Wednesday, February 27, 2013

German Holy Water

Rivers and aquifers full of it.

An outrcy of "don't you touch my water" has rippled through Germany in recent weeks in response to the EU planning to open up national drinking water markets to EU wide competitive bidding.

Petitions confirming the almost holy status of German drinking water distribution have garnered over a million signatures in this country.

At stake is the current largely public or semi-public system, and the battle over control has been fierce.

Those against letting companies rule talk about a landgrab of epic proportions, while the proponents talk of the benefits of free markets and whisper about dismantling a system that is rife with local nepotism.

Higher prices and lower quality are, to the K-landnews, valid arguments against wholesale liberalization. Berlin's water distribution is an example of this, so the argument is not just fearmongering and conjecture.

The local water company in our region was formed out of many small town suppliers and had done a very good job, as far as we newcomers can tell.

Our water is free of chlorine and tastes great straight from the tab.

The same is true for many non-urban suppliers throughout the country, and it is no wonder citizens want to keep it that way.

The K-landnews team is weary of the cozy nepotism of local politicians and their semi-public utility companies, but we know that the free marketeers behave in the same manner. The main differences are that there will be a lot more money involved, and that they have the best lawyers.

The K-landers can fall back on the water fountain in front of town hall.

Coming from springs in the woods, that water is of outrageously good quality. The fountain sports "no drinking water" signs for only one reason: the town does not want to spend money on testing and maintenance.

The good burgers here took matters into their own hands and had the water tested -- that's where our "outrageously good" comes from.

The latest news out of Brussels, home of the sprouts and the EU Commission, is that German concerns will be "taken into account" in the liberalization framework.

The detached foreigner

First, a few good things about being a foreigner.

You are not expected to know the ins and outs of life in your current country of residence. You get to look at many things and behaviors with a smile. You do not need to have an opinion about politics. If you happen to be from the 'right' country, you will get more sex than you possibly imagined back home. You can outright laugh at whatever immigration policy your current location may have because most of it does not make much sense anyway, even if they are trying very hard.
You will learn new things, new customs simply because you are physically present.

Then there are drawbacks.

If you happen to live in a country where "no taxation without representation" is still part of the public discourse, you may find being unable to vote or becoming deportable for any offense beyond a parking ticket a little, say, taxing at tax return filing time.

You may find that your detachment breaks down every now and then. That is completely normal and a good sign, because unbroken detachment almost certainly makes you eligible for some mental disorder label.
You will find that some people reject you because of your origin, but you should never forget that this can happen to you back home, too. The main difference between rejection in your new country and back home is that rejection as an immigrant is usually less fine grained.  You can be rejected, for example, because you are from Lebanon, whereas in Lebanon, you'd be rejected for being from a certain small village on a specific mountain road.

You will have to figure out if you want to go native or not, if you have that choice.

And you may eventually go through the stages of grief twice. Once because you have lost your home, once because your new home is not what you expected it to be.

Your sense of humor or the simple progression of age can help overcome these drawbacks.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

2 cent anti-theft device

We found one rational economic decision!

European trucking companies are facing many of the same problems as American ones. While hijacking complete trucks is more of an American issue, the Europeans suffer from extensive fuel theft.

Thieves have developed tactics and devices feared by truckers. The most recent device we have heard off is a modified hydraulic jack.  A hollow steel spike, much like a cake decorating tip, is affixed on top of a small hydraulic jack. Near the bottom of the spike is a connector for a hose.

Now, all a thief has to do is place the jack under a truck diesel tank, raise it until it punches through the tank, and start pumping.

Truckers understandably hate the contraption because it is quiet and fast.

Dimly lit sections in parking areas along the freeways and desolate industrial areas are major playgrounds for fuel thieves, and truck drivers will fill the well lit but much noisier spots first. Better be disturbed in your sleep than stuck on the parking area with a punctured fuel tank the next day.

Some long haul drivers have figured out a cheap solution made possible by modern engine development.

They buy stickers saying "Warning: use vegetable oil only" for a few cents each and can sleep better. The stickers serve the same purpose as the stickers near the inlet of your own car: make sure that only the correct type of fuel is used.

While you normally ignore the sticker on your own vehicle, trucks are often driven by different drivers, which is probably the main reason why the truck stickers are much bigger.

Unlike for diesel fuel, there is virtually no market - yet - for stolen veggie fuel oil.

What works for your house back in the states when you want to keep burglars away, works just fine for trucks, too.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Being Mr. Rogers

Unlike Sesame Street, the American kids TV show Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood never made it onto German TV screens.

The show had a deep impact on several generations of American children and, to this day, remains an iconic, often quoted example of great TV for children.

In popular US culture, Mr. Rogers has become something of the image of the nice guy, with his style as a gentle, soft-spoken, and direct personality.

A K-landnews contributor once had a co-worker nicknamed Mr. Rogers, presumably for these very traits as well a a big smile.

One day, our Mr. Rogers arrived at the office in the morning wearing a smile even bigger than usual. Which was hard to do.

The reason for the huge smile soon became clear.

After dropping his worn backpack on his desk and turning on the computer, the man headed straight for the cubicle of the colleague who had given him the monicker.

I can confirm that the nickname is correct, he said to the slightly puzzled colleague. Here's what happened.

I was at the corner store last night and got in line behind the only two other customers at the cash register. They were two middle-aged black males, and they were bantering with the clerk as the latter was tallying up their purchase.
When he was done, they paid and bid goodbye. They made their way towards the exit without noticing me. I stepped forward, greeted the store clerk, and we started to talk. Suddenly, one of the men spun around, looked at me and broke into a grin as he exclaimed 'you are Mr. Rogers'. He took one step towards me, as if he did not trust his eyes and ears, then said to the clerk and his companion 'I can't believe it, he is Mr. Rogers. You know, I used to live around the corner from the real Mr. Rogers.' Throughout the short exchange, the speaker never lost his smile. He wished me a good evening, I reciprocated, and the pair left the store, him still chuckling and shaking his head.

Imitation seafood, imitation orgasm

What you think you see is not what you get.

Surprise anyone?

On the heels of tests in the US showing that the fish you think you are buying is likely to be a different species, the weekend in Germany brought us news of large-scale fraudulent "organic eggs".

Some 200 or so producers are being investigated for taking conventional eggs and turning them into organic produce with a little bit of ink on a label.

If you have not read our post Meaty Words, now would be a good time in order to understand the simple economic logic behind this.

We would not be the K-landnews, however, if we stopped there, so let's take it a step further.

The "cannot see it, cannot taste" it paradigm has a long tradition in human trade. From counterfeit Roman coins at our Roman History Museum to anti-freeze in wine to goldmines in Florida.

The K-landnews paradigm is: What can be faked will be faked.

The K-landnews library of paper books contains a wonderful tome on chemistry, The Encyclopedia of Practical Receipts and Processes by K. Dick from 1898.

The book contains a section about "imitation" liquors, from imitation brandy to imitation bourbon, and it has a great selection of recipes for imitation gemstones.

The K-landnews team has a solution to all the negativity about fake food or fake anything: bring back that wonderful label "imitation".

Horsemeat in lasagne? The label "imitation beef" will solve it!

Eggs? Yes, "imitation organic eggs"!

Plagiarized doctoral thesis? "Imitation doctoral thesis", and you receive the title iPhD, assuming Apples has not trademarked that one yet.

A faked orgasm? Keep the hubs happy and create a little bit of mystery with that "imitation orgasm"!

If you do not like the word "imitation", may we suggest Potemkin as an alternative. Used historically for fake village, the term Potemkin could be substituted for some of the "imitation" labels and make "Potemkin beef" sound as expensive as Kobe beef.

Don't use it for that "imitation doctoral thesis", though, and don't use it for "imitation orgasm" either.

Other than that, be creative.

Planning to replace 90% of your factory workers with robots? Don't!

Replace your humans with imitation co-workers!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Annual yuck fest

As regular as the Easter Bunny, there is the annual yuck fest.

Reports about bacteria on any surface humans use frequently are the fest's content.

If you can spell the word bacteria or fungus and can write a sentence of nine or ten words, you have most of the prerequisites. The only missing item is "the surface".

We regularly see reports on cell phones and computer keyboards, closely followed by money.  Bank notes have the additional advantage of traces of drugs.

Door handles, or knobs for those of you living in the land of knobs, are still great subjects and can be spiced up with the extra "hospital" or "convalescent home", so leave your home door knobs alone and go for "hospital door knobs".

Any public or semi-public building will do. You can easily write a lifetime's worth of "yuck" articles about these. They are perfect as spare articles because they don't have a sell by date -- any time of the year is suitable for publication.

Here are a couple of suggestions for devices we have not seen in "yikes, would you believe what grows on this" articles:

Tablet PC touchscreens (similar to cell phone, so use specific model and make, like iPad 5)
Computer mouse (hurry up while they are still around)
Memory sticks, USB sticks
Reusable shopping bags or baskets
Inside or underside of car door handles
Shell of decorated Easter eggs
Wrist watches, any kind of jewelry
Elevator buttons
Airplane or train toilet doors
Cigarette butts collected by the homeless 

Once you have done the articles themselves, do art with them. We just saw a Huffington Post article about someone doing very cute closeups of the lifeforms growing on a cell phone after dipping it in a Petri dish.

Except for the cell phone, most other yuck devices are probably still unclaimed for bacteria art.

The Master

A forgetable movie about a forgetable cult, but great acting and superb camera work.

The K-landnews 'one hit wonder movie critic' insisted on a few hundred bytes worth of posting space, and we agreed because we want our contributors to feel valued and be happy.

The Master is neither Steinbeck nor Scientology,  but if fucking a heap of sand was one of your unfulfilled phantasies as an adolescent male, you will be pleased. And right about the time you get bored with the movie, you will be awoken from your stupor by the parade of nudies at the wealthy lady's home.

We agree with the mainstream glowing reviews in that the retro camera work is a feast for the eyes but, honestly, you can get great retro on Tumblr or even Instagram.

The advantage of the latter two is that they don't have to pretend to present a storyline. If I think about it, that is where The Master is closer to a run of the mill porn flick than I previously realized: the scenes that are the lead-up to or the glue between the major cinematographic moments of the film are just like these awkward lead-ups in a skin flick.

Like the two minutes between the pizza delivery hunk ringing the doorbell to the moment the hunk and the door belle do what they do best.

And when the actors in The Master do what they do best, we can forgive them these awkward lead-ins and transitions with the same ease as we forgive the nudie actors.

Still a lot better than Argo.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Not smart enough today

According to Google.

Yes, we are trying hard to make a few extra euros by running ads here, but that does not mean we cannot make fun of it, right?

The ads presented to us when we visit a website are sometimes so funny or delightful, we even thought of collecting all the ads from one week and turning them into an "ad poem", if you will.

We have been made to understand that we are veterinarians who want some extra training, that we are wealthy British expats in danger of losing 50% of our retirement unless we click this one link that makes it right.
We routinely get offered assistance to "live and work in the U.S.", not to mention more computers than DELL sells in a year.

That's all fine and well for us semi-educated, poor, really-not-Britsh folks who do not want to live in the U.S. for the moment.

But now it is getting personal, waaaay too personal.

Today, Google ads made it abundantly clear that the algorithm thinks we are not smart enough.

They offered up an ad that tells us how to "get smarter", "think faster"!

We were stunned, scrutinized the ad again, then shed a few tears.

We realized Google was right!

It took us at least 20 seconds to recall the Little Feat song lyrics: You know you're over the hill when your mind makes promises your body can't fulfil.

Until now, we could have sworn that we could accomplish this in 10 seconds, I mean, 10 max.

Imagine, here comes this young and perky algorithm, and it's surely not half as old as the song lyrics, and it tell us we need to get smarter and think faster.

Well, I'd go and drink that remaining half bottle of vodka now, but I have forgotten where I put it.

Counterfeit euros

To be handed out to the poor by European Central Bank.

A K-Landnews exclusive: As we reported in the previous post, a politician suggested giving away all the products with horsemeat to the needy.

We suggested that the European Central Bank do the same with counterfeit money.

And we can proudly report that the European Central Bank has picked up our proposal.

Says M. Oney, spokesperson for the EU Central Bank: We can see the clear logic in the proposals by a member of the little known blog Krautlandnews. Counterfeit money falls into the same category as counterfeit lasagne. Both can be circulated without people seeing what they really have, only tests show that they are not what the print says. Starting 1 April 2013, the EU Central Bank will give away all counterfeits to the poor and needy. Distribution will be exclusively through Deutsche Bank because we at the Central Bank feel that Deutsche Bank is currently the one bank that understands the mindset behind our deliberations best. They beat out HSBC by a comfortable margin.

Emboldened by the reception of our ideas, we decided to up the ante!

We ask European customs officials to implement the same forward looking, socially responsible policies for other counterfeit goods!

Fake Prada handbags, fake Gucci shoes, fake Lagerfeld shirts, fake perfums, all of these are currently wasted when impounded.

Give them to the poor and needy, and you ameliorate their chances of finding work, too.

Says our local poor person: Man, if I show up for the burger flipping job or the cleaner position in Lagerfeld or Ralph Loren and Guccis, how can they not hire me?

[Update by TheEditor: We also see a viable option in distributing counterfeit medication to the poor and needy as a means to control exploding healthcare costs. And who would not want to be buried in a free Lagerfeld or RL outfit.]

Curly Kale Crisps

Cause we don't want to talk horsemeat again.

Northern Germany is Curly Kale Country, the regional home of this nearly indestructible member of the cabbage family, with more recipes than your heart can survive. To be fair to the kale, it's the meat and added fat that make these dishes dangerous, and if you add the traditional guesthouse beer and schnapps, well...

For several winters, we had been glancing at the piles of curly kale at the market, tempted by  both the curls and the unbeatable price in the order of 50 cents a pound.

Last week, we made the leap and came home with two pounds.

We were on the point of settling for a traditional recipe when we found this one for curly kale crisps and right afterwards this Parmesan kale crisps recipe.

Our modification of the first recipe was to use sesame oil and leave out the salt.

We also noticed that opening the oven door briefly about halfway through the baking lets steam escape and speeds up the crisping process.

And for the US raised folks among you, who have a hard time converting the American baking and cooking volumes to rest-of-the-world weights, check out some Australian recipe websites for easy usage of "weights and measures". Most of them will have cups and weights!

All we can do now is leave you with the warning that curly kale crisps can be addictive, especially the parmesan version.

One more thing:
A German politician suggested to give the tons of lasagne and other horsemeaty products pulled by the grocery stores to the needy poor.  We fully support this suggestion under one condition: that the EU central bank follows suit by handing out their pulled counterfeit bank notes and coins to the poor and needy. If you want me to eat counterfeit beef, you shouldn't have a problem with that, said our local poor person.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

A professor drops out

Not in the old Tim Leary way but in the mundane everyday way.

A rare enough occurrence, and we do not know why.

Here is what happened.

One of our ever curious, or bored, team members decided to take some online classes, found himself a provider of free classes, signed up and was soon studying hard.

For him, the course was a refresher on microeconomics, and it started out with the well worn concepts of the prisoner's dilemma, the tragedy of the commons and the like.

With quite a few years between first time learning and this return to the textbook, our contributor could not help but note several things:

1) The prisoner's dilemma is based on "good" prisoners, i.e. POWs, not the "bad" guys society locks up every day. Does the prisoner's dilemma change for these latter, or does it?

2) There are fashions in economics. The tragedy of the commons was one of them. It was used to tell students and the public how bad things go when there is something everybody can use without limits. Only later, and with no fanfare, did it become clear that a great number of regulatory models existed even for many "commons".

3) Economics has become more aware of reality and is actually useful, and the concept of "rational" action is being questioned. Yeah, economics has discovered the obvious.

4) An online course with ten thousand students still needed about 500 discussion forum posts to get a "good" handle on that relatively simple management problem that is tipping in the U.S, where tips in bars and restaurants are so much more important than in other countries.

The professor wrote several very long emails per week for the first few weeks, with many of the emails rather self-congratulatory, and then -- nothing for almost two weeks.

Total radio silence.

This was followed by a good-bye email from the professor and a welcome email from the course administrator saying the course will continue, and here are the links to next week's videos.

So, we do not know why the professor joined the ranks of the dropouts, but we do think that the microeconomics of the course (number of students, number of feedback emails, number of forum posts with attendant expansion of the quality of responses) may have been too much.

At least, our contributor hopes it was something like that and not a serious health problem.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Oh, an ammo clip

From the "Remove bullets from pockets" Laundromat Archives, German version.

You haven't lived in the real U.S. until you've done your laundry in a neighborhood where the sign "Remove bullets from pockets" is prominently displayed above the sign "Check dryer for lint before starting dryer".
That laundromat has to be in a big city, though, not in Caspar, Wyoming, or O'Neill, Nebraska.

One nasty thing about protracted armed conflict (formerly called war) is that the official end isn't really the end of it.

If you have not been living under a rock, you know that the people of London, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, and lots of other places, not just those starting with L, frequently encounter wartime leftovers.

If you own an old house in a country that has seen war in the last hundred years, your odds of an encounter become more likely.

If that house has an attic not visited by humans in, say fifty years, even better.

When the crane and a large crew of workers arrived at the house to tear down the old roof, the foreman asked this question:  What should be do with anything we find in the attic?

Just dump everything. Keep whatever you want to keep, throw out the rest.

The speed with which a structure built laboriously over months came apart was dazzling. By noon, the whole superstructure was gone.

By the end of the day, everything had been broken down and dumped into the sorting containers on the two trucks on the street.

The foreman told you they were done and held up an object you recognized from a previous life:
Do you want this, we have a couple more? he asked.

You smiled, and responded, I don't have any use for an M1 Garand clip, can you turn that in to the authorities?

I will, sure, he said, wished you a good evening and left.

The neighbors knew the story. The local Uber-Nazi had organized a last stand in early 1945.

And how did that go?

By the time the Allies arrived here, they were doing shelling and bombing strictly during office hours. Eight in the morning to five in the evening, I kid you not. All houses on this side of the street, except yours, were left in ruins. Yours had an incendiary shell stick out of a wall, it failed to detonate. When that happens to a church, they call it divine intervention. In the case of the house, they called it dumb luck. Then some incoming GIs camped in the attic for a while.

It could have been worse.


Have you ever been mugged? What was it like?

If you are unlucky you end up dead and have no tale to tell. If you end up maimed but survive, well, you will be traumatized, probably forever. If you are really lucky, you come away whole or with a minor scratch and can clock up another learning experience.

Circumstances are all different, so we simply tell one story.

Somewhere in the United States. It is nighttime and raining. The future victim is one block from the house on the way to the liquor store for cigarettes.

Standing on the sidewalk waiting for the light to turn green, three teenagers pop up.
One right in front of Now Victim, two on either side.

Teenager in front: Gimme all your money, nigger.

Not a word from the two on the sides. The victim freezes, folds his arms on his chest.

The teenager in front has no visible weapon, at least for the moment, and repeats: I said gimme all your money.

The victim continues to just stand in frozen silence. He looks toward the liquor store right across the street. He can see the clerk look in his direction. He refocuses on the teen less than a yard in front of his face.

The impasse continues, silently. There is no way to tell how much time passes.

The victim takes a step to the right, not too fast, and raises his left arm to chest height.

The assailant in front launches a punch, barely grazing the victims head because the target is moving sideways. The teen's fist does catch the side of the victims glasses, which come off and fall into the gutter.

No word is spoken during this ballet.

The victim bends down to pick up his glasses, consciously and carefully shifting his weight onto his right leg. He knows he is vulnerable in this position, he needs his left leg free to prepare to kick the kid who is now shifting his own weight slightly to prepare for a full on assault.

At this point, one of the two other teens moves into the space between the assailant and the victim, stretching out both arms toward the assailant: hey, man, stop it, let's go.

A car is pulling up to the light on the other side of the street. The driver looks at them, looks at his passenger.

The victim's right hand reaches the glasses, picks them up, while the go-between continues to repeat to his friend: let's, go, let's just go.

The light turns green. The victim steps onto the tarmac, getting more distance between himself and the teens.

It's over. As the former victim enters the liquor store, the clerk ask: do want me to call the police?

For the first time since stepping out onto the street, the victim looks back to the corner where the assault took place. No, they are gone, he says.

After chatting with the clerk for a few minutes, the former victim returns home in the rain.

The next day, the former victim calls the cell of the police officer listed as beat officer on the city police website.  I am no longer on the beat, you need to go downtown and file a report. No report has ever been filed.

In the weeks after the event, he  goes over the minute or two again and again. Later, as the silent standoff starts to fade into the background, he catches himself every once in a while thinking: if you need proof that smoking is dangerous, quote that one.

In memory of Tom
Tom was assaulted on Shattuck late at night, savagely beaten and left for dead. He spent over a week in a coma and had absolutely no speech and no control over his legs or his arms when he woke from the coma. He was John Doe until a friend walked by the open door: Tom, is that you? A limp and impaired speech were permanent damage from the assault. Tom died a few years later of a heart attack on Thanksgiving Day. No one was ever arrested for the assault.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Pop goes the FOIA

Germany has its version of a freedom of information act, and it may soon be the only basis for journalists' access to government information.

The German freedom of information act is less than ten years old and has been called, correctly so, a paradigm shift in the relationship between the government and the people.

For the first time, citizens can file a request without prerequisites, such as being an affected party, and the government has to respond "in a timely manner". The government can also ask for reimbursement of expenses, which are capped at 500 euros.

It comes as no surprise that critics say they that many branches use the good old "delay, reject, price out" trio of measures to undermine the law.

A legal challenge related to the government's obligation to respond to journalist inquiries under the generic press laws is being heard by the country's highest administrative law court. The German Federal Government argues that the press laws -- which are state laws -- should no longer be binding for the Federal government.

If the Federal government gets its way, journalists will have to rely on the freedom of information act to get to the "juicy bits".

After a recent police raid on the offices of several photographers, conducted to get at unpublished photos of a demonstration in Frankfurt, Germany, where a police officer was injured, some journalist experts claim there is headwind for the freedom of the press in Germany.

The K-landnews team is a little more relaxed about this, given that neither secret prisons nor secret courts are on the horizon in Germany, thanks to two German dictatorial governments in recent history.

We have faith in government: any government that goes too restrictive is bound to fuck up big time, which will give us great, reality-infused movie scenarios.

Subtitles for Marco Rubio

The ABC subtitle generator did wonders for Marco Rubio's rebuttal in Spanish of Obama's State of the Union Speech.

That tool must have been set to English, as one of the comments remarks, too.


So much better than the Gangnam vid.

Meaty words

It's all the consumer's fault! Bullshit about horsemeat.

The K-landnews resident vegetarian and former entrepreneur reports.

German retailers have joined the ranks of the Irish and the British, and German media has become serious about the meat crisis.

Bild online is screaming with its miniature font size of 72 dpi or so, and the normally sedate publications ZEIT, SPIEGEL, and others are off their rockers.

"Meat must become a luxury again", hollers one. "Consumers are the culprits because they demand ever cheaper meat", fingerpoints the next.

"Meat must become a luxury again" is well meant and, at the same time, ridiculous, says me the vegetarian.

Yes, you can bring up all these correct facts about how many resources go into meat production, how bad that is for the environment, how it is not the healthiest choice of food.

But that is not fundamentally different from so many other foods. You can make those arguments for sugar and salt as well, just to name two.

Horsemeat is not used because beef is inexpensive!

It is used because there is a price differential and because the average palate cannot taste the difference in prepared meals.

Like sawdust in bread, or high-fructose corn sirup in soda, it is 100% percent pure unadulterated business logic.

"Consumers are the culprits..." is a pathetically condescending view of the world.

All of a sudden, the poor food industry is the victim of a mob of consumers?  Come on, people! Yes, consumers have some power, but are you telling me that your choice of putting undeclared ingredients into our food is not a decision made by people at a food company?

That reasoning is the mode of thinking of a junkie!

Dog and pony show in the start-up world

You are what you eat; could that explain a dog and pony show?

Just kidding. So, while much of the European media is running around like headless chickens, we will promote the image of business as a rational enterprise!

There must be millions of web sites that tell you how to build your own successful business. Fool-proof offers, costing you just one dollar a month, and before you know it, you have made it in the business world.

The K-Landnews reliable source that brought you the post "Vancouver airport at midnight" offered us a story about a young entrepreneur's way of doing business. Once again, we asked for a first person, present tense narrative.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away.

We are a three-person outfit, that American startup dream with a vision. Do you need to know what the vision is? Oh, you would like to know. The vision is to build up a business, sell it after five years, and then retire or do it again.
There are three of us, the Chief, the Sales guy, and me, the techie. We work together quite well, and there is money coming in. We have a handful of clients, and enough contractors to do the work.
But the pace of growth is not what Chief and Sales guy want it to be.
I have just finished integrating our website with Salesforce and asked for access to the Salesforce database to do some testing. Sales guy lets me use his computer for a few minutes. I know, I have done a good job, and I really don't need more than a few minutes of verification. The database looks a little odd, and I do not want to explain to you what exactly I saw. But I can tell you that Sales guy downloaded the customer and contacts database of his previous company. He stole it. He had told his previous company, operating in the same sector as us, that he needed a couple of months off to deal with some personal matters. Enough time to grab their database.
I was not pleased to see Chief go down this route, but the events that make me leave are unfolding now, several weeks after I had realized they stole the database.
We are in the last few days before a visit from a potential new customer, a big one. If we get this company as a new client, we are on a roll.

The day before the visit, Chief and Sales guy tell me they want to show me something. We walk across the street, enter a large office space that has just been vacated by a company that went under. Sales guy explains to me that the defunct company agreed to let us use the space for a week, and that he and Chief will conduct their part of the prospect's visit there. Our own office is really small, kind of dingy, and I am happy about being able to finish up a big project for another client without detraction.

They explain to me that they will conduct the initial presentation and negotiations in that rented space and that I will join them after lunch. The next day, after lunch, they show up with the prospect's delegation of two senior managers.  Chief and Sales guy explain to me that they thought it was nicer to bring the two over, and we chat  for a while. The managers are nice, they ask questions and are pleased by the answers they get from me.

Then the potential clients leave. It's a win. Sales guy and Chief are ecstatic.

Which partly explains why they start gushing about the future and about how they made it happen. Since I will work closely with the new client, Chief and Sales guy feel they need to tell me about how they presented our company.

It is at this point that they tell me: To the two client managers, they had explained the space across the street was "our permanent office", and that the twenty job seekers they had invited for interviews and skills tests were "permanent, full time employees". The job seekers were given some tasks to do while Chief and Sales guy buttered up the prospect's managers and made sure they did not try to talk to any of the "full time employees".

I feel sad and mad.

And it does not stop there. The following week, there is a presentation at another prospect's office in our area. Sales guy brings in a couple of people from his previous company to bolster our numbers. So, instead of three, five of "us" show up with two brand new "department heads". They do not work for us, but why should Chief volunteer this information?

And they make me come along, because technical execution rests on my shoulder, and I have a good reputation in this small local market.
This time, I get to see the PowerPoint presentation, too. The presentation is identical to Sales guy's previous company's. The exact same slides with our company name and log instead of the old one's.

Sales guy proudly tells the new prospect that we are now a supplier to Big Company X, whose delegation had visited us last week to see our operation and meet our employees.

Four weeks later, I resign.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Dances with Words

Honorific for someone really good with words. We are still investigating how a post about names ended up with this title.

In our quest to soak up recent popular culture we had missed because we were too busy, we are catching up on Bones, the US crime series that is less "bible belt porn" (CSI AnyWhereUSA) and more "neat stuff with integrated anthropology lessons".

An episode set in the UK triggered a discussion about names when one of our contributors chuckled about the name Portia. The "man, that sounds way too much like a German car" was followed by some bantering, including "this one was a fast woman, indeed" and eventually by some less stupid comments.

One of us pointed out the American "Judge John Minor Wisdom" courthouse, another brought up the name of a man called "Langbehn". That name originated in Northern Germany and means "long legs", and lo and behold the specimen referred to did have exceptionally long legs.

We did not want to rehash the Smiths and the Millers, those widespread profession based names, so we looked for some that said something about character. Please, not Fox again, groaned one.

How about Spitzer, then? asked another. Pencil sharpener in German. But wait, also colloquial German for "horny".
I would not give someone named Wuterich a gun, said the man with the dictionary, adding it means a raging man, someone easily enraged.

You cannot do this! we said. Even if a certain trait was used as the name, too much time has passed, too much genetic mingling has taken place. Some of these names were meant to be demeaning or ostracizing. They represent nothing but bullying still discernible today, several centuries after the fact.
But, yes, you can use them in a sitcom or in a dark, humorless art film.

Sunday, February 17, 2013


Def.: a) corpse in water; b) faeces in water; c) political idea that stinks;

Definition c) was made up by the K-landnews team. We did not research it, so that would be a cleanroom implementation.

Why did we feel the need to use a strongly negative term for a political idea?

Depends on  the idea.

Specifically this one: a German politician specializing in public heath issues had an idea about kids who get so drunk they end up under the stomach pump in the hospital.

The idea was to charge the parents 100 euros for each visit to the emergency room by the drunk offspring. The point was, said the pol, to remind parents of their responsibilities.

Dear readers, please excuse us for taking a short break for our morning language exercises. We run a few random thoughts every morning in order to not lose all language flexibility. Today's synonyms are "drivel, balderdash".
Okay, back to the post.

Parents of binge drinking teens tend to have enough problems and not enough money anyway, so we classify the 100 euro alcopay as a "floater".

On the numbers game, we posit that more teens end up in the emergency room today than, say, a generation ago not because of more drinking but because their parents or someone else worry.

No tourist traps

With one really big exception: the gemstone capital of Idar-Oberstein.

Hundreds of businesses in the Western town of Idar-Oberstein, Germany, process and sell gemstones. And virtually none of the stones are from the region.

One old mill and one old mine are really the only remnants of what used to be a local industry.

However. this should not diminish your enjoyment at all because you won't see anything like Idar-Oberstein anywhere else in Europe. The local tourist managers apparently had the same policy you find in many other tourist places: omit facts that might tarnish what they want to present.

They were not used to sharing that local gemstone mining has been dead for 150 years.

We, on the other hand, find it even more fascinating that the town has become a center of gemstone excellence known around the world despite of the absence of local mining.

Don't you agree that seeing the changes over the centuries is more interesting than a "that's how we have done it for a thousand years, and absolutely nothing has changed"?

So, with its new found honesty about its history, even Idar-Oberstein is no longer a real tourist trap.

Anatomy lessons

Developing countries today or Dickens' London not long ago, the nasty, often gruesome sides of child labor are easy to see if we care to look.

How do we differentiate between child labor and all the other activities that bring in money and are performed by children?

We have identified several criteria governing these latter activities by children in today's Western world: Voluntary; for a cause other than supporting the family; not taking time away from school.

Think girl scout cookies and lemonade stands, frequently quoted examples of empowerment and work.

The boundaries get more difficult to draw in areas where children have traditionally helped with work in the family.

We found ourselves a local former working child (FWC) and asked for a short summary of these early experiences.

FWC: I worked in the fields, doing weeding, at a time when the handle of my rake extended a foot above my head. My parents told me that, one day, I asked my mother to send home an aunt who was weeding with us. When my mother asked why, I apparently told her that the aunt was not thorough and not fast enough.

K-Landnews: You do not remember this?

FWC: No, I was five or six years old. I remember later work. At age nine, I was stirring the blood flowing out of the jugular of a pig they just slaughtered. And I recall holding kidneys, liver, heart in my hands, rendering fat, cleaning intestines, all the good stuff. By eleven, I would drive the tractor in the field, mix concrete.

K-Landnews: You enjoyed this work, I take it?

FWC: Very much. Not all of it was fun, like loading potatoes in a downpour, or freezing in the early morning fog in fall. But  the funny thing is, all of it was so normal, because everybody around me did it. Only later did I realize that we were an exception, rather than a rule in the wider world. And the early anatomy lessons are still priceless -- I am a vegetarian, though.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meteor pulverizes sexism debate

In Germany, the last remnants of the sexism debate are gone.

We had decided to keep a record of this debate, to not just write one or two posts snickering about the actors involved and about the reporting itself.

Unlike the regular media, we would alert readers when all was over.

Hence, we closely followed the pitch of the discussion, saw it culminate, then wane, saw it get reduced to a whimper with the male locker room penis length thing, and finally get pulverized by the Russian meteor.

We do feel with the single male waiter at a women's conference in Germany, who was accompanied from the door all the way to the speaker's lectern by a rising wave of giggles and laughter as the conference participants realized the role reversal in front of their eyes.

But we still don't like it how media coverage derailed to "men are abused too" without ever mentioning that women received the right to vote less than 100 years ago in our oh so democratic societies.

The sexism debate will flare up again, just like an unexpected meteor shower.

We know it lurks out there and will rain down on us, we just don't know when, where, and what the damage will be.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Tiger cubs

Bottle-fed at home.

The two cubs had been born in captivity, and the plan was to raise them for about six months in a human foster home so they could be handled more easily.

They were siblings, one female, one male, as adorable as they were fluffy. Picture perfect with big heads, really big paws and tiny teeth.

We had set up a sleeping area in the living room, old pillows, a couple of discarded blankets, fit for further shredding by the cubs.

Our cats had accepted the newcomers well. Mo, the smart black female cat instantly adopted the cubs as her babies. An hour after arrival, we found Mo grooming the female tiger. The first night came with a bit of apprehension but there were no indications of problems from downstairs, no growling, no tumbling furniture.

The next morning, when we came down, all of them were sleeping in a big pile. Tigger the cat was sleeping right on top of the male cub.

Then I woke up.

It had been a dream.

We had a good laugh about our domestic dream version of the Life of Pi.

Duct tape for education

The news report out of Southern Germany was short-lived but widely distributed: two or three educators in a kindergarten had used tape to silence unruly children.

The K-landnews team immediately began to wonder if we had found another creative use of duct tape.

The article did not mention the type of tape employed. As unsatisfying as is may be, we have to believe that the tape in question was plain old Scotch tape.

Tiny mouths don't really need the tear strength of duct tape, and the remorse expressed by the teachers further reinforces our opinion.

So, we will file this education experiment under life's most expansive mishap category: Someone had a really bad day.

Bent copper for sale

Slightly scuffed but generally in good condition.

A few bad apples, we are a mirror of society.

The two most frequently uttered excuses when someone from law enforcement screws up badly.

What they express is that you'll necessarily find a few bad apples in this big bucket of wholesome goodness. Remove the bad ones, all is well.

Actual factual observation of a bucket of apples: some go bad, that means more will go bad, even if you remove the bad ones. Delay but no remedy.

The mirror of society is more like a funhouse mirror. Distorted enough to give you an idea of the image, way too distorted to show we are just like everybody else.

The worst about the bad apples and the mirror of society statements: those who make them may actually believe them, or they may be at a loss for words.

So, we bring you a few examples of cops for sale. The British "copper" serves the post title well, but we will not give examples for the Brits -- they are reeling under difficult years reputation wise. With those dead kids identity undercovers making babies while embedded with activists, we simply cannot beat that kind of story.

A motel in the United States. A man in a room of the motel.
A stack of money spread out on the bed, the man is counting it.
The door bursts open, two federal agents, guns drawn.
How much money is that?
100 k [we rounded]
You have two minutes to get out. Leave the money here.

An Argentine police officer stops a speeding car.
The driver does not have an Argentinian license.
The driver hands his passport to the officer.
The officer quietly inspects the passport.
And hands it back without the USD 100 that had peeked out.

An Eastern European toll road; a policeman stops a car that has no toll sticker.
He looks at the young family in the car.
He gives the passenger a leaflet that lists the penalties in several languages.
He asks: So, how should be proceed.
He takes back the leaflet and checks that the 50 Euro note now in it looks okay.
Don't forget to get off at the next exit and buy a toll sticker, he says as he leaves.

A German policeman runs off the road and hits a tree.
His insurance does not cover drunk driving but covers wildlife damage.
He reports a small wild boar has hit the car.
The insurance adjuster finds a few hairs, obviously boar.
A few days later, the adjuster calls and asks how a tanned boar hide got into the middle of the road at night.

Spot the urban myth, which one is it?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Time management & make believe

An anecdote from the motherland of workaholics.

In the US, working long hours and letting everybody know about it, is a big part of life. While this is not unique to the States - just ask any medical intern in a German hospital, for example - it is deeply ingrained in the culture.
Of course, there is the fact that you may have to attend a meeting or do emails after hours if your job requires you to work with people from faraway countries.

The long work hours gave rise to the work-life balance movement, itself probably a billion dollar enterprise by now, and you will certainly find people working serious overtime in the name of work-life balance.

We'll tell you about the experience of a northern European engineer E. in an American software company.

E. had recently joined from Europe. Every day, he arrived at work a few minutes before 8 AM and left at 5 PM. On the way out, he'd briefly stop at his manager's office to say goodbye.

This went on for a month or two, when E. thought he noticed a change in his manager's behavior at the end of the day. "You are leaving?" seemed to have replaced the various versions of "have a good evening" or "have a good one".

E. started to wonder but kept to his schedule. Then, one morning on the shuttle bus, he got to talk to a co-worker, and when they got off the bus, he knew what was wrong.

The co-worker had talked about going to the bank after the lunch break, about a trip to Circuit City the week before, about an afternoon walk in the park with others from her team. And then proudly stated the long working hours until 7 PM.

E. was relieved and sad at the same time, as he realized that getting all your work done was not enough. Starting the next day, he left at 6:30 PM, and the goodbyes of the manager changed, the "you are leaving" went away.

A few months later, a period of testosterone fueled heroism began when upper management asked the staff to start working on Saturdays, lunch provided, of course, because without Saturday work, the ambitious product release schedule could not be achieved.

As E. arrived on the first of many Saturdays, he could not help but notice how few of his cubicle neighbors showed up. Those who did come in, tended to appear at around 11 and would be gone by 1, and many would not be there at all.

At that time, E. became somewhat concerned about the health of his manager's infant child, as the manager told him about the child being sickly.

The month of March had just begun, and it became obvious that the April 30 release could not be made, but they soldiered on. E. said to his manager with a joking tone: "We'll get it out just in time for Christmas."

Shortly afterwards, management changed the release date to early July and requested the developers to start working Sundays, too.

E. worked a full day on Saturday and half a day on Sunday until they missed the July date, too. On Sundays, he usually was the only one of the thirty strong team at the office.

It was October when E. handed in his resignation. The product was released on 15 December.
When E. met his former manager six months later and inquired about the infant's health, the manager smiled and said: "He is a very healthy little guy, I know, it was a crazy time."

A couple of years later, the local newspaper ran an interview with the company CEO who complained about the ingratitude of the engineering folks who had recently launched a lawsuit over unpaid overtime.

When the K-Landnews team heard the story,  the resident philosopher curtly said: "Reminds me of Bones."

And when asked for clarification: "The nerdy doctor Brennan from the TV show Bones."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Hofman's Potion

Thanking the man whose substance gets you prison time?

This is one of these incidental posts, triggered by a conversation about a book project under way halfway around the world.

For most people it is hardly conceivable to imagine a prisoner write a letter of thank you to the person who discovered the substance that brought that prisoner behind bars.

Yet, exactly this happened over and over to Albert Hofman, who discovered LSD.

And he wrote back.

And even worse, the letters to and fro show deep insight and gratitude, are free of blame, free of posturing.

The first question asked by the K-landnews contributor we initially asked to write this post was: what am I to make out of this?

Are we talking fan mail like that to Justin Bieber or Jessica Simpson?

No, because neither Bieber nor Simpson are the cause why people all over the world are  thrown into jail by the thousands every year. Their music does not come with prison time, although some might argue that dumbing down young people should be punishable because of detrimental effects on them and on society as a whole as adults.

We sent our prospective poster off to watch Hofman's Potion.

He came back and said: "I cannot do the post, sorry. I am confused. It is beyond me why this is illegal. I mean, for any reasons other than power play and generic stupidity. If I were to write a post, I'd go totally postal, sorry."

Have you heard the story about the missing sailors? we asked. We had been told about two navy sailors going AWOL the day heir ship left port. The story said that someone at a music show earlier that evening had dosed two sailors who had mentioned they were shipping out in the morning.

As our would-be writer leaves, he sees the tracks in the snow on the garage and says: I'd bet that snowball fights have done more harm than Hofman's potion.

Rears with Ears

Gummy candy at our local grocery store, Haribo's "A** mit Ohren".

A sweeter post after those of the last couple of days, just in time for lent, too.

Despite the fact that one of our local markets has the candy isle right at the entrance, it took us years to notice the "rears with ears" gummy candy from the original gummy bear maker Haribo.

The German name of these non-bear gummies is also a highly insulting idiom, probably best translated as "d***head".

As the photo on their web site shows, it comes in large tubs for that serious sugar rush.

We have not been able to find out yet, whether it is okay to distribute these in a normal German workplace. The maker website specifically mentions carnival as the preferred season for this gummy product, but we have seen it at the store year round.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Zero Dark Thirty

The movie has arrived in Germany, too.

And German weekly Der Stern featured the hunt for Bin Laden as its cover story. The image on the magazine cover was more interesting than the article itself.

It was the iconic Bin Laden warrior image, the bearded crusader, smooth complexion and no wrinkles, eyes not looking into the camera but somewhere distant. A paintbrushed version of the image we have seen so many times associated with the horror of 9/11 -- not the image of the old Bin Laden in front of his TV in Pakistan, the guy who obviously suffers from tremors and is a shadow of his former self.

Very much the same if true for photos of other super villains, for instance, from the massacres in former Yugoslavia. The photos of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadic on Wikipedia are also from the times when they gained notoriety during the war.

The man who shot Bin Laden made headlines in Europe a few days ago with claims of no support after he retired from the armed forces. And he is afraid that he is on a hit list of the bad boys.

Very sad.

Still, in the US, people are more likely to die of friendly fire.

Space marine trademark attempt fails

The BBC reports that the "space marine" book pulled last week or so by Amazon is back on sale.

The nice folks who had claimed trademark rights for the term "space marine" should try to trademark the term "not bright". You never know when that comes in handy.

On a more serious note, the K-Landnews ditched its principle "no research" for a few minutes after reading that Amazon had pulled the book.

We went to Amazon and searched their site for "space marine".

We found hundreds of results dating back to the days before Amazon was only known as a huge river in South America.

Has anybody trademarked the word "dumbass" yet, or is it free? We would like to use it in the future, so please advise if you know anything.

Ah, well.

Crystal makes waves

In Germany, that's what they generally call meth.

Since we started the day with a tobacco post, we'll provide a recap on a few reports in recent months about the rise of crystal meth.

For linguists, it makes sense that they call it crystal, given the unease of most German native speakers with the "th" sound.

Historically, amphetamines come out of the long series of German chemistry prowess, and by now it is widely known that the nazis dished out amphetamines mixed into chocolate bars to their soldiers. Had we known earlier, World War II might well have been called the speed war instead of the blitzkrieg.

Apparently, quite a bit of the new meth wave is coming in from the Czech republic's Vietnamese markets but other reports talk of rising numbers of labs in Germany, too.

While the arguments around drugs are interchangeable everywhere, the European focus is different from that in the US, making Europeans watch the American drug war with horror and bemusement.

Coming from the US, it does feel strange when you walk through Frankfurt behind a group of police who pass five or six folks smoking crack on the sidewalk without so much as a second glance.

In a recent nationwide poll, Germans put the police and craftsmen at the top of the most trusted professionals in the country. It was probably not the downtown Frankfurt crackhead vote that got them there but a wider perception of reasonable law enforcement. Politicians came in....yes, you guessed right.

Horror cig packs

Coming to Europe, yeah!

In line with our policy of asking someone as close as possible to an issue to write a post or at least provide input, we found ourselves an unreformed smoker (URS).

What does URS think about the EU proposal to introduce Australian style horror packaging for tobacco? Not just "smoking kills" but photos of real damage.

URS: I am all for it!

K-landnews: Really ???????

US: Yes, I am not kidding. It is harsh but fair, and, of course, I'd love to see the same for alcohol. I'd also be happy if they sell hard liquor only in plain glass bottles, like moonshine. Maybe we can then discuss labeling other products and services accordingly. Have some starving children on fancy diamond packages, or pictures of rotting bird carcasses at all gas stations.

K-landnews: Would you consider quitting?

URS: No. The big effort quitting is overrated, a well intended proposal, and sure, every life saved and so forth, but not my style. I quit for a whole year some time ago, and then went back.

K-landnews: How did you quit, if you don't mind me asking?

URS: Buy a couple of gallons of fruit juice, find some movies to watch, and then take a weekend. You'll be peeing a lot, but you should be fine after a couple of days.

K-landnews: Hm, thank you.

URS: There will be an effect if they introduce these packs, and there will be a business opportunity for hide-the-cigs packaging. Hey, I still have some American Spirit metal boxes from a promotion, perfect fit.

Monday, February 11, 2013

German social classes are rarely called classes these days

What do Germans call a social class? From our impurist language department.

 It's a "Schicht", a layer, a stratum, and sometimes it is a "Klasse".

And what's with the French calling their politicians "classe politique"?

We'll ignore the French one in this post and stick with the German terms. The K-Landers believe to have found a few interesting tidbits.

Historically, you find Klasse a lot, in contemporary German far less often, and - note - generally when talking about those close linguistic relatives from an Anglo nation, the "middle class", the "working class". If you do a Startpage (anonymized Google search) for the German term "Mitttelklasse", the first three results pages all return motor vehicle (car) results. We didn't check subsequent results pages.

So, most of the usage of Klasse in modern German sociology or economics comes "back" or "lives on" via translation from English, French, or other languages.

The German usage of "stratum" can further  be interpreted as proof that you don't have to call something a "class" for it to be a "class". All the physical and cultural trappings associated with a social class exist as attributes to the German use of "layer" -- the fancy homes, the extra yacht, the more sophisticated language, the presumably refined consumer tastes.

It would be interesting to get opinions from linguists about the wider implications of this usage difference. In the US, we have seen a popular cable TV channel use class warfare with abandon in the last few years when many lamented the decline of the American middle class and some wanted to enact measures seen as hostile to the "upper class". The historic connotation was exploited quite openly.

You cannot expect anything but bewilderment if you tried to use the German "stratum" and declare "stratum warfare". Not even Star Wars fans would be impressed.

What we should really do is get some other examples, in particular from Swedish society,  where they have a monarchy but where you can also go and look up exactly how much money your neighbor makes.

Feel free to write one or more doctoral theses about the subject, and don't forget to quote us.

We thought, publishing this post on carnival would be a fitting day.

Industrious Germans

Retiring early.

The latest numbers are in, they say that just over half of Germans work until the current official full retirement age of 65.

As in other countries, you can retire before 65 but it'll cost you. Benefits are reduced by a certain percentage for each year under 65. Full retirement for "younger" people (age 55 and younger) is gradually going up to 67.

Unlike earlier programs that provided incentives for people in sectors like coal mining and steel making, hard hit by economic macro trends, to retire a few years early, the numbers for 2011 are said to show a different trend: people retire early because they can afford to do so.

For those who find the gist of the article we linked to a tad optimistic, there are many reader comments (in German) that illustrate the old "not all that glitters is gold".

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fox News Germany Correction

From Fix & Foxi news Germany, in co-operation with the K-landnews.

Fix & Foxi grapevine news, a division of krautlandnews, found a discussion on German solar power on its remotest-of-cousins cable channel Fox News in the US of A.

Fox says that Germany has so much more sunshine than the US that solar energy works in Deutschland and cannot work in the US.

Slate has a few maps showing how Germany compares to the States latitude wise and solar wise.

Just so we understand each other: Germany has not tried for many decades to add more sunny parts of Europe to its territory in order to get better solar yields.

Can we please get this into the Daily Show or the Colbert Report?

Who let the fools out?

Who let the fools out, wouldn't that be a good carnival rap?

Carnival in Germany has so many little local traditions, you could spend years studying them. Traditional costumes range from old guys wearing white whigs and sporting 18th century fantasy military coats to the scary witch and sorcerer costumes in the far South. And every year, new costumes, many of them potentially copyright busting, appear.

Fat Thursday, the Thursday before Mardi Gras, sees townhalls all across the West and the South stormed and mayors deposed by fools or bands of women.

This goes together with the women cutting off the men's ties -- which may be a bit emasculating or a perfect way for tie makers to ensure sustained demand for their products.

Fools get liberated from the old whig wearing guys by other folks who wear pjs, and papermache keys to cities and towns change ownership for a few days.

And we still have not made our Louisiana chicken run costumes which we wanted to wear to crash one of the big parades.

The plan was to sneak into the parade behind one of the many foot groups, and we are sure nobody would have noticed or cared.

One advantage of a chicken run costume is that it keeps you warm in the much colder carnival season here.

Next year.

When small isn't beautiful

Under specific conditions, we would like to add.

Our backyard psychologist contributor pressured us into this post. No, we will not divulge how, let's just say it was ugly.

Did we already mention some of the difficulties big city children face, like being convinced that most fish grows in a rectangular fashion just like they can see in the fish fingers box?
Or the shock many experience when they realize cows get killed to make the burgers they love so much?

Then there are the stories of the children from small, rural communities. How some of them go out into the world to become movie stars or try their luck in a metropolis, and how some of their stories are uplifting and others tragic, or even better both!

We do want to bore you, so you can refer to any of the coming of age stories set around moving from small town to big city, or from big city to rural backwaters at your leisure.

What we want to highlight today is a realization long in the making, precipitated by a brief statement among friends: oh, that explains it.

Once upon a time, in a country far, far away.

A male in his thirties was having trouble. He was very, very good at his job, friendly of character, pleasant of demeanor, yet frustrated and on the verge of what we widely call burnout.

While he realized all of this, he was unable to pinpoint the cause, which in turn added to his woes. After a short bout of depression, he managed to work out his way of life in such a manner that he was getting by.

One day, he was talking to an older friend and the conversation turned to their youth. The younger male told the old friend about how he grew up in a small town, which he left as a young adult. He was surprised about the exclamation of the older friend: oh, that explains it.

Surprising or not, they did not deepen the topic, moving to gardening, or was it sports. But subsequently the younger man thought about that reaction long and hard. And eventually figured he knew: growing up in what had been a true tight knit community had left him with this particular way of dealing with people. At the same time an advantage and a disadvantage. The legacy of the small town was, he knew everybody, he knew their fears, their desires, their lives. Small town life is not romantic, you get so see ugly behavior, fights, and feuds, yet you get along.

What this young man had not seen, he realized, was the cold, distant manifestation of self interest that is so much a part of life in big cities and in the workplace in urban areas. It is, by the way, also creeping into smaller towns.

His constant insistence on working together as equals, on sharing information not just freely but exuberantly, his upset at seeing people lie and throw others under the bus, his anger at people taking unwarranted credit while dishing out blame -- that short "oh, that explains it" did indeed explain if not all then much of it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Perfectly good brain cells wasted, German style

To get government funds, German non-profits and clubs have to sign a pledge saying they uphold the German constitution.

In 2012, a court in the eastern city of Dresden sided with a non-profit and declared the requirement of a pledge illegal. The German government has filed for an appeal.

Instituted about one year earlier, the pledge not only required the beneficiary of government funds to state that they fully supported the German constitution but required the beneficiary to ensure that any third party partners and contractors fulfilled the same conditions.

However, it's not only federal. Just yesterday, Zeit Online reported about the Eastern state of Sachsen asking for the same pledge from a small charity that - brace yourselves - invited two speakers from the Czech Republic to an event in Germany.

The choice for the charity: either get the foreign speakers to sign that German pledge of allegiance, or return the state funds.

The charity returned the funds.

The charity in question in the most recent crackdown is the Society for Judeo-Christian Collaboration, Dresden, Germany, give them a few euros if you can.

Cake management - the soft power of calories

Not some new form of layered management, merely a tribute to the power of calories and to being nice.

Being nice to people is not the most highly valued job skill. Let's face it, there are plenty of jobs in which you have very little contact with people or where being nice can be negative.

One of the K-landnews contributors, known as a self-effacing person in an environment where self-effacing is equated with meekness and is a career killer like no other, told us the following story out of software la-la-land.

We had just acquired a small foreign company, and our directive was to help align their product, get the revenue flowing if you will.The overall conditions of cooperation were favorable, given that we had been using them as an OEM. 

The acquisition had been uneventful for both parties, not one of those shotgun weddings or badger cull takeovers you hear so much about.

Besides the administrative aspects and the technical integration, meeting our counterparts in person was high on the agenda. My work at the time cut across all product components, so I was one of the first to get to go.

Things were going well, it was fun. After a few days, I noticed how cake or small pastries tended to appear in the kitchen area. As expected, they were brought in for such occasions as a birthday or one of the local young developers getting their computer science degree.

I promptly put myself in line and went to the corner bakery the next week to get three or four cakes. Everyone enjoyed the gesture and the cakes, which prompted the chief of our delegation to buy another round of cakes the following week. Before we headed home to the US, the next group of folks from HQ arrived, and we passed the cake baton, if you will, to them.

Notwithstanding our initial claim that this post was simply about calories, it turned out that there was an important management lesson.

Years later, when the branch VP came to the US to meet our newly anointed  HQ management, he happily praised me in front of them for having started a cake tradition. Our new HQ chiefs did not take kindly to this. We could see their bewilderment and even disgust on their faces.

It was soon confirmed that the new chiefs at HQ could only think of one thing when it came to cake: let them eat cake.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sooo gay

Said an anti-drug school calendar in Germany.

The Zweibrücken, Germany, school district found themselves in hot water recently after they distributed a calendar meant to educate students by spreading an anti-drug meassage.

Unfortunately, they said that "drugs are gay" (they actually used the more loaded German word "schwul" for this).

They needed something that rhymes with cool....

An oversight, said the school district and pulled the calendar.

Thus ensuring a place in a museum for any surviving copies.

Next car: VW

Because the VW CEO wants a smaller salary.

In an interview with Der Spiegel, Mr. Winterkorn, who heads German auto maker VW says that he does not really want the expected remuneration of 20 million euros a year that he stands to make.

In support of Mr. Winterkorn, the K-landers are planning to make VW their official car. Just as they made Icelandair their official airline in the "Duct tape for workplace safety" post.

The fact that the K-landers are so impressed that a captain of industry has a salary pain threshold way in excess of 10 million euros a year can also be seen as a sign of resignation.

With so much inequality, gotta support the one manager who says no at 20 million a year.

Not kosher

You are what you eat -- but horse meat won't make you a stallion.

Do not read this before, during, or after a meal.

We have laughed for weeks at reports out of Ireland and the UK about horse meat in burgers and pork in halal food. And now there is lasagna with even more horse meat.

Time to stop chuckling and start looking at what is going on.

It is not greed or incompetence, folks, it is just a double-blind study by horse meat processors to find new markets.

You have to understand their problem: all that meat and nowhere to consume it.

Can't feed it to cattle, can't label it correctly because humans don't want to eat Flicka, and the Asian markets, ah well.

Don't get upset, continue to chomp down on that delicious piece of ground whatever and see if some men turn into the stallions they pretend to be!

It can always get worse, just watch a few episodes of the gritty American show Deadwood, where humans get fed to pigs. That'll help you deal with the horse meat gag reflex.

One more thing: how can you wonder about all of this in an age of big processing plants?

[Update 10 July 14]
Yes, correct, a vegetarian wrote this.

Peer pressure

Peer Steinbrück offline after hacker pressure.

Any German general election campaign is so muted by American standards, an election can sneak up on you and be over before you know it.

However, this time around, an American inspired innovation was coming to the country. Several entrepreneurs sponsored a blog for, but independent of, social democratic SPD party candidate Peer Steinbrück.

The K-landnews team had planned to write about peerblog only if it was found to violate German campaign financing laws, and we were surprised to see news of the blog's demise.

Zombie bots blamed for DDoS attacks were given as the reason, but our resident zombie immediately went "eh?", and in a couple of news articles we found the same doubts.

If the backers and makers of peerblog wanted a resilient site, why not point the domain name to an existing blog service provider, was our zombie's question.

Nonetheless, we hope the German campaigners find the strength to let go of this innovative model.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Red, yellow, green

The controversial colors set gets an addition for carnival.

We did a post about face colors in November 2012, at this URL. At the time, we left out another face paint aspect of the German carnival season.

Namely, Germans dressed up in Far Eastern garb, something that looks like Japanese or Chinese, or a mix. Kabuki style white face paint on kimono wearing catholics may hurt sensibilities or even ignite color controversy again.

To avoid all of this, we are bringing you a different set of colors from a small town parade we stumbled on last year.

We pixelated the individual on the photo as well as identifying information of the business where the car is parked on the photo. The fact that we did pixelate so extensively should really be attributed to our complete surprise at the "float" than to any other reason.

[Editor's note:  It is not an ice cream cone.]

Arrest warrant for Cookie Monster

Carnival alert: do not dress up as Cookie Monster in Northern Germany.

In January, someone calling themselves Cookie Monster stole an iconic golden cookie from outside of the seat of the Bahlsen cookie company in Hanover, Germany.

German TV crews interviewed the TV characters, without success.

In letters to the company, Cookie Monster demanded several thousand packets of cookies for children's hospitals and charities in the Hanover area.

The company rejected the demand, saying they would not be blackmailed. But - they added - should the cookie be returned, they would consider a donation or two.

Just yesterday or the day before, the cookie was returned and the company will donate some 52 000 packets of product to local charities.

In the meantime, German police are searching for a perp dressed up as Cookie Monster.

So, parents in the North, do not, repeat DO NOT let your kids dress up as the monster. You might have to pick them up at your local police station.

The K-Landnews published a post earlier, "German Cookie Monsters Rise Up", about the public outcry facing Bahlsen when the company announced they would discontinue their line of Christmas cookies.

Since we were the only news outlet connecting Bahlsen and Cookie Monster before the theft, we hope the several hundred miles separating us from the golden cookie will re-assure the authorities that the K-Landnews had nothing to do with this.

Aspirin induced headache

The pharmacist pushes a 20 tablet aspirin package towards the customer and asks for six euros (some 8 dollars).

If you didn't have a headache before, you may get one right then.

An everyday scene in Germany.

You can only buy meds at a pharmacy or an online pharmacy, and they do not come cheap.

We asked around and found it used to be even worse. Online shopping and maybe the EU have kept prices for basic over the counter meds somewhat in check, we were told.

The vagaries of pricing have hit us at the most unexpected moments, the one example we will tout forever is the price of the humble H2O2, hydrogen peroxide, our favorite everyday cleaner and bleaching agent. Even online, you won't find it under 5 euros (around 7 bucks) a quart.

Compared to about 75 US cents a quart when we last checked at Walgreens.

But, as eternal expats, you know how to roll with the different prices.

On occasion, we have successfully replaced aspirin with chocolate - much better and cheaper here than in the US.

The chocolate did not always cure the headache but it made the trip to the pharmacy much more bearable.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

About that flood of complaints to the German press council

[Update 3/25/2016] The link  points to the main page, not the 2012 complaints [End update]
Complaints to the German press ethics council in 2012 (web page in English).

The number of complaints in 2012 was 1500, which they classify as "high" and compare to the numbers from 2007 (735 complaints).

Consequently, they speak of a "flood" of complaints regarding the cover story in satire mag Titanic, which we addressed in an earlier post.

Turns out the flood refers to all of 180 complaints.

As an American, there is only one possible comment: I could do 180 complaints single-handedly and still have ample time to bitch about a multitude of other things.

Obviously, while a miniscule number of Germans felt insulted where the rubber meets the robe, we do not want to see their feelings hurt.

We will keep an eye on the complaint numbers in the coming years to try and figure out if the big special interest sponsored public outcries are jumping the pond.

On the subject of dignity and libel: the K-Landnews team would like our readers to know that you can call us anything you feel like without fear of recrimination or legal action, except labeling us terrorists. That latter term is a little unpleasant, and we would like to guard against any well intended future autonomous robotic warfare that is based off of internet publications. You know, that crowd sourced thing where the objective metrics that is this label is applied a few thousand times and then triggers the robot.

The ratio of total articles published to complaints is in the "parts per million" range, near homeopathic doses of outrage.

Keep that in mind next time someone mentions a flood of complaints.

Conservatives cheat more?

3 PhDs lost on right vs. 1 on left, another Merkel minister hit.

It's all over the German press today, the secretary for research and development of Mrs. Merkel's conservative government gets a "return notice" from her Alma mater. She vows to fight the decision.

So far, so bad. We at the K-Landnews looked at the number of fallen politicians and found that three out of four revoked PhDs are conservative, one a leftish pol.

Does this mean that conservatives cheat more than liberals?

Unfortunately, correlation still does not mean causation. In other words, only a handful of titles are revoked each year out of just under 30 000 that are handed out. Statistically, the small sample is not significant.

However, we have a project for all you underemployed psychologists and sociologists out there.

Do conservatives cheat more than liberals?
Or do cheaters become conservatives?
Or do fewer liberals get caught? [lamestream media conspiracy theorists, please start here]
Or are conservatives smarter, meaning that more of them get a doctorate, meaning that more are found to be cheaters?
Or is there a greater general incentive to cheat in a place like Germany, where your doctor title becomes part of your name? [really]

Get back to us with your findings, and earn that Susan B. Anthony dollar we don't seem to be able to raffle off.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Perry Rhodan

Most successful SiFi pulp fiction series ever is German.

Prompted by the recent treasure hunt that gave us the Fix and Foxi post, we looked for more and found the space adventures of Mr. Perry Rhodan.

Unlike the little foxes, Rhodan was published in the US and has a web page in English.

In typical K-landnews fashion, we proffer an opinion devoid of self doubt: Mr. Rhodan's success occurred despite his German publishers not having the ways and means of a US style media blitz.

Isn't time for a movie or a TV series around Mr. Rhodan, Mr. Atlan, and the mouse?

Oh, what, you are saying Star Wars, the Clone Wars, and some other American SiFi movies were influenced by them?

The previous sentence about possible influences is meant to be red meat. We know from interminable discussions in the newsroom how deeply involved true SiFi fans can be and will sit back and chuckle about the heated debates we hope to kick off with this.

Rising tide

And the lasting effects of TV shows.

The other day, after a Mythbusters show and after seeing the video games tirade of the NRA chief, we were sitting around talking.

That's when one of our folks told us a story of a friend.

That friend had related a personal experience about the power of television.

He had grown up far from the sea and, in his mid-twenties, found himself at the ocean for the first time in his life.

He and a friend were hiking along the top of the cliffs, when the friend saw some tide pools on the beach, so they went down to explore.

After a short time, the friend's companion casually observed: the tide is coming in.

It was at this precise moment that the friend noticed he was getting very uncomfortable, and he turned around to hurry back up the cliff.

There are a few more tide pools over there I want to check out.

But you said the tide was coming in.


We need to get out of the way.

Oh, no, we have lots of time.

The friend later recounted this event as an example of how deeply, unwittingly he had been influenced by the standard TV dramatization of incoming tide in various shows set along the seaboard.

Just think about it, he would say. In all these shows, you have episodes where people get stranded on rocks or outcrops.

Most of the time, you'll hear someone say something about the tide, like, isn't it time we head back before the tide comes in, or, hey, the tide is coming in.

And the next thing you see is a cut, they are surrounded by sloshing water, and everybody fears for their lives.

The friend would conclude the story with: if you had ever told me I would panic like that, I would have laughed. Yes, we did learn in school that it takes hours for the tide to go from low to high, but at that very moment, there were several minutes of apprehension.

TV and movies dramatize all the time, so,  what about scenes like someone walking away from an explosion is slow motion, would you feel compelled to slow-mo after an explosion?

We settled on the possibility that the dramatization of simple, everyday experiences is more likely to trip you. Not many people experience explosions from which they would then walk away in slow-mo, and car chases are not as common either.

Which would take us straight to TV commercials and their dramatization of true everyday experiences, from detergents to cars, from burgers to yoghurts.

Why would we doubt that TV, movies, video games have an effect on us when there is such unquestioned acceptance of the effect of the spoken word and the written word?

Just because it is easier to say, now, let's go to page 5 and look at the first paragraph?

As we at the K-Landnews see it, we should not get all bent out of shape by video games or TV but be aware of their effects, after all Klingon may already be more popular than Esperanto.

Sperm donor sentenced to child support

Germans: What-Head-Were-They-Using?

The German sexism debate highlighted in our Dirndl-Gate post has now derailed. It is a complete train wreck after "men are groped too" made the headlines.

Despite the collective groan of millions of German males of all ages and sizes going "why not me?"

Trust a court to come to the rescue. A man was ordered to pay child support for three children conceived by an ex-girlfriend using his frozen sperm without permission.

The gal even admitted to falsifying some of the required signatures and to keeping his sperm frozen beyond the initially agreed period of one year.

If you need an instance of sexism towards males, this is the one you want to quote.

And, from the K-Landnews males to all the other males: you know that the practices you learned in those hard years of teenage masturbation are time tested, so use them.

Occupy that disease

Social movements described using disease modeling, doesn't that sound cool?

We thought about is for a second and then decided it was a goldfish moment. You heard about the "attention span of a goldfish" concept, where the world is all new every thirty seconds or so.

This was one of our goldfish moments. There are so many bright people out there and so many attention seekers that the idea must have been brought up before.

One of our contributors mentioned a degree of unease with the application of disease modeling to social movements: it throws the doors open to the easy mental association of any social movement you don't like to a disease. With all the contagion and eradication thinking not far behind.

If we want to use the living organism analogies, why not a swarm, or fish (as we did for internet users in a previous post), why not plants. Who's to say that some social movement are not unlike honey bees, where scouts detect the delicious goodness of flowers and then come back to the hive to do a song and dance in order to convince the others to go and check it out?

Isn't the behavior of all the startups dancing in front of the media like the scout bees? With the difference that the bees won't tout a pile of fresh steaming dung.

On that subject, how long until someone uses the fact that dung beetles in South Africa navigate by the Milky Way but are lost in fog to describe some event or human behavior?

Recognizing futility, let's return to the goldfish moment.

Have you ever experienced one? What did you do about it?

You have never experienced a goldfish moment? Congratulations, you are a goldfish!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Vancouver airport at midnight

From our What-A-Story files.

This story was contributed by a reliable source. We could not believe our luck, the K-landnews can boast of having a reliable source, isn't life beautiful.

We asked our reliable source to tell the story as a first person narrator. That means use "I", a common tool in story telling to give immediacy and urgency to a narrative.

So, here we go.

The last flight from Seattle, WA, arrives in Vancouver, Canada, just before midnight. Midnight is good for drama.

The passengers get off the plane and advance into an empty airport, where cleaning machines and brooms reign supreme. I have only a carry on bag, because my stay in Canada should take less than 24 hours.

I am slower than my fellow flyers, they all seem to know their way. For me, on the other hand, this is my first trip ever to Canada. It was not my preferred venue, I had tried to get an appointment in Mexico. But too many other non-residents in the US had the same idea, go to Mexico on vacation, and have the US visa renewed there. Fewer people picked Canada as their destination of choice, so it only took three months from making the appointment to the date of the appointment.

The post 9/11 requirement to leave the country in order to get a new visa stamp seemed to many of us yet another small victory for Bin Laden, or maybe it was just a Bush sponsored subsidy for the ailing US airline industry.

At Canadian immigration, the loose group splits, and I find myself the only person heading for the non-Canadians counter.  They have seats, wow.
Several rows of seats facing a long light colored wood counter. Not like the immigration halls at O'Hare or Newark, which look, feel and smell like they were modelled after cattle feed lots in Texas.

An empty counter.

Nobody in sight.

I step up to the counter, look left, look right, making sure to turn my head neither too quickly nor too slowly. I think that my appearance on the surveillance cameras ought to be measured enough to dissuade the Canadians from bringing out the SWAT team.

It works.

Nothing happens.

I wait.


Then I spot the small metal bell at the very end of the counter.

For entry into Canada, please ring bell.

That's what the xeroxed sign next to the bell should read. It really should say that!

No, it just says ring bell if counter unattended or something equally uninspired.  I feel like taking a picture, but I'm tired after a full day of work. And, who knows, a flash going off at midnight might bring out that SWAT team after all.

If I had to make that trip again today, I would take a picture and use my now vast understanding of Canadian culture and customs to defuse the SWAT team's advance. You know, the knowledge of culture you gain from watching all episodes of the Red Green Show and all of the Trailer Park Boys series.

I ring the bell, just once, daintily.

And here he comes, a spry, youngish Canadian immigration officer. It is definitely past midnight.

Good morning, sir.

Good morning.

He asks what my business is  and how long I'll be staying. I explain, pull out the appointment notification for the United States Consulate, Vancouver, BC, Canada.

He starts chatting, and while he reaches for the stamp and the ink, we are well into a subversive conversation. Do I look like a priest who can get a random Canadian border guard to confess their collective feelings about the change in US visa policy?
I guess, I do look like a priest, because he launches into an unequivocal statement about how the Canadians hate the US dumping people with expired visas in Canada. Mind you, not in big numbers, but those who are refused their US renewal are stuck in Canada for anything from a few days to six months or even more.

Despite the expressed gravity of the betrayal, he remains cheerful, and we agree that the Americans are, as usual, looking in the wrong places.

As I take back my passport, I see that I have a six months visa for Canada. It feels nice, that's twice the time I am used to for tourist visas in every other country I know. I will never check if six months is standard for Canada. Given that, at that moment, I am not feeling welcome by the US, I don't want to conduct a reality check only to find that the Canadians give you six months right off the bat.

Later that afternoon, I am back at the airport, heading south. The US and Canada operate a joint border control point at Vancouver airport, Americans shoulder to shoulder with Canadians.

This gives even more weight to the conversation in the wee hours of the day.

A smiling Canadian officer hands my bag to a silent American who hands it back to me.

The Canadian says: Bon voyage, monsieur.

I respond: Merci, au revoir.

The American remains silent, maybe at a loss because of the exchange in French .

I head towards the US Customs counter, thinking, you know as well as I do what a charade this is.

Is it this thought, or the silent treatment, I don't remember. In any case, before I know it, I violate protocol. Instead of standing at arms length from the narrow counter, I walk right up to it, lean forward, plonk both elbows on the blue surface and go: hello, what can I do for you, stretching out my right with the customs form.

My opposite is an old guy, old enough to be past retirement age, big enough to show he likes food, and he smiles, thus waving his right to admonish my cheeky intrusion into his space.

My customs card declares maple sirup and chocolate.

Is that all?


Okay, and he motions me to pass.

A short while later, I am back in the US, and I feel sorry for them. Sorry that fear dominates discourse, sorry for those working side by side with the Canadians, knowing or at least feeling that they are not as close as they used to be.