Sunday, April 28, 2013

Ballots without initiatives

More about elections. 

In the patchwork election systems of the U.S., many states allow direct voter initiated ballot measures. In some of the states, these can be constitutional amendments, in others statutes only.

Whatever one may think about the advantages and disadvantages as well as the complexities behind the process, two things are certain.

The first is that a few state constitutions will very soon rival the bible in both the number of pages and internal contradictions.

The other is that getting initiatives on the ballot requires a lot of effort and - for some - huge amounts of money. Money is spent long before the actual election.

Each initiative must collect a certain number of signatures in order to be included on the ballot. Signature collectors will set up a cart or a card table outside of shops, at sports or music events, where ever there is lots of foot traffic. Collectors usually get paid a set amount of money per signature.

And this is where it gets really interesting, because the amount of money offered varies so tremendously. It reflects the expected popularity of an initiative as well as the benefits the initiative's organizers expect. Indian tribes paid up to $ 7.50 for every valid signature in drives to open casinos or expand to new locations.

The tobacco industry paid big amount too, not to bring in more money but for the purpose of not losing more.

In Germany, there can be no voter initiatives at the federal level (guess why) but there can be at the state level.  At the federal level, there are two cases in which the government must put a proposed change in front of the voters: when the national organization changes (more states, less states) and if a constitution is to be approved. 

When the Wall came down, those who had expected a referendum found themselves outflanked because the construct used was that the East German states "joined" -- no referendum required.

Post-WWII history also means the current German constitution was never approved in a referendum and never called "a constitution" by its framers. But everybody, including the Germans, thinks of it as a one.

Hidden message included

In this blog. The blogster needed a break and decided to include some "hidden" messages in this blog. No treasure maps, or insults, or anything particularly exciting -- just a bit of not totally obvious communication.

Now, we just need someone willing to play, and that would be you.

A couple of hints. Three of the blog posts in the past two days have a message, starting with the post EU to regulate penis length.

Find the messages and email them to the contact address above.

If you feel like it, add a comment to the respective post. That will give away the message and end the game.

Your choice.

Have fun.

Reform of the justice system

A modest proposal.

The justice system in modern societies is out of whack. Too many laws, too many regulations, too complicated, applied in a haphazard way at best. So many laws that it is already nearly impossible to avoid violating some.

A claim most people on the planet will agree to?

The law abiding citizen quoted in any major political speech may soon be a fictional being, about as real as unicorns. And that includes creative workarounds like gluing a paper horn on a horse.

Even the laws we have are conveniently ignored when deemed necessary. Of course, those doing the ignoring may be offended by this -- they are doing no more than clarifying or adapting to new challenges.
Much of the discourse, especially since 9/11, has centered on some fundamental freedoms but that's only a small part, the negative laws.

Positive laws can be a problem, too. Take the German law that gives citizens an extended access to government files and procedures. Which makes violators out of officials who stall, deny without reason or charge inappropriately high fees.

The chainsaw operating permit for your own yard (see the new German killers post), German customs raiding stores that sell eCigarettes, the old lady ordered by a court to learn German. The bubble gun classified as a weapon, the police dog classified as an officer (PETA should rejoice), the small time pot dealer charged with "attempt to overthrow the government" (they removed the charge, to which the defendant replied: "that was the only thing that was really true in the whole charade"). The obvious Twitter joke. Unlocking your cell phone. Two minutes of boobies on the web. Putting grandma's heirloom tomato seeds into the ground: soon to be illegal in the EU.

The wind picking up some GM pollen one field over, then the breeze strokes your plants and produces offspring -- already illegal in the US. Only a madman would call this outrageous. As a modern individual you are, of course, responsible for what the wind does on your property.

That does not even include some of the wonderful sodomy laws still on the books in the U.S.

While everybody is chasing the dragon of austerity and at the same time trying to squirrel away as much money as they can, the K-landnews worked  on a solution to the problem.

Found it.

The Catholics and the US Civil War have the answer.

From the Catholics we take the "we are all sinners, but there is a way out". From the Civil War, we take the "let me give you some money, so you go fight while I attend to pressing business at home".

One modern problem we have not yet mentioned is the "burden of proof" issue. For a very short period in human history, someone out to harm you in court had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you did something illegal.

People will one day call it the "Golden Age of Freedom", we call it "the ten minutes they were asleep at the wheel".

Today we are back to the not so glorious times of the Catholics: prove that you are not a witch. Our old lady and the internet posts, or the 500 Euro bill post are examples.

In the near future, with intelligent video surveillance everywhere, the criminal five minutes you wait at the bus stop will get you!

Our justice system reform is this: 
Everybody goes to prison at least once, no specific charge filed. Everybody can pay someone else to go to prison for them. The richer you are, the more often you go - or pay.

The advantages:
Zero changes to existing laws - just a single, short new one.
The United States government will not run out of squeaky clean candidates for jobs from garbage man to president -- we shouldn't say this, but the US government has a recruitment crisis because of the "rap sheet support program for the national paper industry".
Poverty will be a thing of the past -- if you need money, the wealthy folks will help out of their own free will.
The current penalty system for things like petty theft will be re-labeled to "bonus system". Instead of breaking out of prison, you "break in".
So many resources currently tied up in nonsensical activities will be freed up for beneficial use -- like the first Mars colony full of lawyers and Hewlett Packard marketing people.
We will, finally, be equal before the law, there won't be any more holier than thou crowds.

Imagine the new possibilities.
Do as much insider trading as you like - just pay a dropout student to go for you. A woman who, after tears and soul searching, had that abortion -- no problem, you can look the fetus mongers in the eyes and tell them, yes, I did go to prison for it. Racism -- gone, done my time for that!

The disadvantages:
There is a potentially small group of people who do not violate any laws or regulations. Hermits, nuns, bloggers, and handicapped folks are the first that come to mind.
We will need to find an equitable solution for them, like collecting all the unused monopoly games sitting in attics across the nation and giving these people the get out of jail free cards.
Although, if we include the damage we all cause through consumption of stuff to other humans somewhere on the planet, we are all guilty as not charged.

The consequences of failure:
There is a danger that, without decisive action, the next version of homo sapiens will become an animal in which cognitive disconnect will be genetically hard wired. Will this make a difference to the world? Of course not.

One more thing:
Apologies to Hollywood for taking away the law and justice flicks. Apologies to the NRA for taking away "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns", but you do get to keep your guns. We are also working on a game theory based approach to the death penalty but, so far, we only have a name: Texas Hold'em.

Oh, sure, not modest, but you get the joke. Now, where'd my Prozac go?

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Waiting for Flatrate-Leaks

No, this is not about Deutsche Telekom! The world does not revolve around Deutsche Telekom, although they seem to believe so. Here is some entertainment while we wait for Flatrate-Leaks.

The following bullet points are from a document available to the K-landnews.
The document is authentic, it has been verified by independent sources and at least one government agency. All the information you need is contained in this post.

Remember: We do satire and sarcasm and nothing else. Any relation to Deutsche Telekom, its subsidiaries, affiliates, or any other emotionally illiterate contemporary, would be a co-incidence. We have nothing to do with the original document or its compilation. We did edit some bullet points for language and brevity. We also removed some context. If these bullet points sound like they come from a public relations or government relations memo, you may be right - or you may be wrong.

  • When possible, refer all matters to committees for “further study and consideration.”
  • Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  • Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  • Hold conferences when critical issues should be neutralized.

 Congratulations, yes, the bullet points are from

EU to regulate penis length

As well as IQ and tomatoes. European regulators have added s slew of new tasks to their Perpetual Job Enrichment Program. After the huge success of the Novel Foods directive, they decided to tackle the issue of penis length.

This is going to be our most prominent regulation this year, said Dick A. Head, spokesperson for the EU health and safety commission.
With the enlargement of the European Union to 27 countries, major discrepancies in the penis sizes of EU males have been observed and reported as a concern. We have reports of poor migrant penises from Eastern EU countries getting entangled and damaged in the Western underbrush. In our monitoring of major EU sex dating sites, we have gathered alarming instances of length, for instance, a woman describing the 12 inches of her husband as, and I quote, "both a blessing and a torture". As a member of the Geneva Convention, the EU prohibits torture. Unfortunately, we always have so many urgencies in our department that we could not devote the necessary attention to the penis. We have now completed the Monsanto Bill of Customer Rights, which forbids growing non-approved food crops, essentially outlawing old seed varieties altogether. We regard putting tomatoes on the same legal level as marihuana and the coca plant as a victory for consumers everywhere. No longer will you stand in your neighbor's garden and have to wonder 'are those tomatoes legal'? Will I destroy my family if I take the neighbor's generously offered tomatoes only to be busted and imprisoned?

The first deliberations on penis size had to take place in the commission's bathroom because no adequately sized conference rooms were available and because some of the male members claimed that the configuration of chairs and tables did not leave enough room. You could think they were designed and tested by women, one was overheard saying.

The secret minutes of these initial discussions propose a standard European penis size (Eurodick) of six inches. Measurement will be recorded in inches to allow transatlantic harmonization, should it become desirable. Together with the length debate, a new EU research initiative was launched into the proposed procedure for undersized males (the EU technical term is "shorties"). There will be a procedure called "topping off" to bring shorties to the standard Eurodick size, obviously, said Dick A. Head in an interview. The corresponding trimming of longer penises is a well known procedure called Bobitting and will be financed using excess funds left over in the EU lifestock program.

The program will deal only with penis length, not girth. There are many technical questions as to standard girth, said Mr. Head, and we do want to leave EU males some wiggle room and time to get comfortable with the new dimensions of EU manhood.

In related news, the EU has confirmed a joint application by Hewlett Packard and Deutsche Telekom regarding introduction of an EU wide human intelligence quotient (IQ) standard.

In their application, the two companies explain that IQs across Europe are generally too high for smooth business operations and that customer service satisfaction has been shown to suffer from IQs above 60. The companies also cite a study by the German Industry Association D. Ass. that projects substantially lower numbers of court cases and points out that the drop in expected litigation would save as much or more to the member states as all austerity measures combined.

Mr. Dick A. Head confirmed that an IQ-60 initiative would be brought up by the commission as soon as the penis issue is cut and dry.

This if the first post with a hidden message.

New NEW Deutsche Telekom slogan

The bully's excuse, "Others do it too", will be added to the one week old new Telekom slogan.

We love the Pinky Heads of Deutsche Telekom for their unflappable complacency as the grand company of the German internet.

But others do it already, was their reaction to the hostility and jittery jokes about their introduction of throttled landline broadband access for new customers starting 1 May. What they did not say was that the few niche providers who do it offer their service a lot cheaper, have higher included volumes, and serve locations and people that Telekom won't touch.

3% of customers are responsible for over 30% of usage, so Hilda the hairdresser is paying for the excessive users, was their next argument. That's evil because they won't say if this includes business customers. And it is not true because the data traffic costs make up a few cents of the subscription.
Now, Hilda the hairdresser DID pay for some other folks, the American T-Mobile crowd, but, hey, that was yesteryear and all in good fun, right.

We can take a few days of heat for this, it'll blow over. 

The only somewhat honest statement in the whole mess. Despite some criticism, the main German media outlets have been letting Deutsche Telekom off pretty easy. You have to go to some smaller, specialized sites like Golem to get more information.

The K-landnews folks had an abominable service experience with the Pinky Heads of Telekom when we arrived here. We have been staying clear of all things Telekom ever since, even taken a different route through the shopping district one town over in order to not having to pass in front of their store.

How can we describe Telekom customer service to our foreign readers?

AT&T is so much better!

Still not graphic enough.

Try this:
Imagine yourself in a god-forsaken corner of the planet (like rural Germany). You have just been taken hostage by a pink clad goon squad but they cannot get the ransom request to your family (your loved ones have exceeded their 64 KB quota). So, the goons decide to strangle you to death with a free cable from surplus backbone lines. Before they do the deed, they make you fill out a customer service feedback form that asks "on a scale of 1 -bad- to 10 -excellent-, how would you rate the Pinky Heads service?"
To make the form easier, there is only one checkbox with "10 - excellent-".
Using your own pen, you check "10", and then the world turns black.

Hm, almost there. 

The March of the Poor

Narrated by Morgan Freeman, a documentary on the migration of the Poor and their struggle for survival in the icy white world of  Western Europe.

In an epic battle for the hearts and minds of the fearful, the tin men of Western Europe are trying to stem the trickle of poverty driven migrants from the Eastern European badlands. Shooting with a high-powered zoom lens of 1000x magnification and in super slow motion, the directors manage to show the trickle for what it really is not: Class VI rapids about as wide a the Amazon river.

The succinct German compound Armutswanderung (poverty driven migration) makes it as clear as the islanders' "sorry, not in service"  -- poverty is not an acceptable reason to leave your country and head for Western Europe.

The biggest immigration destination on the planet - Europe, my dear stateside friends - is gearing up to achieve what no previous civilization has managed to do. 

Very soon, the aging populations of Europe will see their own motorized minutemen guard its frontiers. Camouflage painted Rascal OPVs (Old People Vehicles) will patrol the dusty Eastern plains, while Zimmer frame supported SOBs (Strong Old Boys) will protect the Gibraltar and the Spanish coasts, lobbing golf balls at migrant skiffs and playing with the monkeys in their time off.

Just so you know, there are no poor people in Europe, none.

How can that be?

Economic theory makes it possible.

In a recent article on the wealth of the Europeans, the author of the article was so nice to explain the difference between median and average (a few days after we bitched about it on the blog, but we take no credit).
The article was helpful, we were happy to see a mainstream German paper take its readers seriously, until, well, the last paragraph.

There, the man said that even those on the 800 euros a month basic welfare regime were not really poor because 800 a month at 4% interest over 20 years still added up to about 134 000 euros.

Look man, we understand the purpose of calculations like this, but here is the deal: the dumbest conclusion ever is to claim that by that measure welfare recipients are not poor.

They live on 399 Euros plus rent, there is nothing left over. Read our post Hilda the hairdresser if you want to know where this money goes.

Or go with the Hem: nada y nada, y pues nada.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Bookselling zombies

Zombies are known for their one track mind, their only purpose being to try and eat anything with a pulse, in as bloody a comic book way as possible.

To many small German booksellers, Amazon Inc. seems to be the corporate version of a stereotypical zombie. In our post about Amazon's rotten Easter Egg, we made fun of the giant, but we really had no idea how terrified German booksellers are.

Bestselling German children's book series "Conni" illustrates this more vividly than the story about Amazon jacking up fees.

The book series started in 1992 with the volume "Conni goes to kindergarten" and quickly became a fixture in German households. Conni is growing up, and in the latest book, the heroine receives an Amazon coupon for her birthday, and German booksellers go crazy.

The anger of the distributors and booksellers was such that the publisher Carlsen of Hamburg, Germany, decided to remove the offending birthday present in the next print run.

The K-landnews folks have a soft spot for "the little guy", an adolescent reflex we consciously cultivate against corporate sausage factories and evil empires. The pain of small shops is real and the fact that people get up in the morning, pack a stack of books and visit kindergartens for face time is admirable.

Knowing that the kids will grow up to become Amazon customers and eBook aficionados may weigh on you when you barely eek out a living hauling colorful paper around.

But, honestly, how has censorship for a good cause worked out so far in human history?

German bad words: Amigo

¡Qué Sorpresa! 

Amigo is a bad word in German politics, used to describe dubious practices ranging from "well-meant" gifts to a good job for the relative to corruption and other victimless crimes of politicians.

Amigos are typically found in the circles of conservative German politicians, and in particular in the southern state of Bavaria. We were surprised to find that the sometimes slightly xenophobic Bavarian conservatives have made the effort to learn to read, write, and spell "amigo".

Pronunciation wise you should not expect too much, but since "amigo" has no "r", no "b" and no "ll", it sounds quite good.

The latest example of their amigo culture was the high ranking state politician who had his wife working in his office to the tune of just over 5000 euros a month.

He had to resign. Poor guy.

Should have put up a billboard saying "Your tax euros at work", and they would have left him alone.

You can safely use the word "amigo" in conversations with ordinary Germans but avoid it at all cost when talking to a politician.          

Universal cell phone charger

Subtle asynchronous information at work.

The possible demise of the universal cell phone charger in Europe can be seen as a sweet example of how asynchronous information works.

The term asynchronous information is little more than a fancy term for "not having all the information on a subject" with the consequence that you miss out on something or lose money.

The involuntarily voluntary agreement to sell only universal chargers in Europe expired early this year, and now a debate about renewal is taking place.

According to the German press, some mobile phone makers seem unwilling to keep this consumer friendly approach alive. There is a reason for abandoning the universal charger:

The charging cable has evolved into much more than a power cable. It is increasingly being used for data transfer and synchronization.

Does this look like a valid argument to you?

Congratulation, you have been asynchronized. We coined asynchronized because we did not want to use the colloquial term again. Which one? Oh, come on, okay, try this: f*****d.

The two sentences of the above argument are both true. But what they suggest is that there is a relationship between abandoning the universal charger and the use of the cables for data transfer.

Which is bullshit. Because the cables are USB cables. USB cables are marvels of design because they can do both "just power" and "data transfer" really, really well.

So, don't get asynchronized, keep the universal charger alive.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Sigi Freud and Beer

Time for a lighter post after we fixed the world.

Hm, can a post about beer in Germany be light hearted, given the strong feelings many locals have about beer in general and their favourite brew in particular? 

Once again Random Research  (R.R., pronounced Arrr! Arrr!) makes the impossible a reality: it proved invaluable in bringing Sigmund Freud, Hogan's Heros, and beer together in a sublime piece of prose.

"Verification is only possible on yourself", said the great doctor. This brings up the immediate question, did Sigmund Freud get his verification theory from beer lovers?

Enter Hogan's Heroes and their regular trips to the Black Eagle, a guest house that happens to exist -- present tense, go visit -- near the town of Hammelburg, Germany. The Black Eagle was where the heroes performed the beer verification on themselves.  We can now tie beer to hangovers and, thanks to an old friend who performed this verification with abandon, we can bring you shocking news.

There is bad beer in Germany, too.

No one knows exactly what made the local brew in Stalag XIII town famous as "migraine brew", but by all accounts it was far more headache inducing than other known beers, despite using the standard ingredients (malt, hop, water, yeast) only.

Personal verification of the brew's effects turned out to be impossible. The label still exists but the brewery was sold more than ten years ago, and the beer is now brewed far away. With better water.

This twist makes the whole story truly Freudian: make a claim that cannot be verified and stick to it.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Occupier soda

Coca Cola (jokingly) in recent German history.

We came across this one in an article about daily life with right wing NPD parliamentarians in one of the east German states. An NPD man was teased with "so, you're having an occupier soda?" when others saw him getting a Coca Cola from the democratic vending machine.

It offered a rare glimpse into the goings-on in the parliament of a state where enough voters chose the NPD to give them a few seats. Many Germans simply call the NPD a neo-nazi party, and there was one failed attempt a decade or so ago to have it banned.

That attempt failed when it turned out that a number of the top brass of the party were on the payroll of the domestic spy services as informants.

There currently is another effort underway to get the party banned but many Germans are asking why ban them if they will simply be replaced by a new incarnation. Their share of the vote is low enough to not really worry many.

So, what is it like to sit side by side in parliament with them?

On the really bad days, it can be compared to Iranian president Ahmadinejad speaking before the UN -- when he starts pushing the right buttons, many delegates walk out.

On more normal days, it is more like an average congressional session with strong feelings expressed by that upstanding elected official about a government that spends and spends and spends - only to be followed by "and now give me the money for my pet project".

The NPD folks do everything as a group, and the other parties ignore them as best as they can.

But in the process of dealing with this group, members of the other parties have learned to overcome at least some of the stereotypes between themselves. Conservative Christians, for example, have found the more liberal Green Party folks to be people they can actually talk to, and vice versa.

In this slightly vexing way, the NPD does seem to have an unintended beneficial impact on democracy.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Liberalissimo media

With compliments to our American entertainment news friends.

The K-Landnews research team has hit another nugget thanks to its copyrighted method of "random research". *

In the U.S., the mainstream media, are often decried and cited at length and then some for the decline of our culture. The simple fact that folks working in the U.S. media are not so much lefties does not change this made up  image.

What's the situation in Germany?

To our surprise, "random research" has unearthed a poll that should scare every right thinking reader.

According to a poll from 2005, German journos are one heck of a leftist liberal bunch. Out of 1500 respondents, around 61% said they lean towards the Green Party (dangerous loonies, homeland security color code f****ing bright red) and the Social Democrats (kind of redish).
Conservative Christian Democrats and free market FDP came in at a combined 15%. "Others" were 4%, and non-affiliated about 20%.

With this overwhelming advantage, is it a surprise to anyone that Germany is a big socialist experiment with wide open doors for inbound shady immigrants and outbound exports of cars, big scary weapons and other stuff?

Wait, TheEditor says it is not. It** points out deregulation and cuts to the social welfare system as well as a current conservative government and many years before with the conservatives as an almost equal sized "junior" partner in government.

This poses a dilemma to the blogster. How can the conservatives get into power and govern for so long in the face of hostile liberal media?

Is the German population resistant to left wing indoctrination? Did the 20% unaffiliated lie?

There was only one thing to do: go undercover.

So, despite the risks, we turned on "anonymous browsing" in the web browser and hit the web. It became an arduous, exhausting, mentally and physically challenging two hours, in which we narrowly escaped acute hypothermia. Some idiot had left the door open on this chilly spring day.

The result of our investigation is even more sobering than we had planned.

The German liberal media are a bunch of two-faced stooges. Most of the time they go "balanced". They hide their true beliefs behind well researched facts and let folks who hold a different view speak. Not just speak, but speak freely.

This creates an environment in which readers write open comments, a situation in which most people feel they have a fairly decent overall media structure.

* Random research involves going to a website and then advancing in a non-linear, non-predictive fashion on the page or a randomly selected other page of the site. It is based on the findings of Hungarian mathematician and master of randomness Paul Erdoes. The acronym R.R. is pronounced Arrr! Arrr!

German schools among worst

A disaster, says German philosopher Mr Precht.

He must know.

He is a professor of philosophy and a product of this German education system.

So, students, listen up. Lesson 1 when you write about any education system is:
The current crop of students is always worse than the previous one. They know less, they are lazy, they behave worse.

Now, to be fair to the man, the Germans had a rude awakening a little over ten years ago, when the OECD conducted a study called 'the Pisa study', and the German politicians and educators signed off on a catalog of test questions, only to find that the German ranking was unexpectedly low.

We looked at some of the old scribbles and reacted once again with an outburst of uncontrollable laughter.

The study was the perfect disaster.

The German high-mindedness about their finely tuned education system: in tatters. Rumors have it that JK Rowling modeled the sorting hat in her Harry Potter series after the German school system.
Populist conservatives: hard-ons as far as the eyes could see.
Governing conservatives: just the opposite.
Social democrats: very confused about how their well meaning policies instituted in previous years could have failed. The confusion resulted mainly from the fact that many of their politicians did not possess the level of reading comprehension required to fully understand the OECD study.

In  more recent rounds of the Pisa tests, the Germans have done better. Which proves exactly the same thing we have seen in the U.S. -- if you teach to tests, more students pass.

We do agree on quite a few points with our disaster philosopher. For example, what bourgeois full-of-themselves pieces-of-some-substance would believe in a school system that sends some kids off to a better life after the 4th grade and keeps so many others locked in the same place their ancestors have occupied since the good old feudal times?

On the other hand, the problem with the "disaster" label is that Germany has been producing enough qualified folks to be near the very top of the economic heap. So, the sorting system sorta worked.

What can a philosopher do to be right in the face of, let's call them facts?

The future!!! There is no guarantee that the future will be as kind to the German education system as the past.

Well done, maestro. It's so obviously true, it must be philosophy.

Here's the thing though: we agree. We would love to see nothing more than complete annihilation of the education system as we know it.

In favor of a Walldorf-fy Montessori-y humane challenging yet supportive system.

Ain't gonna happen.

Now, dear Germans, before you get too upset at not being as good as the Finnish or some others, you have not seen education hell if you have not been in American or British classrooms (not the private schools, the state schools).

The interview with the person who instantly became our favorite contemporary German philosopher also has a photo. The pose, upper body slightly leaned forward, right arm folded towards the torso, chin resting on the fist, gaze level into the distance is noteworthy. It's the pose of the bronze sculpture of the philosopher along the "philosopher's way" in Heidelberg, Germany.

The haircut sported by our new friend reflects the personality of a critical thinker, at ease with his questioning and guiding role in society and academia.
It's an understated hint at the old rebel soul putting academia and middle Germany on notice: I may be one of you, but I am my own man.

You still haven't figured it out? Just above shoulder length.

In case you find the haircut paragraph in the next Pisa test as a reading comprehension and cultural understanding question, de nada.

New Deutsche Telekom slogan

"Frankly, we don't give a damn", is their redesigned slogan.

They floated the idea earlier to lessen the impact. Now, they have made it official: land line/cable based internet access by Deutsche Telekom will be eviscerated to mobile standards.

You will buy a plan with a certain amount of monthly data, and if you exceed it, all bytes for the remainder of the month will be delivered at speeds last seen some time in the last century.

We applaud the effort of Team Telekom to take up the fight for the top spot on the K-landnews shit list.

With the help of some of the 'roids left over from the doping scandal of their bicyle team, Team Telekom's teutonic males will succeed. Our current top ranked Hewlett Packard Ink Cartridge Blackmailers will topple like the third world dictator statues of yore.

After a lull in Team Telekom's nefarious activities, we expect to see the end of the internet as we know it, the road to Germany's economic irrelevance paved by courageous sawed-off cable wielding brutes.

Deutsche Telekom owns so much of the telecom infrastructure that they had to be told to rent lines to other providers. And they have been plotting a reversal of their fortunes ever since.

Their first attempts, still tainted by company-wide spying on their employees, went like this: telephone service is a metered service, there is no reason to treat the internet differently!

It's as if some ignoramus in the early days of the movies had said: we have pictures, you can take one very two minutes, who in the world would want to take 25 pictures a second? You can't even look at each one individually!

Do you personally know a big international internet company?

If the answer is yes, tell them millions of  German customers are pissed off at Deutsche Telekom and are willing to give anybody, really anybody, a chance who won't try to fuck them over for a few years.

Integrating foreigners

Into the local dot matrix. Yes, we just watched Tron, the old movie with Tom Cruise and the young Dudowski for the very first time.

It was a blast, especially the dot matrix printer. The one totally forgotten item in the stylish, laser transmattering world of the film.

They can beam you into and out of microchip assemblies, but the printer goes dotdot and hits some of the highest sound frequencies your ear can process.

We decided that makes a great image for the integration of migrants into any one of our beloved Western societies - all the glitz but a few things sticking out like a sore thumb.

The other option would have been a shrill "fucking double standards everywhere". The Tron imagery was only used to ease you into the post, and now we will we hit you with the double standards. Deal?

We have posted some immigration barbs in posts like "Too many blacks" and one of the all time audience favorites, "You are not welcome" sign. 

These posts did not dwell on the expectations toward the foreigners, on their role in society. The posts basically dealt with "keep them out" and "get rid of them" centuries ago and today.

Let's say they are here to stay, what do we want before we make them take a citizen's exam?

They need to obey the law like everybody else
Behaving like the natives would involve that a certain number of them do bad things, violate the law. Some do, and are kicked out of the country for it. So, like everybody else, not true. Immigrants have to be better than the natives at obeying the law.
Turns out, as a US study showed, they actually do better. 

They have the same freedoms as the natives
Legal residents in the U.S. have to tell the immigration folks when they move homes - citizens are free to pack up and split without telling Uncle Sam. For a few years now, U.S. legal residents get fingerprinted like tourists every time they enter the country. Or in Germany, a couple of months ago, a Russian citizen studying in the country was kicked off a train by police because she could not show an ID with a German address. None of the officers seemed to be aware that a German address is not typically found in a foreign passport. In France, if you are a Roma (aka. gypsy) you may find your camp surrounded by barbed wire one balmy French morning.

They need to learn the language
Germany's highest court held that learning German as an immigrant is important to society as a whole. Kind of nice that I am all of a sudden really important. I don't want to be important. And the old lady of 60 ordered by the court to learn German after 30 years in the country, is she not the perfect example that you can live a decent, law abiding, German-speaking-child raising life here without speaking the language?
Imagine for a moment the outcry in K-land if they had to translate voting documents and ballots like some jurisdictions stateside.

If you have watched enough movies, the next paragraph will be familiar.
Doesn't anybody realize at least one distinct advantage of not speaking the language? If you get stopped by a puffy pasty peace officer and can quietly tell him in a foreign language he is a cocksucking motherfucking son of a bitch without him understanding it -- doesn't that save you from prison and deportation? And, having let off steam, you can then forget their profiling and go about being a law-abiding foreigner again. Plus, not speaking the language as well as the locals can get you lots of great sex (as we mentioned in a more generic post). Which may well be a sub-conscious Freudian reason for the locals to keep your numbers down.
We will personally check the train platforms around Southall, UK, for signs of bilingual activity in the near future.

They need to learn about the culture
TheEditor of the K-Landnews took a grand total of five online citizenship tests as described in an earlier post. If you remove some of the little factoids, these tests are really almost identical. So, the nature of the test questions - once again - tells us more about the people who devised them than about those who sit the exams.
Sorry, guys, as much as I enjoy Beethoven, around 99% of native Germans function very well without any reference to Beethoven in their lives. Oh, don't get me started about composer Richard Wagner. His sole redeeming quality is that he wrote the music for the intro scene of Apocalypse Now a few decades before the movie was made. If you asked me (which ain't gonna happen), I can name you some aspects of culture in any of these five countries that I would prefer foreigners not to study.

Illegal immigrants have it much worse, no doubt, but we do hear about some of their horrible woes.
Why are legal residents in many countries truly second class citizens?

Because they haven't yet "made it"? Because we are complicit in it so as not to jeopardize our beliefs that we are equal before the law?

Anthropologists and psychologists, of course, would come up with some cool sounding verbiage about non-human mammals and group behavior, again, a little too close for comfort.

One more thing:
Leave the first generation alone. They have enough of adapting to do, finding work, raising a family. Help their children, and it'll be fine.

Another pompous post brought to you under the influence of way too much of the cheapest coffee from the local discount grocery.

[Update 16 August 2013] A higher administrative court let the grandmother off the hook, reports the German press today. She will not be required to go to German class. Cool. 

[Update 1/26/2016] Known from the U.S., the real problems tend to arise with the second generation, the children. This article in Der Spiegel from 2005 describes the situation of Russian Germans in the northern town of Cloppenburg, where a quarter of the population is from Russia.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Holidays by numbers: 420 and 175

20 April, another American holiday, a growing one, if you will.

We only noticed on a visit to the Huffington Post website that 420, or 4-20, had come and gone. Only late on Sunday did we  find a note about Rhianna and her cake in the "misc." section of one news site.

We wonder what the Germans would say about 20 April being the US pot smokers' holiday, about the local television news in many states showing un-pixelated pot smokers, happily waving their joint in one hand and their medical pot card in the other.

And in some states, they will probably not need the card for much longer. What are they going to do with the thus free second hand?

But 420 (pronounced four twenty) has also become a day of remembrance for the victims of the drug war, those killed, those whose lives were ruined. 

You get what you pay for, and those estimated 1.5 trillion dollars spent since the early 1970s must have been worth it.

There are bright spots, even as a black kid you can do drugs and become President - if they don't catch you. If you are a black kid and they catch you, kiss your sorry ass and any presidential aspirations goodbye.

The Germans have a bit of a historical problem with April 20. It's the birthday of the guy with the square mustache.

So, they are still a bit touchy and sensitive when it comes to public events.

Soccer matches and festive events are totally cool, but the democratic political parties tend to have fewer events on that day. The right wing NPD held their national convention on 20 April 2013. Not to worry, their conventions always see demonstrations against the NPD and whatever is even further to the right of them.

While we are doing holidays by numbers, there was a traditional German underground holiday on 17 May (175  because they are, like, the Brits of calendars with their days and months on the wrong side) .

The number 175 comes from the old section # 175 of the penal code that made being gay a felony. On May 17, gays and lesbians would go out and celebrate, not Pride parade style but easy to see for those who knew what to look for.

The section is gone from the law, and they have a foreign secretary who is openly gay.

homo teutonicus simplex III

Unbefuckinglievable, we were right. In our post "homo teutonicus simplex II" we joked that women can wait another 20 or 40 years, what's the rush.

And then this: only a few days later, there is an interview with the main anti-quota lobbyist (a middle aged white guy), where he says (our translation, slightly condensed) "the German workforce will shrink over the coming decades, so this gives more women an opportunity to re-enter the workforce after a child break with good career prospects, and it will improve their overall situation without unproductive government intervention through a quota". 

We feel bad that we nailed it, really.

Because it just shows that the best German anti-quota minds cannot even compete with a simple minded hobby blogger. And still get their way.

Let's all learn Chinese, and fast.

On a positive note, homo teutonicus simplex has launched a counter offensive!

Deutsche Bank - yeah, those guys accused of lying to a judge - have fewer women at the top than in previous years!

The planned public release of a report on women in the workplace was to be a joint affair between the big publicly traded companies and the government ministry for the family and social affairs.

The minister, pro quota, has now been pushed aside by the simplexs' most powerful argument -- the cod piece. Be nice to your kids, don't show them the search result of this link.

We have no clue what's in the report. But we are confident that it will show once and for all how much progress women have made over the reporting period (whatever that may be).

It will highlight that German women are finally getting the rewards for long education and hard work. It will say that the government needs to provide more kindergarten places and be more family friendly in general without burdensome regulations on companies. It will say that progress in some areas or sectors is slightly slower than in others, but don't you worry.

Babe, don't you worry.

Homo teutonicus simplex has your back, and not only your back.

Smile, you are on camera

As predictable as it is dumb: some German politicians and cops are calling for increased video surveillance after the Boston terrorist attack.

Others show a more patient approach. We are firmly on the side of those living by the credo of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Don't Panic

But reducing the calls for more cameras to panic would be shortsighted, would ignore the agenda, the push for more control over society.

The somewhat diverse team of the K-Landnews has nothing but jokes for those powerful people who let a wingnut or two dictate policies affecting the lives of a billion people. 

One idiot trying to set a shoe on fire has caused untold manhours of costs and brought sock manufacturers (for male passengers) new business.

Full body airport scanners  have done for the world what the naked participants in the annual Berkeley, CA, parade only did locally: show that clothes do serve a purpose. The underwear bomber did, however, not lead to too many dropped pants at airports -- why?

Because the sanctity of the groin trumps the sanctity of life?

We suspect it is really because there are even fewer males on the planet who want to die with their balls going up in a blaze of glory than there are fans of explosive vests.

The K-Landnews team knows that terrorists need control freaks and control freaks need terrorists but we can do better and make a prediction we will not live long enough to witness.

The all out surveillance state will ultimately not be caused by terrorists but by advances in medical science. Once those with enough resources get to see their lifespan extended to a couple of hundred years with a state of health good enough to support the headline "150 is the new 30", keeping them out of harm's way will be enough motivation for real surveillance, not just more cameras or more software that works only half the time, and so on.

Wingnuts with a suitable ideology will continue to be useful to get enough real or perceived public support for the sought measures but they will be even less of the drivers than they are today.

One more thing:
We just discovered the charm of unfounded predictions for the distant future. We won't see them relegated to the trash can of thought, which is very important to us because, unlike the control freaks and the wingnuts, we have some residual shame left.

Freedom of speech

33% of Germans feel they cannot freely speak their mind on any and all subjects.

56% say there is true freedom of speech in Germany, 11% were undecided.

The question posed by the YouGov poll was (our translation):
Do you believe you can freely voice your opinion on any subject in Germany?

In the age group 25 - 34 years, a whopping 43% said "no", and 41% said "yes".

It's nice to have numbers, but what do we make out of them? For starters, we do not have historical data, for example, what did people think about this in the 1980s?

Before we make one of our usual half-baked attempts at an explanation, here is what the Germans call freedom of speech: "Meinungsfreiheit". It's one of their beloved compounds, "opinion" + "freedom".

Where's the speech? You can hold any opinion you want, it's uttering it that may cause a problem. So, everybody ignores that obvious bit and thinks "voicing an opinion".

One of the reasons why some people will claim that there is no freedom of speech is that they think of it in absolute terms, as in either I have this freedom or I don't. Not everybody's brain is wired for nuances. You find the same people in the U.S. too.

Still, that does not explain 33%.

Another reason, we think, is that a majority of Germans will encounter examples of "broader" freedom of speech from the U.S., to wit some episodes of South Park. Sure, they see some of this as ridiculous or overblown, but there may be a little of "the grass is always greener..." in there. 

Yet another reason may be what you could call the fence in your head. The cultural phenomenon where you do not cross an imaginary line despite the fact that there are no legal sanctions. So, there is the "legal can't say" and the "cultural can't say".

And there is the "you can say it but they won't listen". Sometimes, the fact that you can say something but are alone with your opinion or summarily dismissed is lumped into the statement "we have no freedom of speech". In other words, some people expect a consequence of their speech where the law simply protects the act of the speech itself.

And there are high profile cases that can reinforce the negative view. For instance, a few years ago, an artist in Germany created a garden gnome that showed the nazi salute. If you are like most people, you would see this as a joke, not as a devious way to infiltrate German front lawns, especially when the piece is a unique piece destined for a museum, not for a factory in China to the bewilderment of Chinese workers. The artist was taken to court. He won, but the message some people get is different.

What about episodes like the exchange between a policeman and a person stopped by the officer, where the civilian says "Well, there are people who might call this stupid", referring to an action or utterance by the policeman. If that officer has a bad day, you end up with a fine for that sentence.

The Germans had one of their most wide reaching freedom of speech debates in the last decades of the last century when a quote from 1931, "Soldiers are murderers", became prominent in the peace movement. There were bitter debates, court cases up to the highest court, which let the defendants  go in a verdict that had one dissenting opinion. A conservative bill making this and similar statements a crime was defeated only a few years ago. A German friend of the K-Landnews who was a soldier during that time said: I figured part of my job was to ensure that these folks could say what they said. No, that was not the prevalent feeling in the army, and I was not a "good" soldier - I overheard the general say to the adjutant ''he does an excellent job but he is very independent". But what else do you want to fight for -- equitable justice for parking misdemeanors, cheap oil?

What about the delimitation of private sphere and public sphere? As witnessed in Tweets and other areas on the web?

The philosophical question is our last one. At the end of the day, does it even matter that a certain percentage of our contemporaries say there is no full freedom of speech?

Next time someone does a freedom of speech poll, can you please find comparable previous polls so we can get a little bit of a perspective?

One more thing: Does one of you eggheads out there know of any study or treatise on the benefits of television drama or movies on the perceived extent of freedom of speech in a country?  I wonder if, for example, someone calling a company director "dumb a**hole" in a movie gives people the impression of greater freedom of speech even if they themselves could not do it in real life.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Fashion world

Police fashion statements, we don't mean the uniforms.

Although a few photos of 1960s Berlin, Germany, police played a role in getting us to think about it.
The black clad police foot patrol we saw in Frankfurt made us smile a bit because we inferred, maybe incorrectly, a choice of color influenced by American customs. Or was it that they liked the anarchist black because it gives the most scrawny, stubble beared teenager an aura of power?

None of this is what we mean when we talk about "fashion statements". What we do mean is police work that seemingly out of nowhere exhibits an unexpected new focus.

A focus not claimed to be the result of "adapting to a changing threat matrix".
Law enforcement beefing up work on, for example, burglaries when there is a rash of incidents, that's not a "fashion", that's good police work.

A fashion in the sense of this post would be, for example, a sudden emphasis on miniscule "lifestyle" crimes like the sit-lie mess in San Francisco, CA.  Where you replace low-paid social workers with highly paid cops to make the squeaky inhabitants feel better.

Or, and we finally get to a German example,  when police raids the home and office of a blogger for this alleged crime: illegal use of the title "doctor".

Had the blogger claimed she was a Doctor of Neurosurgery and operated on some politicians because not much can go wrong when you do brain surgery on politicians?

No, her children had bought her an American "Dr. h.c. of Ministry" for a few bucks for the fun of it. Her crime: she had blogged about the joke and said, well, I guess, you could call me a doctor of ministry now. 

To someone with a well functioning perception, the joke would have been evident. Someone with a less keen sense of humor might have sent her a letter asking for clarification. 

And then there was a DA and a herd of policemen, and a judge who was either overworked or out to put the cops in a bad light.

DA stands for District is important to make this very, very clear.

So, they raided her home and office. US dollars 39.90 (our guess) translated to several thousand euros in no time, not counting the time of this blogster and the journalists who reported nor the material resources (oil, coal, rubber) expended to enforce, produce and distribute.

Why is this an example of a fashion in law enforcement?

Because of a rash of scandals around PhDs in Germany in the last couple of years that saw several politicians stripped of the title, saw journalists investigate the lucrative trade in doctorates, saw everybody outraged. But no one really goes to court.

Disproportionate resources thrown at ridiculous problems, many declared "crimes" for the sole purpose of placating someone, without any regard to real damage the offending behavior causes. 

The real problem with law enforcement fashions resides in the consequences, in our example, a joking post can get you a year in jail and ruin any career.
No joke.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Home run

Sports metaphors everywhere. 

Even the most athletically challenged among us, including this blogster,  inevitably learn the meaning of many sports metaphors. Highschool sports or PT play their part, reading and everyday communication does the rest.

As an American, even if the only baseball you have ever held is one of the company shwag baseballs they give away by the box when your brilliant and essential start-up is acquired by an evil empire, you will use terms like home run correctly and without hesitation.

When you change countries, one of the many aspects of getting along with the new neighbors (the official Euro-English term is "integration") is that you may encounter a whole raft of new sports metaphors.

It feels a bit like someone moved the goal posts. There is no use crying foul, you have to learn the rules of the language game. It won't be a slam dunk, but eventually you will find yourself on the home stretch. Don't worry if you limp across the finish line.

In the process, the locals may get a few hours of great entertainment out of your usage of sports metaphors gone awry.

Enterprising linguists have written volumes about  the subject, so rev up your favorite search engine if you feel like it.

We won't mind a yellow card for playing fast and loose in this posting or for picking up a ball in the offside.

Time for some Monday morning quarterbacking?

Onion sprout

"The Onion" inspired German website.

This German website is doing fake news like The Onion, America's Finest News Source.

It's all in German and funny. These two words can actually live in one sentence and be true, nice. The site is a one-man operation and brings in enough money to live on.

Unlike the K-landnews, the man behind "Der Postillion" is not squeamish. While we might believe that the German domestic spy service would work better if a bunch of chimps ran it, he goes to the trouble of posting a picture with some very busy office apes!

Since his website is all in German, you may want to use Google translator or Bing translation to get a feeling for the text.

As with the SMS archive website we reported on earlier, using an online translation tool can lead to a heightened state of hilarity or to total confusion - use at your own risk.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In jail for 5 euros

Germany's fastest growing prison population.

Cannot pay a parking fine or were caught without a ticket on the subway, go directly to jail, do not pass "Go".

In Germany, the big trend in the last two decades has been putting people behind bars because they cannot pay even small fines.

In the state of Hessen,  the number of days in prison for misdemeanors was about 80 000 man days in 2005, and by 2011 the figure had gone up to 120 000 man days.

An unpaid parking ticket of 5 euros can get you a day in jail, at a cost of more than 100 euros per day to the government. Not counting all the costs associated with getting you through court and such.

In one jail in northern Germany, an astonishing one third (ca. 200) of a population of 600 is doing time for small fines. An increase from about 30 people at any given time 20 years ago.

Many of the incarcerated are old people, retirees with so little money that a 100 euro fine is too much to pay in one go.

Others, and this will sound familiar to our American readers, are homeless people and people stuck in the 10 or so years old bare bones welfare program the German government is so proud of.

The article we have linked to above is from 2012, and the trend is still pointing upwards.
But the Germans are now discovering community service, both as a way to save money and as a way to change behavior. The repeat offenders we read about were unanimous about German prisons: clean, good food, no hassle, like a hostel with bars on the windows.

We are looking forward to that American staple of a bunch of old guys in rather distinctive clothing picking up trash along the freeway.

homo teutonicus simplex II

100 years of stellar accomplishments to celebrate the NO on the quota vote. Reason has won the day. Women can wait another 20 or 40 years, they live longer than males anyway, so what's the rush, ladies?

The humble blogster would like to remind our dear readers that we will claim our share in the defeat of the quota for women in the executive jobs of large publicly traded companies. We'll claim it when we feel like it - right now we just celebrate. Read up on our efforts in "homo teutonicus simplex" and "First they came for my penis".

Here is a list of historic accomplishments of "simplex" as a heartfelt thank you for following their conscience.

It is the year 1913. Simplex suppresses a commemoration of an uprising 50 years earlier against the Russians in Posen (now Poland) and nixes once again the call for a universal right to vote. Simplex expands the armed forces after consulting fortune tellers.

1914 - 1918: Simplex gets to do what he loves best, beat up social democrats and go to war. Millions will die for honor and country, helped along by chemical engineers who bring us deadly gas and great fertilizer. The fertilizer scientist was a German Jew, didn't help him in the end.

It would be "a disaster for the family" if women had the vote, so it is rejected once more in 1917.

Oh, and they do fly a bombing raid on London but decide at the last moment that leaflets with "We'll be back" wouldn't look too good.

1918 - 1933: Simplex takes a break from war, certain that the valiant military was not defeated by the other guys but by the politicians back home (read social democrats and commies). The emperor, the Simplex in Chief, splits for retirement in Holland. Women somehow get the right to vote, and the three tier system for males goes away. There is upheaval, murders, revolutions left, right (mostly), and center, hyperinflation (a wheelbarrow full of money for a loaf of bread).

Still, simplex manages to hold on through a historic stock market crash, huge unemployment and a bleak general outlook.

At some point during that period, simplex takes on the role of the sorcerer's apprentice. Fighting a little red smoke with a great big bonfire, simplex supports the guy with the mustache who has been getting votes in elections.

1933 - 1945: After the lazy Roaring Twenties, simplex takes up exercising - mostly involving repeated vigorous lifting of the outstretched right arm. Simplex also hits the books, or rather the convoluted tome of the guy with the square mustache. With renewed hope and  intellectual enlightenment from reading, simplex takes to burning down synagogues and to the most evil Tag-you're-it. The rest is history, as they say.

1945 to today: Simplex splits up into two countries (plus odd Berlin) and starts getting his act together under the watchful eyes of the guys that really kicked his butt this time.
Simplex builds up the countries and has lots of babies. In the process of social evolution, the gene pool of the pre-1945 simplex shrinks while money making genes become more widespread in the general population.
Eventually, simplex gets a unified country back, and social evolution begins to taper off.

18 April 2013: Simplex defeats the quota vote brought before parliament, saving the German economy from a few dozen women, thus narrowly averting the end of Germany as we know it.

[TBD: insert end of history blurb here].

One more thing: the vote it this afternoon, but we have complete faith in the coalition of the unwilling. So, here we go.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

 Jane Fonda on the bus.

To get our minds off of the gardening, the routine and a couple of not so great news, we finally went and watched the comedy "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" with Jane Fonda as the biggest name actress, and we enjoyed it.

Our friend Kat had told us that her buses should be in the movie, and they were indeed. We ended up on Jane Fonda's website, where we found this entry about the Magic Buses.

The chicken in the movie kitchen took us right back to our neighborhood and reminded us of another post-it for a post: write about the fact that more people than expected are keeping chicken in their backyard. Almost all the old farms are gone, with the barns and stables razed to make room for lots of 1970s style housing, but many families hang on to their own vegetable garden.

Legacy of a life

A send off for Maggie Thatcher.

We mentioned the anthem of the anti-Thatcher sentiment in the earlier post "Ding Dong" and figured we did not have much to say about the discussion.

Almost a week later and after many more articles and comments in the British and the German press, our outlook has changed. We have witnessed the making of a legacy.

In the UK, the Tories decided to celebrate Maggie as the first female leader of a major Western country. Labor decided to get on board with this. The smallest common denominator.

So far so good, so true.

At the  same time, may voices have been critical of the witch image of the song, with some pointing out that Mrs. Thatcher is being attacked because she was a woman. The argument was made that Ronald Reagan's policies were very similar to Mrs. Thatcher's, and that Reagan was not attacked in a similar way.
In the diversity of reactions within a population the size of Britain plus the neigbors, we will certainly find examples of "beat up the girl because we can, leave the guy alone". A German commentator says that one reason she gets treated harshly is because she was a woman. Let's simply accept this, after all it is "one" reason.

Many German writers have drawn the comparison between her and Reagan, just like many US conservatives have.

That's a huge fallacy. Reagan, despite his policies, was so much less all out confrontational, and as rumors of his illness spread, even critics took that into account. Mrs. Thatcher showed none of the restraint of old Ronald. She acted much like the bully this blogster knows from the school yard, so those hurt can be expected to show it.

And there is another difference to former American presidents who still had productive years once they had left office.

Which is that they make an effort to contribute to the good of society, or stay out of politics. The Democrats Carter and Clinton are do gooders of the first order, kudos. The elder Bush was engaged for a while. Ford did a little bit. The younger Bush is laying low.

Mrs, Thatcher became a Baroness and moved to the House of Lords, fighting the same fight, just a little less visible.

But what's worse, there was no mellowing out, no real or perceived reflection. Journalists who were granted interviews when her memoirs came out have not regaled us with stories of humor and insight, of awareness that she might do a few things differently.

Maybe, just maybe, her memories contain some of these reflections and it is the fault of this blogster to not have read them. To contemporaries, Mrs. Thatcher's unbending demeanor suggests more the retired Richard Nixon than any other recent US president.

Another aspect not given real attention in the German press is that the current British government policies of austerity are something of a deja vu to the older folks who went through the Thatcher government as adults.

Britain is still a class conscious country, to this day you can get an extremely good idea of someone's place in society by listening to just a few sentences and watching a few mannerisms.

And if you think that Maggie broke up some sort of worker's paradise, you have not lived in council housing 15 m from a busy rail line. You have not walked the stairwell, made out of bare concrete, the front of the steps sloped, a bit rounded for water to run off, or for vomit or blood to be hosed off easily.

Be it as it may, rest in peace, Mrs. Thatcher.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Electricity exports at record high

Raise electricity prices for consumers at home, and make a bundle selling power to neighboring countries.

The Germans took 8 nuclear power plants off the grid in 2102 and, at the same time, increased their surplus power sales to other countries, raking in a surplus of about 1.4 billion euros.

Wind and solar make up a good part of the excess power in the summer months, while imports are a characteristic of the winter months.

We take a short walk to the edge of town, we can see the huge windmills go up on the hill tops, just a year ago there were three that had been there for several years. Now we count 13, and more stumps are reaching for the sky.

One problem with these exports: much of them comes from coal, much of the coal comes from the US.

Coal mined through mountain top removal in Appalachia goes to some extent into exports that fuel German coal fired power plants. Mountain top removal is such an evil practice, a good reminder that the cathedral high windmills outside of town are a truly small price to pay.

First they came for my penis

Now they come for my job. Vote NO on the quota.

This was the K-landnews rallying cry in our post "homo teutonicus simplex".

The vote is on Thursday but it's almost over already. The free conscience rebels have been beaten back and will have to simmer in irrelevance, with only their Prada purses for comfort.

The dis-ingenious male argument "I would be ashamed to be offered a job because of a quota and not because of my skills" has prevailed.

We cannot have a competent woman get a job that used to go to an incompetent male! 

The quota opponents have had the bleeding hearts on the run for a long time. Had the oh, women can do these jobs just as well as men crowd only stopped for a moment, they would have had an argument you cannot beat.

There have been quotas for men - and they have worked like fucking magic!

Look at the Catholic Church. They have had a 100% quota for men in the organization for a couple of thousand years. They don't hide their quota either, it's in all the documents you can read, all the speeches you ever heard.

Have you seen a single male in 2000 years who refused to become a cardinal or a pope because he is ashamed that they have a 100% male quota?

Most of the Western military had a 100% male quota in the vast majority of their branches for ages.  We could not find any display of shame by generals, even George Patton.

The right to vote was a 100% male quota  until around one hundred years ago.

Companies, institutions, governments -- they used to have a de facto quota for males. And for doctors, and for lawyers -- male magic of old. Today, the only male magic is: do you want the blue pill or the blue pill?

You may be made to believe that there is a difference between a quota inscribed in a law and a de facto quota. There is absolutely NO difference for the people affected by the quota.

They don't get the job, period.

Homo teutonicus simplex rules!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Social climate change

In Germany, just like the other climate change.

Some people cry wolf, others won't believe in it no matter what.

The K-landnews team is at a disadvantage in their quest to say something useful about the social climate of their current host country. Because we haven't been here for very long.

At the same time, this may open up a few angles many natives won't have. Like the frog you put in cold water, and then when you turn up the heat, the frog will not bolt. So, we like to think of the Germans as the frogs in their social cauldron - despite "frogs" being kind of taken already.

Some of our views are an extrapolation of general experiences and personal insights as to how changes tend to affect people. To this we tried to add conclusions drawn from talking to the locals. And, irregardless of our claim in the blog profile that we "have nothing useful to say and are confident we will never gain your trust", we have read up a bit on the last 20 years.

The authoritative answer: German social climate has changed by more than 2 degrees.

Like the real thing, is has become less predictable, more turbulent, with more short term extreme events. In some areas, the social environment has become warmer -- migrants benefit from an earlier spring, if you will, generally have a better time, despite some racism.

A few years ago, a German politician of Turkish background had an election speech up on YouTube - in Turkish. This rattled some cages, but we totally applaud the man.

In the German dominated general workplace, the lower layers of the economic atmosphere have become pretty disturbed with headwinds, wind shear, lots of localized turbulent events, while up at high altitude they have all the comforts imaginable and autopilot is a reliable mode. Ascend and descend, of course, have rough patches.

East Germany has seen a complete overhaul of its political system, and everybody has been given a new currency. If you search our earlier posts, you'll find us raving about the new autobahns in the East.

By the way, how come that sounds familiar: let's build some autobahns?

Of course, compared to the Germany of less than 100 years ago, this is a peaceful and quiet country.

But since history starts when you are born, the earlier lessons are not as immediate and as gut wrenching as those you witness with your own eyes.

We'll go back to the working class because we believe they have less of a voice than the writing classes. Which is not unique to Germany, but since we are here, we deal with the Germans.

The old social contract, where the workers were given some decent education and vocational training in return for quietly occupying their layer in society had been reinforced after WWII when there was so much work, so much growth.

In the past two decades, this contract was altered to their detriment, not to the extent as in Britain but more so than you might expect in a country with strong unions. Youth unemployment is luckily low, partly because the economy is doing well, partly because the old system has not been completely dismantled and companies are still taking in trainees -- but often without the previously guaranteed job once the training is over.

We don't know how the Western shift to more stratified societies will play out in Germany, but it is happening -- more poor people,  richer rich folks.

But give them some credit: they brought down the iron curtain under the smiling non-intervening Soviet leader Gorbatchev.  Mrs. Thatcher had no part in it. Mr. Reagan did not bring down the wall but he did  make sure that the Soviets knew they would not be invaded or blown off the planet. With a little help from their friends, the Polish and the Germans did most of the heavy lifting when they showed their fearless leaders that change was possible.

So, take a minute to thank them for this before we continue the march towards the new dark age.

One more thing: The post was written hours before the bombs at the Boston Marathon.

Hilda the hairdresser

Local shorthand for working people, invoked on all sorts of occasion, generally towards dubious ends.

Welcome to the blog, we appreciate your indulgence of and patience with this nitpicking blogster.

Every culture we personally know a little has its big and small themes, the boilerplates for public discourse and cohesion. Stateside, we invoke "the American dream", and whenever there is big speech on taxes and government money, someone will use "hardworking American families".

It gets so boring after a while, but when you change countries, you get a whole new set of themes to discover.

Around here, we have found one such meme to be  Hilda the hairdresser or Hilda the part-time low-wage sales clerk. Actually, they don't use the name "Hilda" but we adapted the name to the job title of hairdresser.

Their role is very similar to the "hardworking American", in that our Jane Doe is invoked in support of social justice and fairness as well as in "highlighting the life of average people".

A couple of examples.

In a recent discussion on the (re-)introduction of tuition fees for public universities, one commentator in favor of fees said: not having fees means Jane the sales clerk, through her taxes, helps foot the bill for putting the son of a wealthy doctor through med school.

When the most recent figures on sanctions imposed by the job centers on long term unemployed showed more than 1 million adverse actions in 2012, we heard this: remember that the long-term unemployed have exhausted their unemployment insurance benefits and get paid out of tax revenue. This means that Hilda the hairdresser helps pay for their benefits, so it is only fair to enforce reasonable standards of compliance for these long term unemployed.

Not a single soul in this country stood up and said:  if a family receives, say, 1000 euros a month in the form of this benefit, at least 100 euros (actually more like 200) of this money goes back to the state in the form of indirect taxes. Wouldn't it be fair to say that the folks on welfare pay for some of their own benefits?

Neither the political left nor the right seem to ever make this argument, why? Because welfare benefit recipients did not work for the money?

Farmers get subsidies without working for them or even to prevent them from working on some of their fields. Companies get subsidies and tax breaks without work. Well, lobbying costs money but so does traveling to the welfare offices and standing in line.
But welfare recipients could work if they only wanted to! Same for the farmers, they could do something else. And the lobbyists could work too, give them a shovel and one hour's worth of training and voila, they become productive members of society.

Okay, so let's say welfare recipients just take money and spend it -- why not call the benefits an indirect subsidy for local business?

With the side effect that fewer people die as would if this subsidy to local business did not exist.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Germans are "poorest" in Europe

Technically, that is probably "BS". But it made the news anyway, everywhere.

The quotes put around the finding by some publications indicate that we may not be alone in our brash interpretation. And, in fairness, the methodology of the survey has been questioned.

We don't know what in the findings is true, it certainly makes sense that Luxembourg appears very high on the list. Could it just be that we are seeing another study where "average" is the evil word that it really is?

Is everybody out there just too lazy to calculate median values, or don't even economists know how to do it?

We suspect the latter may be true.

How useful is "average"?

As useful as a case of crabs. Very useful to them but not to anybody else.

Think about the various Occupy movements what you will, but for a brief moment they taught the rest of us what 1 percent can mean in terms of wealth of a society.

We at the K-landnews won't take any average values very seriously, we use them to poke fun at things but not to run our lives.

A simple way of remembering to distrust average is this: Imagine you have a country MyCountry with a total of 3 people, one earns 100 000 dollars a year, the other two earn 0 dollars. There is a neighboring country Badlands with 3 people, all of them making 33 333 dollars a year.

Then there is a report "Average income in MyCountry is 33 333 dollars a year, caught up with rivalling Badlands".

Where would you rather live?

homo teutonicus simplex

Quota for women vote in German parliament next week.

Good Lord, we had to pick this up because it is such a dogged debate, it is truly democratic.

German politicians have been debating about gender equality for a while, and there are the common complaints about unequal pay, about not enough women in top jobs, and so on.

What makes this upcoming vote so interesting is that the current government is a conservative coalition of the free marketeers FDP, the junior partner, and Ms. Merkel's Christian conservative CDU.

Both parties have for the longest time called for self-regulation of the economic players. We know that some examples of successful self-regulation exist, for instance, out of Dickensian and just post-Dickensian England.

There, private industry became a fervent advocate of public sanitation projects, yeah.
The problem with this was, we exaggerate only a little, that so many people were dying that industry was running low on that most prized human asset.

The German social democrats and the Green party may or may not have been aware of the low point at which self-regulation typically kicks in. In short, they ran out of patience and submitted a law that makes quotas for women binding. It also just so happens that general elections are due in September.

With the CDU and FDP in the majority, you might think they will defeat the motion.  But there are some members of the coalition who came forward stating they want to vote in favor of the bill. There might just be enough of them to pass the bill.

The most prominent one is the minister of work and social affairs, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen.

In the simple world of the German constitution, a member of parliament has free choice of his or her vote, guided only by their conscience. 

The CDU and FDP whips are desperately trying to reign in the free conscience rebels in favor of a free of conscience vote.

And the German mainstream media are licking it up. We checked what the normally decent conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine has to say. The reporters are unfazed, but what a delight the reader comments are:
Treason, says one.
Quota before quality, says Mr. Short'n'Snappy.
Women should advance through performance, not by law, says the next.
Looks like women are just not good enough in their jobs, another one tops this.
Back to the USSR and old East Germany, says male number 5.
A palace intrigue where Ms. von der Leyen is trying to take over the job of Ms. Merkel, says a little voice.

It is maybe too late in the game for the K-landnews to be able to sway the vote towards the endangered German male, homo teutonicus simplex, but...

Here is a slogan we suggest as a rallying cry for the anti-quota movement.

First they came for my penis, now they come for my job. Vote NO on the quota.

[Update] A reader suggested there might be evidence of homo teutonicus simplex being related to homo aryanus exitus or homo aryanus penalis americanis based on cranial morphology with a pronounced tendency to a cube shape (formerly block shape). That's bullshit, really. Now, just read the post, leave us a Happy Click Meal, and get out of my bytes.

Arrogant and lazy

German @Arbeitsagentur (job center) employee tells young worker he is arrogant and lazy.

That sour kraut working in a safe government job had a bad day, so we figured we should memorialize the dedicated employee. Few things are more uplifting and motivating to the job seeker than this sort of compassionate assistance.

Here is the story of the young man.

After finishing school, he went straight into a vocational training program, successfully completed it and continued in the same company as a regular employee. He got a little bored and switched to a more demanding company, crisscrossing Germany to troubleshoot their heavy equipment at big construction sites. On the weekends, he works on a big family farm for the fun of it.
The cheapest machines he brought back to life cost around a million euros, not counting the odd 50 euro waterpump repaired during breaks.
Having worked for eight years straight, he decided to go back to school on a one-year program to become a "master craftsman", which you need if you want to have a career beyond age 30 and which you need to open your own company in this field.

He took some of his savings, paid the tuition of about 12 000 dollars, enrolled and did the first part of the program. After the end of the first part, there is a break of just over two months before school continues.

School being out, his official status for two months changes to "unemployed", which means that his eight years of work qualify him for unemployment benefits. The twist is, he has to prove he is looking for work and has to take "acceptable" work if someone wants to hire him. The friendly farmer, having benefited from the enthusiasm of free labor, offers to give him a "mini job" as a farm hand at about 600 dollars a month for the two months.
Armed with the offer, the young man shows up at a mandatory meeting at the Arbeitsagentur. They promptly reject the mini-job because they would have to make up the difference between the mini-job and his unemployment entitlement to the tune of about 900 dollars a month.

Instead, they offer him a full time temp job as an unqualified helper at just over 10 bucks an hour. He would earn less in this job than with the 600 mini-job plus the 900.

He asks if they have better offers, and they come back with two temp company openings at about 20 dollars per hour. One thing you might want to know about German temp companies is they are not as temp as in the US. In most sectors, "temp" in Germany means a commitment of a year or more. Why? Because German industry wants to have their cake (30-50% off on labor) and eat it it too (a stable, reliable workforce).

He talks to company 1, and they like what they hear but decline to hire him when he tells them school resumes in June. Same scenario with company 2.

The job center is not pleased. The advisor tells the young man he should take one of these jobs and arrange for his education differently, just take it up again later.

When he tells the advisor that school has priority and reminds her that he has already completed the first part of almost 4 months, the advisor says: "You are arrogant and lazy."

The young man told us he will take the offer of the mini-job and not bother with the sour krauts any longer.

And yes, we know him well enough to trust his story, and no, we don't know if the job center folks have the same nonexisting quotas as the Brits.

One more thing: Given the German effort to register and regulate, isn't it kind of funny that at a time of a dearth of qualified workers, nobody thinks of sending a welcome letter to freshly minted immigrants along the line of "hey, welcome, you know there is work to be had here".

Saturday, April 13, 2013

On the menu

From our Diplomacy Files.

Example 1
The location is a cafeteria somewhere in Germany, in a large office complex. In the line of workers queuing up for lunch is a group of folks from a North African country. As the first member of the group steps up to the counter, he talks to the server.
A few seconds later, the server turns around to the kitchen personnel behind her and hollers: "One muslim."

Example 2
The man sticks his head through the open door, waving a single sheet of paper.
I wonder if you could have a look at the menu, he starts, it's for the visit of the Turkish VIP and his wife.

Sure, answers his co-worker, taking the paper. He reads the menu, then asks: A high-ranking Turkish guest and his wife?


The co-worker breaks into a big smile: The entree says Breast of Turkey. I think, you might get some very strange looks, especially from the ministry protocol folks.


You really want to change that, maybe re-label it to chicken or whatever.

The final version of the menu simply stated "poultry", sans breast.

1st degree web search intent

25 seconds to life in Search Hell. Without the possibility of parole, of course.

You use web searches all the time, and your results vary. Sometimes, you find what you want not just exactly but, say, in the first few items of the "query results" list.

Sometimes, you spend hours and give up in a state of homicidal frustration.

Given that running a search engine costs a lot of money and that the results are worth so much money that the only correct term is "a shitload of money", there is a big industry of people who try to get "the best" search results.

They are the search engine optimization folks. Only a decade ago, they were really only glorified typists entering keywords. In the early web days, the more keywords, the more likely your page was listed higher up on the search results page. Much of the then small industry engaged in very shady practices, stuffing unrelated keywords everywhere.

Then scientists started to take note of the problem and came up with something called "user intent".

The seminal paper Determining the user intent of web search engine queries
Some navigational queries were quite easy to identify, especially
those queries containing portions of URLs or even complete URLs.
We also classified company and organizational names as
navigation queries, assuming that the user intended to go to the
Website of that company or organization. We also noted that most
navigation queries were short in length and occurred at the
beginning of the user session. Identification of transactional
queries was primarily via term and content analysis, with
identification of key terms related to transactional domains such as
entertainment and ecommerce. With the relatively clear
characteristics of navigational and transactional queries,
information queries became the catch-all by default.

Whatever you search, most of the time they will classify it as "informational" (80% of the time).

I personally like to use the example of a county fair to try and explain some of this, although a county fair does not offer the variety of the internet (a county fair with a large porn offering would be a problem for some folks).

The idea is: there is lots of different stuff.
You arrive at the county fair's gate (the search engine) and need to figure out where to go and what to do.

If you know that the hot tub company X is at the county fair, you get directions, and off you go. That would be a navigational query.

If you want to eat something, you can ask where you can buy a hotdog or deep fried twinkies. The answer should be a list of food vendors. That's a transactional query.

If you want to look at the music schedule for the main stage, you'll get a pamphlet or directions to the location, maybe a signpost, where it is posted. If you are interested in crafts in general, you'll get directions to the crafts area. That's an informational query.

Now imagine that the gatekeeper has to read new pamphlets and brochures during his break because the fair changes a lot. So, he is not always up to date, and he sometimes has difficulty understanding you and sends you to the wrong place. He may give you a huge list, and you get frustrated.

Imagine now that right next to your county fair, there is a Spanish county fair but they have fewer personnel at the gate, and the fair visitors may be inclined to do more looking around during a hot afternoon. While the gatekeeper speaks pretty good Spanish (let's say the county fair in Colorado), some of his grammar can be off, sending you to a place, for example, that is a dog show instead of a hot dog vendor.

Back now to a more technical discussion. The SEO companies, the search engine people, and the researchers are outright obsessed with your "intent". 
They process all these search query logs and try to make sense of them in terms of what you want to achieve when you enter a certain phrase.

Somehow, somebody has managed to convince some of the folks that you, dear user, may want to see an image of a person or thing in the search results list even if you do not enter anything that specifies this.

This somebody has come up with a list of things for which "the majority of users would prefer an image". Our post "Crap in the crowd" shows how badly conceived that list is.

There are some very limited categories for which "prefer images" would be useful or even outright perfect. But the category list we have seen has so many "prefer images" items that it is utter nonsense. Someone has totally misunderstood that the idiom "a picture is worth a thousand words" needs to be applied in moderation.

The problem with using query logs to figure out the "intent" is that you do not know if a user visited a certain site that has images which would match the query, and even then, you don't know if the user wanted the images more than text on the page.

Of course, you can be sneaky and give the world a browser that records the website the users visit from a query result link. Even then, except for certain narrow categories, like, yes, porn, "image intent" or "non-image intent" is way unclear.

Ask users directly?

If you ask a user directly "would you prefer an image or only text in the search result for an illness", I will be the famous Susan B. Anthony dollar (minus shipping and handling) that the answer will be "an image". If you ask for clarification, you will find that the users first want the symptoms and then an image.

We tried it.

The upshot of saying "the majority would like to see an image" in the search results list is that it also ignores the fact that the major search engines have a separate "images", and maybe even "videos" and "phone numbers" option.

The money spent on tagging way too much stuff as "prefer image", would be so much better spent on building up better language processing capabilities for the "non-English" part of the Web.  See our post German web searches suck for some more information on this.

The term "user intent" is here to stay and will continue to be hotly debated as long as mind reading is not implemented.

Bonus for reading all this
Imagine there are many humans, call them "users" who want so search for something called "cars".  In order to give them the best results, you want to find the "number of wheels intent".
Instead of asking all the users, why not go through the brochures of a bunch of car makers and determine what the majority of wheels for cars is.
You can use this value to make a pretty educated guess about the "number of wheels intent" of your users.
Same for "image intent" and websites for specific categories.

One more thing:
I know, the irony is we spent decades getting to "want does the user want", and in this specific instance, we may for once know better than the users.