Sunday, March 31, 2013

High Noon at the Insulation Panel

The building insulation ROI shoot-out in Germany is so ON.

The return on investment (ROI) for thermal insulation isn't there, says a new study commissioned by the German government bank that provides grants and loans for these building measures.

We have another told you so in a post from last December, A smaller carbon footprint, that supports the findings of the study to some extent.

The Swiss institute that did the study says that the savings until 2050 are roughly half of the cost, but there are doubts about their estimates of price increases for heating over that period.

Our own limited calculation described in the old post appears more realistic, in other words, if you have all the work done by the expensive professionals, you will break even by year 30 (which is five years over the period of 25 used in the study).

If you can do a substantial part of the work yourself, however, you are golden, even if you consider the cost of your own labor.

That aspect, an important one outside of the big cities, is missing from the study.

As is the simple fact that the thermal insulation standards for new construction are so high that an old, not insulated building won't fetch anything if you try to sell it 20 years from now.
No one forces you to insulate an owner occupied home to the new standards. A quarter of the thickness will save you 50% on the oil or gas bill anyway.

Another study, done a while ago, comes closer to our own calculations.

For rented properties, the shoot-out at the insulation panel over the next few weeks will not be so much about where the ROI point is but who pays whom: you can let the renters pay high energy bills to the utilities and the oil and gas countries, or you re-cyle most of that money into the local economy.

Glass slippers exhibit versus the best handmade shoes you have never heard off

In Kassel, Germany, there is an exhibit of "art shoes" under way.

As our resident fashionista brought up photos on the screen, disappointment set in. Sure, a piece of footwear that looks like a stripper shoe wrapped in gold webbing may be art, but my three year old produces that kind of art all the time - without making headlines or getting her own exhibition.

We'd love to see a show of wearable art shoes, where the traditional craft meets imaginative design.

The artisans or artists who work out of a basement or an old trailer and give us wonderfully comfy shoes that will make people stop you in the street. Like Catskill Mountain Moccasins on the  East Coast or Walking Liberty Moccasins out of Oregon.

I have experienced it multiple times as I wandered around the city. Almost always at a traffic light, when I waited to cross. Either someone who had walked up next to me, or someone who was crossing from the opposite side, would stop me.

Excuse me, can I ask you where you got these shoes?

A friend of mine made them.

They look great.

She will make shoes based on your design, you can get very creative with boots.

I would give them the email address of Sharon the Shoemaker, and they would disappear in the crowd or between the concrete of the buildings.

The hip and the wealthy will pay a thousand dollars or more for custom shoes, and when I explained that my shoes were about 150 dollars, including the tube sock and duct tape mold Sharon makes, everybody was surprised.

You might find Sharon the Shoemaker and a couple of similar craftspeople at the High Sierra Music Festival in California, say hi.

The internet presence of these folks is pretty much non-existent, so go look for them the old fashioned way. Etsy has some "kind of like that" but really a far cry from the best ones.

As to my first pair of loafers, they work wonders when that old knee injury acts up. The Doc Martin's come off, and the custom shoes come on -- the pain goes away and stays away for months after just a day or so in these shoes.

It's a lazy Easter day, so photos need to wait until a future post.

In the hood

The old retiree neighbor from across the street dislikes Turks.

Very much so.

His next door neighbors in a cute older house are Turks. An old, first generation migrant couple with their son and his family. They are Muslims and attended the Lutheran funeral of the old German neighbor who passed last year.

The neighbor who dislikes Turks does not dislike us.

A couple of times, during a chat, he went off into complaining that Turks are not willing to integrate, not willing to learn German and the German ways.

We very calmly told him that we understand, and that we try to avoid sweeping statements about ethnicity.  We mentioned that not all Americans are great and good people. He got it.

Our "people are people" mantra at work. Or, you can call it "Hearts and Minds" for those who have never heard of Montaigne (this Wikipedia article does not do the man justice).

The latest xenophobia statistics for Germany are out, and they are more interesting than you might expect.

Location and age of the Germans who hold strong anti-foreigner beliefs also tell us about the country's recent past.

As it turns out, xenophobia in the old West German lands is most prevalent among the old folks age 60 and up.

In the former East Germany, the sentiment is very much that of youngsters under 30.

Researchers think it has something to do with growing up at a time when the respective dictatorships had crumbled and people were trying to rebuild lives in a new, insecure quickly changing environment.

Saturday, March 30, 2013


Time for some self-congratulation.

We got it right on Cyprus in our first post Bye, bye euro?
Euro down, bitcoin up, trust...what's the definition of trust again?

And the EU immigration watchdog is quoted in The Guardian of 30 March as calling British (and German) immigration rhetoric shameful. Our take on the debate has taken a more historic inspired approach (Too many blacks, and You are not welcome sign) with the same underlying views.

Our North Korea take -- they will have to yield fairly soon -- is still awaiting the final verdict. The ridiculous posturing in the past few weeks can be very dangerous but would seem to be the atomic temper tantrum of a loser.

Of course, we have written a lot in the few months since the blog started, and a little humility or modesty is advised, isn't it.

Our political hit and run posts are meant to entertain, to sometimes provide a new, or a really old, angle and they are also a game we play with ourselves.

We award ourselves brownie points if we get it right, and Donald Trump points if we get it wrong.

A Donald Trump point, if you care to inquire, is a point for "complete denial of reality and everything reasonable".

It makes it so you can always be right.

It gives you a degree of freedom normal people will never achieve. Outrageous statements like the "get more white European immigrants" to solve the "shortage" of white people in the US do not turn into a shitstorm, just a shrug "oh, the Donald again".

Like an outrageous episode of South Park gets an "oh, it's South Park again".

Of course, the value of the Donald is really his hair piece, whereas South Park has already achieved cult status, having left the Church of Scientology in the dust on both measures that count: enlightenment and the number of followers.

Gambling nation

Unexpected: casinos are all over Germany.

In the nearest town of 10 000 or so, we have counted six so far without searching.  Just on strolls and small shopping trips.

We were used to Las Vegas and the Indian casinos in the States with all the publicity they get. Coming from a "follow the money" culture, we decided to provide a superficial summary to Europeans of where the American casino money goes.

Las Vegas money finances rich people, investors, professional gamblers, some shady, some not so shady. Indian money finances some tribes, and a surprising amount goes into communities and schools. Some of it goes to the individual states that made treaties with tribes to siphon off some of the proceeds. The states are nice to the tribes, the opening position in negotiations generally goes like this: pay us some taxes, so we can make sure nobody puts up roadblocks all around the reservation.

And in upstate New York, we found a small town that the casino tribe is supporting in various ways. They are buying back property, they are even giving a pretty large annual check to the railroad museum in town.

The German casino landscape has lots of English names, presumably for the implied clout of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, but the similarities end there. We have seen a "Storm Casino", a "Fun & Play Casino", and other unimaginatively named parlours. There is no casino circuit for ageing entertainers and no glamor -- after all, the Germans Siegfried & Roy could do their shtick only in Vegas.

German casinos are smaller outfits, some look more like a coffee shop with a few attached gambling machines. Sans native Americans, irregardless of the fact that a small number of Germans can claim status as Apache-German, Ojibwe-German, Lakota-German, etc., the German casino scene is a simple commercial setup, like your local butcher or barber shop.
Exceptions like the casino in Baden-Baden, where many a Russian took the dive from riches to rags for centuries, confirm the rule.

No faux pyramids, no palaces. And "Paris, Paris" is a real city to them, just eight hours away by car, or 72 hours by tank.

Whatever the zoning laws may be, we have seen one place where the immoral businesses in town are all in one location: a Burger King, a sex shop, a casino. A friend of the K-landnews calls it the BK-BJ zoning template.

What we had hoped to find was a casino right next to a bank to give us an easy one-armed bandits right next to two-armed bandits line, alas, it was not to be.

The Germans like playing against machines, you won't find the plethora of British style betting shops around here that dot the island towns like Starbucks coffee shops in the States.

Other than that, nothing special to note.

The states regulate, the towns get a few percent in taxes, and some families go hungry because the dad takes all his wages to the casino.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Let's dance - but not on Good Friday

But not on Good Friday in Germany.

It is one of the odd laws that are so hard to overturn. A dancing ban on certain holidays is still in effect around here.

Even our favorite "what were they thinking paper" asks the question if this still makes sense today.

If laws had to makes sense when circumstances change, the statute books would look very different.

The ban is administered at the state level, and there are cracks in the uniformity of application. Not long ago, the "quiet time" would start at midnight on Thursday and continue until Saturday night.

Recent protests and challenges mean that the northern State of Bremen is phasing out the ban over the next few years.

As with religion in general, a certain leniency regarding enforcement could be found in many towns and cities, meaning that officials would look the other way if revelers kept the music and excitement down.

Germany's party capital Berlin, also the political party capital, has always been less strict when it came to enforcing the ban -- after all, for decades, the evil commies beyond the wall could invade at any moment, so the folks in the West danced while they could.

Other states, however, have even strengthened enforcement in recent years.

Chances are, in ten years, you won't have to sit through any more blogs or news reports about the dancing ban.

[Update 4/14/2017] Ten years may have been too optimistic. Some politicians have seized on the uproar over ISIS and the refugee crisis to call for strengthening Christian traditions, going as far an ultimately failed attempt in one northern German state to add the Christian god to the state constitution.

Some papers are still running pro and con columns about the ban on parties, dances and general frolicking, for example, Die Welt under the headline "Pro and Con: Is the Good Friday Dance Ban a Kind of Sharia?" (in German).

Cultural pessimists rejoyce

Manie spelling errors in German schools, a study finds.

Yes, we knew it! Kids today don't know their language as well as their forebears.

A study compared school essays written in  German schools over the past thirty years and supports that claim!

We are going down, well, the Germans are!

If you are a serious cultural pessimist, you need to stop reading now and wallow in the pain caused by this finding. Have a brandy or a port, and repeat "oh my" about twenty times.

There is another finding in the study, which is that today's students are quite a bit more creative in their essays.

You, the pessimist, are you still reading? Well, creativity may be overrated to some extent, creative math doesn't sound very reassuring when you are about to board a plane.

The authors of the study conclude that the increased level of creativity is a generally positive thing, and that's fine. At the end of the day, we cannot be sure if this creativity is due to improvements in school and at home or to more widespread pot use, and for this post it does not matter.

If you believe the title is a spelling error, we would like to direct your attention to a possible manifestation of creativity involving the last name of a famous author.

And in case you have an issue with the spelling of the word 'manie', please note that Queen Elizabeth I wrote it like this, and you are not going to question her Majesty's command of the English language, are you?

Swiss attackle and our internet emergency drill "unplug and cover"

Attackle = tiny attack; from English 'attack' plus southern German/Swiss diminutive suffix 'le'.

All of a sudden, the media are alarmed about the biggest internet attack ever.

Man, it slowed down the whole internet! 

Wow, the internet is so huge, like a massive oil tanker, only bigger.

Yeah man, gimme that...

We read it around the 25th/26th of March and activated our internet emergency drill "unplug and cover".

Yes, we invented that, and it is just what you think it is.

Then we read the whole thing and found out if happened on the 19th. And we had not noticed anything, how could we have missed it?

This is not an idle or rhetorical question, dear reader. We receive email alerts from people who run internet name servers, these boxes + software things that are the "telephone books" of the internet.

When there is a big denial of service attack, these guys notice. When there is a slowdown, they alert.

Without further ado, we thought the article was probably another of these "fillers" which made it to publication only because of the Easter slowdown.

Then, on 28 March, we saw reports that the panicky "It's going down" was part of the public relations battle of Swiss anti-spam outfit Spamhaus against their presumed attackers based in the Netherlands.

A story as full of holes as Swiss and Dutch cheeses.

L'heure allemande - not Germany's finest hour

French, meaning 'German time', more commonly known as daylight savings time.

Have you guessed why they would call it 'German time'?

You'll certainly understand if we tell you that old folks remembered it by that name when it was introduced as a regular feature on the continent a couple of decades back.

The K-Landnews folks love Daylight savings time (DST).

Except for the changes back and forth. Applying, as we do at the K-Landnews, another value added term for the procedure, we call it 'dumb'.

Having DST go into late fall is a boon to people who tend to get depressed in the winter months. That extra hour is a clear unsung health benefit.

Now, why in the world can't we have DST all year round?

Don't tell us it is because of the farmers. There are so few of them anyway in the West, they should get their own endangered species label. We could subsidize them for that instead of paying for their pesticides.

Year round DST would be much more efficient than the current setup, why are all the efficiency and operations management experts silent on that one? Because they are in hibernation?

If I had a small chunk of the money lost because some enterprise software has a DST problem, I could fund one of the world's larger charities.

Time conscious folks prefer GMT, more correctly UTC, or the hardcore label Zulu time.

Sure, the first is too scientific for a lot of people, and the second will likely be seen as yet another step towards a sinister world government.

Never mind the bunny


Definition: Arrest an ersatz culprit through uber policing because the justice system is kaput; aka. the end justifies the means.

There is no simple translation into English that captures the depth and the vengefulness of this German word. "Clan liability"  gives you an idea of the concept but sounds as innocent as "motor vehicle liability insurance" to our ears.

Although the concept of taking it out on the family and next of kin of someone is old and still in use in many countries, we hoped it was on its way out.

The early Christians, on the ascent after Jesus returned, soon found "Sippenhaft" used against them. Much later, once they were powerful, the church added the tool to its arsenal.

Modern examples are very diverse and include the attempted financial "Sippenhaft" of the Euro Group going after the grandmas of Cyprus.

When the only civilian airplanes over the US in the days after 911 turned out to be those taking members of the Bin Laden clan home, a friend said: This proved  to me that Bush and Cheney had no intention of going after Bin Laden.

In Britain, the most obvious beachhead of Advanced Immigration Methods out of the US,  the government is seriously planning to check the immigration status of school children, and there was talk of banning the kids from school. Food stamp "cards" (they really are ration cards for the poor) are also coming to prevent people from spending money on gambling, alcohol and tobacco -- yeah, another government enriched black market is born.

Easter is a good time to get out those good religious ideas and ideals.

They may just be the one most effective way to halt, or at least slow down the march towards the new dark ages.

It seemed to be a great subject for Easter,  we couldn't make if funny, hence "never mind the bunny".

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The bunny has no clothes

And the title is a bad play on the emperor without garb.

We had no idea that someone would be in the courts for 10 years over the packaging of an Easter bunny.

But that is precisely what Swiss chocolatier Lind & Spruengli did. Their bunny must be a head turner, making executives knees' tremble and their brains...ah, never mind.

Their Easter bunny comes in a gold foil with a nice red cloth bow, and they decided to trademark this in 2000, after which they took competitors to court because their packaging allegedly infringed on the Swiss bunny.

The principal competing bunny is packaged in gold foil with a painted on brown neck band.

The top German court held: no infringement.

The top Austrian court, au contraire, handed a victory to the Swiss.

The K-landnews team is glad that none of the team members has spent any money on Lind chocolate in the past decade or so.

We have a suggestion for Apple Inc. spending the tons of cash they are sitting on.

While they should by the island of Cyprus, they don't want to be seen copying Larry E. as second comers.

So, instead, why not buy Lind?

Software developers love chocolate with their pizza, and Apple could teach Lind a lesson: it's about the curvature of the bunny ears.

Had they trademarked that, German courts would have upheld the claims, we are sure.

You can send us a box in recognition of our free advice.

We only buy holiday sweets at 50% off anyway.

Fox in the hen house

Endorsements are so much fun, so illuminating because they give us insights we might not find so easily otherwise.

Much of the endorsement game plays out in the noise of everyday life. We know sports celebs pick up endorsements, movie stars do the same.

And around election time, everybody and their uncle chases endorsements.

The K-landnews folks don't care much either way, except when there is an instance of an endorsement that shines a spotlight on a subject.

We call them "poison endorsements".

Like Deutsche Bank endorsing the Cyprus bailout. We wrote a little bit about Deutsche Bank but you need a better understanding of what this endorsement feels like.

For the older readers among you: imagine the Ku Klux Klan endorsing your human rights policy.

A less politically fraught image: the fox endorsing your security system for the hen house.

That's what Deutsche Bank's endorsement feels like.

One more thing:
We apologize to all the foxes out there.

Only the postman

Like a total eclipse of the sun -- Easter slowdown in Germany.

The first year we were here, we barely had enough food in the cupboard to make it through the Easter holidays. 

Not for lack of money - that will happen in the future - but because the shop opening hours surprised us. Several months later, we had another out of shopping experience and stood in front of a closed grocery store on a Monday morning.

Feeling like complete idiots.

We got over it, but the Easter and Christmas lulls continue to feel odd. Back stateside, Easter was no big deal, and Christmas was the day the Koreans and Chinese fed the whole country, or so it could seem.

Whereas around here, only the postman goes about his routine while the rest of the country is in front of their TVs, out walking in "nature", hypnotized by the blinking lights of the casinos, or sitting in southbound monster traffic jams.

Easter is one of the times that reminds us that people are very funny critters.

The relentless activities, so critical in our daily quest to prevent the skies from falling down - they stop, and the skies stay up there. They don't fall down, they don't even get lopsided or creak like an old barn under stress.

Nothing, nada.

In a week or so from now, the single-mindedness will kick in again, as if nothing had happened.  

The 18 wheelers will rumble and hiss, the trains will rush from economic hub to economic hub, the traders will yell and the politicians whine (and yell), the spreadsheets will fill and become verdicts on people and companies.

In the meantime, TheEditor, bolstered by successfully passing several citizenship tests, will have a look at the latest papers and certainly find something that fits his editorial philosophy "if you can spew inanities and innuendo, so can we".

And the postman will be there.

700 years worth of shows

One of our favorite retirees back in the States showed us his collection of old radio shows.

Then he smiled and said: "I calculated that I would need to listen to them for 700 years straight to listen to all of them."

Another friend has a house full of vinyl records. We mean, a house full. About 500 000 of them.

Neither of them is crazy, to the contrary, so don't expect an expose on digital hoarding or hoarding plain and simple. 

We do mention them every now and then when there is yet another copyright abuse/pirate debate to make a point.

The point being that human beings have a very limited amount of time, and we bet that Susan B. Anthony dollar (minus shipping and handling) that 90% of all that copied - oxymoron alert - "intellectual property" sits in a corner, gathering dust or gathering whatever the digital equivalent of dust is.

Sure, average lifespans have been inching up but, short of immortality, you will never be able to read all the books, watch all the movies, or listen to all the music or those old radio shows.

Humans have tried to extend their waking hours by all kinds of means, from tea and coffee to meth. Just watch that BBC documentary about the meth capital of the U.S., which apparently is Fresno, CA.

Having to wait 100 years before you can legally make a copy of that DVD is a bit of a stretch, even Catholics don't come with that kind of deferred gratification stamina.

In the cacophony of the modern world, don't we have this phrase "time is money"?  When we buy a product, we give someone money but also time.
Isn't this why we feel cheated when we try to get a customer service person on the phone and then have to listen to Greensleeves or For Elise for half an hour?

You can return a bag of pasta, no questions asked. Cannot be copied yet. But I will work on making pasta in a 3 D printer. Same for a car, although some people are clamoring for an exception if that car is sold to China.

Why does Netflix work? Because you won't feel bad if you watch trash for a whole evening when you pay 10 or 12 dollars a month.

Why do you pay too much for Apple hardware and iTunes? Because your time is as much of a luxury item as an iPhone. You can spend more because you expect to get that promotion over the Android guy -- heads or tails?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013


Swedish, def: a) something cannot be found through a web search;
                      b) also, something cannot be found using a Google (TM) search.

Not an official word in Sweden because Google (TM) complained about definition a).

The Swedish language council dropped the word from its official list.

We would classify this problem of Google in the category "problems you like to have".

Nobody knows if the word will become unbingable or unaskable any time soon, but if you shed a tear about it, use a kleenex.

If you get so upset that you throw your laptop at the wall, you can hoover up the bits and pieces with your swanky new Dyson.

Small countries are the geographical equivalent of small people, and if you engage in dwarf tossing, you are a tosser.

Big pictures, screaming headlines

Tiny sentences, boobies, sports cars -- how can you not make fun of German tabloid Bild?

So, when Bild offers to give up their courtroom seat at the most important criminal trial in Germany to a Turkish newspaper, you know there is a story.

The story is about the allocation of seats for the press in the murder trial of neo-nazi woman Z., the only surviving actor of a three person killing gang known as the NSU.

They killed ten people, eight of them from the Turkish minority, in a series of killings dubbed "Doener murders". Botched investigations were the hallmark of the official response.

Police did not catch the trio. Two killed themselves, and the third turned herself in.

For the upcoming trial in the southern city of Munich, the court managed to allocate all media journalist seats without a single Turkish paper or TV station getting a seat.

First come, first served, says the court.

Really?, asked the press.

Insensitive, says the rest of the country.

When Bild offered to give up their seat to a big Turkish paper, things looked up.

But the court refuses to allow the change.

That is why we praise Bild today and wonder why the court insists that "rules are rules".

No, there is no reason to think they are malicious, they are just utterly thoughtless and insensitive.

Aye, caramba

Return of the Killer Cats.

Spring time, little baby birds, and cats killing millions of the baby birds for fun.


That's not the yawn caused by general lack of energy in the spring but a yawn about a study that goes and quantifies the huge numbers of birds killed by cats every year.

Sounds unfair to the study?

No, the unfair part is that a German author takes a study that says "on wildlife of the United States" and does a numbers game on the situation in Germany.

Oops, that comes out to cats killing off an estimated 50% of the birdies here, so the author puts in a couple of "sounds really too high" and "cats in urban settings only" and adds a few good words about the baby bird season in general.

What a sweet bummer.

Sweet because it is so easy to demolish.

The article states unequivocally that cats will hunt and kill birds even if they are well fed and not hungry.

That is just so wrong.

Free-ranging cats in the United States have a very different life from their counterparts in Germany. Been there, seen it, seen and done spay and neuter, and blah, blah, blah.

Just because some cats are mindless killers like some human counterparts...hey, keep your human locked up inside so he or she cannot go and kill, perfect.

We won't go all pseudo darwinian on you as some comments to that article do, but if you care to collect data, here are some:

2 cats in the yard for 4 years.
Number of birds killed: 0
Number of mice and rats killed: hundreds

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

British Citizenship Test

TheEditor just took the test on the Guardian website with this result:

Congratulations – you are safely over the 75% hurdle. You have passed the Britishness test.

Of course, we are not sure if the Guardian, in their capacity as left wing closet republican intellectuals, rigged the test to be easy, but who wouldn't enjoy passing?

Contact us by email if you would like to send us a passport.

[Update late Tues. 26 March]
Did the German test on the FTD web site:

Mit Auszeichnung bestanden!
Herzlichen Glückwunsch, Sie sind ein wahrer Musterbürger!

That's "Superkraut with honors"!

The nail biting question: how does TheEditor do on the American test?
You need 60% to pass the test.
You answered correctly 18 out of 20 questions. Your score is 90%

While we are working, how does TheEditor do for Canadian in British Columbia:
Canadian Practice Citizenship Test
Your score: 85%

Australia was tough, but TheEditor was saved by ANZAC Day and sqeezed by with 16 out of 20.

Why did TheEditor do all of these tests?

Because, without passing them, TheEditor could not call all of these tests "government sponsored hazing".

And yes, we do know that a quarter or more of US citizens would fail their test. It's not the fault of the citizens, it's the education system.

But do not forget the important thing: enough money buys you any citizenship you need.

[Update 27 March] The French scrapped their test in 2012, oh merde, TheEditor so wanted to to this one, too. The question now: can anybody become French without hazing? That'd be so cool.

To my Japanese friends: I love you guys, but I won't do your test as long you put the verbs at the ends of sentences.  So desu ne.

Burn that flag

Germans feel the burning flag heat again.

The country just got another "refresher lesson" in power: if others believe you have too much of it or are not using it well, they burn your flag.

The headlines in the German press said that a German flag was stolen at a German army camp in Cyprus. Then, in the body of the article, they said that two German flags were stolen, one of which was set on fire.

It happened last week and was a short lived news item. But then, what was not short lived last week.

Other countries where German flags went up in flames in recent years include the usual Euro bailout suspects like Greece but also Hungary.

The European flag, too, has fared badly, getting burned all over the place.

Did you just ask what the German army is doing in Cyprus?  They do a UN mission stint on the island divided since the 1970s.

We did not try to find flag sales statistics for Germany since re-unification, but we were quite surprised at the large numbers of flags big and small we have seen since our arrival. Compared to the low-key old republic.

As you would expect, some folks get very touchy about flags. Hence, when some German youth groups called for flag restraint during last year's European Championship, others immediately cried "German self-hatred".

The resident perfectionist at the K-landnews still, after several years, cannot get over the fact the yellow band on their flag is called "gold". Yes, the perfectionist accepts that there is precedent, such as poets waxing about the golden sun or sister golden hair, but you can see why the perfectionist won't budge.

Says the perfectionist: I don't think the name of the color makes a difference when you burn the flag. You might even think modern flags are produced to be riot friendly, with the flimsy, cheap polyester. But beats me why, at a military funeral, they used to make the latest recruit jump into the grave to retrieve the flimsy thing -- a thin piece of fishing line seems to be more dignified, or get a bio-degradable one.

Give and take

Then forget the "take" part and turn victim.

Two German states filed a case with the country's supreme court on 25 March. The Bavarian press statement began very appropriately with a reference that made a lot of people uncomfortable: "Since 9 o'clock this morning, we've been in court."

If you are not a historian or not German, here is a hint: look up the radio announcement of the invasion of Poland in WWII.

What the case is about:
German states have a mechanism for transferring money from "rich" to "not so rich states", and the plaintiff states of Hesse and Bavaria say that they are paying inordinate amounts to poorer states.
The third big payer Baden Wuerttemberg chose not to join them in the case.

How it works:
Contrary to initial suspicion, this is not a leveling mechanism. Say, a rich states makes 12 dollars in taxes, a poor state makes 8, and the median for all is 10.
The rich state would give 1 dollar to the poor, helping the poor state but not giving up all the riches.

Bavaria and Hesse are pissed:
Especially because the vast majority of the money they pay in goes to the city of Berlin.

How much do they pay:
Bavaria, the biggest payer, pays about 3.5 billion Euros a year. Since that is not really a whole lot if you understand that the federal government paid more than twice that amount to bail out a single Bavarian bank a few years ago, they show charts with cumulative payments made since 1995.
That looks more impressive.

The end of history:
The really squeaky wheel Bavaria conveniently leaves out two facts from their narrative. Bavaria is newly rich -- they received huge sums after WWII through the financing model they now want overturned. Their solution: history begins in 1995.
In addition to the state level help, Bavaria was the one state that has received more money out of the federal budget than any other.

How it is justified:
Solidarity, sure, but a more justly distributed effort.

How it is widely perceived:
a) Earners - keepers
b) F*** everybody, never mind the 40 years of help, we deserved them more than anybody else.

Delightfully dyslexic

Coming out as slightly dyslexic is not a big deal these days, said the K-landnews contributor with the dark secret.

If had to do all my writing on a typewriter, even the local cops might wonder about the guy who buys white-out correction fluid by the gallon. I'd have to leave the front door unlocked or install a revolving door so all the law enforcement agencies and state inspectors would not be too inconvenienced.
But the condition was never as bad as with other people I know. It has brought me some great, if dodgy, puns and some very questionable but funny quips.

The other day, for instance, I was researching for a long overdue article about the Queen's speech with 'annus horribilis', and lo and behold, I missed out on that second crucial 'n'. That led me straight to this most useful and delectable website

Until recently, depending on the country, this could have landed me in some sort of dyslexic re-education facility, like Concatentation Camp or Guantanamera Bay. Today, it simply goes up on Blogger, and nobody thinks twice about it, or even once.

I know there are people who really suffer, but I am not the only one who feels lucky that computers with decent spell-checking became available when they did. Many people will think you are less intelligent than your peers, and that can be an awful realization. But your time will come, for example, I started a new job and they gave us a block of wood with a concave central channel and two metal spheres -- a business card holder as welcome gift. I put on a solemn expression, looked pensively at my manager and said: nice, Larry's brass balls.
Not necessarily smart but don't underestimate dyslexic cojones.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Who vetted the pope?

Disturbing news out of the Vatican.

The new pope refused red shoes.

The new pope picks up the phone and personally calls his newspaper stand in Argentina to cancel his paper.

As if this was not enough, now we hear that he used to save the rubber bands of the paper and then returned them to the news stand for re-use.

Who has vetted that man?

Did Santa's nice and naughty list experience an epic failure?

Were the corporate and executive image consultants too busy fluffing up the deteriorating reputations of <put any name here>?

Is the new pope bent on proving that the Catholics accidentally got the right man? Gee, we cannot even say "hell bent on proving" ....

Did Martin Luther, the German, not MLK, get it wrong after all?

Or is this a conspiracy theorist's wet dream?

Well, with an organization as big as his, things will go pear shaped sooner or later. 

Good luck, though.

This American Life

We could stick an [at] symbol in there and deliver this right to your Tweet box or whatever the list is called, but we are not in your face...

No, we are not homesick, but we appreciate really good radio.

And NPR not only pulls off what pampered German semi-public broadcasters regard as a true miracle of funding but has some wonderful shows and incredibly dedicated volunteers running the small stations, be it in the desert of Utah, the party town of Chico, or On the Res (okay, technically not the same nation).

What makes a show like "This American Life" so appealing to us? 

Sure, some episodes we like because they re-enforce one of our pre-conceived notions of the world. Everybody needs that kind of "your view is great" once in a while, but the more hardcore believers turn to the news equivalent of soft porn on FoxNews or MSNBC, and those with a heart condition seem to like the rush of the Limbaugh.

But "This American Life" got us glued to the tinny tiny tablet speakers for a series on the Chicago Public School system!

The question "how can that be" kept nagging us. Were we in denial about not being homesick, or terminally bored in a long winter?

One thing we noticed is respect, even in little things, even if they are not "right". The kid who says "aks" gets to say it without being corrected to "ask".

They told the story of a young man who did sidewalk graffiti with chalk at night, and who found himself investigated as a terrorist. Turns out, one of his works was done outside of the house of Old Europe Old Guy D. R.'s daughter.

They tell stories about bible camp, and no, they do not tear down the kids.

They made the mortgage boom insanity understandable to normal folks like us.

They gave a US Afghan kid a recorder and got riveting radio.

No, they are not perfect -- they had to retract one episode we know of, and they do get criticism for others.

'nough said.

Any up and coming German or other European radio makers read this post? Have a listen on the website of "This American Life".

German campaign trail

They don't have one. The long slog through uncharted territory inherent in the American understanding of "trail" does not translate well. There is no mystic trail here like the Oregon Trail, or the Natchez Trail, to lend an aura of adventure to political campaigning. All the other trails the Germans came up with in the past century somehow run straight across other countries and have been thoroughly discredited.

Both space, measured in krautmiles (km), and cultural framework do not make a German general election campaign much of an excitement or a nuisance by American standards.

The German campaign trail looks more like a campaign autobahn, with wide lanes for lots of participants, decent sign posts and exit ramps, and the occasional "ghost driver", the rogue who gets on, causes confusion and maybe a collision.

This being said, we finally have exciting news out of Bavaria
The governing conservative CSU wants to establish a new Homeland Ministry.

The charter of the new government agency would be to bring government closer to the people, move responsibilities and funds back closer to the people.

We love the idea of a government agency charged with reducing government, it is so quaint and opens up opportunities for Job Enrichment.  Unhappy with the European Union banning incandescent light bulbs? 

Let's create a new agency!

Once the election is over, cynics expect the plans to disappear into a filing cabinet until the next big election.

Orange Easter eggs at the airport security check

Airlines and security - well, if you shake your head every time there is some scurrilous or patently absurd news item around this topic, you end up with a series of concussions worse than in Pro football.

So, just smile.

Smile lines make you appear older but you live longer.

Smile, like in the case of the sixty-ish guy who walked into the cockpit and sat behind the pilot, not doing anything other  than what many kids since the invention of flight have been dreaming about. Not the right thing to do in this day and age. Result, he is arrested so that we can feel safe.

One more reason to fly Icelandair - they'd never let a a scraggy old guy get that far.

Did you know that some airlines had the habit of asking relatives of airline workers to do testing of baggage screeners and security?

Next time you are in line behind the jovial old lady at security,  make an extra effort to be nice to hear. She might have two bright orange dummy hand grenades labelled "Property of WTF Air" in her suitcase and help you be safe.

Of course, there is a chance that the suitcase makes it through the x-ray machine, with questions asked about her lipstick but not about the near ostrich egg sized oval thingies. Okay, they are not that big, but we have not managed to mention ostrich eggs in over 300 posts on this blog. 

The old lady, by the way, is no longer accepting such requests after her last adventure.

She did not want to get on the plane with the dummies, so she tried to hand them in to the gate keepers. Who were not too alarmed but still politely refused to take the Easter eggs.

She went all the way back to the ticket sales counter, handed them over to bemused WTF Air ground personnel, then went through security again, almost missing her flight.

What lessons can we learn from this?

Never accept orange Easter eggs with a "Property of ..." inscription, only accept plain, unlabeled eggs, or become a vegan and Just say No. If you do take them, eat them before going through security.

If you want to be in a cockpit, take flying lessons, or (cheap and easy) find an old copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Too many blacks, wrote good Queen Elizabeth I in 1596

In England, a contribution to your immigration debate.

Oy, and while you are at it, we suggest you reduce the web presence of the National Archive -- you can make an austerity argument for that, thanks. Just kidding.

The current immigration debate in Britain, and in Germany as well, is very reminiscent of good Queen Elizabeth I with her missive about too many blackamores in the country. That gem would be harder to find if it wasn't for the cool website of the National Archives. You can also leave it to Ukip to close that one down and focus on a consistently upbeat version of UK history.

The missive by good Queen Elizabeth I was in 1596.

As in one, five, nine, six.

The toughest immigration rules on the planet, says the minister. Hm, if you want that, you need to go a little further than the above Telegraph article describes.

Before we, pardon our French, let one rip, may we remind you of the psychologist who said that only someone we feel very close to can really hurt us deeply. 

In plain language: in order to lose a friend, you need to be friends in the first place. This is how Israel lost friends about the Prisoner X mess, how Germany lost friends over the Euro, and so forth.

So, here is how we see it.

It's been a while since you dragged an American WASP lady friend of a friend out of the immigration line and interrogated her. Her intended activity: a three week vacation in Europe. Which she completed, and then she returned to your former colony.

That is a policy we can support. A good scare don't hurt nobody, as we say in the hills.

We were wondering, since you dropped caning in schools long after canning in home etc, what happened to the canes? You could give every EU immigrant a gentle, gentle reminder of historical discipline.

Heck, no, we are not suggesting caning them!

Put a up a row of display cases at immigration, and display an assortment of canes with a few photos and a vivid description of their purpose, that's all we are asking for.

It's gonna remind people how much better today's Britain is, and it'll give them something to chat about during the long deterrence wait.

Then, when you ask for that cash deposit and tell them they will have to pay for medical visits, you'll only get happy smiles and a "gladly, sir".

Once the display cases are up, you can add commemorative themes, for instance, in 2014 when the 100th anniversary of WWI comes up, something about that nitwit bully of a nephew of Queen Victoria in order to tackle unrestrained German immigration.

[Update 25 March] Nice speech, Mr. C. I love the requirement to show robust knowledge of the English language. Are you going to send the indigenous of East London to school to catch up? Do Aussies get a pass, mate? Are you going to fire your chief statistician, the Honourable Count of Error de Median?

[Update 12/27/2016] Here is the quote from the National Archives site: In 1596 she wrote to the lord mayors of major cities noting that there were 'of late divers blackmoores brought into this realm, of which kind of people there are already here to manie...'. She ordered that 'those kinde of people should be sente forth of the land'.

Beer 1 - Cyprus 0

From Zypr-Idiots to Beer, the Germans are in fighting mood.

It was only a matter of time before some German "comedian" would take the old German name of the island's inhabitants and turn it into a dumb joke. We saw it a few hours ago on but it is gone from there now.
The modern name is "Zyprer", we believe it was done to get rid of the Zypriot for just that reason.

And we are not amused.

But the headlines have moved on to the sudden death of a Russian tycoon in Britain and, more importantly, to Beer.

Turns out the competition watchdogs have been investigating 12 German breweries for price fixing since some time in 2012.

It is unlikely that they will find horsemeat in German Beer (has to be with a capital B, sorry) because most makers still use the old purity law (malt, hops, water, yeast, NOTHING ELSE).

Purity of ingredients notwithstanding, the ethical purity seems to have been superseded by the age old maxim: if the price is not broken, we fix it.

Fines are the likely outcome, despite readers calling for restitution in the form of Free Beer or steep price reductions for an appropriate period of time.

Since we don't drink Beer (or beer): we sooo feel your pain.

Yeah, right.

Germany's best Harley mechanic

This young man of 23 years is without any doubt one of the best Harley Davidson mechanics in Germany.

By age 12, his favorite after school activity was fixing the mopeds of older kids and the lawnmowers of the teachers. After many hours of restoring old motorcycles with his dad and his older brother and three years of vocational training at GM, he graduated top of his class. Since GM was not doing well, not a single one of the kids was given a permanent job - the top graduates were offered part time, on call car detailing work. He eventually took a job at a nearby Harley Davidson shop.

A little over a year ago, he brought home his latest find from a Saturday trip into hill country.

He held up a rusty frame and pointed to two boxes of miscellaneous, equally rusty parts, including an engine, and announced: my new Harley.

We did not follow the history of the bike in all detail, but it was a "Wxx" motorcycle from 1941, out of British Army inventory.

Once or twice in the year and a half, we saw it take shape in the well equipped basement workshop of his parents' house. He had decided to go for the civilian color scheme, which honestly, is much more glamorous.

This weekend, we saw the fully restored motorcyle on the road for the first time. All paperwork done, stringent German inspection passed, fully street legal, registered with, as luck would have it, a new retro license plate.
What a shame nobody had a camera or a cell phone on them. We'll get a photo as soon as possible.

It looks and runs as if it came out of the factory yesterday.

We decided to make him a consultant. For a reasonable fee, of course -- or just for the fun of it, he will decide case by case. Drop us a mail, and be patient.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Stan & Ollie Garch

When contemporary events feel like you are watching a silent movie, is it innocuous, or do you need to call in Oliver Sacks?

We'll leave this open for the moment.

But that Cyprus bailout does feel like a silent movie.  It's all black and white, there is no need for a dialogue, an intermittent  label with a short sentence or two, or a only a couple of question marks (e.g. ?????) is more than sufficient for following the plot.

As we have seen in many Laurel and Hardy movies, the roles are pretty well defined. In the current bank caper and young maiden rescue (played by Christine Lagarde of IMF fame),  Stan plays the slightly naive prime minister of Cyprus, Ollie is cast as a Russian, his character aptly named Ollie Garch, who tries to save suitcases full of cash from an evil and at the same time very confused, disorganized gang named Troika, really just another word for triad. Several scenes of the short film show different members of the Troika shooting themselves in the foot while you see Stan and Ollie Garch try to get into a bank through steel bar protected windows. The viewer is left wondering, which increases the comedic effect, because they are only some ten yards away from the wide open bank doors guarded by a couple of oblivious security guards in indigo uniforms wearing spiked helmets.

The car chase scenes are more subdued than the audience would probably expect, but given that they have to use a Prius on an island that is not only small but divided into two sealed off parts, we think they are fun to watch.

We will not give away the ending, but would like to point the reader's attention to a little known fact about Laurel and Hardy in Germany.

Laurel and Hardy were known to German TV viewers in the last century as "Dick und Doof". Yeap, Fat and Dumb.

Rage and helplessness

Says Der Spiegel about: Angela Merkel.

So, Ms. Merkel and the citizens of Cyprus do share something. It's a start.

We were out yesterday at a garden show because it is that time of the year. Our Useless Numbers Department tells us that the Germans spent more on gardening supplies last year than on baked goods.

What do these numbers mean?

Are the Germans eating less bread, fewer Danish pastries? Not if you believe the obesity statistics.

Are they spending more on plants, tools, landscaping?

While we compared roses, German politicians left, right, and center continued to bitch about the vastly out of proportion banking sector of Cyprus until a little voice from a few miles west chimed in:  hey, Luxembourg speaking, you know, we are not happy to see you diss small countries that do lots of banking.

To which the Germans replied, well, if Cyprus had adopted the tag line "the Luxembourg of the East", we might have been more understanding.

The end of history has happened again, that collective amnesia which makes it so that not a single German news outfit even mentioned that the whole EU+IMF package for Cyprus is only a smidge bigger than the amount German taxpayers forked out for a single German bank during the pre-historic recession a few years ago.

German taxpayers/rail travelers will have to pay an extra 2 to 3 billion euros for the cost overrun of a single train station in the Southern city of Stuttgart. Which is about what the Germans could be paying if Cyprus defaults.

Out of sight, out of mind?

It is an underground train station.

We expect great landscaping once the giant hole in the ground gets filled in.

When bytes go backwards

The project manager was sporting a huge grin.

He had just explained to a client project manager that the Apple software project would be delayed by a few days because the network at his, the grinner's company, was currently being upgraded to handle backward bytes.

The client agreed to move the deadline out another week.

It was a bad but effective joke based on the fact that not all bytes have the same format of bits even if they represent the same data. If you really want to know what that means, do a web search for "little endian" or "big endian".

Besides being an inside joke for geeks, we think this is a pretty good example of how easily we can be fooled or misinformed and still be perfectly happy.

Happy? Yes, because the delivery was made before the extra week was over, and the client came back with more projects.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Hide your s@&* - corporate infighting at its finest

From the Sneaky-Manager-Bible.

We have already brought you some guidelines for the sneaky manager in our post on email forwarding.

The present post illustrates the best use of email threads and cell phones or smart phones.
Used correctly, both can advance your career and destroy the pesky colleague or subordinate who may stand in the way of your personal and organizational fulfillment.

Email Threads
Invented by well-meaning product managers and developers as a means to help people follow a conversation through many iterations and with many people.
You can break threads to your advantage. Threads will break naturally, often because of "on top-ism", where replies are fired off without much thinking to demonstrate how agile and cool a recipient is. So, sometimes, all you do is exploit a break caused by someone else. This is better than you killing a thread and starting a new one -- anything goes wrong, there is someone else to blame.
At other times, you need to cut a thread and start a new one, usually when you made a mistake you do not want to fess up to.
Or when you find out one of your people has asked for and received help.
If you cannot tolerate outside help, cut the thread and then ask the good Samaritan to "go through channels in the future".
Starting a new thread on a subject (or an advantageous slight variant of the original) makes it incredibly difficult for anyone to complain about the competent, pro-active, goal- and revenue-focused you.
Neither line managers nor HR want to go through multiple threads, build timelines, for anything but serious criminal issues, so your backstabbing self can be fairly sure that - without lots of effort - most of your activities will appear to be in the "he said she said" realm.
If you spot a "cut thread attack" on yourself and want to aggressively defend yourself, merge the split threads back into the original one. It takes only a few minutes of your time and signals to the attacker that you understand his approach. But be aware of the danger -- you basically have declared war.

Cell Phones
With more and more communications being recorded, you are sad that the days of unrecorded instant messaging are gone, but despair not. Smart phones can do the trick even better.
Do not use the company smart phone for your dirty work. You have your own, private cell phone, use it. The employee who has complained to upper management must leave. So, upper management either needs to not respond to the complaint or tell the employee that he or she might want to use the company jobs pages or site to look for another position in the company. That's clean, even nice. All the rest of the communication has to go through private cell phones. You can usually threaten an employee very effectively without adding anything to the company records. There is a risk that the employee will try to record such conversations but that's illegal in most places. Besides, if you decide to switch over to only private cell phones, you presumably do so because you consider the employee a threat. Not a physical threat -- you immediately call the police for that -- but a damage to your reputation, or maybe an employment lawsuit you'd surely lose. Once the person is demoralized enough, HR will talk to her or him. HR folks are trained to stick to scripts, so the company has nothing to fear when the HR specialist picks up the land line phone and explains the administrative details around the departure to the worker.
Defense: Summarize conversations in email to "make sure we are on the same page", or "to have a clear understanding", or "make sure I do not drop the ball". Again, your attacker will see this as a declaration of war.

One more thing: No regrets. Yes, you may be intelligent and reflective enough to realize the co-worker is harmless, but you have a hierarchy to convince and maintain. If that is not enough, there are the old stand-by moral pillars "everybody does it", and "I have a family to take care of".

From riches to rags, a German TV show

From riches to rags, a TV-is-not-always-bad post.

We like stories about the rich and the poor, remember our post Living like the 1 percent?

On a really slow day, with the resident philosopher busy pondering, our contributor ended up on YouTube, watching German videos.

After a few on "preppers", the German version of the doomsday hoarders, complete with the online shop addresses of some of the interviewees, we ended up watching the first installment of a TV reality show about a handful of successful business people who go homeless in Berlin, Germany, for nine days.

The comments by YouTube users ranged from unimpressed to devastatingly critical, from "ah, come on" to "insult to truly homeless people".

Of course, such an undertaking has its dangers, but we believe that the producers made a good faith effort, and we were impressed to see that the volunteers were not "cookie cutter" bleeding hearts but contributed in very specific ways, from the millionaire business man who starts a begging enterprise "for Berlin's homeless" but keeps all the proceeds to himself, to the  designer who wants to fast, to the others who try to find a little bit of work for a few euros a day.

Again, you can argue that having a camera team in the vicinity changes things, but you'd be surprised to see that a few yards of distance from the camera let an often cold reality get hold of the candidates.

While the series does not redeem all of the bland fare of German public TV, we give them and the volunteers a lot of credit, although cynics might have less charitable names for the concept.

Gimme those guys any time instead of botoxed F list celebs in a jungle camp, eating pig anus.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

De car keys

Do you say "de car keys"?


Is it "de car keys"?

De car keys?

Or is he "de car teas", the philosopher?

Oh, Descartes, I see.

So both the e and the s are silent?

Yes, unlike Socrates, Descartes is silent at the end.

Anytime, anywhere

That internet myth of anytime, anywhere.

Especially in the days of the mobile hype, it could drive you crazy.

We have long since stopped counting the number of times the screen displays a lame excuse like the "Oops, video unavailable due to location".

Today's prominently displayed teaser headline on the Huffington Post about the existence of aliens is but one of the innumerable examples.

There is no need to remind us of copyright and distribution rights, thank you.

And we at the K-landnews do hype with the same abandon as the rest, thanks again.

Ah well, so hype on, and thanks for all the fish.

More about heroes

A few minutes after the post "Studying heroes" was released into the wild wild web, we ran across one of the few accepted uses of the German "held" (hero).

It was a Spiegel review of the works of American writer George Saunders.

The reviewer makes liberal use of the plural Helden when he talks about the main characters or protagonists in Saunder's writings.

On the continuum that represents the many meanings of "hero", this German use is very much like this definition from Wikipedia: "Hero or heroine is sometimes used to simply describe the protagonist of a story, or the love interest, a usage which can conflict with the superhuman expectations of heroism."

Which brings us to another interesting cultural difference: naming public buildings or institutions after living people.

A federal building named after a senator or a football star, an airport named after a living hero - that's still a no go area for Germans.

You want a street named after you around here: sure, but you need to be dead.

Call it prudent, or call it risk averse, we prefer the more low key approach. On the other hand, it makes satire more work and smacks of seriously deferred gratification.

Imagine the easy pickings for German comedians if there was a stretch of autobahn right now named after current social democrat candidate for chancellor Steinbrueck?

Don't need reason, don't need rhyme.

[Update 9/2015] The German media recently called the unarmed passengers who overpowered a gunman on a French train heroes. We absolutely agree.

Studying heroes

What's the stuff heroes are made of? An article in Zeit online discusses a recent German research project aimed at finding out what makes a hero tick.

The answer is complicated, so suffice it to say that "right" or "wrong", or "character" don't seem to count as much as we might want to believe.

To us, the article primarily served as a reminder of an earlier observation we had made about today's Germany.

"Hero" is used very sparingly around here. It has become an almost obsolete word after the feverish bouts of nationalism that ended in complete disaster in the last century. 

Germans are generally happy to leave the "heroes" to the US narrative and to Hollywood.

As to our personal view, we like unlikely heroes like Greek philosopher Socrates.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

17 countries - 1 currency

We love the Euro.

The post Bye bye Euro? about the stupendously dishonest Cyprus "bailout" attempt does not detract us.

Repeat: we love the Euro.

We can travel to 17 countries and not get nickeled and dimed by the money changers, and in several countries in between, the Euro works as a second currency.

How would you as an American feel if you had to use money changers 17 times on that road trip from New York to California? We don't have to figure out how many wheelbarrows of Italian Lira buys us a cup of coffee. Tourist traps are no longer hidden under Drachmes or Guilders. DM is a historic currency no longer ridiculed as douche marks.

The quaint German "ich dien" (I serve) on English coins gave us something to smile about, but it is not worth the foreign exchange fee.

There is a new political party being founded in Germany, the Alternative fuer Deutschland (Website is in German), AfD, with a resolutely anti-Euro platform.
There is a lot more in their platform, a few things which we like, a lot more of which we do not.

A lot is being said and even more remains unsaid in their platform: "Germany does not need the Euro. The Euro is damaging to other countries."

Nobody "needs" the Euro, just like nobody "needs" another political party. The only logical way to understand the statement is: Germany would be better off without the Euro.

We understand nostalgia, we wallow in it sometimes, it's okay. But with folks like that, we can amend Roosevelt's quote to "we have nothing to fear but fear itself plus rich, nationalist, old, white men."

The new party has an impressive scientific advisory board with many highly qualified economists. Why would they be happy with the unqualified emotional  "does not need"?

The pretty bold introduction of a common currency may or may not be a lasting achievement.

But we'll enjoy it as long as it lasts.

First in Flight: Gustave Whitehead

Ouch, first powered flight in 1901 by a German immigrant.

Jane's All the World's Aircrafts 2013 credits Gustave Whitehead with the first powered flight, two years before the Wright brothers.

It won't change the North Carolina license plate or the murky history of aviation we were taught it in schools anytime soon.

And the Smithsonian keepers of the Wright brothers' plane did in fact sign a contract in which they commit to never say that anybody else had made a powered flight prior to the Wrights.

The blurred photograph advanced by the Whitehead supporters or the press coverage of the 1901 flight are being summarily dismissed by the Wright camp.

The Smithsonian curator made a clear statement backing the Wright brothers.

We analyzed the statement carefully and believe that it is just a tad too emotional, or shall we say grumpy, in its dismissal of the Whitehead flight.

The prize stays in the US, so what's the big deal?

Why not change the license plate to "Germans give you wings", in memory of Whitehead and the guys who took us to the moon?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

German high court rules on plea bargains

German Supreme Court to rule on them shortly.

That quintessentially American construct of plea bargains is also being used in Germany, and the country's supreme court is expected to rule on it in about half an hour at 10 AM on 19 March.

This is going to be interesting because Germans are rightfully uneasy with this instrument. In the US, we have come to accept it as an efficient alternative to a full jury trial. But a deeply flawed one that often creates chaos. In Germany, the system is rather different. While there are jurors, there is nothing like a juror selection for each trial. Jurors have a five year tenure, sit on the bench with the judges and there is always one more judge than there are jurors. So, in a five "judge" court, there can be five full time judges or there will be three judges and two jurors.

That makes plea bargains a little less attractive because the system is less complex to start with. However, plea bargains have apparently gained popularity, and unhappy defendants have made it through the courts to the German supreme court.

The crux, as in the US, is that the defendant has to plead guilty to some or all of the charges -- and there is a danger people will plead guilty to something they did not do.

Again, German prosecutors tend to be less creative as their American counterparts, the latter tend to rack up as many bullet points as they possibly can for the subsequent negotiations. That has, for example, included an indictment charge "attempted overthrow of the US government" for someone accused of selling a few hits of LSD.

You could argue that the bar for "reasonable doubt" over here is a bit higher than in the US, for instance, in the case of the old lady and the internet.

We'll see what the German supremos will rule in a few minutes.

[Update] The ruling is out: plea bargains are legal but there are serious procedural deficiencies. More than half of judges in a survey admitted to flouting the rules or "going informal". All three convictions that were at the heart of this court case were invalidated and sent back to the lower courts.

Reassurance for Dummies

From our Workplace For Dummies files.

We deviated from our usual policy of asking a contributor with immediate experience of the subject. Being laid off does not need to be re-lived.

Instead, someone who saw plenty of others laid off wrote this.

The first large scale layoff I saw from close up happened during the "dot com" bust.

I was a worker bee, an "individual contributor" as they call it. One Tuesday morning, people started to get agitated as the cubicles filled up.

Did you hear anything? Do you know what happened?

One adjacent cubicle remained empty.

Our manager came in at around nine and immediately called a meeting.

You may have heard by now, we had some layoffs. You will not be affected, all of you are safe, and we wanted to make sure you knew this.

After a bit more of this, the work of those who had been let go was redistributed and it was over.

I had a chat with our manager after the meeting, and he explained that upper management had convened a surprise meeting the evening before. He also explained that "this was it. Guaranteed, no more layoffs."

To which I responded: If the economy continues like this, there will be more layoffs, and they will be a lot bigger.

I remember how surprised he was, but he remained steadfast: it's over.

I left the company about six months later, and another six months later, I received a phone call from him early in the morning. He did not say good morning or give his name: you were right, he blurted out.

Right about what?

About layoffs, they laid off over 2000 people this morning.

It was very nice that he remembered and wanted to tell me. And I have never stopped wondering how the cumulative effect of "we are good" followed by another round of firings affects people. I cannot even exclude that I am wrong - maybe there is no cumulative effect, maybe most people do not end up in a more cynical state of mind, although, as friends from those days get older and talk more openly, I feel more confirmed in my views.

I even think that "ageism", not hiring older people, may sometimes have less to do with age itself and a lot more with the knowledge that they have been there, they have seen too much to be "hurrah passionate" about a job.

Why tell this old story now?

Because we can see very similar processes and decisions at work in something as different as the Cyprus bailouts.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Retirement at 69?

German industry association pushing for retirement age to be pushed to 69, up from the 67 that recently became the law.

Just as with pricing in your stores, a "9" looks better than the next higher "0".

But, this jab aside, the one thing that bugs the K-landnews folks about all the higher retirement age discussions is that they continue to apply to those people in back breaking jobs.

The praise of manual labor can be heard at all times. The common chorus is we do not have enough people willing to do the dirty work -- but when it comes to retirement, they tend to get short changed.

This is the 21st century, and the data exist.

Why is it that the people who do the unhealthy work are supposed to continue doing it until 69?

For example, roofers cannot simply work for a few extra years in that job, and we do not have Walmart greeters around here. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Jobs for the French

Something uplifting after the EU punished Cyprus.

This one took about three weeks to get mentioned in the national press, but good news take time.

On 26 February, the French and German secretaries for social affairs and employment opened the very first joint French German employment office in the Southern city of Kehl to assist cross border job seekers.

Unemployment in the French Alsace region is at around 10%, while across the border in Germany the rate stands at about 4%.

The really good news is that job seekers are actually using the services of the new office.

Bye bye Euro?

Cyprus bailout: Euro haters couldn't have done better.

If you had asked me to come up with a scheme to undermine trust in the Euro and trust in governments, I might have given you just the scheme now cooked up for the "bailout" of Cyprus.

Make it so that the "little guy" gets fleeced.

Yeah. You have a couple of thousand euros in savings, sure, we'll take 6.75% as a one off levy for the greater good.

Of course, the EU grandes wanted to get their hands on the Russian "black" money in Cyprus and grab a few pink backs from the Greeks who moved their larger untaxed funds to the island next door.

They compensate people by giving them "shares" in the banks -- whooha, and who pays what fees, and how does that work if your bank is privately held and does not do shares? When can they sell the shares they did not ask for?

If Russians own 50% of all the money in the banks, have you just handed over a majority of shares in one one more banks to Russians? 

Did the Germans come up with this? Maybe thinking that the now almost 25 year old "solidarity tax" to build up the former East German lands has done "so well", why not make the Southern Europeans contribute a bit to their own bailout in a one off withholding?

Bonkers, bonkers.

The dollar will say thank you, and for the paranoid computer nerds their bitcoin rates will reach new heights.

Someone just showed their true colors -- they must have been itching to do this levy thing but didn't dare earlier -- send your meeting minutes to the press to prove us wrong...

Looking at the folks in high finance, all we can do is ask: high on what?

Can you please put my grandma on the board of the European Central Bank for some real life perspective?

[Update 18 March] The Cypriot government is trying to find ways of relief for small savers; the British government will reimburse the UK military stationed in Cyprus; Paul Krugman sounds his dire warning; Asian stock markets are down.
The long-term resentment....

Euro Saint Angela stated that the levy "was an instrument designed to make those responsible contribute to the effort" , which we read as: if you have a couple of thou in a bank in Cyprus you are partly responsible for the crisis.

The European bank insurance scheme akin to the US FDIC promises 100% of your money is safe up to 100 Euro K.  -- but in Cyprus, your bank is being saved a couple of days before bankruptcy, so that the "your funds are safe" promise can be circumvented with a "levy".

[Update 20 March] Cyprus parliament has nixed the bailout plan. Writes one German commentator in a big paper: the EU cannot change course because that would open up the EU for blackmail. Says the K-Landnews editor: are you kidding me, the EU and blackmail go together like cows and milk.
Are we the only people who see the botched bailout as a neat example of double standards with a hefty dose of beggars can't be choosers?

[Update 25 March] Euro down against the Dollar by some 2 Euro cent. Cyprus a template for future rescues. Told you so.

Shake it, shake it

Powder instead of burgers, a cute headline about another food topic.

The story of  a 24 year old software engineer who makes a food replacement powder because he finds eating normal food too burdensome, a waste of time and effort.

Several aspects of this story struck us as odd.

The idea that this could be the way of the future is one strange thought.

Because, at least in the US, it is the way of the past and the way of the present for many people. "Complete nutrition" replacement drinks exist, you can buy them almost anywhere -- well, except the corner liquor store, and Whole Foods has a smaller selection.

It is understandable that this might be news in Germany, after all the big supplement and food replacement business does not exist here. Supermarkets don't have yards and yards of that stuff - just one yard or so last time we checked - and GNC and the like are not around either.

So, the question is: how does this this become news stateside?

Must be the internet blogs, hungry for new food reports...

The other somewhat odd aspect in the article linked to above is that the author has opinions and quotes by German nutrition experts!

It appears to us, your trusted K-Landnews team, that neither the US bloggers nor the German serious news writers understand young software engineers.

We have seen the serious "automatic bartender" one of our colleagues constructed. The nice contraption of tubes, dispensers and cups worked.

The problem is: making drinks is an almost negligible part of a bartender's job.

Just as the act of moving your jaw and neck muscles is a negligible part of eating.

And the contributor we asked to do this post did exactly what the young man does -- but ten years ago and without fanfare.

Go, make shakes, and enjoy them as long as you can.

[Update 9/2015] In the meantime, Soylent has been criticized for exceeding the levels of lead and cadmium specified by California's Prop. 65, which are more stringent than the requirements of the EPA and the WHO.

The K-Landnews food editor recommends: instead of ingesting this weird stuff, use it to replenish the lead in your pencil by dipping the pencil in a glass of the concoction. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Ask Ed

Storm in a test tube about in Germany.

The head of the German Medical Association and a conservative politician are once again complaining about online doctors, in particular the London based DrEd.

They stress that their concerns are about treatment quality and potential dangers to patients when a physician does not have face to face contact with a patient. Their other area of concern is about the "traditional local pharmacy system".

We checked the DrEd site and found that they offer very limited and specific services, basically reproductive health (i.e. the pill for women and erectile dysfunction drugs for men), malaria prevention drugs and refills/follow-on prescriptions for some general long term conditions.

That's all.

The latest report in the media only mentions forms to fill out on the website and does not mention video conferences offered by DrEd.

And as far as the traditional pharmacy system goes, it not only looks hyper-quaint from an American point of view, it is also super expensive.

You cannot even get f**** aspirin or an anti-itch cream outside of a pharmacy.

Don't ask what they are selling in a German drugstore!


For now, the otherwise much scolded EU gets the credit they deserve: prescriptions from other EU states must be recognized in all member states.

Comments by German readers to one of the media reports sound so familiar to any American HMO patient that we laughed very hard.

"Try getting an appointment!"

"Doctors spend just a few minutes with each patient."

As they say, laughter is the best medicine -- but even the Germans have not tried to make that "by prescription only".

Maybe they are afraid of back alley laughter involving coat hangers.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Free scientific journals

The Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) is a website that lists scientific journals you can read and download at NO cost.

If you look at their country list, you will probably be surprised. The United States very predictably leads the list with 1293 journals registered as of this year.

Do not even try to guess which countries follow in spots 2 to 10.

You will get it wrong, and that tells us a lot about the value of knowledge and the, how else to phrase it, rip-off culture in the world of scientific and technical journals.

Here is the list of the top ten countries and the number of freely accessible publications as of March 2013:

U.S.      1293
Brazil   821
UK       580
India    483
Spain   452
Egypt   352
Germany 283
Canada   259
Romania 258
Italy        240

If we look at the grouping by subject, we can probably safely claim that soft sciences like "literature and languages" are a little over represented, with a total of about 500 for "literature and languages" compared to the grand total in "technology and engineering" clocking in at no more than 1000.

This should not be seen as criticism, merely as an illustration of which sectors seem to embrace the concept with more ease than others, and which sectors continue to try selling overpriced journals to the public.

We are also not quite sure if there are other directories with different rates of sign-up for different countries.

Florida Rolf

German media are talking about the man called Florida Rolf on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of major social reforms.

The then government of social democrats and the greens pushed through a huge overhaul of the German social system and labor market.

One of the major tenets of the package was limiting unemployment benefits to 12 months for those under 55 and 18 months for those over. At the same time, the amount of money paid was drastically reduced.

Once these benefits run out, you may become eligible for means-tested SSI type benefits along with the attached social stigma (lazy, uneducated, not pulling your weight in society). German style means-testing is a serious business and until recently included the odd 10 euro cash gift to the grand kids by opi or omi.

Contract hires were made easy, laying off workers was simplified, and some fairly timid reforms to promote self-employment were instituted. Payroll taxes for employers were reduced, and 401 k type individual pension schemes came into being.

Around the time of these reforms, a German living in Florida became famous as a "tropical moocher", on perpetual vacation in the sun financed by the German government, as the poster boy of the campaigners against Germany's social safety net. The reform abolished payment of SSI benefits to Germans who live outside the country.

While most Germans at the time agreed that some measure of reform was desirable, the results are mixed and are said to have contributed to the growth of a low wage sector which, opponents claim, furthers marginalization. The jobs pay a maximum of 450 euros a month and are exempt from payroll tax, making them an instrument of choice in a number of low wage sectors.

The benefits, known as Hartz IV after the VW manager (and subsequent convicted felon) who proposed them, are being re-calculated every five years and are currently around 400 euros a month. Insecurity in the lower middle class is said to have increased, and German populist tabloid Bild Zeitung continues to take pot shots at people on their version of SSI.

Inequality has increased here, too, and conservative chancellor Merkel was just reminded that the "haves" are fragile when it comes to high incomes. She mentioned in public that it might be a good idea to look into management compensation and found herself heavily criticized by the pillars of conservatism.

To us, this looks a lot like a modern day version of Nietzsche's "what does not kill me makes me stronger".

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Eyes too big

Or penis too small? How Neaderthals went extinct.

A prominent study claims that the eyes of Neanderthals were too big for their own good, taking up too much processing space in their brains, hence causing a disadvantage, hence paving the way for extinction.

We quote from the BBC "By contrast, the larger frontal brain regions of Homo sapiens led to the fashioning of warmer clothes and the development of larger social networks."

The resident forensic anthropologist at the K-landnews has a very different take on the story.

Remember when they said the Neanderthal went extinct because they had no language? Wrong...

Then came the claim they were not too bright because they had no art. Wrong...

Now, it's the size of the eyes.

There are sapiens with eyes as big as the Neanderthals!

We claim the Neaderthal went extinct because the males had penises that were too small!

In the Northern cold climates, additional shrinkage contributed to the demise of the species.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Me banker, no speak English

Or we not smart.

This is a highly condensed version of the verdict against our friends of Deutsche Bank in Frankfurt.

At stake was a lot of money and, priceless, the bank's reputation.

German media empire Kirch went bankrupt a few years ago, and the heirs filed a lawsuit against Deutsche Bank asking for damages because, they claimed, Deutsche Bank caused the bankruptcy. In December 2012, a court sided with the plaintiffs and found the bank partially liable.

The verdict was made then but the publication of the full statement followed  only now.

The judges basically call the top brass of the bank liars (German article in Handelsblatt).

The court calls the bankers' interpretation of an English transcript "highly idiosyncratic", either indicating a lack of adequate knowledge of English or clearly fabricated arguments.

All is not lost for Deutsche Bank, though.  They have a few more scandals to work on and are being heavily criticized for continued involvement in "investments into food", or - in the words of their opponents - speculating with food.

So, their inadequate English skills should be forgotten soon.

The Office

Politically incorrect, funny, awful office quips and monikers for German white collar workers not only exist, there even is a new book full of them. Graciously reviewed by many, the folks of Spiegel online published it as a desk reference of sorts.

We mention this compendium of office humor and insults as part of our "people are people" collection of blog posts.

If you have the sudden urge to label your boss a tyrannosaurus rex, you can take comfort in the fact that some German office workers suffer under the same kind of animal.

Conversely, the success of the TV show "The Office" in several European adaptations should convince you that the question "who moved my cheese", or "who moved my tofu", is asked across offices worldwide.

We took to the web and looked for other collections of jargon or slang beyond office chatter and found a whole slew of sites with military slang which provided an important social insight: the more males you put together in one place, the nastier the language. No single term or word is safe from the male human. The German military had, for example, the gross slang term "Cafe Eichmann" for the gym when a periodic test of gas masks was held there, and a lot more benign, recent radio operators were sometimes nicknamed "teletubbies".

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Most Romans ate "animal feed"

Hailed as a new discovery in German online edition of Der Spiegel, we learn something not so new about the diet of the great empire.

This was a weird short article about Roman eating habits. It was not all grapes, peaches, wheat and succulent lamb. According to the author, most Romans ate lots of "animal feed", especially millet.
Millet as animal feed appears to us possibly slightly off, but that is not the point.

It should be pretty obvious to researchers that the modern distinction between what people ate and what they fed to many animals is misleading, and it should not be a surprise to anybody that a few staple crops have sustained the poor everywhere.

We could use the exact same argument to describe the modern American diet: many Americans eat animal feed. And we are not talking about corn or soy but about potatoes!

That Russet potato you see in TV commercials, guess what - Germans call that one pig food.

Unless someone makes a meat pie where all the meat comes from mice or rats, don't say they a munching on animal food.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nobody For President

The Italian version?

The American Nobody For President Campaign is still present on the Internet, not one just one but two sites. We stumbled on them as part of search to find something catchy for a post about the recent general election in Italy.

Disgraced former prime minister Berlusconi and former comedian Grillo came in second and third in these elections and were promptly called 'clowns' by the German social democrat candidate in this country's upcoming elections.

While the German public largely agreed with the surprisingly candid statement, two negative repercussions followed swiftly.

A dinner with the current Italian head of state was cancelled, and the federation of professional clowns condemned the comparison.

How dare you compare upstanding, hard working clowns to these two? the clowns complained.

The K-landnews team has a soft spot for the Italians, we'd rather be sitting in a sidewalk cafe on a sunny Sunday morning, sipping a great little espresso, watching couples and families mill around.