Monday, February 29, 2016

And the name of the hedgehog is...Valentine

The hedgehog went nameless for the first three weeks, similar to the old human custom of not naming a newborn before there was at least some chance of survival.

A little superstitious, you could say, and the blogster agrees. Parsing superstitions is a fun game the blogster plays with itself. **  The results tend to be mixed, win some, lose some.

So, the hedgehog was finally named Valentine because it was picked up in the wee hours of a freezing early February morning. It was out gingerly making its way across frozen grass looking for food.

Despite a mild winter, this was not a good time for a small guy like that to come out of hibernation. The very dry Spring of 2015 had pushed the schedule of a lot of the local wildlife towards the latter months of Fall, and the little guy could not put on enough weight for the winter.

Just as the blogster wondered what life on a farm had been good for, in the long run, other than giving it a headstart in corporate life when it came to wading knee deep in sh** or understanding the life cycle of bugs, the hedgehog appeared. It rolled up into a small ball not much bigger than the fist of an adult and did not protest during the ride home.   

A large cardboard box was quickly found, as were some old newspapers, once again proving that not being all too tidy may have advantages. Oh, right, superstition.

The next steps went quickly. Find a dish for water, sequester cat food, grab some more papers, put papers on the floor in the coolest room of the house, stick hedgehog in the box, done.

What now?

Picking up wild animals is, as they say in German, "verboten", or, in 1940s French,  "vers beau temps". Unless the animal needs help. Check - less than 200 g for a hedgehog in winter qualifies as an emergency.

Unless you have serious experience caring for animals - taking a dog to the groomer doesn't qualify - you should take a wild animal to the vet.

A couple of hours of reading later, we decided to check the hedgehog's health to figure out if a visit to the vet was needed right away. The little fellow showed no signs of fleas, no lesions, good. Time to see how hungry he was. The cats didn't mind giving up some kibbles, although they did mind not being allowed anywhere near the "new animal smell".

To make a long story short, he soon ate and produced digested output which needed to be checked for signs of infection and worms. Not finding anything worrisome, we decided to not take it to the vet right then.

It is over three weeks later, and we have a fat little hedgehog who will be kicked out of the house as soon as the first snails come out.


** We go gender neutral at the K-Landnews, to the amusement of some and the chagrin of other readers.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The great glyphosate in German beer scare & radioactive isotopes in your body

Even Bloomberg has picked up the story about traces of Monsanto's weed killer Round Up (glyphosate) found in German beer: German Beer Purity Under the Microscope as Weedkiller Found.

Bloomberg makes the point that glyphosate has been found in 14 of the most popular German brands of beer and highlights the German pride in its "purity laws" for beer. Manufacturer Monsanto felt obligated to come up with a statement.

Other big scare headlines read, for example, German Beer Industry in Shock over Glyphosate Contamination.

While German media ran with the story, too, they soon began to chastise their brethren for overblown language and stated that you would have to drink about 250 gallons a day to ingest an amount of the pesticide equal to the maximum allowed dose.

Pit the fact that traces of glyphosate can be found almost everywhere against the claim by the World Health Organization that the pesticide was "probably carcinogenic", and you have all the ingredients for a fight.

The really interesting aspect of the Munich study would appear to be the tremendous spread of measured values, from 0.46 (µg/l) to 29.74 microgramms. 

While well within the legal limits, the obvious issue is that some farmers are better stewards of their crops than others. This is true not only for glyphosate but for other pesticides, and if you want to worry, insecticides should be on your radar because they are generally more dangerous to humans.

Then there are the tens of thousands of chemicals that have not undergone any testing at all. Unlike glyphosate, reports on this subject are rare, though you might have seen this piece in The Guardian or come across another discussion.

And, finally, the US Center for Disease Control states all people who were born since 1951 have received some exposure to radiation from weapons testing-related fallout.

The fallout built into your body is ticking away, so to speak, and it is measurable with some pretty expensive equipment. People who have worked in the nuclear industry can describe the output chart to you.

So, the best thing you can do?

Stay away from stuff. And - well - don't drink beer, nobody needs it anyway.

Friday, February 26, 2016

"Shock images" coming to cigarette and tobacco packages in Germany

The European Union puts a lot of effort into keeping its residents healthy, so much actually that said residents have to protest every once in a while to keep the health-o-crats focused on priorities.

You can't catch them all, so the Novel Foods Directive is, in the opinion of the blogster, a perfect example of how not to make your citizens happy.

Tobacco is a subject where agreement is much easier to obtain, and there are extremely compelling arguments for regulation. The EU Public Health website reflects this in its extensive section on tobacco.

The latest incentive in the area is the introduction of "shock image" packages in Germany by mid-2016. Smokers will soon have to look at cancerous lungs and other sweet gross images in order to get at their tobacco.

The blogster would love to see cars come with decals of severed arms or crushed skulls, but in all fairness, the number of people who die from tobacco use is greater, and you can't fight all addictions at the same time.

Which leaves us with the practical side of the new regulation.

Will gas stations and smoke shops try to protect customers who are not there to buy tobacco products? By putting up curtains, for example, so that the alcoholic non-smoker is not haunted by gaping wounds all the way home, which would make him want to have an extra drink?

Will gas station customers seek the help of psychologists in preparation for lawsuits for emotional distress?

Will a smoker commit suicide - fast suicide, not the slow smoking kind - due to traumatizing nightmares full of shock image tobacco packages?

How is the EU going to tackle the unavoidable increase in camouflage packaging, plain boxes or fancy knit stash containers?

Are the eurocrats, or the Germans, going to outlaw pretty metal stash boxes like this American Spirit box?

It is very probable that police start to use the modern fashionable catch-all "dangerous weapon" for any object they don't like or want to keep for themselves after confiscation.

A couple of years ago, German police took a toilet brush away from a pedestrian with that justification. By all accounts, the brush had just been bought at a store, if you need to know.

The American Spirit box in the picture does have a removable metal pin in the hinge, ample reason for the dangerous weapon status.

Will there be a knock-on effect for other products that come in tin cans, for example Altoids (tm) candies?

Alas, the Tobacco Directive is silent about this sort of loophole.

We would like to end this post with two positive business ideas:
1) If you currently own metal stash boxes, do not sell them now. Wait until the shock packs go on sale, then follow the example of the Oregon girl scout, who sold girl scout cookies outside of a marijuana shop.
2) Offer in-store repacking services to your local gas station, where a customer comes in, orders a pack, then you re-package it immediately out of sight in a back room, and bingo, the customer never gets to see the deterrent image.

[Update 2/28/2016]
A funny thing happened today.
"They are using a lot of fakes", said the person familiar with shock images being used in other countries.
"Fakes? You are saying not just simple Photoshop edits but fakes?"
"Yes."


Thursday, February 25, 2016

German man writes harmless Facebook post - gets police visit at work

From our There is no mass surveillance - now, delete the Facebook post that claims otherwise series.

In the days post Snowden, a young German invited people via Facebook for a stroll around an NSA compound in southern Germany. This completely legal activity brought him a visit by a couple of curious government men who wanted to ensure there was nothing sinister to the invite and who recommended to register the walk as a demonstration.

Fast forward a few years, and a bit of background.

There are elections in several German states in March 2016, one of the states is Rheinland-Pfalz, home of a place the US military affectionately calls K-Town, Kaiserslautern, several air bases, Landstuhl hospital. The state is also home of BASF, one of the most important chemical manufacturing complexes in the world - it is so big that you may wonder how it fits into such a small state. Besides that, not much is going on apart from wine making and farming, both of cattle and wind generators.

Wait, up in the north, there is Germany's most famous auto racetrack, the Nuerburg Ring. This website loads very slowly, a certainly unintended but fitting metaphor for the venerable track built in the 1920s.
The winding track had its great days but lost out to faster, more convenient Hockenheim.

Since German governments of all persuasions love infrastructure - more than people, but I digress - it ended up in government hands. Half a billion Euros and a couple of bankruptcies later, it is now safely owned by a group that includes a Russian oligarch.

Emotions around the track run high this election season, with one particular group of dedicated users - bikers, especially unhappy about the prospect of losing access or having to pay big money for it.

Little wonder then, that citizens posted on Facebook about the upcoming election speech of the state's prime minister in the nearest town.

One poster was a Mr. Lemmer. His post was: "Da geht’s rund !!!! froilein.“ Which kind of translates (using Duden as the baseline) as "Gonna be busy, Fraulein". It can also mean "some action", or the like. In terms of an election meet up, it really means there's going to be some heated arguments.

Imagine 50 year old Mr. Lemmer, a hard working German whose only vice is motorcycle riding, being visited at work by police inquiring whether his post was a call for violence.

In German surveillance lingo, he was flagged as a "Gefährder" by the local domestic intelligence folks, the people who do not perform any mass surveillance of social media. The term is another gem of bureaucratic awfulness because it makes a non-existent threat sound like something worth looking into. The term suggests a potential threat to public safety (that's as best as dictionaries translate it).

According to the newspaper that broke the story, the interior ministry spokesperson said "The subject apologized for the post and told the officers he did not even intend to go to the event. In the eyes of the police, this matter is resolved."

The story is interesting beyond German authorities showing signs of overreaction heretofore mostly associated with some under educated US sheriff's deputy.

First and foremost, it belies the mantra of German law enforcement and domestic intelligence agencies that they don't have enough resources and personnel to cope with social media.

Finding a nonsensical post, running the poster's details through the databases and coming up empty-handed, then sending two officers (the report only says "officers", so two it was) out to quiz the man, does not mean you are somehow short on tech and manpower.

Next, it is probable that the gentleman will now be in a database for some time. It doesn't matter whether in a simple incident reporting database, an intelligence analysis database, or one of the weird and scary force protection databases. If he doesn't end up in one, he should consider himself lucky.

But relax, there is no mass surveillance in Germany.
 
Fun fact: Not even by the two agencies that called the blogster's unregistered land line within a few hours after it** published the hard hitting Snowden era post The Spin Doctor is in.

Pro tip: If you intend to call the blogster's number to pull a "sorry, wrong number" stunt, do your agency a favor and have either a child or a nice old lady make the call. Law enforcement or military voices are just not discreet enough. The blogster has been around you guys for too long to not notice.

** The blogster is gender neutral, as requested by TheEditor.


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Another old German professor complains about young students

The blogster loves it when old academics complain about the current generation of high school and college students. A fun, easy blog post by the K-Landnews is always ensured.

Remember, even low hanging fruit can be deliciously sweet and nourishing.

Today's trigger is an article in Frankfurter Allgemeine, "University freshmen - inadequate reading skills and shirking responsibility" [our translation of Studienanfänger - leseschwach und verantwortungsscheu]

Two paragraphs into the article, the blogster was certain: penned by an old guy. Or, if you want to be politically correct: by a mature tenured academic. Most likely by someone from the liberal arts or jurisprudence.

Quick search engine check: yes, old guy, born in 1958, professor of Theology. Two out of two. Better note this in the post because it doesn't happen all the time.

The theologian claims there are three problems with the students who are getting ready for the upcoming summer semester.

Three, hm.

Emotional response: oh, Jesus.

Intellectual response: three is an extremely common number in discourse, three examples, three hypotheses, and so forth.

How the professor arrived at his three is rather irrelevant, so let's look at them.

1) Fundamentally weak reading skills
2) Desperate need for comprehension
3) Strategy of shirking responsibility

Note how he chose enhancements for his list. Reading skills are not just weak, but fundamentally so (elementar in German). A simple need to comprehend does not suffice, it is a desperate need, and not wanting responsibility is strategic in nature.

At this point, the reader is only one paragraph into the article, and - if not for being slightly bored - there wouldn't have been much reason to continue in search for some positive words about today's German students.

How do the three claims manifest, according to the professor?

He takes a long paragraph to get to the point: many first semester students have problems with long, complex texts. To drive it home, he says "officially, the ability to read complex texts is still a fundamental prerequisite in science". He, of course, relishes the wandering and meandering through "demanding textual landscapes".

And out of this inadequate skill set arises as a form of "over compensation" his alleged observation "desperate for comprehension".

Let's take our comment down to high school break level: Hell yeah, if you can't make out any sense of a convoluted text and get graded on it, would you experience a 'happy need to comprehend'? Isn't it, like, your job, to guide students?

His teaching philosophy? "Fear, feeling powerless, and disappointment are unpleasant but, from a didactic point, not bad. Because the modern complex world means you have to able to (not) understand others well."

More?

No, the blogster doesn't want to elaborate on the third issue, shirking away from responsibility. There is only so much to say.

The disappointment of liberal arts teachers who love their subject matter and are being told point blank by the business student or the STEM undergrad that the beloved English poet is not a priority, well, it is understandable.

But as a theologian with so little respect and understanding, you might be better of teaching students to simply pray they'll make it in the world.

If I'm not mistaken, Socrates complained about the youth of his time, too. If it wasn't Socrates, then someone else, give or take a thousand years.

Digital Equilibrium Project: you have the right to 1 (one) unbreakable device

The K-Landnews "Digital Equilibrium Project" should not be confused with this "Digital Equilibrium Project", which is a brand new propaganda outfit that aims to "restore balance", aka. to understand and define the balance between privacy and security.

People smarter than the author of this post have elaborated on the issue, for example, the brilliant Mrs. Wheeler as described in the post Operation "Apple Juice" - of iPhones and iPhonies.

The blogster has a simple suggestion: every citizen gets the right to one (1) unbreakable device. ** The citizen gets to pick one, and law enforcement and the rest of the government respect that choice.

But what if a crime is committed using this device?

Law enforcement gets to keep its existing powers, like obtaining call records if the device is a cell phone, and the LEOs continue to be allowed to try and hack it themselves. They just cannot force the manufacturer to help them. We'll talk about details, such as does this include a backup, what happens if you get a new device, later.

All the other fun stuff, the state is already doing, like reading our Twitter or Facebook postings is not affected either. 

Doesn't this look like balance?

Stupid question, I know. Because it is not about that at all. For the record, the blogster bets the Susan B. Anthony dollar that the other Digital Equilibrium Project will end up proposing that the government can get at every last bit of your digital possessions. Maybe with a warrant, except in cases of imminent danger and national security, of course.

You can claim the Susan B. three months after the publication date of this post, submitting evidence that our claim was wrong. If awarded at the sole discretion of TheEditor, shipping will be on us.

You are welcome.

The blogster is aware that the proposal is very close to "when pigs fly" or "when Hell freezes over". But, hey, pigs fly all the time, and Hell, Michigan, does freeze over quite nicely.

** Assuming for a moment such a device does exist.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Operation "Apple Juice" - of iPhones and iPhonies

This post doesn't bring anything new and exciting to the controversy about whether Apple can and should unlock iPhones.

Marcy Wheeler has said what needs to be said.

Go here: 2h2 hours ago
Again, Comey testified to Congress they want back doors, in part, to investigate car accidents. It's not about SB.

and here for a possible secret side to the debate:
Those noting public Apple requests may serve as proxy for secret ones, rem HJC got unprecedented secret 702 briefing

Now, having stated nothing new and exciting was coming, why bother with a post?
Because the blogster would like to reframe the tussle in starker terms.

1) Government will not accept that individuals might have an area in life that is beyond its reach. Maybe one day, we'll see a document that shows the strategy employed now had been discussed and agreed upon some time ago.
2) Setting a high profile example is as American as apple pie, in this case "Apple Juice". Telling the government to go away will only increase the effort on the part of government. This is true across the board, whether you are an internet drug dealer like Ross Ulbricht of Silk Road fame, a Middle Eastern dictator not in the mood to co-operate, or a company.

And, of course, for the plain giggles of the headline. 

[Update 3/2/2016] Even the German press now concedes the issue goes beyond a single phone.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

German conservatives playing the good cop - bad cop game

To most of the outside world, Germany's main conservative party is the CDU (Christian Democrats), the party of chancellor Merkel. Some people may have seen the combination CDU/CSU and gone to Wikipedia or somewhere else to find that the latter is the name of the Christian Social Union (CSU), which is typically presented as the CDU's Bavarian "sister party".

Germans are used to the CSU leadership enjoying its role as the "outspoken" conservatives, as those who complain about anything that looks like social progress, as the early warners of "too much immigration", as the people who wanted to keep the crucifix in every school classroom.

And when they overdid it, their standard fallback was something along the lines "you know, the Bavarians, they can be loud and raucous, but they are fundamentally nice folks". Which may well be true if you talk about the people, but the conservative leadership is anything but.

This division of labor, whether intentionally or not, has served the conservatives well. Periodically, a "populist right" appeared in Germany, for example "Die Republikaner" (the republicans), only to fade away again after a few years.

The current version of "populist right" is the AfD. If you compare the stated goals and ideologies of AfD and Republikaner, there isn't much difference at the core. Both drew heavily of former CDU/.CSU personnel as founding members, both have struggled to fend off accusations of being as radical as the "official" neo-Nazis of the NPD.

Most of the policy differences between AfD and Republikaner stem from the time when they were founded. The common currency Euro was far away when the Republikaner were founded. To them, the Maastricht Treaty (which was the big European integration topic at the time) was the enemy, to the AfD, the Euro symbolizes much of what they see as wrong with the EU.
Both parties do immigrant bashing, just different groups, and with AfD more heavily focused on religion.

None of this comes as a surprise, but the single issue the blogster finds worth pointing out is another one.

We cannot allow unlimited and uncontrolled immigration.

They use German asylum law to gain access to our social benefits system.

Stereotypical AfD statements.

Except that the first one comes from then Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who recast himself as the nice person who brought about German reunification.

The second one is by CSU member and Kohl Interior Minister Zimmermann.

The point being? That there is an unbroken continuity of national conservative (that's really how they call it) ideology and policies going back many decades, which only becomes "a problem" to conservatives when another party runs on this platform. 



Thursday, February 18, 2016

How the fall of the Iron Curtain temporarily set back (West) German militarism

No, the blogster is not accusing the whole of West Germany's armed forces of the decade 1980 - 1990 as militarist.

There was, however, a fairly substantial movement of people who were in the process of pushing the force into a direction that sought to "ground" the motley conscript army in the "traditions" of the German military.

Defining those traditions was one thing, being able to execute a shift which, in terms of politics, would be a clear turn to the right, was another thing altogether.

At its inception in the 1950s Cold War, the West German military had to reconcile a cadre of World War II veterans, including such luminaries as Hitler's Chief of the General Staff, Heusinger, with young people who were called "citizens in uniform", especially when the draft was introduced soon after. This was a conscript force that taught its recruits on Day 1, before they had even been issued their uniforms, that the Geneva Conventions were to be observed and that they had to refuse execution of any order that was a violation of human rights.

We'll skip the anti-war movement of the 1960s and most of the 1970s for the sake of simplicity, because it was by the late 70s that most World War II veterans had retired and had been replaced with leaders who had not experienced the horrors of war.

Once Vietnam was over - during which the West German military kept pretty quiet -  there was a new red scare in Latin America, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, and the Iran hostage crisis together with ex KGB folks heading the Soviet Union. The new German militarists were boosted by a general conservative shift of German government that ensured promotion to the top echelons followed.   
Leadership positions in German government are still tightly linked to membership in the correct party. While the Social Democrat (SPD/Liberal (FDP) coalition governments did get some general officer positions filled with what were called "their" people, conservatives put much more hawkish leaders at the helm and aggressively weeded out potential competitors.

It was these newly minted generals and "general staff" colonels (the ADCs and next generation of generals) who dusted off World War II "hero" Field Marshal Rommel. For example, an excerpt from Rommel's famous 1938 book became the preface to an army brochure.

But only after Rommel's rank in 1938, Lieutenant Colonel, was removed from the draft. Showing the world that Rommel owed his career to you-know-whom was not that cool, yet.
Other things slipped through, such as a vivid World War II close combat article in an army magazine, but the editors made sure subsequent editions never got as graphically anti Russian again.

When a barracks was named after Mr. Heusinger, the traditionalists pulled some old military flags, complete with itty bitty tiny swastikas out of an "instructional collection"*, and nobody spoke up.**

A number of effective PR campaigns bolstered the "German neo-cons" and their call for a "greater role in the world", but then the Wall came down.

All of a sudden (to the public and to those in government who didn't believe earlier evidence) East German soldiers walked the installations of the West outside of the "confidence building" fun OSCE military inspections.

West German officers were dispatched to the East and took command of units considered the enemy a few months before.

Germany subsequently slashed its military to an extent that would bewilder Americans, if they only knew about it. Many of the "Germans to the front" personnel took generous retirement offers, and militarism went into hibernation.

Intervention in the Balkans and later Afghanistan was highly controversial, but the push for a "greater role", which is really code for military intervention, because Germany already pulls its weight as the fourth largest economy in the world, has grown stronger over the past decade or so.

The recent calls by conservative politicians for a legal basis to intervene across the globe independent of NATO and the UN are the most visible aspect of this development.

Its roots are in the 1980s.

[Update 1/22/2017] The newest push for more military spending and an expansion of the German military are coached in the ideas of "fair share of the burden" and "greater international responsibility". In an interview in today's conservative Welt, the disgraced former defense minister Guttenberg promotes the notion that Donald Trump is not completely wrong when he calls for European countries to spend more on the military.

* We wrote about this earlier. You can find published photos, but not close-ups, in German military publications and in the archives of the Bavarian daily paper Mainpost

** Though lots of German military careers have ended with a promotion to a certain desk job, with the colonel who ordered the fateful Kunduz airstrike on tankers a recent example.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

On some of the written and unwritten rules in German media and politics

There are many written rules in the German media, and more are being added all the time. For starters, there are the rules of the ethics code laid down by the German press council (Presserat). In addition, every large publication or media outlet has its own guidelines. Tabloid BILD, for example, together with the other media owned by the same parent company, has an explicit statement of support of transatlantic policies as well as support for Israel's right to exist. Another example: public broadcaster ZDF, makes a commitment to European  integration as well as furthering German unity part of its employees' job. Public broadcaster MDR, covering several states of former East Germany, wrote a voluminous tome to lay out election candidate debates and election coverage in deep detail. It was in this rule book that an astonished blogster found German political parties are grouped in categories, from 1 to 4. Category 1 has the big parties in a given race, with minor players further down the "inverse hurricane scale" to no. 4 with local also-rans.

Squabbling over rules happens, sometimes it is fun, sometimes they are interpreted to allow attacking people you don't like while maintaining a straight "but it's in compliance with the rules" face.

One of the founders of the anti-immigrant PEGIDA movement has one or two felonies to his name, a fact mentioned regularly under the rule compliant "person of substantial public interest". The only problem with this is that the media talks about a former federal government secretary without mentioning his much more relevant felony. Calling the extensive mention of Mr. B.'s felony an attack on his person is not the brainchild of the blogster, but is clearly laid out in this weekly column of one of Germany's top judges.

The populist right party AfD has been getting the latter treatment regularly. While the blogster does not like many of its ideas, weaponizing questionable behavior is not always justified. When one AfD candidate stated in an interview that German borders should be protected against refugees to the maximum degree possible, adding "including use of weapons", this became the jumping off point for an escalation that went via a Facebook post supporting firing at children to the most recent use of deadly force in German history: guards firing at and killing East Germans at the Iron Curtain.   

To talk about securing German borders requires you avoid anything that your adversaries can spin towards a border like the Iron Curtain/Berlin Wall. Despite the fact that German border guards have weapons, you cannot mention weapons. In the refugee crisis, the word "fence" was only used by German politicians once Hungary built one and Austria debated about following suite.

In a previous life, the blogster overheard several "just shoot them" calls by members of the ever so democratic West German military but - unwritten rule - these conversations took place outside the reach of a camera or a microphone.
When a political reporter of Bavarian state broadcaster BR happily declared the German foreign minister a Russian spy, he did so in the confines of a group he could trust.

Speaking of Russia, conservative Bavarian prime minster Mr. Seehofer got into hot water for recently traveling to Russia. That is expected, but Frankfurter Allgemeine gleefully pointed out that he had violated an "unwritten rule of German politics", which apparently is that you do not criticize your government's policies on such a trip.
Expressing unhappiness with sanctions against Russia also got Mr. Seehofer a boycott of a state dinner by the US delegation at the 2016 Munich security conference.

In all of this, he made the mistake to say that the rule of law was not applied in Germany in matters of dealing with the extreme influx of refugees. He used the German word "Unrecht", which means illegality, or injustice, but is also used to refer to East Germany, which is typically called  "Unrechtsstaat", a state without the rule of law. Never mind that he did not use that term for the current government's handling of the refugee crisis, he was lambasted for "equating the current government with East Germany".

A rule most Germans have never heard of governs media interviews: pre-publication review. While Jane and Joe Mueller will be told that an interview is going to be published and may be asked to sign a release, they have no further say in the process.

Politicians, though, get the final version and can and will make changes.

The public is never informed of this.

Or is it?

Frankfurter Allgemeine recently felt the need to tell readers that the front lady of, yes, AfD had a statement removed regarding the use of weapons at the border.

Wouldn't you love to know what changes are made to interviews?

As to using "Unrecht" to describe Germany, we dug deep, looked around, and found a perfect solution should you want to be so cruel and xenophobic to label the country in this manner.

Plausible deniability is guaranteed by the German language itself and an inability to sing.

Here is the first line of the German national anthem:
Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit

It's an easy, heart warming triplet of the Romantic times of 1841, "unity, and justice, and freedom".

For bad singers (96.7% of people)** and drunks, the "und" (and) poses a bit of a challenge, in that they have an unfortunate tendency to make the "d" silent, or drop it.

You will, there is ample proof out there, often hear the line sung like this at soccer matches and other brawls:
Einigkeit un' Recht un' Freiheit 
which then comes awfully close to "Unrecht" and "Unfreiheit", "un" being a common prefix in German to denote the absence of the main carrier of meaning.

Who said German Romantic poets didn't have a sense of humor?

** Yeah, we made that up.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

German 2016 Munich Security Conference coverage like early 80s Soviet papers

If you speak Russian and have time, you may want to trundle over to a good library and and read lots of early 1980s Russian papers to see if you agree with the claim that the wall to wall headline coverage of the 2016 Munich Security Conference in the German (plus some other European countries) comes eerily close to the fare in Soviet papers at the time.

Before you cry foul or Kremlin troll, let us differentiate a bit. The claim only applies to the "big picture security", i.e. the relationship between the NATO West plus its allies and Russia. This alleged uniformity in the articles and OpEds does generally not apply to most other domestic reporting other than, again, "security".

You can find ample decent thinking in the areas of economic developments and policies, social issues, culture, and what have you, although the increasing inter connectedness of societies does lead to more international coverage in these areas, too.

The main thrust of putting all the blame for the Syrian crisis on Russia is illustrated by one headline in Zeit Online, "Syria: a complete failure". While the headline might give hope for a nuanced discussion, the content is all but.

We get the annoying repetitive theme that "the West has failed to intervene", when nothing could be further from the truth. The West has intervened at the latest since 2013 when the US began shipping arms to "moderate" rebels, almost none of them moderate, but either straight up Al Qaeda or close in aims and ideology. Turkey, of course, intervened even earlier. No word on how ISIS developed and what the West did and did not do.

The same talking points are in Frankfurter Allgemeine articles, such as this one which quotes Senator McCain as saying Putin uses refugees as weapon.

Instead, the focus was on blaming Russia for saving Assad, and for "weaponizing refugees", hailed as "the Munich Consensus".

It does not seem to take any effort at all to ignore the extent of the Syrian refugee crisis as it existed and unfolded before Russia intervened in late 2015.

Crucially, none this mattered in the coverage on Saturday and Sunday across the board, including supposedly more liberal Der Spiegel or Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Both Franfurter Allgemeine and Die Welt presented the Western talking points with the same dedication that Pravda did in Soviet times. Tabloid Bild Zeitung, of course, went beyond that - but the blogster feels that weaponized idiocy has no place in this post. **

Putting Germany's two main conservative papers on the same level as Pravda is certain to rile up some folks. But this is not about ideology, it is about supporting the power structure in the respective country. And it is a simple fact that this support takes a very similar form - there are not that many ways to bolster a one sided narrative. Whether you consult Chomsky or my favorite author on the media in socialist East Germany, you can identify the mechanisms with ease.

There were, in fact, two incidents during the conference that had the potential to pierce the "blame the Russians" narrative.

The first one, directly related to the conference, was the boycott by the US delegation of the state dinner hosted by conservative Bavarian prime minister Seehofer. Mr. Seehofer, a stalwart supporter of transatlantic policies and NATO, had just recently traveled to Russia to meet Mr. Putin, and Seehofer had voiced criticism of the sanctions imposed by the West in response to the crisis in Ukraine.
This punishment of Mr. Seehofer for not being fully in line with the current Western politics toward Russia was mentioned in a short article in Der Spiegel, ignored in most other papers.

The second, potentially dangerous incident, was Turkey's shelling of Kurdish and Syrian Army positions in Northern Syria. It took German papers several hours to report, and then only fire on the Kurdish forces was mentioned.

Again, worthy of Pravda writing, Frankfurter Allgemeine went with "alleged shelling", despite news agencies having reported with accuracy, and it used the Turkish government line of having "responded to attacks".

On Monday, FAZ decided to continue with the Syrian opposition attacking Putin, pretty much dropping the fact that Turkey was in its second day of attacking Kurds on Syrian soil. Not the kind of response you'd get if Russian artillery were caught in the act of shelling Ukraine.

Just for the fun of it, let's put Zeit Online - remember, on Russia only - next to Soviet Izvestia, and Der Spiegel, well, make it Literaturnaya Gazeta, although that's too much credit for the Spiegel literary team.

[Update 2/15/2016] Today, a Frankfurter Allgemeine OpEd says "Europe is surrounded by a ring of fire".

** The blogster changed its (gender neutral) mind and decided to share an instance of weaponized idiocy from BILD Zeitung. When Turkey shot down the Russian plane in November 2015, the BILD headline was "Putin attacks Turkey". Needless to say, they changed it later, and not a single one of the big German outlets bothered to point it out.
This is the screenshot.
[Fixed a couple of typos, too]
[End Update]

[Update 2/16/2016]
The denunciation of the Syrian government as one where torture is prevalent has resonated with the blogster for a long time. Yet, at the Munich conference, some who decried the Syrian government have had no problems to use that very government in previous years to "render" people in the war on terror. Since the conference took place in Germany, this post may be a good place to point out that no German government since 9/11 has protected German citizens abducted and rendered to Syria as part of the war on terror.
[End Update]

For those readers weary of a pro Russia propaganda piece, the blogster offered a brief Q&A.

Q: Have you actually read 1980s Soviet papers?

A: Yes, lots.

Q: Are you a Kremlin troll?

A: I am an "Honorary Lifetime Member of the 3rd of the 36th (US) Infantry". Whether that's enough to prevent me from turning Kremlin troll is up to you to decide.



Who cries loudest about the shrill internet?

To take its** small, underdeveloped mind off the generic craziness of the day, the blogster finally ventured into some of the darker corners of Twitter to have a look at the latest German media complaints about the alleged increase in shrillness in social media.

We have written about social media bubbles, their supposed - debunked - radicalization power, the unhappiness of many in the German media establishment with Google, and more.

The single biggest problem with all claims about the nefarious social media is the dearth of solid data.

We simply do not have a nice set of data to show any changes in, say, insults, calls for violence and the other aggressive statements over time. We do have some numbers on accounts removed because of extremist contents, and Twitter proudly reports suspension, such as 125 000 ISIS related accounts. While it is self evident that the number of ISIS propaganda accounts before ISIS existed is zero, the number of suspended accounts depends on too many variables to be certain, including definition, legal aspects, number of followers, level of scrutiny, and removal efforts by the platform operator.

In the past couple of weeks, German media ran several articles that complain "the internet" was getting shriller.

What is it, how do you begin to measure it for even one culture? And on worldwide social media, where lots of people write in a foreign language? Which is not trivial because of huge potential for misunderstandings that result in a shouting match or more. This real life episode is a fun reminder of communication across languages: Clueless with dictionary.

From a scientific point of view, now would be the time to end this post and dive into Twitter's API and some natural language processing in order to get a minimum of hard facts.

From a journalist point of view, we can embrace OpEd mode the way the big boys do and go look at a few examples.

This being said, the blogster believes that some of the shrillest voices belong to the loudest complainers, which seem to congregate on what we usually call the political "right".

On social media, the *private* Twitter accounts of reporters at German tabloid BILD and found that any definition of "shrill" applies to much of what is said.
Politicians of the Christian Democrats liberally use the derogatory term "Sozi" to refer to Social Democrats, and are happy to use any variant of "Nazi", including intensifiers like "scum", to dismiss unfriendly folks or wingnuts.
"Scum" (German "Pack") is one of the most widely derogatory terms throughout all ideologies. On the far left, similar terms are in widespread use, although - in stark contrast to BILD reporters - we have not found liberal journalists engaging in the same shrill social media outbursts.

Given that it appears conservatives complain loudest about "the internet", would it be fair to ask them to set a good example and tone it down?

Not likely to happen because, of course, the ultimate rationale for lashing out is that the other party started the shouting match.

Once again just like in life in general.

Shrillness is just not a good measure.

[Update 6/24/2017] A new study from March 2017 seriously dents the easy argument that the internet drives  polarization:

NBER Working Paper No. 23258
Issued in March 2017

We find that the growth in polarization in recent years is largest for the demographic groups least likely to use the internet and social media. For example, our overall index and eight of the nine individual measures show greater increases for those older than 75 than for those aged 18–39. These facts argue against the hypothesis that the internet is a primary driver of rising political polarization.


** The K-Landnews has a rigorous policy of gender neutrality.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

How the refugee crisis made Germany rediscover its "Russians"

Typically, the first thoughts when you think about the common history of Russians and Germans go to the 20th century with its two World Wars and the separation of Germany into a Western allies and a Russian (or Soviet) controlled East.

And you wouldn't necessarily be aware of the fact that some 6.5 million people (out of a total of just over 80 million) in today's Germany have roots in the countries of the old Soviet Union.

So, what's their story, and why are the German media and politicians all of a sudden getting worried about the group of people whom you can all the country's biggest quiet minority?

The history of Germans and Russians mixing and mingling goes back more than 1000 years, but we'll focus on the time between 1763 and the present. 1763 marked the year in which then Russian Empress Katherine II (the Great), herself German, officially invited settlers from what is now Germany into her country. She offered freedom of religion, no obligation to do military service, independent local administration with German as the official language, a settlement cash bonus and thirty years of no tax obligation.

Needless to say, this was a great offer, made even more enticing for people in areas that had been ravaged by the 7 Year War.
Fast forward to the turn of the 20th century and World War I. Nationalist Russian circles began warning of a Germanization of Russia, and World War I saw the Germans branded as "the enemy within", with the requisite persecution and such. After the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, large scale deportations to the East took their toll on those who had survived the Revolution, the subsequent "Civil War" (which really was an international war), the famines and Stalins rule.

While some ethnic Germans managed to leave at the end of World War II, the vast majority continued to live in the Volga region, in Kasachstan and around Novosibirsk. With the end of the Soviet Union, the number of ethnic Germans from Russia and Kasachstan surged, making the 1990s the decade when most of the current "Russian" population arrived in Germany.

Legally, the ethnic Germans from the East were German citizens from day 1 if they could show their ancestry and spoke "some German".

As far as the "indigenous" population went, they were considered foreigners, much like the Italians or Greek migrant  workers of the 1960s or refugees from other countries.

The "Russians" found themselves in smallish towns and saw their new neighborhoods called "Little Kasachstan". Even in 2016, a native politician told Russians that the Germans made a big effort 20 years ago to "integrate" them - and was immediately confronted with: but are Germans!

There were all the expected issues when the numbers of new arrivals grew: an uptick in juvenile delinquency - nicely explained by politicians, as opposed to any real or imagined uptick among the recent refugees. The old new Germans learned to live with the label Russian, and went too work. So, official Germany forgot about them.

This all changed for the media and the politicians when Russian state TV recently broadcast the story of a girl named Lisa and alleged she had been held captive and been raped by Arab refugees. According to police, she was not.

All of a sudden, German news outlets reported of demonstrations of ten thousand Russians in Germany against the refugee policies of the current German government. The fake story of the rape off Lisa is given as the cause.

The number is wrong. There were small protests, even in front of the Chancellor's office in Berlin, but even if you add them all up, you probably won't get to 10 000 total.
Yes, there were posters of solidarity with Lisa, but if you listen to the "Russians", things become much more complicated and very unfavorable for German politicians and media.

As it turns out, before the actual latest violence of some refugees against women, there was Ukraine.

As one said: Ukraine and the refugees crisis have turned the situation upside down. If you indicate that you have even the slightest understanding for Putin, you are immediately told: Then go home.

And about TV: older folks watch Russian TV for entertainment. They know there is some propaganda, but Western TV also keeps some things under wraps.

Only now is local police engaging with "the Russians" to inform them about rumors of refugee crime. And politicians?

They was to start explaining to "the Russians" that Russia Today is by no means as objective as the German media.

What does the immediate future look like?

Police efforts to dispel myths and rumors will probably work.

On the other hand, the media and the mainstream politicians will almost certainly fail - they will focus on the refugee crisis but ignore the issues of Russia, the sanctions, and Putin and the role of German media.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

German auto makers sell one third of their cars - to themselves

One third of new cars sold in Germany are bought by the respective auto makers themselves.

This article in Zeit Online is the most recent and best of reports we have seen over the past couple of years on the state of one of the world's premier auto countries.

Not to be too self congratulatory, but exactly as we saw that Americans are buying bigger cars since gas went down - confirmed in the meantime - we had the impression that something didn't jibe with German cars.

They seemed too expensive.

The Zeit article provides hard numbers: the price of new cares in Germany went up by 40% in 15 years, unlike the prices for other long lived goods, which have remained flat or even went down.
In terms of income, a single average earner has to spend 16.5 months of his or her income versus 13.5 in 2000.

At the cheaper end of the market, individuals buy more new cars, and - who would have thought - the same is true for the higher end Mercedes.

So, fleet vehicles and sales to themselves now make up 63% of the new car sales in Germany. The cars sold to themselves then go on sale as used vehicles a few weeks to a few months later.

Everybody wins?

Not really. Some people get much better deals.

About a year ago, a friend of the K-Landnews bought a brand new car at 50% off, with a set of winter tires as a freebie.

The maker introduced a new vehicle with a temporary discount of 25%. Our friend, the eventual buyer was told by a factory employee, that the company was holding a public introduction event in city A. She went there with her boyfriend, a former employee at said company, they talked to the event manager and walked out with another 25% off.

The episode highlights an aspect of the German way of doing business the blogster dislikes quite a bit: very little transparency, favoring insiders to a greater extent than, say in the US.

Similar processes can be found across the economy, for instance, when internet regulator ICANN opened up a bunch of new top level domains for sale, one disappointed bidder remarked what a coincidence it was that the best domain names for one of the states went to people who seemed eerily well connected to the state government.

And before you ask, no, there is virtually no recourse in matters like this.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Europe needs an annual Day off Work for immigrants only

Europe should introduce an annual Day off Work for first and second generation immigrants to demonstrate to everyone how some countries would come to a standstill without immigrants.

Do not discard this as a joke. There is more evidence than you can quote that physically modifying a routine helps people understand reality. This is, in fact, how a common problem with police officers who do only night shifts has been successfully addressed in some US cities. You get so used to the criminal nights that your perception gets skewed and the world around you looks bleak even during your waking hours.

Natives would have to show up, though - otherwise the scheme wouldn't work.

There are some practical issues with the suggestion, the blogster readily admits. Some sectors and jobs are pretty much 99% first and second gen immigrants, with the remaining 1% a third gen or "native" manager.

A one day shutdown of Germany's biggest airport would be inconvenient but that's the point.

Shutting down some hospitals due to a shortage of doctors, nurses and other staff is not an option, but emergency or holiday operations could certainly be arranged, right?

Old folks homes fall into the same category. While the blogster is not beyond - sorry if you figured a gentle person behind this post - entertaining the thought of some old Nazi arses going unwiped for a day, common decency prohibits actually doing this.

So, old folks homes would need to figure out staying open, too.

Everything else gets no break from a Day without Immigrants, period.

The mirror aspect of such a holiday would also demonstrate where countries lack diversity. In Germany, for example, police and courts would continue to work or be open, minus the secretarial staff.

Most law firms would be humming, but many would have no client meetings for the day.

Many stores would remain shuttered, so would Amazon and trash collection, construction companies and car factories -- the list is endless.

If you extended it to the third generation, you could probably take a bicycle on the famed autobahn and have a great outing.

[Update] The usual, typos, grammar.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Ronnie's cabin for the ladies

It's one of these, sure, we all figured that anyway episodes. You know, the kind of stories an elderly man tells you over a glass of whiskey - with ice, please - and you chuckle, shake your head like a Greek grandpa to mean yes.

Our man Ronnie** was a man of values, a family man, clean, all American, with the looks of a movie star and the acting skills of a politician, revered by his party contemporaries and frequently invoked by later aspiring leaders. No, seriously, not Arnold, we would have made a Mozart or Bach joke to lead you in the wrong direction. Also not Ron, the virtually unknown third founder of a company called Apple Inc.

Anyhow, we were talking about real estate deals in the area, specifically a large ranch with cabins dotting the landscape, some of them weekend rentals, others long term, but all serving as private getaways. The smog in the LA basin was horrific back then.

M., a well known developer, approached the owner one day with a partnership offer to turn the ranch into new subdivisions for the growing metropolitan area. The owner decided to enter into talks and invited M. to a tour of the property.

As they were driving around, M. would point at some of the long term rentals and add a short back story, give the name of the renter, what they were known for, unless they were a household name anyway.

Passing one cabin, he pointed: "And this is where Ronnie meets his ladies. He insists on having fresh flowers there at all times."

This is the point in the conversation where you both chuckle and shake your head.

And then you say something along the line of "like a true man of values" and gaze out of the big windows overlooking the ocean bathed in the light of the setting sun.

** Some names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Germany further tightens asylum laws & the "no support in other countries" mantra

The argument that migrants or immigrants get no government support at all in other countries keeps cropping up in conversations about the European refugee crisis.

This really has to to with the long standing unproven claims by conservatives that many migrants come to Germany to collect social benefits and have no intention to work. Previously  directed mostly at immigrants from some of the recent new EU member states, such as Poland, Romania, or Bulgaria, this claim is now being used for refugees.

Germany has tightened its asylum law twice within a year or so, extending the list of countries that are deemed "secure countries of origin", first to include Balkan states like Kosovo and Albania, now to include Northern African countries like Tunisia and Algeria, as well as imposing restrictions on refugees already present in Germany. Faster processing of claims and lowering the threshold for deportation are two other aspects of the new law.

Integration courses, in other words, the language courses migrants need to attend, used to be free, but in the future, refugees will have to contribute a co-pay of 10 Euros, which is not negligible if you only get a couple of hundred Euros monthly cash allowance.

Some German states are keeping refugees in communal centers for as long as possible because such refugees can claim only about 150 Euros in monthly cash benefits.

The most controversial change in last weeks "second asylum package", as they call the recent set of changes, lies in the restriction on bringing family into Germany. Sold to the public as a measure that would really not affect people out of Syria, it turns out, Syrian refugees would be affected, too.

Even worse, unaccompanied minors are set to lose the right to have their parents come to Germany within a period of two years. This has caused some upset in the junior partner of the Berlin government, the social democratic party.

The rationale for prohibiting parents of unaccompanied minors to follow their children is, in the opinion of the blogster, borderline barbaric. We saw a tweet by the office of the Christian Democratic Party (@cdurlp) of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate yesterday that justified the measure as follows: If we allow unaccompanied minors to bring their parents, we run the risk of parents sending their children to claim asylum and then bring the rest of the family.

You read that right.

Some German Christian Democrats are convinced that people in a refugee camp in the Middle East will send their teen to undertake a perilous, uncertain journey in order to get asylum for the family in Germany.

And what about those Germans who don't want to provide any support? They are either willing to let people die or don't know how Germany works.

There is no infrastructure in Germany for people who get no government support at all. Yes, it may sound strange to see "no infrastructure" and "no government support" in the same sentence, but Americans and others understand.

Americans may not like tent cities of homeless people right next to luxury malls, and cities may ban charities like Food Not Bombs from feeding the homeless in "middle class" neighborhoods, but there are spaces for them. Churches and volunteers provide food without asking for a government paper that certifies you are poor. There are doctors and nurses or med students who will provide care. 

Germany doesn't have much of that. Tent cities like the "jungle" near the French city of Calais, are anathema around here.

Germans are very proud to have food banks these days, the biggest organization is known as Die Tafel (a fancy term for a table with food), founded in 1995. Needy people have to show an official benefits statement proving they are entitled to the basic means tested Hartz IV or equivalent SSI type benefits.

Recent reports detail the strain on the food banks in the wake of the refugee crisis and potential rationing of groceries by the organization.

France just recently passed a law that mandates super markets donate leftover groceries, but no such law is in the works in Germany. In fact, dumpster diving continues to be illegal in Germany and is still being prosecuted.

[Update 2/8/2016] The more restrictive rules outlined above are not enough for some. One of the Christian Democratic Party's deputies is already calling for even tougher ones. Among them: move the earliest date for gaining permanent residence status from three to five years, speak good German (not just "basic"), be able to support yourself.
Der Spiegel simply printed his claims, apparently unaware that Germany has two types of permanent residence, one of which you can get after three years, the second (that one equivalent to the US permanent residence status) after five years.


Friday, February 5, 2016

Rallying call "Separate propaganda from truth" - another German internet OpEd & how to fix things

Let's start with a fix of sorts: Google, Twitter and Facebook need to get themselves some bona fide foreigners on the Board of Directors. Facebook's Mr. Thiel might or might not count as one, depending on how you look at it.

Lobbying seems to have worked mostly, but over here in old Europe, there's some shrill stuff lobbed at, for the moment, mainly these three players.

Take this OpEd in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine: "Lies on the internet. Separate Propaganda from Truth!" [our translation of Lügen im Internet Trennt Propaganda von Wahrheit!] *

The lead in is "The internet has become ugly, hostile, and incensed. And now, it loses the truth, too. How a medium of enlightenment became an instrument of irritation."

The OpEd is well written, as you would expect from a professional journalist. So, it is tempered by praise of the net as "one of humanity's greatest cultural achievements". Criticism is couched in nice statements, for example, that tolerance is on the retreat in "numerous" areas, not a plain old "on the retreat".
There is the nod to the fact that the internet "is only as good as the people using it".

In between all of these are the claims:
1) Now, truth on the internet is getting lost.
2) It "increasingly becomes an instrument of irritation, disinformation, and propaganda".

Supporting facts?
Another claim, namely that "conspiracy theorists were a tiny minority until a few years ago" but that propagandists and swindlers now reach deep into "middle Germany", followed by rhetorical questions: Did Ukraine shoot down MH17, do refugees really steal goats from German petting zoos, can we really be sure that Berlin police is not covering up the alleged rape of the girl Lisa?

The examples come from Russian propaganda and obvious wingnuts.

They are published in a German paper that swallowed hook line and sinker the big lies that were used to get the West into all wars since Korea or to make them more palpable to us.
  
But "why does the truth have such difficulties"?.

"The more it [the net] turned into a mass medium, the more its character changed."

Blaming the unwashed and uneducated again. And so it is that "cat video beats a nature documentary, rant beats sophisticated argument. And the purely invented often displaces the truth."

The suggested solution sounds reasonable enough: search engines like Google need to find ways to differentiate better between credible sources and propaganda and conspiracy theories. Google has been working on this, but there is no mention in the OpEd, no mention either on search engines that strip your data before submitting a query - preventing personalization.

Easing into the next paragraph with "It is not censorship but taking responsibility" prepares for the gut punch: "No multinational company can forever let its products be a vector of division of society, fuel hate and distrust, help propaganda and lies."

By now, the bold statement that the internet "is only as good as the people using it" does not matter any more, does it?

These days, there are data on how many users trust news in social media - not many, it turns out in Are those nefarious social media bubbles a figment of our imagination?

And what does it say about an OpEd in a paper discussed in Who's afraid of Google? Turns out, lots of people.

Do you remember the yellow pages? Oh, you are not old enough, okay, then read why they also manipulated your world view in Google manipulates your world view? Stop yelping!

Oh, and no, we don't dislike Frankfurter Allgemeine reporting, only most of their OpEds.Yes, you could argue that the piece is not an OpEd because it doesn't appear in the OpEd bar near the bottom of the page. Which would make it infinitely worse because of the absence of research apart from a few quotes.

We do agree with the author that a cat video beats a nature documentary: His own newspaper has ample internet video evidence of that.

* You are welcome to criticize our translations here. We do believe they are accurate enough to support our reasoning.

[Update] Fixed typos, added italics to highlight quotes. Added sentences "Yes, you could argue..." and "We do agree..." re cat videos.

Korean tacos and burritos coming to Germany soon

That's a prediction, based on demography and the fact that Kimchi just recently showed up at the Ausländer shop we go to once a month or so to stock up on ingredients during a "trip to the city".

Which is a big deal for us hillbillies. *

The shop has all the good stuff German run grocery stores either don't carry at all or offer at moon prices. Unless you think buying taco ingredients as a "Taco kit" at a price that matches last week's special offer from the pharmacy in town - 10 aspirin tablets with Vitamin C for 5.95 Euros (six or so dollares) - is a good deal, you go to the foreigner run shop.

Which is where you can now get Kimchi, or as the Germans call it Koreanisches Sauerkraut.

Korean tacos have been around for several years in the U.S., hailed as one the many "fusion" cuisines. Want to try some? Recipes are here and a steak taco version is here.

The usual caveat for foreign food applies: just as sound can affect the taste of food, it is wll known that the surroundings. Which does not mean that Mexican food in Germany would be any better if you had it in Mexico - sorry about that one.

But hanging out, say, at a noisy Korean restaurant just outside the surreal night time wilderness of the Port of Los Angeles certainly makes it more "authentic". By the way, if you have never been to the Port of LA and the adjacent industrial area, at night, they do look like the landscape in Grand Theft or any truck and shoot 'em up video game you have ever played.

If you happen to be a restauranteur in Germany and are inspired by this post to add Korean tacos and burritos to your menu, let us know.

Since it's carnival time and we are talking fusion cuisine, you might want to try New Orleans style rice doughnuts, Calas, too. Here is our recipe in German.


* Hillbillies R us


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Turkish connection in the video of an arrested Germany based IS sympathizer

The Washington based Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project collects and translates clips from the region and elsewhere and recently added clip #5290 - Frankfurt-Based Syrian Activist Dr. M. F: "This Is Why I Support the Islamic State".

German police arrested the man, a postgraduate student at the Darmstadt technical university on 2 Feb 2016.  The article explains that the shortened video had been posted on the Facebook page of a German politician the previous Sunday and that many callers had contacted the university after the weekend.

Facebook deleted M.F.'s account, so we cannot see the history, but his Twitter account is still up. The article reporting his arrest mentions that the university had no previous indication of his sympathies for IS/Daesh.

Missing from the article is any mention of possible indications the German authorities might have had. The Twitter account, dormant for two years, saw its first tweet in early July 2015, and this tweet clearly expresses sympathies for IS.
While there was not much activity on the Twitter account, with fewer than 50 tweets until the February 2016 arrest, they were all very unambiguously pro IS.

The MEMRI video is about 8 out of the 52 minutes of the original video (on YouTube). Sitting behind a desk, with a laptop and a glass of water as well as a script in front of him, the young man has a clear statement: Let me explain why I support the Islamic State.

A book shelf behind him indicates that he is in a room that appears to be an office of an entity related to Turkey. There are two small flags on the bookshelf, one a flag of Turkey, the other a corporate flag with a fairly modern looking logo and a text that appears to end in "group". This may or may not be his place of work, assuming that the grant he received from the Syrian government ended in 2011 as reported in the article, and he needed to earn money.

The edges of the book shelf, the contents, as well as the chair seem to indicate that the video was not recorded in Germany. Unless we are looking at a very conservative Turkish business in Germany.

In the video, F. blames the U.S. for allegedly trying to destroy the Sunni Muslims of Syria and Iraq in cooperation with local helpers and launches into an all out Sharia-based "explanation" of IS with gory details of killings.

F.'s demeanor is rather calm and focused on the camera, with very few glances to the sides, once to the computer on his right, later to the left and up. It is not clear if someone else was in the room during the taping, although his body language can be read as supporting this hypothesis.

The blogster would really like to know what the Turkish connection in the video is. So, here is a partial screenshot of the bookshelf with the flags and some other interesting items.

Get in touch if you have any information on these items:



[Update 2/6/2016]
Found a Facebook account after going through all links on the still active Twitter account].
The full length YouTube video has been removed.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Relax - you cannot be addicted to all of the internet

Despite the fact that there are "internet addiction tests" all over - well - the internet, saying that someone is "addicted to the internet" makes the blogster cringe.

Of much greater interest are specialized quizzes on gaming, gambling, online sex and others.

We could tell you to go and take some quizzes and get help if needed, but, of course, that's not how we do things. The feeling of unease regarding any generic quiz is also caused by the evaluation point system.

If you check what appears to be a widely used quiz by an expert psychologist,  you will find that only the range 0 - 30 points says you have no addiction at all. 31 - 49 points already comes with the label "MILD", although the explanation states you are an average user.

Like with other addictions, addiction to internet offers and features comes with value judgments attached. Take this statement:
If your Internet use pattern interferes with your life in any way shape or form, (e.g. does it impact your work, family life, relationships, school, etc.) you may have a problem.

Replace "internet use pattern" with your favorite socially accepted hobby.

If "lying or hiding the extent or nature of your online behavior" is a problem, what does the NPR report that 13 million Americans are hiding a bank account from their spouses and partners tell us?

Sure, you may call the latter caution in the face of modern divorce laws, but is there a fundamental difference between hiding your online behavior and hiding a bank account?

The good news - or the bad if you belong to one of these groups - is this:
National surveys revealed that over 70% of Internet addicts also suffered from other addictions, mainly to drugs, alcohol, smoking, and sex.

Life disrupting problems from addiction to internet features or sites can be treated through counseling and, as Dr. Young says on her website, with a Twelve Step technique similar to AA/NA.

Even if you are an "average user", it is actually fun to put aside the computer or smart phone and forego non-essential use for some time. Not religiously, a smart phone is a phone after all, and there is no reason to go back to paper maps merely to make a point.

In case you feel overwhelmed by the thought of not using the beloved digital helpers, there are plenty of activities that entail reduced use of the internet. For example, become a member of a Renaissance Fair guild or work a RenFair to limit use to breaks.

A job in an Amazon warehouse or behind the counter of a McDonald's, to name only two, will have the same effect. But they are not as much fun.


Monday, February 1, 2016

German women storm town halls & other carnival excesses

A group of female town employees, some masked, gather one Thursday morning outside of the mayor's office. At least two or three are armed with scissors, another carries a heavy champagne bottle by the neck - a formidable weapon in experienced hands.

Too early, whispers one, 11:11 - countrywide. 

In old Hollywood movies, they would now synchronize their wrist watches with a mix of gravitas and anticipation.

Instead, they just look at their smartphones.

Now.

One opens the door to the secretary's office, the others rush in, turn towards the mayor's office and repeat the drill. The ladies start to shout as they rush the chief executive's office. To foreign ears, their cry sounds like some sort of battle cry, nothing you'd learn in the six weeks of "integration course" German lessons. Sounds like "all off and hey, laa", a source told the blogster. ** The secretary, in on the plans, silently picks up her government issued scissors and follows the group into the chief's office.

The mayor is sitting at his desk, with a wry smile, both hands on the desk as two women with scissors raised close in on him, one from either side of the broad desk, blocking his escape.

One of the ladies grabs his tie, lifts it, and with one swift, experienced move, cuts the tie just inches from his chin.

Out, out, out!

The mayor gets up and takes a step towards the door. "Here, don't forget your coat", the secretary says, handing him his jacket. With the gait of a man resigned to defeat but certain of a reversal of fortune in his favor, the mayor steps outside into a chilly German February day to declare the ladies' takeover of the town to the assembled press and local citizens.

Champagne cork pops, glasses appear out of nowhere.

This, more or less, describes the ritual in many German towns and cities on the Thursday before the final week of carnival. The temporary outing of the mayor as well as managers in other government administrations and companies is a long standing tradition. Contrary to the beliefs of some nay sayers, the tie cutting is not sponsored by German or international tie makers.

It merely symbolizes the loss of power - and the loss of a male appendage.

Before you ask: no, the blogster has no idea what form the ritual takes if the mayor is a woman. But, promise, we'll find out for you.

American officials in Germany go through the same ritual if they have local national employees. Some stubborn ones are known to have refused, most play along.

Everybody knows carnival is a time of sanctioned excess, of temporary madness, but the sexual side normally does not make the news in any sort of explicit explanation. It's understood - from the very short dresses in freezing weather to the loud, drunk hugging and kissing of strangers.

Then there are the usual suspects in the clash of cultures: blackface is still common during German carnival. And so are Wild West floats with a noose.

In 2016, however, things are different, according to this article in Zeit online. German towns and cities feel the need to explain the native customs to refugees, so flyers in Arabic and other languages are being handed out.

The need for an explanation can be understood better against the widespread molestation of and attacks on women on new year's eve in several cities, among them one of Germany's biggest carnival cities, Cologne.

The blogster has not seen any of the flyers, but according to the article, the sexual side of the festivities may not be explained well enough.

By next week, we'll know.

Given the current climate in the country, there will probably be some less than cheerful headlines, some reports of transgression by "people from a migrant background".

But, as long as tabloid BILD and others don't single out the second generation immigrant ladies mingled in with their German co-workers, scissors in hands, we can hope that this year's days of debauchery go well.

[Update 2/1/2016] Added: "Then there are the...to noose"

** Those cries are actually "Alaaf" and "Helau", two of the regional carnival greetings.