Saturday, May 31, 2014

"All you can eat restaurant" or "Culinary Flatrate"

Germans love what they call "Flatrate" or "<name of service> Flat".

It is yet another Anglo word you find in Germany in abundance. Don't they have a German word for that?

Sure do, like "pauschal", "alles inklusive", and more. Yet, they flat out use flat in a way not flattering to the English language.

From fancy sounding mobile phone provider ads, Flat, or Flatrate, has moved into other areas of German life and gone ugly.

The latest mutant we saw was for water rates. A utility company wanted the county to appprove a "Wasser Flatrate" ("Wasser" meaning water).

Would you have guessed that the flat rate entailed a steep price hike?

You did, good.

The German population is shrinking, think Detroit light, if you will. Empty neighborhoods are being razed in some cities, services want to maintain their level of revenue despite losing customers.

So, they ask for more and more "flat" rates, which is expertly f####ed in the case of water. Germans have been metering water for many decades. They do this with such precision that the utility company replaces old water meters at every single customer every few years!

After metering to the last drip for half a century, proposing a flat rate is nothing short of bureaucratic voodoo.

If a flat rate, independent of how much you actually use, does not sound too bad, bear in mind that sewer fees are billed extra. Which means you can find yourself paying sewage fees on water you never bought in the first place.

The most egregious argument for a flat rate is that Germans have been good at saving water. So good in fact that sewer lines can get a bit stagnant during the summer months and start to smell bad.

Do like Paris, France, and flush the streets then, makes them cleaner, too!

German utilities do not like the idea because it lacks the "money for nothing" revenue model of the flat rate.

Utilities and other companies must be desperate for fresh cash in a country where "All you can eat restaurants" exist in smaller numbers than wild wolves. Hint: there are around 100 wild wolves.

If someone were to open a restaurant boasting a "Culinary Flatrate" would they go broke?

Does craving fresh cash make people flatline intellectually?

Communicate with cats & beat the web trolls!

Can we still suggest a name for the upcoming real time monitoring of social media by the German foreign intelligence service BND?

What, you cannot tell us if the suggestion period is still open, 'cause of de zecracy?

And we had the perfect name: Operation Breadcrumbs straight out of the Brothers Grimm Haensel & Gretel.

Come on, got to admit it is not bad.

Short of learning the dolphin click language, how can you at least pretend to have some privacy on the web?

You can make like the Chinese and hand write a message on a paper which you then scan in and send. You'll know if it worked or not when some uniform kicks down your door. Alternatively, you can embrace your German cultural heritage and learn the Suetterlin script. Which would show that surveillance can have so many benefits.

Or you can use mother nature's captcha called cats.

If you understood mother nature's captcha without clicking on the link to find out what it could be, chances are you are a computer literate cat person.

In which case you also know that nature loves putting letters on cats in the form of stripes.

Our very on Cowboy cat sported, I kid you not, the word "HOT" on one side and a passable German translation on the other side of his body.

This means, if you get enough usable cat pictures from the internet with reasonably well defined words, you can wish your favorite auntie a Merry Christmas by sending the appropriate cat photos.

As Google and other search engines will tell you, there are so many cat pictures on the web that we are confident you will find all the letters of the English alphabet if you just browse long enough.

You can make a game out of it for your kids, for instance, or for your teenage sons to get the latter away from the nekid ladies on the web.

Or turn it into an art project and become famous as the first person to piece together the American Constitution out of cat "letter" photos.

When TheEditor ran the story of HOT cat by a friend, the friend laughed and said, now that you say that, I recall a friend of mine had a cat whose stripes said LSD, really.

You do not need to stop with cats, either.

Musical notation works, too. At least, when you get locked up in some gulag, you can pass time with music.

And if you do use Operation Breadcrumbs, be nice and credit us so the world won't find out you nicked the name when someone leaks the docs, thanks.

[Update: told you so] Not enough inflation in Europe? Are we on the same planet?

Over the last several months, economic experts in Europe have been warning about a danger of not inflation but deflation.

Consumer prices rose little, they said, and raw materials for goods were becoming cheaper, creating a danger that consumers would put off purchases in the expectation stuff would get cheaper.

Prices for food and other essentials have been going up at a brisk pace as opposed to non-food products like power drills and iron beams but that does not seem to bother the experts.

Here is how we imagine one such expert highlighting the steep decline in non-food commodity prices:

How do you get your daily RDA of iron?

Well, John, I purchased a 20 foot I-beam and every morning I use my new angle grinder (also cheaper than last year) and grind off my daily dose.

In the same vein, some German media outlets appear to have joined the cashless society bandwaggon.The idiots trains where cash is uncool, dirty, and where its mere possession indicates you do not want to give your money to investors to earn a return.

That is so seriously gross that we were mulling watching Max Keiser on RT to let off some steam.

The dying breed of folks who still have a savings account and, more importantly, do not want to enrich card companies by paying transactions fees on every carton of eggs or box of milk appear to be on their way to extinction - if the low number of tweets on the subject is any indication.

The next 12 months will show whether the deflation danger was inflated by up to no good folks or incompetent experts because wages and salaries in Germany are on the rise. Which supposedly brings us higher consumer prices and no deflation.

As we said: let's see.

On a more optimistic note: According to reports, the German foreign spy service BND is planning to monitor social media, including Twitter and the blogosphere, in real time. Welcome to our new readers.

[Update 2 July 14] The numbers are out. Told you so (article in German).

Friday, May 30, 2014

My dad is a politician, get me in there! 2014 election roundup part III

Here is a brief look at family ties.

This post completes our anecdotal roundup of the German local elections of 2014 that ran concurrent with the EU election.

Where parts of the media call the nationally known high profile politician sons, daughters, and nephews of current or former leaders a "political dynasty", what do you call the same phenomenon on a local level?

All over Germany, you will find small or medium size businesses proud of their family tradition. A third generation construction company, a roofing company just recently transferred to the fifth generation offspring of the founder, butchers since 1870, and so on.

We can see the same family tradition in local politics without doing much research.

Just by reading the local paper, here is an instant list:
In a nearby town, two children of active politicians ran for office. Another town over, the acting mayor won another term for the office once held by his father.
I can rattle off a bunch more names if you want, said a local friend. Our town council has a couple of them, too.

Business owners can say "We will continue to provide the same service and do the same kind of work you know and expect from us".

We have not been able to find the same statement made by offspring of politicians despite the fact that they generally belong to the same political party as mom or dad and support the same ideas.

It is even conceivable a kid would flunk an otherwise safe election if he or she went before the voters with "I will continue to provide the same service and do the same kind of work you know and expect from us".

On the one hand, there is the often professed and frequently justified distrust in an "all in the family" government.

On the other hand, the relative ease of following in well known footsteps as long as you do not shout it from the rooftops seems to be widely accepted.

At present, the Germans do it in a fairly low key manner as compared to the American family brand politics we are all familiar with. As to qualifying the effects as good or bad, as beneficial or nefarious, we do not have an answer to it.

We do find both versions equally boring, though.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

[Update] Fear Inc. Bulletin: Did you just smoke a cigarette in Times Square?

Or did you just sneak past a red truck in the rain in St. Petersburg, Russia?

Webcams have been a bit under reported in the daily be afraid news circus. Which is understandable given the recent camera focus and media focus on the British royal bottom.

No, we are not giving you the link. Go search the German Bild Zeitung yourself, you ass, oh, pardon, you bottom.

Over the not quite two years this blog has been active, we have tried hard to do some hard hitting reporting. We probably failed at it, but who cares.

And then we saw the webcams of Ballermann, the German nickname for the resort area on the island of Mallorca, Spain. You'll get a fun post on the resort later,  but today, we deal with the webcams only.

Our devious TheEditor asked: "What if you went drinking on Mallorca after telling your wife you are on a business trip to Russia? And what if your wife came across the cam and saw you boozing on the beach?"

To which our equally devious subEditor responded: "Someone must have done a movie with a scene like this, probably a Las Vegas cam, though, because of better image quality. Don't you think some spy novel could adapt that?"

What do you mean?

For instance, you have a valiant American hero doing some hero thing in Afghanistan when he realizes all his communications are not secure. Then his wits save him when he recalls he showed his teenage son the Afghanistan webcam nicknamed Goat Cam, and his son was fascinated and spent hours each day staring at goats, and he makes his way to the Goat Cam and signals to his son that he needs help. Hero saved.

Brilliant. And now you just made all the world's intelligence agencies save the complete video feeds of all live cams on the planet forever, you idiot!

Oh, sorry about that. 

[Update June 1]  Ah, well:
Do they use the visa database? We bet our Susan B. dollar on yes. If we are wrong, let us know, and we'll ship the Susan B. - shipping and handling on us this time.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The List - 2014 German voting roundup part II

We have highlighted the tremendous importance of the humble list before.

A reminder: Lists are what makes us human, for better or for worse.
Not language, not tool use, not empathy -- many other animals have those.

In German elections, lists are the vehicle of power in the proportional representation system.

Getting a safe spot on "the list" can be called the single determining factor of a career in politics and access to the cash, any cash, that comes with it. Exceptions exist where a candidate gets elected in the "simple majority" head to head part of the vote. Every district has a winner takes all setup, very much like you know from the U.S., individuals from different parties run against each other, winner goes to Berlin.

The overall distribution of seats is done by the proportion of votes going to "the list".  The backroom deals, protegee and nepotism machinations, it happens around the rank on the list. While different parties go about their list-making in slightly different ways, the backroom deals are still how most roll.

To demonstrate that they submit to the choice of the people, the figure heads of the mainstream parties will be put up in a head to head district challenge against generally lesser known opponents.

To bolster the chances of, say, the current chief of Party A to win a district seat by straightforward majority poll, the chief is given a district leaning towards Party A.

To really ensure the chief gets into parliament, he or she is also put in the No. 1 list spot.

Making it next to impossible for voters to get rid of an incumbent from the CDU/CSU or SPD, and giving chiefs of small parties a good shot, too.

For the full time political jobs that come with good money (state, national, EU) this is how the system works.*

We certainly enjoy a bit of "everything is getting worse these days" doom and gloom but there is progress all around us, and here is one example.

Local and county elections have seen substantial changes in Germany since re-unification.
Ranked choice voting has swept the country. Town councils and country boards are where ranked choice voting plays out. There is no "write in" vote.

Here is how ranked choice voting works in our state or town council.

Say there are 9 seats on the town council, and three parties are in the race. Each party will present a list with 9 names, one for each seat in the event of a mother of all landslide victories. Let's say each party got a third of the votes last time, making list spots 1 to 3 the safest bets for the current poll.

Each voter gets 9 votes. The voter can follow the "party recommendation" and tick a box at the very top to give all the votes to that party and accept the list as ranked.

Or the voter can give up to 3 votes each to any individual candidate of any party standing in the election.

Under the traditional system there was 1 vote for the list, end of story. Nobody at the end of the list would get into office. Candidates would have to work the backrooms and hope for a better spot in a few years time.

Under the new system, even the number 10 candidate can land a seat if enough voters use their ranking power.

The 2014 cycle held on the same day as the EU elections has shown voters use this power.

The good news: 
Some "also rans" displaced "safe" candidates.

The bad news: 
Some politicians found a sweet way to spin losses. Experienced politicians lament that young hopefuls were in some instances relegated from a safe place to a "better luck next time" place on the list.

Which allows party establishment to have their cake and eat it too. By putting some unknowns higher up the list without promoting these candidates in the media and in campaign speeches, the reigning alpha males (or females) can still make the cut, although the absolute certainty of old is gone.
The new candidates they really, really want to win get face time and photos with the big boys, and lots of praise at rallies, which is enough for a good showing in most cases.

How likely is it that voters will be given ranked choice voting in state, national, and EU elections that come with a monthly stipend of 5000 to 10 000 Euros plus pension?

We like the idea our MPs are compensated well to vote as their conscience alone tells them to and are aware that "the list" may set different priorities for that conscience, so, please, don't raise the envy thing, thanks.

EEG-Umlage und Mehrwertsteuer auf selbstangebautes Gemüse?

Der Vorschlag von 16% Mehrwertsteuer auf Alles ist begrüssenswert.

Es sah lange so aus, als könnte ich mir den Traum vom eigenen Lamborghini niemals erfüllen. Wenn die 16% kommen, habe ich eine Chance! Danke!

Wenig Aufmerksamkeit bekam in der kurzen Diskussion leider das "auf Alles".

Hier kann und muß eine Gerechtigkeitslücke geschlossen werden, auf die seit Jahrzehnten keiner (oder war es Herr Dr. Keiner?) hingewiesen hat.

Selbstangebautes Gemüse unterliegt nach wie vor nicht der Mehrwertsteuer!

Diese Tatsache fördert die Entsolidariserung mit unterbezahlten Erntehelfern, die im Tagelohn auf unseren Feldern schwitzen. Wenn ich morgens in den Garten schlendere und mir eine Tomate pflücke, komme ich nicht ins Schwitzen. Na gut, ein wenig schon weil mein BMI nicht ideal ist. Aber jedenfalls nicht so wie die armen Tagelöhner.

Hunderttausende von Tonnen an heimischem Obst und Gemüse gehen jedes Jahr am Fiskus vorbei, unentgeltlich an Nachbarn und an Die Tafel.

Ich gärntere nur aus Spaß an der Freude, sagen Sie?

Und Freude soll kein geldwerter Vorteil sein? Wissen Sie, wieviel Geld manche Mitbürger zahlen, nur um ein bißchen Freude zu erleben? Schauen Sie sich einmal den Umsatz der Wein-, Bier-, und Schnapsindustrie an, um eine Vorstellung vom Wert der Freude zu bekommen.

Die EEG-Umlage sollte bei dieser Gelegenheit gleich miteingeführt werden. Schließlich wird durch Selbstanbau eine Garten- oder Balkonfläche einer anderweitigen sinnvollen Nutzung entzogen.
Statt Salat könnte man dort zum Beispiel Mais für die Biogasanlage des örtlichen Landwirts anbauen.
Da das nicht geschieht sollte ein Beitrag zu Gunsten des Gemeinwohls erhoben werden.

Man braucht ja nicht den vollen EEG-Satz einzufordern, ein Fünftel oder die Hälfte wäre sozialverträglicher.

Die Festsetzung des EEG-Werts darf nicht nur auf der Grundfläche beruhen, da Gemüse und Obst auch nach oben wächst bzw. nach unten in die Erde.

Die Beschränkung der Veranlagung auf zwei Dimensionen wäre also gewissenmaßen eindimensional.

Den Selbstverbrauch kann man pauschal und effizient mit Hilfe des Body Mass Index und eines Bewegungskoeffizienten ermitteln. Die Gesetzesvorlage sollte unbedingt die beiden Termini "pauschal" und "effizient" enthalten, da die pauschal effizienten deutschen Gerichte diese Begriffe höher gewichten. Body Mass Index sollte auf Englisch bleiben, damit Fette wie ich sich nicht zu sehr aufregen.

I'm sorry you had such a bad day...channeling Watzlawick?

What do two Englishmen do when they first meet?

They form a queue (that's "a line" for you Americans).*

Though not as universally true any more as only decades ago, there is something to be marveled at when you see spontaneous line formation in action.

Other nations view spontaneous line formation with the same attitude as spontaneous combustion: first they doubt it exists at all, then if they witness it they still won't believe it.

Always willing to help, the American approach is to provide nice, wide yellow lines setting limits and green squares to show places where you may stand. Sometimes, they have footprints in the green squares indicating the direction of movement.

We have yet to see a complaint about these footprints being clearly male prints made by regular shoes. No pointy cowboy boots, no high heel deals, no miniature child footprints and no barefoot prints either.

Anyway, as I stood in a malformed line on the platform for the evening commute out of money town, a long haired male was about to channel Paul Watzlawick. I think.

The malformed line is a clump, a loose cluster of tired workers.

The train creeps into the station, drowning out the PA system asking passengers to stand behind the yellow line. The doors open, a couple of people, the night shift of ACME or Starbucks, leave, and two people swoop into the car, cutting in in front of a non-descript woman.

She takes a deep breath, puffing up and hollers: Can't you see? You're supposed to stand in line here, you can't cut in like this, you hear me! I hate you people who...

The long haired male emerges into my field of vision. He says to the woman in a very calm voice: I'm sorry you had such a bad day.

She stops, throws a glance sideways and instantaneously deflates.

She enters the car in silence, as do the other passengers in the clump, myself included.

The long haired male moves down the aisle without a stop, without anything like a victory pause, without even acknowledging the interaction, and soon disappears behind a couple of large suits and big rack or two.

This occurred years ago, so long ago that half the passengers are probably retired by now, or dead.

Yet, even today, when I find myself in a malformed line, well, yeah, a clusterfuck, this scene is always on my mind.

* And they say Thank you.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

European Union 2014 voting roundup: Vote early, vote often!

The quote Vote early, vote often! attributed to former Chicago mayor Daley became a must for our title after the editor-in-chief of the big German weekly Die Zeit went public on television on election day, saying he voted twice.

Twice, as in this election, not twice over his lifetime or in the past decade.

Being both an Italian and a German citizen, the newsman received two voting notifications for the EU Parliament vote and decided it would be a waste to only pursue one vote.

Some sore loser party went to the local DA and Mr. D. is now under investigation for voter fraud.

What other surprises did the EU vote bring?

None, really.

Sure, there was the big win of the right Front National in France and Britain was ukipped. None of which is a huge deal, let's be honest. At least that is the message you'd get from the European stock market and the currency exchange rates.

Isn't it true? France is in bad enough shape that the Front National will have to mess up big time to make it any worse - if they manage to take over government a few years from now.

UKIP, has UK written all over it, and the anti-EU message works well for them. So, they may replace the Lib Dems, again, what's the big deal?

An anti-EU message not a future proof party maketh. Does the prospect of having to re-invent the central belief of your platform in a few years not cause any concern?

Meanwhile in the rest of the European Union: the good showing of "the right" is being used to appeal for closer cooperation of the centrist forces.

In the German media, you can find statements that define "the middle" as the conservative CDU/CSU block plus the social democrat SDP plus the greens

Never mind that the current government in Berlin has an 80% majority (CDU/CSU plus SPD). Bring the greens into the fold as a silent partner? Only in the EU parliament, they say.

The EU election is nearly perfect in the current overall climate.

It is good for business if the markets are to be believed. It is good for clawing back political powers you may never have given up to Brussels in the first place.

Everybody wins, except for the guy who voted twice.

Monday, May 26, 2014

No more poverty driven immigration: make everybody move!

An occasional reader of the K-Landnews offered this solution to the immigration debate.

Make everybody move every generation and a half.

You can't do this!

Oh, no? Just ask the native Americans, ask people in large parts of Africa, look around India and Pakistan, Tibet or Russia. Go back a few hundred thousand years and all our ancestors were on the move out of Africa. We can all finally live up to our tourism brochures, you know, the ones that already say "welcoming and friendly country" - or is there a country whose brochures say otherwise?

The suggestion is not without pitfalls and questions. What can we make a huge fuss about if there are no more illegal immigrants anywhere? What to do with the grandparents, for instance? Or your pets?

Which direction should everybody go, East, West, North, South, in between? How far -- a couple hundred miles is far for present day Central Europeans but just an extended commute distance for current North Americans.

What is to be done with the achievements of existing societies, such as Social Security? Can we trust the new arrivals to manage our money for us like China manages current U.S. debt? Can you see a better way to try and get rid of Obamacare? How will the piece of real estate you are still paying your mortgage on be handled? Can the Swiss take their mountains along? Will my iPhone continue to work?

If the anti-consumerist option wins and we are allowed only as much stuff as we can carry in a backpack, will wealthy folks pay poor folks to go back and pick up some more bling, or will the evolution of consumers slowly turn those who need three power drills into a new pack animal lookalike version of human?

All of these petty questions prove no obstacle today for a select group of youngsters: those who get kicked out of their parents' house the day they turn eighteen.

Or remember Adam and Eve? The apple was just a pretext, by the way.

Let's give it a try before global warming forces a third of the planet's population to move anyway.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

High intellectual caliber to be classified as dual use instrument?

You've read it here first!

Rumors on the internet have it that some lawmakers somewhere - we wish we could be more specific - are mulling classifying high intellectual caliber as a dual use instrument as a first step to implementing license requirements.

History has shown high intellectual caliber can be used for the benefit of civil society or as a means to terrorize average citizens by creating an environment of confusion and fear.

We have successfully regulated technologies and substances as diverse as battle tanks and water, why not high intellectual caliber, ask proponents of swift action.

High intellectual caliber is very much comparable to water, they say. Cleaned and filtered, and in small quantities, it is life giving. Unclean, unfiltered and in great quantities it can cause death and destruction.

It is accepted that you can buy water at the grocery store in quantities of up to about 5 gallons per container. 

Surely, you understand people would be rightly worried if you pulled up with a 20 000 gallon liquid manure tanker at Walmart and shouted: fill her up! Parents would steer their kids away, the homeless panhandlers would move to a safer location.

Are you not afraid when you read ACME Company is bringing in high-powered consultants to "resolve" a crisis?

Where a CAL 50 can blow away a manhole cover from a mile away, the right consultants (also known as "big guns") can blow away a manhole cover from thousands of miles away, or annihilate trade barriers around whole countries with just a little extra effort.

When the media reports "an army of lawyers", do you just chuckle and find it a funny image? Think again, lawyers are like the AK-47 of intellectual power, abundant, everywhere, almost never jam, and mass produced even in smaller countries.

The effort to regulate intellectual high caliber will in no way affect intellectual small caliber. The latter is indispensable in entertainment, although they can do some damage at point blank range on Twitter or Facebook.

But that's part of the risk of everyday life, nothing some oxys or a drink cannot fix.

The same applies to "duds", or intellectual blanks as we call them. They can be loud and annoying but regulating them would put whole industries out of business.

We simply have to strike the right balance between intellectual caliber and security.

Keine Straßennutzungsabgabe für Rollatoren geplant!

Im Zuge der erfolgreichen Einführung des Rundfunkbeitrags als nutzungsunabhängige Nichtsteuer gibt es nach eigenen Korrespondentenberichten keinen Plan zur Einführung eines Rollator-Nutzungsbeitrags für öffentliche Straßen.

Aus Kreisen der großen Koalition verlautete: wir brauchen keinen Plan.

Das sollte Sie, liebe Leser, nicht beruhigen, da die Koalition sowieso keinen Plan für nichts zu brauchen scheint, melden weder die AfD noch die FDP.

Dabei wäre eine Rollatorenabgabe aus wissensschaftlicher Sicht ein angemessener Beitrag zur Erhaltung des öffentlichen Wegenetzes.

Jede Last auf einer befestigten Fläche übt messbaren Druck auf diese Fläche aus und verringert deren Lebensdauer. 

Ein Beispiel: wenn sich eine erwachsene Person auf einen Backstein stellt, wird der Stein um etwa 1 Sechzigmillionstel Millimeter komprimiert, also zusammengepresst.

Wenn nur die Hälfte aller Deutschen über den Stein laufen, ist der Stein also fast platt und  muß ersetzt werden.

Ein Rollator hat zudem vier Aufsetzpunkte statt der üblichen zwei beim Fußgänger, übt Druck also an vier Stellen aus statt an zwei. Schlimmer wird der Straßenzustand noch durch den kommenden demographischen Wandel.

Die exponentielle Zunahme der deutschen Rollatorenflotte birgt noch ein weiteres Problem, nämlich potentiell mehr Gewalt.  

Wir müssen in Zukunft mit mehr Fällen von Körperveletzung im Rollatorenverkehr rechnen, sagen ungenannte Experten. Dies ist eine direkte Folge der verbesserten Stabilität unserer älteren Verkehrsteilnehmer. Wenn beispielsweise zwei alte Männer in Streit geraten und beide benutzen einen Gehstock als Stütze, erwarten Sie kein filmreifes Duell, das ist ein Klischee. In Wahrheit fallen beide einfach um, der Streit ist zuende. Rollatoren sind dagegen bauartbedingt extrem gefährlich und können zum Rammen des Gegners eingesetzt werden. Besonderes Augenmerk sollten wir auf Modelle richten, die vorne einen als "Einkaufskorb" bezeichneten Rammbock aus Metall besitzen. Der TÜV führt derzeit Prüfungen durch, denen wir nicht vorgeifen wollen, die aber bereits jetzt auf zusätzlichen gesetzgeberischen Regulierungsbedarf hindeuten.

Endlich können wir auch ausländische Rollatoren angemessen an den Kosten für unsere Strandpromenaden und Behinderteneingänge beteiligen, lautet eine Meldung aus Bayern. Eine Umweltplakette für Rollatoren findet derzeit keine Mehrheit.

Keine Abgabe, keine Sorge!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Nobody is perfect, or maybe Keiner is?

From our Nobody-is-Perfect series.

A dog-eared* page of the German Zeit Online website has an interesting article on the plethora of official languages of the European Union and an anecdote of a translation error that made sour cherries sweet and caused legal trouble for a German firm.

According to the article, in 1993, a German translator wrote "sweet cherries" instead of "sour cherries", causing sour faces at a canned fruit company.

The error was eventually fixed, and we do not have details on any repercussions for the translator. What happened to the unlucky man? We have to assume it was a man, with an all cherries are the same kind of attitude.

If this error from the dawn of the information age is all there is, we are in good hands.

Moving on the the Nobody in Nobody-is-Perfect.

If your last name is Keiner in Germany, Austria, or Switzerland, you will be teased in school.

Teacher: Wer war das? (Who did this?)

Teacher's pet: Keiner.

Nobody, or none, or N/A. Kids being kids, they will include variants with interchangeable pronunciation, such as "Kainer".

When it comes to filling out forms, Herr or Frau Keiner encounter the occasional problem in new situations.

Computerized sign-in stations at modern factories are a challenge as a truck driver can tell you. Security guards are easily flustered when the equivalent of "Last Name: None" pops up on their screen.

Becoming a translator at the EU might be a safer job.

* We know dog-eared is not how you are supposed to say it, but face it, bookmarked isn't any better, is it?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Allons enfants...: Defendons le gout français

Look, this post pokes fun at "Defendons le gout français", but please do not change the slogan on the Prince de Bretagne veggie brand crates because of this!
There is too much faux upset in the world, we'd hate to be regarded as contributing to the general lameness sweeping the planet.

However, we have a request: would you mind adding the Brezhoneg version of the slogan?

Their language used to be banned in the dark ages of the 20th century, and this is your chance to help make it right.

If you could make this small change, swell. In that case, we'd be fine with the Prince de Bretagne brand name. Otherwise, we might be tempted to start a campaign to rename the brand to Anne de Bretagne.

You can leave the gout as français, nobody would mind, we hope. Even les Bretons don't live exclusively on Kouign Amann or Paris-Brest, although trying to is so much fun!

Now, we did chuckle just a little when we saw the first Defendons le gout français crate in a German grocery store because the whole issue of taste of produce is sad in today's industrial agriculture.

If you have ever tried to get fresh tomatoes in, say, Ireland in summer, you know what we mean. Balls of styrofoam painted red is exaggerated, but not by much.

Speaking of French taste, we would like to share our secret for buying French cheese outside of the confines of l'Hexagone, as the French call their country - in part because it sounds cool, in part in honor of a long line of great mathematicians.

In the cheese aisle at our local grocery store, we buy our French cheese when the product undergoes a very specific, distinct change.

That change is the appearance of a bright red markdown price tag on the cheese.

We are not stingy! The deep discount price is only a signal indicating that the cheese is now exactly ripe enough for us to buy.

Untrained, our German co-consumers cannot wait until the time of optimal taste. Like others, they think the cheese went bad, hence they don't buy, and hence force the grocery store into a markdown.

We do not complain, of course, that we get the perfect cheese at 30% off - or even at 50% if the highschool French teacher, the only other person in the know, is out of town on vacation.

So, let's defend the French taste and give Brezhoneg a chance!

Or do you want to hear the story of me trying to buy a disc of Tri Yann in Paris....?

The crate really reads Defendons le gout du frais (the taste of the fresh)...but where is the material for a blog post defending Anne de Bretagne in that...?

Can the Tea Party learn from Germany's Bavarian CSU amigos?

Do Germany's conservative conjoined twin sister parties CDU (exists in all states but Bavaria) and CSU (in Bavaria only) have it all?

All the advantages of being two parties, yet governing as one at the national level?

Our answer is as tight and insightful as a doctoral thesis in space of a short blog post!

Conventional stereotypes often present the southern German "Free State of Bavaria" as the Texas of Germany. This is done despite the absence of oil in one and mountains in the other. Where latinos are a substantial minority in one, the other compensates for this with  "amigos" and eastern European immigrants. Wind instruments in one, guitars in the other, you get the gist, there are obvious differences beyond the prevalent spirit of conservative values.

Politically, things look more similar. Bavaria's liberal state capital Munich is surrounded by heartland value country, just like Austin, TX.

Ignore for a moment that the Bavarian CSU has enjoyed the advantage of actually governing the state for over half a century. This must be attributed to the ingenious split organization which has had the true advantage of a national good cop bad cop situation.

While the local and county CSU administrations are middle of the road democrats, the state level folks have often made headlines Americans would associate with their very own Tea Party.

Bashing the German federal government while holding several secretary posts in said government and ensuring federal cash flows home, giving a voice to the anti-gay and the anti-abortion segments of the public, a strong law and order message, lots of climate change skeptics, this is how most of the rest of Germany sees conservative Bavarian politicians.

The beauty of the setup is hardly ever called out in German media: otherwise more liberal  leaning citizens of Bavaria can cast their vote for the conservatives because of the moderate halo of the CDU. In the rest of the country, voters who'd lean to a party more conservative than the CDU can vote in good conscience for that very CDU because of the "ideological spillover" of the Bavarian CSU.

The fact that a handful of counties in CDU country are deeply conservative and two or three in CSU country are more liberal does not diminish the overall validity of the K-Landnews insight.

Germany's "left" does not have this advantage, the Social Democrats (SPD) have not embraced the Linke ("The Left") party in a similar way, both have a national organization which precludes this strategy. 

Our recommendation to U.S. Republicans and the Tea Party is simple: take one or two states out of the Republican Party and establish a new conservative party in those states, whatever you call it, Tea, Beer, Freedom, your choice. Then divide the national roles accordingly. Or spin off the California or New York Republicans to get the moderate democrats and the independents.

On a national level, do the conjoined twins, and the presidency for the next century is yours.

You might have to split FoxNews in a similar way, and we are not commenting on Mr. Rove.

Any honorary doctorates sent our way will be welcome, no questions asked.

The master of the photo op: Have the photographers arrived yet?

Somewhere in our state, a reliable source tells us, there lives a politician we would call a master of the photo op.

If you had the good fortune of spending more than a week in the state, you would see his smiling self in a newspaper photo. He is that good, despite not being a member of the state administration. The man is so sure of himself that the following scene happened without any note in the local paper afterwards.

An important but brief, about an hour long, event is taking place in one of the big cities of the state. As the event draws to a close, a limousine arrives. The politician emerges from it and loudly asks: Have the photographers arrived yet? 

They left a few minutes ago.

Without a word, the politician gets back into his vehicle and leaves.

The source also reported he had a service person fired because said service person was ten minutes late.

One mistake, that's all he needs to go after you, said our source.

No worries, dear readers, he will be re-elected and suffer no harm.

It is not at all clear that we are dealing with a lime-light hogging slime ball of a politician. Maybe he did not intend to be on the following day's paper front page but wanted to say hello to a photographer buddy he hadn't seen in a couple of weeks. And it be he had a truly more important event to rush to, an event of such magnitude it did not make the news.

His eldest son is running for office in upcoming elections.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

European Election 2014 on Germany's Wahl-O-Mat

Elections to the European Parliament are coming up this weekend, and we wanted to find out what party Wahl-O-Mat (Dial an election?) suggests. Wahl-O-Mat is a project of the German Agency for Civic Education and has a big disclaimer saying it is for information only, in no way should the result be interpreted as a suggestion to vote for the resulting top ranking party.

European Union citizens living in another EU country can vote in the EU Parliament election in their country of residence, neat, isn't it? It doesn't help participation rates much, they are way too reminiscent of American elections. It is a safe bet that many people will enjoy a Sunday out and not bother to swing by the polling stations.

Other foreign nationals can not vote, so we could do the Wahl-O-Mat questions with their multiple choice answers (agree, neutral, disagree or skip question) without trying to make our answers match our innate preferences.

Having worked through the some 30 questions ranging from the Euro to the role of banks, from genetically modified plants to expansion of the EU and more, we selected the maximum possible eight parties to check our answers against. The five usual suspects and three smaller ones.

The result was so unexpected that we fess up to it. In case you save this post to be able to go back and check on our political views, we cannot recommend this. You'll be confused.

The algorithm matched us mostly closely with a party we had not heard of before, a party we later swore we had not even picked as one of the eight Wahl-O-Mat candidates.

That party is "Die Partei" (in English "The Party"). Wikipedia has a nice English entry, whose first line explains it was founded in 2004 by editors of the German satirical magazine Titanic.

How did we get into this political box? We do not find Titanic Magazine funny. If our humor appears forced at times, theirs comes with as much force and aim as the magazine name suggests.

Our only explanation at the end of the day: we must have not understood some or any of the questions. At least we now know what the political version of a blind date feels like.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Sticker shock: right-wing stickers in riot police bus, left-wing adhesive in police sedan

German magazine website Spiegel online reports neonazi stickers were found in a bus of the Bavarian riot police.

No journalist would write about a bunch of confiscated stickers sitting in a police vehicle, so what are we looking at?

The stickers were affixed to a box of equipment. They are available on a known right-wing website, and it seems none were illegal. The authorities have started an internal investigation, and there may be a reprimand or two, as in the case of a left-wing sticker in a police sedan last year.

In 2013, a left-wing sticker was found on the dash of a police car in northern Germany.

The last big survey looking into extremism in German police forces dates back two decades to 1996, and according to this article in German weekly Die Zeit the authorities are not interested in a new one.

The same article says that a 2003 study of police union members found some 19% hold right-wing beliefs.

Since nobody really knows, the image of one sedan next to one bus might actually be a fairly accurate illustration of the numerical relation of left-leaning versus right-leaning officers in Germany.

Monday, May 19, 2014

German 4 Dummies: Primat

Our merry exploration of the language known to English speakers as German continues with this familiar looking word.

Don't have time to finish reading this: "Primat" is German for "primate" and for "primacy" or "precedence" of politics.

It became the subject of this post because it tripped up TheEditor. Which sucked because  TheEditor has the habit of thinking of itself* as bright and well educated.

When it read the latest Google bashing German newspaper articles, TheEditor paused at this construct: ..dass es den Primat der Politik gibt...
The grammar is not important, no worry. What stopped TheEditor is the fact that the article uses "Primat" with the masculine form "den".

Chalking this up to yet another error by a copy editor would have been the easy way out, but it was not to be. A check on the Duden German dictionary website revealed that both the masculine and the neural forms are used.

Dodgy education or too many nature documentaries had somehow convinced TheEditor that the masculine "der" was correct when talking about the animal, the primate (der Primat, pl.: die Primaten) and the neutral form was used for politics. The concept "primacy of politics", or the precedence of politics, is commonly used to express that politics has the ultimate supremacy over institutions like the military or in the famous statement "primacy of domestic politics". This concept is quite the fallacy but that's outside the purview of today's dig.

Further searching unearthed a mild joke in a Frankfurter Allgemeine comment piece, using the ambiguity as follows: Despite a common belief that "der Primat" might be an ape that managed to slip undetected into German parliament...

TheEditor detracted us momentarily with a primal growl, undetected, they put'em in suits and slicked back their serious?..., but we tried to answer the question why would anybody use the masculine form when the neutral is kind of the obvious choice?
Note: Duden does only specify "zoology" as the usage of the masculine form.

Could it be a penchant to pick the first of two consecutive choices? The Duden says noun, masculine, or noun, neutral. Their criteria for this are unknown. What if they had listed the entry the other way round?

Our preferred explanation, supported by Catholic treatises, is that using the masculine form for primate primal politics is the older, classic expression, a display of humanistic education - not necessarily behavior.

The Duden primate page does have another nugget for students: Herrentier. "Herren" being "master", "Tier" meaning animal. This one is marked as "obsolescent", a relief, although obsolete would be the correct designation.

After a number of posts on quirks of the German language, we are starting to get a feeling that we may inadvertently have discovered one explanation for the well established German love of rules.

Do Germans in part love rules so much because their own language so often betrays them by forcing them into strange gender choices in addition to the humungouscompoundnouns?

Are they collectively traumatized deep deep down by the realization that all the rules made through many generations only mask the absence of solid ground?

Just like Peach Orchard Drive or Cherry Blossom Lane in American suburbia really only mean one thing: no orchard near or far, not a single cherry blossom within a hundred miles.

* TheEditor insists on using the gender neutral it. Secondary advantage: "he says, she says" makes no sense when you criticize our post.

German 4 Dummies: Entsolidarisierung

"Entsolidarisierung" is an "erosion of solidarity" or "desolidarization", where the latter is either science, Euro-Speak or "Dinglish" (a German speaking English just a bit off).

The German prefix "ent" corresponds to the English prefix "de" in nearly all everyday usages. The German language also allows use of the latin prefix "de" instead of "ent" in formal language but not in older, non-scientific or non-formal usage.
"Desolidarisierung" is perfectly okay, and any web search will show it is being used, though much less frequently than "Entsolidarisierung".

Social sciences researchers have given us great insight into some aspects of the phenomenon, and the concept, or at least the term "Entsolidarisierung" is now a frequent marker term in the German media.

With its popularity, we believe we can see a broadening of meaning, or - trying to be witty - an erosion of meaning. "Entsolidarisierung" is still used to describe real or perceived deterioration of social support mechanisms and structures. Given that outside of narrow bounds, no one can really measure the extent of existing solidarity, claiming erosion is easy and often gratuitous.

We have seen numerous examples where the term is used to describe behavior that is supposedly good civic behavior. For instance, the photovoltaic panels on the roof of your house stood for environmental conscience, for contributing to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and so forth.

Power rate surcharges to pay for sky-high subsidies payable for another 20 or so years, coupled with waivers for the biggest power consuming industries and services as well as grid extension projects have hit individual consumers hard: electricity rates have almost doubled in the last 10 years, with wages pretty much flat for most.

New photovoltaics do not get the subsidies any more, but you can easily find examples where people who put up one or two panels are being accused of "Entsolidarisierung", of removing themselves from doing their "fair share" because they get a few hundred kilowatthours out of their own installation. Despite the fact that the real long term ROI is likely to be close to zero if an expensive part of the setup fails after expiration of the warranty.

In broader language usage, "Entsolidarisierung" is now a multi-purpose term of disapproval for anything from leaving a trade union because you think they fail the workers to complaining about the TV license fee that serves as the Germany's longest running unemployment prevention project.

"Entsolidarisierung" has become a stand-in for "selfishness", less openly accusing but as harsh if not more so, with its implied active undermining of the common good.

You do not want to vote for political party Mainstream X?

Bad boy, or girl: you are eroding support for democracy in the face of fringe party threats.

Just to be clear: of course, if you do not agree with this post for whatever reason, you are eroding solidarity with the blogging community, with the internet community, and with our cats.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Underage voting? Works well for some German states

A little known fact often lost in the daily posturing and fighting about where German society should go, is that several German states have given underage youngsters the right to vote.

You just turned 16 and would like to vote in local elections?

A full half of Germany's 16 states let you do it. They include the traditionally more conservative Baden-Wuerttemberg in the south, the more liberal northern city state of Bremen, a couple of the new states in former East Germany, as well as the most populous state of North Rhine-Westfalia.

You'd like to cast a ballot in state elections, too?

You can do this in three states, all of them in the north.

Standing for office yourself is still only for adults 18 and up, but the simple fact that less then 40 years after a hard fought battle to lower the voting age to 18, young people can vote is impressive to us at the K-Landnews.

Impressive because this change could only have come about by amending state constitutions. The required super majorities were extremely rare prior to the present German federal government which runs the nation with 80% of seats in parliament, just a few points shy of a standard North Korean poll or John Boehners congressional election results.

Those among our readers who remember growing up, or as we call it jumping the shark, will recall that their opinions and knowledge as teens after the onslaught of hormones subsided were just as "good" as that of people three or four times their age.

Or better, because we were less cynical and worn out in general.

Which is exactly why mostly conservatives do not want young people in the ballot booth. Since they do not want to argue using our phrase, they talk of maturity, life experience and of tying rights (right to vote) to obligations (all the crap you get dumped on your shoulders at 18).

Then there is the big one: the fear that young folks will tend to vote extreme right or left candidates into office.

Utter bullshit.

We can say this because all these fine education schemes using election simulation in school to prepare kids for adulthood consistently show that kids are really not attracted to the "dictatorship leaning parties."

However, there is one youth vote or child vote strategy even conservatives are tempted by.

The "delegated vote", where kids would bet the right to vote and their parents would exercise it in the capacity as legal guardians. Until age 18, no bones about that. Whether this strategy will become a reality, no one knows.

The mere fact that someone would advocate the "no to 16 but yes if I get to do it for you" way of furthering democracy indicates to us a certain lack of maturity on the part of the adults.

Anybody in the U.S. up for the youth vote?

Privacy for Germans: rename all to Haensel & Gretel Mueller?

In the wake of the Great Loss of Privacy (our words), many great and not so great minds have been discussing solutions.

Ever more complicated passwords, stopping bits at the border, better hardware, hyper-encryption, perfect forward and perfect sideways secrecy, these are just a some of the suggestions.

We have another one: rename every citizen of the country to Haensel or Gretel Mueller, or, in nerd speak, security through obscurity on a national scale.

It really is nothing more than the logical extension of the J. Smith phenomenon, says an American expert. Societies have been struggling with having many millions of Smiths, Muellers, Huongs, and the like, why not exploit the obvious privacy advantage of it?

For governments, the name of an individual is no longer important, we have unique indentifiers like social security numbers, tax ids, driver's license ids that do a better job than the old name or name plus birthday schemes.

In some Asian countries you are already experiencing that a nation with a handful of surnames works fine, so our Germany proposal would extend the benefit of this to everyone.

Experts say there are no downsides but a tremendous number of upsides.

A common name could promote a feeling of community and pride. In this democracy, everybody would sort of be president or chancellor, would be a famous actor or scientist.
Imagine Bild Zeitung headlines like "The nobel prize for literature goes to Gretel Mueller!"

The intrinsic disadvantages of surnames like Schweinhund would go away, name calling and bullying would stop. Integrating immigrants would be a no-brainer. Haensel Mueller instead of Muhamed Mueller would end xenophobia.

And the scientifically proven detrimental psychological effects of having a surname starting at the end of the alphabet instead of the beginning, say Will vs. Anders, would be wiped out.

Use of PA systems would drop significantly. Airport announcements wouldn't be needed for the Muellers - Herr and Frau Mueller, please come to Gate 22, nonsense. If you don't know where you want to go, don't fly!

Gone are the awkward social moments of "I'm sorry, I know we have been introduced, but could you tell me your name again?" Instead imagine the confident "hey, Haensel, dude, how are you!"

Out in the street, gagdets like GeeBeerGoogles or a smartphone would instantly tell you which of the many Muellers you are seeing. Picture the pleasant surprise when an unknown Mueller's question mark placeholder on your retina is replaced with the word "Dad"!

The somewhat struggling free "who is this person" internet directory sites would see business explode and could charge big money.

The father of the idea, obviously only a male could come up with this, acknowledges what he calls a couple of minor issues. We are not sure about what to do with middle names but will most likely simply abolish them. Nicknames are bigger problem, we cannot have people use nicknames because that undermines the security.

But hey, Germans would finally embrace Facebook's real name policy!

Once the names have been unified, we are looking at a similar approach for the date of birth. A working paper has been drafted and it proposes that every German can freely pick a birthday as long as it is within the year he or she was born in.

There is also the idea of introducing a premium birthday, or as some call it, a vanity birthday. When you pick a birthday for historical reasons, such as the 4th of July if you were a U.S. citizen, you'd pay a fee to the government or the private company which will surely handle these administrative issues in the future.

For example, you could have the same birthday as Angelina Jolie, wouldn't that be nice? Of course, if you pick the birthday of a German celebrity and the celebrity then changes her birthday under the new law, there would not be a refund.

Will society not suffer from a loss of individuality?

If you remove the disadvantages of names, you can still ensure people can express their individuality through other traditional means, like clothing, jewelry, or cars, sports, music, art. Renaming may create a greater emphasis on alternatives, hence boosting consumption and economic growth.

On a grand scale, the future looks even brighter. An EU wide adoption of the practice could create untold new opportunities once the EU settles on a name.

Shouldn't be difficult.

At that point, you could easily distinguish legal residents from tourists and illegal immigrants.  Let's assume, for the sake of argument, everybody takes the surname "Dupont". A polite request that "everybody named Dupont raise their hands" would give away the newly arrived illegals as they would not raise hands, right? Sure, you could do the facial recognition thing but we really wanted a Dupont joke here.

The benefit of this would be you no longer have to single out blacks or middle eastern looking folks and pretend you are not picking on them because of their skin color.

See, there are business opportunities everywhere which also strengthen privacy and security.

[Update] You can use these great examples for your own country-specific solution. Just don't tell anybody where you found it. Google is gonna forget this soon.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Fack Ju Goethe, a 2013 German comedy worth watching

This is not your Heidi style film - neither Klum nor the little one, nor Fleiss. There are no Lederhosen, no moody detectives arresting yet another doctor or architect for the murder of their spouse, no wind instruments anywhere.

Fack ju Goethe is a fast paced high school teaching environment comedy worth watching indeed. The IMDb entry section "People who liked this also liked..." is not far off from the general vibe, so check it out.

As the most popular German film of 2013, it has its own Wikipedia page in English here. Go there for an overview of the plot.

What we liked very much about the movie is its diversity, the children of immigrants angle. The days of the token Turkish or Russian roots actor are over, and it makes for a charming set of characters.

The music, the camera angles, as well as the plot show traits you know well from Hollywood movies and modern British comedy, yet they have their inimitable German moments.

When the main character pokes a hole into the windshield of his vintage BMW 3 Series and the teacher and future love interest gets into the car, her only question is "is this street legal".

And when the class of misfits and rowdies tags and spray paints a whole commuter train, the teacher reminds them to take the empty cans with them for proper disposal as hazardous waste.

Blink, and you miss these four or five word jokes about the psyche of mainstream Germany.

No strenuous attempts at plot credibility stand in the way of your enjoyment. The makers assume you know or don't care that simply putting a surfboard into a car won't poke a nice clean hole into a windshield. Neither would a paint gun wielding teacher be able to shoot at his kids, get them into the classroom in this manner and be able to finish a lesson.

But nobody gets hurt.

Almost nobody.

Time travel is real, German radio station interview tape proves

An interview from the future was available for a short period of time as a podcast on the web site of southern Germany's SWR radio and TV station.

According to a report in a local newspaper, visitors to the site could enjoy a podcast of a live post party interview from staff at a much publicized May 1 BBQ party well before the date of the event.

You read correctly. The interview was conducted after the party but put on the web before the party!

The party was a marvelous success even before it had happened.

The K-Landnews TheEditor, an ardent fan of SciFi and real sci was floored when it* happened upon the news report.

This should have made international news!  We can finally go into the future and do things, and nobody, nobody, reports it? Come on, I understand that Putin and his Ukraine thing are important. But successful time travel is like the best thing ever. Speaking of Putin, we now have a way of ensuring the man wears a shirt in the future!

After this, TheEditor began to sob and ran out of the house into the back yard, sobbing some more. We would love to continue this post with an evaluation of a comment by the chief of SWR stating that the journalists in question did nothing wrong.

But it is plain obvious they did nothing wrong, time travel works exactly in this manner.

However, we have to go and see if we can find and console TheEditor.

*: TheEditor insists on the gender neutral form "it".

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Human rights for other animals?

Science first or fun first?


Human rights for animals already exist. If you ride commuter trains and overhear conversations between fellow passengers you knew that.

You do not need to wear a gorilla suit for Halloween to realize humans are animals.

Pet animals get better food in some societies than many humans, better medical care, better funerals.

Dogs have the power to make their human "owners" pay taxes for the canines. This is even more remarkable if you consider that whole governments repeatedly fail to make their human citizens pay income tax, capital gains tax, and others.  Dogs, cats, and other animals can and do inherit their "owner's" estate in some countries.

In some jurisdictions, police dogs are officers, making the common tabloid newspaper headline "Man bites dog" a supremely serious criminal offense if the dog is a police dog.
And nothing more than a worn out joke if the canine is any odd pooch.

Some religions accept that dogs can go to heaven, or paradise. Whether or not they get into paradise, humans eat a lot of other animals, including the beloved dogs or chimps. They, on the other hand, rarely do this to humans. Which must mean they are more peaceful and civilized, I guess. Eating fellow humans is rare but happens, and then there is the Freudian transfer.

Now, DNA analysis has opened a whole new can of c. elegans. If our DNA is different by some 2% from the of DNA of chimps, and some of h. sapiens (us) have 3% Nethanderthal DNA, what does that mean?

If 3% sapiens Nethanderthals would be given human rights, the 2% different chimps should get them too. If the coat of hair bothers you, I can introduce you to a hirsute human neighbor....

Where shall it end, you ask?

The bacteria in your gut are an essential part of you. Do they have human rights, are they merely secondary beneficiaries of your human rights?

Shouldn't we first make sure that all humans get their human rights? After all, only last week Amnesty International reported that there is torture in 141 countries. Even in countries where electrical power is expensive.

At the end of the day, humans will probably find a very human way of dealing with it. The humans visciously slandered by others as "the closed living relative of bacteria next to civil servants" will find an elegant solution. If you can write your demand for human rights onto a placard of cardboard or recycled plastic and march around town with them while evading arrest, your human rights will be considered.

So, who's going to train their pet chimp to do just that?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Germans discover the bitching immigrant son

In all the posts we have done about freedom of speech and Germany, we forgot one important note.

When you have enough immigrants in a country, there will be some who turn into the staunchest defenders of what is often called very conservative, even xenophobic ideas.

In Germany, Mr. Pirinçci, a son of immigrants and a well known author of fiction, has fired off a book American fans of radio host Limbaugh or Alex Jones of InfoWars fame would easily recognize. 

And large segments of the German media have a hard time handling his anti-immigrant, anti-gay, anti-a-lot-more rhetoric without resorting to attacks on the author.

Our opinion, hardened by American public discourse, is simple: At the end of the day, this book will fade away, too. 

Sure, he rants like there is no tomorrow, but that's just it. The book is more like a German South Park As A Book than anything else.

There is no real claim of a scientific foundation (even if we include philosophy under the broad umbrella of science). Where an article in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine calls his views "Sarrazin on speed", we think he is just so far out that there won't be much impact. Mr. S's books may be a different matter in this regard.

As to any person or institution feeling insulted to the degree that they will take Mr. Pirinçci to court for slander or libel, we'll keep you posted if we come across any such news.

[Update 2/10/2016]
Frankfurter Allgemeine has a good article on unease of long time immigrants in Germany towards the recent refugees. While the article really only confirms the obvious - at least to folks like the blogster, a migrant, too - it is laudable to see the perspective of the older immigrant population and their children published. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

German 4 Dummies: Neuland (aka. internet)

Neuland, or "new territory",  is a very old German word. Obviously new territories have existed throughout history but the term bubbled up in public discourse when the German chancellor applied it to the internet in 2013.  Before this speech, Neuland could be anything from a brand of frozen chicken to an actual small town or an online shopping outfit.

From shrugs to bemusement to scorn and outrage, reactions to the leader of one of the handful of top economies on the plant calling the internet new territory were flooding the web.

The K-Landnews, ever on the forefront of nothing in particular, had characterized the German web as kind of boring, uninteresting and pointed at the crazy "cease and desist industry" in Germany.
We had also bitched about the fact that owning an internet connection around here is more dangerous than owning a gun.

More dangerous than owning a gun.

If someone steals your gun and uses it in a crime, your ownership will generally not get you in trouble. Unless you put it on the front porch with a big sign saying help yourself.

An internet connection in Germany makes you fully liable for what someone does with that connection. It took two decades for the courts around here to at least cut parents a little bit of slack when their kids violate copyright by downloading something. But you have to ensure to tell your kids upfront it is illegal.

If you offer public internet access, you can be screwed.

These issues, together with the inherent difficulty of finding anything useful when you do a web search in German resulted in the K-Landnews privately nicknaming the German internet a desert. Not like the Atacama or the Sahara, mind you, more like the American South-West, not utterly barren and where rain brings out lots of flowers.

But the German government is taking steps to improve all things internet. Maybe they have a few Star Trek fans around, because the motto reminds us of:

To boldly go where everyone has gone before

The situation in Germany is strange. On the one hand, there are many talented designers and engineers, many homegrown online shopping sites, service providers, even good hardware folks and talented activists.

On the other hand you can be forgiven to think that when German officials say "venture capital" they are secretly wondering which U.S. state has the "City of Venture" as its capital.

Disclaimer: We know the difference between the web and the internet and firmly assert it matters not to most users. In other words, you will learn about trucks and how to maintain them if you need one, the rest of drivers are happy with their sedans and the mechanics from the garage.

German 4 Dummies: "Service"

If your gut reaction is "they don't have it", one of two reasons will apply.

1) You are really old, like 40+ years, and vividly remember the time when you walked into a German store and were greeted with a grumpy 'what do you want' in response to your cheerful "Good morning", "Good afternoon".

2) You have dealt with the English-language lookalike "Service", which is mostly used by corporations and government or semi-government agencies too lazy to provide an 800 number or even a regular number. Instead, they use Premium numbers, making you pay for their 'service'.

3) Tennis became a German sport.
You noticed we said two and went to three? Good for you, now apply that in real life.

The good old German term for customer service or other service industry offerings would be "Dienst". Dienst has the root in to serve (dienen) and is as old-fashioned as the "ich dien" on English coins of yore.

Yes, despite not one but two bloody wars in the 20th century, English coins said "ich dien", what a committment.

In the German language, some vestiges of "Dienst" remain, many out of administrative inertia, like the Bundesnachrichtendienst, their foreign intelligence service. Small family owned companies also still use Kundendienst instead of Kunden-Service.

How did Dienst get replaced by Service?
It sounded cool, no more of the servant connotation despite the roots of the English. It was the perfect facade for downgrading the actual level of service from okay-ish to crap. Sure, blame the bankers, too - they wanted to justify their expensive fees by claiming they offered banking services instead of a place where you put your money and got a loan.

German Service comes as a male noun "der Service", despite the fact that most of the providers to this day are female.

There is also a grammatically neutral version "das Service". Which is a set of dishes or tableware. Plates, cups, the like.

Which can make for interesting sentences.

Das Service ist gestoppt.

The service is stopped.

Tableware generally does not need to be stopped, as it does not run in the first place. The only occasion TheEditor can think of where a set of dishes is stopped, well that would be in a domestic dispute with serious hurling of plates. Any wall or body part between the thrower and a wall would stop "das Service".

Das Service ist gestoppt was a translation error. The service in question was a computer operating system service.

Now, what is the plural of "Service"? If you mean the plural of the form "der Service", then you get the anglicized "die Services".

For sets of dishes, you would prefer the form "die Service". Where the "e" at the end does double duty as the regular e and the German plural "e", sort of.

Oh, you are Austrian? Just use "das", nobody will mind.

The above is all hunky dory but there is a possible pitfall in everyday spoken communication.

In large swaths of southern Germany, a perfect strange may pass you and utter a single word that sounds like "service".

You must not act surprised or puzzled. The stranger is not soliciting anything!

The stranger is not saying "Service" but "Servus", which is just a friendly hello. All it needs to confuse the two is careless pronunciation meeting an untrained ear, and severe miscommunication can occur.

We do not know how wise it would be to take a print-out of this post to your German Ausländerbehörde to show you are making an honest effort to learn the language.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Bad Nukes Boys, a German nuclear dump found in Berlin govt. quarter?

As if the news this weekend out of Germany hadn't been weird enough, there was one more on Sunday.

The major nuclear power companies want the German government to take over the remaining nuclear power plants, run them until they go offline in 2020 and then dismantle them and store the waste.

Like the majority of Western nations, Germany has no long-term storage facility for nuclear fuel and related waste, so this suggestion that came under the heading "bad bank for nukes" would make good sense for the industry.

The industry has also been unhappy with being told to turn off the plants when the German government pulled the plug after Japan's Fukushima meltdown.
In the wake of this, the power players went to the regular courts and to the little known Washington based trade "court" to force the German government to undo this decision or to pay damages in the billions.

The "bad nukes" idea is a great carrot and stick venture. The carrot are the approximately 30 billion euros the companies have put on the side over decades to fulfill their legal mandate with regard to the shutdown and dismantling of old plants.

The stick is the collection of lawsuits pending against Berlin.

Of course, there has been an outcry condemning the bad nukes solution but, interestingly enough, some of the voices were rather muted, and the trade union of industry workers came out in favor of the proposition.

Given that the old coal mining industry in the Ruhr de-Industrial Area in fact did get a similar deal, we are not willing to discard the chances of success of the "bad nukes boys" in the future.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Translator's delight: harsh interrogation methods

Translators are strange people, with lots of power if they work for the powerful and no power if they translate Korean, Chinese, or Japanese operating instructions into English.

Competition by computers, called machine translation, has frightened many in the profession who see themselves as the quintessential undervalued and underpaid professionals. But bad computer translations have had one positive effect: they deflected some of the ridicule to machines. The bad news, of course, is that the machines are getting better, which may move the smirks back to the humans.
Crowd sourcing of work is also seen with ambivalence, and the fact that some jobs are offered in the Mechanical Turk category does not help. Neither does the fact that the profession is largely female.

These sherpas of international communication may or may not get a pat on the back, they may or may not make it into the footnotes of the famous, like Sakajawea. If your boss was infamous and is dead, you may even get to write a book, like Hitler's translator (or interpreter if you are a stickler for details).

On a practical everyday level, your only headlines might be collateral, a mention as the translator of a pulp fiction or non-fiction book, or as the person who refuses to render the computer device "modem" as male "der Modem", or stubbornly insisting on the German "Kennwort" for the English password when the rest of the country has moved to newly minted Passwort. Or as one of two Germans who still differentiate between "physisch" and "physikalisch" when you encounter the English word "physical".

Over time, you get used to being a two legged dictionary in the company of the powerful. Hey, what's Muschelkalk in English?  
Muschelkalk is the technical term in English.

Then there are the occasions when your translation is right and wrong at the same time.
We need to fix the existing German version, there is a comma missing after <whatever>.
The English is fine, the sentence structure comes without a comma anyway.

And then there are the euphemisms and the emotionally charged words. Say, you happen to make a few extra euros by running alongside some military and a German points at a structure: das ist der Ruheraum. A place where folks rest? More like the morgue.

For linguists, the language of the war on terror may have been quite terrifying in its awful twisting of language structures that appeared deceptively straightforward.

But there is one phrase out of this that disproves the old adage of "something always gets lost in translation".

While the Germans adopted the term "waterboarding", just capitalize the initial "w", done, they had a very easy time with "harsh interrogation methods".

"Verschärfte Vernehmungsmethoden" comes easily to that language. The funny thing is that those touting the importance of Germany's linguistic traditions are uneasy with particular expression of tradition.

They prefer to steer you to Goethe and think poems.

We think Faustian bargains.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

German 4 Dummies: h8 the 88

The Germans use the English word "shitstorm" to describe an emotionally charged controversy, one that typically plays out on social media these days.

Why they use an English word for that is a question of the psychology of language. In short: if you use a swear word from a foreign language, psychologically speaking, it feels less harsh to the speaker than a corresponding native word. Merde, that was a good explanation.

Today, the Twitter hashtag #ariel88 was abuzz. People alleged that Proctor & Gamble had committed a nazi related gaffe by labeling their detergent Ariel "88".

Because, apparently, neo-nazis use 88 as a code for Heil Hitler.

TheEditor at the K-Landnews finds it highly disturbing how the mainstream German media reported this, including such headlines as "Proctor and Gamble in the nazi trap".

We have never in the history of the K-Landnews tweeted as much as today in such a short time. And in doing so, we gave away our feeling of exasperation.

Which quickly subsided.

The one thing TheEditor learned today is: we are journalists here at the blog. We used the term bloggers out of unfounded respect for the instututions of German journalism.
Today, Der Spiegel, Der Stern, Frankfurter Allgemeine, German public broadcasting, as well as possibly others stooped down to the level normally reserved to tabloid BILD.

Thank you for making us journalists.

And here are all the related tweets for posterity or just for the posterior.

From Agent #666 to Agent #69: & to drop from collection after reports: our algorithm detected 0% content.

Final tweet on . "88" is safe if you write "87 +1" or "89 - 1". Neither nor should notice. Let us know if it works.

Danke deutsche für ! Damit sind wir Blogger endgültig als vollwertige Journalisten zu sehen. Jobangebote bittte....

warning: the number 101 is still safe. Germans don't know that "Thinking 101" might not be meant as a compliment.

Thanks to articles in & this blogger is 100% journalist! Persilschein mucho appreciated, amigos.

warning: do not sell anything with the numeral "175" to seniors over 45 because of gay implications.

warning: do not sell anything with the numeral 88. No 88 proof alcohol, no 88% formic acid. No 88 letter .

industry in shambles after flub: can no longer market offensive nails & screws 0.5 to 5 in.(1 to 12 cm) to males.

reported by guy on floor 14 (one above 12th)! Guy now working on super size Ariel 420 package? Sorry for 4 once..

Friday, May 9, 2014

German jobcenter shock: Hartz IV recipient accepts job!

No fanfares, please, was all the case worker at this unnamed German Jobcenter could say before she slumped into her ergonomic office chair and reached for the second desk drawer from the top.

Once fortified, she became more vocal: Top brass recently installed the exact same fanfares at our branch that Irish airline RyanAir uses to announce to passengers when a flight arrives on time. It's a very cheerful sound, she added. The idea came from a middle manager who took RyanAir to a symposium in London to learn from our British counterparts, they say jobcentre with re, not er, on how to address our clientele. They suggested we call aid recipients valued clients, and he explained that they took the inspiration from the traditional worthy oriental gentleman. He flew RyanAir so the top brass could do a press release on our frugal processes. Please, don't tell anybody that we lost a valued client. You know, we establish a deep connection with them over time. We get to know the names or their kids, what medication they are on to treat the jobless depression, even if grandma sends them 5 euros in the mail for Christmas. And we speak with affection of them, for example, the other day Herr Mueller visited, and I later told my colleague Heidi that he must not have had a shower in a week. The woman we lost, she did not take any job we offered her, although we pushed firmly. Instead, someone she had applied at before she became our valued client called her up, all happy and friendly, you know, the way you shouldn't treat people, and asked if she still wanted the job.

That's the job she took! One offered nicely. It's sad. We just try to ensure they never forget the seriousness of being unemployed, and then someone comes along and poof, takes her away with a happy smile.

We want our valued clients to learn soft skills, like how to be grateful that society does not let you starve outright. Everybody can do the hard skills, like scrubbing toilets. But gratitude in the face of adversity, that's what we are here for.

If someone missed an appointment for no good reason, we cut their allowance. They call it sanctions or punishment, but it really is just a reminder that things can always get worse.

Then suddenly, she looked up: why am I telling you all this?

Which ended our interview.

The interview is, of course, fiction. The woman who took a job offered nicely (meaning not by the jobcenter) really exists.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The journey from learning PGP to Operation Redshift

Start out with philosophy or with numbers, that was the question.

The answer, as is the case so often on this blog was "neither". Start with a teaser, a few comforting words, hence the title with the teasing Operation Redshift.

Being around computers for too long can seriously warp your view of the world. Fiddling with bits and bytes is something many of "us" enjoy but most people find boring or plain weird.

As the information industry makes its way out of the age that corresponds to the early days of cars - when you had to be a mechanic to get anywhere driving the thing - the information super highways have become popular and will soon get their toll booths.

It is funny how we attribute magic qualities to computers and software and, at the same time, find bugs so huge that the barn doors are too small for them to get out.

And then there is privacy. Where those who have it, tell us we don't need it.

If only the National Rifle Association would adopt privacy tools as digital arms and claim 2nd Amendment protection for them!

On second thought, no, not a good idea. If the police can suspect everybody to carry a gun, all you get is insecure lawmen. Sorry, but that rolled up newspaper could have hidden a gun.

So, it was kind of refreshing to stumble on a presentation at re:publica 2014 where safe computing was presented with arguments we have heard for safer sex in a world with AIDS.

Encryption as the condom of the digital world.

Which brings us to Operation Redshift and the analogous old time sheep gut condom.

For some odd reason, we vaguely remember reading about the substitution cipher a long time ago. Was it in school, was it in a techie magazine? It does not matter.

When we read that an American agency sent out a recruiting tweet using a substitution cipher teaser, we smiled, not smirked, smiled.

We had already emailed out highly encrypted cat pictures under the paradigm 'well, if you want to collect something, we can help', then switched to opening the ascii files and doing a few search and replace operations before sending. And double encrypted ones, too. 

Operation Redshift:
The question now became what can we do with a substitution cipher?

Use the hard work somebody smarter than us has already done. Apply it to the ascii output out of a regular PGP encryption run? It takes only a few lines of code to shift a PGP sequence like hQGMAyShudTVn7l2AQv9H7Dr6kUDFIEkZ to the left or right by a number of ASCII characters. And nobody is any the wiser.

Since we have no idea what we are doing, do not use this for anything other than cat pictures.

Finding Nolde - or other art via the Madgeburg registry

Germany took a while to consolidate a central register or co-ordination agency set up in Magdeburg, formerly East Germany, that works mostly on Nazi and World War II art.

Without the find a couple of years ago of a huge trove of art in Munich, Germany, the fading issue of looted, lost, and otherwise displaced art would not have made many headlines in the German mainstream media.

In the wake of the headlines, several large German papers published a link to the Madgeburg agency and its searchable database. A simple search will return items in the categories "search reports" and "found object" reports.

The database contains not only paintings and related items such as sketches and prints but a variety of other types of art, for example art glass. To get to the different types of art, select "Catalogue Search" under the menu item "Database".

You will then be presented with a dropdown menu "Choose a type of object".

At this point, please learn German in a hurry, or open a new window with Google Translate. Despite the website being available in several languages, the underlying database is not, as we say, fully internationalized.

In our test, the selection items were in German only. The "Advanced Search" screen on the other hand does have an English list to choose from.

Here is an example the catalogue search screen in Russian.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Germany's cocky internet guru to audience: You failed!

Germany's main "not that tech heavy" net conference re:publica 2014 is under way, and there are multiple tracks of topics, including the insult your audience single mind track by one of Germany's most widely known and respected internet peeps.

In light of the surveillance revelations and ensuing debate, the audience was told: you failed.

Failed to understand, failed to respond, failed to come up with the new net of the future, failed...failed...failed.

Of course, admonishing the audience was only a rhetorical device.

Must have been.

To pull everybody from their stupor, or something along those lines.

The K-Landnews TheEditor sees it differently: One word, sad.

Feels a bit like the old West revival tent: you have failed! now follow me for salvation.

But this was only one very predictable presentation. There are many more, thoughtful, and entertaining ones. And many are either in English or with decent subtitles.

The cat and the bucket, or darn, where is my cell phone!

Not having opposable thumbs or being classified as smart as, say dolphins, can cats use tools?

Depends on the definition of tool, in our case we call a bucket a tool.

How it happened:
The cats have a single large litter box, which we clean at least twice a day to fulfill their standard of cleanliness. The litter consists of regular heating pellets. They are as cheap as it gets, disintegrate on contact with liquid, aka urine and clump nicely around firmer matter.

The cleaned out sawdust and lumps go into a standard construction work bucket, one of these wide fairly low black plastic deals you get at Home Depot for a buck and a half.

Most days, the bucket goes straight back out onto the porch, because of the smell and so.

Like children, two or even three cats at times feel the urge at the same time.  They take turns, just like little or big people.

A couple of weeks ago, something mind boggling happened. The Princess was using the box as Cowboy Cat was swaggering like a human in the same situation.

Only this time, instead of leaving for a minute, he sniffed the bucket which - for some reason - had not been moved out.

He sniffed again, looked at his sister who was taking her time, and then it happened.

Cowboy Cat climbed onto the rim of the bucket, slowly balancing himself. With all fours safely on the rim, he did his business and cautiously climbed down. He looked at his doodie, then up at the human with a questioning face: you don't expect me to cover this up, I can't, right?

The human silently: did I just see what I saw?

The cell phone was nowhere near, and the human was too stunned anyway by the spectacle.