Thursday, April 30, 2015

Getting a badass look for very little money

One hundred dollars or so for a new me. Much better than two hundred dollar sweat pants and a fake Rolex.

Sure, you can start planning for Halloween - no problem when the Easter bunnies show up on grocery store shelves on the 2nd of January.

But even outside of Halloween you can probably think of many reasons for a new look.

The reason behind today's post is straightforward: a local amateur theater play. As many of the genre, it was a comedy of errors type of play, with that obvious homage to Oscar Wilde, but less earnest.

One of the characters was named Little John.

Well, that's our translation of Kleiner Something-in-German, it conveys the same image. The suspense about Little John was, of course, created and built up by the on stage cast only talking about Little John during the whole first act.

Do we need to explain that Little John was not little?

Well, now you know.

In fact, Little John was everything but. Standing about 6 ft 5 at an estimated weight of just under 250 lbs and a pair of in-your-face tattooed arms, he made the men and the women in the audience quiver, though likely not quite with the same regional physical effects.

He was a likable rogue, the kind of 6 foot plus baby that can crush your fingers as if they were matches - American cardboard matches. Reactions of a couple of ladies in the audience indicated that they were not thinking about matches or - if they did - they would have set his clothes on fire with the matches so they could then rip of his attire.

The sleeves were fake tats, we found out later, available on the internet at various outlets, like this temporary tattoo store. Yes, the Hawaiian Hula Girl sleeves are perfect.

The next thing we need is a wig. Our preference is this trucker cap mullet, for a cheap wig it looks mighty fine.

Colored contact lenses are optional but cannot be recommended highly enough. You may not want to spend money for talking an eye doctor into prescribing Twilight Saga contacts, but believe me, colored contact lenses are the world's least talked about addiction.

Especially when you wear a different color in each eye.

The effects on others can be astounding. Some people get confused and slightly nervous  without realizing why, others experience an unexplained feeling of giddiness, and a few will notice the color difference and say something.

The blogster can hardly wait to try the sleeves on a summer trip into the city. We'll let you know if they have the expected Moses effect, effortlessly parting the waves of humanity.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Germany: wearing a FCK CPS T-shirt not illegal

Cross cultural implications of clothing: legal status of a  FCK CPS T-shirt in Germany.

If you like edgy, provocative, or just dumb statements on your clothing, Germany may turn out to be fraught with legal challenges.

The sort of stunt pulled by this Florida man with his F*ck the police T-shirt in court won't fly here.

In fact, the question whether you can legally wear a  FCK CPS T-shirt in Germany anywhere near a police officer recently went all the way up to Germany's constitutional court and back down to the district court again.

An outline of the story goes like this: a woman wears a FCK CPS T-shirt and is prosecuted for insulting an officer. She claims freedom of speech but all courts up until the final one, Germany's equivalent to the supreme court, side with the prosecution.

The constitutional court nixes the conviction with the argument that FCK CPS as a generic statement not targeted at an individual officer or a specific group of people is free speech.

The court sends the case back to the lowest court for adjudication based on this principle. 

For your free T-shirt speech in Germany, this means you are good as long as it cannot be interpreted as targeted against specific people. Since an interpretation by definition means there is room for discussion, you may want to exercise caution. Wearing this or a similar T-shirt and walking up to an officer while pointing at the vestment is probably a bad idea.

The legality of dress as such is a nice little ditty but what really stood out for us and went unmentioned in all German reporting is that the T-shirt actually read FCK CPS, yes in plain English, not some German slogan we ingeniously translated for you.

That's where the cultural dimension comes in.

As an ignorant foreigner, the blogster finds is remarkable that non-standard English is read and understood by German prosecutors and deemed actionable.

People around here wear English language Ts and sweats all the time, and you will come across ample examples that demonstrate they have no idea what a slogan means.

What if the lady had claimed ignorance?

Would it be wise to make a statement like the above in a language few people understand?

No, you cannot use Arabic.

Even the Arabic equivalent of Have a wonderful day my fellow humans does not keep you safe.

Japanese or Chinese, on the other hand, might work. I very much remember an amply chested female co-worker wearing a Japanese slogan sweat shirt without having a clue of the meaning of the Japanese glyphs (a fancy word for writing).

The dictionary consulted by the blogster said "Gravity takes its toll".

The blogster does not recall seeing the co-worker in that sweat shirt afterwards.

Note: this post does not constitute legal advice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

What happened to Paul, friend of the Dutch king?

Two years ago, we met Paul, friend of the king on a lazy weekend morning in Amsterdam's Vondel Park, a short walk from the Rijksmuseum.

With a long weekend and the odd vacation day, we finally managed to go to what is probably the world's largest flea market but certainly one of the best parties ever.

Wonder what happened to Paul.

Yes, odd, isn't it. 

Wanna go check the park?

Maybe.

The inner city looks like carnival rides have sprung up on every square big enough to hold one. That's not a huge number of rides, given that most of the center streets are just single lane, wide enough for a car and one not too heavy set pedestrian.

And the rides have to share the space with food and drink vendors and bands playing a wider variety of music.

Wait, is this German pop music?

Let's go check.

The male lead guitarist was wearing the traditional orange shirt with a pair of lederhosen. Picking up some bits of conversation, we realized we were right. This was an all Dutch band playing outstandingly rocking versions of late 20th century German pop music.

The kind of music that was sung in Germany by a male wearing suit and tie and a fake happy smile, or depending on the song, an expression of equally fake gravitas.

If you have never seen and heard a Dutch band do a rocking Marmor, Stein und Eisen bricht (based on an old Burt Bacharch song) , you missed out on greatness.

The flea market in the narrow, canal lined streets of the Jordan also featured music, both live and recorded via open upstairs windows of the houses.

Right next to an electrically amplified hip hop band, a mere yard away from the band's drummer, sat a boy, no more than ten years old, playing on an acoustic guitar, concentrated and unfazed.

We couldn't hear a note he was playing.

As we put a couple of small coins into the hat he had sitting on front of him, he looked up, puzzled, his fingers continuing to press on the strings and move from not to note.

We didn't see Paul.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Personality cult in German academia?

From our Note the Question Mark series.

There was an article in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine about a week ago with the teasing title [our translation] Work Ethics at Universities, Honesty and Honor of Students.

Can you guess what the K-Landnews basement crew did?

We ignored it because of the title, after all, what can you expect, we said. It can't be anything but a good trashing of a generation of youngsters.

Today, in Zeit Online, we came across a response to said article that asked are we seeing the demise of university culture? [our translation, a nice pun in the German title "Uniland"].

We read this one and came out grinning: judgement by the title of the "work ethics" piece confirmed.

At the end of the response in Zeit Online was link to an apology by the president of the professor's university for the hatchet job. Now, that was interesting. If a German university publishes an apology, you have a story. If the apology qualifies the subject of the apology as "defamation" and adds the institution of higher learning will investigate possible consequences, you can call it a solid scandal around here.

In addition, there was a reference to the professor being U.S. trained, so we had to go and have a closer look.

The professor spent about 15 years in the U.S. studying in Miami, then Harvard, then Berkeley, went on to work at New York State and took his full tenured job at the University of Konstanz, Germany, in 1997, a job he has now held for almost 18 years.

Europe reformed its university education after the so-called Bologna Process was agreed upon some 15 years ago. One purpose of the reform was to unify degrees internationally, so that, for example, a German university "Diplom" would go away and become two degrees, a BA/BS followed by a Masters. In addition, the famously lose organization of courses was tightened into a regime more reminiscent of high school with lots of mandatory classes. Internships, unpaid of course, became mandatory, too, where they previously were nice to haves electives without much importance.

Germany also used the occasion to brand some schools "elite universities" in a fit of branding envy. Not having an Oxbridge or ivy league schools had bummed out politicians and recognition seeking professors for decades.
So, they set out to label some of the overwhelmingly state funded schools as "elite" schools, directing more funding specifically to these.

Konstanz University was one of the beneficiaries.

And how better to show your new status than by hiring fancy American trained professors.

Which is how the man who now complains so bitterly and without much justification about his students. His article is full of nostalgia for the U.S. system and full of disdain for the German students.

In the best tradition of American academia, he got himself a lab named after himself, with a huge list of academic awards and space for his PhD candidates and postdocs.
Which is a problem, because American academics of stature tend to not do it as in your face as he found fit. Compare the Meyer Lab at UC Berkeley to his web site, you'll understand better.

Now, if you are as great as Mr. M., how do your students and their parents see you?

Not with lots of admiration, as it turns out in some of the reader comments, where former students recount things like this: You had to buy his textbook. He'd tell us we could pass the course without his book but there was no way we'd get an A without it. 
Or: There was a lecture by Prof. M. He showed up for the first one and all subsequent ones were done by his underlings. At the end of the lecture, he would offer a DVD of "his" lecture series for 130 Euros.

Do you really want to hear more?

The blogster has an extremely wide definition of the term "a***hole", so wide in fact that the blogster himself easily falls into the category himself most of the time. So, the invective cannot be used.

What can be said is that everybody goes through tough times, students as well as professors but there is one criteria for choosing a school that is never mentioned anywhere.

Except here.

Don't go to a university where you must buy the textbook of the professor.

If you think this is an overreach, think again. In today's world (in yesterday's too, but let's look to the future) there is no single textbook that fits the bill.

And if the person brags with the Google Scholar - h-index, don't go. 

One more thing:
Be aware that your results may vary -- there is a reason the blogster is not a professor. Yes, when a total stranger tells you You are awesome, it feels great, big O great. But once it's over, you are still that same little human on that same little planet.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hermione and Germans slugging it out at Yorktown in 1781

These days, the name Hermione invariably brings up Hermione Granger, the character in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series. Much further down the list of Hermiones on Wikipedia are ships that bore the name of the original character from Greek mythology.

There were lots of them, 12 incarnations for France alone, but the most famous one is the Hermione that took Lafayette to America for his gig in the Revolutionary War. Some folks just finished a rebuilt of Lafayette's ship and will sail it to the U.S., so you'll see more of it in 2015.

The story of Lafayette brought back an interesting tidbit of history most Germans do not know about. Well, most Americans don't either, so it's okay. The part Americans do know about is that the English troops in the North American colonies included a large number of Germans from several German states, rented or sold to the English. 

However, the French who came to the assistance of the American revolutionaries also included a substantial German contingent hidden behind French unit names. The Regiment Royale Deux-Ponts from the Dutchy of Zweibrücken (engl. two bridges, fr. deux ponts) had been established several decades before the expedition to America for the very same reason other German noblemen sold their men to the English, namely as a way to raise money for the noble coffers and to get rid of "unusable" or "undesirable" subjects of said nobility.

And so it was that the "French" assault on redoubt 9, held by Hessian soldiers fighting for England, in the final days of the decisive siege of Yorktown was really Germans in blue uniforms fighting German redcoats.

As the new Hermione sails to the United States, let's hope it will succeed in banishing Freedom Fries once and for all.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

German 4 Dummies: "Sensation" & why Heidegger is sensationally out of touch

Warning: Amazing, electrifying, extravagant, and spectacular philosophy content ahead.

The term "false friend", or false cognate, in languages describes a word or expression in one language that looks very much like one in a different language, yet does not have the same meaning as that similar word.

Two examples from English and German are:
Rat - advice or counsel in German, a rat in English
Apart - distinctive, unusual in German, separate in English

But there are other words, sensation being one of them, which have a large but not full overlap in meaning, creating sometimes tantalizing insights.

German and English meanings of sensation overlap in the area of expression of dramatic emotions -- see the Warning above.

The reason for this close relationship is the origin of the term, rooted in late Latin.

You found a YouTube sensation and want to tell a German friend about it? Nothing could be easier, just capitalize and add a hyphen: YouTube-Sensation.
The same approach works for adjectives, for instance, a sensational circus performance is nothing short of sensationell in German.

We have yet to address the other aspect of sensation, that of feeling, of immediate bodily stimulation (that's how Webster's explains it).

German and English usage has diverged in this area. In English, use of sensation to describe immediate bodily stimulation is extremely wide spread.

You might even feel a tingling sensation in your brain as you read this.

In German, that physical sense is relegated to the outer reaches of medical specialist lingo, kept alive largely through the influence of English language medical journals and books.

Finally, here is the philosophy content!

A major German paper had a long article in its feuilleton section, the culture pages, decrying how contemporary German society has become a sensation hungry crowd of thrill seeking citizens.
Not only was this a classic teutonic doom 'n gloom scenario but the author, a full professor of philosophy, based the whole reasoning on, in his words, the evolution of the term sensation from the original 'tactile', 'bodily' stimulus to the series of adjectives in our Warning note and beyond.

As an English speaker, you might say what the bleep?

And you would be right.

There are many substantial arguments to substantiate claims of a sensationalized public discourse, but claiming the use of the German word Sensation as an indicator of said cultural decline is bunk.

But wait, the man is a professor of philosophy, how can he go so astray, even if we make the we all make mistakes allowance?

Heidegger

Yes, the maestro of 20th Century teutonic philosophy is our favorite culprit. In fairness, though, he didn't have much choice because the great questions of philosophy have been tossed around for thousands of years and modern philosophical discourse has been going deeper and deeper into the nooks and crannies of their respective language once they had written starkly beautiful thoughts about the meaning of the latest technological innovation.

Heidegger's work, though, is a beauty when it comes to the gratuitous inflation of language.
Take a deep breath and read this: And this helps us to grasp the meaning of Heidegger's otherwise opaque claim that Dasein, and indeed only Dasein, exists, where existence is understood (via etymological considerations) as ek-sistence, that is, as a standing out. 

The only reason this sentence makes any sort of vague sense if that English and German are close enough to play with the word "existence". 

Other postulates of the maestro fall flat outside of the German language and are largely semi-sensical in their native ono-whatever environment. Choke on this: "Entfernen besagt ein Verschwindenmachen der Ferne, das heißt der Entferntheit von etwas, Näherung."

In a nutshell, he redefines the act of "distancing" or "going away" to "getting closer" through the utterly infantile artificial splitting up of "entfernen" into a prefix "ent" (de, dis) and "fernen" (distance).


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Places 4 Dummies: München, 上海 & Königsmund

Breaking with editorial tradition, we decided to make the point of the post easy: place names may not be what you expect.

München is one of Germany's biggest cities, but you may know it only as Munich.
上海 is a huge city in China, and you and me call it Shanghai.

Königsmund (of "king" and "mouth") is a fictional city in the kingdom of Westeros in the series now known as Game of Thrones. You did guess it is the German translation of Kings Landing, right?

The editors and translators who were given the first book of the series A Song of Fire and Ice had to make the decision about keeping the names of places and people unchanged or adapt them to the new language.
Not every work of fiction requires this decision, some even take their appeal from leaving much of the cultural context unchanged.

Changing names of places, people, rituals, or customs ideally makes for much smoother reading, and it has been a common practice in all kinds of fiction since the days of the first printing press.

Actual results may vary. For example, Scots get off easy in the German translation of Disney's duck dynasty character Scrooge McDuck - in the German version, the character is simply Dagobert Duck.

The German translators of Game of Thrones follow in the footsteps of Tolkien in creating a complete, consistent world.

On the flip side, this requires more effort to maintain consistency, and there is a possibility of future hiccups if the story takes a turn which renders some previous translation choices awkward or even "wrong" in the new context.
Some choices are better than others, and we would put Königsmund into the "others" category.

Translators of the Game of Thrones series do have two allies in their quest, one being computers, the other being the combined efforts and enthusiasm of fans who contribute to wikis like the German http://de.eisundfeuer.wikia.com/wiki/Welt.

It's fun to explore fictional cultures, isn't that what attracted you to Game of Thrones in the first place?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Don't ask, do tell - double standards German style

Not long ago, we came across a portrait of a former German foreign secretary in a major German paper. Not knowing much about the gentleman, we decided to read it. The fact that a decision was needed is owed to distrust in any sort of piece that come under a variant of the headline Portrait of the Politician as a Young Man.

This one was standard fare for the most, until the following critical quote: Everybody who wanted to know knew in 1983 I was gay.

Wait, wasn't doing the gay thing illegal in Germany until fairly recently? We went back a couple of years to our post Holidays by numbers: 420 and 175 and verified some timelines.

A quick call to the K-Landnews friend you know as OMG (Old Mustached German) brought certainty.

Yes, it was illegal. Remember the story I told you about me having breakfast every morning before work at the O Club with the German officer?

Not the details.

Okay. This was the mid 80s, and, for a time, I had breakfast at the O Club before I'd shuffle through the gate. There were only a few people there at that time of the morning. Pretty much everybody had breakfast at home and went straight to work. I'd done this for less than a week when this young officer struck up a conversation, and from there on out we shared a table in the morning. My gaydar wasn't all that well developed at the time, though I recall I did have a "hmmm?" moment, if you will. This went one for a month or so, and then the man disappeared. He was just gone. I didn't think much of it, people to split from one day to the next in that line of work, and we hadn't become friends, you know, who would share plans and such. I really don't remember how long afterwards it was that I happened to run into two other officers talking about him. It was along the lines of 'you heard about so-and-so?', 'no, what happened?',  'he took to hanging out at the NCO club after work, so they transferred him asap'. Sounded like some were in the know, and they let him be until he started to try and make friends with the lower ranks.

This was around the same time that everybody in the party of the up and coming political leader knew and everybody who "wanted to know" knew too.

OMG had no idea how the life of his one time breakfast mate had subsequently unfolded, but it is rather certain that he did not make a stellar career in the German military after the unrequested transfer.

As opposed to the young politician.

Ah, well, double standards are awful. At least as long until one does not benefit from them.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Cold fusion works at below 0 C temperatures

If you go to one of the Cold Fusion Gelato stores on the East coast.

Another version of cold fusion seems to work okay when you remove the space and download, install, and pay a license fee to Adobe corporation.

If you were puzzled by this lead in, you were either not around in 1989 or don't give a hoot - or both. So, do yourself a favor, go to Wikipedia and read up on cold fusion.

Ever since the discredited 1989 Cold Rush, we have ignored the world of cold fusion outside of gelato. The Adobe (r) thing is kind of cool but takes a lot of energy to keep it going, although there are numerous advocates who assure us it has propelled thousands of web sites forward.

The University of Berkeley, California, is using the original cold fusion experiment and papers on its website "Understanding science - how science really works". Goes to show that science and humor go well together.

Seriously, it's Twitter's fault again.

We stumbled on a tweet about an upcoming conference on cold fusion in India and got a little side tracked, especially once we discovered the mysterious energy catalyzer (Wikipedia) and its even more mysterious Italian E-Cat machine.

The K-Landnews wouldn't be the awkwardly eccentric publication it is without a dose of an increasingly rare element: Patience.

Patience, as chemical engineers know, has no atomic number, no mass and no elementary particles. In German speaking countries, Patience is observed in highly significant correlation in the presence of non-diary quark.

So, it is an abundance of patience that makes us address cold fusion months after this article in WIRED told us the race is heating up.

Will it be all hot air again like last time?

We don't know, and we got even more confused when we saw this German kinetic power plant, which is like a bunch of small submarines on a vertical chain. Air goes in at the bottom, makes it pop up, water is let in, makes it go down.

Once you get over the looks and the mental perpetual motion alert, you will see they say it stops working when you switch off the air supply. That's kind of nice. On their download page, they offer a data sheet and a calculation of return on investment.

Even nicer, they tell you on their E-Cat page that they stopped working with the Italian E-Cat maker.

Our take on the kinetic machine is simple: it runs with water, not beer, so we modify a well known marketing slogan: Stay Curious.

Friday, April 10, 2015

A very friendly sales clerk - customer service a la Francaise

From our Why-the-no-handshake-world-sucks series.

The gas tabletop cooker in the French house needed to be replaced. We had pushed its lifetime beyond our comfort zone for years, so news of weekend sales at a large store in the nearest town were a welcome incentive.

After comparing, discussing, and debating, we settled on a mid-range two burner with piezo-electric ignition.

Hey, imagine how much money we would spend on matches, we joked as the very friendly sales clerk filled out a multi-page sales and warrant stack of densely printed paper.

When we were done, the man not only went over to the stack of boxes but offered to take our new gas burner to the car for us. We accepted and showed him the way to the car. He carefully placed the box on the rear seat, and we said our good byes.

Back at the house, we unloaded the purchases of the day, groceries and books first. In case you have ever been offered a ten percent discount on books without asking, you have an idea of the volume of books. Finally, the box with the gas burner.

Odd, did you notice this three or four inch tear on the side of the box at the store?

No, I didn't.

Ha.

After opening the box and taking out the burner, a deep dent in the sheet metal on the side of the torn box prompted a heartfelt exclamation "quel connard", which is, pardon my French, an asshole. 

Does it look like it will work correctly?

We did buy a new burner, I'm not willing to let it go.

About half an hour later, we walked into the store with the box. Bonjour messieurs dames, the very same sales clerk greeted us calmly.

Just as calmly, we explained the dent and requested an exchange.

I can not exchange it for you like that, it is damaged.

Yes, it is, that's why we want it exchanged.

Well, you must have damaged it on the way, dropped it or something, so I'm afraid messieurs dames, I can only sell you a new one. That's what the sales contract says, he added, pointing to the wad of paper in our hands.

Wait a moment, you should know that a dent of that depth is impossible unless you run a forklift into the box or take a sledgehammer to it. You carried it to the car, hiding the gash. Can we speak to the manager, please.

One moment, please. 

Then he walked into the depth of the store. When he returned, there was no other person with him but he was holding a brand new box. Without further discussion, we inspected the content and left with a nice thank you, have a good day.

And the handshake? 

Call it pseudo psychology, but the blogster believes that the primary function of any handshake is to make the other person less of a stranger through physical touch, thus weakening, at least a little bit, the impact of the "ripping off a stranger is easy" paradigm.

Birds & Cats winter forecast 2014/15 confirmed

Our long range forecast from mid-September 2014 in the post Yeah, we are doing a weather forecast!  turned out to be spot on.

The birds said early chill, the cats added not very cold, and the combined prediction of both species could not have been done better by a weatherman.

Is there anything we can learn from this, any practical side other than heaping praise on the former feral kittens and the unknown swallows?

'fraid not, just one data point does not exactly qualify as reliable weather data, and the fact that some swallows are back has not been a good identifier for summer since the an old Greek coined "one swallow does not make a summer".

The cats received an extra large helping of treats, the kind we call kitty crack because it drives them nuts. The swallows will do just fine on their own.

If we remember, we'll check for the latest forecast in fall.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

German 4 Dummies: Doping & Burn-out

Indeed, if you are literate enough to find this post, you already know another two German words with exactly zero learning effort, congratulations!

Well done!

The German words are Doping (neutral, das) and Burn-out (masculine, der). Doping, of course, is most widely known as a practice in sports, but Germans use it also to denote the use of stimulants of various kinds in everyday life, specifically medication that enhances your work abilities.

German experts use the term "pharmakologisches Neuro-Enhancement" (pharmaceutical neuro enhancement), which incidentally expands your German vocabulary by two more impressive words!

You are on a roll today, aren't you?

You use your new German words "neuro" and "enhancement" in exactly the same way as in English. You got that, guys?

The goodies modern Germans can get prescribed by their doctors are the usual suspects: anti depressants, beta blockers, anything that is or works like Aderall (tm), and more.
According to the article linked to above, some 6.7 percent of Germans admit having used this sort of doping in a work setting. Unsurprisingly, the ladies are said to go for the mood enhancers while the gents want power boosters.

Germans have made a derivative verb from the noun doping, "dopen".

Usage in the present tense:
ich dope nicht [that's the blogster affirming abstinence]
du dopst
er dopt
sie dopt
es dopt **
wir dopen
ihr dopt
sie dopen

** If you speak any German at all, you may be wondering how "it" can engage in doping. You can use the it form as a neutral generalized, colloquial expression, for instance, "Es dopt in Deutschland" (roughly: Germans are doping).

However, you should really avoid using the verb form "dopt" in most of East Germany and some areas in the West because dialects abound in which an initial "d" sounds like a "t" and a final or penultimate "p" easily reaches your ears as a "b".

The combined effect of the morphed sounds then is a "tobt", which means he/she/you is/are raging.

Use this comedic device at your own risk, especially if the target is on Aderall or something that starts with Meth....

A number of Germans engaging in this form of doping do so to counter the effects of Burn-out. There is a native German word using the exact same image of burning (ausgebrannt) but do not use it, it sounds too old fashioned.

You don't need it because you already know burn-out but more importantly, burn-out signifies that you got to this deplorable stage of existence through super human effort in the pursuit of everything that makes life worth living.

The German term is more quaint, more like "spent", which you can be after walking a quarter mile on a gentle downward slope - you get the point.

Since some self styled Christian conservative Germans are still furious about the fact that their government introduced a minimum wage decades after the rest of civilization, we would like to give them a hitherto unheard argument against the minimum wage: if people earn the minimum wage, you can be sure that some of them will use it to buy dangerous pharmaceutical neuro enhancers with the extra money.

Munich junkies & Berlin potatoes - authorities cracking down or nudging

If you do not want to read about junkies but are fond of potatoes, we won't make it difficult, just scroll down to the end of the post for the potato episode.

Munich, Germany, is on track to set an awful record of fatal drug overdoses.

Other big German cities have seen the number of fatalities fall in the past decade, but the Bavarian government of crackdown heads goes for repression.

While harm reduction programs, including places where intravenous drug users can shoot up, needle exchanges, social workers, have spread through the other states, Bavaria won't adopt such measured steps. In Munich, the number has doubled, and utter filth, such as discarded and then boiled Fentanyl patches, is used by addicts who can not afford the "arrest risk premium" dealers in Bavaria charge.

So, what does the crackdown on junkies by the authorities in Munich, Germany, in 2015 have to do with potatoes in Berlin, Germany, at the other end of the country and in the year 1740?

Frederick II (Frederick the Great) wanted to popularize potatoes, a then promising new food from the Americas but people did not take to it. So, in 1740, he had potato fields planted in Berlin and made sure the word about the king planting fancy tubers spread. Then he had soldiers guard the field but ordered them to not catch thieves.

Farmers sneaked in, got some tubers and spread the joy.

The rest is history.

Oh, wait, today they call it nudging.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sure, "alternative media" in quotes says it all, but still...

From our Cheap Shot series.

You know the antagonists: mainstream media versus alternative media.

Need to feel a certain way about any topic, from minute to galactic? Just search the web, find the right media, feel good.

Or bad, if that's your thing.

We have repeatedly expounded on media questions on this blog from several angles, such as the old German ex-printers vs. Google, the joy of the reader comments sections, the superfluous reporting about anything (t-shirts to tea kettle) that can be linked to some pariah ideology, as well as gems of information we'd never see without the internet.

This post is but a version on some of the above, but with a clear mainstream vs. alternative media (definition) setup thanks to the writer at Spiegel Online.

Criticism of and distrust in the pillars of 20th century reporting is not limited to the United States, although their particular brand of attacking the mainstream media right there in or on the mainstream media (definition) has not yet made it across the Atlantic in its full crazy goriness.

The piece in Spiegel Online takes the criticism of reporting about the Germanwings crash in the French Alps, killing 150 people, as the foundation of an exploration into what the "alternative media" reported on the event.

The author uses quotes around "alternative media", a good indication of a subsequent critical debate of their reporting. The first paragraphs of the article delve into the meaning of the word alternative in itself, a notion of being different, a promise, etc.

A sad couple of paragraphs in, the first examples of something alternative show we are seeing the wingnut definition only, at best esoteric, at worst criminal.

With delusional somewhere in between.

The alternative media in this Spiegel piece are the idiots and conspiracy folks. Once set up like this, the mainstream becomes the reasoned and sane opposite of the fringe.

The blogster won't go for wholesale condemnation of the Spiegel writer, though, because he does have one, a single, point which he unfortunately fails to make.

Which is this: compared the huge, flourishing independent US media, Germany has rather little to offer. We have favorably mentioned the folks of netzpolitik for all things internet and there are a few others in other areas. There are cultural, legal, an economic reasons for that beyond the scope of this focused post.




New German "retire at full benefits at 63" numbers bad for the country?

Sorry, but the blogster has zero (0) sympathy for the kind of bread and no butter writing popping up now that German retirement at 63 is almost one year old.

To the credit of the writer of the linked piece as well as others like him and as a measure of humility: it is hard to get a deep sense of the subject you are writing about. We know, bro, been there, done that.

Those opposed to the conservative and social democratic German coalition's 2014 law allowing people to retire at full benefits at age 63 point to the latest German labor market numbers with a big: told you so.

For the first time in almost ten years, the number of Germans age 60 to 65 in regular "payroll tax eligible" employment is decreasing.

This drop correlates with the introduction of the law.

What does this mean?

Proponents of the law can praise it in one sentence: You need 45 years of contributions to social security in order to get full benefits at age 63, so deserve retirement, you worked for for it.

Opponents have a whole host of reasons to hate the law - not a single one of which acknowledging what it means to have worked for s steady 45 years when you turn 63.

Opponents point to the record employment level in Germany (at over 42 people) and to the "demographic change" (citizens are getting older) and say: older Germans can work, let them do so, it will benefit everybody.

Next in their mantra are: Experienced, often highly trained workers are hard to find these days anyway, the younger generations have to pay more in contributions to support those early retirees.

The association of Family Owned Businesses is clear about the effects of the law, saying the law entices the experienced workers we need to badly into early retirement.

Let's have a look at the opponents' arguments.

They can work, let them...
That one is true, but not universally so. The other day, a job counselor explained some of the difficulties of older workers in this succinct phrase: after 20 years at the assembly line, you are pretty much done. Secondly, the raw numbers of retirement at 63 do not include forced retirement by the government. As disheartening as it may sound: the German government can and does retire private sector workers at at 63 and with reduced benefits. It works like this: you become unemployed at, say, age 62 but have worked enough (26 or so weeks in the last year) to get unemployment. You do not find a new job, the government puts you on means tested benefits - and then you turn 63. The government can then retire you without recourse, and since you did not make it to 65, some of your benefits are lost forever (up to 14% or so).
The figure of people who applied for the full benefit at 63 package do not break out how many of these are being retired by their government.

Experienced workers are hard to find...
True in many sectors but by no means limited to that age group. Even inexperienced workers can be hard to find as we have seen just recently when a lady moved from six years of means tested benefits into a minimum wage job: her new employer treated her extremely well compared to the generic "old days" in German industry - because of a shortage of applicants.
Plus, in very small businesses, one or two workers of the 60 to 65 group are often highly independent uber workers who need no supervision at all, doing job planning and execution without so much as a peep and without extra pay. No wonder family owned businesses are complaining bitterly.

Younger generations have to pay more...
True, but again, there are finer points: old folks retiring today receive way less in retirement benefits than those who left the labor force even ten years ago. Retirement pay used to be tax free, it no longer is. Germany, the fourth largest economy on the planet, has reduced social security pensions to a level under the average European Union level.
What many companies really want is that old folks can continue to work without social security deduction. Which would not bring down the contributions of younger workers anyway.
Last year, the additional cost headlines warned of some 160 billion Euros of costs if the measure were signed into law. Only in the very small print did you find out that this was the projected cost for the whole first decade of the law.

Necessity can be the mother of invention, although idle time deserves as much credit, and it has been in the past.

Guess what happened after the plaque ravaged England?

Women did jobs previously reserved to men. That was forgotten later, and look how many centuries it took to get close to this open labor market.

Maybe German workers will benefit a little bit from their country shrinking, maybe they won't, after all, today you can just import cheap labor from as far away as you need.

The blogster recommends to those who have never worked in wind, rain, or sleet, in scorching heat or on high voltage power lines, in mines or near rock and bone crushing machinery: shut the f*** up when someone who has paid a consecutive 45 years of social security benefits gets to retire at benefit levels you would never accept for yourself.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Nazis, 911, and a Germanwings airplane crash

From our Please No Conspiracy Theory series

Let's repeat: if you are looking for a conspiracy theory, please go somewhere else, maybe relax by going to All Things Disney.

Airplane disasters are not a typical topic of the K-Landnews. In fact, we wrote a single post about one disaster, the MH-370 incident. Our post Malaysia Airlines MH370 and the photo: Chicago Airport? only dealt with the initial speculation and hype and the focus on "unknown" passengers in the absence of any solid information.

Our high empathy newsroom staff pegged the Germanwings crash as "something wrong with the co-pilot" early on, and that was that.

On a purely technical level, the changes to the cockpit entry system after 911 allowing the door to be locked are cut and dry. The fact that the Germans did not have a two person rule is sad. No, a hundred pound flight attendant might not be able to subdue a male pilot or co-pilot but might at least have a chance to unlock the f****ing door.

So, 911 is out of the way, what about the Nazis?

More unintended consequences.

They put in place rules and regulations, some of which either survived the war unchanged or heavily influenced the choice of later rules. Stuff that survived unchanged includes, for example, the rule that former prison inmates cannot legally donate blood in Germany to this day. Germans also make their privileged career civil servants undergo a strict physical with the stated aim to eliminate the likelihood of early retirement for health reasons. This means that of two desk jockeys doing the same job, one a regular government employee, the other a "Beamter", the latter will undergo a physical, the former will not. Strangely enough, the early retirement rate of "Beamte" is higher than that of the other group.

Medical examinations of pilots, flight medicals, can be seen as an area where Germany went for the most restrictive rules out of a set of available rules.

It won't come as much of a surprise that most of the commercial airliners in use today in Western countries may be the same but the medical requirements for pilots may differ quite a bit. The differences are greatest for the class of private flying licenses, which are so diverse that you may be able to pass a flight medical with flying colors in one country and be prohibited from taking the controls in another. The blogster happens to know (Life #5 or so).

In Europe, there are the Joint Aviation Requirements (JAR) regulations covering the whole of aviation that have been, or are being, implemented by the European states of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA). Where there are more restrictive options within the various JARs, the Germans tend to go for the restrictive options.

In aviation, the strict medical rules were instituted mainly in the 1930s and 1940s, which may explain the longstanding German emphasis on vision: you needed to see your enemy, and it helped to be a bit crazy. 

More seriously though, the Nazis were brutal to people with mental health problems and post WWII Germany saw "slow progress" in psychology and psychiatry.

Could it be that problems in dealing with mental health issues openly and in a non-judgmental manner might have played a role in the latest disaster?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The moral case for fossil fuels?

From our Philosophical Easter Egg series

There is actually a book on Amazon called The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. The carnival barker style Amazon blurb starts like this:  

Could everything we know about fossil fuels be wrong?

For decades, environmentalists have told us that using fossil fuels is a self-destructive addiction that will destroy our planet. Yet at the same time, by every measure of human well-being, from life expectancy to clean water to climate safety, life has been getting better and better.


Let's point you to two reviews on the web, one strongly supportive of the book, the other heavily critical.

The blogster tends to have a problem with a question that starts with "could everything we know about..." because of the all encompassing nature of the word everything. But we decided to chalk it up to the cacophony of modern business.

The most intriguing statement regarding the book is not in the list of the "myths" (dirty, unsustainable, hurts the developing world) but the postulate that not only are fossil fuels good, we should use more of them.

For one, there obvious arguments in support of the author's reasoning that leave out huge chunks of reality. It is all well and absolutely correct when he points to incorrect predictions about resources in the report of the Club of Rome (The Limits of Growth) as well as the Global 2000 Report. Maybe it is an oversight that voices critical of the predictions at the time are ignored in his book.

Yes, most of the resource depletion scenarios were wrong. But not all, look at fishing, for example, or population increase, or the undisputed record loss of species.

Yes, you can argue fossil fuels take a naturally dirty environment and make it clean, if you ignore the primary reason for the dirty environment.

Yes, you can show a graphic that puts life expectancy in China next to the rise in use of fossil fuels in the country, but what does it mean? You can do the same for the use of solar energy in China and get the same visuals. And why then has life expectancy in Western countries not gone through the roof? Comparing per capita use of fossil fuel in China and the West, Westerners should have a life expectancy of 150 years minimum by now, shouldn't they?

These arguments and a whole host of others are not the crucial tenets of the book, and that is what makes it very readable and sad at the same time.

The writer of The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels really excels in repeatedly reminding readers of the trinity of cheap, plentiful, scalable.

Given current science, there can be no doubt about plentiful.  If oil, coal, and natural gas run out, hey, there is almost limitless methane in the depths of the oceans or in the permafrost soils of the North.

They are pretty cheap, too, in simple economic terms and compared to other sources of energy. Cheap is the perfect adjective for getting around "true costs" or externals, such as the pesky question how many people died because we used leaded gasoline although the technology for unleaded gas existed. Cheap allows you to ignore wars over oil, too. But why are fossil fuel outfits fighting the installation of cheap home solar?

Then there is scalable and the mantra of the intermittent availability of solar and wind with the claim that you need 100% backup for these types of energy. They are great arguments with regards to industry and transportation, though not necessarily universally true without the understanding that you measure them against the current demands and status of a Western urban area. A picture taken at a time some 40 or so years after the start of the oil age would arguably not look that much different from a picture taken at the same instance after the introduction of solar energy, or would it?

Human development has not taken place on a straight line from primitive, poor, and precarious to progressive and prosperous.

Science has established some interesting aspects in the past decades: in some groups of humans, you had better healthcare 40 000 plus years ago than in some parts of the world today.

And the great leap forward of civilization to life as farmers was not all that it was cracked up to be: science tells us that life expectancy dropped when humans took to full time farming.

If you feel there is a moral case for fossil fuels, wouldn't there be a moral case for he colonization of, say, the Americas? Millions died from disease and war, but we received potatoes and tomatoes, corn, and chocolate.

In the words of Winston Churchill: I do not admit... that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America, or the black people of Australia... by the fact that a stronger race, a higher grade race... has come in and taken its place.
Churchill to Palestine Royal Commission, 1937

[Update 4/4] Added "Comparing per capita use..."

Friday, April 3, 2015

Easter Eggs blue one last time before courts decide?

There is another color dispute up for a decision by Germany's high court Bundesgerichtshof, this time about the color blue.
Writer Alice Walker will be happy she named her famous book the Color Purple, that cousin of the color blue.

The latest quarrel in a series of German court cases about colors of popular brands involves Nivea, one of the two quintessential German baby butt cremes. The other is Penaten.

Both products are iconic brands from times when life was a lot less complicated and when having one product of any kind in your bathroom cabinet, or on your kitchen shelves, or in your drawers was considered enough.

But in a world in which we feel deprived of our value as consumers if a store dares to offer only two hand or bottom cremes, brands fight fiercely over what they see as infringements of their color schemes.

We wrote about the slug fest unleashed by dictionary maker Langenscheidt against digital language learners Rosetta about the use of the color yellow. Despite the fact that the two yellows are actually quite different, the German court sided with Langenscheidt. It just goes to show that they didn't read our blog post - just kidding.

The folks at the K-Landnews have a simple approach to dealing with color fights: we won't buy a product or service from a company that drags a competitor to court over a color.

This is not as spiteful as it may seem, because most of the color fights emanate not from companies who are doing well but from those who have seen their market share shrink because of new technologies or better competitors.

It so happens that Nivea is one of them. The blogster used their creme as a farmer (Life #2 or so of the Twitter list) but stopped and has not looked back since.

The main issue of color fights in the opinion of the blogster is this: they are condescending because they imply consumers are either stupid or will grab a product that has the right color and not think twice.

In the case of Nivea and other beauty products, this devastating view of consumers is in stark contrast to consumers having been the driving force behind disclosure of ingredients and behind removal of dodgy preservatives and other chemicals.

What does this mean for Easter egg colors?

If you use yellow, make sure not to give any to people who work for Langenscheidt. That should be easy because the company has been getting smaller.

If you use red, you are still safe because the court has not decided the case of Santander bank against the Sparkasse yet. It is recommended that you have a male color red eggs to achieve plausible deniability and to exploit a physical difference between human males and females recently discovered by scientists: men generally do not distinguish as many shades of red as women!

If you use blue, use up all your supplies of blue this year to be safe next year. Your resident linguist also recommends to watch your language if Nivea gets a favorable decision in court.

You will be able to continue to say the sky is blue or someone has blue eyes. You should possibly avoid to say I'm feeling blue or talk about blue balls. The shade of blue in I'm feeling blue is undetermined and hence may expose you to litigation.

When you talk about blue balls, you could, of course, take a picture to prove that they are not Nivea blue but the existence of the photo could bring all kinds of new troubles.

One more thing:
While certainly not buying anything Nivea, we appreciate the opportunity to write about blue balls.