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English as a foreign language

Living as a German in an increasingly English-speaking world

2018-11-07: 6-P in English are 5-V in German

I just realised that the 6-P rule in English (many variations, also with a different number of P’s, exist; I’ll go with “proper preparation prevents piss-poor performance”) actually translates pretty well into German as the 5-V rule: „Vernünftige Vorbereitung verhindert völliges Versagen“ (which translates literally as “reasonable preparation prevents total failure” but that’s close enough for me).

2018-10-28: Back to sanity

Finally, the clocks have been set to sanity around here, and normal time has returned. One would hope that we have suffered through “summer time” for the last time (but I don’t believe we have).

You see, the thing is that there is no such thing as “winter time”. If summer time means that you change the clock so sunset is not at 20:00 but at 21:00, winter time would mean that you change to clock to move the sunrise from 08:00 to 07:00. It’s an entirely feasible concept, but I am not aware it has ever been done, and definitely not here. No, we don’t have winter and summer time, we have normal and summer time, or rather normal and abnormal time. Sane and insane time, even.

Don’t forget that the reference median for UTC+1, to which we have returned, is at 15° East, near Görlitz on the German-Polish border. That means that all of Germany suffers a mild case of summer time even at UTC+1 (the sun reaches its highest point only after 12:00). The westernmost parts of Germany would actually be better served by UTC±0 as they are approximately at 6° East and therefore closer to the UTC±0 reference meridian (which of course goes through London).

Now time zones are of course a good thing. Before telegraphs and railways, there was no value in having the same time everywhere: every town and village had their own time. It was noon when the sun was at its highest point. When no communication or interaction could happen at a higher speed than that of galloping horse, it simply didn’t matter. Today that would be a nightmare. And while the almost globally (except for some nutty exceptions) accepted idea of hour-wide time zones is by no means the only possible choice, it appears to be a good compromise.

Strangely, though, the concept was pretty much perverted in Western Europe. UTC+1 is overall a good choice for Germany. For any countries west of Germany, like the Benelux countries, France or Spain (or Andorra and Monaco, of course), it’s a terrible choice. So I think those countries should have one more change, in the autumn of 2019, to UTC±0.

2018-09-02: Pumpkin Spice Season

It’s coming on to Pumpkin Spice Season again, and this is just to make people aware of the following fact:

Pumpkin spice does not contain any pumpkin, just as dog food does not contain any dog.

Pumpkin spice is a spice mixture for pumpkins, so many pumpkin dishes are flavoured with pumpkin spice. Dog food is food for dogs, so many dogs are fed using dog food.

However, while dog food is usually not used for anything besides feeding dogs, pumpkin spice is sometimes used to flavour other things, such as coffee.

It is still perfectly fine to contain no pumpkin, much as dog food is fine to contain no dog.

2017-10-27: Good-bye, Air Berlin!

As I am writing this, two flights that should have left almost an hour ago, at 21:35, are boarding at Munich Airport: flight AB 6048 to Düsseldorf and flight AB 6102 to Berlin-Tegel.

The latter is billed as Air Berlin’s final commercial flight under its own airline code – because of its scheduled arrival is five minutes later than that of the former.

It marks the end of an era: the end of the only credible competitor to the Lufthansa group in the domestic air travel market in Germany. From now on, it’s Lufthansa, or its low-cost offspring Eurowings, or quite literally the highway (or the train). The administrator is still negotiating with Easyjet, but I am not optimistic anything positive will come out of it.

Air Berlin used to be my favourite airline. It got suckier and suckier over the years, but with Gold status it was still bearable. I could see how well their attempts to squeeze out extra cash worked: On any Air Berlin flight I was on recently, all (or almost all) of the “Business Class” seats remained empty, and the XXL seats were empty or occupied by people like myself that didn’t have to pay extra for them. Desperate measures rarely work and often backfire. This was no exception. Air Berlin’s reputation was going downhill really fast.

Good-bye, Air Berlin! Your former self will be missed. Your recent self, not so much, but still.

Update: AB 6210, the “last flight”, has departed, while AB 6048 is still boarding. Maybe their roles will be reversed.

2017-05-20: Some thoughts on resolving the Middle East situation

First things first. I’ll try to tread lightly here because I am a goy and all that, but I’d really welcome any comment on my views. Let me make one thing clear before we start here. I do recognise and support the right of the state of Israel to exist. Israel means, and that to me is a non-negotiable fact, within the borders before the 1967 war.

That means two things. (Well, at least.) One is that any organisation calling for Israel to be “purged off the map” needs to lose that before they can be taken seriously at any negotiating table. But it also means that Israel has no jurisdiction, military or otherwise, outside its pre-1967 borders.

There is never going to be lasting peace with a one-state solution where the one state is the Jewish state of Israel. That is just a fact; there are too many people in the region that would not be happy that way for that to ever work.

Independently of what I personally think should happen, I can tell you now that if current trends continue, Israel as a country in its present form is not going to be around for a whole lot longer.

Allow me to explain.

There is a portion of the Jewish population of Israel that is just living normal lives: working for a living, falling in love, having sex, having babies, the lot. Keeping the place afloat, essentially. That part of the population is shrinking.

Then there is the non-Jewish (mainly Muslim and Arab) population of Israel. Those guys are doing much of the same stuff; but they would not support the notion of Israel as a Jewish state. Their share is growing.

And then there are the Haredim. They have the have-sex-and-make-babies thing covered, but beyond that they are doing fuck-all for the economy, or the country. Their numbers are also growing, rapidly.

Guys, you are headed for a train wreck. The people that keep your boat afloat are dying out.

That leaves Israel with a few options, none of which appear to figure highly on the current Israeli government’s agenda.

One is a two-state solution: Leave Palestine to the Palestinians, and keep Israel within its pre-1967 borders. Maybe with some negotiated land swaps. Possibly, some Israeli Arabs would leave for Palestine when that is an actual functioning country. That won’t solve the normal-Israeli vs. Haredim conflict but then that’s going to be a domestic problem. Israel will probably require some security guarantees from Palestine, but I am sure that can be worked out eventually.

Another is a one-state solution, but the one state is a religiously agnostic, secular state. Possibly a federation of a Jewish and a Muslim region. I personally like that option the most.

Or Israel can wait until the non-Haredim Jewish population is no longer able to sustain the State of Israel. I surely wish for another solution to be found before this happens. But unless a solution is found in time, it will happen, eventually.

2016-10-10: Why voting for a third-party candidate in the US presidential election is pointless

Quite a few US Americans are contemplating voting for a third-party candidate like Gary Johnson in this election. That is not a good idea at all.

The thing is, the US electoral system is heavily stacked against any candidate not fielded by the duopoly that has dominated US politics for so many decades. And since Democrats and Republicans collectively make the rules, that is not going to change anytime soon. It is very difficult to even get on the ballot in all states. And then, as nearly all the states (except Maine and Nebraska) implement a “winner takes all” system, the chances to get any electoral votes in those states are slim. At least voting for a third-party candidate is almost certain to not do any damage beyond the damage done by not voting at all; all votes that are not for the winning candidate in the state are discarded.

But it could get worse. Imagine what would happen if any third-party candidate did manage to garner any votes in the electoral college, be it by unexpectedly winning one of the winner-takes-all states, or by winning at least one voting district in Maine or Nebraska (so far, neither of those have ever split their electoral votes but it is indeed possible).

If that happened, and it lead to neither of the duopoly candidates getting the 270 votes needed to win, all hell would break loose, courtesy of the Twelfth Amendment to the US Constitution. The House would then vote on the new President, but all the House members from any one state would collectively only have one vote, regardless of the size of the state. So Wyoming’s just over half a million voters would carry the same weight as California’s almost 40 million voters. And of course all votes cast in the presidential election would be completely cast aside at this point. That includes your vote.

So that is the one outcome you do not want – the President being elected by a thoroughly non-democratic process, which is the House voting one vote per state. Seriously, you have to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. If you don’t, someone else will. There is no alternative this time around; and there probably will not be an alternative to the duopoly anytime soon. If that frustrates you, fine; just be advised that by voting for a third-party candidate at this stage in the game is not going to help. You have to fix he system first. And that is a job for the legislature.

2014-03-24: Okay, and now what … ?

The problem with an effective sanctions régime is that it leaves the guy at the business end of the sanctions very little face-saving leeway.

That’s why it’s so worrying that the Russian government is digging itself deeper and deeper into a hole. They should know that the so-called West can’t let them get away with Crimea for free; if they insist on keeping that rather inconsequential (but for the warm-water harbour) peninsula there will be a steep price to pay.

Are the Russians really going for it? No more Western money for natural gas? No more iPhones? No more … anything, really?

I don’t think an isolated Russian government is going to last a long time. I really don’t.

2014-03-04: Past peak Putin

I think this is it, we are seeing the endgame of the Putin era.

Look at it this way. Over the last few years, the Russian government has acted as if it tried to hold on to control when it was already losing it. The invasion of Crimea is only the latest in series of increasingly desperate measures.

And guess what – it’s not working. Putin probably knew it wouldn’t before he even started it. The markets already sent a resounding thumbs-down. Does Putin care about the markets? I think he does.

If you want to run a country as an undisputed dictator, you have to isolate it from the world. That’s why it’s working (if you want to call it that) in North Korea. But Russia does not want to isolate itself. It needs to trade; it wants to be seen as a power in the world.

Does Putin wants to see what real allies Russia has left? Possibly. And, who are those allies? So far, I fail to see any. That must be a sobering realization. Germany has been the closest Russia has had to an ally in the West, and now the German chancellor tells the president of the US that Putin is living “in another world” – basically saying that he has lost his mind.

If you follow the Twitter tag #russiainvadesukraine at the moment, you will see (at least at daylight hours in the Americas) calls for Obama to grow a pair and stop Putin. That’s just dim-witted slurring of course; that would be extremely dangerous. I think all those doomsday warnings about World War 3 being imminent are way over-hyped, but the US starting a war to protect a country that is not even a NATO member could make those dire predictions come true.

Maybe the most frustrating aspect is that the rest of the world will have to help Putin find a way out of the hole he has dug himself into so he doesn’t completely lose face. I doubt has has it in him to do that himself.

And now let’s hope that the Crimea adventure, and the Putin era, come to a peaceful end. And soon.

2013-08-31: It doesn’t work this way.

The United Nations chemical weapons exports just left Syria and will prepare a report during the next few weeks.

The armed forces of the United States are widely reported to be preparing for a unilateral military strike.

What’s wrong with this picture?

2012-10-12: European Union to receive Nobel Peace Prize

Finally, one could say, will the European Union be recognized for what is its most important and lasting achievement. Yes, it has brought wealth and economic security to most citizens in most of its member countries (and I still think this to be the case even with the current debt crisis in some of its member countries – it would probably be a lot worse otherwise), but look back in history and try to think of a period of almost seventy years in which the people of western and central Europe have not been at each other’s throats! War between France and Germany used to be more like a recurring event, and now? Unthinkable!

I am very happy with the decision of the Committee. The European Union truly deserves this recognition.

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