Thursday, January 31, 2013

Pro Bono

Sure, I'm all for U2, too -- that's what many Germans would say if you simply say "Pro Bono?"

What we try to express is the insignificant role of pro Bono legal work around here. We could joke about the incredible number of lawyers in the US and quip that you need to find some work for them, even if they do it for free.

But that would be so grossly misrepresenting reality that even the K-Landnews won't go there.

In reality, doing some pro bono work is an integral part of American legal culture. It is not only accepted but demanded.

Through volunteer work, the US has found ways to provide other services to the poor and the excluded. Not so in Germany, where there are no US style free clinics in Germany either, despite growing numbers of Germans without health insurance. When a single dentist in a major German city spends time and money on providing basic care to the local homeless, that's big national news.

How do the German poor get access to the courts in civil matters?

There is a government program that provides means tested partial relief for legal fees and court costs. And, wouldn't you have guessed, the program is under review to make it "more efficient".

That means the poor person who want to file a suit will have to pay a higher share and the existing criterion "reasonable chance of success" will likely be interpreted in a more restrictive fashion.

They do not have small claims courts here, by the way. And no class action lawsuits.

[Update 5/2015] We recently saw a newspaper report about a group of legal professionals offering pro Bono representation in the city of Cologne. The article said that the maximum value of a claim must not exceed 1 000 Euros for them to take a case. 

Inglorious Basterds

Israeli-American Tuvia Tenenbom facing police investigation for nazi salute at a rally in Germany.

Mr. Tenenbom was at an anti-nazi rally and was trying to get a neo-nazi to talk for an interview. Since neo-nazis are somewhat reluctant to give interviews, Mr. Tenenbom had a hidden mike and schmoozed up to one of them by doing the raised arm thing.

Mr. Neo-nazi saw Mr. Tenenbom was wired for sound and complained to the police about the nazi salute.

Performing the nazi salute is illegal in Germany, with exceptions only for "science and art".

Police in Magdeburg, Germany, are investigating him.

We do not know if police will accept his explanation that this was "impromptu performance art".

The K-landnews team views his methodology as scientific because we was trying to use non-threatening gestures and body language to approach his subject. 
Same approach everybody recommends when you find yourself confronted by strange or dangerous creatures.

We do know there is precedent for displaying nazi stuff in public. For example, you can take flags that have swastikas from a museum (science, maybe) and then display them at the dedication ceremony of a German barracks (must be performance art, right?) without hearing a peep.

A piece of advice to German police: if any Jewish person displays the salute or other paraphernalia from those times, turn you head and look very intently at the gorgeous girl with the tie-dye peace sign a couple of yards over, or lose the clipboard.

The raging grandpas

Old, well educated, financially secure males.

They are, according to recent polls and studies, the driving force behind most of the high-profile public protests in Germany in recent years.

The picture of the old guy with the bloody eye at one of the fierce clashes between police and demonstrators in Stuttgart, Germany, turns out to be representative of a larger image.

The study also finds that protests around internet freedoms, for example, ACTA, are dominated by younger people.

Those who do not like the surge of old activists have coined a derogatory compound "Wutbuerger" (enraged citizens), a term used to dismiss them as idle trouble makers.

Sociologists say these educated folks are used to getting their way, and more or less follow the same path now that they are retired or just before retirement.

We at the K-Landnews have a slightly more enlightened, we think, take on this.

There is a German workplace phrase we consider relevant: leave your conscience at the coat check when you come in, pick it up on the way home.

We prefer to see them more in the tradition of the old silverback gorillas, who, having spent many years doing the hierarchy thing, get some time to pursue a different way of life.

And, looking at all of this, we forecast a strong internet freedom movement that includes older people once the ranks of the older hacktivists become larger.

[Update 5/2015] In recent weeks, we have seen a new round of bashing Wutbuergers. This time, the daily FAZ featured them in an article The rage of the children of peace (aka.  the Boomers), and a few days later, a psychiatrist claims in the same publication that the ranks of Wutbürgers are swelling, and he blames the media and of course the Internet for fostering the trend. Unfortunately, he does not go beyond the assertion that the media and the net are bolstering the perceived trend. He does deserve sympathy, though, because he seems to be a regular target of nasty threats.

The one advantage of huge debt

No more confusion in European press about billions and trillions.

You need to take our word on this one. We had to talk to someone best referred to as "old person" (OP).

OP has the advantage of being German and old enough to remember times when numbers for budgets, company revenue, and debts were so much smaller that a few billions in US dollars was as big as they got.

OP clearly remembers German newspaper articles where they incorrectly talked of "Billionen" in some report about American numbers. German "Billionen" are American trillions.

Such mistakes were not very common but they existed. In recent years, with the Big Numbers, all that has changed. OP says he has not seen any such mishaps for a long time.

So, even if we go bankrupt, at least we will do so knowing our numbers.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The silence of the trains

How the train lost its whistle.

We need to write more about trains, about how the Eurail Pass has gone from a cheap, simple way to travel to an expensive package deal best used by people with a degree in logistics.

But today's post is about the silencing of trains.

There was a recent news article about how trains in the Rhine River Valley had gone silent.

No more blowing the whistle when they approach level crossings, or when they pass a station without stopping, no more whistle in fall when people with heavy packs cross the tracks to take grapes from the few remaining steep slope vineyards to the tractors.

Just silence.

We read with a certain degree of disbelief how the valley folks had been fighting for decades to silence the trains. But, if you think about, it is understandable.

On the few occasions over here when we actually heard a train whistle, the difference in the sound frequency to US trains was striking.

While modern American locomotives sound very similar to the old steam whistle, the trains around here offer ear-piercing frequencies. Maybe a little too effective for the ears of an aging population.

Progress in engineering has also made the locomotives and the train cars much less noisy and rumbling. The ground shaking under your feet a quarter of a mile away from the tracks, that feeling is gone. The thumping noise of the wheels hitting the spaces between track segments, gone.

Not satisfied with their accomplishments, the valley folks are now fighting for noise abatement walls along the tracks.

Their most recent quest is for a tunnel, a huge, many miles long dig designed to simply move the trains away from the river and into a mountain. 
Ask any big infrastructure planner and he will frown and jot down a two digit billion figure the tunnel.

Costs will be shared between the rail network owner and the taxpayer.

If you have a train ride through the romantic part of the Rhine River valley on your bucket list, go soon. Once you are in the tunnel you won't see the Loreley from the train unless the train has onboard wireless access and you can look at Loreley photos on the internet.

Fix & Foxi

Comics - from our Unknown Germany series.

Two amiable, twin foxes were the main characters in Germany's most successful comic book series, published between 1953 and 1994. They were curious, funny, well rounded  protagonists.

One of the lesser known facts around the comics out Mr. Kauka's publishing house is that the graphic artists who created them were a diverse international team with largely southern European background.

Have a look the Wiki KaukaPedia, named after the creator of the fox brothers, Ralf Kauka. Or check out the website Kauka Promedia.

Both are in German, but you get to see the characters!

Fix & Foxi never made it to the United States in comics but according to the Wiki, they were on American chewing gum wrappers for a short time in the 1970s, with their names anglicized to Fix & Foxy.

In case you are learning German. there is an idiomatic colloquial expression, to be "fix und foxi", to be exhausted, or groggy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

"You are not welcome" sign

From our Professional Services Department.

Immigration: Romanian or Bulgarian? You won't like it here, is a Guardian title from 27 Jan.

The article presents the fears of Britain being swept by a wave of new Europeans from Romania and Bulgaria and a number of proposals to deal with this.

To the K-Landnews, the eye-catching concept addressed there is that of "anti-nation branding ads".

No more "Britain is a fantastic place to live: a modern thriving society", instead "it rains all the time", "jobs are scarce", or "trust us, you don't want to be at a hospital emergency room on the weekend", or "streets around here are not paved with gold".

Rolling out the big "You are not welcome" sign is a tradition many societies have pursued at one time or other. Its main evilness is that it excludes the wealthy and the tourists - they are always welcome.

Maybe, just maybe, it is really an acknowledgement of the fact that migrants have shaped history like no other group.

The Roman Empire was built on migration and brought down by it. The British Empire used the forced migration of slavery and was arguably hugely important to the migration streams headed for North America.

But, none of this interests us at the K-Landnews. We find it tremendously funny that the Fear of the Other might bring governments and nations to admit that their current branding is but one sliver of the many facets of any society.

As a hiring tip to our British friends: don't do any anti-nation ads yourselves, you won't be able to suppress that British brand of humor the world enjoys.

Talk to your EU experts, hire some French or some Germans. Their pool of anti-British-nation branding pundits has shrunk, partly through your own doing, but - if the money is right - you'll find enough who are willing to point out whatever may be needed to keep the Others away.

[Update 9/2015] We recently found this report on a 2014 German film about the country's asylum process. The article describes how one (1) applicant goes through the process in an idealized way. The same federal agency, the agency for migration affairs, took a different approach in a 2015 film designed to deter "economic migrants" from the Balkans. In a not very realistic fashion either, says the article.

German chocolate cake

From our Should-Check-Wikipedia-First series.

There is nothing German about German chocolate cake. 

And so it happened that a friend wanted to be nice to a German and made this cake.

The result: "Was ist denn das?"

The question is just one level of politeness below "WTF is this?"

To be fair to all parties involved, there was good natured laugther, and the cake did eventually get eaten, although not without a "man, way too much sugar and fat" comment.

If you want to offer a German a familiar chocolate cake, a Sachertorte, or a Black Forest Cake will do just fine.

As American as apple pie

Shorthand for "quintessentially American" and an apple of discord.

The other day, in the context of our German chocolate cake debate, another big food fight broke out about the idiom "as American as apple pie".

Some jester said: You mean the ApplePi, the old 3.14 patented by Cupertino for use in pie charts?

After the necessary reprimand, we turned our attention back to the baked good known as apple pie.

The baseline argument was: how can we Americans appropriate apple pie despite the fact that it has been around since before we gave it the meaning of quintessentially American?

Isn't pop corn much more American?

Well, if you take it literally, yes, you could say that. But idioms are characterized by the fact that their meaning is "beyond literal", they embody a concept, an image that has only a cursory factual base, if any.

If you want, you can even claim that "as American as apple pie" is quintessentially American not in its "exclusion" (our pie!) but in its inclusion, reflecting American diversity at its finest -- many apple pies came to America from all over the world.

America not so much as a melting pot but as one big Hobart dough mixer!


Swept up by the roomba vacuuming at the CES.

In today's ever faster news cycles, automation of electronic media publishing is a crucial element to organizational survival and profitability.

We decided to publish the outline for a system that can generate run-of-the-mill news reports as reliably as many journalists.

The main components of the ReporterBot system include:

1) Factoid mining using Big Data technology
You know it is big because both words start with a capital letter.

2) Text database software
Packages already in use for "controlled language" authoring environments, for instance, in the airplane industry. These packages only require minor tweaks for use in newsrooms.

3) A cloud computing strength version of sentence generators
You may have encountered precursors in your teens as "management phrase generator" or "office phrase generator".

4) A cheap English-speaking copy editor for the human touch
For languages other than English, local talent can be substituted. For example, East German editors can be employed to handle all news in German.

Does it work?

Yes, some of our blog posts have been generated by an early alpha version of the system. The alpha version consists of working versions of items 1 (commonly referred to as Google) and 4 (a cheap near native editor) of the full system.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Kaputt - social mobility in Germany

A crack in how Germans see themselves.

Phrases like "it's not what you know but who you know", or "it's not what you know but where you come from", can be heard in many countries, including Germany.

Until recently, research seemed to suggest that upward mobility in Germany ranked on par with similar Western countries. Of course, there are the nagging statistics showing low percentages of lower class kids making it to university, but still. The country seemed to be a decent place to move up in life, not a great one, mind you, but good enough for self-congratulatory patting on the back.

But now, there much less encouraging numbers. As published in Die Zeit, some 40 percent of lifetime earnings can be attributed to family background, and for educational achievement, the figure is about 50 per cent.

The German education system is likely to be one culprit. Despite reforms, the system by and large still selects early, making it harder for kids from more modest backgrounds.

The the K-Landnews team more or less agrees that this study reflects reality better than others.
The newsers also agree that life at the bottom of the totem pole in Germany used to be less bad and dangerous than in the US. But with changes in the laws in the past two decades, life at the bottom has become more precarious around here, everyone agrees on that.

My shack is a historical landmark?

The world knows that Germans are photon-crazy, with solar thermal and photovoltaic installations racing from one record year of new capacity to the next.

They modified building regulations to promote installation of small solar facilities, and their subsidies for photovoltaics are legendary and expensive.

Before we make fun of local government again, we want to highlight a brilliant little internet site run by just that local government.

Counties have a "solar register", a map/Google Earth like website that shows how well suited for a solar installation each and every property is.

You enter an address, and you get an aerial photo with roof surfaces marked in colors telling you if a building is perfect, well-suited, somewhat suited or not suited for a solar installation.

The eco-friendly building code changes allow solar installations on pretty much any building that is not in the historical landmark registry of a county.

Much of the old building inventory got destroyed by wars, natural disasters and general stupidity or greed -- "I'm sorry, that wrecking ball was not properly secured, we really meant to preserve that small chapel in the middle of the supermarket parking lot. So sorry." **

But there is lots of old stuff around for the tourists to marvel at and for the locals to finally embrace despite the fact that it is "impractical", or "so much more work to maintain".

So, try to imagine the shock of building owners when they submitted a pro-forma permit application for their swanky new solar installation: denied, reason: historical landmark.

Come on, you are telling me this crooked barn less than one hundred years old is a historical landmark?

Damn it, it's a shed, my grandfather built it, he didn't even have a permit.

Are you out of your minds, you bureaucrats, you!

As it turned out, the county's register of historical landmarks had quietly undergone steady inflation. Nobody had noticed because nobody had told the property owners.

Only a permit application would bring it to light.

This unintended side effect of the race to solar was, in the end, quite beneficial. The fact that many buildings had been added to the register only recently and the number of complaints did, let's say, facilitate trimming of the landmark register.

** True story. The machinist refused to do as told, so the decidedly more clumsy company owner himself mounted the rig and did what needed to be done.

[Update 9/2015] added ** true story text.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Lies, damn lies, and project managers

Devising the title of this post was very difficult, and we are not fully satisfied with the result.

Standing in the doorway and hearing the project manager (PM) say into the phone: "One of my engineers had a bereavement in the family", our informant noted this was the third time in as many months.

"Do your engineers just attract bad luck, or is there something else wrong with their families?"

The PM gave smiled briefly, then asked: "So, what can I do for you?"

Reports about the new airport in Berlin, which we claim could be made into a full-on spaceport for just a handful of extra euros, made mention of project planning mistakes and an "overly optimistic" approach to the project.

The K-Landnews project management experts were unanimous in their condemnation, "whoever wrote this has never managed a project other than a self-promotion project in their whole lives".

Our experts did not deny that bad planning is just that, bad planning.

But, if your only timeout is an act of god, don't blame the project manager.

Going beep, beep

Let's call metal detecting in Germany a niche hobby instead of a wingnut pursuit.

As a research-free blog, we do not have numbers,  but given that there are small shop owners here who can eek out a living selling metal detectors at reasonable prices, we assume this is an under reported German sport.

As in other areas, the local Americans had a lot to do with making it popular.  Going off base and into the woods waving that upside down walking stick with a coil at the bottom is still widespread, as internet forums attest.

So, a K-landnews team decided to go treasure hunting. We found some items that are treasures to us but not to anybody else.

And we unearthed German legal constructs we deem outright feudal. Metal detecting is regulated on the state level and vastly different from state to state. Some states are pretty cool about ownership of finds, others have medieval laws on the book, making everything you find state property.

Modern maps and GPS technology notwithstanding, a surprising number of artifacts are found just beyond the stateline, conveniently inside in a "finders, keepers" or "finders, good reward" jurisdiction.

The Nebra Skydisk made International headlines several years ago and highlighted the feudal legal constructs in some German states. Discovery of the disk and an ensuing court battle illustrate just how bad it can get.

Even in a state like ours, where any find belongs to the state, the laws are only enforced for items of archeological importance if you report them.

Luckily for us, the Romans lived here for half a millennium and were prolific discarders and wasters of things metal. Bronze coins and iron nails are bountiful and of zero interest to the state government hoarders.

Anticipation being half the fun, we spent hours pouring over local maps and historical records. So, even before we ventured out in mild summer weather, we had learned a lot.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Political dynasties

Do they exist in Germany?

With the US general elections safely behind us, the German media have moved on, which means that only half the daily news has something to do the the US.

One aspect of stateside politics people here find fascinating is that the Americans have a number of flamboyant political dynasties, with the Kennedys, of course, being the first one that comes to mind. The Bush clan would be next, with the Romney clan not far behind.

The next thing people here will tell you is that Germany does not have political dynasties.

True, if your yardstick are the Kennedys and the Bushes, true also given the historic upheavals and the more recent fall of the Wall and all this.

Not true if you look closer. There are high ranking officials from prominent political families, for example, the current defense secretary de Maizière, or the Liberal Party politician Lambsdorff, and others.

The big question is whether children going into the same field as their parents should be viewed differently in politics than in other sectors, for instance,  the third generation teacher, policeman, or architect.

One more facetious argument out of the K-Landnews newsroom about the relative absence of political dynasties in Germany was "well, there are no term limits, so daddy or mommy can hold on to a particular job for a generation or more. There are plenty of jobs for the kids in public entities, like television or other politically controlled institutions."

[Update 5/2015] The German media have been covering the announcements of candidates for the U.S. presidential race of 2016 and brought up the term "dynasty" once again in their portrayal of the Clinton versus Bush angle.

Here's to you, Mrs. Doyle

Mrs. Doyle of Craggy Island fame, not the namesake pub in Spain.

As an introduction, here is a quote from the Wikipedia synopsis of the show "Father Ted":
"The show follows the misadventures of three Roman Catholic priests who live in a parish on the fictional Craggy Island, located off the west coast of Ireland. Father Ted Crilly, Father Dougal McGuire and Father Jack Hackett live chaotically together in Craggy Island's parochial house, along with their housekeeper Mrs Doyle, who always wants to serve them tea."

Of all characters, it was Mrs. Doyle, who has proven to be an inspiration in dark times, and the Wikipedia page does not do her justice.

Yes, her tea making skills may be unrivaled in modern English language comedy, leaving the ever brewing Mrs. Bucket from Keeping Up Appearances in the dust of a mild Irish summer day.
But Mrs. Doyle was so much more than a caricature of an elderly Irish housekeeper.
Between a drunk, an intellectually challenged, and a just nice guy trio of priests,  she kept the house on the craggy island in shape and never despaired.

When stormy weather on Craggy Island damaged the roof of the parish house, Mrs. Doyle became the honorary roofer.
The camera shots through the parish window of Mrs. Doyle climbing up a ladder outside to repair yet another leak, while the men inside talked alcohol or religion, or both.

The shot of her climbing up was always followed, seconds later, by a shot of her falling off that roof.
Still, she would climb up that ladder again, a Greek tragedy on a small hibernian island.

A K-landnews contributor used to end numerous PowerPoint presentations in front of an Irish audience with the example of Mrs. Doyle.

We try, we fail, we try again, over and over, like Mrs. Doyle.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Dirndl-Gate: learning by not doing

Harassment training the German way.

A good story needs a name. The K-landnews decided to call  it Dirndl-Gate, after the breast focused Bavarian traditional dress mentioned in the reports about the events.

Mentioned as in "you've got the body for a dirndl" or so.

If you have read a German newspaper or an online publication within the last week, you have received a free harassment training course.

The advice columns are overflowing with information about what constitutes harassment, what victims can do, what counterattacks to expect from the perp. In an article in Die Zeit online, the English terms for these counterattacks are sprinkled into the German text.

Which indicates the origin of current German law and thinking with respect to sexual harassment.

Originally kicked off by German magazine Der Stern, allegations of sexism toward female Stern journalists by a senior politician made it into the Uber-tabloid Bild Zeitung.

A general anti-discrimination law has been on the books in Germany since 2006, prohibiting the usual: no discrimination because of race, gender, sexual orientation, origin, age, and religion.

Our take on this piece of legislation is: well, they are kind of trying. It has aged like Swiss cheese, though, just as folks fired from their job for nothing more than getting divorced.

The defense strategy with regard to the old man and the young journalists has worked.  His party colleagues stand by him and point out that, first, this was not really serious, and second, sexism is everywhere.

It is.

More blogging lessons learned

Some numbers after passing 1000 page hits.

In the run up to the magic number of 1000 pageviews, we paid attention to usage statistics.
Three primary observations are, in our opinion, worth noting.

1)  Nobody reads your blogger profile
Okay, "nobody" is exaggerated, but with way under half of one  percent of the number of views, you may just want to save yourself the effort.

Since you probably haven't read the profile, we repeat one statement here:  we at the K-landnews do not track you, we like you in all your anonymous glory.

2) Work hours and late nights
People seem to like reading our blog at work and late at night.  If you are an employer, do not discourage this. Your employees are happier and more productive after an uplifting read.

3) The current month is where you get the views
Live in the moment applies to blogs as well, it appears. The posts of the current month get the views. Once all these titles you painstakingly nurtured and polished fold under the "<LastMonthName> (#ofPosts)" item, they hardly attract any more eyes.
Our blog is still young, but for November and December, our ballpark share of views for posts from the previous month is below 5 percent.

What's the deal with real and fake Pageviews?
Those pageviews are not all real page views, where a person sits in front of a screen and reads your stuff.
Everybody in the software industry knows how difficult it is to get a true count of the number of times your pages have been viewed. The software packages used to get those numbers as well as most favorite pages, the origin of your visits, and the like fall under the "analytics" category. All packages come with a disclaimer telling you the the numbers you get from different packages will invariable be different.

A big source of "not real" page views are automated readers and "scrapers".
You will see hits from several "stats" websites, like vilainstats or uglystats. Do not click on them. These guys generate traffic to their sites in this manner, and the sites have zero "content".

Our estimate of fake "views" from sites like this is about 10%.

Then there are other automated views from sites that take your posts to generate "content", which in turn generates traffic for them and ad revenue.  
We have not been able to quantify these in a very reliable manner because the source displayed in the analytics program does not match the website address where a post ends up.
Nevertheless, we peg the number of posts used by scrapers at no more than 3 percent.

Displayed number of pageviews - 20% looks like a more realistic number.

That cheating dog

A Siberian Husky, not a thinly veiled post about greedy officials or dumb boyfriends.

Here is the story as told to the K-landnews.

We had this Siberian Husky, and he was one cool dog. Very child friendly, I'll tell you about this another time. I can't recall how many old towels he shredded when we played tug of war, with me spinning around so fast that he was completely in the air, holding on to the towel with his powerful jaws, not one of his legs touching the ground, and I have no idea how many times we had to wash the beast with the garden hose after he ducked under the electric fence of the nearest cow pasture.

We had moved into a house on a fairly quiet residential street. The yard was fenced in, and the dog would spend some time out there without doing that sled dog thing: either burrow under or climb over any fence, just for the heck of it.

Everything was fine, the dog would have his walks, and he had taken to a regular schedule for pee-pee breaks in the backyard.

At 12 noon sharp, he would ask to be let out of the side door of the kitchen, turn right and head for the backyard.

He was getting old, was more settled, and he started to put on a few extra pounds.

Which we counteracted by putting him on a diet. When he failed to lose weight, we reduced the amount of food further.

Imagine our surprise when he was weighed the next time, and we found he had gained instead of lost weight.

Then one day, I let him out for his high noon pee break, and for no reason I can recall, I did not immediately turn around and go back into the house. I closed the door and stood there for a second longer than normal.

And what did I see?

The dog was coming the other way, passed the door, heading for the street.

I waited a little, opened the door and stepped outside.

There he was, his head over the fence, and five or six little hands were offering up sandwiches.

He had not only figured out the schedule of the kindergardeners returning home, but he had also developed an effective way around our prohibition: no food from anybody.

Go out, turn right, check if human was gone, do a U-turn and head for the kids.

We had a chat with the kids and the dog, and that was the end of it.

A few months later, the vet was happy with the dog's weight loss, and we had learned a lesson.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Holy Miles & More

Jesus would fly coach, says the FAB.

The Bishop and the 8th Commandment, in der Spiegel Online of 24 Jan. 2013 is a great read, in German, so ask your local German speaker to translate.

The K-landnews team never misses an opportunity to punch holes in a Spiegel story, for example, our post "Welcome Home" did just that.

This time, however, we highly recommend the story about how Der Spiegel reported that a German bishop flew First Class to India to help the poor.
 The story was also picked up in other media reports at the time.

If we understand the lawyers' letters, the sworn statement, the threats, the court proceedings, correctly, it was just one holy misunderstanding, somewhat like this:
The bishop was supposed to fly only in Business Class when his travel companion, the Generalvikar, pulled out his private bonus miles, added a few euros and got them an upgrade to First Class.

So, it looks like the bishop flew Business Class but had a seat in First Class because the guy next to him upgraded both.

We had a couple of open questions.
We asked our Former Altar Boy (FAB), and here is what he said:
Why not Coach, is it because the hat is too big for the overhead bin in Coach? 
And could the HowTo folks on the Internet do a short article about how bonus miles work with respect to "private" miles?

The fifth season

The Nickname for the carnival season in Germany.

The roadside signs and billboards announcing carnival festivities appeared out of nowhere. 
That should not surprise us because it happens every year in the middle of January.

But they always catch us off guard. Are we just not paying attention, or can be blame it on mild hibernation after Christmas? We'll see next year.

The period between November 11 and Ash Wednesday is the carnival season, and around here they call it the fifth season. Doesn't that sound like a great title for a French art film that nobody would watch?

The official start of the fifth season is on 11 November, at 11:11.

If you know your history or have watched Steven Spielberg's "War Horse", you may recall that November 11, 11 o'clock, marked the end of World War I.

The two are as unrelated as can possibly be, the juxtaposition is what it is.

Although, in the spirit of outrageousness, wouldn't it be fun to imagine the spiked helmet brigade in the negotiations going: "Can we finish up on 11 November, and make that before  11:11, so we can go and put on the carnival uniforms?"

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hangover delight

From our who Would-Have-Thunk department.

The desk phone rang at 9 AM, and the receptionist informed the manager M. that Peter, one of M's team members, had just called to let them know he would be late on this Monday morning.

He said, he'll be in by noon, then she chuckled, he says he has a raging hangover.

M. thanked the receptionist, shook his head and continued his work. A short time later, M.'s boss stormed into the office.

Did reception call you to tell you Peter was going to be late because of a hangover? The man was fuming, a hangover! Late for work because of a hangover, imagine! I'll grab his sorry ass, and I'll tear him a new one!

M. said, I understand. But let me take care of that, he's my guy, I'll make sure it won't happen again.

The rest of the morning was uneventful.  Peter arrived at around noon as announced, with an apologetic smile on a still slightly greyish face.

The receptionist warned me that I had caused quite a stir, he added.

Yes, you could say that, M. responded. My boss came in here pretty upset, but I convinced him I'd take care of that.

I am sorry for getting hung over, Peter explained, and I wanted to let you know I'd come, but be late.

Okay, now, I need to tell you something. I really, really appreciate you not making excuses when you called. I value honesty, so please don't worry.  But other people around here have very different views. So, can we agree that next time, if there is a next time, you just tell them you don't feel well, had some bad seafood, or something. But you can still give me the real reason, okay?

The agreement made, M. told his own manager that he had had a pointed conversation with Peter, and that expectations were now clear.

What happened next, came as a surprise to M. The back story was that Peter had not been an easy person to work with, easily frustrated, withdrawn, not very flexible. In fact, M. considered Peter to be his most problematic employee.

Which made the transformation of Peter all the more spectacular. His demeanor changed so quickly and so thoroughly that the whole company of 150 people noticed. Post-hangover Peter was outgoing, friendly, and flexible, and became a joy to work with.

Several years later, long after their ways had parted, M. and Peter met again at a private function of a common acquaintance. They laughed about this singular incident, and Peter told M., you know, you are the best manager I've ever had.

As you can see, M. thinks of these events now and then.

Goodbye EU - welcome 51st state of the US

Britain to hold referendum on EU. Cliffhanger -- to be continued after 2015 general election.

This one is going to be good, years of debate are assured. We at the K-landnews have asked around for opinions, and all we got was "again?", "who cares".

The K-landnews is a forward thinking publication. As such, we asked our contributors to write two hypothetical statements from an American point of view, one statement covering Britain leaving the EU, the other Britain staying in.

Strangely enough, we have so far only received the one about Britain leaving the EU.

Dear British Friends,

Four score and a few years, or is that three score and a few years, nah, whatever, let's start this over.

Welcome to your manifest destiny as the 51st state of the United States of America.

Your path to becoming the state that Puerto Rico cannot be will be marked by a double divorce. You accomplished the first part, the divorce from reality, some time ago, and you have just finished the divorce from the EU.

We will gladly have you back, especially after the heroic feats of your finance wizards ca. 2008. You took it upon yourselves to execute the dirty financial deals we could not do in New York, bravo.

And the French, have you noticed that the TGV London to Paris conductors  really do not like you?
They always wait until they get out of Liege before they proudly announce the speed of the train!

And the French near St. Malo, oh, wait, they are not that French, so, the "French" near St. Malo still cannot forget a few mishaps of maritime history.

And the other guys, we fought them on the beaches, we fought them in the air, and - and elsewhere, okay that even rhymes. It's been what, almost 70 years, and they have not lifted as much as finger to invade again, sore losers.

You know, America is becoming an island, too. And we could definitely use your isles' numbers to help us bring down the gun violence statistics. Our demographics in recent years have suffered from not having enough old white men, your entrance into the United States would remedy that in one fell swoop. We'll take your Indians, too, they are good Indians, right? The ones that live in the area where your train station signs are bi-lingual, English and Hindi?

The Europeans will never understand you, just look at what they have done to our shared language. The EU documents are English words in a twisted straightjacket of French grammar, what  else are they planning? And the childish fun they have pointing out that your public schools are private, and them snickering about school uniforms.

They don't get it that there is a class of people destined to shop at Waitrose, and that there is another class destined to shop at Tesco.

Being the 51st state would also give you an opportunity to apologize for slavery, which you brought us first, and then you split, and we ended up fighting a horrific war over it - remember?

There are two minor things, though. We are now bigger and stronger, and we promise not to bully you, but you need to promise not to throw temper tantrums, like Maggie's foot stomping antics, okay?

When you sign the papers, we'll need to have a quick word about the monarchy, you won't mind, will you? 

An American friend.

[Update 23 Jan]
It has been brought to the attention of the K-Landnews team that there are significant human ties between EU countries and Britain. One of Germany's most read authors is of British origin and writes in German; then there is the state prime minister they call Merkel's Mac; there is another widely known official named Montgomery; there is actress Alex Kingston, and there are many more unknowns. As an interim measure after accepting Britain as the 51st US state, we would suggest all of these be given unlimited H1B visas (Habeas 1 Brit visas).

The sex of elevator voices

Elevator sex: Not sex in the elevator but the sex of an elevator, more specifically the elevator voice.

With Ms. Siri seducing so many Apple product owners, there has been discussion about the gender of voices used in digital devices but the common elevator gets short shrift.

The K-landnews received a tip about this one particular elevator in the San Francisco, CA, financial district which made us believe that gravity is defied in this building multiple times a day.

Says our tipster: "I am male, and the elevator voice is a female voice. Big deal, but wait. The elevator lady has the most soothing, sultry and, well, most sexy voice I have heard in my life. I went there to drop off a letter, and I can tell you, the voice is like a whole body experience. Imagine, you are alone in that closed elevator, and you hear that voice for the first time. It's, it's like a vocal equivalent of a satin sheet. 

And the speaker system in the elevator is, I swear, surround sound, not like these ancient, creaky, tinny speakers in one of the top corners. No, this one bathes you in sound. 

Once I came back down, all I wanted was to turn around and go straight back up. And I'm not the only one, not the first one. 

As I halted, thinking about another ride, I caught the security guard's eye. And, you don't have to believe me, but his look said 'I know what you are thinking, and you don't want to do that' - so I didn't. I left, and as I stepped out onto the street, there was this longing, this craving. It took days until I stopped trying to figure out ways to get my hands on another letter to deliver to this place."

Anybody knows the address of the building?

We'd try it out whenever we make to the Bay Area.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Beyond the lard belt

Seriously cheap German real estate.

City dwellers in Germany, as elsewhere, justifiably complain about soaring rents and ever higher real estate prices. Berlin, the capital city, has biting gentrification issues in the formerly dirt cheap hip areas that once belonged to East Germany.
Local councils in Berlin are even fighting gentrification by modifying building ordinances, making a second bathroom or a bidet next to impossible to approve.

At the opposite end of all this is the world outside of the suburban "lard belt" (Speckgürtel).

Smaller cities are seeing an increasing number of empty houses, much of this due to an aging population. In some places, you could think you are in Detroit, Michigan, although nothing around here comes even close to the disaster areas of Detroit.

Cities and towns buy derelict properties that simply won't find buyers and turn them into parking lots or green spaces.

In the center of our town, we have identified four buildings bought up for next to nothing by the town. One lot is now a small, cute green space, two are parking lots, the last one - torn down just weeks ago - seems to be awaiting a decision.

One of the nice effects of this is that we get decent sidewalks. Many small town have pretend sidewalks, or "sidewalks in name only". Only the skinniest of citizens can take them. And, guess what, the Germans are not getting thinner. The population numbers remain more or less the same, but the gross weight of the population is creeping up -- so there is a real need for better sidewalks.

Why would I want to buy something like that, you ask?

You wouldn't.

What you do want are the houses that are real bargains, solid construction, in good shape but just a few minutes off the beaten path.

We recently came across a listing that features a 1960s villa overlooking the scenic canyon part of the Rhine River. It was offered for around 120 K euros (150 K USD) and came on about 2 acres of land.

Take into account that zoning in that area has been tightened to the degree that no amount of money will get you a permit to build on undeveloped land, and you have an incredibly sweet deal with a view to kill for.

After seeing this, we looked around a bit and found many, many more bargain houses.

Now, we are wondering why all the Chinese money goes to Canada or the US. Okay, that is rhetoric, we know why. Still, bargain real estate in Germany is there for the taking.

Waiting on going forward

From our impurist language archives.

Have you ever felt someone was being way too much of a purist with words?

Did you then think to yourself, I am so glad I am not that person?

Have you ever read something and thought, wtf is this person doing with my language?

Welcome to the club.

There are many irritating conversations, and they irritate for different reasons or for no obvious reason at all.

The two phrases that will drive TheEditor at the K-landnews up the nearest wall like a trapped feral cat are the subject of this post. It is no coincidence that their use in the workplace is more irritating to TheEditor than other usages, say, in sitcoms.

I'm waiting on my manager.

No, you are not unless you are seriously brown nosing. Generally, you are waiting for your lazy ass manager to show up at the weekly meeting.

You are waiting on him, or her, if you offer to go get coffee or tea or to do any other chores to keep the top doggie from biting off your head.

Going forward, we should...

[Loud scratching noises of TheEditor going up nearest wall, accompanied by frightening hissing sounds]

There is not a single documented instance in which "going forward" was used honestly to talk about the future.

Going forward has only one meaning:
We all know that I messed up, but you will not talk about this because I am the boss, so eat it! And I will not talk about my mistake because you cannot make me, and so!

TheEditor recalls with a mixture of amusement and rage the last time he was given the "going forward" treatment. The boss would start a sentence with "going forward" and then invariably turn to reasoning why the recent events were not his but TheEditor's fault.

TheEditor says he was grateful to the bad seafood he must have had the night before: "My stomach was so upset, I felt I would vomit every second. Being so focused on suppressing the puke reflex made it appear to the boss that I was totally neutral and calm. When he used "going forward" for the fifth or sixth time, I was tempted to let go and dump a load of semi-digested shrimp over that shrimp. But I held back. And I am proud of it. The bastard is still in his job, costing the company every year at least ten times his salary in fucked up projects and self promotion."

So, do we see some bitterness here? Could it be that "the shrimp" isn't such a shrimp after all? It's all good, the shrimp is fully tax deductible.

And remember, language is a just set of conventions -- so, if you want to rename blue to balitist or whatever...

Go home Fritz

Franco-German Friendship Treaty turns 50 today.

Hailed as an enormous accomplishment, the 22 Jan. 1963 treaty is regarded as a milestone in Franco-German relations after WW II.

Talk about a crisis in Franco-German relations in the face of the debt/euro/unemployment situation can be found just as readily as reports with some more historical depth.

The main K-landnews contributors live in a region that went back a couple of times between France and Germany in the last two centuries or so. To many folks here, the sidewalk (German: Bürgersteig) continues to be a French trottoir, only the emphasis on the first "o" making it German. Some living rooms still have portraits of Napoleon, so we hear.

After two World Wars in less than 100 years, the border between France and Germany today has fewer checkpoints than the Oregon California border, where every southbound vehicle gets stopped and checked for vegetables, fruit and plants.

Cross border comedy is doing fine, and the French even have a successful rapper (fr.: rappeur) named Helmut Fritz, whose completely fabricated biography you can read here.

The man was born and raised French and is so utterly convincing that some of his more critical songs attracted "go home Fritz" chants.

In case you wonder what the Germans do about the fried potato strips that caused such outrage in the US, no need to worry.

The taters do not have a country of origin in their German name, which is simply their native name "Pommes Frites" (deep fried potatoes)  or "Pommes" or "Fritten", or -- we are not making this up -- sound like "Pommes Fritz".

We'll celebrate with  "Laissez les bons temps rouler!"

Monday, January 21, 2013

Job enrichment

Celebrating DSM-5. the future of psychiatric diagnosis. with Global Search and Replace on a document.

Job enrichment: extending the scope of a job, adding new fields or activities; also derog.: adding busy work.

The objectives of this tutorial are: 
First, establish that job enrichment is to humans what environmental enrichment is to pets.
Next, cite a couple of real life examples.

We found this definition of environmental enrichment on the web:
Environmental enrichment is simply supplying different ‘stimuli’ for your animals to react or interact with in an attempt to make their environment more interesting. By supplying these different and novel ‘things’, you will greatly benefit your animals mental well being by giving them additional mental exercise. Hopefully this in turn may avert the development of some problem behaviors as many such problems can occur when animals are bored and under stimulated.

Here is the result of replacing "animals" with "psychiatrists"
Environmental enrichment is simply supplying different ‘stimuli’ for your psychiatrists to react or interact with in an attempt to make their environment more interesting. By supplying these different and novel ‘things’, you will greatly benefit your psychiatrists mental well being by giving them additional mental exercise. Hopefully this in turn may avert the development of some problem behaviors as many such problems can occur when psychiatrists are bored and under stimulated.

Here is the result of replacing "animals" with "government agencies"
Environmental enrichment is simply supplying different ‘stimuli’ for your government agencies to react or interact with in an attempt to make their environment more interesting. By supplying these different and novel ‘things’, you will greatly benefit your government agencies mental well being by giving them additional mental exercise. Hopefully this in turn may avert the development of some problem behaviors as many such problems can occur when government agencies are bored and under stimulated.

Now that we have a concise description of job enrichment for government agencies, we go to the examples section.

One off the cuff example for job enrichment in the United States could be the recently reported coverage of the Occupy movement by a well-known federal agency.
Occupy was certainly "different and novel", probably a "more interesting environment", and agencies "reacted or interacted" with that great enthusiasm seen around the world in news out of Oakland, CA.

In Germany, you could consider the fact the the domestic secret service has a number of elected members of parliament under observation a well-intended attempt at job enrichment as described above. In addition to "different, novel, etc.", we can also discern a strong color 'stimulus' in the fact that the parties of most of these politicians are associated with the colors "red" or "black", probably the most politically and sexually stimulating colors around.

On second thought, this whole blog post could be cited as an example of job enrichment.

Why is DSM-5 so cool? Because, looking at the trend of more disorders, we will, by DSM-10, all be certifiably crazy and on meds.

Size matters

Mega is better, says Mr. Dotcom.

Just when we were ready to claim that Germans are not that good at PR, along comes the Dot, invalidating just about every snide comment we had assembled about the PR and the Germans topic.

We are not giving you the link to the new Mega service because we could not connect to it.

Instead, we give you the Independent's 10 Things you did not know and the Guardian Mega spectacle article.

Trust the K-landnews to dissect the most well written articles, so here goes.

The intro in the Guardian reads "Bravado and buffoonery at Auckland event", which we, acknowledged specialists in the provision and distribution of internet venom, did in fact like.

What we do not like is that the Dot gets the "bravado and buffoonery" finger where other company launch events or annual shows get a much milder description.

We at the K-landnews do not see any difference, other than the number of stone, between the Dot and, say, the LPOD.

So, friends, next time the LPOD gets an Olympic champ on the stage to make the audience feel special, then follows up the act with ye prehistoric rock band and a big speech about how the competition sucks, especially these Germans, please, oh please, use "bravado and buffoonery" when you report on the event.

A word of wisdom to the Dot from a great old man: 
I used to dress up as a Fool, and the cops would beat me up at every demonstration. Then I changed the costume and became a Clown. And I found, cops don't beat up Clowns.

Fame happens

Our most famous contributor would barely make a Z-list, but that is no impediment to a blogger.

The stranger who stops on the street and greets you like an old friend. Fame can be like that, only more so, a lot more.

It is the friend who calls and cheerfully asks if you are aware of a  new textbook where some of your stuff is used, or the unknown editor leaving you a voice mail saying that you need to call back urgently because they want to publish that unsolicited article and will bump another author in order to get yours in.

Which makes your competitive girlfriend so upset over your success that she goes on a month long sex strike.

Yes, a small amount of fame is fun, except for that girlfriend thing. Sadly, a true story.

That famous contributor of ours tells of the nuisance factor of fame, of way too many people gushing about "that one video". Making you part of their lives, maybe at a time when you haven't even remotely figured out what your life is or should be.

Another friend has less to worry from strangers and a lot more from someone who was a friend. Ferocious "comments" and blogs by this former friend turned up everywhere in a web search. As outlandish and crazy as much of that stuff was, at some point even the FBI asked our friend for a chat.

That's the sort of "fame happens" events, where "fame" just might have replaced another four letter word.

And then there is the heartwarming saga of The Great Rodriguez, the story of a musician from Detroit who became bigger in South Africa than Elvis, yet remained unknown in the U.S. until some South Africans for whom his music had been the soundtrack of their revolution found him.

The film "Searching for Sugar Man" is nominated for an Oscar, and Rodriguez is booked for Coachella, California, and Glastonbury, England.

Huffing and puffing

"7 hippie companies that are not as liberal as you think".

Like small children who enjoy scaring themselves, we enjoy, at times, to huff and puff about a piece of "we all need to feed the family" journalism.

You don't have to look very hard to find food for mockery, and we have selected a Huffington Post  slideshow "7 Hippie Companies That Aren't As Liberal As You Think" as today's subject of derision.

We won't dignify the slideshow with a response beyond the first on their list: the Whole Foods grocery empire.

Our German readers, please do not fault us for not having a German equivalent company name. The best we can do off-hand is something like a slightly less pricey and snobby Kaefer (Munich).

"Whole Foods" is also known to everybody as "Whole Paycheck", so no more about prices.
The boss of Whole Food has been known for Big Words, accusing politicians he does not like as socialist or fascist -- the same politician can be issued one of these ever so accurate labels, depending on the year and the male hormonal cycle of Mr. Whole Foods.

How does a company like this make a "hippie" list, you ask?

Because they were the first [TheEditor: we did not fact check this] major grocery in the US that sold organic food and other healthy stuff on a large scale.

Which earned them the hippie label. Which will lead to another post about hippies and money.

So, just as you learned in school and see in politics every day, you take one little attribute, blow it up the the approximate size of a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon, and you have a subject to write about.

It won't make you enough money to go shop at Whole Foods, but that's not the point.

We still like the Huffington Post and its spunky founder Ariana, by the way.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Time travel with the K-landnews

Just returned from the year 2004, travel with us!

Another successful first for the team, we are confident that we can repeat the short trip through time at will.

It was a little eerie, one minute we were sitting on the couch, the next, we were sitting on the couch!

Proof of the trip is below, we copied it from a search results list and did not make any changes.

The weather was okay, thanks for asking. - Google Search - Page2RSS
Dec 4, 2004 – 1 minute ago by krautnewseditor. A transatlantic view of the world by the not-so-innocents abroad. Bloggers to ...

What we learned blogging

Here is a summary of what we learned so far.

The main point: No blogging guidelines quite prepare you for the real experience.

So, in no particular order, here are some individual aspects of note.

1) Sustained blogging requires effort
Everybody can write twenty posts, but putting something out there every day does require a little bit of work. Make some drafts to be prepared for mental dry spells.

2) Reader comments can drive a blogger nuts
But only if you let them. The first comment we received was about the Eurocrats and Novel Foods post. The comment pointed out the placebo effect and gave a helpful link to a description of the placebo effect.

We deleted the comment.

Blatant censorship?

No! We make mistakes, we cannot know everything. can we say this without offending someone....we have an amount of brainpower that many other blogs may not have.
Yet, our intellectual blind spots are many and varied, please point them out to us, and we let your comments live.

In the Eurocrats post, our observation of the properties of Muna tea were waaaay beyond a one time phenomenon and based on stringent methodologies that would put some pharmaceutical studies to shame. That prowess, however, was not the point of the post -- the point was that we are protected from irregularities in a 50 K dollars a year Muna market but that no one gives a s**** in, for example, the Billion Dollar printer ink market.

3) Nudity and religion still work, but digs at "FamousCompanyNameHere" are just as good
No further explanation needed.

 4) Social networks increase our audience
Once we went on Twitter, our audience doubled. Facebook also gave us a boost. We ditched Facebook right away, though.

5) Asynchronous processing is a challenge
If you really understand this numbered list item, I mean the part before "is a challenge", hey, we are glad to have you and hope you won't feel lonely on this blog.
Setting up a daisy chain from your blog through twitterfeed and to social networks is easy. Realizing that, if you select, say hourly update, only the last post published in that hour will actually appear on the social site may take some time.

6) It feels good to speak our mind
With the qualifier "if you are in a laid back, safe, G8 (7, or 7.5) or so place". Individual results may vary if you hail from a different location.

7) The world does not revolve around us
Which is a really good thing, because it would be very wobbly and uncomfortable for everybody.

8) As a blogger, we can learn something
It may be as trivial as finally learning that the Dalai Lama is a spiritual leader whereas Tony Lama is a brand of consumer goods. Or as cool as seeing the Lithuanian Olympic Basketball Team in their Grateful Dead tie-dyes.

8) The Simpsons are still funny
And we find it so nice that they had a short "in memory of Huell Howser" in their credits.

As a novice blogger, you may experience a slightly heady, euphoric feeling after your first couple of blogs, and then again after the first one hundred or so page views.

These are completely normal symptoms of blogging or other public activity, and they should subside after a week or two.

If the symptoms persist, discontinue blogging immediately and seek professional assistance.

Davos chief criticizes CEO pay

K-Landnews announces fix for socially conscious CEOs!

The head of the Davos economic forum says that company chiefs should not earn more than twenty times of what their lowest paid employees get.

Does this sound unrealistic to you?

The K-Landnews economic advisory board has a fix for the socially conscious CEO:

Make all your employees cheap contractors, retain only your secretary as an employee, and pay her one million dollars a year.

That gets several birds [sorry Ms. Secretary, it is a figure of speech] with one stone.

The enterprising chief still gets a 20 million dollar a year paycheck and can claim a 100% female employee base plus vastly superior income of all female employees.
Since the sweepstake offered in our post "MA LSV: Candystorm & Shitstorm" did not have any winners, we renew it here.

The first CEO who pledges to accept the policy set forth by our economic advisory board will win the One Dollar Susan B. Anthony coin, minus shipping and handling fees.

My boss the psychopath

Pssst, my boss does not know about this post.

Science has finally caught up with the knowledge the downtrodden have held for centuries.

According to a recent study that made headline news, bosses, CEOs, have a higher rate of psychopaths among them than the general population.

What the news did not say is: we believe this to be true also for many, many other great leaders. Great is not a value judgement here, all it means is that history books and websites list them as great.

The team at the K-Landnews has discussed two obvious questions from these findings:

1) What can we do with the findings, is there any practical use?
2) How long before another study comes out and contradicts this one?

The answer to question 2 is we do not know.  We do know that we all have had moments when we finally accepted a scientific study as a launch point for change to some habit or other - only to open the papers the next day and find it squarely contradicted.

For fans of conspiracy theories, here is a starting point for another one: the list of the 10 professions with above average psychopath levels includes some with lots of money, some with a lot of influence, hence, how about "they are already busy deflecting the findings and discrediting the study". If you don't like this one, you'll have to find a conspiracy angle yourself, we don't do conspiracies very well at the K-Landnews, sorry.

The answer to question 1 includes "write a post about it". We are more than halfway through the post and still at a loss. Further suggestions in the newsroom included "instigate a campaign to get the South Park dream team to do an episode on this".

That one was shot down immediately: Come on, is there *any* episode of South Park without a psycho boss?

Another associate said: Write a human interest story about personal experiences with a psychopath boss.

That one was dunked with: Might just as well suggest a story about the Earth not being flat, nobody wants any more of that.

Slowly, reluctantly, TheEditor caved in and resumed its* search for more useless but fun puns in the daily avalanche of internet information.

* TheEditor insists on gender neutrality. Mainly to tick people off.

Linguistic side effects for foreigners - German Gemuetlichkeit is a con

"May cause heightened awareness of language" - this warning label should come with every glossy brochure in the ten-pound package of paper meted out by international moving company reps.

This warning is easy to agree on. There should be others, though, for instance "May engender false linguistic friends", or - specifically for countries like Germany - "New language may cause insomnia and depression".

As handy as these awareness pointers are, you will invariably get that comic book like feeling of a 2-foot-diameter speech bubble hanging over your head with only a huge, fat, sublimely rounded,  Uber-question mark inside.

What triggers it, will depend on happenstance, but one of our favorites is "mein Handy ist kaputt".

A cell phone is handy, no doubt, but calling the contraption  a "Handy", it's question mark time for us!

So, somewhere along the way of linguistic awareness, we are taught that concepts expressed by words are sometimes so unique that they do not translate. That German "Gemuetlichkeit" is still floating around in this mental space, making many students resign themselves to the fact that they are forever excluded from experiencing that specific German feeling of comfort, coziness and home which babies around here suckle up as Gemuetlichkeit.

Our view is that "Gemuetlichkeit" is just a con for gullible foreigners: an Uber-Ersatz concept that is totally kaput.

Learning a new language does pose a challenge to your brain, to the muscles of your jaw and mouth and to many concepts you hold dearly, but many of the typical examples given for that are just dead wrong.

Language spans the arc from the inanely practical to the far out abstract, the dark matter of philosophical treatise. Here's the secret: no single person masters all of it.

Sure, the formal and informal versions of "you" are difficult, and some German words are as long and as painful as a bullwhip, but you can still get by pretty darn well with some sustained effort on duolingo. For free.

The hole in the umbrella

A hit in Japan, designed by German industrial designers.

The hole is in the handle of the umbrella, a convenient opening for attaching trinkets. As if gadgets were not enough, if we believe the German press and our limited personal experience, a gadget with trinkets is the way to go in Japan.

From wooden USB sticks to bathroom fixtures, via cars and computers, German industrial design has clout around the world.

When German industrial designers say computer, they mean, of course, Apple. Apple is a neat example of the "function meets art" aspect of industrial design.

The K-landnews thought of the day: modern technology gives an edge to designers with its vastly better tooling (computers and 3 D printers) as well as more compact components and flexible materials.

For example, you can build boxy, square cars today but they won't sell. The only cool boxy car is a Model T, period.

This being said, we have been watching the invasion of the KitchenAid mixers. Their design, unchanged for decades, not only looks like home to us, we liked their sturdy versatility.

But at a minimum of about 600 euros (around 800 dollars), we had to say thank you, but no thank you.

The give and take between design and function can result in very pretty and very functional objects.

Like any venture, there are what we at the K-landnews would consider failures.

Examples are easy to find in the furniture, not sure why, but so it is.

However, it could just be that the chair with a triangular seat is made for the advanced next step in evolution, when humans will have triangular butts.

Which, like square tomatoes and melons might revolutionize transport, too. Irish airline RyanAir, who sounded out about standing room on their planes, may be the first to embrace triangular-butted passengers in the distant future.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Larry Page of @Google agrees with us!

About Facebook products.

We were pleased to read yesterday that Larry Page thinks Facebook makes bad products.

We have said so here more than once, in particular in a post of 13 Jan., where we used the words "crap and "facebook user interface" in the same sentence, but with a question mark at the end to spare people's feelings.

So, thank you Larry.

Can we ask a couple of favors?

One of our contributors could use a job.

And what's the trouble with "Doogle" of South Africa, have you decided yet?

How do we get it right? Just blogging along, hoping to find something we can interpret as agreement.

[Update 5/2015] N-word debate in Germany

Change eBook specifications to incorporate a family filter. This way, we don't have to debate that again in a dew decades.

Having barely recovered from the debate about the American N-word in Mark Twain, we now get clobbered by an N-word debate in Germany.

According to an article in Die Zeit online of 19 Jan, Germans are split right down the middle in opinion polls about removing "Neger" (negro) and "Zigeuner" (gypsy) from such children's classics as Pippi Longstocking.

Let's take a step back and look at Huck Finn.

English-German dictionaries have the translation "nigger" for the English word "nigger", so the same word, no translation at all.

We found a German translation using the American N-word, for example, "Miß Watsons Nigger Jim saß an der Thüre," which we interpret as more proof that the American N-word remains the same word in German.

MLK, in his I have a Dream speech, uses the term negro.

Just how negative then, is the word "Neger" in German? You could argue that there is the complication of Agatha Christie's Ten Little Niggers as Zehn kleine Negerlein in German.

We do not follow this latter argument from a linguistic point of view. We do understand unease and upset by pejorative use of the German "Neger" and are happy to see that the chocolate covered big marshmallow treats (search in earlier posts) were suitably renamed.

The ever helpful Wikipedia lists usage of Negro and "translations" for many countries and says that, in German, "Neger" went from neutral to derogatory or racist since about the late 1970s.

What you get to see in the Wikipedia article is, that "negro"  is fine in one language, with "black" being pejorative, where in another "colored" is cool and "negro" is bad.

We were against the re-naming effort until we saw that, in German polls, the more educated folks prefer to leave word usage in Pippi Longstocking and elsewhere unchanged while less educated were more in favor of change.

To us, this indicates a failure of the education system as purveyor of historical perspective.

The question arising from this was "who suffers from a change"?

Our answer: nobody.

The folks whom the schools fail will feel better if their children read without these words.

The educated folks can work on overcoming their nostalgia.

The K-landnews team will always find a digital copy of a classic, and - using a crude global search and replace - we can return it to the state of word usage that reflects the original, should we deem it desirable.

[Update 5/20/2015] A roofer named Neger and the company logo.
Some time during the last year there was bit of a stir in the German media when the logo of a roofing company in the south western city of Mainz made the rounds.
The screenshot below shows why some people were upset: "Big ear rings" and a "skirt" are a clear ethnic stereotype.
Given the logo, it does not help much that the German surname Neger has nothing to do with the term Neger that designates a black person.

There is no 'i' in team

But there is Me,  just look closer.

Team is another one of these Anglo words you find around here. And since the often heard "there is no I in team" is not readily transferable, the "kein ich in Team" is just clunky, we looked at the word a little more closely.

And came up with "there is a Me, just not so obvious". Of course, any avid cornered Scrabble player could figure that one out.

We were very pleased when we saw the potential of our quip.

We can go borderline philosophical about the idea of the "team" in the workplace without making any argument beyond pointing at the letters "m" and "e".

Without batting an eye, we can pounce by telling the team builders and the HR specialists that ignoring the "me" in team is a recipe for failure.

Or what if we take it a bit further, say, in claiming that the people supervising the team are the embodiment of the "me"?

And we would accomplish exactly nothing with this outside of the confines of the English language.


Think about it for a second, and please note that there is a "we" in sweet.

[Update 11/2015] We found a German play on word for Team!
That's right. The German word for 'team' is 'Team', and someone came up with this gem: Toll, ein anderer machts. Which means something along the line "great, someone else does the work".


Weapons of Mass Deception? A catchy title for a post that does not give a full answer.

Once upon a time, there was a term called WMD, weapons of mass destruction.
The term was used for a very specific class of weapons, those that would cause thousands upon thousands of casualties at the push of a button.

Nowadays,  even a couple of pounds of fake C4 can get you an indictment bullet point "attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction".

What does that use of the term WMD tell us?

There are many interpretations, from the cheerfully positive to the darkly negative, including:
1) We value human life more than ever before.
2) It is another tool in the justice sytem, where every additional indictment point gives prosecutors more leverage in plea bargains.
3) It is a weapon of mass deception in the war of words on terror.

We don't know, so we call the phenomenon "linguistic scope creep".

We'll have to go and read our Paul Watzlawick books again to see if the astute observer commented on this phenomenon or something sufficiently similar.

The Footnote of History Project

Germans planned to steal US nukes in the early 1960s?

A retired American officer tells about how US forces in Germany were worried that the then German defense secretary might try to simply grab nukes because he really wanted some.

This story published in Der Spiegel Online, could fall under an idea which has been floated in the K-landnewsroom for a while.

A "Footnote of History Project", located somewhere between StoryCorps'  sharing of life stories and the crusaders of WikiLeaks.

And how would you differentiate between factoids and relevant stories? We would not, that's why we have historians.

Unless you know, for example, that East German and West German border guards would get together for a beer or two "among enemies" during the days of the Iron Curtain, you cannot begin to discuss if that means anything.

Or, another factoid, years before the Wall came down, some West German intelligence folks told a story about West German terrorists living a normal life in East Germany. Was this just a wild guess confirmed later by facts or another interesting facet in German history?

Or, what numbers are we talking about with regard to German teens who, toward the end of World War II, refused to follow their conscription orders and disappeared into the woods to wait out the end? We know of one small town, where 1 out of 7 went to fight and the others chose to make themselves eligible for instant death penalty if caught.

People may have a story but may not want to see it published, what do you do? You let them pick when a story is made public. What if lives might be lost by keeping a story under wraps, what if some nasty character could be prosecuted only if you go public?

That would be the Leaks Light and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission debates rephrased.

How about digital safe deposit boxes? Drop your story in it, throw away the keys, it will unlock itself at a certain date.
Yeah, right, how can we know we'll be able to even read the files -- look at some East German stuff, we cannot get at them. So much negativity.
And where there is a safe, safe crackers are not far.

Great minds think alike

A summary of plagiarism in Germany in the past two years.

The other day, Mr. Guttenberg, former golden boy, defense secretary and one time most popular German politician popped up in the press after an interview with a Swiss newspaper. He is boycotting German media.

Mr. Guttenberg [post about German nobility is TBD] resigned a couple of years ago in the wake of a plagiarism scandal. 

His PhD thesis turned out to make liberal use of other people's research -- a required feature -- without giving appropriate credits -- not so good.

The K-landnews team understands he was way too busy to add all the footnotes. Instead of hounding people like him, ultimately making them suffer for the incompetence of software developers, we propose a solution.

A scientifically adequate Copy & Paste feature in word processing software.

Don't you dare and nix the idea without evaluation. Remember the dark ages of software, when Copy & Paste would only work on a piece of text?

Over time, developers learned how to add images and other objects to Copy & Paste to make it the feature we use and love today.

Who says you cannot add an automatic footnoting feature to it?

This way, the sacrifices of Mr. Guttenberg, Mrs. Koch-Mehrin, Mrs. Schavan, and numerous as yet unknown other victims of a bad Copy & Paste feature, would not have been in vain. Vain, yes, in vain, no.

You still think the Copy & Paste feature is not to blame?

In that case, all these plagiarists -- could they simply be victims of the acknowledged fact that great minds think alike, and hence would be expected to write alike, too?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Champions League Soccer

Sports posts are rare on the K-landnews, not for want of expertise but because we are unable to muster the enthusiasm. Other than writing about quiditch, nothing is as delightful as writing about the fans.

The small local post office attached to a stationary shop is a hub of information exchange.
So, one day, a K-landnews person was at the post office and found himself chatting with the postmaster on a slow morning.

How do you like Germany so far? 

We enjoy it, it is so much quieter than where we come from in the US, a very different lifestyle.

I noticed you fixed up the house, that must have been expensive.

Yes, it was. I did much of the work other than the roof, so that saved us a lot of money, but still.

The yard was a mess, wasn't it? I heard, someone had complained about neglect to the town, before you were here, some neighbor.

Oh, none of the  neighbors complained to us.

That's probably because you did so much work as soon as you arrived.

Ah, well.

Do you have any problems with the community center or the flood lights?

No, not really, the community center is not that close. Every once in a while, we hear some music when they let out, but no, and the floodlights don't bother us either.

They should be out by 9 PM, but sometimes a match goes into overtime.

Don't worry, hey, if we get some extra light at the far end of the backyard, I might do some night time gardening.

I'm glad you see it that way. You know, I am on the town council, and there are a couple of folks down the street who take matters very seriously.

Really, how so?

Yes, there is this one older guy. When the players get a soccer ball over the net into his yard, he goes and retrieves the ball. Then he makes the umpire sign a paper with the date and time of the incident, and after a match he takes the paper to town hall and complains.

Wow, I can see ways to do that differently. If I ever found a ball on my property, I might take it to the players, have each one autograph the ball and then keep it  -- who knows, twenty years down the road, I might have a signature of someone famous to sell on eBay.

So, be nice to your neighbors - they know where you live.

The Morning After

Catholic hospitals going nuclear on rape victims in Germany?

A peaceful country panorama, a flag flying lazily in the breeze, children playing, moms smiling and dads going to work.

And then, a pill drops.

German magazine Die Zeit of 17 Jan. has an article about catholic hospitals - plural - in Cologne refusing to take in potential rape victims.

Coming from the US, a clinic's refusal to take in potential rape victims because the law requires them to be advised on the morning after pill is no news, so why bother with a post if it happens here?

Because the reasons forwarded by the church are the same. Because, to a victim, it does not matter that there are places that are worse.

The catholic clinics call these unfortunate misunderstandings. A protestant clinic took in at least one of the women.

The really funny thing, yes, funny, to us is that these hospitals are not required to prescribe the morning after pill. They are required to talk about it.

The other thing is that the German government collects taxes for the church and pays for the theology departments at universities.  This is what the K-Landnews Former Altar Boy (FAB) called the "pay to pray" and "Toll Road to Heaven" policy.

Look,  we at the K-Landnews get the irony of blogging about the catholic church. We and the church are both bitching from a position of comfort and safety while our brethren not far away are constantly threatened, are in real danger.

We feel that the Catholic Church should be allowed to do whatever they see fit.

But if you go nuclear, don't complain about the fallout.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A devil on a snow-covered roof

Part of our 'neither a cat nor a fiddler' on the roof series.

Glancing out of a window this morning, the resident K-landnews philosopher pointed at a series of foot prints in the snow and said: I wonder what that is.

You need to know that "I wonder what that is" is an action trigger for our team. Upon hearing this phrase, or the shortened "Wisconsin Tourist Foundation" or other action stimuli, the clipboards come out and the pencils fly.

Anyhow, seconds after the philosopher uttered the sentence, the team was engaged in a collective stare.

Looks like an animal.

But the prints are a yard apart.

Hm [indicating thinking by philosopher]

I'd say it's a cat.

Spaced a yard apart, that would be a really big cat.

Are ours in the house?

All accounted for, sleeping in a pile upstairs.

Well [indicating more thinking by philosopher], then it must be the devil.

[The sound of silence]


They look like hooves.

Guess so.

That'd be cool.

We will not go into details of the ensuing discussion about using movement sensors or a 99 euro night vision device from local grocery discounter Aldi with a small web cam to get a video of the devil. As to the more elaborate critter cam scheme, suffice it to say that none of the team members was willing to volunteer to strap a critter cam on the devil.

We will keep you posted on further developments.

Too much happiness can be bad for telecommuting

Is bad for telecommuting. From our behavior guidelines for telecommuters.

We have a contributor who is, without doubt, one of the pioneers of telecommuting. You don't have to believe us but the Wikipedia page about the Apple Macintosh shows the computer of our contributor right at the top of the page.

Here is the story by TC about how too much happiness can damage your reputation as a telecommuter.

I was working from my home office for an established client. The way they were organized meant I was dealing with an operations manager for overall administrative issues as well as specific project managers for each new project.

At the time of this incident, I had been working with those folks for quite a while to mutual satisfaction.

So, one Monday or Tuesday morning, the phone rings, and a new project manager (PM) introduces himself. He explains that he took over Client Y, and further that he wanted to have a little chat, get to know me, you know.

We had a great little conversation, and at the end, he asked me if I was on time for the next delivery on Friday morning. Yes, indeed, assured him, I would make that deadline easily.

We ended the call, having agreed we'd be in touch after the delivery.

A few minutes later, the phone rang, and it was the operations manager, who, incidentally, had been the person to recruit me for their company.

After some obligatory chit chat, she said, I'm calling because Rob [made up name for PM] came to see me a minute ago. Is there any problem with your Friday delivery?

I was stumped. Why?

She replied, Rob is worried because you seemed too carefree and happy on the phone.

He is worried because I am what? Look, I'll be done with this at least one day prior to delivery, I can assure you. Please, tell him not to worry.

She said something along the line of, Yes, I believe you, and I did tell him we have worked together on other projects, and you never missed a deadline. Please, understand that I felt I had to give you a call, he was soooo worried. He said, someone who is so relaxed does not come across as very focused and serious.

I see, well, just tell him I am a happy person by nature. I'll try to not appear too carefree in the future.

Needless to say, I made the deadline, their client was happy, and Rob and I became friends of sorts afterwards. To be honest, I did not change my style, although the constant nagging "what if this or that" goes wrong can really help your career in many companies.

TheEditor says: Make sure you do not appear too happy. And, for the love of it, make sure you are either dressed or that webcam is turned off.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


"Security Alert: Information on Flamer. Flamer has managed to infect a large number of computers worldwide. Are you protected?"

This was is from a marketing email by Symantec from 2012, a week or so after the Flame virus/exploit package first made headlines. We found this gem on a German blog.

The author of the German post went to the Norton database to look up Flame and found the risk assessment to be "low".

Needless to say, some 99.999 percent of the recipients of this friendly reminder email were nowhere close to the epicenter of Flame's activity. And, as far as we know, there is no sizable group of hobbyists with nuclear centrifuges in their garages or basements.

We are now waiting to see if folks on the internet will report another scare email from Symantec after reports of a new big one, "Red October", a few days ago.

The K-landnews team suggests creative re-use of the flamer campaign template, just tone it down a little, hit that send button, and you can go back to playing solitaire or games.