Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The final stand against same sex marriage in Germany

National elections are coming later in 2017 in Germany, and the country has a new political hot topic: same sex marriage, or - slightly pejorative - "Homo-Ehe" (gay marriage).

The last time German proponents of "marriage for all" got their hopes up was a couple of years ago when famously christian conservative Republic of Ireland citizens overwhelmingly voted to legalize gay marriage.

Even some conservative German politicians were somewhat stung by the fact that tiny Ireland would leapfrog Europe's leading power in the social rights arena. The Berlin coalition of Christian Democrats/Christian Social Union and Social Democrats reacted in typically German fashion.

Which is: loud public proclamations of the German commitment to equal rights for all combined with action that falls well short of the lofty statements.

Germany did introduce registered partnerships for same sex partners in 2001 but left out major areas that married couples take for granted, for example adoption rights. So, it too many more changes to approach equality, but even after the Irish upheaval, German civil unions are not fully equal to marriage.

The Social Democrats, in the doldrums after having been hammered in earlier state contests, remembered their unwavering commitment to same sex marriage and called for a parliament vote before the national elections.

Conservatives were caught off guard - like when you discover the only condom you have has a big hole in it, or the single remaining battery of a vibrator goes out just as you reach "the home stretch".

Because, make no mistake about it, to conservative opponents of same sex marriage it really is all about the suspicion that gays and lesbians have more fun than they do.

Why else would they continue to oppose same sex marriage when the public is overwhelmingly in favor?

The final argument against same sex marriage it that these relationships are not equal to heterosexual marriage. Yes, the German constitution puts the institution of marriage under special protection by the state.

But successive governments have changed the treasured constitution multiple times when they felt like it.

Or ignored the constitution altogether, most famously after reunification, the event that very constitution declared as the point in time when the German people would write a new, permanent constitution that would be put to a referendum.

The conservatives now trotting out the special protection were the ones who ignored the political scripture's most important provision. By the way, that happened under chancellor Kohl, who was recently celebrated as the pinnacle of European democracy.

What else do opponents have?

A pernicious equal rights argument that goes as follows: men and women have equal rights but we don't start using the same term for them.

To the blogster, this is hilarious because any regular reader of the K-Landnews knows that the blogster goes as "it"*. And it is proud of its trail blazing role.

Yet, what stings conservatives most it the change of heart, for lack of a better term, displayed by Chancellor Merkel. In another Merkelian move, she suddenly declared the stance on same sex marriage to be a "matter of conscience" after the Social Democrat call for a vote prior to dissolution of the current parliament created an unexpected media buzz.

Will the federal parliament vote to make same sex marriage legal before the Fall election?

Summer recess is approaching fast, and after that, only a few months are left before the election.

The blogster is not sure that conservatives will bite the condom before that. They will try their best - or rather worst - to stall.

[Update] That was quick. The press reports that the German federal parliament is to vote on same sex marriage this Friday, two days from today, and that passage of the measure can be safely assumed.

[Update] The Catholic bishops still don't like the concept of same sex marriage and warn that the "procreation of life" is in danger when traditional marriage is no longer exclusive.
In a nice but only superficial twist, the current head of the German conference of bishops is a Mr. Marx.

No relation to the original Marx could be found. Although this would not be the first time that a progressive family has reactionary offspring.

[Update 6/30/2017] The deed is done.  Same sex couples in Germany will no longer "be German equal", a term the blogster just made up to describe the warped definition of equal often used in this country, where something can be equal and not have equal rights because some rights are slightly re-cast as being outside of the scope of "equal". For "equal" same sex couples, this included the tax and retirement regimes until Germany's highest court declared the practice illegal in 2013.

Chancellor Merkel took a stand today and voted "no" on same sex marriage, saying that the constitution protected marriage between a man and a woman.

The blogster has a perfectly German solution for the Merkellian problem: two asterisks and a short text footnote on marriage forms.

Spouse 1 *     Spouse 2*
and add
* For the purposes of the German constitutional definition, Spouse1 shall be deemed the woman, Spouse 2 the man.

See how easy that is? It works exactly in the same manner as previous definitions of "equal", except this time in favor of same sex couples.

And so fucking German.

And while we are on so fucking German, the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine ran a "guest article" today, which pulled out all the evil stereotypes, including allusions to a tendency of child abuse by the gays, yeah. Woke users like caught the crappy piece.

* As in Gender Neutral.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Americans in exile are real but nobody knows how many there are

The "nation of immigrants" does not talk much these days about U.S. citizens who opt for a life in exile.

There are many reasons for this, for example, the fact that segments of the US population erroneously believe that the whole world wants nothing more than to become Americans. Or the fact that declaring yourself a "nation of immigrants" allows you to leave aside those who were here before you - the native Americans - and those you brought over as slaves.

It is also much easier to focus on those who come because they affirm your life, they presumably want what you have. So, you play the greatest country on earth card and, at the same time, debate endlessly about the newcomers stealing your jobs and your women.

On the other hand, those who leave are no longer competitors for jobs and women. Sorry, American males, we'll simply ignore the hundreds of thousands or millions of military brides who have been stealing American men in the seven decades since the end of World War II.

Jokes aside, who are the American exilees or refugees, how can we even start to define them?

During the Vietnam War, thousands of American young men absconded to Canada or other countries in protest of the war. Unlike to lazy draft dodgers like Dick Cheney and Donald Trump, most of these refugees did not have a nice doctor who handed out medical certificates that attested to a condition making them unfit for killing and being killed in Asia.

We do not have good numbers as to how many left the US and how many came back once the war was over, but it seems safe to assume most returned.

When George W. Bush came to power, there was again talk of people planning to go to Canada, and when Trump was elected, the Canadian immigration website went down for a short time under an overload of traffic.

These groups have one thing in common: they talked quite openly about their plans, and the media reported.

Others are less noticed, making brief headlines, then disappearing from view. A high profile example in Germany was Laura Poitras, of Snowden whistleblowing fame. While contemplating to remain in exile in Berlin, Germany, she eventually returned to spend time in the US after US border security stopped harassing her.

Another example was a US soldier who asked for asylum in Germany as a conscientious objector to the Iraq War. His request was denied despite a German court ruling stating the war was illegal.

Other US military personnel quietly opt for in country discharge and build new lives in Germany without going much into political explanations. But when a black former soldier from the South tells you he hasn't been to the US in almost a decade, there is a good chance his reasons include more than "liking Germany".

Or where on the spectrum of "temporary and for fun" to "good riddance America" do you put state department employees who have no intention to go back?

What about all the individuals who move without making waves, ostensibly for work, or live with the German grandmother?

It is a rare US citizen who will stand up during a German town hall meeting on refugee issues and begin his contribution with: I am an American refugee.

If you ever want to hear a pin drop in a German town hall meeting, we recommend using this line.

Every self respecting country has a lengthy "interview" process for newcomers, often nosing around in the most intimate life of an immigrant.

Not one country the blogster knows off bothers with an "exit interview".

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How a government steals the future of its citizens: by classifying information

Health warning: There is a school of thought out there that believes, or professes to believe, in the sanctity of classified information as indispensable for the security of a nation. If you adhere to this school of thought, the principal argument of this post may anger you, cause a rise in blood pressure, or trigger increased sweating, with secondary consequences including potentially yelling at your wife, husband, children, or pets. So, be good to yourself and your loved ones, and continue to

Of the many time tested ways to control information, governments around the world love classifying information, declaring it secret and locking it up for many years to come.

The practice provides jobs for government officials and contractors, and a large ecosystem of pundits and more or less dubious self styled experts thrive around it. There are leaks, which contribute to the mystique of the practice, add work for lawyers and judges and provide countless hours of entertainment - from the variant called "news" to the expressly fictional TV series and movies,

Critics are vocal about over classification, lack of transparency, an ever expanding national security apparatus, extreme prison sentences or even the threat of the death penalty for unauthorized disclosure.

The blogster's simple mind finds all of it interesting, some of it necessary, much of it ludicrous, and has tried to dig as deeply into the meaning of the practice as the limitations of said mind allow.

The result is: much of the practice of classifying information amounts to theft.

What the government steals is your future.

Because you don't have the best possible information when you go to the voting booth to cast ballots for another four or five years of government.

Of course, you can rightly say that being fully informed about everything is impossible. Even sneaker and with an air of righteousness, you could turn around and ask the blogster why it refuses to give its name.

More likely, you will understand we are talking about very different matters. The blogster's name or gender are unimportant, they do not - or should not - have any impact on your life.

But when your government, for example, refuses to release information which confirms that it toppled an elected government, we are looking at potentially world wide consequences.
Just weeks ago, the US finally released information which confirmed that Western governments overthrew the government of Iran in 1953.

Go figure.

We stole not only the future of the Iranian people but also possibly our own because our citizens might well have voted differently had they known this in a timely manner. The typical duration of keeping information classified, mostly around 30 years minimum, much longer for some, or in some countries, is really all the proof you need to judge the importance of "available in a timely manner".

Media professionals are acutely aware that the timely availability of information is crucial to have a well informed public.

Regarding a more recent affair, the plan of the majority parties in the German parliamentary investigation of the NSA to classify the dissenting opinion of the opposition is simply another attempt to steal some of the country's future. The minority opinion was published by all things digital web site netzpolitik, so damage is limited.

But there are numerous other past and current instances we not being told about.***

The world is a complicated place, and the blogster struggles with its* own limitations, so make up your own mind.

* Given that every enlightened human will say it should not matter whether the author of a post is male, female, or some other version of homo sapiens, the K-Landnews decided to use the truly gender neutral form "it". 

** You have read about the dog on the editorial board of several medical publications, right?  

*** In case, you are inclined to consider this little post a baseless or stupid rant, the K-Landnews TheEditor* would like to point out that the post was written by a person** with several years of experience in and around highly classified information.  

Sunday, June 18, 2017

How do you like the headline "German state pays for non-existent day care workers"?

From our Don't complain about fake news when you produce them too series.

Recently, the blogster bitched about clickbait ledes (article summaries) on the web sites of several large German media outlets.

A simple minded scribe, the blogster went to great lengths to limit the research to the ledes, only to be stumped today by a nasty little article in conservative Welt that announced the "German state pays for non-existent day care workers".

True, German government agencies can and do pay for absentee workers, for example in the case of the head of the national police union, who continued to receive pay without having done one second of police work in years.

As it turns out, the government does not pay for non-existent child care workers.

In some states, money is distributed to day care facilities based on the number of children, not on the number of workers at the day care center or kindergarten.

Some of the country's 16 states are criticized for not enforcing class size guidelines.

But that was not good enough of a headline for the folks at Welt.

[Update] Typos & the usual.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Among German mainstream media, conservative outlets are the main purveyors of clickbait

Four venerable German websites: Spiegel, Zeit, Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine.
Four weeks of multiple visits to their homepages every single day.
Over one thousand article introductory sections.

The result: Frankfurter Allgemeine and Welt, the two conservative web sites out of the four are the worst clickbait slingers in the country.

It is commonly accepted that the introductory section of a news story is intended to entice the reader to read the full story, that's the very definition of lede as per Merriam Webster

The blogster used a very narrow subset of clickbait for its* research. The standard notion of sensationalist headlines, pictures and "clickbait content" described in Wikipedia does not do justice, in the blogster's mind, to clickbait usage by respected mainstream outlets. Encouragingly, we do not - yet - consider for example, Buzzfeed and Frankurter Allgemeine made out of the same journalistic cloth. Although Buzzfeed hired famous FOIA terrorist Jason Leopold, meaning that one of their workers easily out-investigates Frankfurter Allgemeine.

So, the blogster looked only at two methods, neither of which qualifies as sensationalist. Both examples below are from the last few days.
1. Obscuring a fact or event
This example from Welt** says six months ago, soccer player Timo Werner made "a mistake", then states that some are still upset, and finally asks what is wrong with these people.

The offending part is the use of a mistake, not the final question. Neither the blogster nor most readers will expect an exhaustive answer in an introductory section. Hiding the core information behind the term mistake is devious because readers unfamiliar with the episode might not consider whatever mistake alludes to worth reading the full article.
In fact, the rest of the lede indicates as much when it says that relatively few people (aka. some) continue to be up in arms. 

2. Outright refusal to provide information
Frankfurter Allgemeine*** had a lede with great news for Germany the other day: German companies are even increasing production beyond expectations. "Especially in one sector."

Which the clickbait doctors at Frankfurter Allgemeine flat out refuse to name in the lede.

To the blogster, using such devices is demeaning to the readers and dumb on the part of the journalist or editors. Considering that all four publications cater to a somewhat educated, more middle class and up audience, the blogster cannot help but feel that even more educated conservative readers are not highly regarded by their news people.

All in all, Die Zeit treats its audience with the most respect, with virtually zero clickbait ledes. Der Spiegel could not resist a couple of times, which is in line with their sometimes slick-and-sloppy headline writing, but that's still a far cry from Die Welt and light years from Frankfurter Allgemeine.

Die Welt came in third with whole days free of bait, and one, maybe two simultaneously on the homepage on most days.

Frankfurter Allgemeine is the worst of the four, deserving of a Tony Soprano shoutout for clickbait ledes: forget about it.

Let's not forget that this is the digital age. You don't run out of space on a page, you don't find the print shop short of one or two letters of movable type, and the ink cost for a web site is guaranteed to be zero - unless you write off the editor's luxury Mont Blanc fountain pen under that line item.

So, there is absolutely no excuse for this disgusting practice

* Yep, gender neutral, out of principle, and also to piss of everybody trapped in the male-female binary. 

** Vor über sechs Monaten machte Stürmer Timo Werner einen Fehler – und noch heute blasen einige moralinsaure Gutmenschen die Backen auf und pfeifen ihn aus. Was stimmt bloß nicht bei denen?  

*** Der Aufschwung in Deutschland ist intakt: Die Unternehmen weiten ihre Fertigung sogar noch mehr als als erwartet. Vor allem in einer Branche.  

[Update 6/11/2017] Clarified both examples are from last few days.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Graves registration and soldiers jumping on coffins

The death and destruction industry (the military industrial complex and its favorite politicians) learned several big lessons from the Vietnam war.

1. Never show your own troops killing an enemy or a civilian from up close.
2. Keep your own KIAs (killed in action) off of the TV as best as you can.
3. Exploit the grief of surviving family members.

So, the reason why coffins of dead soldiers come off the plane with American flags draped over them has nothing to do with appreciation of service or respect for "the ultimate sacrifice" and everything to do with masking death as well as possible.

It is obvious then, that the elaborate pro military propaganda shows put up by armed forces around the world show sanitized death machines and leave out those tasked with the gruesome cleanup jobs.

The blogster is certain you have seen TV footage of breathtaking air shows, of grand naval parades, and - if you watch American sports - strapping young men and women marines at sports events.

Well, there is the practical matter that is is much easier and spine tingly to yell out "Semper Fi" instead of "'Dignity, Reverence, Respect", isn't it. The deep, soothing voice of a sports announcer just sounds better when he announces a Marines detachment. Imagine a happy "Ladies and gentlemen, we now welcome a detachment of the United States Armed Forces Graves Registration Service".

Try it for yourself, under the shower or in the attic. It feels quite different.

Don't worry, they renamed it in 1991 to Mortuary Affairs, which is marginally better, clinical enough to banish the image of dirt, stench, and beef stew size chunks of human flesh.
Obviously, parades that show off their bulldozers and diggers for the mass graves are also not advisable from a PR standpoint.

Dying with dignity is pretty much impossible in war, so the death and destruction industry and wider society try to make up with dignified funerals, which still can create pickets and counter pickets at a soldier's funeral, like this one involving the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.

One of the most sordid little anecdotes about military funerals the blogster fondly recalls is the description of German military funerals by a German colonel who reminisced about his younger days.

When the funeral was over and the family and mourners headed out, the detachment would form a shield to block the view of the grave by mourners, and one of us would have to jump in, landing on top of the casket, to retrieve the flag the coffin was draped in. 

This post brought to you by someone once commended for "exceptionally meritorious services", a phrase you may recognize as a favorite of the U.S. military.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

US Postal Service employee becomes corrections officer - because prison is safer

From our Talkative Friends series. Also from our We make up series names as we go series.

If you haven't been there and have not watched TV, let the blogster tell you that the U.S. is a weird place at times. Several famous memes play with real or perceived weirdness and regional oddities, the most well known ones probably are 'Only in San Francisco' and 'Florida man'.  

The vast majority of events and stories are never told or, if told, never written down.

This is one of them.

The man we are talking about was a corrections officer, and he had scar a couple of inches long in his scalp. His short hair meant he could not hide it under an over comb.

He would joyfully tell you of his long work as a mailman for the United States Postal Service and answer the question why he became a prison guard with a smiling: It is a lot safer. There are no guns in prison.

His dislike for guns was quickly explained. Having been robbed three times on his mail route and shot during one of these armed robberies, he had decided to no longer risk his life over some Christmas presents or social security checks.

So, he switched to working in a federal prison, admittedly the safest option among US prisons for guards and inmates alike. Guarding mostly pot heads and small time drug dealers nabbed through an endless chain of confidential informants, or snitches, and a few fraudsters and other white collar detainees turned out to be a good fit.

Coming from USPS, the gentleman was used to the vagaries of government bureaucracy but free from the baggage of physical and emotional violence that often accompanies ex military who believe law enforcement is a good career for them.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Climate change and the role of Trump as a CMA (close minded asshole) detector

For the impatient reader: The single good thing about Donald Trump is that he serves as the perfect CMA (close-minded asshole) detector. Technically, it would be more accurate to speak of "catalyst", because he doesn't really detect anything, even in himself. But he does give others the license to come out by saying and doing things that are considered outrageous in the "defined sphere of polite public discourse".

We cannot be surprised that climate deniers around the world are celebrating a propaganda coup of epic proportions as the U.S. officially withdraws from the Paris climate treaty.

In the war of words, nothing matters any more when even the New York Times publishes an article blaming basically the Democrats for the GOP leaders' calling climate science "fake science".

German speaking papers of a certain persuasion have, of course, come out saying Trump was right. We have seen and heard all the arguments before. How climate change is happening and we can't really stop it, how it brings advantages to some, possibly opening up the Northwest Passage and giving access to more resources.

Reporting on the withdrawal has focused on the political power play, with a side of melting ice caps.

To read anything about how the West outsources much of its CO2 emissions to China or India, you need to go on Twitter or Our World in Data.

Whether on women, people of color, gun violence (remember the I could shoot someone), Donald Trump's example has encouraged people to drop their guard and speak their minds.

On climate change, the latest example of his far reaching encouragement is a statement by a group of German Christian Democrats (the party of Ms. Merkel) making news today.

The new opportunities from climate change, the groups says, may well be "greater than any negative ecological effects".

There you go.

For sure, the group continues to criticize laws that their own party has enacted and supported. Some of these laws were so outrageous that even leaders of an industry that benefited from subsidies have complained about excessive generosity.

But this is a negligible detail.

The crucial idea is that they are going all the way to claiming advantages may outstrip negative effects.

What they are saying is: If there are winners and losers, which is what the runaway capitalist world view really is all about, then we want to be among the winners.

Exhilaration about real or imagined positive consequences of climate change was not an acceptable position "mainstream" German politicians and leaders would express in public.

Donald Trumps combative stance changed that.

So, the German public needs to thank him once again for being the catalyst that encouraged some folks to out themselves as close minded assholes.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The national security train comes to a high school curriculum near D.C.

If you have not lived under a rock, you know that American high schools can be interesting security challenges.

From a kid with a homemade digital clock which is promptly diagnosed as a bomb by an English major - a teacher, not a major major - to the idiot cop caught on camera obviously harassing a student who is doing some quiet siting in a chair to metal detectors - you must have seen one of these.

Then there is the curriculum in some Washington D.C. area high schools.

According to a report on NPR this week, a number of schools have begun to incorporate national security topics in the curriculum.

To many Europeans this may sound odd, but please remember that American high schools have much greater freedom in establishing a curriculum than most European counterparts.

So, there is no sinister government sponsored political agenda there although the U.S. government has been prompting language skills in "rare languages" for over a decade and the Department of Homeland Security has an effort geared towards cyber security.

In the D.C. area, it is about jobs and money, as the NPR interviewee explained.

There are many well paid jobs in national security in the greater D.C. area. Parents in the industry are attracted by offerings that enhance career prospects in the field for their offspring.

The approach reminds the blogster of the proliferation of criminal justice college degrees in the early days of the tough on crime creation of the American Gulag in the 1980s and 1990s.

On the bright side, more Americans will soon be able to find places like North Korea or Iran on a map, and more will speak a foreign language.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Dear proponents of "CO2 is Life": F*** You

Note: The blogster has nothing against the substance called CO2. Not a thing. It* does not mind that burning fossil fuels creates CO2. This is a chemical reaction, period. 
In conversations, the blogster would frequently smirk and grin, well, fossil fuels are solar energy, just millions of years old.

This being said, it will repeat the title for maximum effect. And in bold this time.

Dear proponents of "CO2 is Life": fuck you.

The blogster has long lamented equating CO2 with global warming as a means to argue political and economic change.

Not because it thinks the two have nothing to do with each other.

But because it is way too easy to point at the role CO2 plays for plants, because it is too easy to point at earlier times in the Earth's history with far higher atmospheric CO2 levels and marvel at an abundance of greenery - while leaving out there were no 7+ billion humans at the time messing with basically every single one of the planet's ecosystems.
Also because CO2 as a compound released in burning fossil fuels is harmless compared to actual poisons contained in crude oil and coal and to toxins released when fossil fuels are burned.

And even more, because of what we produce from it: not just electricity and energy but huge amounts of plastics and substances millions of times more lethal than crude oil.

To this day, the blogster feels sad that melting ice caps and glaciers are the best imagery of the dangers of global warming.
Because we live our daily lives embedded inside the powerful narrative of all the wonderful life enhancing and life saving things that were developed in a world dominated by and powered by fossil fuels.
Even pictures of a submerged New York don't quite cut it.

No, the blogster does not want to go back to a wood energy society because it has seen the photos of depleted forests in Central Europe after the two world wars.

The blogster wants everybody to have a comfortable life.

But that is not what political and corporate CO2 is Life folks are about. They simply want to get more of the stuff out of the ground and make money.

But these still are not the full reasons for the Fuck You. You want to know how you have really earned a whole hearted Fuck You?

By claiming we don't know if global warming is man made. Many of you stop there, others are dumb enough to say therefore no action is needed.

If only man made bad things warrant action, why have you bothered at all to improve life since the days we crawled out of the oceans, why are you such great disease fighters, why do you extend the lifetime of food that just wants to rot? Wouldn't it be reasonable to let diseases take their course?
Oh, wait. The leaders among you do not give a sh*** with regard to that either as long as it does not impact you personally.

Creeks are not man made, but you will use a paddle to navigate them.

The only creek you go up without a paddle is probably man made.

The blogster wants to end the post on a positive note. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that a CO2 is Life person has made it this far.

Because they are fellow humans, and the vast majority of them wouldn't mind using less fossil fuels, would buy nice shoes that last instead of flimsy cheap discardable loafers, and would want their children to hear birds in the morning and to chase after butterflies after school. 

[Update 6/2/2017]
Here are a couple of base figures for the blogster's humble abode, which is a two story house more than 100 years old.
Comfort level: American (aka. could do better).
Last purchase of heating oil for hot water & winter heating: 5 years ago. Amount purchased: 400 gallons. Next purchase: 2018 or later.
Other fuel for heating and cooking: wood, approx. 5 cubic meters/year.
Total annual household power consumption approx. 1800 kWh, incl. all amenities & home office.
Power savings from LED lighting (zero on moving in, 95% now) approx. 200kWh.
Hot water from thermal solar from, generally, mid May well into Fall: 100%.

One more thing:
The German government will claim this as a success of its climate strategy.

Which is really fucked because not a shred of its motivation had anything to do with the German or any other government.
Oh, and no subsidies were used either. For the work and equipment involved, Germany subsidizes companies, which looks great but turns the whole thing into a zero sum game. Cost estimates by companies came out at the projected lifetime of the measures, which only works for rental properties.

* We are gender neutral at the K-Landnews. Which just so happens to be another pet peeve of the CO2 is life brigade.