so white—Macron’s rainbow coalition has a less racially diverse cabinet than Trump, and he’s still under criticism for not being racism enough from both directions; the top far left leader, Jean-Luc Melenchon, wrote an angry blog post saying that France did not collaborate with the Nazis in WW2.

The big protest, on December 8th, involved vandalism in central Paris. At Nation things were tamer. I visited briefly and saw an all-white crowd in a neighborhood where these are not the usual demographics. Two people who looked my age or slightly younger, both white, sat on a bench near the square, one taping “down with the state” on the back of the other’s jacket. Everything about that crowd screamed “hipsters going through the motions.” Eastern Paris has a lot of that, too.

Elsewhere, things got a lot worse, with violent threats against foreigners, Jews, and racial minorities. Protesters vandalized stores with graffiti like “Rothschild” and “Juden,” and the reaction among supporters on Twitter was either justification and denial that the Rothschild tag was anti-Semitic, or denial that the Gilets Jaunes were the vandals. This is on top of homophobia (Gilets Jaunes protesters have demanded a referendum on repealing gay marriage) and general idiocy (they oppose mandatory vaccination).

Macron did what France does best in the face of fascism: he surrendered. In overseas France he’d declared martial law, but at home, facing white people, he didn’t; he canceled the planned tax increase, and announced a host of tax cuts and pension benefit increases to try to mollify them. The difference between that and how the state treated Muslim rioters in 2005 was jarring.

A single spineless leader might be survivable, but the entire political system here supports rioters provided they are white. This percolates outside the country. The alt-right is of course in full support, but the decidedly non-extreme Wall Street Journal positively spun the movement as a tax revolt. On the other side, the alt-left celebrated, since it’s always hated Macron. Pan-European anarchists like Quinn Norton celebrated the Gilets Jaunes. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted in support of the movement, in response to a tweet saying the police was threatening to join them if the state didn’t increase cops’ pay, and nearly every American socialist I’ve interacted with since has tried to defend her in ways they never would if she’d tweeted in enthusiasm about Pinochet.

Why do I need to be here?

The pollution will not get better, or, if it does, it will be at a glacial rate; the revocation of the diesel taxes will make sure of that. Neither will the French state’s responsiveness to the needs of the city and the people who live here, many of whom are not the grandchildren of the Milice but of its and of the French colonial army’s victims. White Europe’s public intellectuals pattern-matched the movement to a right-populist resurgence that they love to blame on neoliberalism and not on the populists’ racism.

While this was going on, I was glued to AQI. There were days in December when the air here was worse than in Milan, worse than in Katowice. Germany was entirely clean. This is not just an issue of Germany having a government that feels sufficiently guilty about leading the pan-European project that was the Holocaust that it dials down the racism. Somehow, German cities manage far cleaner air than Paris, and the political system there looks forward. The Greens there fight for an open society rather than looking for excuses to protest fuel taxes.

Paris keeps defining itself by global city attractions, like the Opera or the cafes or the museums. But that’s not a reason to live in a city. It’s a reason to visit for a week. Already Hidalgo is unpopular for her attempt to make the city livable, and the poster boards of Nation, once filled with communist slogans and with the face of one crank calling for Frexit, are now filled with posters complaining that the mayor is immiserating the French. If the city and the state are not going to provide basic necessities like clean air and streets that I can cross safely, I don’t really need to live here.

All the programs in the world won’t keep me in a place where I do not get these basic necessities. Even before Macron, France tried to build up tech clusters, which effort has only intensified in the last two years. The state will do anything except improving the business climate and providing services like protecting foreigners from marauding hordes of vandals.

The message the surrender has sent is not just that air quality will remain among Europe’s worst but also that foreigners are not really welcome here. This is not the message Macron wants to send; I get the impression he genuinely wants a more open and more globalized France. But he is unwilling to do what it takes to send the right message. In that way, he is like many ineffectual leaders in semi-democracies like Nigeria, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, where there’s no autocracy in the sense of China or Russia, just a crowd of traditionalist pogromchiks who the state either can’t or won’t stop from hacking at gays, religious minorities, or journalists who offended some local notable.

I will miss Paris. I really will. Eastern Paris is delightful and supposed no-go zones like Belleville have grocery stores selling good food items that the European-owned stores don’t. It’s the supposed Real France that’s a problem, defined around closedness, monolingualism, and an ethnic hierarchy.

Berlin

If I’m looking for a place that’s functional enough I can expect it to not just have clean air but also deal with other social problems appropriately, I don’t have that many options. Eastern Europe is out, Mediterranean Europe not much better, France by definition not good. Ireland might be an option because they speak English there, but moving by plane is a chore and Dublin is ultimately not a large city. Scandinavia is Anglophone and has food items I’m craving at supermarkets that I can’t find anywhere in Paris, but it’s expensive and my two years there were two more than enough.

I told a Twitter follower I was moving to Germany and their first question was “are you a Berlin person or a Munich person?” I of course don’t know the answer to this question, not knowing the subtleties. The Germans I know tend to be northerners; I asked a German professor in Stockholm why the Germans at KTH seem to all be northerners and was told that Scandinavia and northern Germany are similar in ways that are distinct from southern Germany. So I don’t have a basis of comparison, I just know what the rents are and which governments are in charge.

Two years ago, I noticed Berlin’s cheapness, but wasn’t sure where to live, and knew the moving expenses would be high. But given that I have to undertake these moving expenses anyway, I might as well move to the cheaper city. The job market there is weak in the private sector, but since I’m not getting work at someone else’s company either way I might as well go for the cheap rents.

What does this mean?

I will of course keep blogging. I imagine I will talk more about the details of proof-of-payment systems and S-Bahn scheduling and less about driverless metro implementation, but ultimately I read trade publications and look at timetables rather than writing about my experiences taking urban rapid transit. Not much will change—expect a few days’ gap in new posts, but with my schedule of posting eight or nine times per month such gaps are routine anyway. I will just say “here” and mean Berlin and not Paris.

76 comments

  1. glumbaron

    I think your AQI link is wrong; it sends me to a pile of spammy redirects. Did you mean aqicn.org?

    Anyway, good luck with the move. The French political situation seems profoundly depressing. I don’t know how close we are ideologically, but it doesn’t sound like there would be much room for me in it either…

    • Alon Levy

      I fixed it, thanks for the tipoff.

      The French political situation is that there are four branches of government: the president, Parliament, the courts, and the street mobs.

    • Michael James

      glumbaron, 2019/02/18 – 10:04
      The French political situation seems profoundly depressing.

      That is the glass half-empty view. I reckon, more than almost any of the major countries, it is a glass half-full, ie. with promise. Change never happens without disruption, or as Chairman Mao said “revolution is not a dinner party”. Or was it a Garden Party? Maybe a Guinguette! The Gilets Jaunes is a challenge that needs overcoming and in fact probably necessary to provoke change. I think the same is true for AfD. The canary in the coalmine, and the politicians and people have been warned, and need to consider their options and act. Everyone knows that UKIP/Brexit, AfD, LePen’s FN and equivalents in Spain, Italy, Sweden, Austria etc are not the answer. It is why watching the Brexit debacle unfold has actually increased the popularity and support of the EU.

      • Alon Levy

        It’s a challenge that needs overcoming, but so far the state has not made any attempt to overcome it. The entirety of white French politics has sought to make the movement its own; nobody protested with signs “à bas la pollution, en marche avec Macron.” Antifa marches under the Gilets Jaunes banner, having street fights with the fascist main of the movement while still adopting its imagery; on Twitter I’ve taken to calling it Antilib, since it clearly is more comfortable around fascists than around liberals.

        Part of the problem is that Macron made a mistake in how he selected his slate for the legislative election – he chose local notables rather than liberal politicians, figuring that inexperienced people would be more politically dependent on him, but instead the opposite happened since those local notables a) have careers to go back to if EM collapses, and b) are used to giving orders rather than taking them. Some EM members of the National Assembly met with the GJs to try to understand their concerns, and since EM, like all other French parties, is white, there was nobody capable of saying “no platform for racism.”

        That said, once the riots started, moderate voters expressed opposition to the Gilets Jaunes’ methods, even as they supported the idea of lower taxes, more government spending, and also protection of purchase power (in France people no longer talk about unemployment, they complain about inflation, which is currently about 1.5%). This was evident even at the end of November. Macron could have made the conversation about the riots, arresting instigators, pointing out anti-Semitism in the movement (the median French voter doesn’t like overt anti-Semitism), and promising not to surrender to terrorism. Instead, he canceled the planned increase in fuel taxes, and subsequently offered big tax cuts to try to mollify everyone.

        But the opportunism of every other political force in France is equally notable. German Greens call for higher taxes on fuel. EELV does not – on the contrary, it joined Le Pen’s fake news about freight ships causing more pollution and GHG emissions than cars. In December there was a Gilets Verts faction, calling not for keeping the planned increase in fuel taxes to save the planet, but for various nitpicks (e.g. ship fuel and plastic bags) trying to say that the Gilets Jaunes’ message was fully compatible with environmentalism.

        • Michael James

          Macron could have made the conversation about the riots, arresting instigators, pointing out anti-Semitism in the movement (the median French voter doesn’t like overt anti-Semitism), and promising not to surrender to terrorism. Instead, he canceled the planned increase in fuel taxes, and subsequently offered big tax cuts to try to mollify everyone.

          Actually, he did both. My initial instinct was the same as yours: he shouldn’t have caved on the fuel tax, but now I don’t think it is as clear cut. My p.o.v. was simply from a leadership angle, and his need to retain credibility and dignity. Backtracking is often disastrous above and beyond its actual policy outcomes; and I don’t believe the actual policy is a big deal as the only real significant action is to go electric. Anything else is marginal and not worth political grief. And of course build GPX and all those tramways in towns of >250k popn. etc. (But remember, despite its giant capital, France is still the biggest geographically and most rural/dispersed population in the EU so some of the GJ complaints hit a true chord.)

          Also, I guess he was persuaded by his PM and other French politicians who understand the electorate. I don’t think the policy implications are such a big deal (as you seem to?) but the question is whether he can unravel whatever is driving the worst elements of GJ. His approach, much scorned by the press etc, seems to be steadily producing results in bringing round a lot of the (moderate) voters, and isolating the worst elements of the GJs, including a rather strong law on targetting them. He’s not emulating Maggie who was willing to go down with the ship over the toxic poll tax (but her colleagues weren’t).

          I did wonder when he brought in those taxes and removed the Wealth Tax as very early actions, and by presidential decree when he had a parliamentary supermajority! At the time I thought it was both unnecessary and bad optics though I will admit I didn’t think it would have such repercussions. And to be fair, Gilets Jaunes may well have happened anyway–there are toxic undercurrents in Europe and the world at this time, looking for any kind of excuse to cause trouble.

          But here’s the thing: IMO Macron is sincere and is trying. Unlike May, or Corbyn, or Trump, or Merkel or the Spanish feds (who are infuriatingly scratching at the Catalunya scab until it bleeds again!) or the Italians etc. Quite likely he is like this because he is not a seasoned politician, so I can forgive some errors. In fact I reckon he is balancing things quite well. Remember that the French like a bit of Napoleon in their president, and only Mitterrand of all the presidents I have lived under, showed that. Macron still stands out compared to the others, Chirac, Sarkozy and Hollande (who may even share a lot of the same policies). So, Alon, I am saying give the bloke a chance. He’s only 21 months into a 60 month term. He may have to give a bit on some policy areas but he is clearly not abandoning his main thrust, and he just might have the skill to navigate around this bump.

          • Alon Levy

            No, he didn’t do either. His big speech two months ago centered pensions, taxes, and the cost of living, not the abject fear expressed by some minorities about whether the rioters would beat them. Nor was there a real effort at arrests in Metropolitan France, unlike in the DOM, where after people protested the usual colonial inequities under the Gilets Jaunes banner the state declared martial law and suppressed the demonstrations. The first big arrest came in January after a leader had been caught with an illegal weapon for the umpteenth time.

            Macron is indeed sincere. That’s what the protesters in France don’t get: they’re certain he’s corrupt, and share fake news about the subject, because they can’t fathom that an honest person would ever think France needs to have a green transition, a more flexible labor law, a cosmopolitan society, and vaccinations. It’s weird in a way, because I think most observers understand that Merkel is honest and criticize her on “her austerity policy is bad for Europe” grounds and not on “I saw a Facebook story saying her spouse paid for luxuries with public funds and didn’t bother checking if it was true” grounds.

            But Macron has some serious personal problems, starting with the fact that he thinks he’s above politics. In the election I said that each of the four main candidates embodied a different flaw of de Gaulle; this is Macron’s. Because he thinks he’s above politics, he refuses to say if EM is on the right or the left even though his policy is pretty much exactly what the PS moderates want, and took forever to align EM with ALDE in the European Parliament. For the same reason he decided to bypass politicians for his legislative slate instead of launching a hostile takeover of PS or even starting an ideologically liberal party anchored by well-known liberal politicians in addition to himself (like Bayrou).

            I gave Macron a chance for almost two years. Hell, I stayed in France rather than emigrating in 2017 because he won; I would’ve left if it had been Le Pen and probably also if it had been the anti-Semite Melenchon or the homophobe and crypto-racist Fillon. For a year and a half things seemed to be getting better, and the new effort to fight pollution was a big part of it. Instead, Eastern Paris is now full of posters attacking Hidalgo and demanding Frexit.

          • Michael James

            Alon Levy, 2019/02/19 – 11:29
            No, he didn’t do either. His big speech two months ago centered pensions, taxes, and the cost of living, not the abject fear expressed by some minorities about whether the rioters would beat them.

            Welcome to the real and supremely messy world of politics in a pluralistic democracy! The action on those things was because they were the cause of the unrest, or at least why so many ordinary French showed some support for GJ. And equally, his willingness to act or at least acknowledge them, is why many have subsequently withdrawn their support from GJ.

            As for Macron’s “personal problems”, especially being “above politics”, well I believe that is why the electorate was willing to give him a chance since the old and tired major parties were failing ever since the 90s. The world needs more such leaders, though of course it can result in these strongmen popping up around the world from Trump to those in Poland, Austria, Hungary (not to mention Brazil or Philippines). The other extreme is visible in the UK with all those in leadership (May, Corbyn) concerning themselves with nothing but politics. May is seemingly more concerned about keeping the Tory party together than keeping the UK from Brexshit; Corbyn is quite possibly worse as we see in the slow disintegration of Labor. But actually the worst of the lot is Merkel, for the very reason that she has not created a real movement or even acknowledgement of need for change, while remaining clinging to power forever and so utterly stubbornly fixed to toxic ideas and policies.

            Putting on my ill-fitting old curmudgeon’s hat, I’ll also remark that you seem extremely impatient. I mean “almost two years” (barely one year it seems from your timeline). But ok, it is not your country and you haven’t stayed long enough to begin to feel any ownership. I’m feeling pretty lousy with my own country behaving in indescribably stupid ways and I suppose it reinforces that Jeffersonian thing about my “other” country. And even if some or many of your complaints have some basis in reality, it is equally true that I don’t see any of the other major countries as a source of hope, even a glimmer. It is half a lifetime ago I gave up on expecting anything from the Brits (which of course actually is my bloodline; in fact it’s worse as I blame our dumb Oz pollies using the Brits as a model even as we ineluctably turn Asian) and Merkel’s Germany is a gigantic disappointment–as the 60s maxim goes, “not part of the solution, part of the problem”. A giant stubborn immovable rock of a problem for the rest of Europe and the world. Germans can be as prosperous as all heck and it isn’t going to insulate them from looming problems.

            Macron is indeed sincere. That’s what the protesters in France don’t get: they’re certain he’s corrupt, and share fake news about the subject, because they can’t fathom that an honest person would ever think France needs to have a green transition, a more flexible labor law, a cosmopolitan society, and vaccinations.

            Quite. But those “protesters” are not the hordes, such as they are that big, of GJ but a relatively small group mostly of dedicated rabble rousers. In as much as they are driven by real issues (not much) there is little point in trying to appease them and thus the current strategy of isolation and targetting the core of the worst. But most French, including the majority who might support GJ, only care about those issues, and of course tend, like all of us, to be intensely selfish and narrow-focussed on them to the exclusion of wider issues. (This is why every effective leader needs to have a Napoleonic element.) Macron can tackle that, and is, and is succeeding. This whole business may do him good, in that he does seem to have realised his role from on high (above petty politics) looking down, cannot be sustained without the base of the pyramid holding. Pharaoh Mitterrand could have told him, or any emperor (including current one) of China. Also, Mitterrand had a course correction at two years in.

            BTW, if all that air pollution is mostly due to diesel vehicles (plus I would argue geography, unless you are saying the diesels in the Ruhr valley are cleaner? genuine question) then it definitely will be cured, probably enough to be noticeable within 5 to 10 years. As I said before I don’t believe even higher fuel taxes are the most important thing, as they are already high. I must admit to being a bit disappointed that France hasn’t been more proactive in promoting e-cars (though there was an e-hirecar equivalent to Velib). They really could enact a GND and become by far the greenest (major) economy. Remember Germany is still building new coal-generators and importing masses of Russian gas. As is Japan which has huge wind and ocean resources that it has practically ignored–the world (and Japan) could benefit by it turning its technological might to such problems (its even has enormous PHES already built to store the power).

            Anyway I hope you are not going to be one of those who pour shit on France and Paris, dare I say like a spurned lover, from your new hipster hangout in Mitte 🙂

          • Alon Levy

            The electorate gave Macron a chance because he managed to outsider-signal. It’s the same thing with Syriza replacing PASOK. The problem is that both Tsipras and Macron immediately squandered their outsider cred. Tsipras could have gone to the EU and asked for help with building a professional civil service in Greece, replacing the clientelism of PASOK and New Democracy; instead, Syriza turned into the new, less competent version of PASOK. Macron’s decisions after winning the presidential election were somewhat different, but point in the same direction: he picked a cabinet consisting of a melange of moderate PS and LR members, signaling that he’d govern as a centrist insider, but at the same time chose a slate for the National Assembly that was inexperienced in politics.

            Somewhat that constantly disappoints me about soi-disant cosmopolitan leaders in countries other than Sweden and maybe Germany is that they’re still too squeamish to bring immigrants into the fold. Whereas Sweden has fast naturalization for refugees, the rest of Europe drags its feet; in France the discourse is about whether to keep the status quo, favored by everyone from Macron leftward, or abolish the remaining rights second-generation immigrants have to citizenship, favored by LR and the extreme right. The idea that maybe the French electorate should demographically match the population is beyond even committed anti-racist liberals like Hollande and Macron.

            It’s kind of a liberalism-through-cowardice mentality: Macron likes pleasing other people, and unlike LR populists this includes everyone, and not just Real France. His apology for French crimes in Algeria comes from that place – he wanted to please Algeria, but then had to walk back the apology in order to please the racists.

            The result is that liberals tend to like Macron in direct proportion to their distance from France. German liberals really love him because of his openly pro-EU rhetoric; he isn’t following through on that on issues where he has direct authority, like regularizing illegal immigrants or admitting more refugees into France, but outside France’s borders in the rest of the EU he talks a good game. Likewise, Americans like that he doesn’t deny climate change, that he tries to reduce French emissions, and that he openly criticizes Trump, which other liberal leaders like Trudeau and Merkel don’t.

            And credit where credit is due: Macron’s actions on the environment, while still soft-denialist, are less denialist than those of Merkel and Abe, and not just because he’s pro-nuclear. He’s planning to increase the number of electric charging stations on the road from 20,000 to 100,000 by 2020. He’s also maintaining investment in future LGVs, which a lot of liberals are opposing on the grounds that their financial ROI is very low, unlike the ROI of LGVs in place (France has essentially built all the really useful LGVs, except maybe Marseille-Nice, which is stymied by high construction costs). On top of that he’s investing in local transit. In December I found myself having to repeatedly explain to American leftist supporters of the GJs that all the proposed investments they say Macron should have done before raising diesel taxes had in fact been done already, some by Macron’s predecessors and some by Macron himself.

    • Alon Levy

      My sibling’s exact words when I asked this question was “their German is better than your French.” And my French is good enough to communicate with a monolingual Francophone, provided it’s a one-on-one exchange or otherwise a conversation I can control (rather than a gathering of a few Francophones and me chattering about anything that’s not trains).

      • Michael James

        Surely you mean “their English is better than your … French/German and indeed for a lot of the Anglosphere, ‘your English'”. Remember the world’s most spoken language is in fact “broken English”. No joke. I think the quality of UK parliamentarian must have declined because I often need a sub-title translation on the bottom of the screen in all this Brexit commenting we get every news broadcast. The German professional/global class speak better English than almost all the English do.

        BTW, you certainly made the correct decision not to go to London. For a while I had suspected you might have been tempted. Likewise NYC. IMO it is not the epoch to be going to the US. Better an Asian* city or the one you have made. Just last week a top Australian journalist with our ABC (Aust. BC) got a surprise appointment as chief of their Beijing bureau; she is about my age so that was part of the surprise and I immediately felt intensely jealous, wishing my career end might have furnished such an interesting challenge!

        *I have had a near life-long infatuation with Hong Kong and it remains a regret. But I gave a lecture at the amazing HKUST (overlooking Clearwater Bay Port Shelter/Tai Po Tsai) at the turn of the millennium while sort of checking out the possibilities. I had lunch with a Chinese-American lecturer/researcher and, almost in tears, she admitted that she found it extremely tough both professionally and personally, in that the system was extraordinarily demanding and unsupportive, quite xenophobic against the influx of Chinese diaspora (she didn’t speak Chinese and found that hard) and wasn’t sure she would stick it out. HK is like NYC in that regard (“if you can make it here …”). I though it almost sounded like Paris! If you stick it out, you will love it forever but if you cave in early then you’ll be quite ambiguous or hostile.

  2. Olivier

    1. In the central districts rents are no longer cheap, far from it, and apartments get snapped up within hours. It’s Manhattan-on-the-Spree. Now, it’s true Berlin is a large and diverse city and that you don’t have to live in P’Berg or Mitte but even more, ah, colorful districts like Wedding or even Neukölln are gentrifying fast.
    2. There is a sizable english-speaking bubble in Berlin but that’s where all the non german-speaking foreigners (and there are lots of them) try to live and work, so to speak, so it is very competitive. You do not do yourself a favor in Germany by not learning german, unless you plan to stick to academic or para-academic jobs and contracts, since academia is a bubble of its own.

    • Alon Levy

      For what it’s worth, my temporary rental in Mitte is, at face value, slightly less than the place I just left in Nation, despite being almost twice the size. But it’s a former East German part of Mitte. I’ve been checking Wedding and Neukölln on some listings and there are bigger places than where I lived in Paris for 800-900 euros. Only way you’re getting that in Manhattan is if you’re in public housing or on rent control, otherwise it’s more expensive even in Washington Heights and Inwood (although not by much).

      • Olivier

        I was referring to the speed at which desirable units get snapped up. Price are not yet at Manhattan or Paris levels, of course, but they have doubled in the last 10 years. Berlin may be affordable still but it is not accurate to describe it as cheap. Note that I am talking about regular rentals, now FeWos.

          • Michael James

            Two decades under German infatuation with neolioberal economics. Merkel and Schäubel made–and continue to make–it worse. Well, Wolfgang may have left the building but his smell lingers on.

            Of course Alon’s “problem” in Paris was that he wanted to live in Paris! The main sacrifice is space (and security in his case), and though I lived for years very happily in 18m2 on Ile St Louis, at some point you can’t have that as your PPR (principle private residence), unless you have a house in the provinces (which will be cheaper than that broom-cupboard studio). Only a few years ago, places in the Petite Couronne that were on a Metro or RER line were half the price (per sqm) of intramuros-Paris but I reckon today the saving is only 25% and closing. The only way to get cheaper is the sacrifice of convenience–a long walk to the transit station.
            Of course it is damned people like Alon and me, that are forcing this! Same as Berlin.

  3. fbfree

    Viel glücke!

    While Germany is generally much saner around immigration than France, there still a significant far right movement, and one that’s been around for quite a long time. The tensions and trauma from the Ostzone provide a strong base of misplaced grievances and nostalgia that the far right, notably AFD, exploits. Take some opportunities to travel around the region.

  4. Nicolas Centa

    I agree with on everything you say in this post…

    Yet, the movement signals the failure of proposed changes in the way of life to get accepted by a significant part of the population, which I think is a major issue.

    Trump, Brexit, Gilets Jaunes… is Germany that special not to get its movement in the coming decades? If that is so, please inform us on what they do!

    • Herbert

      Germany has the AfD and an entirely weird obsession with keeping highways toll and speed limit free

    • Alon Levy

      There is extreme right everywhere in Europe, including in Germany. In Nordic countries other than Sweden the extreme right is even part of the right-wing coalition (though it’s not always in the cabinet, as in Denmark), leading to some abuses of immigrants, like Denmark’s seizing the possessions of refugees; overall this leads to a policy that’s more regular-right, like the preferences of Sarkozy, May, Harper, and CSU, than the sort of theatrics we see from the Le Pen clan or even Trump.

  5. Herbert

    Berlin is more affordable than Munich but in the last half decade rents have risen steeply in all major German cities.

    Berlin is pretty unusual for a major capital in that it DOESN’T have unusual amounts of spending money. Munich does, largely because Bavaria is run almost as centralistic as France.

    If you read German sources you’ll get the impression that Berlin is utterly dysfunctional and there is said to be a U-Bahn crisis caused by austerity a decade ago.

    In terms of transportation the big debates in Berlin are whether to expand the U-Bahn at all or whether more trams should be built (West Berlin lost its network in the sixties and still hasn’t gotten much back) and of course debates about bikes after a successful badly measure by bike activists.

    You’ll also note that the debates about Fahrverbote and Tempolimits are every bit as ridiculous and hysterical as what you’ll hear in France…

    • Max Wyss

      A little bit of nitpicking… the crisis was with the S-Bahn, which is operated by Deutsche Bahn. In order to “make fit for an IPO”, the management cut maintenance (by closing a maintenance shop) for the Berlin S-Bahn network (which is independent from the rest of the DB network). Things got rectified, and new rolling stock also helps. The top manager got made available for the market (and was later involved with the Berlin Airport project until his retirement…

  6. Matthew

    Munich is pleasant and certainly worth visiting but as far as I know from a brief peruse of local listings the rent prices were significantly higher than what you have cited. Sounds like you have made a good choice.

    I have also considered the ironic situation of possibly being forced to move from England to Germany, although things have not gotten so bad (yet – and hopefully never will). I would probably choose the Netherlands at this point, however!

    If you are looking for a place that takes pollution seriously and also street safety then it is just as well that you didn’t pick London. I don’t know if Paris is worse these days but London is surely a top contender on the air quality list of shame. And British road engineers (apart from some honourable exceptions who are slowly growing in number) seem to treat pedestrians like annoying pests that need to be caged, while too many British drivers just try to wipe you out entirely. (Ireland appears to be similar in this regard). It’s extraordinarily frustrating although does provide endless campaigning opportunities.

    • Michael James

      I don’t know if Paris is worse these days but London is surely a top contender on the air quality list of shame.

      Exactly. Those news stories about shocking air days in Paris actually exposed the reality that London is often worse, and over more extended periods. Paris’s inland geography doesn’t help as its flat river plain basin can trap the pollution in an air inversion not dissimilar to LAs. London still has terrible air that would be even worse if it didn’t get relief from its giant estuary and essentially sea-side location.

      Further, I have confidence Paris is going to transform within a decade as it goes seriously electric plus tries (and partly succeeds) in shifting drivers to GPX. I have little faith much will change in London or SEE, indeed under a Hard-Brexit it could easily get worse.

      • Alon Levy

        Paris doesn’t have inversions. What are you talking about? Inversions happen when you have a valley hemmed by mountains. This is the case for the LA Basin, and at larger scale the Po Valley (Milan is Western Europe’s long-term pollution capital) and the Indo-Gangetic Plain (more or less the world’s pollution capital nowadays, even worse than Beijing). Paris’s problem is high density of diesel cars – it’s not a particularly industrialized region, unlike Northern Italy, let alone various parts of Germany whose AQI is in the green zone. London has a similar problem of car pollution, but it’s less intense since it’s a lower-density city; usually the AQI in Paris is worse.

        I had confidence Paris would improve until about two months ago, when the president canceled the planned increase in diesel taxes because France lies supine in the face of fascism. (Okay, this is unfair, in 1940 it wasn’t even that much of a surrender – Petain was an anti-Semite and gladly collaborated.)

        • Michael James

          Inversions are when the hot air over the city is trapped from lofting to higher altitudes. It tends to happen more when hills prevent lateral flow and that is why it is common in LA and relatively rare in Paris. And generally non-existent in coastal cities where sea-winds allow dispersal. Paris is in a flat basin and is a little bit prone to it under certain weather condition–obviously still air. Of course it is due to the endogenous pollution.

          Yes, due to diesel. In fact despite this, Paris is still the greenest large city in the world (ie. on carbon pollution). Funny that the French encouraged diesel cars because on some bases (more energy per volume combusted) it might be cleaner, however the irony here Alon, is that it is the result of a massive con-trick by the entire car industry of Germany colluding to fudge the data.

          I don’t think Macron’s cave on the extra fuel tax will change much. Official policy still remains to greatly reduce ICE driven vehicles and, while it may do you no good, within reasonable timescales of the next decade or so, it will have considerable measurable effect.
          I have my own recollections of air quality in London which is verified by a lot of comments on these news articles about Paris being worse than …[ ]; at least pre-congestion charge if you spent the day in London your hankerchief or Kleenex would be dark brown at the end, and you’d actually feel it in your head, something that I never experienced in Paris. Oddly, not sure why but I attribute it to the density of London buses and taxis (all diesel and visibly churning dark smoke). I don’t know but possibly a different level of purity of the diesel, or exceptions for the non-private vehicles in London (ie. buses which I always thought were the biggest culprits). Not claiming Paris is sweetness and light but the difference is noticeable … except for those rare bad days in Paris.

          Simon Birkett, director of Clean Air in London sent in a full analysis of London’s air problems and the response from the government’s alert systems, which I have published here.
          “Normally, of course these days, particle levels are much higher in Beijing than Europe. However, let’s remember that scientists, policy makers and campaigners are worried about particles and gases making up air pollution. The particles are regulated as a lump for health and legal purposes i.e. all of them. In contrast, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) is the only gas regulated within all the gases for modern purposes i.e. with sulphur dioxide largely eliminated by ultra low sulphur fuels. We are also worried about short-term and long-term exposure (i.e. hourly/daily or annual average) as these have different health impacts.

          “Average levels of NO2, a combustion gas, in London are over three times the legal limit and World Health Organisation guideline near some of our busiest streets and the highest of any capital city in Europe.”
          http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/17/paris-worse-air-pollution-beijing

          Also, in UNESCO-listed Oxford, the main quasi-pedestrianised street (shared with buses & taxis) had a pollution monitor and the traffic was supposed to be closed off when it exceeded certain thresholds. However it was commonly known, and sometime reported in media, that to prevent this happening too often they simply turned the monitor off. The traffic and its output was awful.

          Incidentally that Guardian headline was typically misleading as Paris never approaches true Beijing levels, which comes from burning coal, is of much more dangerous PM2.5 … And not to be confused with the red sandstorms that sweep in off the Gobi desert in peak summer that aren’t any fun either.

          • Alon Levy

            Paris has a very clean electric sector thanks to widespread nuclear power, and I give Macron a lot of credit for refusing to decommission plants without renewable replacement, unlike Merkel. I don’t think it’s really correct to call France the greenest developed country in the world, though – Switzerland and Sweden have comparable per capita emissions, and both are industrial exporters, whereas France is an industrial importer, which means a lot of the emissions of French consumption are actually counted as German or Chinese industrial emissions. My guess is that the greenest first-world city by this metric is Stockholm, with Copenhagen and Zurich strong contenders as well.

            Paris, of course, never approaches Beijing levels. No European city does, even in not-quite-first-world Eastern Europe. But within the developed world, Paris is a contender for most polluted city, alongside the entirety of Northern Italy, and there are no Alps to hem pollution in Paris. Overall there’s no reason Ile-de-France should be more polluted than the Rhine-Ruhr region, which is densely populated, inland, industrialized, and much more auto-oriented than monocentric city regions like Paris, London, Berlin, and Munich (as far as I can tell it has 100 annual passenger rail trips per capita, whereas the four monocentric cities have around 200-250).

        • Michael James

          Well, I know that but it is why I said “large city”, by which I mean comparable city. The whole of Switzerland can fit into the Ile de France, and Sweden not far off. More than that, is that both those places gain their cleanness from serendipity, ie. hydropower. (In fact France does quite well there too, from heroic efforts to harness the Rhone over its whole length.) Paris and France is from long-term planning and action, and something other euro-countries or Japan could have achieved but didn’t. I imagine the French planning elites are furious about this diesel stuff-up (unless one believes they were surreptitiously party to the conspiracy?). Like Germany, Copenhagen still burns coal when the wind isn’t blowing.
          I also think your trade argument is a bit suss. As a proportion Switzerland is a bigger industrial exporter but it doesn’t even have a car industry (though it does supply automotive components). France’s rail industry would be much greater than theirs etc. and Airbus … It’s tricky comparing such different sized countries (more valid comparing France to UK, Germany or Italy, possibly Spain). And that applies to your last comment too, in that the only comparable city in that list is London which is arguably worse. Munich needs to be compared to Lyon not Paris. And I’d place a bet that in ten years Paris will be much better than London. (Hmm, unless Brexit causes total economic collapse …).

          • Alon Levy

            Sweden has a combination of hydro and nuclear power.

            Switzerland doesn’t export heavy industry, but it still has a ton of light industry, like the watches. And I’m pretty sure Stadler is bigger than Alstom relative to national population, but I don’t know what proportion of Stadler’s factories are in Switzerland rather than Poland.

            The problem with the “large cities only” thing is that, as with New York’s refusal to learn from anyone else, it assumes a scale-dependence of policy that isn’t there, and mostly just serves to shrink the volume of comparison cities. In New York it’s down to Los Angeles and maybe London and then obviously New York has better transit than the former; in Paris it’s just London, the capital of a country that will destroy itself in order to feel a little bit better about British superiority to immigrants, and this allows Anglophobic French elites to completely ignore the economic success of Germany, the Nordic countries, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.

        • Michael James

          But many of the important things do scale. Paris only has that air pollution because it has 12.4 million residents in a quite compact area (and in an inland flat river basin). Big cities have transit and congestion, and affordable housing issues that occur when they grow beyond a certain size. I mean I am quite certain Lyon is every bit as nice to live in as Munich is, probably better for a Francophile like me. Simply cannot compare Munich to Paris. Zurich is about the same as Seine-St-Denis, a suburb of Paris (a bit richer …). Even Berlin is half Paris’ population.
          Actually I thought you could have considered a city like Lyon, which is pretty terrific and a lot cheaper than Paris. Yet, only 2h on the TGV.
          ……………
          Aha, evidence for the prosecution: Just heard from my tv in the background, New Tricks (cold case unit, set in London), one of the cops slams the phone down because the other party has hung up on him, and says “I swear people are getting ruder. I blame it on the diesel fumes.”.

          • Alon Levy

            Yes, the size and density matter for pollution, but you don’t need a monocentric city region for that – the Rhine-Ruhr is comparable to Paris in population and area, but has less pollution. And in France pollution is not just a Parisian problem – Nord-Pas-de-Calais is quite polluted, and provincial city centers get polluted as well.

            Lyon is indeed cheaper than Paris. It also has the same air pollution as Paris, few to no foreigner-facing brokerages and professional service firms, and French food.

          • Michael James

            Lyon is indeed cheaper than Paris. It also has the same air pollution as Paris, few to no foreigner-facing brokerages and professional service firms, and French food.

            Hah! Aren’t those all good reasons for choosing Lyon? Seriously, France as it should be …
            There was a time I considered it because it has the UN International Agency for Research on Cancer (and for my first years in Paris I held an IARC fellowship). Back then, not so much today, I was amazed at the wonderful old Belle Epoque apartments to be had for the price of a broom cupboard in Paris (well a single bedder). I don’t want to shatter my memories by googling “macdonalds + Lyon”!

            But regarding your remarks on Bellevue (just uphill a bit from my old workplace within Hopital St Louis), you might find the grittier mix of Marseilles more to your liking.

        • Alex B.

          Inversions in Paris may not be as common as in valley cities, but they do happen and they absolutely exacerbate air quality issues. The cause in Paris and in France is when you get a winter anti-cyclone high pressure system that keeps the surface conditions very stable; the cold nights keep the ground level colder than air aloft; the high pressure system keeps the whole thing stable without the topographic barriers like in LA.

          Here’s a paper looking at a particular case in December 2016, where the temperature at the top of the Eiffel Tower was 8 deg C, and on the surface was just 2 deg C: http://aerapa.conference.ubbcluj.ro/2017/PDF/43_Nouaceur_338_344.pdf

          • Michael James

            Interesting.
            I wonder if you could comment on whether there is any feasible interventionist method to alleviate these conditions. I don’t mean long-term prevention like reducing air pollution. I seem to recall in one of those Chinese mega-cities with literally lethal air pollution, I think Wuhan (encircled by high mountains), they actually excavated the top of one of the mountains to create a valley, ie. passage out for the air–but I don’t remember if it worked.
            I’m thinking more of somehow creating a chimney. These things are inherently unstable (which is why they only occur during very still weather conditions) so somehow piercing the entrapping top layer would set up a flow, like emptying a bathtub (inverted). Of course IIRC that is what gives rise to horrendous thunderstorm when they break naturally–but that is after days of build up; what if one could intervene early? Not a physical chimney of course (though ….) or are the entrapping layers just way too high to be amenable? Don’t laugh now (ok you can laugh and pour scorn) but what about putting all those massive fighter jets to use by having squadrons of them flying from the bottom layer vertically thru the barrier layer, and doing it repeatedly in a loop to set up the flow? At some point it becomes self-sustaining, yes?
            …………………..
            Incidentally my friends in Paris tell me the summers have got far worse since I left, particularly the nights because it doesn’t cool down as much so it is unremitting. In fact a friend of mine eventually (after 25 years!) sold her apartment in one of those 31-floor towers at Place d’Italie (where you cannot install air-con, and they are all glass facade and only a few tiny windows openable) to escape the problem.

  7. Michael James

    I think you are judging Macron way too early –it’s only 21 months since his election and even less since a working government–and every political leader has to try to balance all these crazy forces swirling around. Forget the popularity b.s., it is respect or at least acquiescence that a leader needs to make progress–though I’ll admit Macron has come precariously close to losing that. However he may well persevere and isolate and diminish the bad elements within Gilets Jaunes. I don’t know how he is going to really work out but I feel one has to keep hope because there is precious little else around. In fact it is Merkel who is the biggest disappointment, and who should have retired before the last, if not two elections ago. She shares this with Obama: such promise but in the end winning elections was her main talent and she has left Europe worse rather than better (there’s a couple of examples of sterile “popularity”). Obama had the biggest crisis and thus the biggest opportunity for change and he flubbed it, monumentally. Merkel just made the EUs crisis endemic, not just economically but philosophically (FFS, is it purely about being the political enforcer for neo-liberal bankers?).
    These are existential times and Europe really really needs to stand and act together, and to define more broadly and popularly, what it stands for. But it is two of the big 3 (3 of the 4 if including Italy!) who are not helping. The renegade country in the EU is actually Germany! I know most won’t agree. Of course the UK is beyond the pale so I don’t really put them into the calculation anymore–as no one does, and doesn’t that show just how awful they have been when they should have been a force for good change. There is a bit of hope in France but all around, including Germany, and Club Med are pretty depressing. And, incredibly, wasn’t old CDG correct about so much; he knew the UK was not a reliable member of the EU club and that Europe was allowing itself to be too dependent on the Americans.

    Anyway, Paris is always a love-hate relationship. Certainly we all come to love her ever more in absence. I can’t remember if I have expounded my ‘Paris theory’ on your blog, but in essence it is that one cycles thru various emotions of love, hate, slow adjustment … and eventually love/respect again, with two years being the minimum period. (The stronger one’s ‘home’ culture combined with unrealistic expectations, the tougher this journey is, hence Paris Syndrome.) I often wondered why you were in Paris since it never seemed a good fit. Berlin will be fine, and it is big and cosmopolitan enough, and today it even has an embryo Israeli colony of disaffected diaspora. Unlike Paris where indeed one feels a tiny unit of one, in Berlin it seems like it should be easy to feel part of a particular group(s) of common interests. I’d admit that one is more likely to find the expat intello community of 1920s Paris in Berlin today than in Paris anymore (as much as a certain type has attempted that in the Marais since I lived there–alas, their main effect has been to impact property/rent, damn them!)

    So it is not a case of wishing you luck, but to say break a leg.

  8. R. W. Rynerson

    Berlin has always had its share of urban problems (aside from those imposed by national governments), but they tackle them and then go have a beer. Even if you only spend a couple of years there as I once did, you’ll learn a lot. My German colleagues were always willing to explain what they were doing or what someone else was up to. That has been true on my reunion and research trips since. My father calls the 27 months that I was stationed there “the masters degree that you didn’t get because of the draft.”

    — Berlin Brigade, US Army 1969-71

  9. Oreg

    I share your fundamental peeve: French cities and towns all over the country reek of diesel exhaust. The only place in Germany I associate with noticeably bad air is Stuttgart, a car town situated in a deep basin.

    As for your new home, I think you made a good choice. The places with the best quality of life also tend to be very expensive: Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Munich, Barcelona. Berlin offers great value, a vibrant, international cultural scene and decent infrastructure at still moderate housing costs in a reasonably open, liberal country. Berliners are famous for their bluntness and sarcasm but you can probably deal with that. I even enjoy it. Amsterdam could have been a contender but it might be too expensive.

  10. Mike

    All the best in Berlin. This was a thoughtful post even if off topic. Illuminating comments too. As far the yellow vests and the fuel tax, regional transit in France, especially inter urban between regional and smaller city’s is rubbish, if slowly improving. I’ve read some distressing reports of people to whom the fuel tax rise was unaffordable and had serious consequences for their ability to live. The devil is in the detail of course and that’s where it gets boring. To what extent is this tax, implemented for vital reasons, really responsible for tipping these people over the edge. I’m afraid it requires deep dive research by policy decision makers so that they can either refute the claims made – some of which will be spurious – or change policy as appropriate. What’s really needed is smart road pricing so that areas with high congestion/good public transport have much higher prices where there are no alternatives. One of the worst areas of recent policy blindness was Bill de Blasio opposing congestion charging because it would disadvantage low income drivers coming into Manhattan. The obvious riposte is that low income people are massively on the subway or bus but it took an academic to estimate the number of low income car drivers coming into Manhattan was between 1000 and 1500 per day – no more. Numbers matter. Have a great time in Berlin.

    • Alon Levy

      The extra cost of the fuel tax would be balanced by driving more slowly, at the new 80 km/h speed limit rather than the old 90 km/h one. The speed limit instead became another GJ grievance; the GJs subsequently went on a rampage of vandalizing speed cameras, and if I remember correctly about half the speed cameras nationwide were destroyed. They just like driving fast and don’t like that the government doesn’t openly tell immigrants that their culture is inferior to white French culture.

      • Nicolas Centa

        The message also matters.

        Nobody is going to believe driving 10 km more slowly is going to negate the effect of the tax, and this is seen as being imposed from the top, enforced by surveillance in the firm of cameras that are also seen as an additional tax.

        Incentives for people to stop having a car, or to replace it by an electric or at least more ecological one, would have been far more popular.

        I think you tend to advocate the stick instead of the carrot here because these people are not as educated, rational and tolerant as you, which tends to be true of Trump and Brexit voters as well.

        Then if we are to promote top down policies, why not educate these people’s kids so they can get tech or other intellectual jobs? It seems it would do good to reassure the GJ.

        I think the state has some part of responsibility here, because the education system is quite white, quite old and very unequal.

        Once again, same as Trump voters: maybe they didn’t go to the university, but then how would they have entered and who would have paid their tuition?

        In France the education system is free so other means are used to discriminate.

        GJ hate Macron because he’s part of this system of an over educated elite that thinks they can decide and impose everything top down.

        • Alon Levy

          Macron is investing in carrots including electric car charging stations and more public transit.

          The best evidence that this is not an economic protest is the demographics. Eastern Paris is full of working-class people, but they’re mostly not white, and yet the rally at Nation was entirely white and the few people I got close enough to to be able to tell seemed like bo-bos rather than whatever’s left of the white working class in the city. Add in the random conspiratorial shit the protesters engage in – anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, anti-vax, stories about how Macron is selling France to Africa – and the racial element is clear. French intellectuals even notice the anti-Semitism, they just handwave it away because French (and other Continental) political scientists and sociologists are used to slicing the population by education and job category and not race and therefore completely miss the racism. Antiracist organizations notice this better and focus on the racism, but France doesn’t listen until it’s time to accuse Muslims of being anti-Semitic.

          The hate for Macron is not because he imposes anything top-down, because every French president does that. The difference is that the Chiracs and Sarkozys do so while signaling to white people that France is a white nation and whatever austerity they impose on white people they impose worse on blacks and Arabs. Macron engages in little austerity – his tax changes in 2017-8 benefited the top 1% primarily and the middle two quartiles (i.e. the vanguard of the GJs) secondarily at the expense of percentiles 75-99 (i.e. the vanguard of EM). But he signals cosmopolitanism rather than nationalism and the racists can’t abide by that.

          The connection with education is that in South Africa, the pro-apartheid whites were the poorer ones. The urban English middle class was pretty racist but didn’t need apartheid laws to distinguish itself from the blacks, because capitalism was enough. The rural Afrikaners would not be distinguished from black farmers in a democratic capitalist system and therefore came up with apartheid to preserve their place in the hierarchy above the blacks and Coloureds. But this class pattern does not change the fact that South African apartheid was primarily a system of anti-black racism and secondarily one of anti-Coloured and anti-Indian racism, rather than any true demand for socioeconomic equality even among whites.

          The French elite can signal that it’s committed to racial equality or that it’s committed to racial hierarchy, and every time the state makes excuses for white rioters while cracking down on nonwhite ones it makes it clear it does the latter.

          • Nicolas Centa

            Thank you very much for your answer. Put it that way it is very clear for me.

            Then if that is so, Macron should say it clearly, if only because he still has a few years to go before the next election, and could not do worse than now.

          • Michael James

            Nicolas Centa, 2019/02/20 – 18:30
            Then if that is so, Macron should say it clearly, if only because he still has a few years to go before the next election, and could not do worse than now.

            Sigh. He has more than 4 years remaining. And making such changes as I outlined just a few in the long previous post, does not bring visible change for years or maybe a generation. As I said earlier, citing Mao, a revolution is not a dinner party. You’ve got to have a bit more patience, and faith, and look a bit below the superficial surface. I mean what is your solution to these complex problems? It’s kind of immature, and I’m sorry, very irritating to hear Macron “could not do worse”. Name a world leader who is doing better …

        • Michael James

          Mike, 2019/02/20 – 12:37
          ..regional transit in France, especially inter urban between regional and smaller city’s is rubbish, if slowly improving

          No worse than any other country, certainly adjusted for the fact that France is the largest nation in the EU, and the most dispersed in the EU (no. of communes per population is something like double the average). This was partly why the TGV network was built, and why it was the first such in Europe. A lot of the TER network is already uneconomic in a narrow econo-rat sense. I don’t think much can be done about it unless a lot of under-used regional lines are rendered driverless (which would also solve the timetable problem, ie. no trains at night).

          Nicolas Centa, 2019/02/20 – 17:42
          Then if we are to promote top down policies, why not educate these people’s kids so they can get tech or other intellectual jobs? It seems it would do good to reassure the GJ. …. In France the education system is free so other means are used to discriminate.

          Well, Macron has initiated big changes in the normal university sector, ie. the one that the majority attend not the Grandes Ecoles. But like many parts of his program this is long-term change, and will only be visible slowly. BTW, GPX can be seen in this light, making more of the city and more opportunities available to more banlieusardes than ever before. Officially it got off the starting blocks with Sarko but of course it has been in gestation (by the elites!) for a long time. Like I said in earlier posts, this reflects bi-partisan policy that spans administrations and parties unlike in the ridiculously partisan Anglosphere, or even within parties (eg. last week’s belling of CaHSR by a new governor, same party). Remember Macron was the only mainstream candidate (other than Mélenchon) to campaign in Seine-St-Denis which the cynical can say was just virtue-signalling or smart politics, but certainly I think it did send a clear signal that he was sincere in wanting to improve the situation for the most-disadvantaged regardless of ethnicity.
          As to “other means to discriminate”, well not exactly. Their education system is viciously meritocratic and so you see that result in the Grandes Ecoles and in turn, in the quality of the public service and top so-called elites, Elites is a confusing term since they are very different things in the UK versus France; was meritocracy really the dominant factor in having, at one time, the top three UK pollies all from Eton, then Oxford and all members of the rich-brats dinning club, the Bullingdon, of Boris, Osborne & Dave? Naturally the French still has an inbuilt bias towards the prosperous and/or the determined parents. I hope Macron’s changes also provide for more mobility for promising students to migrate upwards from normal universities to the Grandes Ecoles; it’s true the system has ossified into something vaguely resembling Britain’s toxic “eleven plus” system that determines your life course at such a young age. And frankly there should be a quota system for those showing talent from the underprivileged into the Grandes Ecoles, including extra tuition (which is what anyone who got into a GE got from their parents–it’s a fairly horrible forcing system not entirely dissimilar to the Korean system). Of course such a quota system based on ethnic origin or other sub-group characteristics is strictly against France’s constitution, but even Sarkozy, to his credit, was talking about circumventing this technical problem. On most of these issues the Anglosphere press (alas, to my loss, the only one I can read) report amazingly distorted versions. Here is a rare one (link below) with more balance (on taxes, inequality, schooling): no doubt there may be a bit of affirmation bias on my part but no, there is evidence rather than vague handwaving.

          https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/macron-education-reforms-by-philippe-aghion-and-benedicte-berner-2018-03
          Macron’s Education Revolution
          Philippe Aghion, Benedicte Berner, 7 Mar 2018.
          [extract]
          Macron, for his part, recognizes that this system will have to be transformed in order to tackle inequality and social immobility, and to spur more inclusive growth over the long term. His reforms will place more emphasis than ever before on teaching basic skills – reading, language, numeracy – in primary school. And after September 2018, schools in poor neighborhoods will have class sizes no larger than 12 students.
          Macron’s government is also making big investments in tutoring programs and other measures to help children with learning difficulties, and to allow for more homework to be done at school. And it is establishing a new system to facilitate the transition from secondary school to university.
          Up to now, students have been placed in universities through a lottery system, which often fails to match students with the right school or discipline. But after Macron’s reforms are implemented, students’ school performance and preferred subjects will become the determining factors in university placement. The final exam, the baccalauréat, will focus on two major subjects, two minor subjects, and an oral exam, instead of covering 10-15 disparate topics. To reduce the failure rate at the bachelor-degree level, the reforms will also introduce university pre-requisites, rather than guaranteeing eligibility for all. All of this will align France more closely with countries such as Sweden and Germany, where unemployment is far lower.

          As to “reassuring the GJ”, I think you’re getting confused between the core instigators who are just ratbags of the far-right with an agenda of disruption that is not really related to any particular policy (fuel tax was purely a pretext), versus a lot of the generally disgruntled who nevertheless can be turned around, and are being turned around, slowly. Also what I think most discussions on the fuel-tax miss is that it is already extremely high in France, so boosting it further is seen as particularly unjust as it punishes the least able to absorb it (city slickers like Alon don’t even own a car; neither did I when I lived in Paris; apparently Macron has never owned a car in his life though his wife has one in their country home–both of which drive opponents a bit loopy and who can blame them?). This is also why I think Alon’s obsession about it being a critical anti-pollution measure is a bit misplaced. There is already plenty of financial pressure to swing users away from ICE vehicles but there simply is no real viable alternative, yet. I always thought there were far more important issues to fight for, than to provoke the masses over something that in the scheme of things just doesn’t matter much. Ditto for the Wealth Tax which hardly raises much tax; I have no real idea to this day why he rushed into abolishing it–talk about sending the wrong optics and so early in his term, he was poorly advised or just stubbornly doing something because he could.

          Concerning the racism thing, everyone should know it is never simple. Despite all the somewhat hysterical charges, France has Europe’s largest Muslim and largest Jewish populations. I don’t have much time for those (non-French, or Netanyahu) who say all French jews should migrate to Israel; Alon, ask those “refugees” from Israel in Berlin. In fact I have come to understand the occasional anti-semitic outbursts in France (by a tiny, tiny minority) are really just inadequate malcontents lashing out at any convenient target that stands out even a little bit. Although not good, it is also not as bad as the press makes out.
          Also, while it is tricky to enumerate or even to discuss, some of the charge of racism directed at the French is partly that they are fairly blunt in talking about it publicly. Yes, sometimes this is just the same as racism but other times and I suspect a lot of the time, it is merely being blunt in a way, say, Germany doesn’t allow itself to be. The human species is intrinsically tribal and it is remarkable that we have made strides in overriding our evolutionary proclivities in this regard.

          Alon (earlier post): Part of the problem is that Macron made a mistake in how he selected his slate for the legislative election – he chose local notables rather than liberal politicians, figuring that inexperienced people would be more politically dependent on him, but instead the opposite happened since those local notables a) have careers to go back to if EM collapses, and b) are used to giving orders rather than taking them. Some EM members of the National Assembly met with the GJs to try to understand their concerns, and since EM, like all other French parties, is white, there was nobody capable of saying “no platform for racism.”

          I think this is wrong on most counts. First, I recall that a majority (>50%) had zero political experience and had never held political office prior to election as a REM candidate. Second, women were 50% of elected members (REM, LREM) and I am pretty sure they are 50% of the executive government (to be fair, Sarko made progress here). Third, the criteria were “Renewal, gender equality, probity, pluralism and coherence.” Some will sneer but again Macron was sincere and this was a sincere aspiration. Now of course any body, elected or otherwise, in France is going to look white because that is the overwhelming majority; are you forgetting that Muslims (many of whom, eg. from the Maghreb, would self-classify as white) are about 8% of the population. It would be weird to be otherwise. By itself it doesn’t mean anything. But overall it was a very significant changing of the guard, the likes of which the rest of the Anglosphere (and probably elsewhere) are crying out for something similar. It may indeed become a political thorn for Macron but so what? In Australia we have a lower house which is controlled by independents, and ditto for the Senate: it drives the major parties loopy, and it is predicted to get “worse” (or better?) in the coming election. No one could credibly say that Macron is just the same old politician.

          Also, in the last decade (since 2010) France has been the fastest growing member of the EU (prior to this it was Spain) with an increase of 2.5m (about 1m every 3 years); in addition to having the highest birth rate in the EU, it also had a high immigration rate. This may have been overtaken in the last few years by the influx of Syrians and others into Germany and the Nordics. I also think that Macron’s outreach to the likes of Libya is where the real sustainable solution lies, certainly not in Merkel’s sentimental opening of the gates (including all of EUs especially the southern states who can cope the least; all this being unauthorised by the EU or anyone). It was no solution and exacerbated the problem. There are tens of millions of refugees and impoverished in MENA alone and bringing them, or a random lottery of some of them, to Europe is not solving any problem (except perhaps salving the conscience of the less thoughtful or the ‘care free’). Germany once had a worthy vision (Desertec) of the Maghreb being a green energy source for Europe and they should again look to that, instead of getting themselves addicted to Putin’s gas. It should be revisited (possibly based on hydrogen rather than thousands of km of expensive and susceptible grid).

          • Eric

            Germany once had a worthy vision (Desertec) of the Maghreb being a green energy source for Europe and they should again look to that, instead of getting themselves addicted to Putin’s gas.

            I highly doubt the economic benefits of such a project would reach the Maghreb masses. Also there is probably enough solar energy in Spain to supply Europe, without the geographical and security complications of solar panels in Africa.

          • Alon Levy

            A couple things.

            1. Yes, France has the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe. This says nothing about racism: the US has the largest nonwhite population of any white-majority country.

            2. France is about 15% nonwhite, counting Arabs, blacks, and Asians. The Macron cabinet is actually less than 15% nonwhite.

            3. Macron and Melenchon both campaigned in 93, but there was still depressed turnout there, after the disappointment with Hollande, who got a ton of Arab votes there. Hollande is probably the least racist president in French history and yet he was powerless to stop local racism, like the burkini bans in the Riviera, and this led to a lot of disaffection among minorities. However, due to imperfect assimilation into French norms, 93 is not expressing this disaffection in the normal French way, i.e. setting the city on fire.

            4. Macron made a genuine effort to recruit women, hence the 50/50 gender split in the EM caucus. But he made no such effort to recruit ethnic minorities. It’s not just him and it’s not just France, really – it’s a problem throughout Continental Europe, in which even the intellectuals classify people demographically by gender, education, and very occasionally nativity status, rather than by race or religion, and as a result constantly miss the racism of populist movements. The American equivalent is classifying people by race but not nativity or (until Trump) education, so until the 2016 election pollsters didn’t weight by education and overestimated the education level of the electorate, and even though that’s been corrected the entire discourse still ignores issues pitting immigrants against natives and uses race as a crude proxy. You should hear how supposedly woke Americans react when I tell them their visa regime has denied me multiple jobs. Britain theoretically tracks education as well as race, and for what it’s worth has less segregation than France, which in turn has less segregation than the US or Sweden, but it’s so nationalistic that under May it’s weaponized red tape against minorities and unlike France (let alone Germany) does not have any major political faction that’s genuinely tolerant.

            5. The problem in 2015 was that there was a massive refugee crisis. Merkel alleviated it, at the cost of making Italian racists feel sad; you should ask Stephen Smith how the Italians treat him as a Romanian. Hollande could have contributed by taking another couple hundred thousand refugees, but instead he did nothing and would not regularize the status of the people in Calais, which indifference has continued under Macron.

          • Oreg

            Merkel did not open any gates, let alone the EU’s. She just decided not to close the German border with Austria when a large number of refugees were on their way from Hungary. Hungary had made it clear that they were not willing to fulfill their obligations under the Dublin Agreement nor the Geneva Convention and Austria wasn’t willing to help either.

          • adirondacker12800

            Eric, it’s windy in Scotland. Norway could probably add some hydro. It’s windy in Germany too. The infrastructure to move electricity and use it directly would be more efficient, cheaper and more secure than making hydrogen and turning it back into electricity.

          • Michael James

            The infrastructure to move electricity and use it directly would be more efficient, cheaper and more secure than making hydrogen and turning it back into electricity.

            Today, maybe. But there’s no storage in that formulation you made. And the kind of energy densities required for heavy vehicles rules out batteries for an awful long time. As we have discussed on this blog before, hydrogen is probably never going to be viable for small vehicles but may be the only mechanism for the rest. Hydrogen generation from electricity is not efficient but then again in north Africa the insolation is huge and free. Despite its downsides hydrogen (carried by ammonia or whatever, not liquid H2) is an option for both transport and storage. As you know there is even a hydrogen train running in rural Germany, though it is Alstom.

          • adirondacker12800

            Batteries for storage. They are cheaper than “peaker” plants running on cheap North America natural gas, today, and getting cheaper. The truck manufacturers didn’t get the memo and are considering batteries. And no one has shared how much the fuel cells in the wundertrain cost.

          • Max Wyss

            It really depends on the Région how badly TER services suck. A very positive example is/was the Alsace (with the exception of maybe Mulhouse – Müllheim (Baden)). We will see how things will work out in the PACA, as they just announced that they will put some lines up for bid for new operators.

            And, quite frankly, the TGV network sucks quite a bit (with exceptions). The SNCF management seems to not grasp the “lines” concept (specific service patterns, operated at fixed intervals). They still treat every TGV as an individual service (that’s why some reports were absolutely correct by stating that there are too many places served by a TGV (maybe once or twice a day)). An example for how bad it can be (in my personal experience)? Avignon – Mulhouse on a weekday afternoon: the station agent’s system comes up with 4 connections. One with two changes of trains, one layover more than 90 minutes, the other one around an hour (that’s the one I actually chose). Two connections via Paris, and finally one direct train (which was too late because I had further connections from Mulhouse). FWIW, I was lucky to take that one connection, because of a person accident in Aix-en-Provence, the TGVs were rerouted over the legacy network, and the 90 minute connection shrunk to some 15 minutes.

            To make the line to Germany: Since the beginning, the IC/ICE/EC network has been line oriented, and originally had a train every 2 hours, later (when the ICs got second class) every hour, sometimes with branch switching at places with timed transfers at the same platform.

  11. Michael James

    Alon Levy, 2019/02/21 – 05:45

    1. Unlike the African-American population those groups aren’t in France under compulsion but by free choice. Despite the WW2 horrors and betrayal, it seems to me most Jews are fully integrated into French life. And they really do have choices–Israel, US, Canada, Australia etc. In fact it’s even true for many Muslims; just that there are very significant numbers that are recent migrants and first generation born in France and have not managed to advance as much as is ideal (for them and the nation).

    2. Figures have to be estimates since there aren’t any official ones. And you’ve ignored my point that plenty of north-African (Maghreb) Arabs consider themselves white. There were plenty in my workplace including highly-qualified ones (and the institute director was a Tunisian jew –the somewhat notorious, Daniel Cohen–and his lab had several Tunisian & Algerian Arabs). (Incidentally the same phenom is happening with Hispanic immigrants to the US, ie. as they assimilate they tend to think of themselves as white even if they are … offwhite. Or indeed middle-east: Steve Jobs was Syrian!) So, is the cabinet (or more fairly the EM assembly members) not 15% of these ethnic groups? Are you sure?
    Well ok, I wouldn’t expect the deputies to match the population profile. First, it always take a generation or two (or in US, a lot more) for new immigrants to become integrated to show up in public institutions etc. Second, because of geographical aggregation of recent immigrants, fewer will get elected relative to the overall population (ie. the same effect as gerrymandering in the US).
    But out of interest I did a quick check at:
    http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/15/les-groupes-politiques/groupe-la-republique-en-marche/(block)/42243
    and found on a extremely quick-pass: 13 non-white, 3 Asian, 3 non-black Arab, for a total of 18 out of 304 which is 6%. But note that it is too tricky to identify those in the last category; I merely used names but plenty will have Frenchified names and the info on their official website won’t give enough to tell you. An example is Mme Amélia Lakrafi who could pass for French, or maybe Italian or Spanish, but is born in Casablanca. I’d really like a DNA profile on the whole lot then we’d sort it out accurately! Probably get my old institute to do it as a freebie; actually the institute generated the first hi-rez human genetic map with modern markers.
    So, it is approx. half the proportion in the population. I would say that is not bad at this stage.
    As for Jews there have plenty at the top of French political life. I can think of 3 off the top of my head: Leon Blum, Mendes-France and Laurent Fabius who were PMs.
    BTW, 8.8% are Muslim but the rate of secularisation is increasing, as only to be expected (and promoted IMO) especially under French laïcité. This will help too.

    3. Not sure what point you were making. Maybe Macron’s promises to 93 are being accepted for the time being. In any case their situation hasn’t got worse, while the GJ movement is, as you point out, more a white entitlement thing.

    4. Well, the first thing is that it would unconstitutional. But secondly, it is much easier to obtain gender equality than in these other categories. And though one might have a mentoring program to encourage minorities etc. it will be difficult to achieve parity. Is this 6% (of LREM, not of all of the Assembly) much different to the USA? I know Australia isn’t there yet though the Labor party is doing pretty well–and again many ethnic groups are of relatively recent origin (but I know there are at least two of ≈60 of middle-eastern origin which must be quite close to population fraction).
    …………………………
    So, in summary, of course it’s not perfect, but also it is not as bad as sometimes portrayed. The media and a lot of people like to blow such stuff up out of proportion. Now of course I know I am of the professional classes so that has an inbuilt non-representative ascertainment-bias effect. But even there, as I said, I would say that very roughly representation in my institute was not far off the population (perhaps because of the director it may have been a bit special, not sure).

    5. On this I disagree. I have said it many times that Merkel made an error and not a small one. It was insulting to the rest of the EU, and especially the ClubMed who would take the biggest consequences. That has consequences. For a start it has helped provoke the far-right everywhere and diminished the authority of the EU project. Contrary to what you seem to believe it didn’t solve anything but almost certainly made things worse (encouraged to cross the Med, tens of thousands are drowning in the process). And Germany has done the square root of stuff all to resolve the middle-east mess. She was a supplicant of the US, unlike the French who remember were not part of the Coalition of the Willing to illegally invade Iraq which lit the fuse. So Merkel and Germans are doubly responsible, or at least co-conspiracists in the utter mess. Germany is one of the richest countries in the world but it has mostly worried about ensuring its bankers get repaid from their irresponsible loans to the rest of Europe. Their role in the EU is a triple black mark against them and her.

    • Oreg

      On 5: Not sure what error and consequences you have in mind exactly. Unlike most other European countries, Germany took in a lot of refugees that otherwise would have been stuck in Hungary, Greece and Italy. Then Merkel, together with other EU leaders, negotiated the EU-Turkey deal that drastically reduced the flow of refugees into Greece.

      How was Merkel a “supplicant of the U.S.”? At the time of the Iraq invasion, the Chancellor was Schröder, not Merkel, and he vigorously opposed it, winning the 2002 election on this platform. Famously, his foreign minister Joschka Fischer told Donald Rumsfeld publicly: “You have to make the case! Excuse me, I’m not convinced.” Germany was not part of the “coalition of the willing”.

      • Michael James

        I think you are being disingenuous on the refugee issue. It drew in huge numbers of additional refugees, both thru Turkey and over the med via Libya and elsewhere. Does the Turkey “solution” look sustainable to you? Indeed does Turkey look sustainable? And Poland, Hungary and all the hard-right turns in the EU. All this has happened under Merkel and she is amazingly passive. It’s reached almost Chamberlain levels. At a time when the EU needs strong leadership it hasn’t got it from its strongest member. Two nights ago she finally gave a strong response to Trump but .. too little, too late, and nothing concrete. Alon sneers at Macron, which is easy to do, but it is true too that by himself, or France by itself, cannot really achieve much without at least Germany on side. But Merkel doesn’t seem to barely acknowledge the pivotal point the EU rest on. The attitude seems “what’s good for Germany is good for the EU”, but it needs to be the opposite. It is said that with Merkel, even if Macron has a strategy for the EU, it cannot go anywhere. I agree.

        I didn’t mean to inadvertently suggest Germany was a member of the Coalition of the Willing (if I did?) but in a sense it doesn’t matter (as much). We know that the two big aggressors from WW2, Germany and Japan, became very averse to military adventurism (may be a good thing … but see below) and prefer to buy their way out of their global obligations. There are two big military powers in the EU–(soon only one, though UK remains in NATO fwiw)–which is only to be mentioned in the context of Macron’s comment or observation that the EU needs to become more secure, more independent of the US. Even in the absence of the Trump factor, I have thought this for about 2 decades; this is the cause of Putin’s aggression and Ukraine etc, exploiting weakness at every turn, and provoked by US hawks; and not least because the US uses it to blackmail Europeans into supporting its militarism elsewhere.
        But I suppose nothing along these lines from Germany. The Americans are now overtly undermining the EU’s internal and external security, just as someone like Bolton always wanted. A “robust” speech or stony silence to Pence, are not going to change a thing. As long as Merkel is there, it is status quo ante. Like watching a freeway pileup in slow motion.
        Incidentally the notable speech on the Iraq debacle was Foreign Minister (later PM) Villerpin’s address to the UN arguing against Bush’s crazy invasion; he laid out how it could be incendiary for the entire middle-east.

        • Alon Levy

          Hungary’s far right turn goes back to 2010 and to Orban getting a supermajority in the election after the left sank in a corruption crisis. The refugees are just an excuse. The only countries where you see an actual surge in extreme right voting after the 2015 crisis (caused by refugees finally finding good routes into Central Europe – Germany’s letting them in is an effect and not a cause) are the more functional ones, like Germany and Sweden, and even in Sweden the Sweden Democrats are only up a few points in the vote since 2014.

          Macron and Merkel are both status quo ante, the difference is that Merkel is open about it whereas Macron is full of soaring rhetoric about progress.

          • Michael James

            Merkel has been in power for 13 going on 14 years.
            Macron, 21 months.

            I’m giving Macron the benefit of the doubt for a bit longer.

        • Oreg

          Stating some facts is hardly disingenuous. Which action of hers exactly do you consider responsible for all of these ills?
          How is Merkel responsible for Europe’s hard-right turn? It predates the refugee crisis, as Alon points out.

          However, few would disagree with your observations that Merkel does not provide much leadership (outside of crises) and that Europe needs to increase their military spending to become less dependent of the U.S.

          • Michael James

            I am not saying, and did not say, that Merkel is single-handedly responsible for Europe’s hard-right turn. But she has been the dominant figurehead–or at least perceived to be–throughout this whole time. It was a crucial time for a leader to show leadership but, not only did she not show it, but via Schäuble, whose career she enabled, she sent the awful austerity, neo-lib message from a megaphone.

            I’m not sure what you and Alon mean since she has been chancellor since 2005, five years before Orban; and btw, it was in this era that Orban went from being centrist-proEuropean to hard-right which won him his 2010 sweep. Plus, she was leader of the CDU from 2000-2018.

            The forces of the right have been marshalled by events building over the past 3 decades, and it requires leadership to fight it. Merkel did the opposite. She fed the movement even if it was inadvertent or by default (which one could say is worse). At least Macron is trying. For all Alon’s talk about progressive Germany and Sweden they now both have considerable number of extreme-right members of their parliament, even if not within cooee of power, enough to make forming stable government tricky. By contrast, Marine Le Pen has 8 out of 577 deputies.

            Europe needs to increase their military spending to become less dependent of the U.S.

            When time-averaged over many years, France meets the criteria. Not that I’m not particularly hung up on absolute monetary measures re defence, but on effectiveness. Germany not only does not spend enough but it is woefully prepared, including perhaps the worst, mentally prepared. Again, Macron has the germ of a good idea in creating a Euro defence force (obviously not part of NATO which is a big part of the problem). They’ve got to stop being (weak) proxies for the Americans.
            …………………………
            Last week I watched the latest (free-to-air) episode of Berlin Station, a rather sophisticated, intelligent spy-thriller. (The two leads are Brits, playing Americans of course, this being an American-German production. Funny that two of the best dramas on at the moment are set in Berlin, the other being Counterpart, also with dominant Brit actors plus JK Simmons) The Russians are covertly sponsoring and arming a private army within Estonia to foment trouble and possibly a coup. In a surprise move, the lead person (played by Ashley Judd) on a special NATO committee voting to make it public and rebuke, threaten and intimidate the Russians, when all the other 14 members have voted “for”, she votes “against”. This is a de facto veto sparking all the others officially to reverse their vote and storm out. This is possibly to reflect a right-wing hawk in the WH playing a double game, and possibly that the Americans may be happy to see fighting in the streets of Estonia, followed by … well, not clear but possibly some kind of American muscular intervention (a la Bolton wet-dreams). Or another Ukraine except that everyone expects if one falls, all three Baltics will fall to the Russians or proxies. The point is that the only people scared shitless by what is happening, and trying to prevent it happening is a cadre of their own spooks inside the CIA Berlin Station. Germans, nowhere except wringing their hands in anxiety. These days fiction has trouble keeping up with genuine craziness in reality but Germany passivity and complacency, combined with serious American craziness (Bolton, ffs and an empty seat at the UN) is pretty worrying.

          • Matt Hutton

            While the UK has clearly fucked up the Brexit negotiations a fair amount of blame for the referendum result has to fall on Brussels. The UK is far from the only E.U. country where it is wildly unpopular.

          • Alon Levy

            Huh? In a recent survey, large majorities back remaining in the Union in all soon-to-be EU-27 states. (And to be fair, polls in Britain nowadays are in the 55-45 Remain area.)

          • Michael James

            This just dropped in my inbox:

            https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/germany-joint-eu-defense-by-joschka-fischer-2019-02
            Will Germany Permit Joint European Security?
            Feb 22, 2019 JOSCHKA FISCHER
            In an institution as large and complex as the European Union, there will always be blame to go around when efforts to deepen economic and political integration fail to get off the ground. But when it comes to developing a joint EU defense capability, it is clear where the problem lies.

            Joschka Fischer was the German Foreign Minister up to when Merkel became chancellor. He was a Green and is the main reason why Germany did not join the Coalition of the Willing in Iraq. (Merkel, I wouldn’t be so sure about.)

          • Matt Hutton

            I except to see a substantial minority vote for extreme anti E.U. parties in the May EU elections. Let’s see.

          • Max Wyss

            I am not even sure about the “substantial”. The majority of the Anti-EU Brüller does not care to vote for something “EU” anyways. From Germany, it really depends on whether the CDU/CSU still wants to be in the same bed as Orban’s Fidesz. From France, Mme LePen and her buddies had too many irregularities, which will not be forgotten.

            Well, we’ll see.

          • Michael James

            Max Wyss, 2019/02/24 – 14:48

            Actually isn’t it rather more to do with France’s two-stage electoral process? In the first round they get to vent their displeasure and frustrations by voting Le Pen or whoever is ranting about the injustice of it all, but then in the second round they are faced with the stark reality and always leave the extremists in the dust. Pollsters and Anglosphere media and commentators and politicians always go on about Le Pen’s “popularity” but in reality it is a pure protest vote (and there is barely another people who so love complaining, even when “they have never had it so good”) and Le Pen ends up nowhere, crucially in their main house of representatives (ie. the Assemblée) where she got 8 seats out of 577.

            With the worldwide fracturing of long-standing political parties and allegiances, and especially with last week’s fracture of UK Labour (pretty modest at 4% of elected MPs) there is much discussion of this issue. However, we know that such breakaways in the UK (or US) have very little likelihood of success or survival, almost entirely due to their ridiculous FPTP (First Past The Post) electoral system. It is this that is dangerous and destabilising, not that people choose to vote for extremists. In this regard, France’s system may be at fault in not providing “enough” representation of the voters, say the way the Swedish and German system do. Nevertheless I like it because I believe it is extremely valuable that voters get to assess the reality of the possible outcomes. It is the mechanism that should have been used for Brexit, and may yet be used. Still, it is better than the Brit system where UKIP, in the 2015 election, got 3,881,129 votes, 12.6%, yet only one seat (which it subsequently lost). Almost certainly this grotesque misrepresentation led to a higher protest vote in the Brexis referendum …

            A few years ago, typically, when given the opportunity to make their ridiculous antiquated system better the Brits rejected it. Now, the system they rejected was Australia’s Preference System (aka, Alternative Vote), but that too is not resolving this tension (7 Prime Ministers since 2008; two minority governments, chaos in parliament). That is, it was developed (in the 1930s) to actually reinforce the two-party system whereby votes for multiple candidates in related parties flow back to a single candidate, ie. overcoming a split vote problem (where a candidate not preferred by the majority manages to get elected, satisfying no one). An editorial on the weekend suggested the paradox that with Brexit driving this fracturing of the major parties, leaving the EU may bring the political system closer to a European one. (One can hope, but I don’t think so.) But the European systems are manifestly fairer and better represent the electorate. As it happens Australia invented an alternative MMP system called Hare-Clark that is used in Tasmania and ACT state elections (but note both these are too small electorates for it to work its best).

  12. Max Wyss

    All the Best in Berlin… you will have to get used to the Berliner Schnauze and #weilwirdichlieben (the social media account of the Berliner Verkehrs Gesellschaft, the operators of U-Bahn, Tram and Bus).

    • Alon Levy

      So far people switch to English with me whenever I take more than a few seconds to answer in German, it’s like Stockholm. So the Berliner Schnauze I’m exposed to is German-accented English.

        • R. W. Rynerson

          It does take a few days. Of course, there was the Turkish origin ice cream vendor who switched to terrible English and informed me that the fact that I was in Berlin for a reunion of our military veterans and our German colleagues was proof of “American arrogance.”

          “What have Americans to do with [the history of] Berlin?” I think he said. I learned that he had eingewandert in 1994. Then later as I chatted in business German with a restaurant manager about reunion tourism in general, a lady older than me got up from her table with tears in her eyes and embraced me and said that I “was a hero!” Luckily I was used to both views from back in 1969.

          One other language detail: because of the conversations both people knew I was an American. Germans otherwise thought I was British or Swedish. At first we thought it was because Oregonians dress for rain and I had tweeds, sweaters. etc. However, it turned out that they thought of Americans as speaking schoolbook German, while the British or Swedes had picked it up full of slang and modern usage in travel. (Other than History of the English Language I had no schooling for German.) I have seen Stasi files in which they settled for “Allierten” because they had learned that their IM’s could not reliably distinguish between various English accents.

  13. Rudy

    Of course the response to the white protestors was different from that of the Muslim rioters. One is the legitimate paisanos and the other is foreign barbarians. You got it backwards, man. You literally said that it’s the government’s job to protect the foreigners from the citizens. I guess that’s standard rhetoric in Wackyland eh?

  14. Michael James

    I don’t know if you get to vote in the upcoming EU elections, but if so you will have Yanis Varoufakis as a candidate! He has a residence in Berlin and apparently satisfies the 6-month residency requirement. Standing for his DiEM25 party.

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, I’m still going to vote Green, even though the Greens just postered something obnoxious on my building that made me briefly consider voting SPD instead. I appreciate that Varoufakis is genuinely not a racist, unlike a lot of GUE/NGL parties like (say) Die Linke and La France Insoumise, but he still made the Greek crisis worse than it had to be.

  15. Michael James

    Hey Alon, will you sponsor me for a refugee visa in Berlin?
    Australia has just re-elected (sort of, might be minority govt) the most despicable empty conservative government we have ever seen. Everyone is in shock, even the conservatives who also thought they were sure to lose. In yet another trend (Brexit, Trump …) of the polls being utterly misleading, the Anglosphere is definitely a trilogy of stupid (USA, UK & Australia). We may be the junior partner, and quite irrelevant in global terms, but hey our stupid is just as good as theirs (Trump even tweeted congrats). This now re-elected PM (actually this is his first election as PM) was the goon who held up a lump of coal in parliament, and threatens to fund (yes, a conservative govt!) new coal-fired power stations because private industry refuses to! It was thought the death of a Labor hero, Bob Hawke (PM 1983-91; 4 election wins) just 48 hours before the election might have been enough to lock the election in Labor’s favour (there are several hundred thousand Chinese and their Oz-born children, who he granted permanent residency during the Tiananmen massacres; these are often conservative voters but have great affection for Hawke …).

    And as for any sensible urbanist policies, forget it. It is all roads, roads and exurban sprawl. A last-minute policy announcement was a grant of $4bn to build that East-West Link freeway in Melbourne that was abandoned by the incoming Labor state government (it’s hard to see it going ahead). The conservatives collapse into merriment and derision at any talk of fast trains etc.

    It’s grim. Seriously I’ll have to fast track my plans to retire in France. Problem is, unlike you, I don’t have any residency rights (not even in Blighty, not that I would go there but once it might have been an “in” to EU).

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