Friday, February 28, 2014

Rivers of sperm

The aerial view of huge expanses of white ocean caused by spawning herring on the coast of Alaska in a wildlife documentary was - psychologists take notice - the first image that popped up in the blogster's mind on the news that British spies saved millions of webcam chats.

The article confirmed what many Twitter users had tweeted over the past six months in the more succinct format required by the platform and the somewhat more gross forms of daily expression ("they got your d*** pics").

Said article also brought back the memory of a nerdy friend doing some math after a high school sex ed class.

This blog is not a forum for re-enacting the nerdy math, so suffice it to say that it had to do with adolescent boys and pastimes and resulted in a volume best expressed in tanker truck units.

The webcam article prompted us to call up our buddy Old Mustached German (OMG) for a chat on a plain phone and swap a few jokes.

When we mentioned the nerd math, OMG said: If I had a tanker truck full, I'd grab my trucking license and head for the Isles.

You know that they do watch Blogger, don't you?

OMG:  You don't give my real name, so why would I care.

Well, life is gross, so get over it.

Mad Max, magic numbers and more Bistro Math

While only the Daily Show and the Colbert Report continue to have a handle on the illusion we call reality, the latest German think tank report on the distribution of wealth turned our attention to numbers once again.

Yes, the rich gt richer, and there are more poor people in Germany.

The huge multi-billion Euro train station in the southern city of Stuttgart continues to be built despite the fact that the break-even point of the investment is roughly a thousand years from now.

In the face of such figures beyond comprehension, the blogster decided to go back to basics. Bob Larson, not the preacher but the one who wrote a series of handy books about German culture for Americans, pointed out one of the small annoying numbers in Germany: 1.

When used in numbering the floors of buildings, the German 1st floor is the second American floor. The American first floor is the unnumbered ground floor around here.

In elevators, it has a button labeled "EG". But not in all elevators, that would be too easy.

At least, the Germans are not squeamish about the 13th floor.

Unless you stay at a hotel at an unnamed major German airport, where you get 12, 12a, 14.

Which made the blogster ask some friends about the "perfect" floor numbering scheme for a truly global building.

Input from countries as far apart as Italy and China left us scratching our heads [which raises an altogether different question].

Anyway, a global floor numbering system would be full of holes, so we would suggest simply starting at floor number 20 for new buildings. Any takers?

And, in Germany, numbering buildings on a street is far from evident, as we found out the other day when a friend asked us to meet at a small bar at 33 Hauptstrasse (33 Main Street).  There were three buildings sporting the number 33.

Three! Only one was a bar, though.

Putting our diminishing brain power to work on a simple problem like this makes the news about the rich getting richer without working harder while the poor get poorer while working harder so much easier to digest. Hint: it is all about finding a tiny area in life that you can feel in control of.

And Bob Larson? Not sure. Celestial Press may have published that book "Getting along with the Angels", or maybe he is just hanging out, making fun of Mad Max*, or doing Bistro Math.

* In case you feel empathetic today: Bob Larson gave the nickname Mad Max to one of the blogster's managers. A well deserved nickname.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Teenagers and babies with microchips

Not fully awake, TheEditor glanced at the local newspaper and saw a photo of around ten teenage girls, each holding a baby.

The line underneath the photo said the babies were fitted with microchips.

What, is this some weird tech fantasy playing out in the German countryside?

A sip of coffee followed by the daily trip into the yard to cut grass for the cats, the article looked a lot less frightening.

It described a babysitting class for teenage girls. Instead of real babies, they are given a sort of baby size Tamagotchi doll. The doll expects the normal baby care, with feeding, changing diapers, burping and registers everything for later evaluation.

Sensors also register the position of the head and motion to detect rough handling and shaking.

The moms in training enjoyed the class, and there was no mention in the article of plans to make such a class mandatory for future real mothers. Or of fitting out real babies with sensors.

Don't put it beyond some bored official to propose either as the years roll by.  There's always room for more licenses...

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The daily tragedy: infant mortality up in Greece

Of the sad topics out of southern Europe, the death toll of "austerity" is one of the toughest issues.

While we complain about the radio and TV license, a cent more for gas, or the ban on incandescent light bulbs, humans die in Greece as a result of the collapse of the country.

The news fatigue and the "oh, well, Greece" reactions in the north get pierced occasionally by reports such as the one about a 43% increase in infant mortality in Greece.

Higher suicide rates, deaths through lack of medication and a shortage of doctors have lost their shock value but infants, infants can still make you stop and think for a minute.

For how long?

The answer is blowing in the wind - it really is

Someone had to go cheesy and quote Bob Dylan on the answer to the prayers of many small German towns.

This country roughly the size of Montana lacks the abundance of natural resources of said U.S. state and the ugliness of Butte with its stripped away mountain sides.

The answer to the money woes of towns around here is blowing in the wind coming over the hills. Captured by huge wind mills - the new generation is higher that the tallest cathedrals - the wind becomes electricity and the mill owners send some of the generated money into the town coffers.

Out here in the country side where the population has been shrinking for a good decade and will continue to decline, higher local taxes could not stem the budget shortfalls but the wind can.

A range of hill tops a few miles from us offered the standard German romantic forest view until just two years ago.

Last week, we counted eleven operating huge wind mills and growing concrete stumps for another three.

One jubilant town council published revenues from ten wind mills of over 400 000 dollars per year. 

The uplifting power of the wind is no longer reserved for pilots and hot air balloons!

The big smiles of the local town treasurers are wind powered, with the smiles projected to continue for twenty years for each mill.

Faded old blueprints for fixing ailing town infrastructure are pulled out of the storage bins, get computerized and sent out to local construction firms.

Does this sound too good to be true?

Well, the citizens of country have been paying a "green fee" of currently about 8 cents per kilowatt/hour on top of their electricity bills. The fee subsidizes renewables alternative energy and has pushed the end user price to just under 30 Euro cents (almost 40 US) for residental users.

If we take the number of residents of the example town and the estimated cost of the green fee and subtract them from the windfall, the 400 K looks a lot more like 200 K.

Someone always pays. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review of a book we have not read

Germany's favorite political bad boy, Mr. Sarrazin, is back with a new book on the state of the nation.

"Der neue Tugendterror", something like "the new terror by the virtuous" or 'when idealists cause terror' is as far as we try to translate the title.

The K-Landnews is not on the list of publications that receive ample preview copies of books for review. And we don't see any reason to go and buy a copy of this opus.

Which leaves us with a "meta review", a blurp about reviews and public reception of his book. According to reviewers, the main line of argument this time is that German mainstream media won't give a voice to views that diverge from the middle ground consensus and won't give a voice to what ole Richard Nixon called the silent majority. He is upset with what he perceives to be a relentless egalitarianism of German public discourse and brings up all sorts of facts to show we are not all equal. One of his previous arguments about genes and Jews backfired so fiercely that he apologized. His call for immigrants to "integrate" has found somewhat broader support in some circles, yet, we find it utterly hilarious that this descendant of immigrants is so set in his ways.

Those mainstream media, of course, have a field day with that argument, pointing out with some glee that they are giving him a voice by reviewing the book.

To us, Mr. S. is the embodiment of modern day Germany in ways that he might not appreciate. As a member of the social democratic party, you cannot really call him a hard line "f*** the poor" politician, yet he shows contempt for those on basic social benefits. He proclaims that you can enjoy a good, healthy diet on just above one Euro a day while he has enjoyed above average salaries all his working life. "Facts" without context and much sense, such as the number of patents filed by Switzerland versus that filed by know what he makes out of it. Or that one about men being more intelligent than women, tempered by a note that there are more men under IQ 70 than women...a factoid sans context, useless at best and open to the most egregious abuse, just ask history.

The privileged prescribing the correct way of life to the non-privileged has a long and checkered tradition, and his books fit like a hand in a glove.

It is fascinating that some of his arguments are not even wrong but seem to add up to something that feels wrong.

As to the "silent majority" and the "blandness" of German mainstream media? Again, he does have a point there but the attributed cause, the grand collusion of these media, is off.

And we dare to stipulate that some of "the German mainstream media" have never been more open and diverse than today. The reader comments sections of the web sites of major print media do give a much broader spectrum of opinions today than the old letters to the editor system ever did.

So, despite deeply disagreeing with Mr. S. on facts and "facts", we think this one person struggle of Germany in the 21st century adds color to the debate.

For the record, we can be called "Gutmenschen", which would make us part of the problem described in his book.

So what?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fasching in Seminole County, Florida

Carnival comes under many different names in Germany, such as "Fasching", "Fastnacht", "Karneval", and we wanted to be nice and explain the variety of local terms and the different festivities that go with the regions.

A web search seemed a good idea.

Imagine our surprise when one of the very first entries was Fasching in Seminole County, Florida!

So, we decided to provide only a Wikipedia link for all your carnival in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland information needs and switch the subject to the Germans and Florida.

They like Florida.

Rich and poor Germans alike flock to the Sunshine State. Germany's poster boy for the abuse of social security was nicknamed Florida Rolf because he lived in Florida on a German benefits check.

Some fancy Florida estates are owned by wealthy Germans, and a middle class neighbor from our place in the hills fondly remembers a vacation in swampland USA.

The sun, the warm Gulf coast beaches, the straight roads, the 24 hour shopping, the relaxed but not too relaxed way of life are attributes that continue to draw Germans from their small northern country.

We do not know if Fasching in Seminole County benefits from the German residents or if is more of a local tradition independent from the current crop of Germano-Floridians.

If you are in or near Seminole County between 24 February and 4 March, here is the web site, go have a look.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

European Union protects accidentally invented "Bavarian Pretzel"

Perceived overreaches of European Union regulators are a staple of critics, of Bavarians, and of what passes as television comedy in Germany.

Not to be outdone, this blog has prominently featured the EU's "Novel Food Directive" and speculation about a more intimate regulatory move.

Last week, however, the EU stepped up to the dinner plate and protected the Bavarian pretzel after only six years of investigation. Nobody knows how they managed to be so fast.

Protecting this Bavarian signature baked good was a smart move because the pretzel is loved by hardcore EU critics in this southern German state.
Many of these will now invariably associate their comfort food with a more benevolent side of the EU.

Yes, they banned incandescent light bulbs and they are set to neuter the housewife's best friend, the vacuum cleaner, by reducing the power of a vacuum's motor to roughly that of a Lego play set motor, but they saved the Bavarian pretzel.

The timing of the good news could not have been better, just before the final edits to the fun speeches of the carnival season, just a couple of days before the parade floats are done.

What does the new rule mean for the rest of the world? You can continue to make your own pretzels but you cannot call them "Bavarian".

This EU-style happy ending is almost allegoric for a food that was created by accident when a baker dipped a pretzel in a lye solution instead of sugar water.

If there was an official EU baked good, the pretzel would be perfect.

With its many twists and turns, thick in some places, fragile in others, caustic on the outside and fluffy on the inside, it is more than an elaborately shaped strand of dough. 

It is a happy accident of history.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Mardi Gras costumes censored -- in Germany

From our People are People series.

We thought we had traded the hard hitting "you go to hell!" - "no, you do!" world of believers for a blander but slightly more relaxed and tolerant version in Germany.

Alas, it was not to be. In Wiesbaden near Frankfurt, Germany, kindergarteners attending a protestant run (very likely government funded) kindergarten are not allowed to show up in the following costumes for Mardi Gras:

1) Witches
2) Wizards
3) Devils

and similar. The pastor felt that such pagan displays run against the good Christian values of his parish.

One of the press reports on the web came with reader comments covering the spectrum from 'good, kids need to be taught our Christian values' to 'how stuck up can you be?'

However, just like in the U.S., Lutherans and other protestants are not known for a fondness for the frivolous.

Carnival and its ultimate debauchery on Mardi Gras are a very Catholic phenomenon.

Maybe the good pastor should instruct his flock not to wear any costumes, thus avoiding to take sides and having to figure out what constitutes a witch.

After all, the latter is a task churches have both relished in and struggled with for many centuries, right?

Let's face it: some kids are just little devils, costume or no costume.

Friday, February 21, 2014

German hand writing? You kidding me?

Handwriting is a typical example of a generational issue in Germany. About once a year, some paper will lament the dire state of German handwriting and invoke "culture" or "fine motor skills", the choice depending on the author's understanding of science or on the seasonal dictates of wordsmith fashion.

The other, more persistent lament, is "our youngsters are disrespectful and lazy". Apparently, every generation since Socrates said that about the offspring they had generated, tried to educate - and failed.

Handwriting is also a highly political issue, mixing cultural views with a certain view of history and patriotism.

So, German handwriting, do you feel up for a brief post on the subject?
You do not have to have the slightest idea of German, don't worry, all we want to do is show you something.

Start by clicking in this link to a recipe for rosehip wine in the standard German handwriting before World War II. In the first line, you might be able to identify the letter "F" as the very first one and the "i" in Liter.

Now look at this version used from about 1953:

We put boxes around the capital letters L and S because they are known to become indistinguishable at the hands of a hurried writer. 

One more, from 1968, and then we get to the point. This one is from East Germany but very much like its West German counterpart from 1972, so we just give you one.
Would you be surprised if we reveal to you that conservative German politicians are lamenting the loss of the 1953-ish version?

Yes, the version in which a capital L and a capital S can become indistinguishable at the hands of a stressed or careless writer.

Personally, we have an ambivalent attitude to the German alphabet mainly for the letter ß -- the "thing", the only one without its own capitalized version, rendered in the old days of the teletype and the ASCII printers as "sz" or "ss", and utterly useless as a letter despite a few issues with some words where replacing ß with ss could be confusing.

On a practical level, why would anybody prefer a complicated version to a simpler one, especially if you want stuff to be readable and writable by millions of foreigners who immigrate to your country?

So, the simple version makes you feel less connected to your history?

Well, well, for the real traditionalists in Germany that should mean going back to the old Gothic from the first example because the first simpler Latin cursive was introduced around 1941 by you guessed who.

At the end of the day, we bet our Susan B. Anthony dollar on simplicity. The latest push for tradition won't go anywhere.

Yes, we are aware of the Chinese writing versions and the value of calligraphy but that's a different subject.

Back to school: Germany's botched high school reform

The German school system was strictly tiered, making it inflexible and a means to promote "class" - not in the sense of excellence but in the sense of a social class structure.

Depending on how you count, Germany had something like three to five different versions of what Americans call "middle school" + "high school", and not a single one of these was an all day version. Some West German states introduced an "integrated high school", which simply translates into "high school" (or, to be exact) middle school + high school. This integrated school was hated by staunch conservatives because it showed that children from less privileged families can learn in the same room as offspring from "better" homes. However, since saying this out loud was frowned upon, the worries expressed were all about a feared decline of the quality of education.

The version that opened the gates to college was nine years long in West Germany and eight in East Germany. Then East Germany went away but the new states kept the eight year system.

Finally, around the year 2000, lots of conservative politicians proclaimed that the German school system was robbing the country's youth of valuable time in the workplace compared to their European counterparts.

Whatever logic these people may have seen in such a grossly f***ed up train of thought, it worked.  Most formerly West German states decreed that eight years was the future.

No cuts to the curriculum, of course, so school days became longer.

No longer would German high schoolers be let out at just past 1 PM unless you had some esoteric electives later.

Those same governments that lobbed a year off of the total time in school did not want to spend money on making German high school a full day venture. 

Who needs a cafeteria that serves lunch when you can volunteer stay at home moms to come in and prepare sandwiches or send the au-pair over to do the job?

Teachers' efforts to adapt were not supported by the states either.

Long story short: school is getting longer again in most of these Western German states. Many are returning to the nine year model, thus wasting a great opportunity for a full-day school which would allow more mothers to take a full-time job without bringing up a latch-key child.

The tiered system continues to be alive and well in most states, continuing to short change German "working class" students and, as recent studies have shown, children of poorer migrants. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Rente für Finanzanalphabeten

Finanzanalphabeten ist nicht unser Ausdruck für die Deutschen, verwenden tun wir ihn dennoch gerne.


Weil wir wieder einmal kontextfreie Zahlen lesen müssen und uns wundern. Diesmal geht es um die Rente mit 63.

Da wurden bis 2030 Mehrausgaben von 160 Milliarden Euro errechnet. Es dauerte zwei Wochen bis wenigstens ein Artikel diese Zahl auf Jahresbasis umrechnete, nämlich ca. 10 Milliarden Euro pro Jahr. Dank dafür Der Welt, über die wir ab und an hier einmal gewitzelt haben.

10 Milliarden?
Macht ungefähr die jährlichen Einnahmen aus dem Rundfunkbeitrag + Werbung + sonstige Einkünfte.

Das gibt uns aber noch immer keine Rahmenzahl: wieviel gibt die gesetzliche Rentenversichung pro Jahr aus, die 10 Milliarden pro Jahr sind wieviel Prozent davon?

Laut Welt "konterkariert" die Rente mit 63 die mit der Erhöhung auf 67 geplanten Einsparungen.

Was bedeutet das?

Werden die Einsparungen nichtig oder teilweise geringer, wenn ja, um wieviel?

In unserer vielgescholtenen amerikanischen Presse machen die Blätter meist mehr Mühe mit Zahlenkontexten. Mit Ausnahme des Militärhaushalts und der diversen "Sicherheits"-Haushalte.

72% der Renten unterhalb von 1000 Euro, das haben wir auf Wikipedia gelesen. Wenn diese Zahl stimmt, braucht man sich nicht zu wundern, dass den Älteren die Rente mit 63 angeboten wird -- damit man wenigstens nicht noch mehr den Eindruck hat, ein langes Arbeitsleben würde sich doch nicht lohnen.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Treasures found and treasures lost in Germany

In recent weeks, there have been several major news about antiquities in Germany. The events occurred in different locations and they demonstrate that treasures found can become treasures lost.

Only to be found again later.

Somewhere not far from the French border, one or more persons found a huge late Roman era treasure of gold, silver and gems. State archeologists have called them thieves or robbers because the finder or finders apparently did not report the haul to relinquish it to the state. A criminal investigation is under way. 

Earlier, in a town in the Frankfurt area, a social worker taking care of an elderly couple was given a tour of the property when he noticed about twenty banana  boxes in an old vault. The elderly man explained that he used to rent out the old wine cellars as storage space and that the boxes in question had been sitting there for some twenty years.

Several boxes were coming apart at the edges, so they took a closer look and found old pottery from as far back as two thousand years. Some items showed numbers which must be museum catalog numbers, experts say.

Investigations into the provenance of this treasure are under way but the working hypothesis is that they were stolen when a museum in a nearby town was completely redone and all artifacts had to be put into temporary warehouse storage during the remodel.

Experts were not even surprised such a theft could happen. According to scientists, German museums have a tremendous amount of unclassified and uncatalogued finds in basements, annexes, and storage spaces.

Even correctly cataloged finds get lost to thieves as an example of a Rococo facade in Frankfurt shows, where only one small arch of a whole facade can be accounted for.  

In the city of Cologne, construction work in recent years has once again yielded so many finds that archeologists decided to discontinue the digs and leave the discoveries to future generations.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Self-censorship or thank you, or being a coward?

Today, we did something many people won't find cool: we deleted two tweets because the recipient asked very nicely.

What was it about?

The other day, a friend showed up at the house in some distress. The friend is one of those millions of Germans receiving what is the basic social benefits regime here, the strange Hartz-IV benefits.

The issue was an invoice by the utility company for the past 5 or so months. A glitch on the part of the company meant that they failed to debit the bank account, this despite the friend calling them several times to remind them to please take the money.

The utility just now "remembered" and wanted to take all of the arrears plus the regular monthly payment for the ongoing year in one fell swoop.

Customer service tried to help by breaking down the amount into three payments, which still left the friend with a food budget of about 120 Euros a month for four people.

So, we sent out a tweet.

As it turns out in so many cases, if you don't know who to talk to in an organization, you may be going hungry.

But if you find the person who can make decisions, something can be worked out.

It took all of 24 hours for them to work out a manageable installment plan. A plan that means some belt tightening - which is kind of what Hartz-IV is about anyway it seems - but does not mean going hungry.

When all was said and done, they asked if I would mind deleting the tweets.

What would you have done?

I took a screenshot, you never know, and then deleted the tweets.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Make it a product: cup and food lift for truck drivers

If that's not patented yet, go ahead and give us credit (and an American share of the cash).

Truck cabins of most trucks and especially the "no nose" European style cabins are getting ever higher it seems. Which makes getting into the cabin with a cup of coffee or a to go food pack hard work.

Open door.
Reach up, put food on floor. Spill coffee.
Climb, move food further inside. Spill more coffee.
Get in, sit down.
Pick up food or cup. Drink/eat what's left.

The world needs a food elevator (aka. lift), either built into the door or as an add-on. Depending on design, it may have to fold out a bit.

Add-ons can be battery powered or hook up to that unused cig lighter.

Extension of election cycle from 4 to 5 years in Germany?

This topic has not made international headlines, there are lots of more important world news.

We thought is was largely dead in the water, a discussion in the previous government abandoned as the new "grand" coalition took office in fall of 2013. But then we found another article saying that the new government is "open to the possibility". Will the current government use its super majority of 80 % of seats in parliament to do the deed?

What is this about?

German parliamentary election cycles are four years. Some very vocal politicians have advocated an extension to five years.

The arguments in favor of the move:
  • The EU parliament is on a five year schedule, so changing the German federal cycle "merely reflects an adaptation" to the EU cycle.
  • More efficient legislative work, less driven by election posturing.

The current opposition in federal parliament are not fond of the plan. They want more direct democracy, improved participation of the electorate instead or in addition to any such extension.

The K-Landnews did not find poll numbers showing what the German electorate thinks, but to us the arguments in favor do not sit well. They don't feel sincere.

The EU parliament has very little power, using it as an example is not recommended. More efficient work with an extra year does not sound altogether bad, but why not six years then? That would be two extra years of unbridled efficiency.

Against the backdrop of a German labor force much less secure in their jobs than ten or so years ago, adding more job security for politicians rubs us the wrong way. But the recent article linked to above stays out of this fray.

While they are looking at efficiency in government, why not replace the German president (who is very much a ceremonial figure only) with something along the lines of a hereditary figurehead to save more money?

Why not go to a ten year election cycle? This would make for stable governments in which folks can really get to know each other and develop the kind of mutual trust that makes efficient government such a joy to witness --- from the outside.

Greased pigs and strangelets?

This morning, we caught German magazine Der Spiegel Online linking to the International Business Times web site in an article about strangelets and their danger to the world according to a couple of lawyers.

Since it comes from the IBTimes, as they are known for short, hm, we are on the fence on that one.

Nevertheless, it is fun news to read about two lawyers trying to save the world via a lawsuit against a particle accelerator.  This sentiment is obviously shared by Der Spiegel, why else would they report on it.

At the K-Landnews, the prevailing opinion on the danger of strangelets destroying the planet is the same as it was years ago on the black hole scare at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) of CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.

Humans are subjecting the planet and all life on it to incredible stress and damages day in day out.

Should we inadvertently destroy the whole planet by other means than our daily efforts, the universe would probably not even notice.

Heck, some of the exploding stars we marvel at in the night sky might very well be failed science experiments on distant planets instead of suns that have run out of fuel and finish their natural life cycle in a big explosion.

Prove us wrong.

How did greased pigs get into the post?

We simply wanted to mention greased pigs and lawyers in the same post.

[Update 7/2015] The Large Hadron Collider has been running for some time now, and the planet is still hurtling through space. So much for the lawyers.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Feel good algorithms on social media; merit badges for the ego

Feel good algorithms used in social media not only make you feel good about yourself, they can make you feel quite a bit more important than you really are.

And you may not realize it!
First things first: A dung beetle in the rays of the warm sun, a snake on a comfortably warm rock, a cat on a cozy blanket, a human on Facebook with lots of 'likes' or on Twitter with 'top tweets'.

We cannot speak for the dung beetle but we are certain about the cats and the humans: feeling good is important beyond words.

As the smart, internet literate reader of this blog you have heard about personalization. It describes facts like Google scanning your emails and analyzing your searches to figure out what ads to present to you.

Personalized web searches will show different results for different people, at least results arranged differently. There are experts who warn that personalized news may eventually only show news that reinforce your existing opinions and world view, ignoring those that challenge your beliefs and your mind.

We have amused ourselves by laughing at the perception Google's algorithms seem to have of K-Landnews' TheEditor. Our latest incarnation according to Google: a retired wealthy English expat veterinarian with some serious dental problems.

Personalized ads can be very helpful, personalized searches can still have benefits but "feel good" algorithms are, to TheEditor, a different beast.

A friend sends you an email raving about a car, and the ads on your page turn all about cars and accessories - that change is visible enough. If you pay attention, you are aware of cause and effect.

A personalized web search result? If you use more than one search engine, you know that the results vary. Whether this is the result of personalization or caused by generic differences in the engines does not matter for now -- the crucial point is you are aware of differences.

How do you detect a feel good algorithm?

You may never notice.  Here is an example from the K-Landnews Twitter experience.  If you look at a tweet, you can see the number of times it has been retweeted. That's a straight forward piece of information, and it can make you feel good but does not fall under our definition of feel good algorithm. The number of retweets is a "metric", easily measured, indisputably accurate [within the laws of coding], and the side effect may be to make you feel good -- no problem.

But do you know that search results in Twitter can depend on whether you logged in to your account or not logged in?

Oh, you know that already?

It took TheEditor a while to see manifestations of this difference and even longer to find a reproducible example.

See the "Top Tweet" label and the little bull horn on the screenshot of the krautlandnewseditor tweet below?
We saw this label ONLY when we were logged in to the K-Landnews Twitter account.

Yes, the tweet was really among the "top" tweets at the time, but so were the other tweets shown on the image. So, here is Twitter's algorithm telling is "kudos, other people and our algorithm liked your tweet".

That is a feel good algorithm!

To a less cynical or modest person (there is some overlap in the two concepts), marking the tweet in this manner might give the impression that this tweet is special, kind of, even more of a "top" than the others.

The tweet by "WorldPeace" underneath ours does look a little less cool, or does it?

The rub is: if the the user WorldPeace is logged in, he or she may well see their tweet marked as "top tweet", not ours.

The bottom line?

If you are looking for "feel good" feedback, don't do it on social media, get a cat. Or a dog if you must.

Germany in 2014: The horse at the grocery store

The scanner at the checkout beeps at the phenomenal speed of the cashier's hands. Then a voice next to me goes: "There's a horse outside, a big horse!"

A bag drops into into the shopping cart, there's a patter of feet, the exit door swooshes.

After finishing up bagging the weekend groceries and wishing the cashier a good weekend, I push the cart towards the exit.

And there it is.

A big draft horse tied to the bicycle rack on the pavement right next to the entrance of our small grocery store in the small hillside town in Germany.
A horse tied to the bicycle rack at a German store in the 21st century is unexpected, only one or two steps down from a flying saucer with a couple of smiling little green men.

Several adults and a couple of kids stand there, looking, chattering.

This is another "f***, where is my cell phone" moment. You'll just have to believe me.

A few minutes of conversation with the owner, a young man in a bright orange safety vest, brings more context. The horse is calmly taking in the scenery, explained by the fact that they make the trip to the store on a regular basis. He plans to use the tall, strong male for hauling lumber.

You don't have to be familiar with the crazy goings-on of the Discovery Channel's series American Loggers to know that huge machinery is doing  the job these days.

And the young man is more than aware of this. There is no one around here who uses horses to haul lumber, he explains. I need to be careful and research well, because, if I mess up just once he'll refuse, and then I have a great but useless horse.

Rolling the shopping cart to the car, this overcast, drizzly quintessentially English feeling winter day feels outright joyful.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Poor Man's Whiskey plays Allman Brothers music in Sebastopol, CA, on 15 Feb.

If you happen to be near the San Francisco Bay Area to night, 15. February, go to see Poor Man's Whiskey at the Sebastopol Community Center.

They are doing a full evening of Allman Brothers Band music, and you will have so much fun!

The Sebastopol Community Center is so small that there no "bad seats", yet large enough for a good sized crowd while still leaving ample space for dancing.

If you cannot make it to California tonight, PMW is playing on the East Coast in April. You can find their full Spring Tour Schedule on the PMW web site.

Friday, February 14, 2014

[Update] Made in Germany: GEMA royalty enforcers hit Kiev Maidan web cam

The rights and royalty company GEMA out of Munich, Germany, is easily one of the most, if not the most, disliked German company.

GEMA is famous for a relentless heavy-handed attitude towards all things royalty, even taking on YouTube in court, making the YouTube experience for German users a course of "black screens of GEMA" channel surfing.

When people around here think they have seen a GEMA stunt that cannot possibly be topped, GEMA proves otherwise.

This time around, they blacked out the App "Euro-Maidan" which streams the events from Kiev, Ukraine.

This upset even conservative members of parliament, a traditionally GEMA favoring group. How can GEMA dare to block important political events?

Says GEMA: well, you may hear music for which we hold the German rights and hence want royalties, complain to YouTube to get the channel unblocked.

[Update] GEMA went to court in Munich, Germany, to make it very clear that GEMA is more than willing to have Germans view whatever may be available IF an appropriate fee is paid. Google previously offered GEMA a share of advertising revenue but the copyright guardians declined.
These glorified accountants are already hatching new plans for jacking up "royalty" fees for smartphones because you "can use them to store copyrighted content". We were surprised to find that they have not forced manufacturers of pencils and pens to pay a fee because you can use these devices to copy copyrighted material.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Made in Germany:new InstaScandal with Screw Top Lid

The comfortably boring "grand" coalition under Forever Chancellor Merkel (CDU) was jolted out of the Sotchi watching routine over the past few days.

It began with the surprise resignation of an SPD rising star politician and member of parliament, Mr. E., for health reasons. Since he had been out sick for several weeks, the surprise was tempered with some genuine worry.

A day later, on Monday, the police searched the home and office of the man. A reporter form a tiny local newspaper was present, tipped off by persons unknown.

The leaders of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) expressed their concern and called for a speedy appropriate investigation into as yet unknown allegations.
Then one of them referred to allegations of child pornography, saying she had read this in the media.

A couple of days later, it is revealed that the whole SPD leadership knew of an investigation since last October. Mr. Oppermann, the SPD whip, then said that the chief of the Federal Police had confirmed the investigation in a phone conversation.
Said the Chief: No, no, Mr. Oppermann called me and told me what he had heard. I did not confirm or volunteer any information.

As if this was not enough of a bombshell, it was revealed that the then interior secretary Friedrich (CSU) informed the social democrats during the negotiations for a new govermnent (Oct. 2013) that Mr. E. was under investigation.
Said the Friedrich: There was no talk of a criminal investigation, so it was quite okay to pass on information of "political importance".

We have provided a short version here. The circle of folks who knew since last October seems to be growing by the minute.

And the search?

One computer and some destroyed hard disks.

The prosecutor still has not released information on the allegations.

[Update] The prosecutor held a press conference this morning. The events look weirder again...the merits of the case may rest on "ambiguous wording" of the law. 

No new government debt - where will the money go?

Putting the brake on public debt has been all the rage for a while, and there are now laws in European countries mandating no new debts some five or six years from now.

The one question we have not seen discussed in the German mainstream media is this: Where will the money go that would otherwise have been invested in new government bonds?

Its not that German bonds issued in the aftermath of the Great Fuckup have offered attractive interest rates, to the contrary.

But the country still offered "investors" a place to put their money.

So, once that avenue of revenue is closed down, where will the 20 or so billion Euros (Germany alone) a year go?
The institutional investors going into government bonds are not known for stashing money in a mattress.

Who will be the target of the sloshing global flood of cash? The famous Brics allegedly are on the way to "a brac", pardon my French. The Chinese are sitting on mountains of U.S. money.

Will a single hedge fund buy up all of Greece?

Will the money be used to buy up firms and natural resources?

Will the better off European countries run a surplus and give back to their people?

It is going to be interesting to watch....

French afraid of Germans? Once again?

The other day, our French speaking contributor who wants to be known only by the nickname Frank O. Phon perused some French web sites and saw news about French anxiety caused by their neighbors to the East.

Oh my.

It turned out to be only one German they are afraid of. That German is Mr. Hartz whose name is the inofficial name of the reforms that established Germany as a leader in the race to the bottom of social security in the early 2000s.

We do not know if the conviction of Mr. Hartz in 2007 for some serious corruption and fraud falls under "nobody is perfect" or hints at a more generic approach to life and politics, so we stick with the first interpretation.

Given that Germany's politicians and employers both touted the reforms as a glowing success (rebuked recently by a serious study), Mr. Hartz, like any proud father, even if the baby is a bit of a Shrek, travels the continent to show off the progeny.

He seems to stick largely to the northern reaches of Europe, why would that be?

Anyway, the French blogosphere reported a sighting of the man on the way to Paris. Apparently, he was not going to the city of lights for the Moulin Rouge but for a can-can with the government.

Stubbornly clinging to these strange values of a long gone revolution, the French fear that it might fall to a "liberal" government to take the axe to the labor and social security system deemed too cumbersome and burdensome by the freewheeling marketeers.

We understand that the fear of this axe being offered by a convicted German criminal makes it worse. But hey, take solace in the prospect that it may be a liberal "socialist" administration that helps put the country on the way to eternal prosperity.

What, you want Sarko back?

Ah, les Francais!

From social safety net to social G-string

Are you not fed up already with us harping about marginalized folks in a rich country like Germany?

We admit: the main reason for this specific post is our dumb pride in coming up with the title.

Yet, the title is adequate. A G-string often exposes things you really, really would prefer not to see.

Germany took the hedge clippers to its social safety net and out came a homemade G-string, not even an Ives Saint Laurent or Ralph Lauren one. Nope, one ugly ass (pardon the pun) G-string it is.

And it is a one size fits all! You get the image?

We already pointed out that one problem with those cuts is the absence of a non-governmental support system. The churches handing out food, the food banks, the small outfits like Food not Bombs, they were not needed around here, and now the country does not have them.

To be sure, there is one food charity called "Die Tafel" (the table), where some of the groceries close to expiration date from our local supermarket go. We ran into a couple of old German guys receiving some groceries at the loading dock of a nearby store.

They were almost apologetic when they lowered their voices to explain they were making a pickup for Die Tafel a couple of towns over!

Even at Die Tafel, food is not completely free. They still charge you a buck or so for a bag of food, and you have to show papers proving you are on means tested benefits.

Another reason for why the situation is dire is that German approach to doing things, both good and bad.
So, they took the idea of means testing and implemented it "the German way", need we say more?

While we are dealing with social benefits images, the Germans have the term "soziale Hängematte" (social hammock, or benefits hammock, "welfare queens"), a liberally used insult towards people on the means tested Hartz-IV or SSI regime.

Obviously, hammock evokes an image of leisure, of white beaches and palm trees, of free flowing booze and friendly young ladies, especially in a country without white beaches and palm trees, although they have the booze and the friendly young ladies.

Middle aged while males sipping a colada, leering at the ladies in the lei, while the industrious folks back home go to work in the dark and the cold, it is a powerful image.

Flat wages, lots of "not enough to live on" jobs, higher fees, taxes, drastically cut pensions, and that German way of doing things...

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Leading by example

Another post caused by neurons going rogue. Or by the two remaining sane shows on commercial U.S. TV?
NPR and PBS are totally sane, so much so that they drive their detractors crazy.

We have some vague recollection of journalists putting American CEOs to the test. Was it the Ford Motors CEO who actually did an oil change?

Which big IT company CEO didn't know what a floppy disk was?

Was it LPOD who couldn't code his way out of a paper bag, or are we confusing this with some other acronym?

We have seen people doing some great leading by example. The German roofer boss spent a half day up there with some of his crew and swung a mean hammer.

We saw the general go down in a foxhole. Afterwards, to his credit, he took the two grunts to the side for a nice chat. Which was followed by the grunts picking up the Tool, Digging, Manual again.

Now I remember. The water boarding, again. Does anybody have a video or a selfie of Dick C. going down on the board, grabbing the rag, slapping it on his face and grumbling: c'mon boys, let's do that?

Well, we didn't miss anything then.

Our thoughts are with the young project manager who once said: the engineers told me it took three days, can you believe my face when I found out it took them three hours?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

German bad words: Gutmensch

This one caused a few neurons to misfire and requires a stern warning to all non-German speaking folks on the planet.

Do not address any German as "Gutmensch"! Ever!

Let's defrag the compound before we explain. "Gut" is "good", "Mensch" is "Person, or Mensch".

Put it together, and you get an insult.

That's right, Gutmensch is an insult, kind of an anti-German member of the kumbaya brigade, someone who puts the well-being of any stray foreigner over the well-being of any German. Beyond the xenophobic, Gutmenschen are all those throwing their support behind any lost cause irregardless of the rational or of common sense.

The tricky thing about this term is that it is awfully close to a compliment. If you want to tell that German friend of yours that he or she is a good person, you'd say something like "du bist ein guter Mensch".

See, there is "gut" and "Mensch".

What a difference a space makes.

If using Gutmensch to insult a single German is not enough, no worry, there is a modified term to insult the whole darned segment of Gutmenschen in the population.

The plural "Gutmenschen" is okay, but to really alienate enough people, use "Gutmenschentum".

The suffix "-tum" gives any word a more comprehensive, more abstract and thus more elevated meaning with more authority to it.

The adventurous among you who know how to use Twitter or the FBook might be tempted to tweet something with "Gutmenschentum" in it.

Do not do it!

We have more than 30 years of combined experience in linguistic special effects, and if we tell you not to do it, you should heed the advice.

[Update 5/18/2017] For unknown reasons, German liberal weekly DIE ZEIT had a major piece on "Gutmenschen" in today's print edition. They were nice enough to put one of the articles on their web site. The paper chose the persona of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons as the embodiment of a Gutmensch.
The subtitle of the paper says "Whey they are a pain - and yet we need them".

[Update 11 Feb] Der Ausländer im eigenen Land - Rückkehr in den Freizeitpark Schland

Die Gastarbeiter-Multikulti-Migrations-Einwanderungsdebatte geht mir auf den Geist.

Es war vor der Rückkehr ins nun Schland genannte Land klar, das Deutschland von damals würde nicht mehr existieren.

Es würde so viel Neues auf mich zukommen!


Nur wenig hat sich verändert. Äußerlichkeiten wie die Rechtschreibung, die mir wohlgemerkt egal ist. Es gibt sogar ein Internet.
Und die Autos sind neu weil die Regierung aus Angst eine Abwrackprämie gezahlt hat. Wunderschöne Autobahnen gibt es dort, wo einmal ein anderes Land im Osten war.
Diejenigen unter unseren Soldaten, denen schon damals der Abzugsfinger juckte, die haben mittlerweile ihren Willen bekommen. Die Polizei ist immer noch fast blind auf dem rechten Auge.
Es wird etwas weniger gedrängelt auf der Autobahn! Fehlanzeige, das war nur wg. der LKWs. An Wochenenden und auf freier Wildbahn geht die Sau immer noch ab.

Meine Nachbarn loben mich für meine Deutschkenntnisse: Ihr Deutsch ist aber gut, wo haben Sie das denn gelernt?

Ich federe die zu erwartende Verlegenheit mit einem grossen freundlichen Lächeln ab: ich bin in Deutschland geboren.

Meine alten Freunde und Schulkameraden sind da, wo sie vor zwanzig Jahren waren, manche ein wenig reifer, manche ein wenig toter.

Vereine sind immer noch vereint, Feste werden immer noch feste gefeiert.

Ansonsten: das Soziale, ob mit großem oder kleinem S, ist auf der größeren Ebene futsch.

Trotz eines in Vietnam geborenen Ministers, eines Bürgermeisters afrikanischer Herkunft, trotz indischer Schwestern, die im Pflegeheim deutsche Ärsche schrubben und deutsche Seelen heilen.

Die Früchte des alten Zorns wurden seit etwa 2000 geerntet.

Gegenüber den einheimischen weniger Gebildeten, gegenüber den Gastarbeitern, die blieben, gegenüber den neuen Osteuropäern, gegenüber Afrikanern und sonstigen.

Die schwachsinnigen Artikel der Bildzeitung, die verlogenen fremdenfeindlichen aber doch nur ums Gemeinwohl besorgten Politiker, die vielleicht nicht einmal böse gemeinten Einschnitte ins soziale Netz, die an den Rand gedrängten ärmeren Deutschen -- all das ist so präsent wie früher. Gesetze, deren Sprachkreativität den Amerikanern mit ihrem Guantanamo ist ja Kuba in absolut nichts nachsteht.

"Die Türken" mag man immer noch nicht so recht, dabei sind die Sprachbarrieren und kulturellen Unterschiede kaum größer als die zwischen Ostfriesen und Bayern in den 60er Jahren des vergangen armseligen Jahrhunderts.

Sarrazin ist zwischenzeitlich geschehen, mein Gott, wie konnte so einer jemals Karriere machen? Ooops, da spricht der Ausländer in mir. Der deutsche Teil weiß Bescheid. Ein wenig schwindlig wird es bei der Erkenntnis, dass Deutschland ja im Zweiten Weltkrieg auch so schwer gelitten hat und General Paulus nun im Der Spiegel Online offiziell ein Feigling ist -- das haben unsere Altnazis im Freizeitpark nur unter uns oder nach zwei oder drei Maß'n gewagt. Der Redakteur des Bayerischen Rundfunks, der uns mit einem fröhlichen "Genscher ist garantiert ein Spion" unterhielt. Tiefbraune Bremspuren der Geschichte. Abgeordnetenbestechung ist immer noch nicht geregelt, buy one - get one free?

Es gibt ja eine Willkommenskultur!

Hätte ich doch glatt vergessen. Es stimmt, die Passbeamten in Frankfurt waren eine angenehme Überraschung, und unser Ausländeramt mag ich auch - hoffentlich noch lange.

Politisch sieht die Willkommenskultur anders aus...aber wie?

Das erste Bild, das mir einfällt, ist Fred Feuerstein mit einer Keule am Höhleneingang.

Nun das Gelabere von der Bringschuld der Ausländer. Das Geschwätz vom Verständnis für die besorgten Einheimischen.

Das elendige Geplärre von Problemvierteln, wo man verkennt, dass jene sinnlos verprassten Steuergräber wie Stuttgart 21 und das verschwundene Geld jener elitären Kleinbürger, die sich als Elite der Gesellschaft ausgeben, das hätte mehr als gereicht, um Probleme zu mindern.

Deutsch lernen müssen sie per Gesetz!

Die echten Ausländer in meiner Familie freuen sich über Deutschland, über das Leben hier. Auch deshalb, weil sie nicht jeden Tag befürchten müssen auf der Strasse überfallen zu werden, auch nicht in Gebieten wo die deutsche Polizei nicht gerne hingeht.

Solche Gebiete nannte man bei uns, raten Sie mal?

Die Nachbarschaft.

Ehrlich gesagt, manchmal wünsche ich mir, dass die Familie kein Deutsch lernt.

Damit ich nicht den Unterschied zwischen Gutmensch und gutem Mensch erklären muß. Damit sie die abfälligen Bemerkungen nicht verstehen. Damit sie sich weiter freuen können, in diesem Land zuhause zu sein.

Es gibt in dieser zugewanderten Familie nur einen Ausländer.

Seit 2000 Jahren im Land, und trotzdem immer noch Ausländer.

[Update 11.2.] Leser Malle weist auf das gelungene Integrationspeispiel der Deutschen auf Malle (der Insel) hin. Die Bringschuld wird in Euro beglichen und Allemann sprechen perfekt Spanisch.  AOK-Office gibt's auch. Die deutschsprachige Zeitung soll "die Spanier von einer eventuellen Sprachbelastung befreien".

The feisty number zero

Some blog post topics appear out of nothing.

The number 0.

There is nothing like 0, and 0 may mean nothing to some people.

Other numbers may be imbued with positive or negative sentiments and connotations, such as 3 or 7, or 4 in some cultures.

Zero is the most versatile, most positive and most negative number out there, if you think about it.

Even its shape has meaning. There is the roundish, rolly polly 0 of some fonts and cultures. There is the slender, almost angular zero of the Calvinist font called "Helvetica", and there is the Pam Anderson zero which we call 8.

Zero can mean cultural perfection, as in the dress size 0, or in the shoe size 0 of Chinese foot binding. The latter reveals the dark, cruel side of zero. If your food budget for the rest of this month is 0, you are seeing the cruel side. If you have zero hope or zero friends, the number 0 spells depression.

Zero can spell true peace in such sentences as "the number of stupid politicians in this country is zero", or when no one was murdered last year in your city.

Zero is a number used to trap and bait. Zero down, zero interest can eventually cost you your house, your family, or even your life.

Zero day exploits can not only pierce your online privacy, there too, the zero can make the difference between rich and poor.

Zero customer complaints in the last month is perfect.

Unless the number of customers was also zero, of course.

Zero, together with its really awkward cousin 1, has made this post possible because these two run the internet and the world.

Zero is the number of zen, of choice, of free will. You can go either way, you have not embarked on a journey yet.

Or the number of boredom. I have zero interest in working some more on this post.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Swiss immigrantion vote: The Germans are feeling unloved

Sunday's narrow vote in Switzerland with 50.3%in favor of re-instituting immigration quotas caused some upset in Germany's political class.

Switzerland is not part of the European Union but has a wide array of agreements on trade and the "free" movement of people which will now have to be revisited.

Switzerland, despite having a whooping 23% of first generation immigrants, was accused of putting up a wall, of reneging on vital agreements and so forth by the Germans who have a foreigner percentage of 9.1%.

Why so much upset by the Germans?

First, they are the biggest group of foreigners in Switzerland at about 300 000 in a country of just around 8 million.

Second, German mainstream politicians fear that the recent debate about "benefits tourism" may be revived and taint the carefully crafted image of the "welcoming nation".

Third, and probably worst, the vote by their southern neighbor reminds Germans that they, too, are foreigners.

The Germans are being treated by the Swiss like the Germans treat other non-European Union immigrants. Roll out the welcome mat for the unicorns - the elusive highly qualified in-demand immigrants while trying to keep everybody else out.

It is biblical and hilarious.

And with EU wide elections to the European Parliament due this spring, the don't rock the boat crowd is getting a bit worried.

By Monday afternoon, the PR and messaging specialists of Germany's main parties had settled on a more conciliatory strategy. The gist of the newly mature approach is: The vote is a setback but you have to understand the Swiss, their situation is different.

This should calm down everyone, given that the last two times the Germans felt unloved did not turn out well.

Clipping grass in the yard with scissors

Imagine a stooped figure in the yard clipping what passes as grass in a northern European winter.

Even in England, home of the eccentric, you'd find neighbors peeking over the fence to get a better look.

That same scene in Germany may be outright weird unless, of course, you are the one doing the clipping because you know the purpose.

The cats want their greens.

They ask for it, and if you know cats, you understand why someone would be out there pushing aside snow like a hungry deer.

The grass in the yard is not fancy, no soft kitty grass, no yummy delicate shoots but they love it. 

They assemble in the kitchen as soon as the plate is picked up. They watch the few dried leaves from yesterday get dumped in the compost bin.

When the day's crop comes in, they start to circle the bearer of the plate and as soon as the plate is back on the floor, they sit down, take a quick sniff and munch their greens.

Rundfunkbeitrag: Petition an den Landtag

Mittlerweile sind Antworten vom Bürgerbeauftragten und der Landesrundfunkanstalt eingetroffen.

Beide waren recht nett.

Die Grundaussagen entsprachen im wesentlichen den Erwartungen, d.h. es steht im Gesetz, dass nur Bescheide nach SGB bzw. ALGII als Befreiungsgrundlage für Einkommensverhältnisse gelten. Der Gesetzgeber hat das so gewollt.

Auf gut Deutsch: Sie sind Ausländer und haben aufgrund anderer Gesetze keinen Anspruch auf ALGII, dann haben Sie eben Pech gehabt. Selbst wenn Sie nur 500 Euro in der Tasche haben.

Ein Konflikt mit der "Sicherung des Lebensunterhalts" nach dem Ausländergesetz wurde verneint: Ihr Lebensunterhalt ist gesichert, also müssen Sie den Rundfunkbeitrag zahlen. 

Nun zum Interessanten an beiden Schreiben: es wurde nicht behauptet, dass die Befreiung vom Rundfunkbeitrag eine Sozialleistung sei.

Allerdings wurde auch nicht gesagt: Sie haben Recht, es handelt sich um einen "Sozialtarif".

Eine Petition an den Petitionsausschuß des Landtags ist der nächste Schritt.

Es wäre gut, wenn eine gerechtere Form des Beitrags möglich wäre. Dummerweise geht es längst nicht mehr nur um die Finanzierung des öffentlich-rechtlichen Rundfunks. Mittlerweile wurde der Beitrag ausgedehnt auf diverse Förderungsmaßnahmen, und sogar eine Förderung privater Angebote ist im Gespräch.

Was am meisten erstaunt ist der Wegfall jeder Verhältnismäßigkeit. Das Rechtsgutachten, das als Grundlange für die Bezeichnung "Beitrag" diente, erwähnt sehr wohl den Anteil an offenkundig "fremden" Leistungen für die Medienanstalten und bezeichnet die Beitragshöhe als "gering".

Meine Rundfunkanstalt bezeichnet einen Einkommensteuerbescheid "lediglich als Indiz" und "nicht als Nachweis".

Was wohl meine Krankenkasse sagen wird, die den Beitrag jedes Jahr nach dem Einkommensteuerbescheid festsetzt?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Why are there no exit interviews for countries?

A few weeks ago, Germany published its annual migration statistics, with just over 1 million people coming in and just over 700 000 leaving the country.

As in previous years, all the attention was on the new arrivals. The fact that 400 000 more moved to Germany than left was generally seen as positive given that the population of the country is set to decline and the economy is doing well.

Much was made of highly qualified immigrants from other European countries. Emphasizing that newcomers often have better education than the natives is meant to alleviate fears of low-income Germans about job competition and stress the positive effect for "global competitiveness".

As in previous years, we at the K-Landnews looked at the other number: who leaves why?

Unsurprisingly, there is no comprehensive answer. It would appear that everybody accepts the old standard "in search for a better life" if they are interested at all.

We did quite a bit of googling to get a better picture of emigrants found a fairly large group of migrants or their children going back to their home countries. On any given Sunday morning on Italian town squares, you see old folks going after the traditional Sunday business, exchanging stories and having a good time when suddenly the language flips to German for a minute or two and then going back to Italian, leaving you with an eerie feeling of "did I really hear what I just heard".

Other groups move on to other countries, like the Bosnians who took refuge in Germany from a civil war and then found they were no longer wanted.  Many of them headed for the United States.

But what about those supposedly prized immigrants like the Chinese woman with a German passport who is now somewhere in Silicon Valley?

It seems to be a national case of out of sight out of mind.

This approach is expressed in the amount of paperwork related to the two moves. When you arrive as a prospective resident, the government wants to know as much as possible about you.

When you leave, they don't ask any questions.

Should countries do an exit interview when you split? We think they should and also think they won't. Wikipedia says about an exit interview: An organization can use the information gained from an exit interview to assess what should be improved, changed, or remain intact.

Of course, no country is really interested in this. Or can you imagine an exit interview report in Russia summarizing that the recent anti-gay laws impair the creative arts sector by driving artists abroad? Or a Chinese report telling the rulers that press censorship has measurable negative economic effects? Or a German report giving hard numbers on how many excellent workers have had enough of an overbearing bureaucracy? Or a report in the U.S. telling the government that there is just too much violence?

In the unlikely case you know of exit interviews for one of the main Western countries, drop us an email. We'll share our opinion.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Celtic traffic planning

The Celts, though long gone as a discernible community around here, have left us a few things.

For one, there is an incredible number of Celtic burial mounds in the woods around here.

And there are roads.

As much as it saddens us, we have come to the conclusion that their traffic planning sucked. Especially compared to the Romans. Our Roman roads went straight wherever the terrain allowed, you can see it to these days on the high plains in our hills and in the fatlands along the river.

Very different, Celtic roads meandered through the landscape. There is one stretch in particular on a nice, flat high plain - it winds through the fields as if done by the early 21st century "slow down the traffic flow" guys. But it has been like this for eons.

The stretch in question has enough curves to make a great test road for drunk drivers. I'd love to know how many Germans have driven their vehicles into the shallow drainage ditches on either side after a Saturday night of booze and women.

We have tried to imagine how the road came to have its shape and came up with something like this.

Two Celts are walking through the fields.

Says one: Why is this road so winding, would be better if it were straight!

Says the other: Last time someone tried a shortcut, the chief messed with his goat.


I tell you, messed with the guy's goat!

As in....?

Yes, man, as in...!

Having some sort of explanation makes driving this road more enjoyable.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

German bad words: Mitmachdemokratie

While you can break down the compound Mitmachdemokratie into "mitmachen" (participate) and "Demokratie" (democracy), running with "participatory democracy" would be utterly incorrect.

Much like the innocent looking "amigo" for corruption and nepotism, Mitmachdemokratie is a bad word.

It is used as a term of derision, of utter contempt by those Germans who make a good living slinging satire on bland public TV and radio.

These guys doing sat ire (our description of their non-humor) are ridiculing people who believe that just casting a ballot for some politician every four years is not all that democracy is about. Mitmachdemokratie, they holler with a smirk and a nod to the powerful. A quarter of a million people sign an online petition? Mitmachdemokratie!! We are good, we say it as it is, more nodding to peeps who hold the purse.

The concept of making your voice heard in the four years between elections seems to be strange at best to a crop of comedians that make your average cold war USO comedy show look like the American Revolution 2.0.

Grudgingly, we admit that it works out for them. They would scream if they knew we think of them as nothing but second rate jesters at the court of the elect.
Second rate because they don't have to fear for their life if a joke falls flat. The worst that can happen to them is to receive a plain "medal of merit" instead of the "medal of merit au cordon black red and golden".

Naked numbers: almost 50% increase in Eastern European Hartz-IV recipients

We have more useless figures, originally from German tabloid Bild, refashioned by Die Welt.

They report that the number of Eastern European recipients of the basic social benefits regime Hartz-IV has increased by almost 50% in the year October 2012 to October 2013.

Once past the scary headline, you get a graph calling out Rumanians and Bulgarians in relation to "all foreigners" and "population total".

The Rumanians come in at 7.5%. That is a mere 0.1% above the "population total". Not much to report here.

The numbers for Bulgarians have seen a substantial increase from somewhere over 10% (the graph omits the exact number) to 14.8%.
Which is still below the "all foreigners" value of 16.8%.

The article basically says Bulgarians and Rumanians are still under the "all foreigners" percentage.

But you cannot get a lot of attention saying that, can you?

And the total number of immigrants from these two countries is....not given in the article.

The biggest number we find is 41 999 as the number of people from these two countries collecting Hartz-IV at the end of October 2013.

Given that the number of people holding a job in Germany at that time was about 41 million,  the dire warnings of huge numbers of immigrants from Bulgaria and Rumania swamping the German social safety net have been a bit overblown.

And those 42 000 also include people working a "450 euro a month mini job" and receiving some Hartz-IV to bring them up to the minimum for survival.

Our favorite English bard could do a contemporary "Much ado about nothing" on the subject.

One more thing:
Should we give Kudos to Die Welt for closing the reader comment section after a mere two unfriendly - towards the foreigners, of course - article?
Or should we be less charitable to Die Welt? After all, reporting like this may well contribute to the notion they are coming for our money.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Before tax, after tax - death is still certain, taxes not so much

From our People-are-People series.

After old time German soccer icon and manager of Bayern Munich, Mr. Hoeness, had some bad press last year when untaxed money came to light, we made fun of the story.

In recent months, more public figures were outed as squirrels with money on which they did not pay tax. Most, if not all, had the cash stashed in Switzerland. The Germans had negotiated a tax deal with the Swiss where the latter would withhold a lump sum of 25% taxes on gains in German-held accounts and send the money to the German government.

The deal fell through.

When one or more enterprising Swiss IT guys sold a CD containing details of German held accounts to German state officials, the number of Germans who went to their tax office and reported undeclared money in return for not being prosecuted rose.

Then, just days ago, another icon of Germany, feminist Alice Schwarzer, was outed as one of these people.

Her apology, though, ignited a firestorm.  She called her account a mistake caused by fear in the 1980s that she might have to leave the country. There was so much hate back then, she said, now I paid the taxes and a fine, and I am upset with this breach of privacy.

One of her mantras was "the private is political". Her detractors, of course, pointed out that her public role does make this private matter political.

Anyhow, right on the heels of this, the Berlin city culture department chief was outed, too. Matters in his case were made worse by the fact that his boss, the powerful mayor of Berlin, knew since the deal was struck in 2012, yet kept his friend in office.

The list of recent prominent figures in Germany with tax issues includes such moral figureheads as the former publisher of Die Zeit and others.

Never much liked by the public, the steady flow of revelations has initiated a debate about whether to change the old policy of "come forward and we will not prosecute".

Personally, there is not much to say. All of this is so far remote from the small time earner writing the post.  As a friend said, if I had half a million dollars in the bank, I'd be happy to pay taxes on the earnings. Our resident cynic replied: yes, just goes to show that you will never have that much money to your name.

Of bad radio and bad food

Our involuntary immersion into the grosser points of "public" radio and TV in Germany led us to food.

Not food for thought, the physical stuff served on plates and in bowls, the food called chow by some, delicacies by others.

While bad radio and bad food both can have adverse health effects, the relationship is deeper on an organizational level. Not the too many cooks idiom, please...

Once upon a time, there was a canteen in a large industrial facility. A young worker, fresh off the boat, was taken around by a chaperone to learn the layout.

This is the canteen, the food is pretty bad and expensive, too. 


It will be a lot better starting next week, for about a month or so. The contract is up for renewal, and the executives will start to show up and have lunch there. So, the contractor is serving good food.

This is not the first time?

It happens every April, and once they have the extension, the executives have their lunch somewhere else and the quality of the canteen food goes back to crap.

We, the holier than thou and self-proclaimed smart people at the K-Landnews, believe we have seen something similar in Germany in the controversy about the Radio and TV License fee.

A bloated, overpaid organization ramping up its PR effort and going all out to get some sort of scoop in order to show the politicians how wonderful German public broadcasting is. Well worth its "barely adequate" public funding of some 10 billion dollars a year.

Note that one of those politicians wrote a news article the other day about how the bulk collection of all communications metadata is absolutely necessary in the face of the "gigantic" damages of 5 billion dollars a year cybercrime inflicts on the German economy.

And so it goes, the intellectual fast food served by German public TV is passed off as marvelous, and most people swallow like the baby birds swallow the regurgitated food served by their parents.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Annual Jackboot Remembrance Day & the Munich Security Conference

The annual Munich Security Conference is an important event, and there have been years in its 50 year life when it was critical in moving international policies ahead.

At the same time, here in Germany, the conference has for decades been accompanied by what I finally, in a fit of apoplectic exasperation, decided to call "Annual Jackboot Remembrance Day".

In the German media, each and every single year, a slew of articles pop up about how Germany needs to assert itself on the international stage. The New York Times used the euphemistic "robust", but several national publications here were more direct: more military intervention abroad behooves the high regard of Germany and its economic might.

This year, a thoughtful speech by the German president fueled the Germans to the front camp even more than usual.

It seems obvious but is never mentioned: when an international conference takes place, the host country always gets praise that is part well meant part plain politeness and ritual. Is the Germans to the front camp aware of this? Do they simply latch on to the "hey, you guys are great and strong" song to further their agenda?

The only cautioning voice calling "not so fast" we have seen this year comes from Robert Leicht in Die Zeit.

Let's hope that our hyper sensitivity this year stems from the bad aftertaste of the German talk show host asking the Auschwitz survivor "warum haben Sie sich nicht gewehrt" and not from real underlying policies of the German government.

Yes, I know what a uniform is. No, none of your business. Some boots on the ground are better than others:  Vom Offizier zum Missionar, 1991.

[Update 2/10/2016]
Told you so.
In today's FAZ, an article under the headline "Don't let Moscow decide" reports on efforts by the conservative Christian Democrats to change the legal framework that governs German military operations in foreign countries. Right now, the only options are "collective defense", which means when NATO is attacked or under UN mandate. The former was used to justify involvement in the Balkans and, more importantly Afghanistan. The latter has been used for a number of peacekeeping operations.
German conservatives now say, well, this means, for example, we cannot intervene in Syria or in a situation like Iraq because none of the two legal frameworks apply, so any intervention would be illegal.
Instead of refraining from an illegal intervention, what do they want? Add a broad definition of defending "national security interests", which can be all around the world.... 

All chiefs and no Indians: German employers whine

Apologies to Running Wolf and Jerry, you know what the headline biz is like.

Germany is running out of manual laborers and non-college workers!

The country is also running out of Germans, out of internet, and social cohesion, but we'll do these later.

About a year ago, the media reported that decades of scarcity in vocational training openings definitely were a thing of the past. Even kids with average grades have choices these days, triumphed the press.

More openings than applicants is a situation the main association of employers hates.

The association has one clear culprit: more Germans than ever go to college instead of the typically three year vocational training.

Because this is a toxic argument, we'll tell you why the association got it all wrong. Apparently even a three year course in barking up trees does not prevent you from going for the wrong kind of arbor.

First and foremost, this association is responsible for ever higher schooling requirements for the vocational sector.
It used to be that 8 years of school were enough for virtually all jobs in the sector. A few required 10 years, none required what Americans know as high school (12 or 13 years).

With a shortage of places and more technical complexity, the employers pushed up the schooling requirement, the states scrapped the 8 year basic and made it 9 years. These days, a 9 year degree will likely land you in a "remedial program" because you are not considered fit for the real vocational training.

The plum jobs are for the 12 year graduates, and the 10 year students still have some opportunities.

Better educated youngsters for the same price as the previous 8 year grads and an unlimited supply of eager workers -- it worked out so well for the employers that warnings about the effect of a lower birth rate fell on deaf ears.

As the situation tightened, Germany finally reduced some of career barriers that had developed under the strictly separated education system. If you quit school as an 8 year graduate, there was very little chance of ever going to college. You were in a box, and you stayed there.

In other countries, we would call this a caste system.

Anyway, nowadays your 10 year school plus vocational training allows you to go to college, so who says you cannot change a calcified system?

Which does not change the basic numbers: more vocational sector openings than candidates.

Employers have gone from a glut of resumes to - behold - actually having to read them and to reach out to young people.

In the seriously patriarchical and testosterone fuelled manual labor field, the need to convince young people to join your company is often seen as an insult. So, you need something to blame it on.

Make that college.

Why are we sending all these kids to college, which is still free at state schools, mind you. We, the backbone of German industry and society struggle. The government needs to stop giving free college education to kids who can afford to pay their own way.


The "guild" system, with some tough never mentioned legal support by the Nazis, does produce handymen that are the envy of other countries. But...

But it is so inflexible. Why in the world should my barber have to do three years of barbing before being let loose on my hair?

If I want to talk astrophysics with the barber, guess what, my American front porch barber in the ghetto was more fun in the astrophysics department than my German pro barber.

Supply and demand works both ways. After hundreds of years of "shut up and work", German kids finally have a choice.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An online petition, an Auschwitz survivor, and a digital lynch mob

German "public" TV land saw a huge controversy in the past two weeks embroiling not only the talk show host at the center of it but sweeping through all media with unexpected ferocity.

On Jan 16, smooth talking host Markus Lanz, seconded by an editor from Der Stern, interviewed Die Linke politician Sarah Wagenknecht.

The host was not polite, interrupting, changing the subject to such important questions as "how much money did you make" -- in short, he was a dick.

A viewer was not pleased and started a petition on German petition site openpetition, demanding "Get Lanz out of my TV license fee". 

In the ensuing Twitter storm (tag #lanz) many supported the petition, and many attacked it. The attack left out the "TV license fee" part, thus re-branding the petition as "ad hominem", "digital lynch mob" and more.

The coup de dumbass by the defenders of the poor misunderstood talk show host was the Nazi comparison by the publisher of DIE ZEIT, a Mr. Joffe.

Reminiscent of the Nazi campaign against Jews, Mr. Joffe wrote of the petition.  While he was squarely trapped in the "Get Lanz out" part of the petition title, we were rattled by the Nazi comparison.

We went through more tweets and found one that pointed to an earlier show by Mr. Lanz in 2013. In the show, he asks an Auschwitz survivor "why did you not resist?" (from minute 7, sec 50).

We listened to a little more of this interview and heard him use the term "Bauernschläue" to describe how the young prisoner had used her wits to survive. Bauernschläue (peasant smarts) is a loaded term, meaning "cunning" but implying "not very intelligent in general". 

A few clicks on other Mr. Lanz hosted shows convinced us that the man is no Bill Moyers, no Tavis Smiley, no Charlie Rose.

We do feel a little sad that German public TV executives think having pretty boys like Mr. Lanz do talk shows is a good use of billions in public funding every year.

Maybe Germany has become a country like any other some 69 years after the liberation of Auschwitz?

How else can a German talk show host feel no shame and ask "warum haben Sie sich nicht gewehrt?"

Define "Passport"

Germany has been discussing dual citizenship in earnest for a good two decades and the new government wants to make it easier for immigrants and their children to hold dual citizenship.

The debate has been lively and weird, and an article by a German scholar in Die Welt fuels the arguments by claiming the plans are no more than a blind giveaway of citizenship.

Historically, to be a German citizen, one of your parents must have been German. This excluded children of immigrants, a situation that grew so bad that the government relented and put a "make your choice" system in place. Children of non-citizens were given the choice between their parents' citizenship and German citizenship as young adults.

Plans to extend this are being ridiculed as going from "being German" to "also German". "Germans' sense as a nation is broken", says the scholar author of the article, calling for greater "integration" of immigrants.

The reader comments in Die Welt support his views with the exception of one.

So, does Germany have a problem with diversity?

Yes, but not in the sense you'd first think.

We at the K-Landnews like to think that the immense pressure on immigrants is really a reflection of the fact that there has never been a German nation in the "legal theory" sense of the word.

What is a passport then?

A travel document the government can take away from you rendering you about as free as a cow in a feed lot?

A symbol of belonging to a bigger entity, a culture, a community of shared values and history?