Monday, December 24, 2018

The Walmart parking lot - a home away from home

If you followed the news during the disastrous wildfire in Northern California last month, you saw the fire refugees in the parking lot of the Chico Walmart.

This was unusual as to the extent of the encampment and the number of people who took refugee in a parking lot of America's biggest retailer. Regularly chastized for low wages, skimpy benefits, and super rich shareholders, Walmart is also an unlikely champion of those out of luck or out of money (generally both).

Seeking refuge next to a Walmart is something that takes place every day all across the vast country where trespassing can quickly land you in jail. The phenomenon is quintessentially American, and very much unknown outside of the States.

Spending a night or two in a Walmart parking lot is an accepted travel feature among young people, among people who live in their RVs, as well as among the local homeless.

Nobody the blogster spoke to knew how sleeping in a Walmart parking lot became an accepted way of avoiding Motel 6 or the Thunder Lounge. The common explanation is Walmart's long store opening hours of generally 18 to 24 hours a day combined with a laisser faire attitude of the company. And their bathrooms are clean and not locked for non customers.

Given the round o'clock presence of security guards at Walmart locations, it is hard to believe that there is no company policy regarding people who stay much longer than you would even for a Walmart shopping trip.

Another aspect is that some stores have actually banned parking lot sleepovers in cities where large numbers of homeless became a permanent fixture and gave rise to complaints by shoppers.

The other day, the blogster availed itself* of the unadvertised hospitality of a smaller town Walmart and, on the coffee run to an adjacent fast food restaurant, met a small group of "speed freaks" who had hunkered down in that corner of the lot. After a suitably lengthy chat and buying them a couple of coffees, the blogster & company continued their journey.

The blogster can not claim true expertise in parking lot hopping, but it can provide a few pointers of etiquette, basically common sense rules also applicable for a visit to you aunt or your parents.

Pick your spot in a far corner of the parking lot. You do not want to interfere with the shoppers.

Don't play loud music, don't yell, don't litter. If a security guard car rolls by, be friendly - a nod and a smile go a long way.

We'll end this post with the words of the lady who likes speed too much: Thank you for not wishing me Merry Christmas.

* Yes, gender neutrality rocks.

Friday, August 3, 2018

English buzzwords as a power tool for German managers

One of the more insidious uses of language is not treated with the seriousness the blogster would like to see around the subject: management lingo in other languages peppered with English phrases.

You may think of Denglish, which brings up images of bumbling folks - regular everyday use or professional context - as well as voices warning of sinister Anglo-American cultural imperialism.

But there is a phenomenon that looks like standard Denglish but reflects an intra cultural struggle for power. When the topic comes up, it is dealt with in a humorous manner, dismissive and tongue in cheek, for example in this article by German daily WELT.

The language of management and its primary servants, the consultants, can be difficult enough to understand in its original English language and cultural setting but gains an additional dimension of complexity when bits and pieces are inserted into another culture.

The common uses, such as hype, pompousness, euphemism of the original can change in the new setting. the change can be as small as conveying "I speak a language you don't" or achieve new levels of obfuscation beyond what the phrase can do in a native environment.

Some of the 19 examples of phrase injection in the Welt piece do emphasize use of English as a means to ask for more power, to exert or demand compliance while softening the harshness by using a semi-English turn of phrase.

That gross and demeaning feature of English in a non-native setting is less tongue in cheek and more thong in cheek.

You are welcome.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Where have all the fruit trees gone...people cut them one by one

The blogster has always been fond of fruit trees, the incredible gift of food spanning generations. Sure almost all of the fruit and vegetables we eat today are the result of many generations tinkering with the plants, but fruit trees are about delayed gratification, something it* finds sublimely attractive.

Of the many posts about fruit and veggies on this blog, you might like the UBER for plums, apples, and berries one best because it brings together a new tech buzzword and traditional harvesting.

This post, though, is about loss - the loss of fruit trees, of the joy they brought, of the way they created and nourished the social bond of a community with its administration via the public works department's care of the trees and the fruit.

The blogster's city has a park at city hall like many other American cities. What distinguished this park from others around the nation was the kind of trees the city decided to plant in addition to the uninspiring elms, maples and the like: orange trees.

City workers not only maintained the orange trees, after all they maintain many other trees on public property. No, they took care of the harvest. As the oranges began to ripen late in the year, city workers would pick ripe oranges and place them in crates at the feet of the trees.

Residents and the errant tourist - there were few tourists around here in these days - would take as many oranges as they wanted. When the season was over, the workers would put the empty crates back into storage for the next year.

You don't have to be an overly sensitive or hyper romantic tree hugger to understand the bond between the residents, the orange trees, and city hall. The sense of ownership and care, of serving the community was obvious.

Then the 1980s or 1990s happened. City leaders decided the time had come to redevelop city plaza and its surroundings. You can imagine the fate of the orange trees. Planning documents of the time mention that many of the orange trees had outgrown their spaces, making the park crowded. There was also adjacent parking, which - as the planners phrased it - had 'impacted' the trees.

To make the story short, the orange trees lost the fight. The whole plaza was re-planted with more convenient trees, nothing that bears fruit and thus become a nuisance, a health hazard, or a public safety concern.

In the many decade the residents had enjoyed the orange trees and the annual free fruit no one had ever sued the city over the orange menace, but you never knew, you could not be careful enough. Don't ask the blogster if this  cautious approach also applied to hiring in the city police department.

Decades since the plaza redevelopment, the scars of the works have healed, and very few of the younger residents know about the orange trees.

* We are gender neutral around here. It is healthy.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Loving President Trump and paying for the house of the children are not mutually exclusive

So much perfectly good ink has gone into "understanding" Trump voters, and the blogster feels most of that has been wasted. So it* decided to add one more anecdotal write up to the many produced by the pros.

As always, the blogster has no good or comprehensive answer. Today, it wants to share a couple of thoughts contrasting what a few traditional Republicans gone Trump say with their actions.

In the small mind of the blogster, one thing you need to understand about "good middle class Republicans" and their support of Mr. Trump is that these now retired folks had a relatively good financial life. While there have been millions of American workers who lost their pensions, their health care, their houses, many more made it through the 50s, 60s, and so on, basically fine.

The ones who bought a home in the late 50s or in the 60s for anywhere between 15 000 and 30 000 dollars and sold it before the Great Recession for ten or twenty times what they paid for it and had a government sponsored pension on top of Social Security number in the dozens of millions. 

And many now live in nice communities around their peers somewhere near a balmy beach or on a hilltop with a view.

Their mantra is "we did it, so can you with enough work and grit".

Some of their children have succeeded. Never mind that these are mostly the ones who got a government job while holding on to the belief that government is pretty evil, or that they are the ones who benefited from the networks that come with a good education.

Then there are the other children. The ones who did not get to live the American dream for a variety of reasons.

There is the daughter who works two jobs in one of the large urban areas of the US and who cannot make rent despite working 12 hours six days a week.

There is the grandson who works as a security guard and gets most of his calories from soda because it is half the price of a bottle of plain water. He now weighs 300 pounds and counting.

The old folks bought their offspring a house so they don't join the ranks of the homeless camping out along the freeways, creeks, and under the bridges a few miles away.

The media are not reporting fairly on Donald Trump, one of the retirees says. Yes, they actually change the meaning of what he says by airing only short clips out of context, adds the other. He never said all Mexicans who come here are criminals or rapists, the first adds, all he said was that some are, and we need to protect our borders against those. Other countries charge large tariffs on US goods, much more than we charge on theirs, a third says, take their auto industry for example, the Europeans are very protective of that, and we should just get a level playing field, preferably without any tariffs at all, so all countries could do what they are best at, and we would all benefit.

Do you now understand what Fox News and gibberish can do when you live in a sub urban neighborhood with next to no crime and a steady diet of Fox?

In case you have been wondering whether they like Donald Trump as a person - the answer is no. They see him as uncouth, as immoral, and they do not mind because in their opinion, he has done so much more than the last five or so presidents combined.

* We are gender neutral at the K-Landnews. If you cannot understand why, there is a body of research out there you might want to google or bing or duckduck.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Food insecurity: food prices in the United States are a lot higher than in Germany

Comparing consumer prices between countries is not easy and often seriously flawed, especially if done through casual observation by an individual.

But your favorite blogster is not casual and uses backup information from the web, for example, the cost of living comparison site numbeo.

So the confirmation of recent observations, condensed into joyful "food is fucking expensive here", is borne out by the numbeo figures. They say that groceries are over 26% more expensive in the US than in Germany.

The blogster regards the overall 26% as being on the low side and estimated basic grocery needs often are closer to 100% more expensive around here. If they are affordable, they can often require long trips to a less pricey store. The most extreme manifestation of this phenomenon is called a food desert and even recognized by the Centers for Disease Control as having potential adverse health effects.

Stating the cost of living is obviously not helpful without a look at the purchasing power or disposable income of the population.

And this is where is gets outright frightening: according to numbeo, local purchasing power in the United States is about 4.5% higher than in Germany.

This means, the higher grocery costs take - pardon the pun - a big bite out of Americans' income, explaining in part why food insecurity, in other words hunger, is a huge issue in this country.
Despite a booming economy, this article in The Nation from October 2017 gives the number of people affected as 41 million.

While going to a US food bank for help does not come with the still significant stigma attached to visiting their most prevalent German counterpart Die Tafel, American food prices remain, in the eyes of the blogster, an under reported and odd phenomenon. Even more so
because American farmers export huge amounts of grain and other foodstuffs.

But hey, you can shop 24 hours a day.

[Update 6/22/2018] The conservatives just passed a bill discussed for months with the effect that existing work requirements for "able bodied adults" under 49 years will be extended to those under 59 years of age.
Government estimates say that this change would kick another 1.2 million recipients off the list of those eligible for SNAP (formerly food stamps) benefits.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

When is the public "f*****ed"? When the owner of German tabloid Bild & intellectualoid Welt call new public broadcasting agreement an 'everybody wins' deal

Regarding funding, Germany's public broadcasters have an easy life - they get about 20 dollars per household as a mandatory fee. On top of that, every business has to pay in accordance with the number of employees. Nothing says watching television or listening to the radio at work like the many environments where hearing protection is needed or where enjoying moving or still images will get you fired on the spot, even in a place where the laws require some form of cause for layoffs.

Germany's public broadcasters currently take in around 8 billion Euros a year in fees and hundreds of millions more in ad revenue and revenue from other services.

And they have web sites.


It's a big deal because the sites come with their own 'media libraries'. The proper sounding name hides the fact that the stations are allowed under current agreements to only keep archived broadcasts available for seven days on the website after the first airing the radio or TV episode.

This hard limit will soon go away.

That's the win for the broadcasters if you will.

The win for the traditional print media, represented in the blog title and the press comments on the agreement by none other than the chief of the company that owns one of the country's truly awful tabloids is this:

Internet presence of German public broadcasters to focus on moving image and audio.

Criticism by the powerful, largely 'conservative' media industry group representing the paper based sector against the public broadcasters has recently targeted the broadcaster's use of the written word on their websites.

Writing something that vaguely resembles an article is decried as unfair competition and will now be officially banned. What this means is a loss of accessibility because the provision can easily be read as prohibiting full text publication of interviews and commentary.

The egregious bit is that no such prohibition exists for forays of the paper folks into audio and video. Not only does DER SPIEGEL, for example, boast a TV like site called spiegeltv but the Axel Springer group of incendiary tabloid BILD fame owns real TV station N-TV and proudly features its content on 'print' sites, such as Welt.

In short, the German public is, well, read the blog title again. 

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The old man and the hills

Out here in the American West, men like him blend into the fabric of the landscape. When he goes into town, he puts on freshly washed clothes and looks like any other retiree from one of the small single family houses or an apartment complex in the sprawling former agricultural population center.

But he is not. His home up in the mountains, an hour or more outside of town - depending on the weather - has none of the amenities even modern Americans out West have become used to.

He has no running water, no other electricity than from his small Japanese made generator, which he runs just two or three hours a day, and no structure in the shape of a house. It is probably better not to describe the physical details of the man's home and surroundings in too much detail. The county building inspectors and the zoning board discovered Google Maps and Google Earth a few years ago. With their newfound technical skills, zoning boards all over the American West went on an enforcement binge.

This did not affect the man in the hills because his only structure is an outhouse with a luxurious square footage double that of a traditional outhouse. What did affect him was the spike in real estate prices, driven up by unlimited speculation and mortgage tricks, made worse by increasing demand for marijuana, before the Great Depression of 2007/2008.
Chainsaws and industrial size generators moved in next door and throughout the patchwork of valleys in the region.

With denser population and - he and others believe - climate change, he spent more time away from the home in the hills in recent years fighting fires across the West. It means good money and maybe a chance at retirement.

The story of the man's life is yet another one of those that really should have been made into a book or a movie.

A good title would be "The kind American".

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

In the 21st Century, the German military still provides honor guards for decorated WWII personnel

The other day, the blogster had a chat with OMG (old mustached German, you may remember him from earlier posts) and found out that the German military, including the happily reunified one, has quietly provided honor guards at the funerals of highly decorated World War II Wehrmacht folks through the decades. These honors were extended to former WWII personnel, irrespective of whether they later joined the newly formed democratic Bundeswehr or not.

According to Wikipedia, the number of honor guards between 2000 and 2011 was just over 100, adding up the three different flavors of honor guards.

Of course, high ranking later politicians, like former Chancellor Kohl get one too, said OMG.

Oh, I thought they were Kohl's funeral to make sure he was safely boxed up, the blogster quipped in a fit of reverence.

OMG raised an eyebrow but continued to talk.

Turns out, he once served as a community outreach officer at a large Bundeswehr installation. Part of the job was coordinating honor guards for funerals of highly decorated Wehrmacht and Bundeswehr veterans.

To qualify, a WWII man had to have been awarded a "knight's cross" or equivalent, such as the 'Deutscher Orden'. Being the military, the different versions of honor guards are well regulated and usually go smoothly, except for, well, possible issues with the pesky swastika the Nazis stuck on every medal.

In Germany, it is a felony to display a swastika in public (unless you are a museum). Of course, violations of the policy have occurred, sometimes reported, more often unreported like one incident in which a West German general pulled a bunch of flags from a museum and various Germans and Allies saluted those flags.

But the Bundeswehr was well prepared for funerals of old WII folks and has maintained collections, throughout the country, of all the highest Nazi medals with their swastikas dutifully removed.

The standard 'small honor guard' of six soldiers plus a drummer and a trumpet player for decorated folks includes a medal and awards cushion, carried by an active soldier, displaying the medals during the funeral procession and at the grave site.

What could possibly go wrong?

Well. OMG explained, one day he kind of dropped the ball when some old geezer explained he was intimately familiar with the honor guard procedures and that he, the geezer, would take care of the cushion.

I arrived literally a couple of minutes before the ceremony, OMG explained, and checked the uniforms, the flag and the helmet on the casket and the medals cushion. Imagine my horror when I saw that a big Order of Germany was sitting in the center of the cushion with its swastika! I mean, we have had press and photographers at such funerals, imagine the uproar.

The blogster figured there was simple solution. Just remove the medal, and you are good.

OMG was  lot more creative. I checked my wallet, he elaborated, and found a 2 Euro coin. I took it out, put it on top of the swastika, and it fit. It covered it. I instructed the carrier to lift the cushion to be perfectly horizontal, not facing slightly down as usual. And I told him not f***ing move.

OMG was very pleased with his workaround.

So, folks, if you ever need to bury some old Nazis and show off their decorations, make sure to have a 2 Euro coin on you.

Even better, keep some chewing gum handy.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The myth of envy of the poor towards the rich and the rich folks' demand for gratitude

Germany just saw another storm in a beer mug about its poor. This is an annual ritual when charities and social service NGOs publish their annual reports, but the current episode was started by thoroughly average 'conservative rebel' Mr. Spahn when he claimed that people on the means tested basic social benefits program did not go hungry.

With great empathy, he added praise for food banks as "a great way to avoid that perfectly edible food gets thrown into the trash".

Faced with sarcasm and outrage, the gentleman decided to highlight the cost of social programs, declaring them highly desirable and adding that there are no unlimited funds, and that it is all about providing the right level of services without ignoring tax revenues.

Pointing out, as some did, that Mr. S. happily voted for an automatic increase of compensation of German federal MPs while insisting that any increase in benefits is subject to an annual review, would not sway anybody.

Neither would pointing out that the German poor, including those on the means tested bare bones benefit Hartz IV, have about the same tax burden as the very wealthy relative to their income.

The blogster finds two perennial aspects of the debate very revealing: alleged envy towards the wealthy and a more or less clearly stated demand of gratitude towards the "top earners of our well financed social state".

A commentary by one of the folks of conservative daily Die Welt can serve as a wonderfully phrased example of the mantra of envy. Declaring Germans to be "world champions of envy", the author bemoans that the recent arguments about Hartz IV and food banks on the one hand and upset about the compensation of the chief of automaker VW were being instrumentalized and clearly showed the alleged envy.

Nowhere in the debate has there been any question as to whether this envy is even real. The blogster cannot claim to be the ultimate authority, but it* has lived among poor Germans, and it has read up on the definition of envy: "painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage". 

And guess what?

It has not found "the desire to possess the same advantage". Ever. Also not among the poor in India. Or those in the United States.

What it has found, though, is the desire of the poorer folks to have enough money to get to the end of the month without skipping meals in order to feed their children, without fear of using too much electricity, without praying that the old car will make it into the next month.

Which is not the same as the desire to possess the same advantages as those who are well off.

In fact, resentment often goes in the other direction. Why do they need a smartphone, is an often heard question in the debate over benefits levels.

The commentary in Die Welt really shines in its use of impersonal statements to buffer increasing inequality. The gem is "modern capitalism accelerates the differentiation of society". 

In short, "modern" is the new modern, and we are not seeing inequality but "differentiation". It comes as no surprise that "there are more and more rich people in this economically successful country. Still not enough, but there is improvement in times of growth."

Lamentably, "it does not matter how much they pay in taxes, how comprehensive their contributions are for social security, how many jobs they create or secure: hardly anybody has any sympathy for the rich."

We all, the blogster included, use umbrella terms like "capitalism" and others, but we should be weary of turning to impersonal usage to nefarious ends.

On a positive note: the blogster would love to pay a million or more Euros or dollars in taxes every year, because it would mean a more than comfortable income. If you meet modern capitalism, ask him to help out a hard working blogster. 

* In praise of gender neutrality.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

The incessant demand that people engage in "lifelong learning" is classist balderdash

Note: The blogster has wanted to use the fun word balderdash for years but either didn't find the courage or an opportunity. So, using it before the end of 2018 felt really good and righteous.

The trigger for this post on lifelong learning was yet another article leading with the famous, though ill-defined, statement that Americans go through seven careers over the course of their lives.

The interview with a very smart German who made it big in Silicon Valley emphasizes the need for lifelong learning to master these careers and the changing work place. It explains the philosophy and uses of the well-known online learning platform Udacity, which the interviewee just so happened to co-found.

If you happened to read earlier posts by the blogster on learning, you might wonder why it* would deride "lifelong learning" as classist balderdash.

The reason is as simple as it is, admittedly, slightly sarcastic.

The vast majority of individual and institutional proponents of the concept of lifelong learning behave as if it were a recent discovery, brought on by the huge changes of the last few decades. They pretend that requirements such as mandatory continued education credits in a variety of professions, from nursing to teaching to the transportation of hazardous materials are great new inventions.

The only thing new about these requirements is that they are increasingly being formalized, with defined curricula and more or less accepted standards. The ZEIT article advances proof of this in the form of Udacity "nanodegrees", which are really a fancy term for the much older certificate of proficiency, or similar quaint nomenclature.  

Never mind the article, it represents just the latest embodiment of the privileged educated classes suddenly discovering a concept because they find themselves affected by it.

Because, guess what. lifelong learning has been an integral part of the human experience since the frigging dawn of time.

The illiterate peasants and workers of just a couple of lifetimes ago engaged in lifelong learning with or without the knowledge of their betters. Frequently, it didn't register because it was not written down. Or better: it was not written down by them. It became common knowledge only when some educated person showed up, observed, and wrote it down - and generally was given all the credit for it.

Probably the biggest reason why the current privileged demanders of lifelong learning feel that they discovered a new paradigm is, as so much of what is wrong, rooted in 19th Century industrial society. In the latter, the industrial workforce didn't show much lifelong learning, did it?

Because we worked them to death with 12 hour days, 6 days a week, and zero vacation days.

Compare that to Europe around the time of the Plague: 60 odd holidays in the UK, for example.

The positive takeaway at the end: Please, do learn as much in your life as you can and feel good with. Don't stop. And when you get oldish, say over 50, and some researcher all of a sudden discovers that learning doesn't stop then, smile. They don't know it any better because their view of the ordinary people is very similar to the experience we have when a first world person visits a 'not do highly developed' country for the first time.

* Gender neutrality rocks.

Friday, January 12, 2018

"Merit based" immigration - the new buzzword of xenophobes and racists

The frequent use of the term "merit based" to describe an immigration system in general or when addressing real or perceived shortcomings of the US immigration system really deserves only one comment.


That's a harsh word for the blogster to use at all, so why is the sedate, gender neutral author of this post so upset with a word as positive as "merit"?

Because it* recently realized that the xenophobes of the world have found the immigration equivalent of the "death tax". Do you remember the term from the days US Republicans were throwing it around in every soundbite, on every Sunday talk show, in every article penned?

A disingenuous, emotionally loaded word playing on envy and fear, that's what the death tax was, and what merit based immigration has become. In the heightened state of racism and greed which characterizes the presidency of Donald Trump and GOP congress, merit is the new weapon to keep undesirables out of your country.

Leave it to Mr. Trump to make it blindingly obvious in his Norway remarks, as expressed in this and other tweets:
5h5 hours ago
The significance is bigger than “shithole.” The president’s supporters are pushing hard for a “merit-based” immigration model, but Trump today didn’t say he wants more doctors, engineers or scientists. He said he wants “Norway.” And Norway is not a skill.

Now, some may ask, if it is so obvious, what's the problem?

The tweet offers a glimpse, stating "doctors, engineers or scientists". These professions are perfect examples of the positive connotation of the term merit. Nobody would seriously object to bringing high value immigrants from these and other equally important fields into the US. Democrats and Republicans alike are advocates for premium immigrants, although not all engineers are good engineers to some. Just specify "software engineers", and you can see many GOPers and some Dems think Indian and become much quieter.

Merit, in the above tweet and in the wider discussion, is generally equated with skill. The poster child immigration systems of merit advocates are the Canadian and Australian systems, so let's have a cursory look at them.

One of the main criteria of the Aussie system turns out to be age, with the limits being 45 or 50, and some exemptions.

So, age is a skill, but being Norwegian is not, right.

There are regional incentives, too. If you are not a big city person and don't mind the cold, Canada gives you bonus points for migrating to Newfoundland.

Which, to the blogster, does seem to be a true skill.

Hey, there is merit in being young and willing to tough it out in Newfoundland, doesn't that support calling a system "merit based" instead of skill based, or points system? In a sense, yes, but it also expands the term merit from the praised "highly educated, hard working" to plain old economic need or outright emergency. If your country has an Express Entry list of skilled occupations with "railway carmen/women" and "agricultural contractors" in addition to the doctors and engineers, you are talking more skills than high minded "merits". And for a US audience, nothing says agricultural contractor better than undocumented Central American - the very definition of what the GOP and Trump view as undesirable.

Canada and Australia have a pragmatic approach to "merits", or skills, even if their leaders don't stress the merits of rail carmen or well diggers in their major speeches.

In reality, every single person who comes to the US on a visa has at least one merit: a return ticket, because a billion or more humans are utterly unable to ever afford a flight to the US.

Or take Germany, where conservatives rail against "uncontrolled migration". Ask a German citizen who marries, say, a Thai whether that Thai person can simply board a flight and move to Germany.

The answer is no.

A German and an American spouse on the other hand, how does that work?

Board a plane.

Oh, and if the Thai person passes the language test, he/she can come too. Language is a skill, Germans would agree, especially when it comes to mastering their language. Both the hypothetical Thai and the unicorn American have to demonstrate enough funds or income that they won't be a burden to the state - a merit the billion or so humans living on two dollars a day can only dream of.

Of course, that's not what the proponents of merit based immigration mean, hence the label evil.

* That's how we do gender neutrality here.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Inequality - you get what you measure

The World Inequality Report has been making the rounds in the media, and a variety of experts and commentators have written about the claim that we are witnessing a level of inequality today that the world last saw in 1913.

The range of interpretations shows not only the known biases of the writers, but demonstrates perspectives on the data that allow for completely opposing views all the way to declaring the claim of huge inequality overblown, or even a "fairy tale".

The main, and most simplistic line of dissent is based on pre-tax income versus income and benefits after accounting for redistribution, expressed by the GINI coefficient. Using the German GINI index values based on disposable income for the last 10 years, the country is in a pretty good position compared to others.

The "huge inequality is a fairy tale" article in today's ZEIT makes exactly that argument.

The author goes even further, stating that there was almost no income tax in 1913, while today's highest incomes in Germany are subject to an income tax rate of 47%. Also according to the article, the share of income of the top 1% in 1913 fell from 18% to 13%.

Add to this the author's correct statement that on a worldwide scale, the number of people living in absolute poverty has declined from 40% in the early 1980s to 10% today, and one could be tempted to accept his conclusion.

The gentleman is fully aware that different methods for measuring inequality produce different outcomes - only to leave aside some major drivers of said huge inequality.

For example, the top marginal rate on income in Germany was higher not long ago, at just over 50%.

Unknown to most. German effective tax rates for low income earners and high income citizens are almost the same, at around 25%. High indirect taxes, such as a national sales tax at 19% (with some essential goods at 7%), and a variety of other indirect taxes basically equalize the relative tax burden on the poor and the rich. What the poor do not pay in income tax is taken via indirect taxes, some of which are "taxes on taxes", for example when sales tax is charged on electricity rates which already include a special tax on power.

Capital income is taxed at a flat rate of 25%, and generational transfer of wealth is largely tax exempt. Both substantially increase overall inequality.

There can be no doubt that we live in a world that is much better off than the world of 1913 in so many respects, from low infant mortality to better medical care, to smartphones.

But in the Germany of 2018, more pensioners have to use food pantries to make ends meet, and this alone shows the "huge inequality is a fairy tale" claim to be shaky at best.

From the perspective of "different measures", the blogster likes to point out that the overall "life gap" between average people and the 1% is greater today than it was in 1913.

Nobody could receive an organ transplant in 1913, no matter how rich they were. The CEO with a bad heart enjoyed a marginally better prospect of survival than the worker with heart troubles.

Dying in childbirth was as much a life threatening prospect for queens as for maids. While both queens and maids do better today, the CEO can buy himself a new heart in most countries, the worker can not.

Dismissing stunning inequality as a fairy tale also ignores the fact that humans have the means and the resources to provide people in poor Asian, African, or American communities with more than one pair of shoes, education, and healthcare.  

Not doing so is a choice, and no relatively good national GINI coefficient can gloss over this.