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English as a foreign language

Living as a German in an increasingly English-speaking world

Lies damned lies and politics

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?

2011-11-02: Why I think the Greek referendum is a good idea

I think the decision of the Greek government to hold a referendum on the austerity packages is a very wise one. The reaction of the markets was foreseeable, but I still find it very disappointing. Popular unrest is running high, and the government can’t ignore it (or violently oppose it) forever.

So the government is putting the matter to the people: Do you want to continue the good life with Blackberries and the Internet, or do you want to go back to the Stone Age and live solely on what the land will yield? If it’s the former, you have to play by the rules of capitalism, and accept the mess you have gotten yourself into. If you are happy with the latter, just default on your debt, cease importing anything (except what you can barter for feta cheese, olive oil and wine – forget tourism, nobody’s gonna come) and live off what you can produce yourself. Maybe that means a few less people.

I am not saying the austerity measures the outside world is trying to impose on Greece are fair. I am also not saying the austerity measures the Greek government is proposing are socially just. To be fair, I’m pretty positive that they are not.

But no matter what, the times of spending by lending are over. I think that forgiving a substantial part of the debt is essential, and then Greece can join the circus again, at a lower level for everyone than today.

There is an alternative. But I don’t think the protesters on the streets of Athens are really prepared to take it. By putting it to the people, Papandreou can then point to his renewed mandate (if he does get it) and carry on trying to salvage some of the good life with Blackberries and the Internet for his people. Or he’s voted down, and then it’s going to be the Stone Age.

But either way, he will have a mandate.

2011-05-03: So Osama bin Laden is dead. So what?

So an US-american commando unit has killed Osama bin Laden.

Do I rejoice? Definitely not. I would have preferred him to be hauled before the International Criminal Court in the Hague, but that wasn’t an option as the United States are not a party to the treaty (which in itself is completely indefensible), or before a criminal court in Pakistan (I am pretty sure he has broken Pakistani law on more than one occasion).

I am also not happy with the German Chancellor endorsing the targeted killing. I would have preferred her to simply endorse him being captured without making mention of the fact that he was killed in the process. That omission would have sent a strong enough signal.

But let’s face it: This is one individual who declared war on the West (and on the US, in particular), and showed himself and his organization, Al Qaida, as being capable of following up that declaration with facts, and as the Supreme Commander of a self-declared party in this war, he was killed by a commando unit of an adversary in that war. Tough luck, dude.

2010-12-09: It’s not about WikiLeaks!

The witchhunt on WikiLeaks is in full swing, and rage and desperation make the assailants completely oblivious to something that is really obvious once you step back and look at the big picture:

WikiLeaks is not at the core of the matter! And Julian Assange is an even less important part of the picture.

Guess what? Even if WikiLeaks should end up dead by the wayside (which, even though I’m not necessarily a fan of WikiLeaks, and even less of Julian, will not happen any time soon), others will spring up in its place. Anyone who is sufficiently tech-savvy and wants to spread data publicly over the Internet will find a way to do so. Anything that’s out there on the Internet for any period of time has escaped for good and can never be controlled completely again. The only way you can change that fact is to put the genie back into the bottle, i. e. switch off the Internet. And that could prove to be difficult even for the US government (not least because the corporate US would not like it very much).

The core of the problem is that too much information that is supposed to be secret has been collected, stored in digital form in too many places, and made accessible to too many people. Data security policies from the age of carbon paper and typewriters are being applied to interoperable networks and USB drives.

And the lesson to learn from this is: If in doubt, don’t create data, don’t collect it, don’t store it, much less digitally. Throw out the perv scanners. Switch off the surveillance cameras. Forget about telecommunications data retention.

And forget about fighting WikiLeaks, it’s futile – information society is a hydra, for every head chopped off two new ones grow.

2010-12-01: There is going to be a terrorist attack in Germany.

How do I know that? Well, actually I don’t. It’s just that I think it is inevitable. There have been attacks in the US, in the UK, in France, in Spain. Why not here? It is going to happen. And it’s not such a big deal as some people think.

People die premature deaths. That’s not nice, but it’s a fact of life. People die of preventable diseases, they are murdered or run over by a car while crossing the street. They die in accidents in the home, in house fires, air crashes. They drown, suffocate, starve to death or die of thirst. According to some estimates, in Germany alone, up to a 100,000 people die prematurely each and every year in hospitals from infectious diseases they hadn’t even contracted when they went in!

Money and effort are dedicated to try and prevent these premature deaths from happening. Which, of course, is good. But there is the law of diminishing returns, which makes it advisable to spend some money of effort to prevent the bulk of easily preventable premature deaths, accept the rest as a regrettable fact of life, and move on to spend the rest of the available money and effort on a different kind of easily preventable premature death. “Effort” in this case includes inconvenience and hassle caused to people.

As an example: about 40,000 people die in car crashes in the US every year. Could all of these premature deaths be prevented? Maybe not. But many of them? Absolutely. Easily even. Outlaw driving.

So why isn’t driving outlawed if it could save so many lives? Because the effort involved isn’t worth it. Outlawing driving would so severely disrupt our daily lives that we accept a certain number of victims to be able to carry on with our present lifestyle. Which is absolutely fine.

Interestingly enough, the same approach is taken even in the light of the recent terrorist attacks (or attempts at such attacks) with air cargo. The TSA (the government aviation safety people in the US) has concluded that requiring all carriers bringing air cargo into the US to screen all their cargo for bombs would “unduly impede the flow of commerce”. It’s the law of diminishing returns again – the disruption would be unacceptable in relation to the risk incurred, so we’ll live with the risk.

Unfortunately, such level-headedness does not prevail when it comes to screening airline passengers. There is a simple reason for this – humans react with irrational panic to extremely rare incidents with massive negative consequences such as loss of life, like a terrorist attack or the crash of a passenger aircraft or train, while numbly accepting the much more common tragedy incurred in everyday events like in-hospital infections or highway deaths, with a much higher death toll overall. So in order to be seen doing something to counter the – if considered rationally, rather insignificant – terrorist threat, massive security theatre is enacted, with tremendous inconvenience and material loss to passengers, not to mention their dignity when given the choice of being virtually stripped naked in a perv scanner or fondled in the genital area by a TSA agent.

The sinister side to this: because we act this way, the terrorists have won. The primary aim of terrorism is not to kill people. It’s to instil terror. And that has worked remarkably well, even if the attacks themselves have mostly failed. All of this is helped by the fact that a general feeling of panic and anxiety in the population is advantageous for the incumbent government, so governments like to foment this feeling. (This, I think, applies to Germany as well as to the US and other countries.)

With this, I’d like you to refer you to an article by David Foster Wallace, which I found on Bruce Schneier’s outstandingly level-headed blog which I suggest you all read. My hope is that you are not blown up in mid-air by a bomb in a package that couldn’t be screened because that would unduly impede the flow of commerce right after you were made to dump your $100 bottle of champagne because it just might have been the missing part of a bomb.

2010-10-27: We’re not all like that!

I am aware that, just by following the press coverage of leading German “politicians” and their “thoughts” over the last few weeks, you may think that Germany has turned into a racist Nazi state again.

Let me assure you that many ordinary Germans, like myself, don’t think along those lines at all, but see the facts on the ground.

“Multikulti”, the German model of a multicultural society, has not failed as our chancelor has said, quite to the contrary. It is alive and kicking all over the country. German society would not be anywhere near the same were it not for the influences we have enjoyed from outside our narrow cultural sphere. And, by and large, we like it that way.

Germany has a society that relies on immigration for survival. More people pack up and leave than come to stay, every year; we need to change that trend, and urgently. It’s clear that is in our own best self-interest to control immigration, like any immigration-dependent nation does. But first we need to make Germany an attractive country to come to and settle in. Racist comments are not the way to achieve this. Not having English as an official language puts us at an disadvantage already – no, I don’t want to change that, but you need to take this into account to keep things in perspective.

I’m not saying that there are no problems with migrants refusing integration. There are. But hey, there are Germans with no migration background who refuse to integrate into mainstream society. There are specific problems as well, like honour killings or forced marriages. Those are intolerable, no two ways about it. But they need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis rather than by lashing out at immigrant communities in general. That is counter-productive.

We need to be welcoming towards everyone who wants to come and live and work together with us, and accept minimal standards of civility. Wherever they may come from. Please feel welcome to Germany.

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