Monday, March 31, 2014

Nicotine kills people, does it kill aphids, too?

Warning: Nicotine is poisonous to mammals and likely bees, so don't try this at home. 

We grow our food organically and accept non-perfect fruit and veggies - but aphids?

After a very warm winter in the K-Land, we brace ourselves for a surge of aphids, and we are in the process of going through the 1890 chemical handbook to see what this collection of 6000+ recipes offers.

In the meantime, some tobacco is sitting in a small water filled jar on the porch. This will extract some of the water soluble nicotine into "tobacco tea" as an insecticide for the rose bushes.

We will make the final decision on whether to use the concoction or to flush it down the toilet after some careful research on the web.

The roses are at the other end of the yard, far from any veggie beds, and we would never spray once bees show up in the yard. This would only be about giving the roses time to become strong, later in the year they need to fend for themselves.

As we were debating the strategy, one K-Lander said: Look, I hope this is okay, I really do not want to be woken up tonight by a knock on the bathroom window.

What, you think it'll be a giant aphid all hopped up on nicotine, going 'man, I need a smoke, man?

The more I ponder this, the more alluring mail-order ladybugs become.

Well, the nicotine is not that dangerous...the other crap, the tar is, but a headline is a headline.

Licence plates of dissolved counties re-issued in Germany

In motor vehicle crazy cultures like Germany, licence plates are a serious political issue. And one for those longing for the simple old times.

How a country conceives the plates is entertaining, too, as anyone who has followed American licence plate updates can testify. How do German plates differ from modern American ones?

First, Germans don't have slogans on plates.

No, "First in Flight" for instance which has become a claim no longer universally held to be true. No oranges or sunshine.

Second, a strict geographic based system, except for some government agencies.  A German plate starts with the county or city, abbreviated, followed by one or two random letters and a number. Generally, the big cities have a single letter abbreviation, for instance B for Berlin, M for Munich, HH for Hamburg.

Our buddy Old Mustached German (OMG) helped make sense of news from a couple of years ago announcing the re-introduction of license plates that had become obsolete.  At some point in the last century, maybe the 1970s or 1980, there was a large scale reorganization of local and county boundaries which, as one consequence, meant that licence plates of dissolved counties were replaced by those of newly formed larger counties.

Technological advances made re-issuing the old plates dirt cheap and the police track you by computer anyway now, so the authorities accommodated the nostalgia of the aging locals.
In addition, a statewide licence plate will be introduced later this year, so, instead of having a single plate identifier for our county, we will have four: two re-introduced ones, the current one plus the new statewide one.

Still no U.S. style vanity plates like "ELTIGRE" or LOVEY1", OMG explained.
And counties made up exclusion rules, for instance, no "SS" or "SA". A friend in a county abbreviated as "KG" asked the clerk if they issued a B as middle initial and received a resounding no. To most Germans, a plate where the numerical part is their birthday is the epitomy of personalization.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

German physicians diss German medical TV drama

Another slightly belated confirmation of one of our pet peeves about the world's most bloated and dismal "public" television system?

A couple of days back, a brief article in the German press made TheEditor laugh (for the record, that was the second time in one week, eerie).

This one was about the distaste of members of the German medical professions for German TV medical series and the respect of these very same professionals for U.S. series like "House".

To the K-Landnews TheEditor, the article confirms the belief that most of German TV is firmly stuck in the 1950s or 1960s. There may be the odd exception, but the opinion still holds. German "doctor shows" have next to no medical content and what medical content there is is dodgy, the rest is romance and big smiles of white coated happy people.

The kind of thorough expert advice that goes into many U.S. TV series is not easily embraced by German TV.


If I wanted to be a doctor, I'd have attended medical school?

To us, it is yet another aspect of a "box system". A mainstream culture that puts you in a box around the time you leave school and tries to keep you there.

Sure, there have been small intentional changes, for instance, an opening up of some of the craftsmen jobs because of EU law changes.  But old, desperate structures defend themselves viciously, look around in your own country, and you can find examples.

Hollywood, listen up! Ahm, oh, you already know, sorry.

Well researched TV with guts (including those spilled) is what you do well. And we are aware that there are US shows as crappy as German standard TV, but now that you've got what amounts to a blanket endorsement by German physicians and surgeons, make the most out of it.

Lorem Ipsum:Situs vilate inis etaevern et

As you stroll through narrow cobblestone alleys in small German towns or do some castle hopping along one of the countries rivers, you notice inscriptions on old buildings.

You'll recognize a date, generally the year a building was put up, or you may see a religious inscription. There is no need to understand the meaning -- personally, I am happy enough when I decipher "Jesus" or see the number of any psalm.

Superficial tourists like us come and go, dedicated researchers have been in the business of collecting  and interpreting inscriptions for a long time. There are numerous scientists investigating "epigraphics", as they call it, for instance at the Munich university.

The main problem for contemporary tourists is that fewer people than in the old days know Latin, while most of the inscriptions around Europe are in Latin.

Translations are not provided.

Which, incidentally, reflects the main criticism of the current German government with regard to documents of the European Union. Most of the latter come in English and French only. German officials are clamoring for having more docs in German.
Somehow, the concept of a lingua franca seems to elude many members of today's German "elite".

Back to our Latin inscriptions.

The other day, we saw "Situs vilate inis etaevern et".  A few seconds of research unearthed the variant et situs vilate inis et avernit, and minutes later we found that they belong to a class of inscriptions called "situs" inscriptions.

The inscriptions mean what? "Sieht aus wie Latein, ist es aber nicht" -- literally translated "looks like Latin but isn't".

Minor rearrangements of the letters of this German phrase, such as removing an "h" and an "e" and changing the "w" to "v" and breaking up the words and glueing them together in a different way, and voila, you see Latin where there is no Latin.

This is some serious in your face humor by German builders and craftsmen of past centuries, and the first five or so Google search results pages in English don't explain it. A few pages in German do, but that's it.

We wouldn't do this today, or would we?

Actually, we do. Have you ever opened a software program only to be greeted by a Latin text starting with "Lorem ipsum..."?

The dumb explanation from the lorem ipsum web site is "It is a long established fact that a reader will be distracted by the readable content of a page when looking at its layout. The point of using Lorem Ipsum is that it has a more-or-less normal distribution of letters, as opposed to using 'Content here, content here', making it look like readable English."

No, it doesn't look like readable English. It looks like unreadable Latin.

Exactly like situs vilate inis etaevern et looks like unreadble Latin.

Next time you see any "situs" inscription on a medieval or classic German building, take a picture and send it to us with details of the location, so we can make the first ever "situs" map.

Just for fun and as a nod to those craftsmen of old.

[Update 9/2015] The recent reader comment on real or fake Latin prompted this update.

All the fake "situs" inscriptions I've seen so far were made during restoration work carried out on ruined castles and manors. There are very few castles and fortifications in Germany that survived the turbulent, violent centuries intact. Well into the mid 1800s, a town wall tower or a castle on a hilltop had a single practical purpose: it served as a quarry. Only when "new money" generated by the industrial revolution met romanticism did wealthy individuals or organization go: hey, there are lots of dirt cheap fixer uppers for sale!
Timber frame buildings footed completely or in part on existing quarried or blown up structures were a preferred, fast way of creating living space and inns. Since "period" inscription, aka. "something medieval", was Latin, the faux inscriptions were put on.

Think of it as the 1800's construction industry equivalent of the pirate's eye patch, a stereotypical cultural artifact.
If all pirates had worn eye patches, the famed raids and battles would have been nothing but maritime ship pile ups caused by one eyed 'drivers'.

Are there real Latin inscriptions?

Yes, plenty. Roman, of course, and ecclesiastical galore, as well as one businesses and residential buildings that made it through time or have been restored with late 20th Century or 21st Century accuracy.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A marathon of the U.S. series "The Wire"

As non TV watching folks, we indulge in a marathon every now and then when an older show or series catches our attention.

It has to be said that we have not done a marathon of a German made TV series. Yes, language is one consideration but the major point is: they are boring as hell.
There are rumors that German TV moguls are trying to shake the "fancier RTE" image but we are not holding our breath.

So, we snobs stick with those U.S. shows that have a soul. Which means, we have not watched a single episode of "CSI Anywhere USA", also known as bible belt porn.

Our latest marathon was "The Wire" (2002 to 2008), thanks to HBO and DVDs.  HBO still has the original web site up with Bodie and Carver hanging out on a Baltimore street corner.

We hate to chime in with many others but "The Wire" is a show for the ages. With the understanding that "the ages" may mean a few decades.
Wikipedia reminds us that "The Wire" only receiving average ratings and never won major television awards but that's no surprise in the wash of average run of the mill shows.

Go watch some vampire shows or some wholesome telenovela for plain after work entertainment. If depth of characters and gritty aspects of American life are what you enjoy, go for "The Wire".

"The Wire" will be around, so take your time.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Inflation without inflation

Official Eurozone inflation numbers are out: 0.7 percent compared to a year earlier.

What does it mean?

You have heard the saying "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics", but don't be fooled by the smartass or the cynic. Statistics do not lie, only the people who create them or those who interpret them.

The experts who make the typical buckets, or the typical shopping carts used to measure consumer side inflation are extremely powerful, yet unknown to the public.

What they do largely explains why you can worry about rising prices while the media joyfully report low inflation. We decided to keep a rough tally of the prices of the groceries we use on a day to day basis. Almost all items have become more expensive, with milk topping the charts at about 20%.

Meat at the supermarket has become slightly cheaper for some types of meat but 20 cents out of 5 Euros translates to 20 cents less a week for meat at a time when our weekly milk cost is up by 1 Euro.

By the way, scrap metal is cheaper than last year, maybe an iron rich diet would be the way to go?

To make a long story short, it does not matter to most people if power drills become cheaper unless you are the middle aged white male who eats small bits of ariplanes just for the fun of it.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Stone objects, man made or not? Archeologist opinion?

The images below show two stone objects found digging a trench in the yard. Distance from nearest man made construction about 2 m, depth around 60 cm, in undisturbed heavy soil. The objects formed a cluster, and they were the only ones of this type and size in the dug out area of about 25 cm by 25 cm.

Right next to the stone objects were small black lightweight objects that appear to be charcoal.

Object 1
The object was hit at the lower edge, visible near the 195 cm mark. This broke the object into two fragments. Near 193 to 194, there is a break indicating there is another piece missing.

Along the top in this image, Object 1 has a sloped very sharp edge which we have tried to photograph here:

Object 2
This one fits into the palm and looks really interesting.
Here is a photo of the reverse.

Object 3
Lightweight, certainly not stone, slightly flaky just like charcoal with a corresponding weight. Found right with Object 1 and Object 2.

The digging was done in the rain, and there was no incentive to broaden the work area.

About 100 m or so away, some Celtic stone tools were reportedly found a few decades back.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Help the Homeless app is here

You read it on this blog first!

Or maybe you didn't, so here is the link to our semi-serious Christmas Day 2012 post: Panhandling App coming soon for IPhone and Android

We heard a short announcement on NPR today and googled.

The one app that has received most coverage is the "Help the Homeless" app.
An app for this was in the air, so we put on any any airs but congratulate the developer(s)!

Just last week, we saw some very dismissive comments in the German media about poor folks/homeless people playing games on smart phones while they wait for the local food bank to open.

The argument, of course, goes something like "if they can afford a smart phone....".

We understand where this is coming from, but...

There are practical considerations, such as there are hardly any payphones left in Western countries.

And there is the advance of technology. I can guarantee you that I can find you some old newspaper report, say from the late 1800s or the early 1900s, where people complain about a homeless person having a bicycle. If you want to bet, we still have the Susan B. 1 Dollar coin from previous bets -- go for it.

The end of the world is nigh -- again, darn

The last end of the world in 2012 was not very science based, a critical difference to the recent NASA study which tells us the collapse of civilization is going to happen.

At some point. Maybe soon maybe not so soon.

They used an interesting model called "predator-prey" model to describe human pressures on the planet's resources. If you have not been living under a rock recently turned over for mineral mining or fracking you know that end time predictions pop up regularly.

Why would the NASA study be more accurate than, say, the Club of Rome "Limits of Growth"? Oh, you've never heard of that one? Our point.

Well, we do not know, but science has been getting better. And don't forget, humans won't disappear if the model is correct.

There will be fewer of us, the lights will go out in many places. Starting over is what humans do well.

In the meantime, be nice to your neighbor, he knows where you live.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Omnivorous cats [image]

Breakfast for these cats is a plate of freshly cut grass. Throughout the year, whether it is minus twenty or plus 30, they get together for their greens. If the grass does not come right after the coffee for the humans, they ask, or one of them sits down next to the leftovers from the day before and summons that accusing look felines have been honing for a few thousand years.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

At "Cafe Light", an intoxicating smell of coffee

The Cafe Light is a great place, with a warm, welcoming atmosphere. A busy place but not overly noisy.  The logo on the sand colored walls consists of the name "Cafe Light" in black letters underneath a stylized Chinese lantern. The sparse design of the lantern, only the bare minimum outline, must have been done by a calligraphy artist. No ordinary painter has that touch.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee is intoxicating, dense.

Just the smell is enough to wake you up.

Which is exactly what happened at 4 am this morning. It was just a dream, and the coffee out of the machine in the kitchen was all the coffee there was.

Monday, March 24, 2014

An art project, collage poking fun at beauty products [image]

It is not the best photo but should do. A collage making fun of beauty products, found in a pile of forgotten stuff. No date but most likely pre 1990. In fake French: Hommage et déconstruction.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

The first peach blossoms [image]

Our very first peach blossoms from a few days ago. Unfortunately, they did not survive the cold spell of the last couple of nights, but their digital version here may out-blossom us all.

Trying to grow peaches up here in the hills can be called any combination of the following: adventurous, stupid, optimistic, ingenious, wasteful.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Have your water and use it, too? World Water Day in the German hills

Last week, World Water Day brought a flurry of articles in our regional daily paper.

As you would expect in a globally aware country, there was a piece about the dire lack of water in some parts of the world, about the economic and health issues for people not having access to safe drinking water and the issues around irrigation and so forth.

Then there was the national angle - yes, there is no shortage of good fresh water in Germany - and finally, to round it out, a few column inches of comment by one of the staff writers.

His personal angle was 'how I commemorate World Water Day', and it was sadly hilarious.

His comment ended with: Today, I will not press the Save button but flush with abundance.

Coming from a drought prone part of the United States, the thought is startling but the author had a reason. Well, kind of a reason because we cannot shake the reflexive "save water", and we do not want to shake it.

The reasons of the commentator were:
a) there is an abundance of fresh water in Germany
b) the infrastructure has to be paid for anyway
c) too little effluent is bad for the sewage pipes, too

What he does not mention is that the utilities, politicians, and scientists did ask consumers to save water, and that the moving parts are not trivial.

Does this mean Germans get cheap water, what are the rates?

The rate differences are not as wide as in the U.S. but we found that our rates are higher than, for example, residential rates in Sacramento, CA. But we are still under the high prices charged in Santa FE, NM.

One day of abundant flushing will not drive the newspaper man into a water crisis.  Maybe sticking it to the water man one day a year helps to make an effort to save water the other 364 days a year.

TheEditor at the K-Landnews flushed less that day to offset the gesture.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Mixed drink recipe for a "Bugsy Malone"

You need:
1) High sugar very dark rum (Bacardi will do)
2) Bitter lemon (dense stuff, not "well" watery)
3) Ice cubes and a large tumbler

Put the rum in the freezer for a good 4 to 5 hours.

How to make:
Put ice cubes to taste in the tumbler. Fill to about two thirds with bitter lemon.

Add two fingers of the dark rum, pouring slowly so you get a nice layer effect.

Serve and enjoy!

For a non-alcoholic version substitute root beer for the rum. For a taste twist substitute a coffee liqueur, for example Kaluha.

The name comes from a quote by Irishman Bugsy Malone: "The brown stuff always floats on top".

I just made that up. 

The millionaire is in the house; moonlighting in parliament in Germany

German legislators have long opposed disclosing any income they make in addition to their legislative stipend. They wanted neither the amount of extracurricular compensation nor the sources to be divulged to the constituents.

Very slowly, they have made some concessions, so that today we at least get a bracket of income and a rough idea of the types, be it speeches, royalties or other. They still do not disclose their wealth, only the rough additional income during their time in parliament.

The latest numbers are out. Of all parties from "left to right", the number of legislators making more ends meet and the money made are lowest for the Die Linke ("the left"), followed by the Green Party. They are the two parties that form the opposition in the current Merkel led administration.

The next rung on the extra cash ladder is occupied by the social democrats SPD, followed by the christian democrats, CDU, and the christian social union, CSU, "on the right".

This gradient from left to right is not unexpected, there are simply more company boards and opaque government agencies willing to dole out some cash to those in the middle and on the right than on the left.

However, a point ignored by the media reports on this particular subject made TheEditor smile (rare and thus newsworthy).

Several weeks ago, this very same parliament voted for an increase in legislative pay by about 10% from about 9 300 Euros to just over 10 K, introduced a new bonus for committee chairs and made sure a lavish pension is available for later.

The raise was justified by fair compensation for the ungodly hours of work everybody in Berlin pulls.

Two parties voted against the increase: Die Linke and the Green Party.

Everybody else voted in favor.

So, let's point out the obvious: those who make the most money outside of their parliamentary day jobs voted for the legislative pay hike. Those who are a bit "poorer" rejected it.

As to earning extra money by actual work (speeches, board meetings, etc.), those who pursue this aspect of happiness might be offended if we suggest that these activities might make the tiniest of dents in the work on behalf of their constituents.

We leave any value judgment or ethics discussion to our readers, but here are a couple of starting points:

1) Liberals and leftists are less greedy than mainstream or right of center politicians?
2) Liberals and leftists are really bad at judging the monetary value of their work and need the support of mainstream colleagues to get ahead?
3) Rejecting the hike was pure politics meant to make the liberals and leftists look good because they knew they'd get the dough anyway?
4) German tax revenue is at a record  high, so the increase is nothing but peanuts and outrage is overblown?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Sparen mit Spaß: Heizpellets als Katzenstreu

Umweltfreundlich, kompostierbar und billig sind Heizpellets als Katzenstreu.

Und Sie bezahlen auch keine dämliche Fernsehwerbung, die verklumpend und geruchsbindend anpreist, damit Sie mineralische Klumpstreu kaufen, die hinterher zu nichts mehr taugt. Wir sehen nicht fern, sind aber sicher, dass die meiste Werbung eher auf der verdummenden Seite angesiedelt ist.

Die Pellets werden bei Kontakt mit Flüssigkeit zu Sägemehl und  binden Gerüche mindestens so gut wie dezidierte Streu.

Auf den Lavendelduft wie hier online angeboten kann man verzichten. Oder Sie pflanzen ein wenig Lavendel an und machen Ihren eigenen Duft für die Vierbeiner.

15 kg Pellets für 5 bis 6 Euro reichen je nachdem, wie gründlich Sie aussieben, zwei- bis dreimal länger als die beste Katzenstreu.

Welcome to "Naked Arse Auditorium", Kröv, Germany

Another accidental find on the web led us to a page with a location given as "Nacktarschhalle Kröv".

We had an am I seeing what I think I'm seeing moment, followed by a dictionary look-up and this image on Wikipedia.

Taking the compound apart, we get "Nackt" is naked, "Arsch" is arse or butt, "Halle" is hall or auditorium. Kröv is a small town in the Moselle river wine growing region in the far west of Germany.

The vintner slapping a boy on the nekid behind has graced wine bottle labels for decades, long enough to become an easily recognized tradition.  To alleviate any fears, it is not really child abuse but a tongue in cheek depiction of the the meaning of the old Roman and Celtic name of the hillside where the grapes of this particular wine have grown for many centuries.

At least that is what Wikipedia says.

What did surprise us is that the town folks of Kröv did vote for an official name of their auditorium that includes the nekid behind. The full official name is "Weinbrunnenhalle Kröver Nacktarsch", carefully crafted to ensure that the official wine denomination Kröver Nacktarsch is used. But that's a long name even by German long name standards, so folks inevitable shorten. You could shorten the name to "Weinbrunnenhalle Kröv", simple, plain. But the other option is of course much more fun.

Was the council session that took the vote fuelled by the local beverage, or was it merely an expression of German humor? Did the council intend to spice up the town's image for the tourists, and if so is the name of the auditorium on the building, arranged with an eye for a great tourist photo op? Did proponents of the name cite the Belgian Manneken Pis as precedent for a naming below the belt?

No idea, but if we every make it to the town we will investigate over a bottle of wine.

Friday, March 21, 2014

"Back to work" for 1 Euro an hour in Germany

Germany's curiously absurd Hartz IV social benefits regime has taken the worst of other countries "make the poor do something for their benefits" and given satire boundless new topics.

While companies in the UK have been successfully shamed into dropping out of the "free labour" programmes that mask as assistance to job seekers, little true protest seems to be found in Germany. Courts even sided with job seekers in the UK.  The sad thing is that the UK courts refused to call obviously compulsory labor "forced labor".

Some ridicule, sure, or even lists of the "top 6 most bizarre 1 Euro jobs" in the German Huffington Post a few days ago.

ex-PFC Wintergreen of Catch 22 fame may be the true inspiration behind mindless work schemes, like having young people build canoes which may not be used to go out on the water.

Unfortunately, the article does not say what happens to the finished canoes. Are they at least used as giant planter boxes in the proud merchant marine city of Hamburg, Germany?

German technical and training service provider DEKRA is, according to the Huff Post, very creative in finding work for the 1 Euro folks. One project, for instance, required the workers to assemble a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle to ensure that no pieces were missing.

In Berlin, Germany's capital, transit advisers on the 1 Euro per hour regime were given the job of showing transit riders how to correctly insert money into ticket machines.

We would sooooo love to quote a famous German slogan about "Arbeit...." but we show restraint. If you don't know the slogan, we'll send you a copy for just 1 Euro! Ask for our paypal account.

So, you think you have a government pension?

The new German government has good news for old folks: they will very likely allow workers to retire at the full pension at age 63. The catch: 45 years of contributions. But time on unemployment benefits counts.

The other piece of good news: retired moms will get a a small supplementary benefits for time spent raising kids.

Criticism is harsh, though, because of extra financial burden on an already strained system.

We won't dwell on this today because there is so much Bistro Math here, it makes your head spin. Look up Douglas Adams if Bistro Math is unfamiliar.

While countries like Greece have seen a near collapse of society, Germany has been consistently wealthy, even when unemployment soared in the 1990s.  As we already said in previous posts, roughly a decade ago, the country that invented the modern social security system slashed worker pensions. This came on top of creeping changes, such as previously non-existing health insurance requirements and income tax on social security pensions.

As if "simple cuts" were not enough, a whole slew of measures can cut even deeper than that. For instance, if the job center (EDD) thinks you won't find work once you turn 63, they can force you to retire, which means you lose .3 % of your pension per month that you retire prior to the regular retirement age, say prior to age 65.

This loss is permanent.

If you decide to leave for cheaper and warmer shores, you may find that another 18% of your pension is kept by the government: you are living in a low cost country, you don't need as much money, right...

But let's say you took the carrot offered when the government told you your future pension would not be 70+% but more like 55% of your last wages.

The carrot is a bit like an individual retirement account (IRA) stateside, with the government putting in some money as an incentive.
When you retire and do not live in Germany, the government claws back the incentive.

Of course, no system would be complete without a group that escapes unscathed: Germany's "Beamte" status government workers simply continue to get a paycheck until they die, at a comfortably high percentage of their last active salary. The lowest current pension for these privileged workers is around 1600 Euros a month.

The lowest social security pension right now is around 400 Euros. You have to go ask for supplemental benefits to get you to the current official poverty minimum of 750 a month.

But you have that life insurance with a great bonus once you turn 65! Well, there is a reform package coming in the near future, which will chop off some 15% of the bonus because the insurance industry needs help from a friendly government.

But you have affordable health insurance in case all of the above hastens a heart attack!
Well, that friendly government needs money, so they are taking some of the subsidies for families for their general fund. Which means that all forecasts say health insurance premiums are set to go up in 2015.

My grandfather was right after all: The Lord helps those who help themselves, he used to say.

[Update 1-/30/2015] Health insurance premiums stayed flat for the majority of insured but will go at the beginning of 2016 as recently announced by the industry.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Queensday 2013 in Amsterdam

Am Nachmittag vor Queensday an einem Kanal in der Innenstadt von Amsterdam, weit weg vom Dam Platz, weit weg vom grossen Flohmarktbereich des Jordan.

Zwei Fahrzeuge des Westdeutschen Rundfunks stehen geparkt auf dem Streifen zwischen Plasterstrasse und Kanal. Kabel laufen zwischen den Fahrzeugen, ein nicht glücklich aussehender Mann sitzt im Kastenwagen, ein anderer neben dem PKW.

Am nächsten Morgen ist eine Frau im Gespräch mit einem der beiden Männer zu sehen.

Am Dam Platz beim Stadtpalast ist das grosse Fernsehaufgebot, mit drei Großcontainern, hier in der Seitenstrasse sieht man nur orangebehütete Touristen. Und den WDR.

Ein  Ausflug unter dem Vorzeichen der Sparsamkeit und Wirtschaftlichkeit.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The game of learning a foreign language: duolingo

Learning German is not easy, as any German who grew up with one of those regional "dialects" will tell you, you know, variants that could be considered a "foreign" language.

For foreigners comfortable with computers, there are various options for learning German, paid options like Rosetta Stone and some free ones.

Of the free ones, duolingo is our tool of choice. This Wikipedia article explains the concept, the business model, and the history of duolingo better than we could.

duolingo is actually fun,  a concept traditionally not associated with learning a foreign language.

Take a break from Angry Birds and play some language learning. You might like it and, of course, you are not limited to German.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My government, your regime - or the other way round if you insist

In the past year, issues of freedom of the press have been discussed on several occasions, most recently in connection with the events in Ukraine.

A news anchor of Russia's RT resigned on TV during a broadcast in protest of the Russian position, and the obvious "new cold war" argument has been brandished.

Germany's Zeit Online has an article up called "Media war: our values, your propaganda" (in German) that gives an overview of the new-ish media players from Russia, China and other countries. It is a decent read.

As hesitant and slow readers of German news, what first caught our eyes years ago was the use of "government" versus "regime" in headlines.

German standard dictionary Duden has "Regime" flagged as generally derogatory, which makes it fairly clear that any scribbles about a legitimate government should not use "Regime" while claiming to be anywhere close to objective journalism.

In English, though, there are other uses of "regime", for instance, tax regime, that could be interpreted as making the use of "regime" for "government" slightly less of a propaganda term.

Unfortunately for the Germans, quite a few English terms do cast their meaning over existing German words, so a lazy editor at, for example, Der Spiegel (one of the worst offenders regularly calling the Russian government "the Russian Regime", or "Putin-Regime", can claim the benefit of doubt, a standard propaganda device in itself.After only a few instances, we were tempted to stop reading articles that had "regime" in the headline. There is no way you get any objective information out of such an article. But we continue to read them, for one because we want to stay open, and because we like crazy news.

Call it our news vice.

[Update 2/13/2016] Added "Duden" definition, English use and "languages in contact" blurb.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Myosotis or Myopia? [image]

Our flower of the day.

This flower appears to be a myosotis but, once again, we are a bit at a loss, and the wild strawberry leaves don't make an answer any easier.
(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

No Child Left Behind -- the German version

Cynics say that any economic fad out of the United States will make waves here in Germany after about five years of appearing in the U.S.

The bad news is: it is true.

The good news is: you can be the first to make money off of that in Germany.

The really bad news is: the internet has shortened the five years to a few days in cases where you can make this happen in the K-Land without setting up a business.

Lesser known but equally true: politics are affected, too, but often not in the exact same way. Did we mention that the huge welfare reform in the early 2000s in Germany seems to us to be a copy and paste job of Clinton era reforms?

The other day, we saw "Kein Kind zurücklassen!" and groaned. No child left behind, that's what it says, word for word.

Would Germany take the Bush era standard testing fiasco and replicate it?

We clicked through and were happy to see something different. The pilot projects started in 2012 in the old industrial heartland of the Ruhr are a comprehensive, multi-agency, multi-stakeholder set of projects to support families from pregnancy to the child's first job. Education is only one aspect of the package.

Germany has often been called a sort of nanny state, cradle to grave type deal for the citizens.  While this was not completely true in the past, the current version of the German nanny state is much more like an unforgiving, abusive nanny than the benevolent if stern version of TV.

So, the German "no child left behind" sounds much more like a modern version of Project Head Start than the bushy test'em 'til they drop.

Eventually, we found an English flyer on it. The file name of the brochure is very honest: ImageFlyer.pdf. The title of their English version is: Leave no child behind!

It sounds more like an evacuation instruction than an education strategy.

We do not know if the translator was painfully aware of what "no child left behind" had come to stand for, or if he or she took the easy translation. The American motto's choice of phrasing imparts a "done deal", "mission accomplished" sort of feel, the German is a more open ended "don't leave any behind" feel.

Both undertakings were well-intentioned, and we'll hear more about the German projects soon, before the next big election, we'd say.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lilies already? [image]

The weather did not stay perfect enough for our "one flower a day" project, but here is one more. It looks like a small lily.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Amy Chua: Die Unsicherheit der Erfolgreichen

Endlich lesen wir wieder einmal etwas, das unsere eigenen Beobachtungen zu bestätigen scheint. Das geschieht selten genug, also gibt es einen Post hier zum Thema.

Amy Chua, Autorin des Buchs über die Tiger Mom, hat mit ihrem Mann zusammen die Frage untersucht, warum bestimmte Volksgruppen erfolgreicher sind als andere.

Hier die englische Zusammenfassung:
The authors identified three shared traits. Successful people tend to feel superior and insecure at the same time; they are troubled by the feeling that what they’re doing isn’t good enough. They also have impulse control – or discipline.

Ein Gefühl der Überlegenheit gepaart mit dem Gefühl der Unsicherheit und dazu Disziplin.

 Wir hatten viel Polemik erwartet und wurden angenehm enttäuscht. Die beiden Autoren halten nämlich nichts von, wie wir in Deutschland vielleicht sagen würden, "Volkstum".

Erfolgreiche Gruppen sind auch nicht ewig so erfolgreich, sondern werden eher "wie andere" wenn sie in eine Gesellschaft gut integriert sind.

Wir haben das Buch noch nicht gelesen, es bleibt für uns die Frage, ob die Auswirkungen der angesprochenen Verhaltensmuster auf die "restliche Bevölkerung" behandelt werden. Das Wechselspiel mit den Alteingesessenen kann Folgen haben: Unverständnis, Ressentiments, offene Feindseligkeit wären da zu nennen.

In verschiedenen Interviews der Autoren im amerikanischen Radio und TV fanden wir dazu keine Aussage. Das macht aber nichts, wir erwarten, dass die Daily Show oder der Colbert Report diesen Themenbereich anscheiden.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Political German for Dummies: Omnibusgesetz

How do you say "earmark" in German?

They do have pigs and cows with such tags, but somehow the Germans missed the opportunity to extend use of the word to legislation. Maybe this occurred because farmers don't really go into national politics here.

The German legislatures at the state and the national level do the same thing as their American counterparts, they sneak an unrelated piece of law into a bill and then sit back and enjoy the pork.

But how do the Germans call this nefarious activity?

We figured that the term would be fairly bland, easy to overlook, because of the fact that the majority of German parlamentarians are lawyers or civil servants by trade.

Today, we can proudly say we found the German word for political "earmarks", and as predicted it has nothing of the down home git 'er done feel of "earmark" about it.

Wikipedia has an entry: Artikelgesetz. Artikel is "article", "gesetz" is bill or law. The meaning is straightforward: a bill generally has several articles, and the German term describes the "how" instead of the "what or where". A completely separate provision is inserted as one or more "articles", hence we have an earmark.

Another equally valid German term for this is "Mantelgesetz", where "Mantel" is a "shell" or a wrapper. Think legal tortellini or ravioli, what you see is not what you get, or the meat is inside...

Both of these terms are as bland as the one infamous German bureaucratic term we won't quote.  

However, we eventually found a fun term that is actually more widely used in the media: Omnibusgesetz.

Of course, this may elicit the image of a transit bus but derives from the other meaning of omnibus.

Sadly, the English Wikipedia also has an entry "omnibus bill" which matches the German definition.

So, can you really say "Omnibusgesetz" for a bill with earmarks?

Maybe someone out there can submit a bill to clarify use of the terms.

A cat in the spring [image]

Adding one more cat picture to the web...
This accidental snapshot on the first day of Spring turned out rather well, so enjoy.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A green leaf desktop [image]

Some people should not be allowed to own a camera. The blogster is one of them.

But, tough luck, so here is another spring time image. Not being the best gardener, the blogster does not know the name of this seemingly indestructible northern shrub. The image comes as 4000 by 3000 pixels, so don't download it if you are on one of the "unlimited data" plans offered by too many mobile service providers.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.

How much is 18.5 million Euros? [Update: 27 mil...and counting]

It is hard to imagine how much money a million dollars or a million Euros is. So, when a famous German shorts the state by 18.5 million, how much is it?

Here is a very much rounded view of the income of a poor German in the last two years (it's 10 thousand a year, to save you the counting):
And here is the amount of taxes one man in Germany did not pay:

We are at 100 thousand Euros. Which is ten years worth of the poor German's 10 K a year above. Let's continue. We shrank the first 100 thousand into one block like this:

We are at 200 thousand. Twenty years worth of the poor German's.
300 thousand to here. Thirty years of the poor guy's worth.
At 400 thou. Forty years of the poor guy.
500 thou done! The poor person is likely to be dead at this point.

600 thousand Euros.
700 thousand.
800 thousand.
900 thousand.
1 million Euros in 500 Euro banknotes!
18 times as much (18 of these blog posts in a row) gets you closer to the amount of taxes not paid by the individual the press is fawning and yawning about.

One more thing:
The image of the 500 Euro note is from Wikipedia, with the "specimen" print clear across. We cropped it a bit, too, in case you wonder or feel tempted.

[Update 11 March] Oi, we are now at 27 million in unpaid taxes and counting. He'll get a month in jail and five years probation? Just a conjecture.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring cleaning: Heidegger, Windows and contact lists

Not Microsoft Windows, only the much simpler, more reliable windows of the old house get a spring cleaning.

Cleaning up contact lists of the many email accounts that gather dust on servers may seem like a good idea but is not all that important. To TheEditor, this leftover feature from the days of the Rolodex is kind of useless outside of a work environment anyway. I don't use email contact lists, so there is not much to steal there either. 

Computers are better at remembering, sadly, and it is interesting to see what the box remembers. As a matter of fact, TheEditor has embarked on an art program that involves shaping its [TheEditor is gender neutral] virtual footprint in different ways.

Explaining it is not all that easy. Remember the gifted painter one bench over in highschool? When asked to explain a couple of paintings, the answer was "I'd be a writer if wanted to use words".

So, in the virtual art space, TheEditor feels much the same way. One final attempt at an explanation is "message in a bottle". The contents are known only to the person writing the message and may never seen by another human.

There may not even be a message in that bottle.

Even if there is no message, the content is still more meaningful than most of the musings of German philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Now, go do the spring cleaning but if you are in the southern hemisphere, sit back and relax.

Malaysia Airlines MH370 and the photo: Chicago Airport?

This post does not deal with the actual or hypothetical events around the missing passenger plane.

The post does deal with the reporting of the incident in the German press, specifically with the photo used by several German mainstream web sites in the first couple of days after the incident.

We saw the photo as a minimum on Welt online, Zeit online, and if we recall correctly on Spiegel online.

It was a stock photo, now gone, replaced with what seem to be relevant photos.

This first photo showed a Malaysia Airlines plane taxing on the ground on a large airport. The plane was in the middle of an overpass over a wide road, and in the foreground of the photo there were three black silhouettes of what must have been males wearing hoodies. The person on the far right was holding a small camera.

Filling up to a third of the website page, the impact of the photo was darkly ominous and very misleading: without saying anything, without a caption, the impression was that of dread and terror(ists).

Remember, at that point in time, almost nothing was known, except that two passengers with stolen passports were on the plane.

The combination of a photo that seems to show a plane on the ground at Chicago (or a similar airport with that overpass....) with the stolen passports is just bad journalism, period.

As to the speculation about the guys, they had European white male papers, so we leave it to you to go down the terrorist interpretation, personally that looks more like drug dealers or other criminal stuff.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Blue crocus [image]

A single blue crocus flower.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license.
If you would like this in a larger size, just send us an email.

Snowbells [image]

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license

 Snowbells in the area.

Highland Games all over Germany

Germans are crazy about Scottish style Highland Games!

According to various web sites, there were around 30 events in 2010 in Germany labeled as "Highland Games". In addition, there are other sports and entertainment events more or less based on some aspect of Scottish culture, for instance the "Braveheartbattle" in northern Bavaria or untold bagpipers. The spelling of the event reflects the traditional challenges of Bavarians with regard to the English language.

This Wikipedia page in German is a great entry point for aspiring social science majors. There is a vast field of cross cultural events for your perusal.

Hollywood and the German fondness of underdogs (as long as they are not German underdogs) certainly help to explain the proliferation of Highland Games.
Also, wearing a kilt on such occasions offers German males more opportunities for wearing non-trouser attire, traditionally limited to the carnival period.

We are unsure as to the extend to which Germany's own celtic heritage played a role in the popularity of Highland Games type events. We do know of one event on the site of a restored celtic settlement but local celtic heritage plays a lesser role than Roman heritage during Roman themed events.

The German Highland Games association promotes the sporting side of the games. The drinking and dancing side doesn't need much promotion.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Message to Scotland: you can keep the Queen but not the Pound

Beyond a Channel far far away...

The twists and turns of the Scottish referendum on independence have been a source of amusement to the K-Landnews and - unsurprisingly - a source of boredom for the German media, well, mostly.

As mutts with families spanning many countries and a couple of continents, we regard international borders as a nuisance to put up with and as the one occasion on which we take a look at that passport photo of our former self with a mixture of curiosity and disgust.

At the same time, we look at independence requests with a sympathetic why not?

Why shouldn't Scotland be an independent country?

[Insert hundreds of years of acrimony and bloodshed here]

As a vote on Scotland's independence draws closer, we marvel at the noises out of London. Yes, you can keep the Queen as your head of state, but no, you cannot keep the British Pound.

This was followed by the admonishment: And don't even think about joining the EU, you'll have to re-apply.

Well, it is going to be interesting.

Charles Bukowski and Sybille Lewitscharoff - Germany's writers

The German Charles Bukowski Society will have an exibition in Bavaria starting 10 July to mark the 20th anniversary of his passing.

Born Heinrich Karl in a forgettable town on the Rhine river as the son of an American father and a German mother, he became Charles after his family moved to the U.S. when he was still a small child.

The rest is literary history.

And the German Charles Bukowski Society keeps his memory alive.

Which is really nice of them and a good thing, too, because if he had stayed, he would not have become a writer held in such high esteem in his country of birth.

From the perspective of the culture editor at the K-Landnews, German literature took a dive starting in the early 1950s and barely found some new original voices after German re-unification. To make sure that this statement is not taken as a wholesale condemnation of German literature, let us mention the fact that some East German writers found many readers during that period, that there were some lone bestsellers out of the West, and out of Austria and Switzerland. And there was a slew of popular authors for the reading but not chattering classes, with many of these authors writing bathroom and waiting room lit.

But most of what Germany's educated were reading came from the UK and the U.S., and that's when they discovered Charles Bukowski. There is a good chance that he will continue to have a wider audience here than in the States.

So, you know Bukowski, but have you heard of Sybille Lewitscharoff? Neither had we, so here is a page about her on Wikipedia (in German). Illustrating once again the speed of the crowd, a good one third of that page deals with a speech she held only a few days ago in Dresden, Germany. The speech rocked the German chattering classes because it contained a dismissal of test tube babies as "half breeds" and called the total ban of masturbation by the bible "wise". And, yes, she went as far as lobbing the N comparison at modern reproductive medicine.

Now, one thing to know about post World War II German literature is that, not always but generally, those holding the power to define "literature" in Germany appear to have gone with the overall yardstick: the less it sells, the greater it is.

Despite accepting that bestsellers out of the US or the UK could be "great literature", German lit heads held a more pedestrian view when it came to works out of their own culture. Ms. Lewitscharoff is one writer in that tradition, highly decorated and irrelevant to 99% of Germans.

Famous only for setting off her own Dresden firestorm with a few remarks in a longer speech. While apologizing for the tone of the speech, she stands by the underlying content.

And that's why most contemporary German literature is utterly forgettable.

And why Charles Bukowski has a great future over here.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

West: you're grounded! Russia: yep, in Crimea.

The big geopolitical issues are so much fun to talk about because you can say whatever you want, feel so important of you are a leader and so powerless if you are at the wrong end of a stick or at the pointed end of a bullet.

We can forget the daily worries and events, the idiot neighbors (might be us if you ask the neighbor).

Ink gets spilled, airtime gets wasted, and people die.

While we are pounded with non-information, the history of a conflict may or may not find mention, and the grocery cashier on a five Euro an hour wage observing very much first hand that the food prices went up again is ignored. We will talk about inflation in another post.

In the meantime, the show must go on.

And it does.

Stay grounded, watch the Daily Show.

And stay away from the once a week German copycat.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Street dogs and the Germans

Germans love street dogs on a leash.

Not the canines roaming the streets on their own or in loose packs but the rescued, spayed, neutered, vaccinated, civilized ones.

Seriously, you won't find dogs living on the street around here unless they are companions of homeless people.

But given that Germans still are  the world's travel champions, closely followed by the Chinese, it was probably inevitable that the plight of street dogs would stir the hearts of the tourists.

These days, feral canines from Spain and some eastern European countries are shipped north to new homes. In some countries, most notably Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria the number of street dogs is so high that substantial foreign money is devoted to reducing and controlling the feral canine population.

The Romanian government has tightened the law, claiming to react to attacks on children, and conducts culls of the animals, which particularly upsets Germans.

The German equivalent of the SPCA and numerous small associations sponsor programs in Romania and ship hundreds of pooches north.

Evaluation of the new home and the owner is rather strict, a friend recounted, and includes a home visit and a lengthy interview by a local rescue person.

In other words, the procedure is at least as strict - if not stricter - than finding foster parents for human offspring.

But things happen, and we were told of one incident in town a few days ago. The dog in question tore its leash on the first walk and disappeared. A check with the rescue organization provided anecdotal evidence that this is fairly common, yet not widely publicized: oh, yes, we have another two on the run right now. that's just how things go.

A day or two later, the friend tells us, the police called reporting a sighting of the dog. The general direction?

East south east.

Heading home?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

[Update] Carnival parade floats with nooses, in Germany, WTF?

10% of the carnival floats at a local parade featured nooses with dangling puppets, so what is going on?

Adult males, scarecrow style out of straw, were hanging from the back of two floats. A small piñata style pony dangled from a third float, making a total of three out of 30 floats.

What, if anything, does a 10% public violence rate mean?

Really not much, we would think. Northern European carnival is, after all, a time during which you can be different and transgress some boundaries, and to our knowledge nobody classifies carnival clubs in Mainz or Cologne as militarist because they have "guards" in bright 18th century style uniforms, some with wooden toy guns.

If you must know, the puppets had zero racially or enthically discernible features, and nobody asked us - as obvious Americans - to check the nooses. Hey, you, can you check if the noose it correct, now that would have been alarming.

A further case in point is that one of the dangling males and the hanging pony were on floats with an American Western Saloon theme featuring rough boards and SALOON in big, surprisingly authentic looking letters. Loud music and grinning German cowboys added to the overall non-threatening atmosphere. The other strung up puppet was on a prison themed float.

We'll keep a tally for next year, though.

[Update] The hanging pony image.

(c) 2014 K-Landnews under the Creative Commons license