Sunday, June 30, 2013

July 4th week

July 4th is coming up.

We'll take a break from blogging and spend some more time with the vegetables.

With the sweet peas growing along the fence, the potatoes suffering under the plant equivalent of the NSA - bindweed, the corn hampered by the unseasonally cold weather.

And we'll do our own little Fourth of July celebration with the ghetto cats, the most social litter of cats we have ever seen.

Our German neighbors still like us, despite the data grabbing headlines of the eternal adolescents back in the D.C. area who never made it out of the Cold War.

For a few days, we'll simply cherish the old America, the young and crazy place where people would go to start over.

If something irresistible happens and we don't miss the news, there will a post or two, but the plan is to chuckle about the ridiculous news of the past few wees and to shrug of the disappointment in the US government blocking access to the Guardian website.

To the person who ordered that: we so disagree with this but we wish you a happy 4th of July, too.

And a safe holiday.

Which means, we really hope that all festivities will be peaceful.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Immigrant Garden Gnomes

The slow German summer news season (literally the "summer hole") invariably spawns reports on the Loch Ness monster.

This year, however, the tabloid Bild Zeitung found a topic of true historic significance.

In between not one but two awful police violence stories, next to scantily clad young women, the paper reports in its 29 June edition that the symbol of German front lawns - the pointy hat garden gnome - has immigrant roots in what is modern day Turkey.

To the K-landnews this is really no news, as our regular readers know. Most of the population of Germany has some immigrants somewhere, if not in the past couple of generations, then you should find them a couple of hundred years back.

The significance of the Bild Zeitung report is the report itself.

Given that the hollow gnomes sometimes serve as hide-a-keys, we wonder if there are Germans who have reservations about entrusting their house key to an immigrant.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Meet an' Beat

Five police officers in a town near the city of Koblenz, Germany, apparently had had a bad day.

Which was very unfortunate for a man they had arrested.

A video captured by the most modern of subversive devices, a smart phone, shows the man sitting on the ground quietly behind the police car, his hands cuffed behind his back.

Three of the officers then start beating and kicking the man.

Of course, we do feel for the beaten man. Nobody sitting obviously still in handcuffs should ever be beaten.

But in a weird way, we recognize that some German police officers are just as easily stressed and perturbed as colleagues from other countries.

So, why not beat up someone utterly defenseless?

It's not that the police should have better self control than, hm, let's see, normal people?

That does not sound right, they are normal people, too.

The officers are assigned to desk duty while prosecutors are investigating.

Reports about mouse pads having been stabbed by frustrated officers are unsubstantiated rumors.

Maybe the police union could do some surveillance of their own folks before they clamor for more blanket spying on the rest of us. 

I make more money in a day

than you make in a year!

No, not TheEditor, nor any of the real or virtual contributors to this strange little blog. We are taking the poor intellectual high road of the low life losers, if you really need to know.

The statement above came to us from a good friend of the K-Landnews. From someone from the island across the Channel. The poor island that will be fracked worse than a Swiss cheese, then run full of water and eventually sink.

Here's what the friend said.

I knew this hard working, hard partying, hard charging entrepreneur. He was not a bad guy, just someone who enjoyed coming out of encounters as the top dog. He had that unnerving relentlessness that is the true reason behind so many successful careers. These folks, male or female, bitch so long that the others let them be. I want to be a director, I want to be a director, I want to be a he was made a director. Not because of excellence but because he had not messed up too badly and had continued to nag.

But the entrepreneur, successful as he was, had one annoying habit. When he was too drunk or too upset with someone this nasty "I make more money in a day than you make in a year!" would come out.

Like the good sheeple we are, we'd cringe but remain silent.

I had left the isle for the United States, and ten years or so had passed. One morning, as I was moving slowly through the packed aisle of my commuter train towards the door, I could hear an argument ahead.

I saw a black male, tall, easily visible, and he was apparently one of the parties in the argument. There were a couple of tall white guys standing right next to him, but they were simply onlookers.

The train stopped, the door opened.

As I stepped forward past the black male, there was a shorter white male right outside the door. He was wearing a light brown corduroy jacket, and his head was half turned to the door.

"I make more money in a day than you make in a year!"

He was visibly drunk, and he did not recognize me.

A 50 000 dollar pint of beer

"Man, what happened?"

"Gee, how'd that happen?"

"Are you okay?"

This was a small sample of the questions the young man was asked on the Monday morning when he came to work.

Over the hours before lunch, the events became clear, and it was simple and bad. He had been out at a bar with friends on Friday.

At one point, he was standing outside the bar having a cigarette.  His all-American looks and his outgoing disposition made it easy to talk and banter with strangers wherever he went.

Sentences, half sentences, affirmations, negations were bouncing around, and his fateful contribution to the chatter was short: "we should get out of this unwarranted war".

He heard "You unpatriotic bastard" from his right and turned to get a look of the man who had said it. "Come on, that's not unpatriotic."

The man grabbed his shoulder, and a split second later our all-American young man was doubled over, his right leg on fire with pain.

One of the young women in the group shrieked, another man went "hey!"

Before he could catch his breath and straighten himself up, the attacker was gone.

The police took a statement but refused to include "unpatriotic bastard" in their short writeup. His ankle fractured by the violent crushing blow, the young man  took months to get better and gave his co-workers and friends regular updates on the costs incurred.

"It just passed the 50 000 dollar mark", he declared one day. "Thank god, I took the more expensive health plan."

Six months later, when he moved to another city for a new job, he still had a small limp.

The police never contacted him after they took the one page statement that night.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Digital room mate

Not a robot, for a nifty bot wait a few years.

Imagine, you are up to no good in your government's eyes. Which means, you want to go down to the corner coffee shop and have that quadruple espresso macchiato with strawberry sirup and caramel. The drink named after you.

Imagine further that the NSA or some agency has the urge to know when you are home.

For now, they know you are home when you browse the web or watch tv (because you flip channels).

Imagine that you have a program on your computer that browses the web with its very own personality. You could be a brave GOP worker, a nerd, a desperate housewife, or a power girl, a doctor, a lawyer and more.

Of course, only from the point of view of your web followers.

The idea is not new. There was a Firefox plug-in that went to random web sites during your browsing to liven up what the web saw of you.

In these days of snoopy spooks, we need something more targeted. A tool that performs according to a desired age range, has a gender, political preferences and can do the odd email or two.

There should be some software bots out there that can be adapted with little work.

Once the tool behaves sufficiently like you, you can go for the coffee.  But leave the cell phone at home.

You can have even more fun buy making a new person, a digital room mate if you will.

Let's say, you are a young, idealistic animal rights activist, which means a terrorist for the modern day Western democrazies.  What you need to make your web presence less threatening is a conservative grandma with whom you share the apartment.

The Digital RoomMate can be configured to be that person. Put your new companion on that old unused laptop, and voila, you have just become God.

You have created an American citizen, or an Arab, or a Frenchman (they are difficult to configure).

Where you can download the tool?

Someone has to write it.

Whistleblower Protection Program Manual

Satire -- Satire -- Satire.  Or deep depression.

Where is my Whistleblower Protection Program Manual, been looking everywhere and cannot find it.

It's a novel that needs to be written soon. Something along the lines of "The Fugitive meets".

Should work just fine as a plot. Be nice to those spooks who are just good people and don't make them look too bad. You can make up totally fictional lying generals and power hungry politicians, more than you ever need.

And do incorporate something we at the K-Landnews noticed: One point we have not seen mentioned in the bazillion bytes written about the NSA leaks is this.

TheGuardian and Mr. S. have tried to learn from the Wikileaks-Manning-Assange story. All their handling points to that.

We also know that the NSA learned zilch, nothing, nada from it. After all, it took them three years and, to quote Bender of Futurama fame, a kick in their shiny metal asses to announce a two-person system.

Which we grossly interpret to mean that, in the future, we get two whistleblowers instead of one.

Works fine for us, should be great for the press because they have two people to throw dirt at, two girlfiriends to chase.

If you write that novel, be nice enough to send us a complimentary copy.

Don't credit us, we gladly forgo the honor of a special record in yet another freedom friendly database.

European money news

The two big money topics today are, or should be, the British budget and the new European bank bailout rules.

The UK budget is a complex affair with winners and losers and a vigorous debate about who the winners and losers really are.

To us, it means we'll stick with the baseline: there are cuts in many government departments and a few that get a little bit more. Some of the cuts are so obvious that you can wonder why they have not happened before. An example is the winter heating allowance, paid until now to everybody, including ex-pats living in warm countries. So, a temperature test sounds good.

Other cuts are the kind of penny pinching ventures that show desperation by the government and create some more desperation in the affected group. People now have to wait another four days after layoffs to sign up for unemployment benefits.

The bank bailout rules are pretty much set, and it is indeed the Cyprus model. Creditors, shareholders, and "large" desposit accounts will be asked to pay up, and the state will give taxpayer money only if this is not enough.

The problem with making savers give up some of the money they have is a relatively low threshold of 100 000 Euros insured in an FDIC like scheme or backed by the government.

That's roughly half of the amount ensured under the US FDIC.

Of course, you can distribute your money among several banks and be done with it.

Or you can play in the stock market or in commodities.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Don't search the web

Really, don't. 

It is a bad place, not just for children. 

Our search obsessed TheEditor (a person despite the strange spelling) was hopping from website to website when he or she came across this:

"they had personally raped, cut off ears, cut off heads, taped wires from portable telephones to human genitals and turned up the power, cut off limbs, blown up bodies, randomly shot at civilians, razed villages in fashion reminiscent of Genghis Khan, shot cattle and dogs for fun, poisoned food stocks, and generally ravaged the countryside"

This graphic, disturbing language was heard in the public realm of the United States Senate in 1971 during hearings on Vietnam. There was a war going on, in case you don't know. 

We should all be glad that something like this cannot happen any more. We  have, luckily, evolved from such graphic descriptions of violence and found democratic ways to keep things quiet.

While throwbacks do occur in the public arena,  like the warning of death panels under Obamacare, they are nowhere near as detailed as the quote from a the statement of a young Mr. Kerry above.

Keep your children safe, ask Congress to put stuff like this behind an age verification system. 

Seriously, don't do that. We have enough suffocating fear going around as it is.

The cat on Prism

We kept a running tally of the publications and twits in the NSA leaks and are proud to unveil the results in this post.

There has been at least one message from each and every internet connected device on the planet, including our very own washing machine and grandma's microwave oven. The latter was an unintentional leak caused by an exploding Twinkie, imagine our surprise. We should probably not dwell too much on the WiFi enabled personal vibrator of one of our neighbors.

The sheer volume of stupidities, inanities, brain farts, as well as bipartisanship to an extent that raised suspicions with our semantics guru about a shift from partisanship to bi, prompted TheEditor to search for an unbiased voice.

Unsurprisingly in all things internet, the search led to cats.

TheEditor requested  an interview with our tomcat Tigger because he was intrigued by the spy novel sounding name Tigger, not because Tigger has relevant qualifications on the subject.

"Qualifications are not needed to jump into the debate, they might be detrimental. The topic is so transparent that it is utterly opaque, if you know what I mean. Anyhow, that's why I asked Tigger."

Here are the highlights of the interview.

TheEditor (ed): Pleased to meet you Tigger, thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions.

Tigger (T): meow

ed: Have you heard of the NSA/Prism/Gig leaks?

T: meow

ed: Do you think, personally or catly, that Mr. Snowden is a hero or a traitor?

T: meow

ed:  That's an interesting answer, would you clarify that for us please?

T: meow

ed: As someone who has spent, as I understand, some time under cover in...

T: meow

ed:  Oh, only humans say under cover, your trade term is bedspread, I see. So, as someone with under cover experience, how badly was the nation damaged, in your opinion?

T: meow

ed: Very succinct indeed, I see.

T: meow

ed: Were you at all surprised that he went to China and then on to Russia?

T: meow

ed: Are you aware that the journalist Greenwald is an animal person?

T: meow (quiet purr and a blink)

ed: I take that as a yes. What is your opinion on the criminal charges brought against Mr. Snowden?

T: meow

ed: One final question, if I may, do you agree with the president's trade-off between privacy and security?

T: (both ears tilt forward in cat question motion) ????

ed: The US president, Mr. Obama.

T: (both ears tilt forward in cat question motion) ????

ed: Well, the president is, well, hm, kind of the big dog in Washington.

T: (ears flip back, incisors draw blank) GREEEOOOOOWW

Orwell, Kafka, Kishon

Writers Orwell and Kafka have been named extensively in the past weeks to highlight aspects of our governments, plural, all encompassing, in their quest for equality.

We are all equal as suspects.

Or are we?

Maybe our curious snoopers are given "do not store lists", wouldn't that be a scoop. The phone numbers of Congress and some less dangerous individuals go to the the NSA and their records are filtered out.

We do not know, and - as for the K-Landnews - we don't give a F****.

One writer who was not mentioned is Mr. Kishon. Read up on his pieces about how government decisions are made, how major construction projects are conducted, and weep.

References to trade unions make some of his writings a little dated, sure, but the rest is as relevant today as in the past.

Had the Germans read his piece about the canal, they might have a better handle on the world's most expensive train station and that spaceport in Berlin, Germany.

Give a copy of his piece on budget decisions to every member of congress or whatever your local collection of self-less workers for the public good is called, and watch them squirm on a hidden webcam as they read it.

Huge expenses are waved through, then the battle over the paper clip budgets rages and the sweaty alpha males will arrive at a compromise  they can then sell to their constituents in the upcoming election campaign.

When you have laughed enough, you can go back to Orwell and Kafka.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

All green

Once upon a time, there was a US president who went green.

He put solar panels on the Whitehouse roof.

That was Mr. Carter.

The next one took them off.

This post is in danger of getting depressing, so we shift to different meanings and concepts of green.

To give something the green light is, next to eco green,  one of our more favorable usages of green. It embodies simplicity and moving ahead. We, and everybody else, choose to ignore the fact that the traffic light green can not just send you forward but also left or right and, if you have enough one-way streets, in a circle. Even way back past your original starting point.

TheEditor paused and looked very pleased at the twisted metaphor.

And in Japan, the go is blue. 

There is this old, really old joke some school children somewhere told to each other on the subject of racism.

School children pile into the bus, then the driver turns around and announces "Kids, listen up.  There's gonna be no racism on this bus, especially not from me! This segregation of black and white is bad. To me, you are all green, okay. Now, will the dark green please go to the rear, the others to the front."


In Western politics, especially in recent years, it might seem, green with rage and green with envy have been fashion trends. No amount of spray tan can hide this completely.

Oh, we almost forgot green washing.

It works exactly like Tom Sawyer's fence operation, except with green.  If you don't believe it, just read that section of the book, there are free copies all over the internet.

Green is?

All of the above.

The school master

That's the nickname the locals in the small German town gave the man. He is old, very old and has had the nickname forever, they say.

It is a tribute to both his eloquence and his air of self-importance, they tell us. At around age ninety or so, the self-importance has diminished quite a bit, we'd say.

As to his eloquence, we can say that his knowledge of English beats that of lots of younger Germans.

He learned English in the United States, a time he looks back on with fondness and happiness. His face lit up so much as he recounted going into town on the weekends for a dance with the pretty girls in Texas, for a beer or two, you get the impression he probably had the time of his life.

He was a prisoner of war at the time.

A farm boy, drafted into Hitler's army at age 18, he ended up in Normandy, in France, in a church tower, right there next to the bells.

That's where he and a buddy of the same age where doing their guard duty shift on June 6, 1944.
Night had fallen, and then parachutes began to fall out of the dark skies, first a few, then so many you could not count them.

He did not say whether they had shot at the men, or whether they had alerted their German troops. He did say that their only thought at some point was to get the hell out of the tower.

The fastest way down was the rope of the bell.

Which they took.

Once they were down, he told, his buddy pleaded him to stop for a moment. Very awkwardly, his buddy walked up to the lectern and ripped a page out of the Catholic mass book open on the page for Sunday mass.

He continued, "when my buddy had cleaned up himself, we left the church, and he threw the paper into some bushes."

Not long after this, they were caught by the Americans somewhere in the vicinity, in one of hedges that line the fields of Normandy, shipped to England and then on to the United States.

If his story is true, there is a mass book in a small church in France with one page missing.

Diplomacy 101

As a reader of this blog, you know we do many things badly, and we don't do one thing: political diplomacy.

TheEditor has nothing but scorn an ridicule for political diplomacy. Personal diplomacy on the other hand is high on his or her list of values. Letting others save face is more important to us than saving our own or saving money.

Being dismissive of diplomacy is not the best foundation for writing a post on 'Diplomacy 101'. Germany's rapidly aging population has come to our rescue more than once and did for this post, too.

The treasure of knowledge and wisdom in old people with too much time on their hands is a virtually untapped resource, with Walmart the only US company that even tries to put that wisdom to use. This is what the Walmart greeters are about, not about the exact shelf location of some cereal or toothpaste.

Diplomacy 101 comes to you courtesy of a friend of the K-Landnews in his or her own words, reshuffled by TheEditor for that prized "single author" look and feel.

The negotiation
My first really important project was a negotiation, a big deal. I had been out of college for maybe a year and work still had this 'new car smell'. Everything was interesting, even re-filling a stapler. When my manager called to tell me I would be on an infrastructure negotiation team, my sense of purpose in life was given a boost. This was me going to do something good for my country, I was going to be able to contribute like the grown-up I was.

On the day of the meeting, I woke up before the alarm rang and was on my way early. The meeting was to last the whole day, so I packed a sandwich just in case we'd be locked up in a conference room all day - grown-up style. The participants from the other agencies arrived in time, everybody shook hands and made small talk.  

It's funny, I even recall, or think I recall, the weight of my briefcase. It contained part of the project, a small piece of a better future, and it felt light and great.

My agency was a small, specialized outfit, and I had been added to the team at a late stage, which meant no in-depth coordination with the rest beyond a couple of specific technical points.

The meeting was between two parties, let's call them Team A and Team B, with my team being Team A. Yes, you may smile.

After the meet and greet of Team A and Team B, everybody filed into the conference room, took a seat according to hierarchy and importance.

This was when the chief of Team A took me aside. "Can I have a minute with you?", he said and moved to the exit. "Sure", I followed.

Once outside of the room, he assured himself that we were alone, then said: "You need to know that they won't get what they want."

Stunned silence.

He was calm and poised. A posture I would look for in negotiators ever after. "The point is, we are required to negotiate with them for both legal and political reasons. So, whatever you say or don't say, my mandate it to nix their request, and you will have to comply."

"I understand, I will."

The "I understand" part of my response was, of course, not true. I did not want to play along with anybody who would put twenty people in a room for a whole day with the expressed purpose to achieve nothing.

Yet, here I was, doing just that. I sat there and watched them do their thing. The whole negotiation had a surreal atmosphere to me as I saw and heard them go through the project in all the details, discussing all minutiae.

Had the A Team lead not told me upfront, I would not have noticed. This is how convincing they were. We broke for lunch and even went out for lunch with Team B.

It was only after lunch that Team A moved to the "no". Over the course of the next two or so hours, this "no" became firm, and Team B went through the stages of grief. The final note of the A Team chief held out the promise that all was not lost, maybe.

After the goodbyes, the A Team chief put on a big smile. "This one is dead, and we have not alienated them."

I have never looked at the world in the same way since. And I remember I was just as tired as I was after a day of productive work.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Views on TOR

As we learned in the last couple of weeks, those who have sworn an oath to protect us have decided that using any kind of encryption thwarts their intention to protect us.
We learned that using the anonymity enhancing software TOR makes you look bad in the five eyes.

Funny enough, like the internet itself, according to Wikipedia, TOR had some sponsorship by the U.S. government and then became its own project.

In many media reports, TOR has been given the attributes of 'secretive' and 'dark'.

We are willing to bet that Susan B. Anthony dollar that people would say "TOR" when you tell them it can make your browsing more anonymous and then ask where terrorist web sites would be found.

Try it.

Unlike with all previous bets, we will cover shipping and handling for the Susan B. this time.

The fear industry will never tell you the truth: TOR is so much less criminal than your neat little daily internet. Is this statement surprises you, think again.

For starters: The big bad filesharing operations either don't run under TOR or are not anonymous.
Your average TOR server does not hide from the public. The IP addresses of the servers are displayed in the network map for the whole world to see.

One important aspect of TOR is this: your surfing becomes less comfortable than on the neat net. There is much less bandwidth, downloads become as slow as on the normal Deutsche Telekom connection once their throttleing kicks in.

Even simple things like login in to your email become work. At best, you will need to enter a secondary email address. At the intermediate level, you get a captcha that is so f***ing hard to solve that you start cussing, at worst they won't let you in at all.

That is difficult for spooks to understand.

If they cannot understand, it must mean it is dangerous. Plus, from what we have learned in the past weeks, logging in to their classified systems is less work than using TOR.

Users around the world rely on TOR because they need protection from their government. Their lives depend on it.

Bogus patent applications that at best stifle companies, at worst kill people, they do not use TOR, they are sent as password protected zip files through regular email.

Those terrorist websites?  We are not being told, but they are not under TOR.

Other unsavory things commonly mentioned in connection with sensationalizing coverage, like child abuse, are actually being fought by many, many TOR users.
Just talk to child abuse experts.

The past two weeks have, in the view of TheEditor, been a striking, shocking example of major media failures: The social contract looks more and more like a bad cell phone service plan where they keep changing the fine print on people. The evil thing is, you don't know because the fine print is classified information.

So, we run an internal TOR relay whenever we feel like it.

In addition to curiosity and to savoring that geekness which somehow passed us by in our teens, there is another, deeper reason for donating internet breathing space (or "bandwidth").

If I cannot do it, the paper that says "For exceptionally meritorious achievements..." becomes worthless.

Thank you for your understanding.

Surf responsibly.

Pants down in the barn

From our Think Twice about Rural Living.

One of the big German publishing  success stories in recent years is a glossy magazine called Landlust.  A not quite as over the top as Country Living, but close.

As an English speaker, try not to  read too much into the second noun of this composite.

The K-Landnews Random Research (Arr Arr) team balked at the audience research request lobbed at it a few days ago, so TheEditor made up this summary.

It's a safe bet to say that nobody who lives in a small working village or hamlet will buy the mag. City people who have never set foot on a farm are the audience. Some copies will end up on coffee tables at consultant firms, at luxury hotels, and in the offices of pricey lawyers and doctors who work with private clients only.

Many modern day German farmers will not instinctively reach for their Round-Up canister any more when they see the cover of the July August 2013 edition with cornflowers. 

But they won't buy.

Life in a very small place does not necessarily mean you sign away all privacy. What you do share will not be used against you, not normally, but it will be talked about.

A friend from a couple of towns down the road shared the following anecdote a while ago.

The aftermath of the marriage of the decade, possibly the marriage of the century in this tiny town, had subsided. The whole community loved the perfect couple, who by then had settled into their life yet another town over, and everybody was impressed about how well the parents of the two got along with each other.

One warm summer day, the sister of the recently-married bride burst into the house of a friend of hers, a stay at home mom going about stay at home mom business.

Front doors, of course, are stll not locked there, so she burst into the kitchen, tears streaming down her face, and she cried: "Don't tell anybody I just found dad and aunt Jenna having sex in the barn."

Which was an understandable but utterly wrong way to start the conversation.

Because the friend, now putting the vegetable chopping knife down, had had no idea.

Now she knew.

Hugs, tears, consoling sweet words, more hugs and more tears followed, and the distraught witness eventually went back home. While she skipped the family dinner that day, as did everybody else, they patched things up, and got on with their lives.

So, living in the countryside can gave awkward moments, but that should not scare you off.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Germany giving away drones?

Are the German armed forces running a "get a free drone program"?

How do you get one?

Answer: bring a chair, sit next to an airfield and wait.

This is how we understood a report in today's Spiegel online about drones falling out of the skies.

As the previously respected publication reports, over 120 out of just under 900 drones of the German military fell out of the sky at some point.

The defence department disputes the figures, saying that only 29 took the plunge and the rest performed "controlled emergency landings".

Given our recent dip in trusting any government, you may be surprised to hear that we side with the government on this.

TheEditor is adamant: "I perform controlled emergency landings all the time. Not out of the sky, but right here on the ground. When people see me slip and crash on the wet bathroom floor or on an icy sidewalk in  the winter, they laugh and point fingers. But what they are really witnessing is a controlled emergency procedure.  So, yes, I believe the government."

The bailiff knocked twice

Do you happen to remember our post "Arrogant and Lazy", where we described the encounter of an enthusiastic,  bright, hard working young German with a lard ass bureaucrat of the Arbeitsagentur (job center)?

We have a follow-up illustrating "insult to injury", although the correct order of the idiom in this case should read "injury to insult".

After the official had threatened to deny any support to the young man, the agency decided to do exactly as he had proposed in the first place. Accept the  mini job given to him  by the farmer for the time in between the "Meister" (vocational master) classes, deduct that pay from the unemployment benefit he was entitled to, and be done with it.

All is well that ends well.

Its just, that this was not the end yet.

The end showed up at the young man's home about eight weeks later in the form of a bailiff.

Fun fact: German bailiffs are sometimes nicknamed "cuckoo" after the sticker they will put on valuables to designate them as property of the state. The sticker has the German eagle seal, and someone without any money but with ample humor came up with "cuckoo" for the chicken.

The bailiff wanted health insurance arears, the unpaid premium for the period between classes.

Our young man was baffled.

One thing they tell you when you apply for unemployment benefits is that the agency will pay the health insurance premium to the insurer.

Which his job center branch had failed to do. The health insurer had skipped the required legal process, which includes at least three reminder mails with decreasing levels of friendliness.

Being a problem solver, the young man paid the bailiff right there, called up the job center and reported the issue.

They paid up this past week.

It is safe to say that the German job center organization has lost him.

And guess what? Just like our British job center friends fudged figures, there are reports out today that the German job centers massaged their statistics for bureaucratic beauty.

Looking good, man, looking good.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Cat talk

The two yard cats had been born feral and spent four months in the yard before we managed to catch them.

After the trip to the SPCA under its Spay an Neuter program, they spent two weeks in the house and were released back into the yard.

In the green space between the redwoods, they went to work, reducing the rodent population. In their ample spare time, they  dozed in the sun or the shade.

Interaction with the humans was limited but friendly. They'd show up to say hello to the residents when they felt like it or wanted to collect a few pets. The black female had the friendlier personality, the male behaved more like you would imagine a cat cowboy. He was a cat of few words, and, in human terms, his greetings were a pretty good analogy to the cowboy's slow walk and a tip of the hat.

Fast forward by a year.

All of a sudden, the black cat becomes very talkative. Unlike the previous intermittent contact, she is always right there at the door when a human comes or goes.
She meows a lot, which makes the humans check the water dish, then check the nooks and crannies where unfriendly wildlife might hang out.

The cowboy cat, on the other hand, is his usual quiet self. The weather took a turn to balmy and sunny a couple of weeks before this and he spends a lot of his time on the table next to the BBQ.

The behavior of the black female does not change. She rubs up against the humans and meows, rubs up some more, meows some more.

A couple of days into the sudden change of the black cat's behavior, the humans begin speculating about causes.

Maybe she is just becoming friendlier, they are almost adults now, and we have treated them okay. Well, with the exception of the two week's of captivity.

Another few days later, the humans start to settle into the new routine. Then they notice something.

The cowboy cat stands up on the table and takes a few steps forward.

He is limping badly on one of his hind legs.

The vet performed an x ray and explained the cat had had a broken femur for about a week.

Immediately after plucking the cowboy from the yard, the humans were surprised to see that the black cat reverted to her prior behavior.

Friday, June 21, 2013

No more Google brainteasers

The world loses a famous proponent of brainteasers in interviews!

The Huffington Post reports that our favorite search giant has phased out brainteasers.

TheEditor has always held the belief that  questions like "How many golf balls can you fit into an airplane? How many gas stations in Manhattan?" are what a Google's senior vice president of people operations finally admitted: "A complete waste of time. They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart."

For the record, TheEditor would like to stress the reverse side of the "make the interviewer feel smart" statement.

That is: make the interviewee feel not smart.

And, between male members of our species, the statement turns into: mine is bigger than yours.

We should not expect such questions to go away completely. For a long time to come, there will be interviewers who sneak in one or two, because they can, because they want to measure something.

We do hope, though, that we will be spared a cyclical revival when the current generation of interviewers retires.

Maybe that German friend at Apple will finally get his chance. The chance he blew before because he dared to tell a brainteaser tosser that the question was a waste of time.

Good luck M.

The old man and the redhead

If you live in a small town in Germany, you will be surrounded by lots of old folks, and you will hear their stories.

The elderly man was what we call spry. His step still had bounce, he was not stooped like the generation of his parents inevitably was.

The fault lines of life on his face were not terribly deep, and other than brief moments of that distant gaze which you only find in elderly people or in those younger ones who had seen horrors, he did not look all that old.

He had just returned from a hospital trip, he'd taken a neighbor to the hospital. He had pointed out years ago that his hospital shuttle trips exceeded the number of trips to the shopping mall.

We had finished the admission paperwork at the front desk, spent another fifteen minutes waiting for them to call us up and were on the way to the elevators in the back of the building.

The tree of us, him, his partner and me, looked a bit lost, I guess. Right at that moment, a woman turns the corner and stops. Can I help you, she asked with a friendly smile. She was a gorgeous redhead, maybe in her late thirties with a riveting smile.

Let me show you to the elevator, she said, and we turned and followed her. There, she said, and, with a smile and a goodbye, continued on her way.

I can't believe three grown people manage to get lost in such a small place, I quipped as we waited for the elevator. I turned slightly and saw the doctor, she was the head of the internal medicine department, I had gleaned that off her badge, go up the stairs across the hallway. 

I smiled at her, and she returned my smile.

The elevator arrived, we got in. At that moment, I felt I might well have floated up to the third floor, no elevator needed. The big smile of the pretty redhead, a smile just for me, would have taken me to the top floor and beyond.

After we had delivered our patient, we took the stairs back down. Then, on the last flight to the ground floor, the image of the cute doctor came back. 

And with it came the realization. 

That had not been a pretty redhead doctor flirting with me. 

It had been a seasoned hospital professional helping three lost old folks find their way to the elevator.

As he uttered this last sentence, I could see the brief distant gaze. And then it was over.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Valley of the geezers

There is English, and then there is English.

One or the other can, at times, be unexpectedly entertaining.

Watching a documentary series about nature in Russia would become such an event.

The National Geographic series Wild Russia represents a good overview of the fauna and flora of this vast country. The series is a German production, a fact that did not escape the TheEditor.

To the credit of hard working documentary film makers around the world, it should be said that famous British naturalist Richard Attenborough is certainly in a class of his own.
Yet, TheEditor would recommend German film makers to try and devote a little more time to the text accompanying their work and on the quality of the narration.

Our German friends handle the camera as good as anybody, they know their slow motion and their time lapse and use both to great effect.

The narration, though, is formulaic. 

Less than half an hour into the six hour series, TheEditor felt a slight disconnect between the familiar Nat Geo branding and the narration. The latter felt German.

The ending credits confirmed it.

So, what is this particularly German feel?

They seem to be doing a 5 W based script. What, Where, When, Who, Why.

You may not notice easily if you watch the individual episodes spread a week or more apart. It becomes painfully obvious, though, if you watch them back to back.

The narration of the mating ritual, breeding, and rearing of chicks of, say a spotted bird in episode one is virtually identical to that of, say, the striped birds in episode two.

We might be a little too sensitive, but TheEditor  has had the feeling that German wild animal documentaries frequently talk just a little more about the old competition eat or be eaten, mine is bigger than yours angle than TheEditor would find adequate.

Do they not trust their viewers, or are they simply succumbing to the easy stereotypes of emotions through violence? 

Why does every storm have to be "fierce" or "violent", for instance. 

The valley of the geezers? We are certainly not talking about Palm Springs, California, or about an ageing Silicon Valley workforce, as tempting as it is.

The Valley of the Geezers is in Russia, and for any American it would be the Valley of the Geysers.

With the narration being a straight translation from German by some sort of non-US person, you get four or five instances of Valley of the Geezers in rapid succession.

We were laughing so hard that we missed much of content.

Kitchen Sink theft up 10x

The K-landnews landed another scoop, beating the NYT and TheGuardian to it.

Our last scoop had to do with walking a dog, but this one is the real sh**.

In the immediate aftermath (post mathematics) turmoil of the Snowden tragedy,  American household goods retailers have begun to report a steep rise in the theft of kitchen sinks.

A spokesperson for the chain Homey Depot told the K-Landnews: It started with a couple of extra sinks going missing about two days after that English paper wrote about the NSA. We did not pay much attention at first because of natural fluctuations in the number of sinks we lose through theft. Things happen, like, maybe John Doe from the kitchen isle has a friend who needs a sink. But the trend continued, so we got the police involved. They, in turn, talked to a Homeyland Security Fusion Center, you know, where they do fusion cooking, everything goes into a big pot, and then they make a mess that needs to be cleaned up.

K-Landnews: Did you learn anything from that?

Homey Depot: They asked us if there were, like, Asian looking people mingling with the latinos outside the store. When we confirmed it, they told us to shut up.

The K-Landnews Random Research team went, of course, all in on this.

What we found is the first real proof of damage to National Security by the leak of Mr. Snowden.

In the mad shill scramble by the government spin doctors (not AMA accredited), one informed source said: "We, as Americans, simply have to throw everything but the kitchen sink at the terrorists threatening this great nation."

The K-landnews team has reason to believe that Al Kade signal intelligence (the one English speaking guy watching CNN) picked up this piece of communication and passed it on to the guys in the background.

We must assume that terrorists all over the world now consider kitchen sinks extremely desirable and very dangerous.

Why, after all, would the US throw everything except the kitchen sink at them?

No comments on this post could be obtained from the government.

A DD-notice

We have learned quite a few things from a handful of PowerPoint slides in the past two weeks.

The really surprising lesson was that even the crappiest layout can send a shockwave around the planet.

It was a short-lived victory of content over presentation, so to speak. A triumph of literacy over the Kardashians.

Another lesson was that, of the states we tracked, the UK has turned out to be the most devious.

The British government sent a so called D-notice to the media. Where D can only stand for Devious because the whole thing has nothing to do with defense. It is a wag of the finger type gag order.

Just make it a double-D notice, and we would love it.

For anybody who has ever worked in government, the operative term here being "worked", the single most effective strategy against whatever terrorists we are trying to catch is obvious.

Publish everything.

If we really dared to make all the SOPs (I just love that word), all the manuals, all the memos public,  the would be terrorists would be as confused as the guy a couple of cubes over.

If we had the guts to make Al Whatever follow the minutiae of a, say, a drone procurement project, they would do exactly what the population of the major Western countries does: whimper and give up.

TheEditor feels grateful to the secrecy aficionados around the world for the boundless opportunities for ridicule ingrained in this very secrecy.

We Westerners are an ungrateful bunch, are we not?

While we do afford some semi-royal trappings to our fearful leaders, we do not want to be -- well -- left in the dark.

So, to us normal folks, South Park and the Simpsons are more important as vehicles of democracy than the circle j's of power within that less and less transparent group of rulers.*

In the U.S., still, you can have the Prole to President success story every once in a while.

In the next German election, it's going to be another Bland to Berlin.

* j stands for justification.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Several days of summer

This summer took its not so sweet time to arrive.

Winter was too long, spring did not happen, and we were just miserable.

What all of this can do to someone, you ask?

Bad weather can lead to incongruous blog posts, Twitter jokes not understandable by anybody except the writer -- and even then we have a window of no more than ten minutes before even the tweet's author scratches his or her head and goes: who in the world wrote this?

All this is no more!

We've had wonderful weather for three days now, and the corn is finally poking pointy little leaves through the sawdust protecting the seeds from bindweed.

This is, as a matter of fact, the only good thing about the weather in the first half of 2013. There is so little bindweed this year and, correspondingly, very little cursing about the invasive weed when we step out.

For just a few more months, the corn will try to beat the end of the growing season. If all goes well, we won't have to spend big bucks on popcorn kernels at the health food store.

Correct, at the health food store.

City supermarkets may carry it, but out here, the health food store is the only place to find it.


Only butlers and dickheads lie

Why Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama have been honest (with an excuse for when they might not have been).

[Note to analyst, censor, or reporter: this post is not totally serious, and TheEditor seriously hopes you understand that.]

The long journey to this post began around the time when the Oval Office was made a non-smoking area.

The meaning of the short word "lie" has bounced around the old brains of TheEditor ever since. In the context of NSA Operation Boundless Fuckup, it sort of clicked.

TheEditor never liked the word "lie" and will forever cringe when some politician pulls a kettle black on a fellow politician.

So, for the last time, we will use the word lie here to state that the few things we consider habitual real lies in the 21st Century were uttered by lowly people, really only dickheads, butlers and the like.

And just as serial killers never kill each and every single person they meet (a friend survived J Dahmer), a president cannot get the truth right each and every single time he or she speaks.

Before we get to the handling of The Surveillance Sh***storm by Prez & Prez, here is a word about the press and the googly eyed, the facebookies and the microsofties.

The software folks have been telling us for a while that our privacy was gone. The press, supposed to interpret it for us, generally did not and at times lied us right in the face. And, other than the guardian that could, are failing us left right and center. It's a bit better on the web, Wired is still wired.

Mr. Bush told us that his government would do everything in its power to prevent another 9/11, Mr. Obama told us he would use every means at his disposal to keep America safe.

Now, some accuse us of not listening.

I have one word for those some: idiots.

We were listening.

We did not understand.


Because we are not all lawyers.

Lawyers did, or should have, understood what Prez & Prez told us. And on top of the lawyer's command of English, there is the language of diplomacy.

We put our layer of interpretation over this...and yes, they know what happens when we do that.

And the Bama vs. Bama debate? Fellow sheeple, this is the highschool debate club.

It's not about right or wrong, or ethical or not. It's not even about power.

It's about points.

None of this excuses calling the kid a traitor. This does not mean that I support every little thing he allegedly did.

Accept my pot smoker argument, which goes like this: I don't smoke pot, I see no no reason to nor any allure.

Yet, I won't pull over a cop when I see a kid smoke one in the park.
And I won't pull over a cop when a spy drives by (which, unlike the pot, I probably wouldn't even notice).

Sure, there are some nasty violent statements going around in the NSA surveillance chaos.

We should have the debate despite the fact that the U.S.S. Kafka sailed, legally, a while ago.

This debate is for our children.

All children, including those of those members of Congress who are leading the witch hunt on a kid with a computer.

Let's see if TheEditor finally understands the president's "I welcome this debate..."

I - the President, singular means I, do not expect anybody besides me to welcome it.
welcome - so let's talk
this - this one, not necessarily a future repeat 
debate - the talk, there is no word of change, or improvement

We'll let you know how our reading holds up.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our Hey Govt. tweets

If you have not seen our Twitter rants, here is the collection of our "Hey Govt." series.

We had a choice to make: get as mad as our fearful leaders got at the kid, or to make light of all of it.

We picked light because we refuse to get depressed. And because we know that the vast majority of government workers are good folks.

So, in our strange view of the world, we still believe in bridges.


Hey Govt., I am offering you scrap metal spot price for that obsolete Liberty Bell. Gonna be b'day present for a kid in HK.

Govt. just realized manual printing press at Constitution Center Philadelphia is not standard.

Hey Govt., WTF? Saw you all over the news and your makeup looked sooooo bad, think about getting help or take a spa break.

Hey Govt., all this wailing. Thought somebody died, then heard your little one ran away. He doing okay? Cool Daddy is in Berlin?

Hey Govt., there's no wrath than a Govt scorned, eh? What's with uncle Al Kade? Havn't seen him for a while? Hugs. 

Hey Govt., so you took out a secret restraining order? Uncle John Walrus is mad about Benedict Arnold? He's so behind the times.

Hey Govt., I said last week you'd told Angela, still, her...! She was such a wall flower, and now, oh, you're "friends". 

Hey Govt., I think it is weird you use the military with Byte Prods on your people in peacetime. Any news of your son?

Hey Govt., sorry you failed Mensa again. Don't feel bad, you got the brawn, it's not all about brains. Me, c'm on, y' know. Hugs

Hey Govt., you are talking to the Taliban and not to your kid, your own flesh and blood? You must be hopping mad at him. Hugs.

Hey Govy, you said you were not interested in online porn. So, what about those BSDM rumors? Hugs. 

Hey Govy, gotta go now. Say hi to Uncle Sam if you seen him again, I really like the old geezer. Pls talk to your kid. Hugs.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Wisdom of Psychopaths

The title of this post reflects the book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success about certain job fields that attract psychopaths.

We laughed about what we called the "Killer Cook" under number 9 but the last week of irrefutable proof of the extent our own governments spying on us is well worth going back to the list.

The following jobs have the highest rate of psychopaths, according to Dutton's research:

1. Chief Executive Officer
2. Lawyer
3. Media (Television/Radio)
4. Salesperson
5. Surgeon
6. Journalist
7. Police officer
8. Clergy person
9. Chef
10. Civil servant

Uncertainty is a huge part of life, and no single study will ever give us that magic answer which does not exist.

We believe, you might break into a smile if you make a list of the major proponents of the NSA & allied programs and put them next to the above job descriptions.

The fake internet cafes of State 51, our British friends, made us laugh first and then grow very earnest.

The coveted Mars colony looks so much better after the past week.

One more thing:
We were starting to feel somewhat uneasy about the Nazi girls post just hogging that number one spot week after week, so all the tweets fired off did have one good outcome.

As of this writing, we were amazed to have this one in the Top tweets for #nsa #prism for 7 hours. It must have been because the U.S. is still asleep.

"I'm bored James, can you please go and dry-hump democracy today?" 'Sir, yes, Sir! May I waterboard them too?" "Later, James."

Dealing in Legal Hypotheticals - the "Bath Salts" of politics

The pushers are out in force, peddling Hpotheticals on every street corner and in every browser.

Legal Hypotheticals are the bath salts of politics.

Cheap, highly addictive, and constantly being modified to keep them from being banned.

Here is what NPR reported (names changed)

Dr. Spin figured the man was on hypotheticals, probably PRE9/11 or a stimulant. But a few minutes later, the man became paranoid.

"He started doing some self-mutilating actions [and] was pulling out his eyebrows and eyelashes," Spin tells weekends on All Things Considered host S.

'We're Playing Whack-A-Mole'

The problem is that hypotheticals — which have nothing to do with the crystal clear logic you'd put in your brain — aren't one kind of drug or something you can test for and treat.

Unlike a drug like cocaine, which is made with a natural process, hypotheticals are made in a lab and constantly changing. The drug is designed specifically to skirt the law and test the bounds of new chemicals — with often deadly results.

A law enforcement official who wishes to remain anonymous told NPR:
A big issue with Hypotheticals is that they are not your old crack, Hypotheticals are often consumed by white collar professionals, educated pillars of the community. The same people then, once addicted, tend to become dealers.
This makes prosecution immensely difficult. You cannot expect the DA to prosecute himself. We have credible reports of top government officials dealing in Hypotheticals and, at the same time, suffering major paranoia and delusions.

This is satire, folks, get it?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The bitching Me

Who let the ego out?

TheEditor tweeted over the past week like the mad man he or she is.


Because the amount of utter nonsense and trash that sloshed around the planet after The Guardian published a few screenshots kicked the ego of TheEditor where it doesn't feel so good.

Notwithstanding our often simplified arguments and snide remarks, there can be no doubt that there are many layers to the complex story.
The resulting blog posts were at times funny, at times stupid, and generally somewhere in between.

We think, several of our tweets were very funny, for example this one:
Rumor: Cat of unnamed senator dialled . Man last seen at airport to buy ticket to HK?

Too many hours at the computer, reading articles and blog posts, following Twitter threads certainly re-kindled some dulled analytical skills.

And tweeting honed a new one: getting a point across in 140 characters or less.
Mostly less, in fact, because we included not just the #nsa tag but also the #prism tag.

On Sunday, 16th of June, to our surprise, several tweets remained in the "top" list. On closer reflection, that is likely more due to the scandal fatigue setting in and to the great summer weather in the K-Land than to the quality of our tweets.

We have no idea what is going to happen around the big story but we did make a point, even when wrapped in a joke like in the above example tweet.

Right now, we refrain from telling the world (if Twitter is the world) that we are still way less worried about the present than about the future.

The continued digitization of all of our lives is going to have a price in terms of lives ruined or completely destroyed. Actually, it already has. From the cyberbullied teenager who killed herself to the smarty pants faux cryptogram emails out of Pakistan that meant the sender had to sign over his house to the lawyers and to the glimpses provided by The Guardian into abuse by police in Greece and so on.

One little secret we are tweeting without a hashtag is: we may be wrong in some regards and on a number of specific issues.
We seem to be a little more conservative than we let on, kind of funny and not uncool. Our moral compass is not perfect but it is not spinning like crazy.

People are people, and there are a lot of good government folks not bent on going after others for the sake of furthering their own careers.

At the end of the day, humans will do what they always do. Muddle along in a world that is difficult to understand - and in this regard, we are 100% like the humans of ten, twenty, or fifty thousand years ago.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Branding Heino

Some people feel strongly about Heino and might understand branding the wrong way. Germans don't do branding very well. Or, well, not in that sense. Oh, boy.

Who is Heino?

During our last summer in the U.S., as we spread the word among friends and acquaintances of our imminent move to Germany, the music collector said: Oh, then you might hear of Heino.


He is a German crooner, he does popular music, and he was really big in the 1960s to the 1980s, blonde guy always wearing dark sunglasses.

Our hesitant okaaay made our music collector smile, and TheEditor vaguely recalls an ominous "you'll see".

The move, and in particular transporting the cats, kept us busy and became, well, a tad stressful, so checking the airport for any Heino concert posters was not a priority when we finally landed.

Disinterest in German TV and radio  -- both quite boring, sorry to say that -- kept us away from anything Heino for years.

Until friends brought up the more or less good natured tiff between the old crooner and hard rockers Rammstein. We promptly forgot Heino again, having decided that his status as an icon of late 20th century German lower middle class culture did not mean we found his music the least bit interesting.

Then the cake hit us in the bread and cake section of the local grocery store.

There he was, decades younger looking than today, the sunglasses welded to his face, on a seriously overpriced industrial hazelnut cake.

You need to understand that the humble hazelnut is as permanently stuck to Heino as are his sunglasses.

One of his biggest hits was a traditional German song called Schwarzbraun ist die Hazelnuss. The full, soft dark brown color of the hazelnut as a song title?

But wait, the subsequent line provides the answer: Schwarzbraun bin auch ich.
(I am dark brown, too). Followed by "and so should be my girl". It's a little love song about a girl, he praises her dark brown color. It's a little ditty with no particular lyric content, nothing as earthshaking as, say, Greensleeves, if you see what I mean.

A little Random Research into the song brings up something astounding.

During nazi times, this was one of big songs of the Hitler Youths and of the German Army in World War II.

So, this means they cannot be singing about blacks, it must be about dark hair, about the tan from hard yet happy work in the fields.

In light of everything, it makes sense that we found no mention of a happy crowd welcoming then presidential candidate Obama in Berlin with this song.

No, we did not buy a Heino cake even for laughs.

Al Qaeda vs. the Soviets

Article category: History
Author: Unknown
NSA text category, official: conspiracy theory
NSA text category, FOUO:  another one who waves history at us
NSA author analysis, official Brooks: multiple split personality narcissist
NSA author analysis, FOUO: get me a f**** name and grid coords NOW

Action (TS/NOFORN): Conceivable charge making apologies for terrorists, if we ignore satire content. Deflect w/ axis of evil quotes, make sure to bring up non-Al Qaeda.

Anticipated defense by subject(s): You cannot be f***ing serious. I hate these motherfuckers, do you honestly think I will ever forget 9/11 or fail to get pissed at the shoebombing dimwit?

We have not received a single flame about our "Fallacy of FISA" post.

So, here is a more detailed look at the history of the world since FISA.
We simplify a little by setting up three categories:
Soviets means Soviet Union and all allies
West means US and all allies
Al Qaeda means our favorite terrorists

Reason for contrasting Al Qaeda and Soviets?

US decision to apply FISA instead of using criminal system for the criminals that Al Qaeda are.

The second reason is that we decided to follow your narrative "it's all about terrorists", so, wink, wink.

FISA 1978
West and Soviets at loggerheads. No Al Qaeda. Soviets invade Afghanistan in 1979. At some point later, West starts arming and training resistance. Mr. Bin Laden joins resistance.
1989, good guys win. Terrorists out of job but high on success, turning to biting the hand that fed them.

9/11 2001
The world mourns with the Americans. The Global Conscience Lab at Princeton University registers a phenomenal spike. There is an unexplained and still unique uptick long before the planes hit. Hey, that one is for the conspiracy folks, come on, you know how to run with this.

History that had ended when Soviets went down is restarted. FISA history for librarians still starts in 1978, for everybody else, it starts now.

Yet another whistleblower. Are we really f**** now?

What were/are the capabilities of our enemies united under FISA?

Soviets a few million, Al Qaeda a couple of thou generous

Soviets: bazillions, Al Qaeda a few millions

Heavy weapons
Soviets up the waazou, Al Qaeda none

Soviets thousands of fighters and bombers, Al Qaeda none. They stole some initially because our security was lax, not because they were smart (after that you'd need to count bin Laden's secret paper airplane)

Nuclear arsenal
Soviets thousands of warheads on interconti missiles, Al Qaeda none (unless you count the radio isotopes in the terrorist human body, collection of urine of all terrorists would give 0.1 g when done for 1000 years)

Human intelligence capabilities
Soviets: moles f*** everywhere, in CIA, FBI, German defense intel chief of staff, Britsh, more than you can shake a shtick at
Al Qaeda none

Signal intelligence capabilities
Soviets: satellites, signal interception f**ing everywhere
Al Qaeda: some burner phones and - caution - the whole internet, except most cannot read English and their IT guy sucks

Near earth orbit threat
Soviets: incredible, Al Qaeda none (attempt to launch Chiuahua using a big slingshot failed)

And now some juicy parts because you were patient and because of that residual "yes, we can".

Story 1:
Coming from West Germany, a sedan with a middle aged driver in civilian clothes as the sole occupant rolls up to the East German border checkpoint at the freeway corridor to Berlin. The East German guard takes the man's passport, disappears in the little hut, comes back, hands back the passport and goes "Have good day, Colonel".
After his return from Berlin, the driver of said car arrives on his military base in West Germany and is caught by the commanding officer as he steps into the building. Major Major (sorry), let me congratulate you, I just received notification of your promotion to Lieutenant Colonel.

Story 2:
A big situation room in West Germany, lots of brass, lots of maps, you get the point. This happened so long ago that the surviving participants are nowadays forced to ask their wives: honey, does that uniform make my ass look fat?
There is lots of goings on until the whole room falls silent.
They just realized that, if a war happened right then, that the Soviets would have a 25 km wide gap for their tanks to roll through unimpeded, to Paris in time for dinner.
One man remains unfazed. He has no idea that he will become the most humiliated man on the planet less than two decades later.
In the silent room in front of a 25 km wide "Soviets this way" corridor, this one man makes a swinging wide motion with his trademark cigar and hollers "attack!"
And the spell is broken.

Story 3:
Late 1980s, the Soviets are starting to look less menacing.
It's background check time, again.  The chat with the DIA folks is cool. A couple of weeks later, the checked man is at the house of a reference friend. Opening the door, the reference friend bursts out: "You will not believe this, when my fiancee and I talked on the phone yesterday we had an East German interceptor cut in because he was bored and wanted to chat."
"I swear to God, he had that accent, he was very friendly and open and really bored."
"So, what happened?'
"We talked politics for little while, he called the West German Chancellor Kohl a dumb ass but was otherwise pretty cool."

So, the post is almost done.

We can talk about secret courts if the terrorists get to that past Soviet glory level, thanks.

In case you feel tempted to say that the times have changed, let the author(s) assure you that our IT knowledge and skills have proven adequate in the past couple of decades. This contributes to us having a fun time with the IT experts on vanityfair and other places dishing out sematics and choking on their bytes.

We could add more but won't.

Time to go shop for a pair of adult size waterwings and for swimming lessons. Because we are getting closer to having to take the Rio Grande entry point on our next return to the U.S.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The fallacy of FISA

Let's start with a belief statement, so you can decide if you want to read the rest of the post.

We believe that secret courts have no place in a democracy. And we think that the vanityfair author who says don't wail about FISA because a grand jury investigation is secret, too, should edit his piece for logic.

One clarification: this post does not purport to provide anything remotely useful on the areas of the world where terrorists exist in newsworthy numbers.  This is really about why there is such a huge effort to sift through Americans in the United States.

And a second clarification: smarter minds than me have written better discussions.

Our reason for calling FISA a fallacy in the context of protecting the US and the rest of the world, thank you, from terrorists is really based on one point.

Does anybody remember how the Western security folks scrambled to adapt their structure to the "new threat matrix"?

Our enemies are no longer primarily states with large, organized armies.

This is how every presentation by experts and military in the West has started for decades now.

Just like there is an App For That, we have a law for that. FISA was written at a time when you could say "foreign powers" and "agents of foreign powers", and people would understand.

Then the world changed, and we added terrorists to FISA. 

In other words, we added small bands of individuals to a law conceived, at the time, to fight the Soviets with their huge armed forces and spy capacities good enough to be dangerous.
Teaser: I am so depressed that I am willing to give you a couple of examples, but you'll need to be nice for that and not accuse me of hating America or worse, okay, we'll wait and see.

So, in a world where we had a big fat Soviet enemy with almost bottomless resources (or so they mistakenly thought), FISA secrecy makes sense to me. If we didn't go secret, they had a good chance to find out.

Then someone decided to apply FISA to terrorists.

Who have nowhere near the cash, the manpower, the support which our older enemies had.

Why are we hearing of successful FBI stings quite regularly?

Because a bunch of wannabe terrorists have to basically go around and beg for weapons and support.

One more thing:
It's about the totality of surveillance and secrecy, not the definition of "direct server access" or the preferred breakfast cereal of a whistleblower.
We have come so far that you can go to jail if someone sees you hit your child in public but, at the same time, we give a government pension to people who torture in our name.

Half-life of migrants in Germany

As an avid reader of this blog, you have learned that Germany has a higher percentage of immigrants that they taught in school or reported on the news.

You can find several posts on the subject on this blog by searching for immigration or migrants.

Immigration numbers for 2012 were as follows: about 1 million new arrivals, about 600 000 departures, resulting in a net influx of about 400 000.

Government policies and public perception of immigration have been slow to change from the traditional model to modern reality.

Not very long ago, you'd get on a boat or a train and your old country might never again have seen you. These days, many people go back and forth, and statisticians try to keep track not only of the net influx but also try to get an idea of how long people stay on average.

About 40% leave within a year or so, it seems.

The reasons advanced by experts are varied, but one important aspect appears to be that many immigrants are highly educated, not - as we Americans might say - "warm bodies", that cheap source of labor the previous crop of immigrants looks down on.

In the last few years, immigrants to Germany have, on average, been better educated than the existing population.

While the German government would like to see as many as possible stay, Europeans have finally started to move in record numbers between the various EU countries. This part of the promise of the EU -- do away with the old restrictions -- almost failed to materialize but it is finally picking up steam.

Unfortunately, this is occurring at a time when some of the preferred destinations, like the UK, are looking at slowing down immigration in order to solve unemployment and housing problems.

Still, our resident compulsive country hopper says: I feel privileged to be in Europe during this period.

We don't know if it will last.

No trip to Berlin

The Germans loved J.F.K. for his "Ich bin ein Berliner". 

His speech in Berlin, Germany, came less than two years after the Berlin Wall was built, very much a concrete manifestation of the East German intent to not go away anytime soon.

Next week, president Obama will be in Berlin. Like the last time, the Wall will not be there.

The fear of huge armies clashing in Europe and elsewhere, the very real possibility of all out nuclear war are somewhat of a distant memory.

There was talk in the K-Landnews room of making a trip to Berlin and maybe catch a glimpse of the Prez and party.

It won't happen.

We limit our interaction with the government and politics to the daily bureaucratic routines.

The Western governments are feeling unloved by their constituents, and we understand this.

Governments ask us for our trust.


Here it is.

Happy now?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Digital Citizen Problem

In the current debate, the control freaks and us lazy bums have largely confined the debate on "privacy", "terrorists", what's reasonable, what's needed to keep us secure as well as on the good old standbys of heroes and villains.

The totality of data collected by the government has been mentioned, yet the picture is not complete with at least talking about the "health" of the data and "future" data.

A friend of the K-Landnews told us about his Homeland Security file. He expressed surprise at how tremendously thick that file was for an individual who had had zero run-ins with the law beyond two or three street sweeping parking tickets. And no, there was no suspicion towards the friend. There was, as the friendly employee indicated, a certain suspicion about another person, and this suspicion was also unfounded.

Fox News did the easy "girl friend" or "prostitute" phone call metadata. That's a threat to a politician but there are much more dangerous threats that can affect you and me.

Data Health
The government has my credit card history and credit reports. They contain inaccuracies. Other data the government has are also inaccurate.

There was a 'second' me for some time on facebook. That Uberme made friends with people I have never heard of. Senator Lindsay "I have nothing to hide" Graham might or might not have been a facebook friend of Uberme.

To be honest, even Uberme would probably not have gone that  far to make powerful friends. If you have an Uberme on Facebook and you detect it, they will "delete" the data but you do not get a copy.

Mistaken identify can land you in a CIA Black Site, as happened to a German muslim. "Better surveillance" won't fix this because you won't see an investigator or an official until they take the black hood of your head.

An incorrectly typed name can mean you get arrested, and it happens more frequently than you think.

Over reliance on technology
Did you see the PBS report about forensics where a lawyer in Oregon was arrested because his fingerprint matched that of a suspect? Turns out, one fingerprint is not really enough.
Video evidence can be tampered with. Not every request for forensics will be allowed. DNA can be used to tie you to a crime even more easily than fingerprints. Lifting fingerprints and making silicone moulds is still a little bit of work, grabbing DNA is no work.

Stalker or getting framed
A friend of the K-Landnews had been in the crosshairs of a stalker for several years. Nasty comments popped up in the weirdest of locations on the web, for instance an Amazon book review about cooking. All of a sudden, there was an added "review entry" ranting about our friend. A number of blogs appeared with just a single page accusing our friend of multiple crimes.
To any normal person, reading a couple of these rants made it obvious that the writer had serious mental health issues.
Our friend shrugged it off - until the FBI knocked on her door for "a chat".
Our friend took it in stride.

Less paperwork in the future
You don't even have to forge someone's signature any more to become that person.
I am willing to bet the Susan B. Anthony dollar that less paperwork in the future will get some Americans into trouble.

Ideally, every citizen should get a yearly package of information held by the NSA, the FBI or whomever.

In the digital era, there is no excuse for not doing it.

Other than wielding power over you.

Secret courts should have no place in a democracy.

Kids on bikes

The other day, a stroll past the elementary school gave us a live insight into German bicycle education.

The school yard features a permanent paint miniature street scape instead of the customary basketball or volleyball markings stateside.

Every single child was wearing a helmet, and the teachers were going from intersection to roundabout to cul de sac, providing feedback and correction.

Our self described Ozark redneck was impressed and chuckled at the memories of the Missouri mandated riding class in the most rural of rural setting.

Single lane dirt roads, few kids that even had bikes, and zero kids that owned a helmet certainly provide a very different experience than densely populated central Europe.

They do share one thing, though. The kids here have just as much fun on a bike as the kids back in the U.S.

Election campaign spending in Germany

One word: peanuts.

The two largest political parties in Germany are projected to spend less than 25 million euros each on the general election campaign for this September.

That's a generous under 35 million USD. So, there are fewer people here, and we can do a rule of thumb for comparison. With a population as large as the US, the amount would come out at a little over 100 million USD.

That's what Romney and Obama needed to raise each month for some 18 months or so in order to stay in the race.

In the US, the German spending would barely get you elected as coroner or as supervisor of the local waste management board. The yuck factor makes these cheap.

Even in light of the NSA fuckup, don't expect a higher presidential yuck factor to get the 2016 spending down.

No, despite what the news of the past week may have been interpreted as, not everything around here is just peachy.

People are people.

Still, getting to buy a democracy that functions like the other Western democracies at this bargain basement rate surprises us every time an election rolls around.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Twitting our little heart out

So much for the plan to not use Twitter and the rest...

When the news broke and the inanities of hierarchy and authority started to bubble up like  toxic sludge last seen in 1950s Hollywood B-rated movie, a friend of the K-Landnews started to take notes.

Some of the notes have found their way into a few posts of the past days, the most insipid one, though, deserves public acknowledgement.

Countries have always spied on each other.

It is true.

And it deserves a little explanation.

Up until not very long ago, less than 200 years to be generous. very few people could even read and write.

There was no camera, no photocopier, a somewhat limited press, and very, very little international travel. How to find out good information: HUMINT, that nasty bastard word for human intelligence.

Even 30 years ago, a newspaper from certain countries was not easy to get. To wit: the bulging eyes of the security guards when our friend walked up to the gate with such a paper in his hands.

True Cold War story: A 20-ish year old kid beat the spies by drawing a map of the "Soviet Union" that is almost spot on today. The kid used public information. Then spies tried to hire kid - and failed.

True Yemen story: U.S. spooks got really close to "that American guy" in Yemen. Story got into papers as breach of secret, followed by lots of whining about why this is illegal and bad. I'll bet the lone Susan B. dollar coin still sitting in the drawer that the story in the paper scares the terrorists more than drones.

How to prevent countries from spying on each other?

In Europe, again not long ago, we are talking the 1800s, "Germany" consisted of a whole bunch of independent countries, all happily spying on each other.
Then, these countries went away. We have not been able to find reports of Bavaria spying on Hamburg since. 

Just saying.

International cooperation and international bodies

The current generation of "leaders" seem to think that international cooperation and meetings are just a front for a taxpayer funded vacation.

Humans love to share information. We are sharing machines. Which is why some democratic countries need secret courts....

The Spin Doctor is in

A guide to "advanced democracy".

Emotions run high, and sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between the need for a good story, spin doctoring and utter dumbness, to wit The Daily Banter, Hero or Villain?

In the case of Establishment With Pants Down vs. Mr. S., the spin doctors are so busy and bustling that we can draw one conclusion: it is serious.

The following overview was drawn up with the assistance of a friend of the K-Landnews.

What are the spin masters up to?

Mr. C.' s  resounding yet awkward no, when asked about data collection. Once out, stick to Verizon.

The president himself and a host of officials and supporters. Key phrase "only metadata".  In the chaos, trust that Joe Biden's clip on the 10 June Daily Show and the outing of Paul Revere via metadata never happened.

Broaden official support base
Diane Feinstein, Mr. Rogers (no, dummy, not the one from the hood), "informed sources" to saturate the limited air time and print space.

Set up false either - or patterns
Either 100% security or privacy, either Hero or Villain. We like it simple, so, Sir, would you prefer spuds or potatoes?

Close rank
In the U.S., closing rank is a bit harder than in old Europe. Rand Paul stuck out, a couple of Democratic officials with a conscience stuck out, but the majority of Democrats and Republicans closed ranks relatively well.
In Germany, only the Agriculture Secretary was vocal until they shut her up, too.
The spooks who were caught calling for "disappearing" the man, were shut up minutes after the news broke. Everybody in the "community" got their shut up message.

Conduct polls
This is one for the better spin doctors. We live in a polling age, and the spin masters love it because it is easy to set up the correct spin polls and exploit the more legit polls, too.

Tout successes
They immediately offered "lives saved" but were initially slightly hampered by their own constraints, then came up with a couple of arrests. No information is provided on what program, of the many we have, produced the success.

Make it appear the battle is already over
There is no privacy anyway. The big secret: it is not true in this sweeping sense.
If it were true, they would not be spending billions and billions and employ an army of people to do away with privacy.

Go all out - there is no business like show business
William Hague's "If you have nothing to hide" has to be our gold standard.
If the 25% of the population who will believe anything from the govt. stick with the program, life is okay.

Mash up all spooks
The leaks were about specific programs, the "success stories" were about "the NSA" or "intelligence agencies".  This is how German spin doctors did it. It appears, there was one definite anti-terrorist success (Sauerlandgruppe) where NSA information got the Germans on the trail.
Neither VERIZON nor PRISM were quoted by the spooks, but any straw is a good straw.

Do not talk about return on investment
National security is priceless. A concept as broad as national security is great when you do not want to discuss costs vs. benefits. Together with "lives saved", we have a winner. Repeat ad nauseam (until we are sick of it).
At all costs, suppress real cost-benefit analysis. Billions spent to save a few hundred lives must never, ever be put against the numbers of people dying in your own country because "there is no money" for this or that program.

Deconstruct the messenger
The problem with a 20-something is that there tends to be little real dirt. Anything goes. ANYTHING.
Too young, too old, too bright, too not bright, disgruntled, demented. Use "informed sources" or "former officials" to shape the debate a little, and you can trust the hungry but lazy media to go for anything personal.
In the case of Mr. S., the most effective angles so far have been "ah, Hong Kong, oh Free Speech", "rent-a-spook", "high school dropout", "only 29 years old".

Divide the dirty work
Those tasked to come up with the prosecution must not be caught calling the man a traitor. Leave that to politicians and friendly sources.

Lump together and conquer
Divide and conquer is for the physical battlefield and the simple "traitor" calls.
For the big shitstorms, go with "lump together".  It has worked in the Cold War -- don't like this policy, you must be a communist. Don't like being spied on, you are supporting terrorists.
Our allied spin doctors in Germany gloat over the fact that libertarians and leftish folks are against boundless informants.

Hit the journalists
Make the journalists look as bad as you can. Leave the personal attacks to "friends", especially if you fucked up recently by alienating the press.

Emotional triggers
Terrorists, it's all about them. Broaden the case to cyberattacks. They are real, fluff them up a bit and get the guys of ZDnet to saturate the web. Add more emotional trigger words. Tax evasion anyone? Child abusers? 

International support
We were there on 9/11, we know what it felt like, and the whole world was with us. Ten years later, on a good day, we sometimes sit back and wonder why so many people all over the world still like the U.S.*
Sure, some of the international support comes from people who have lied to their own population way too much. But who cares.
The Germans have behaved really well.

Time is on your side
Not that the Europeans have any backbone. We know it sounds harsh, and there are good, smart people everywhere who have good reasons to distrust any secret court but they cannot stay focused on this forever. People need to work, the day has only 24 hours, and another crisis will save your sorry asses.

One more thing: Let the comedians do their shtick
Many a government, like today's Egypt, has a problem with comedians.  If you can be leave the comedians alone, you give the ungovernable and the kumbaya brigade some breathing room. You don't have to like them but they are not dangerous as such.

*Hint: They like the American people, the music, the movies, the moon landing.

A modest proposal

We have, as usual, a simple solution to the complex problem of terrorism.

Can each country, or a group of countries, please designate an area as the official target for terrorism?

A playground, but don't use that term, they would be offended. Let them keep some of their pride.

A few old military bases, the odd uninhabited island, some abandoned factories.

Hollywood could gussy them up a little, with custom effigies and animatronics. Empty out a few underused Madame Tussauds.

C'm on, who would not want to see an animatronic version of <YourFavoritePoliticianHere>?

Terrorists would be able to conduct attacks when scheduled.

The ideal scheduling body, for us Americans, would be the UN.

There is so much real estate that is demolished every year in the industrialized world. Which just so happens to be the place terrorists want to go!

It's somewhat similar to the stings we have already done with real people and fake explosives. The new method would be the inverse, no real people in danger but real hardware.

Imagine a group of Taliban landing in Las Vegas to demolish yet another old casino. Sin City, they'd love it. American companies could provide weapons without going through hoops like with Iran Contra in  the 1980s. It would all be above board.

Live TV coverage would give CNN a foolproof opportunity for correct coverage, too.

After the demolition job, those who feel like it could change into boxers and sneak into a nudie bar with their NSA chaperones for look and maybe a feel.

We could hand out terrorist visas, which would prove the conspiracy theorists right -- my government gives visas to terrorists!

They'd get fingerprinted and their picture taken like every normal tourist, just in case.

Every group would be able to request special purpose targets, like a kindergarten full of discarded Barbie dolls, for instance.

That would, of course, not come cheap, and we have not thought the financing completely through.

The IMF and the World Bank might be good overseers for these projects. Haven't they shown a certain talent for helping to turn great places into decrepit shadows of their former glory?

Now, now, don't get upset, just asking.

The biggest problem with this proposal is, you know that already, what to do with all the intelligence organizations (yeah, that's what they are called, really)?

SEITI, the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, needs some serious help and cash, so we have most of the NSA covered.

But what about the low-tech outfits like the British and the Germans. Sorry, my dear French, I know, I feel soo bad about it.

I know, it sounds gross, but how about letting them play with the terrorists?

That sentence does not look good, does it?

So, no, nothing violent, okay. We are all about peace.

Their respective security clearances would be accepted as part of a program of mutual recognition.

The low-tech folks could sit in on terrorist training, learn about terrorist history, culture, even religion. For the study of religion, there would be an opt-out clause.

And for those low-tech spies who don't want to play with terrorists, we have work for you!

All the data collected over decades could use some serious filing. Don't we have, like, a few thousand first generation PCs for that somewhere?

That should be enough work for all the world's low-tech spies until retirement.
They could hang out together, like they do anyway, with as little or as much contact to regular folks as they are comfortable with.