Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Roll your own cig

The other day, a friend was over for a C & C, a coffee and a chat.

As soon as the cup was out, out came the rolling tobacco and she proceeded to assemble some of the pouch contents and a rolling paper.

The vast internet has tutorials for everything, from skinning road kill to rolling a cigarette. The photo series on wikihow shows the steps but, honestly, looks kind of weird.

The conversation abruptly turned to the skills involved in rolling a cigarette. Lay people in their inexperience tend to call it a question of hand - eye coordination. The devil, though, is in the details, not just - as many non-smokers and the World Health Organization see it - in the tobacco. There is the skill of volume assessment to get the correct amount in a single try, then there is the correct distribution of the tobacco along the length of the rolling paper. After these crucial first steps comes the actual rolling, a highly coordinated set of movements that require the right amount of pressure. Too little, and you get no more one or two drags before the cig disintegrates and burning tobacco burns a hole into your clothing, too much, and your smoking is about as successful as sucking on a stick lit at the end that points away from the mouth.

The ideal cigarette is an even cylinder and takes years of practice. Misshapen smokes are much more fun, so we made a list we share here.

1.  The recently fed snake
It starts thin, has a large bulge in the middle, then goes thin again.

2. The cone
There are two basic cones, one looks like the pot joint, the other looks like the cone on a dog or cat after surgery. The latter is often called the "cone of shame" because the self aware pet obviously feels insecure and awkward wearing the collar. It is also the ultimate embarrassment for the cigarette roller.

3. The cigar
As the name indicates, a rolled cigarette that is so thick that there is almost no contact between the glue strip and the opposite side.  In some circles, this is also derided as "a sausage".

4. Slim Jim
Also called a "Virginia" after the brand Virginia Slims. While some people like it, most smokers find a rolled cigarette that consists of as much paper as tobacco fairly revolting. Just how revolting? Tear  a piece of newspaper off, make a tube, light it, and smell it. Do not inhale!

5. The tarry eyed
Frequently, the cigarette looks quite normal until you hold it between your lips. You may find there is not enough tobacco at the end, which flattens the end, making the upper paper touch the lower. After two or three puffs, tar builds up on the paper, and the taste becomes outright evil, eye-watering bitter and like someone stuffed a burning piece of road pavement in your mouth.

Oh, one more thing. Except for the friend rolling a cigarette, the rest of the post is complete fabrication.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Everyday racism

The British have been running a controversial self-deportation scheme in London. Two vans with the slogan "Go home or face arrest" drove through two London boroughs for a week. The German press only picked up the story more than a week after the end of the trial run and once the Huffington Post reported on it.

There were flyers that offered help with travel documents, and the Home Office (their Department of the Interior) has just raised the prospect of extending the program to the rest of the country.

Enough people have pointed out the eerie history of "go home" as a slogan against immigrants, both legal and illegal.

At the southern end of the European Union, in Italy, their black female Minister of Immigration Affairs was harassed first by another government minister, then by a member of the public who threw bananas at her at an event.

She remarked that this was a waste of food.

In Germany, a minor league black soccer player was suspended for talking back to a spectator who had hurled racist slurs -- the spectator was not held responsible.

For events like these, we head straight to Twitter to enjoy the wisdom of the crowds.

Pay-to-Stay Prison

We found this one on the Huffington Post about the California prison industry.

The article reports: "The Fremont Police Department is now offering its inmates a "pay to stay" option. For a one-time fee of $45 plus $155 a night, prisoners serving short sentences on lesser charges can stay in a smaller facility while avoiding county jails."

We  must have been gone too long from the land where everything is for sale because we were taken aback for a second.

Out of curiosity, we took the poll accompanying the article.

It this a good idea? The choice of answers was "sure, if it makes a profit" and "ridiculous".

The respondents were split almost down the middle, with the pro-profit camp having the edge.

Making an extra buck off a criminal does not sound too bad, keeping a class system alive, even promoting it, does not sound all that great.

So, we pay homage to the enterprising spirit of America, and we will be sure to tell our German friends about it. At the same time, we'll praise the Netflix original series "Orange is the new Black".

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Our conservative German & the NSA

You will have to go back to the early months of this blog to find our conservative German friend discussing the balanced journalism of Al Jazeera English.

We ran into this card holding member of Germany's  Christian Democratic Party, the party of Ms. Merkel, today, and he had a question and a statement.

The question, asked with a smile and a wink, was "so, what did you do back in the U.S., did you spy on us?"

The statement, without a wink and with the smile banished, was "I am so upset at the non-answers of the German government! The German agencies and the NSA are in bed together."

Like in the U.S., the citizens of this country have not taken to the streets en masse, although there has been an uptick in anti-surveillance demonstrations in Germany. Some German government ministers have struck a clear "no worries, it's all legal line", and despite some rumblings in the conservative governing party, most party members will not be vocal about their upset in public.

Without a camera or a microphone nearby, our conservative friend assured us, the situation is quite different.

Even those conservatives who are not very opposed to the spooky data collection are upset about the lies and the misinformation coming out of "their" government in Berlin.

After two paragraphs about the statement, would you like to know how we answered the question?

We put on a smile, sent a wink and said: "oh, no worries. We could tell you some interesting stories but let's stay clear from that on this very nice and blue summer day."

A purse for a crutch

Spelling is more important for some posts than for others. This one is a post where it makes all the difference.

The hospital visits in the past two weeks showed us some health care differences between Germany and the US. One difference is the style of crutches. The good old American inverse A frame crutch (the correct term is bariatric) is unknown here, they use forearm crutches instead.

But no matter what your crutch style, there does not seem to be a purse to go with it.

We can think of many reasons but someone should go and make purses you can put on crutches. The catchy name for the implement would be "curse", a Crutch Purse.

Two quilt square sized pieces of fabric and a few inches of velcro would be a good starting point for a Curse. You can get all artsy on the project with colorful fabric, or paint fabric yourself. For the more demanding male, leather with or without studs can be a nice basic material.

Sell on Etsy, and you have a supplemental income.

The K-Landnews Random Research Team has a day off, so checking Etsy.com for a Curse seemed too much work for our digitally challenged editor.

If you do make a mint with accessories for crutches after reading this post, credits would be nice.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Unfunny Germans

Did you read our tweet of 18 July?

"German 2 (two!!) Prisms danger! Fell off chair laughing: bruises and sprained ankle. Healthcare system works fine, so Prism #3 next?"

We told you so!

The German media are now reporting 3 prisms, for instance this article in Die Welt

The Chief of Staff of Ms. Merkel has made a marvelous re-appearance and faced the parliamentary committee in charge of overseeing all German intelligence agencies.

The man says that only very few (the media say two) datasets on German citizens were given to the NSA last year. To us, this indicates that very likely quite a few more data sets of people who are not German citizens were shoved down the Internet pipe to the Americans.

Regarding reports, substantiated by an NSA memo, that the German foreign spy chief Mr. Schindler had lobbies the German government for a "more relaxed" interpretation of German data protection laws, the Chief said that the spymaster had not put in any written request for less tight interpretation.

To us, this means that yes, the spymaster almost certainly talked about it a bunch but was too cautious to leave a paper trail or a byte con trail.

Any other news spy-wise in the K-Land?

Nothing we haven't heard heard since June in more or less similar broken chains of logic. The snide remarks about the kid seeking asylum in a country with a dodgy record, claims that the Russians loved to show the spook equivalent of the finger to the U.S., and a German chancellor who says nothing.

We'll bask in the unexpected glory of beating everybody to the three prisms, which may turn out to be just one after all - if you know a little about the physics of light, you understand.

The one bright spot has been the congressional vote that almost defunded the most egregious bits of boundless inter-US recording.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Black Porters & Baggage

Take a look at this photo from Germany's Zeit Online in order to understand why a controversy erupted about black males serving as porters at a small train station in southern Germany.

The men in the photo are asylum seekers from Africa, and they face the same fate as all asylum seekers in Germany. They live in communal dorms on a very small stipend and are not allowed to take up regular work while their asylum applications meander through the system.

In the town of Schwaebisch-Gmuend, the train station was being remodeled and a temporary overpass was built, which meant travelers had to carry their bags and suitcases up and down flights of stairs.

There were complaints, and the town's mayor came up with an idea: ask the local asylum seekers for volunteers and pay them for the work. This way, some men would get something to do, earn a few euros, and the passengers would meet live asylum seekers at work.

The legally permitted maximum wage of 1.05 Euros per hour turned out to be less of an obstacle than the temporary walkway. Nine workers showed up, were outfitted with bright red t-shirts and straw hats against the hot German sun.

The trouble started after the local newspaper ran a sympathetic story about the venture.

The deja vu of black men in straw hats working as porters prompted critics to raise their voices and Deutsche Bahn, the railway operator and station owner, to re-think its part in the relief effort.

Deutsche Bahn revoked the agreement barely a week into the scheme designed to help asylum seekers integrate into the larger society and to help Germans put a face on individuals seeking refuge in their country.

The men will have to return to idling their time away while better paid regular train company employees. Probably folks put on a mandatory 1 Euro/hour "work integration program" by the German jobcenter under the threat of benefits cuts do the schlepping of bags.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

8 weeks to the German election

And everybody in Germany is on vacation. What a campaign this one is.

In the US, we'd all be yearning for the circus to end, for the commercials to stop and finally be replaced with the yoghurt and car commercials we love to hate when there is no election campaign.

Around here, you blink, you have missed the whole campaign.

Frankly, some days we wonder if we missed the bulletin that announced there would not be an election, cancelled due to lack of interest.

This is all the more strange because people around here still go and vote,  with participation rates the United States has not seen in a long time.  While the German rate of over 90% in 1976 has been the all time high since the end of World War II, the 70% of 2009 are not a happy value, a measly 13% above the US rate.

The approval rating of the German parliament and of government used to be better, and the population was more engaged lament the politicians and the media.

We at the K-Landnews continue to enjoy every German election campaign because of the quaint nature of the undertaking.

A while back, we stopped near a campaign stand next to the farmers' market.

Two or three volunteers with flyers in their hands tried to engage passers by. A lot of people stopped - all but one knew the volunteers, and animated chatting ensued.

On the way home, we wondered if our surrepetitious observation had been rude. Why didn't we walk right up to them and get acquainted with this facet of our host country's political culture?

It is question without an easy answer. Part not wanting to impose on them in their pursuit of undecided voters, part a cynical view of the political process with a dose of resignation, part who cares.

Watching Germans campaign is one of our few guilty pleasures - we cannot get enough of the rituals  that have so much meaning and, at the same time, so little to us.

So, in a few weeks, job security for the German political class is renewed for another four years, and we will feel as well represented as we have felt since we took up residence here.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

McDummy Burgers

First things first: why does British prime minister Cameron always blush when he talks about curbing Internet porn?

Seriously, check it out.

And why is xenophobia so fashionable in so many countries as we fail to make the world a place where no one goes hungry?

Now, the real news of today: the pony in a McDonald's in the UK.

The story was reported under the headline "woman fined for bringing horse into McDonald's."

The prelude turned our, well, serves her right into WTF?

She had done the right thing and showed up at the drive through window.

Where she was refused service.

Two wrongs don't make a right, and we get the literal meaning of drive through window, as in you back off and then smash right through the window into a restaurant.

That's how a friend of the news handled an insurance agent's bad mood.

So, McDummy Burgers and others say their drive through is not a ride through. But they don't serve bicyclists either.

If we had enough money, we'd take a buggy to the UK and try that McDummy again. Or maybe we can finance the trip when Minister Blushy has succeeded in protecting the isles from naked people. Nobody would suspect a horse and buggy crossing the Channel to smuggle porn.

Sorry if the post is even less coherent than usual, at 36 C/96 F thinking is hard.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Japanese economics

We ignorant Westerners, not you, just the team behind this blog still have the pictures of the insanely overcrowded Tokyo subway trains and the glitzy overwhelming shopping district in our mind when we think of Japan.

Yet, a friend told us that the subway trains with their white-gloved pushers become glaringly empty just minutes after work starts. But you have to be at the office at a specific time, the friend said.

So, we sat back, thought for a moment and cracked an inappropriate joke: looks like the peoples who put the verb at the end of a sentence are not very flexible in life.

To even begin to understand the quip, you need to know that the Germans put their verbs way towards the end. Or used to. Things change.

Well, can we admit that we lied at the beginning of the post? Recent world events have caused us to revisit our zero tolerance to lying -- the prez does it, the clap does it, the merkel, too, why not we?

Japan has not been in good economic shape for at least a decade. People seem to stop counting or caring when the decade mark has been breached. But the latest Zeit online article (in German) about Japan made us a little sad.

Like in so many other developed countries, more and more people struggle more than a couple of decades ago.

Where did all the wealth go?

Why does half the country have to work themselves to death while the other half cannot make a somewhat decent living?

Right, that's how it has always been, we forgot.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Ooops, sky is still up there

Like many others, some of our K-Landnews folks have been waiting for the sky to fall after Mr. Snowden gave away some documents about rampant, uncontrolled, secret surveillance.

The authorities and their press people (their own as well as pundits) warned us about the impending doom of civilization and terror everywhere.

It has not happened, and it won't happen. Just read our posts of the past six weeks, we do not want to repeat too much of what we splattered over the internet.

Some new fault lines of thought continue to emerge, most of them unremarkable, some uplifting like President Carter's statement about "not a functioning democracy", others pathetically dumb like Mr. Rhodes guest column about Snowden in the German online Zeit.

From way over the pond, we do want to highlight one positive aspect about the US laws that continue to be abused, namely that many have an expiration date.

The Germans, specifically, could use this technique, but, of course, they won't. Like the expiration date on holding an office (term limits), expiration dates for laws run against the interests of the less visible but nonetheless hardcore German establishment.

Now, on to something more productive.

Since the sky has not fallen, we will exploit the opportunity to go and pick raspberries behind the house.

After this activity, we will indulge in the only violent act we condone: whipping some helpless cream.

Have a wonderful summer Sunday.

Trappes les Fringues

A week ago, the French celebrated Bastille Day, the kick-off to the French Revolution that promised a better world - for a short time, and on 20 July, the Germans celebrated the failed attempt to blow up their most famous villain, and it really is a slow news season.

Correction, we just heard about dirt (earth) as a gourmet food in some restaurant in Japan, which gives a couple of the K-Landnews team's most favorite idioms an even more earthy meaning.

And did you know you can get a snail facial? This is an unexpected happy note, because a gooey trail of mucus on your face no longer indicates only a youngsters' first attempt at French kissing or your St. Bernhard puppy's standard Good Morning.

A couple of days ago, after another hospital visit, we had a belated Bastille Day celebration with a small portion of French Fries from one of the local Kebab shops, and we were well on our way to relax in a hot and dry German summer when news of clashes in the Paris suburb of Trappes broke.

French police had once again enforced one of the most stupid laws politicians can make: the ban of the Muslim face veil.

Riots ensued.

Order was restored.

You can go to fly into and out of Frankfurt Airport in that full body Muslim dress without anybody bothering you even in these crazy days of fake terror scares.

But you cannot go for a stroll with your family in the city of Trappes without getting fined and causing a riot.

Well, on the bright side, it gave us an opportunity to make fun of France.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

German double vision

German optometrists and ophthalmologists should prepare for a rush of new customers, if we saw what we think we saw in the German media in the past two days.

Politicians as well as spies and the media are seeing two Prisms in a serious case of double vision. The German military confirmed they have been using "Prism" in Afghanistan since 2011 but the government says it's a different Prism from the Guardian/WaPo NSA one.

There may not be much danger in politicians and spies having double vision. On the contrary, politicians are masters of double dealing, which may be enhanced by a physical double vision syndrome.

Spies are used to double agents in their midst, which again seems to us a perfect fit with double vision.

But soldiers in the field?

For those guys and gals, double vision can be deadly! They may miss that turban, or whatever non-Western looking person they are trying to kill, because they see another one next to it.

Today, our favorite German tabloid Bild enters the Prismatic fray with the claim that, well, the two Prisms may or may not be the same but, gosh, they are using the same database.

What are the implications for the German government?

We do not give a rat's furry behind.

In one of our multiple tweets, we reminded folks here that the weakest US Senator or Congress person  has more power than the German chancellor (their prime minister).

The implications for the K-Landnews team, however, were immediate, painful, and expensive.

We have been falling off our chairs with laughter for six weeks, and one set of bruises has barely healed when we incur another one.  Immediate and painful.

So, we bit the bullet [TheEditor: verify if this is an NSA-safe idiom. Biting it should render it unshootable, is that how say that, but hey, if the cops show up when you announce a nature walk on Facebook, you can't be too cautious].

We decided to buy a sturdy office chair, the kind with a high back and two wide, padded armrests to protect at least one team member against future immediate and painful tumbles.

Even if the rest of the team rolls on the floor when the next German politician opens his or her mouth to earnestly explain something they do not understand, we have a good chance to have one person left standing, or sitting, to contribute to the digital clutter.

By the way, our encrypted cat photo email attachments are doing great.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Govt. jokes on Facebook - don't!

The event lit up Twitter, so we were in no hurry to blog about it.  We recount it here for those who missed it on Twitter, for those who don't read German, and for those who could not care less.

We'll call him Joe German, an average citizen, because he has led an unobtrusive life before that Facebook post that propelled him to international attention.

The post was an obviously satiric, funny affair in the wake of the Great Pathetic Spy Scandal, and it was an invite by a fake spy equivalent of the SPCA.  With humans being animals, we could just let the acronym of Society for the Protection and Care of Animals stand as it is, but some numbnut might be tempted to slap us with the all purpose labels of unpatriotic or un-American.

So, let's change the name of the fake organization to Society for the Protection and Care of Spys for this reason and because it reflects more accurately the post by the young man.

He invited the public for a stroll along a suspected NSA facility in Germany.

The invite was picked up by the authorities and resulted in a visit by police as well as the intervention of the state domestic protectors. Once satisfied that the man had no extremist leanings or ambitions, they declared his stroll to be a demonstration which required a permit.

Playing nice, he filed an application, which was granted.

The stroll took place on a very sunny summer day, the number of attendees was way under 100, the police kept an eye on this now official event, and that was that.

The context of the event and its handling by the authorities do not inspire confidence - you could hardly ask for a better example of all-out surveillance, could you?

In political terms, it looks very much like the equivalent to the little old lady being robbed in bright daylight with hundreds of people looking on passively, well, not that passively, since the smart phones would be out capturing the whole thing on camera.

From the perspective of the police, the affair looks quite simple. Someone points out a Facebook post, a couple of officers read the post, don't find it really that alarming but their boss tells them to just go and talk to the man and make sure.

From the perspective of a citizen in a surveillance state (experts like Bruce Schneier call it that), this is not a great experience. Note that they did not arrest him and "only" put up some bureaucratic hurdles but asking him to not talk about that too much, this is a problem.

The K-landnews team would love to hear what happens to the young man should he ever feel like going on vacation to the US. Will the greatest country on earth let him ramble and enjoy a vacation?

The lesson learned: Don't joke on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Insulted liverwurst

From our language files.

An "insulted liverwurst" (an offended liver sausage) is a German term for someone who pouts, is a primadonna, cannot take a joke,  gets easily offended (while often having provided some sort of justification for people to crack a joke in the first place).

The German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung has a recent example of behavior that reader comments have labeled "insulted liverwurst". In yesterday's edition, the paper reports that Asiana Airlines announced a lawsuit against against San Francisco TV station KTVU over a report in connection with the crash of an Asiana flight at San Francisco International Airport.

A screen shot from a KTVU report listing the "pilot names", starting with "Captain Sum Ting Wong", followed, for good measure, by "We Tu Lo" and a couple of others, has irked the airline enough to file a suit.

The station apologized for this when it discovered someone had pulled a prank.

While certainly not in good taste, TheEditor thinks this should be it and sides with a reader of the paper who recommends spending the money on pilot training instead.

The fundamental cause of the accident seems to be bad piloting that resulted in a loss of life.

Minor scratches to the egos of whoever decided to take legal action are par for the course and TheEditor just put Asiana on the shit list: "They have their priorities all wrong. You cannot fly at all if you shun every airline that has had an accident, but you should stay the hell away from one that goes the route of the 'insulted liverwurst' after being responsible for the death of passengers."

Is there anybody mature running that airline?

Achievements that do not qualify - final

This is the third installment in our series "Achievements that do not qualify". As tempted as we are to add more, we decided to end the series because three is such a cute number.

It is dedicated to those who really need our protection because they cannot fend for themselves without support. It includes the frail, the children, the sick, the exploited, and folks like "the cousin" with an IQ literally half that of the inimitable, yet dangerous people who need to feel that they run the world.

Voluntary taxes

Prince Charles of the UK "chooses to pay income tax at the highest rate on his earnings from it, after deductions for expenses." "It" being the Duchy of Cornwall.

That's lovely news, really making a difference in an otherwise increasingly cynical world.

Of course, you would not read about this if there were no critics claiming that the prince is too generous with the deductions amid calls for greater transparency.

The folks here at the K-Landnews are not sympathetic to the idea of monarchy in general, but, please, give the man credit for paying at the highest tax rate.

Show us one other wealthy Westerner who does that.

While we are saying good things about a royal, let's express our gratitude to the motorcade on a sinewy country road, going in the opposite direction. They could have stopped us or done all sorts of patriotic things to ensure safe passage of the royal cargo, but they behaved nicely, went their way and let us go ours.

Quite a different picture from closing down huge stretches of Chicago freeway for some minor mayor's first day in office.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Achievements that do not qualify - cont'd

This is the second installment in our series "Achievements that do not qualify".

This part is dedicated to those in "the community" and/or those closely affiliated with it, who claim that a debate about the extent of U.S. domestic surveillance was absolutely necessary. As they lament the failure and ill treatment of those who tried putting forth change via the chain of command, they proclaim that Snowden has "ruined" any chance of that happening.

What goes around

comes around, and the Germans now have to deal with clear evidence that data collected by the NSA was used by the German foreign spy service BND. The one occasion talked about in the German media is kidnapping of Germans in Yemen.

The BND turned to the Americans and asked for email data from before the abduction.

And they received it, says the German press.

Which makes the claims by German politicians that they are "shocked" about NSA/Tempora/WhateverSnooping moot, some commentators and opposition leaders say.

TheEditor strongly feels the need for a "not so fast". We may well be seeing the snooping version of "don't ask, don't tell", a practical dose of plausible deniability in all its beauty.

If you are not familiar with the concept, go back and look, for instance, at Oliver North's statements in the Iran-Contra hearings before Congress. The Colonel, Mr. North - not the fried chicken one - describes how this concept is put to work.

Having followed the discussions and events in Germany, our best bet regarding the German government's willingness to provide honest and open information to the public is this: not gonna happen.

Since early June, the K-Landnews team has gone through fits of laughter, marveling at the idiosyncracies, the idiolatry, the idiots,  the idocracy, the idioms - pick one or more terms, assign them to whoever you wish, and you can be sure you are supporting an argument made in this debate.

And we have also started to immortalize our cats.

These cats have shown more common sense and more dignity than some humans, and we have wanted to thank them for being who they are. Until the data collection story broke, our plans were quite unimaginative, we must admit.

They ranged from an extra bag of kitty treats (the crack for cats described in an earlier post) to early planning for a tasteful low-budget head stone.

But, given that all encrypted messages are apparently stored for as long as needed to decrypt them, we have started to encrypt photos of the cats and send them  as email attachments.

You may, of course, interpret this in any way you want.

To us, it is art. Surveillance art in line with the philosophy described in the largest free encyclopedia of human knowledge.

Made like a modern day message in a bottle - no human may ever find it.

Made for an audience we will likely never meet.

If you would like to become part of our cat art network, simply email us that the email address at the top of the page.

We will send you an encrypted cat picture and randomly send out a decryption key once a year.  If you are lucky, you get to see the cats.

[Update 17 July 2013]  Today, an article in Zeit online comments extensively on the German government's game of plausible deniability. The K-Landnews Random Research team is elated.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

German keystone cops

Our regulars know we don't do TV.

Saves us from a lot of trash but also means we miss some great topics for blog posts.

But today, we were lucky. A visit to a hospitalized friend of the K-Landnews gave us an unexpected insight into a German reality TV cop show.

If you have watched or heard of the American show COPS, reign in your imagination.

The fifteen minute segment of German TV was a "meter maid" show. The main highlight was the mode of transportation, which was neither a three wheeler with the dramatic sounding name "interceptor" nor a bicycle.

The meter men, there was no woman among the crew in our segment, had Segways and was patroling the pedestrian zone in a medium sized German town.

Our stingy TheEditor instantly showed minor frothing at the edges of the mouth: "What a waste of taxpayer money! They could buy ten bicycles for one Segway!"

The next highlight was the black uniform the men sported. We could not decide whether they were meant to look like nightclub bouncers or like an off-duty SWAT team, but the close cropped officers radiated authority despite the nerdy vehicles.

In the presence of the camera, they seemed to be taking their job of enforcing public order more seriously than might be the case off camera.

They were earning their keep by handing out 5 to 10 euro tickets for minor infractions, and the objects of their attention were not pleased.

As they wrote up a motorcyclist who had ventured into the pedestrian zone, the camera panned to show the face of the offender, a male of around the same age as the keystone cops, and we went "oh".

The face of the perp was pixelated, which made the scene look strangely surreal because neither the officers nor curious bystanders clutching shopping bags and pointing, for their children, towards the camera team, received the pixelation treatment.

The pixelation did have a slightly more reddish hue than the other faces, an indication that the anonymous perpetrator showed a sign of blush of embarrassment, his voice supported this interpretation because he sounded neither angry nor unduly upset.

We laughed.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Luxembourg's secret service

This post is superfluous, utterly.

It's only raison d'etre is that we can write "the Luxembourg secret service" once in our lives.

Luxembourg is a country of about 500 000, and it obviously has a secret service, because it caused a scandal that made the current prime minister stumble and resign.


Let's write this again a few times.

"The Luxembourg secret service", "the Luxembourg secret service", "the Luxembourg secret service".

Probably run by some second cousin of the prime minister. Or not, but who cares.

Since it is a landlocked country, we will put the K-Landnews Random Research team on its most challenging assignment yet: find information about the Luxembourg navy.

They gotta have one somewhere.

Even if they just put their secret service on a fishing boat and call it a navy.

Does the one radium dial pocket watch reportedly spotted at an antiques dealer make Luxembourg a nuclear power?

So many questions....

Achievements that do not qualify

"Ultimately, a Certificate of Achievement is awarded to service personnel who exhibit acts of faithful service and/or achievements that do not qualify for decorations or devices such as medals or stripes."

They are one reason for running a TOR relay. They could also be vehicles for bragging or nostalgia. They could be fake.

Felix Meyer & Band

Another music discovery this summer.

The playful busker with the deep, warm voice goes on stage.

Just three years ago, the band of five was busking in downtown Hamburg, Germany, in front of small audiences. Today, they pull five thousand very easily and are regular guests on radio and TV.

Traveling bards have had a long tradition, and Felix Meyer and his co-musicians fit right in. They started playing in earnest when they wanted to travel Europe but didn't have the money - hence busking their way across the mini continent was how they did it.

They picked up musical styles along the way, and to truly appreciate this you'd need to see them play live rollicking dance tunes.

At a bigger live event, if you are lucky, you may get to see them mingled with the crowd listening to another band and get a glimpse of the jesters they still are. Or, as the K-Landnews resident cynic says, "aren't bands cute when they are just getting to be famous"?

The name Felix Meyer is, funny enough, an indication of not being pretentious, of not aiming for the top spot on a search engine results page, and - hopefully for a long time to come - "Felix" will live up to the meaning of his first name.

They are a cool band in those days of manufactured music and air-brushed lives, so search on YouTube and, if you are in Germany, don't get too upset with the fact that many clips are blocked for German viewers because of the copyright nitwits of GEMA.

The farmer and the spy

An article in the German Spiegel online should be a "must read" for everyone who shrugged off the incredible hoovering up of all things digital as "they have always done it".

The author of the piece points out the simple fact that the scope and the targets have changed from what we used to broadly call "state secrets" to "everybody".

And this includes the milk cows of the local farmer who has them hooked up to the internet.

If this is not clear enough, think Stuxnet for cows, say MilkNet, to torture your cows remotely, turn the milk sour and make them kick the farmer. If you have enough cows kick enough farmers at the same time, you could manipulate the milk prices or shut down the local dairy supply.

Have your pick.

On a slightly more serious note, the past month has been a wonderful time for the K-Landnews resident linguist.

He or she perked up when the first denials came that said "the NSA does not have direct access" to company servers.

Our linguist went "okay, that means there is either a little software program that you can qualify as "not direct" or the FBI runs the equipment".

Judge for yourself how correct the statement was.

We also wrote an early post about the spin doctor basics and sat back and watched the noise unfold.

By now, you must have heard that the German population reacted more vigorously than other people, and you heard of the lingering Nazi and Stasi concerns.

What you probably have not heard of is that the NSA (as well as the UK) have pretty much unfettered access to German communications via old Cold War agreements that are still legally binding.

These agreements go so far that spies captured by the German authorities can be held and spirited out of the country by the U.S.

We learned this from an article in the sueddeutsche zeitung by a historian who described the origin, the evolution and the German government collusion in all of this.

Fascinating, to say the least.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

La Caravane Passe

One of our musical discoveries this summer is the francophone band La Caravane Passe.

For some odd reason the "welcome" menu item on their website reads "velkom", while the rest is safely in French. We assume - but do not know for sure - that it was carried over from the title of their first album.

If you enjoy some really fast music, follow the caravan - they have some of the fastest tunes we recall ever hearing. Their mix of instruments and styles is eclectic and great. The latest album "Gypsy For One Day" is gypsy hip-hop with a generous helping of avant-garde and "techno without the tech".

A breakneck rendition of a song written by the great great great grandmother [plus or minus one "great", we are not sure] of one of the band members has the crowds hopping and the lyrics "I wanna be your slave" sound so much less threatening or awkward when pronounced with a slight French accent. 

Don't worry, there are some slower tunes to give you time to catch your breath.

Grab a piece of the caravane via their website or on youtube. 

Even if it is not totally your thing, it is worth a few minutes of your time.

Monday, July 8, 2013

East German culture - a castle tour

It's almost 25 years since the East German "communist" government and the Wall came down, and if you look closely there are intriguing cultural differences.

One such difference comes to light on a guided tour of a castle or palace in East Germany.

If you paused when you read this sentence, you had the same experience as our contributors.

Why would there be a notable difference almost 25 years after a social and political event so deep that few people in the West can really understand its magnitude?

Any palace tour in the West will prominently feature the history of the nobles who built the palace, lived there, ruled the land from it.
There will be extensive discussions of character, lots of anecdotes about the family, much ado about the relations with other rulers near and far. There will be descriptions of conflict and war, of sponsorship of the arts or of science.

None of this on our Eastern tour. Yes, the person who commissioned the current version of the edifice is mentioned, and so is a descendent who painted innumerable paintings of his horses.
They will mention when the rulers gave up the palace, in our example this was in 1918, with World War I coming to an end and the German Emperor first abdicating and then going into exile.

These mentions are presented as simple anchors of history and as an explanation for all the funky horse paintings. There are no anecdotes, nothing of the veneration that will shine through in your standard Western guided tour.

The tour is focused on the buildings, the styles, the explanation of the function of the various structures of the complex. The people who built the place are given more mention than the inhabitants. The architects, the craftsmen, the local builders thus are on an equal footing with the nobles. One set paid, the other worked.

So, the East German communists did not go on a Pol Pot or Taliban style rampage of destruction. They kept and maintained, albeit with not so much money, the heritage, including the delicate furniture and art.

Fun fact: there were many thousand small private enterprises in East Germany. Would you have known?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Time to rehabilitate Richard Nixon

Something irresistible happened.

The plane of Bolivian President Evo Morales was refused overflight in the European Union.

Now stuck in Austria, we are looking on to a spectacle of amazing proportions.

Just days ago, the French complained about being spied on by the U.S., then everybody refused asylum for Mr. Snowden, and now the President of Bolivia is grounded in Austria.

Richard Nixon does not look too bad any more.

There were, to be sure, legitimate reasons to put Mr. Snowden on trial, but the longer the story unfolds, things can be seen in a different light.

When the New York Times has reason to call for a criminal investigation of the NSA, when Mr. Binney, who was vilified, is now confirmed, something is very wrong.

Let's rehabilitate Tricky Dick, then.

This post was brought to you by someone one praised by a branch of a U.S. government for "exceptionally meritorious services."

Happy and above all safe 4th of July.