Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Unsure Identity Essay

One of the more clever German ministers in Berlin.....Thomas de Maizière....the interior minister....made a remarkable comment today:

" Despite economic prosperity, Germans don't know who they are and what it represents.  Although we are doing economically well as rarely seen before......we are ourselves unsure about our identity.  We no longer know exactly who we are and who we want to be. What makes us as a German."

It is one of those million-Euro quotes because you have to sit back....sip some coffee and really think about the implications of what he is suggesting.

What exactly make a German.....a German?

Germans are clever.....driven toward thinking beyond the next step....continually striving toward a process of improvement or solving problems.....and always pushing creativity toward the next level.

Germans understand the concept of mercy, and balance their laws in various ways to give society a constant feeling of fairness.

Germans are good stewards.  It's not just the environment but the infrastructure that exists.....the schools and universities built over the decades and centuries....and social support systems that help the lesser in society.

Germans have a rich history in innovation.  If you look at foods: the gummy bear, the Bratwurst, Buamkucken, and the Stollen are all great examples.  Talking about chemistry?  They invented the Petri dish, the Bunsen Burner, and Polycarbonate.  Talking about computers?  They invented the MP3 format, and the Binary number system.  Cruise missiles and the machine-gun were invented by the Germans.  Plank's Law was written by Max Plank.

Germans were standing there when the Romans headed north, and patiently put up with the rules of Rome.  Between troubles with the Catholic Church, and regional conflict.....a land emerged out of the 1800s with districts, city-states, empires, and kingdoms coming together under the Prussian umbrella.  Through the incompetence of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the Austrian-turned-German corporal....Germany has put up with some very high ups and low downs.  It's been rebuilt a dozen times over.

If you asked ten Germans what makes them a German....most will look at you and just say their "pass" (ID) or their birth in the country.  They can't explain why a German is really a German.  Nor can they get this remarkable feature about German culture and society across to someone who just arrived and intends to pretend their way into being German.

I'm not even sure that Merkel herself could say in two-hundred words or less what it takes to make a German.....a German.

Yes, quiet a problem....a national identity that ought to be worth a 10,000 page novel, and you can't really lay the blunt nature of this culture or society down to it's own citizens.  It is a remarkable problem.

The Wahlometer Story

It's a bit of a humorous piece but fairly serious in political nature.

The wiz kids of the political world in Germany decided in 2002 to develop this on-line question system which would help an "idiot" decide who to vote for.....based strictly on the platforms of the various parties.

If you were pro-marijuana, pro-immigration, anti-taxation.....then the questions would lead you to the right party to vote for.

In theory, it's probably the best way to consider how to vote.  It doesn't mean that marijuana legislation will get passed or the immigration issue will get resolved.....but you gave your vote to the crowd with the best odds of making you happy.

So, in most all elections....not just federal, but also state-level....in Germany.....the Wahl-O-Mat is the tool that helps you decide who to vote for.

Well....in this election in Mecklenburg for this upcoming weekend....it's an odd thing.

The SPD and CDU met months ago (they won't admit this in public that it was a joint meeting) but they decided that they would refuse to participate or help the Wahl-O-Mat people form the 20-odd question format on platform issues.  Zero participation.   So, there is NO Wahl-O-Mat for Mecklenburg's election.  You can ask journalists about this and they just grin.  The thinking is that if you don't help on this issue.....then you don't give any votes to AfD.  It's that silly but they are absolutely serious.

So.....some smart geeks working for AfD went to work.  They built their own ap......their own platform on the issues.  It's called a Wahlometer.  Yeah.....it's different from the Wahl-O-Mat.

What people say....upon entering the question base....is that the Wahlometer uses a particular wording on all issues.  Journalists will suggest that if you aren't competent to realize this wording.....the program can only lead you to one single party in the end.....of course....the AfD.  You could probably have a CDU-dedicated guy do this ten times, and each time.....he will be told the best choice is the AfD.

Course, the SPD and CDU could have prevented this by participating in the normal Wahl-O-Mat process and showed they were fairly open in the whole process.

What will happen to the Wahlometer after this Sunday?  I suspect that the AfD will continue to use it and push it via social media across to other state elections as well.  Whatever rational thoughts that the SPD or CDU had on controlling this question-to-platform idea.....they didn't really consider all the implications.

Changing the vote for November 2017's national election?  Let's say that enough naive people exist in Germany and that they could be led to use the Wahlometer instead of the legit Wahl-O-Mat......I'm guessing that it might shift one-percent of the votes to the AfD that they might not have gotten.  One-percent?  It's not a big deal but it's taking that one-percent away from some other party.

So, when you hear about the Wahlometer, remember that it's a creation by the AfD.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Saarland: 2017 Election View

There are three state elections in Germany in 2017.  One of the states involved....is Saarland.

The expected date for the election around the end of Feb or beginning of Mar, 2017.

Last election:

The SPD carried almost 30-percent of the vote.....while the CDU Party won with 35-percent.  The far-left Linke Party took 16-percent, while the Pirate Party took 7.4-percent, and the Greens took 5-percent.  The AfD?  They weren't active in Saarland politics in 2012 when the last state election occurred.

Likely outcome this time?  We have seven months until the election and no real polling data on what might occur in the Saarland.  Last time around, there were 481,000 votes in the election.

My best guess is that both CDU and SPD will lose around 12 points from their 2012 election, and the Linke Party might see two or three points lost  as well.  The AfD Party might be able to take near 15-percent in the state.  If the AfD were to go past the 20-percent point, it would cause some significant worry for the CDU and SPD nationally.

The Pirate Party is currently in a rebuilding stage nationally, and this election in Berlin will help or hinder the Pirate Party numbers in the Saarland.  If the Linke Party were to take less than half the votes that they did in 2012.....it would cause a lot of worry about the national trend for them and unsettle their handcuffed stance on the immigration situation.

If you were looking for indicators of where the fall national election might go.....this might be an interesting election to watch.

The Safe Story

There's a stupid story which started up over the weekend in the US business news over Germans.  The story is hyped.....Germans dumping banks, buying safes for their homes.

What the original reporter got....I think....is some report that indicates an increase in home safes being sold and he assumes that folks are quitting bank accounts.....to keep their cash at home.  Oddly, the story comes out of the Wall Street Journal.

Well.....it's a false story.

Over the past decade, if you travel around Europe (or Australia for that matter)....if you stay in a four-star hotel.....there's a safe in the room.  I admit....it's not the kind of safe that Americans imagine, but it's big enough to put a shoe-box into.  It's usually bolted into the closet and runs off a battery device where you put in a four-to-six number sequence (off a telephone-like pad) and it's fire-durable.  Germans travel and see it constantly.

So the hardware shops in Germany have started to market and sell these.  A typical cheapo-type would run around 100-to-150 Euro.  A better choice would be in the 300-to-400 Euro range.  All of them are about the same size....,maybe one to two shoe-boxes fitting into it.

What does the German put into it?

1.  Because of increased break-in's.....jewelry collections and expensive watches are usually kept there.....bolted into the floor or into the wall.  The punk might find the safe but if he's got just ten minutes in the place to feel safe about robbing it.....he doesn't have the time or resources to waste on the safe.

2.  Coin collections?  You do find a fair number of Germans who either have small coin collections or collect on gold.  So it makes sense to keep in a safe.

3.  Some cash.  I'm not saying the average guy is stowing cash there....just the guy who deals in cash a good bit and maybe does work on the "black".  Hint: there are lots of plumbers and carpenters who do work for cash, and at the end of a year.....have 50,000 Euro in their hands that is unreported income.  Rather than deposit the money, which would get the bank/tax folks attention.....you store the "loot" at home and spend the money out of the safe.

For the price-range, it's affordable now.  Not like the 1980s where you had to spend a huge amount of money to get a regular sized safe.

Quitting bank accounts?  No.   I do agree.....the price hikes now on regular accounts have made Germans peppy and frustrated.  Most banks now require you maintain a certain amount of money in the account....like 1,500 or 2,000 Euro.  Some require you maintain a savings account connected to the checking account and at least a couple thousand Euro in it.....to avoid the monthly fees.  The banks with the regular fee business?  Probably double or triple what it was a decade ago.

But here's the thing.....for you paycheck, your pension check, and for regular bill-paying....you absolutely have to maintain a bank account.  You can go line up a hundred Germans, and I would take a guess that 98-percent of them have an account somewhere.  Even homeless guys will have an ATM card and get their welfare or pension money out via some bank.

So, yeah.....it's mostly a bogus story.  The safe trend will continue and even I.....eventually.....will probably get a safe as well (if the wife deems this as necessary).  So don't worry.....German banks are safe and still have a thriving business.....as do the safe guys.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

A Bit of Warning Might Have Helped

In the early spring of 1977....when I was getting to the point of seriously thinking of joining the Air Force....the recruiter had this 15-minute video to orientate and ensure that I understood what boot-camp was all about.  It was an honest portrayal of the six week episode and what I should expect.  It kinda spelled out that you wouldn't have much free time.....there's no alcohol....hot meals were the norm.....it would be kinda hot there in Texas....and you were expected to participate.

I've come to the opinion that Germany should have had an orientation type program/video.....back in 2014 and ensured that folks coming up for immigration, asylum or migrant status.....knew what they were getting themselves into.

For example, if you explained what the cost of living was for the average German, and what the wage typically equaled.....I think forty-percent of folks who were thinking about walking into Germany would reconsider their action.

For example, if you explained the taxation business and how near half of what you were making for an income.....was going toward income tax, health insurance or pension tax.....I think forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you explained what a car cost, the yearly cost of mandatory insurance, and gasoline cost (with the tax business).....I think forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you explained the thousand-odd rules of driving and how difficult it is to get a drivers license.....I think forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you laid out the progressive and liberal side of society that exists in Germany.....I think forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you explained dress and attire of German women....I suspect that forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you showed the refugee compounds and camps as the Germans have established them, and been fair in admitting that some folks might be there for ten months, and STILL not pass the visa test....I suspect that forty-percent of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

For example, if you showed general acceptance of marijuana and it was a problem for your conservative lifestyle....I suspect that forty-percent of of folks would reconsider their walk into Germany.

Oh, this probably would have to be a four-hour DVD introduction and it'd lay out the great positives of the Basic Law (Constitution), jobs for people with craftsmanship background or college degrees, and professional police.  But the negatives would have been there and been something that would have made people ask questions.  If you lived your entire life in some Islamic homeland with some tough rules and expectations.....well....it won't be the same in Germany.  A German boss won't have sympathy for you and Ramadan.....so if you dehydrate yourself and can't deliver at the business.....the German boss will let you go.

I'm guessing that at least one out of every three migrants or immigrants who hiked into Germany in 2014 and 2015.....are sitting there now and asking themselves some tough questions.  Maybe they expected more.....maybe they thought it would be easy.....but things probably didn't turn out the way that they thought.  And for some.....it's exactly what they wanted and desired.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Karl Marx Strasse Story

Late this week in Germany.....Wolfgang Steiger of the CDU Economic Council (the chief guy of the council) got into an interview with a BILD reporter.  He eventually came around to this topic that he declared some support for.  BILD gave him roughly 12 lines of coverage.....which is hype if you think about the typical 10 lines they write on some subjects.

Across Germany, there are approximately 500 to 600 streets named for Karl Marx, who has been dead for about 150 years.

Karl....was mostly a philosopher, economist, and journalist.  It's safe to say that his stability and income in life....came from running a couple of small newspapers that harped mostly on his favorite topic in life.....communism.

In his vision....a bunch of guys could produce work.....get an income of some sort, a roof over their head, and live a decent life.  It's never a complete picture on how you get from A to B to C, but something good would happen in the end.

What the CDU economics guy.....Wolfgang Steiger....suggested in this interview....is that it's time for the national government of Germany to dump all these Karl Marx Streets.

He didn't go into any detail about how this would happen (reminding you somewhat of how Karl built up his reputation).  Woflgang simply says that we don't need this reminder around about Karl Marx, who he more or less.....was deemed a failure.

What would they rename the streets?  Unknown.  Maybe Merkel Strasse.

On the priority list?  Well.....out of the 500 problems confronting Germany today.....I'd rate this around 8,558 on the list.  I'd actually like to ensure every apartment in Germany has a toilet within the apartment.....before renaming some streets.

In an election year?  Well....yeah....we are entering twelve months in Germany of election chaos, where some political folks will say some stupid things....for a headline.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Santa, Burqas, and German Intellectuals

The debate will rage in Germany over the next couple of weeks as the burqa ban is discussed within political networks, forums and public arenas.

At some point, Santa Claus and his outfit will be brought up by the intellectuals to defend stopping the burqa debate and just accept the outfit as a part of "new" cultures in Germany.

So I've asked myself.....did Santa integrate into Germany?

When did Santa arrive?  Most historians give the date 6 December 342....when Saint Nicolas is said to have died, and some celebration or gift period was established.  The 16th century is given by some people as the period where it was generally accepted across Europe.

Santa and integration?  Santa learned German.  No one ever tested the guy.....but he's probably way above the 2,1 level required by the German visa folks.

Orientation and knowledge of the Basic Law (German constitution)?  Santa wasn't tested on this but I'm pretty sure that he knows all of this to some level.  He also knows who has been naughty and nice.

Santa and fake passports?  As far as I know.....Santa has never been tasked to show a passport.  The customs people may swear that he's cross the Austrian border into Germany on hundreds of occasions but so far.....no one has thought to ask and make him show some passport.

Santa and weapons?  As far as I know.....no knives, no rifles, no explosives, or such.  He has been seen with a fairly large stick, which no one can explain it's usage other than for whacking reindeer or perhaps bad elves.

Santa and threats?  So far....other than skipping some bad kids.....no one can establish that Santa has ever threatened anyone.

The use of the beard and outfit as a disguise?  No....it's just regular North Pole attire.  It's kinda like fashion outlets in Poland in the 1980s....you wore what they sold even if it were way out of style.  My take is that there just aren't many C+A clothing shops there in the North Pole.

The necessity of intellectual to use the Santa argument to defend the burqa?  Lets be honest on two parts to this question.  First, when an intellectual has to use an imaginary character to build his argument.....he's stepped a full-step off a cliff (if you know what I mean).  Second, Santa has never been busted on the nose, jaw, or eye by some family acquaintance and used his beard or outfit to hide his injury.  Santa doesn't limit his character or his friendships, or hide his robust figure from public view.  And Santa doesn't seem to defend a 7th century behavior in his 'visits' or seem to harm anyone.

I hate to suggest that the intellectuals have locked onto a bad argument, but if you asked me.....dragging Santa into the burqa discussion is pretty amusing.

My 10 Bits of Advice on German Language Classes

After a number of classes over the years.....I can say that I've seen just about everything, and like Mark Twain....I'm at a loss to explain to anyone how the German language works but I can explain how the classes end up.  This is advice not only for Americans and Brits.....but for refugees as well.

1.  When the "professor" comes around with the sign-in log for each day....USE only Blue or black ink.  If you pull out some red or green ink pen.....that German professor will freak out and go crazy.  Trust me.....it's pretty serious over blue or black ink (don't ask me why).

2.  When they say this is an 'intensive' course....it means that over five weeks....roughly four hours a day....four to five days a week.....they've got a class, and it's designed as a college-level type course.  If you think you can miss three or four days out of that five week period, and still pass the test.....dream on, it won't happen.  They cover too much material each day for you to miss more than maybe two days (hopefully not consecutively).  If you were out for the day, you'd best find someone who takes good notes, and spend an hour with them on what you missed.  At the end of that episode (1.1 for example), you will be tested.  You don't go to 1.2 unless you pass that stupid test.

3.  The book.  No matter where you go.....they go and select a book from some publisher that is designed for a know-nothing-student.  Back in 1985 when I took the German class.....it was a 1970's style book and worthless.  Over the past three years.....the books I've seen....are all light-years ahead and worth the nine-to-twelve Euro cost.

4.  The instructors.  There are basically three types of instructors.  There's the actor or comedian type, who is very animated and getting everyone peppy into the rhyme of learning Germany.  Their focus is making German "FUN".  Then instructor two is the die-hard.....very-serious....dynamic instructor who will drill the language over and over into you.  Then the third instructor type is the 3-minute topic instructor who knows precisely how to teach you one simple thing, and it's built into a three-minute lesson.....which you easily pick up that single topic, and then move on.  Each has an advantage or disadvantage in the way they teach.

5.  The classrooms.  I've seen some classrooms over the past three years that were modern and up-to-date.....technology, etc.  And there's some which were left-overs from the 1980s.  None of them had AC, and on extra hot days.....you were fairly hot and miserable by noon.

6.  Cost?  If you use the social office deal....it's free but you can't fail a single class.  If you are a capitalist.....you will pay roughly 300 Euro for each single five-week class.  Twenty years ago....it would have been a quarter of that cost.....things have risen greatly over the last two decades.

7.  Characters you bump into and their ability.  I sat in a class once that had almost all immigrants and refugees, with four of us who had college or such in our past out of the twenty students. That class was locked into first-gear and had child-like behavior that went on from day one.  I often refer  to that episode as the "kids class" and quit at the 10th week (15 week course).  I sat in one simple five-week course that had all westerners....majority with a craft or college time....and every day had a great pace.  Some of these language programs will try to pair folks up and get X people into the X-class and Y people into the Y-class.  Don't go expecting that you end up with a good group or bad group....it's just the luck of the thing.

8.  Homework.  When you break for the day....you've got probably 25 minutes of real homework and twenty minutes of stuff to recite or read over.  If you aren't doing the homework and trying to just skip your way through these classes.....don't worry, you won't get past the 5th week or level 1.1.

9.  Anyone who tells you that German is easy......is a nutcase.

10.  Islam.  Typically....in 99.99-percent of the occasions or class-time.....Islam won't come up....even if 80-percent of the class is Islam.  Now, that said.....I've had two occasions where it came up and became a noticeable issue.  In one class....we had some naive but clever instructor who was pro-Islam (German gal who was part of the Evangelical Church and a instructor).  She wanted everyone to know she was pro-Islam and thought it was a really keen religious group.....oddly, we only had two Muslims in the whole room out of 20 students.  Around the 10th time that she spoke up about this....I started to shake my head....she had some kind of issue.  It's best not to tell off a German that their behavior is questionable.....so my advice is to just keep quiet.

The second episode was a class which ran during Ramadan.  Along about 10AM, an hour into class, you'd notice dehydration setting in for a dozen of the people in the room.  They couldn't focus well and were having concentration issues.  By 11AM, it was worthless for the instructor to involve them in any class participation.  They were basically zombies and working on heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Ramadan runs for four weeks.  It's safe to say that this four week period for that particular class.....made it utterly worthless and brought me up to speed on the reliability of Muslims in classrooms or at the work-place.  About the only thing I would advise is that you need to keep the number for the ambulance folks nearby and quickly call an ambulance if they fall over from dehydration.