Sun Dec 18 23:39:59 CET 2016

Last Chance

I don't think it's probable, but i do keep hoping for a miracle in the form of at least 37 electors fulfilling the role that they've accepted in preventing the USA from selecting a leader who's utterly unsuitable to govern.

Of course there are many, many reasons Trump should never hold public office, but the one that has really caught my attention is his choice of Governor Goodhair to head the Dept. of Energy. Rick Perry couldn't even remember the name of the Department he's to head during a GOP debate. Being ignorant is far from Perry's greatest failing -- he refused to stay the execution of a very likely innocent man and then blocked the invetigation of it and other injustices.


Posted by johan | Permanent link

Wed Nov 9 08:39:52 CET 2016

Berlin T-shirt idea

"Ich bin ein politischer Fl├╝chtling aus den Vereinigten Staaten." ("I am a political refugee from the United States.")

Posted by johan | Permanent link

Sat Sep 24 13:24:03 CEST 2016

"if you are serving in a hostile fire zone, it may also be returned by fax"

FCPA

4-6 weeks ago, i emailed in an FCPA, and so i was happy to discover a message in my inbox today that appears to be from Travis County, Texas (where i am registered to vote), telling me that attached is my ballot for the 8 Nov. "Presidential General and Special Election"[1]. Unfortunately, as far as i can tell the ballot is not actually attached, unless it's the embedded link to 1-pixel GIF at the end of the message. Though i'm pretty sure that's just a tracker.[2]

To be fair, when sending email, i probably forget to attach the attachment about 1 time out of 20, so it's easy to imagine someone else doing this. But it is a bit irritating that apparently i can't simply reply and let Michael Winn, Director of Elections, Travis County, know that he still needs to send me my ballot. Instead, apparently, i am supposed to call him (from overseas, and in a significantly different time zone) or send him a letter.

About that "hostile fire zone"...

The email i received (without the supposedly-attached ballot), included this bit of information, presumably directed at voters serving in the US military:
Please note that you cannot return your ballot by e-mail; it must be returned by mail, or, if you are serving in a hostile fire zone, it may also be returned by fax.
(Emphasis added.)

Let's just take it as read that there's some (irrational) law or court decision that states that a fax of a signed document is legally acceptable, but a scan of the same document sent via email is not. It doesn't make sense, because the technical process is the same (except that a scan or photo from cheap, modern scanners or camera phones will be higher resolution than a fax), but let's ignore that glaring fallacy at the heart of this and consider a few other things:

  1. Imagine you're in a soldier in a "hostile fire zone," are you really going to be dragging a fax machine around with you, instead of something like water, food, ammunition, medical supplies, radios, etc.?
  2. If you are a soldier in a "hostile fire zone" what the hell would you plug a fax machine into? It seems really unlikely you've made arrangement with the local telephone company in Iraq or Afghanistan for phone service. Even if you wanted it, i doubt they really want to wire up a remote US operating base.
    I imagine the US military has fancy satellite links for remote US bases that can be used for telephone service, but even if they do, why would you have a fax device on the base when it's lower quality and less-secure (E.g. unencrypted) than emailing a scan? It's almost as if they aren't really interested in making it easier for people to vote.
  3. As i've lived outside of the US for about six years now, my main source of what's going on in the US is mass media (the New York Times), and what family and friends tell me. To be totally blunt, to someone living in Northern Europe, i have to say much of the US looks like a "hostile fire zone." So if that level of peril[3] is justification for faxing in one's ballot, then i think it's probably time to buy a lot of fax machines, and shutdown those polling places. Or maybe just go "crazy" and actually build a secure, remotely accessible electronic voting system. (And then just get rid of Congress, because why do you need an incredibly small number of apparently easily-corruptable representatives, when you could just have direct democracy.) But i digress.

1 Indeed quite "Special," if one means "especially bad" ...

2 At first the tracker seemed worrisome in terms of privacy, and caused me to wonder if the message is legit. But maybe it's how they're trying to figure out how many of the messages are received. Though many email readers now block those sorts of embedded gifs, because they're heavily use by spammers and other evil mail senders.

3 Yes, there have been terrorist attacks in Europe, but so far this year, i think more people have been injured or killed by gunfire in just Chicago than by "terrorists" in all of the EU.)


Posted by johan | Permanent link

Sun Nov 29 20:57:08 CET 2015

Quick Visit to Poland, Nov. 2015

I wrote this riding the train back to Berlin from Warsaw, returning from a quiet and enjoyable nine days with Mirabelka in Poland, visiting friends and family, and taking it easy. It seemed like a warm November, with temperatures as high as 15C some days, though a lot of (light) rain.

Central Warsaw continues its rapid development. The Metro stops that were under construction for a few years are finally open, and there are many new skyscrapers surrounding the Palace of Culture and Science.

And, most relevant to me, a selection of really delicious veggie and vegan restaurants have sprung up. A year ago, there were only a few choices, including the recent arrival VegeMIASTO, which is still extremely good.

Veggie Food

Just a year later, HappyCow says there are nearly 50 veggie restaurants in Warsaw. Of course we didn't get to all of them. In addition to VegeMIASTO, we also went to:
  • Momencik is a delicious burrito bar, run by a Spanish guy who really seems to enjoy creatively exploring the various Mexican (or Latino) recipes. Everything was really delicious, but i especially enjoyed the Salsa Roja.
  • Very creative with recipes is the Vegan Pizza place. I think they take the all-time record for generosity of toppings, as far as i can remember. The first pizza i got from them was so loaded, it took me three days to get through it.
  • Lokal was also super delicious, with a number of vegan Polish dishes that were amazing. I ordered the cutlet both times, and it was great, and accompanied by spectacular sides: mashed potatoes, and beets. Both incredibly flavorful, without relying too much on oil or fat. I could clearly taste a really good potato in the mash potatoes.
  • Tel Aviv, a Middle Eastern-themed restaurant. I had a vegan schwarma here, that rivaled the Veggy Pirates schwarma that is a perennial fav. (at Berlin street food and vegan festivals).

Road Trip to Masury

Polish sheep With the aid of cousin Macek who drove us all the way to Masury, we made a quick trip to see Mirabelka's folks, though just for the weekend. It was a good visit, but felt all-to-brief compared to the other visits we've had.

What i un-learned this past Summer...

I didn't think i'd learned enough Polish to forget, but apparently i have. Or perhaps i've learned just enough German that i realize how little Polish i actually know. Either way, it's humbling (or embarrassing, depending on the context). Strangely, i feel like it's easier for me to "hear" Polish than German, probably because i'm immersed in it when i am there, vs. Germany, where i hear English nearly the entire day in the office.

Parks and Very Bold Squirrels

Back in Warsaw, we took a bus to Belweder Palace and walked back through a chain of paths and parks. In one of them was a rather fearless squirrel that climbed straight up us like trees and rooted around in my jacket pockets for food. Video!

Heroes, Remembrance, Nationalism, War

Josef Pilsudski seems to be enjoying a resurgence of ... "celebration" these days, which perhaps might be due Poland's right wing attempting to increase their popularity, or maybe due to Russia's recent aggression. I don't really think of Pilsudski as being especially right wing (he mostly seemed to belong to the PPS). But he did win several a major battles against the Soviet Union and gain some land for Poland, though the Soviets reclaimed it less than 20 years later.

Pilsudski Square at night 11 November is the day Poland celebrates it's re-establishment as a country, at the end of World War I. It happened to be the 11th when we were in Warsaw, staying just around the corner from Pilsudski Square, where the ceremonies are held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Combined with the many other permanent Warsaw monuments to Poles killed during WWII, and the markers in the sidewalks showing where some of the Ghetto walls used to be, walking around central Warsaw, i often find myself thinking of Poland's suffering during the war, in a very "raw" way.

11 November is also a big day in the UK -- "Remembrance Day" -- with red poppies everywhere. I'd describe it as more solemn than nationalistic -- aimed at reminding people of the sacrifices and lives lost in the two World Wars. Once, when working in the office on 11 Nov. in London. i thoughtlessly asked a rather insensitive question of a German coworker -- I asked him if Germans did anything on the 11th. Without looking away from his computer screen, he replied "No. You don't have holidays when you lose."

Having lived in Germany nearly a year now, i think the absence of a major holiday on 11 Nov. isn't Germany's attempt to forget past losses or crimes. Maybe it's better described as an attempt to break from a past cycle of wars, death, memorials, and more wars. Once, when i was in Hamburg, a German friend of a friend pointed out a memorial to German soldiers that died in WWI.

Part of the reason he pointed it out was because of its rarity. The "de-Nazification" of Germany after WWII seems to have included a (general?) prohibition against new memorials to Germans who died during the war. Despite, for example, two giant memorials in Berlin erected by the Soviets (and still standing today) to fallen Soviet soldiers who died in the battle for the German capital at the end of the war.

All of this makes me wonder if a country can (especially annually, and ritualistically) "recognize" soldiers or others who were killed, without in some small way, encouraging animosity and future conflict.

But looking a few hundred kilometers to the East into Ukraine, at Russia waging the latest of a number of "limited" wars in former Soviet states, it's easy to understand why the Polish government may be beating the drum more insistently these days.

War (and Refugees) Without End

The horrible attacks in Paris on 13 Nov. seem to have harden this martial stance in Poland, but the danger of such an attitude is that one sees (and perhaps even creates) more and more enemies. Poland, some other EU countries (and many U.S. states) have announced they will no longer take in the Syrian refugees as they promised, and demand greater control over their borders, in apparent contradiction fundamental EU (and US) principles.

All of this seems to highlight the awkwardness of political unions, especially the European Union. At a time when countries should be drawing closer together for security and a coordinated response, some of the states are pulling away.

Oder My train from Warsaw to Berlin made a stop at Frankfurt am Oder, the first German city on its route. While stopped, i noticed on the platform two police officers, one with a smallish automatic weapon, presumably because the the attacks in France.

After what seemed like a longer than usual stop, a woman in a hijab with luggage and three children in tow walked past, in between several other police officers. No one really seemed stressed or unhappy -- it was a quiet procession as they headed down the stairs from the train platform, and presumably out of the station.

Of course i can't know for certain what was going on, but placing the scene into contemporary events suggests that the woman and children were refugees, applying for sanctuary in Germany, because they could not in Poland, or anywhere else they'd passed through on their journey from the Middle East.

There are parallels with people crossing into the U.S. from Central America -- women and children that head directly for the nearest U.S. Border patrol officers -- because they'd rather be confined in U.S. prisons than risk being assaulted or killed in their home countries. Quite possibly by soldiers who were trained by the USA.

The strife and these wars, at least in part, has been caused or sustained by the US and European countries. So in addition to the simple and compelling humanitarian argument to help those in need, i think, despite the "danger," acceptance of these people is the only moral choice. If one needs a pragmatic reason, helping refugees from the Middle East lessens the numbers who feel betrayed or attacked by Europe and the U.S., and reduces the potential recruits for the terrorist groups.


Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: de, politics, Traveling

Fri Jul 31 09:13:14 CEST 2015

Good Weird

Thursday morning i had an "early" meeting via video-conference (09:30 CET), so i attended from home, and felt late for work as i left the apartment about 10:30.

As i was walking down my street, about two blocks from my house was a "German-looking" guy with glasses, long, mostly-grey-white hair pulled back in a pony-tail. He was crossing the street towards me. Not really on an intercept course, but on a "pass next to you" course. And he was smiling at me. So as we got within a few feet, i said "Guten Morgen" and he nodded, and stopped, and then started speaking German faster than i could follow, and pointed in the direction of my feet.

It's above 10C, so i'm wearing shorts, and when i looked down where he was pointing, i saw what i usually see, a pair of grey shoes, and mismatched socks.

I laughed and nodded and said, "Ja..." and then started trying to figure out how to say "I always do mismatch my sox..." in German, but he started speaking (German) again, a bit slower, and i was pretty sure he was not talking about my socks, but my shoes.

I must have had a befuddled look on my face, because he switched into English, "Ihre Schuhe ... your shoes, I remember, you did this with your shoes..." I nodded... why yes, of course i did, i used to mismatch my shoes every day (Converse Chuck Taylors of different colors), but... my train of thought went off in a series of confusing directions: i hadn't done that in at least 10 years... so this is just some really weird coincidence that this guy is saying this. Did he see me in Austin? If so, why wouldn't he mention that? Maybe there's someone else here in Berlin that looks like me, and who mismatches his shoes? Maybe this guy is a little crazy... ("ha, says the man who used to mismatch his shoes!")

"Oh Ja, i used to do that... in the past... uhh Alt?" [That means 'old'... come on brain, i know it's early, but make an effort, what is the word for "before"?] I started gesturing over my shoulder to try to indicate the past. He smiled, nodded, and as he started on his way, said, in English, "Repeat Performance!" -- twice. He seemed satisfied he remembred the English, and that i seemed to understand.

I laughed, not very confidently; a bit unsettled. And then started walking, thinking, "How did he know i did this? Maybe he mistook me for someone else?"

About 3 minutes later, i realized i was briefly in Berlin in Nov. 2002, during the period of mis-matched hightops. Hell, me and this guy even had a conversation about my shoes, then -- i'm doubt i'd remember it if we had. But could someone recognize me from 2002? I'm not sure i'd recognize myself from 13 years ago. But what other reasonable explanation is there?

I'm am no stranger to these odd coincidences, though recently i had somewhat sadly thought that i'd accidentally escaped them when i moved to Europe, because i hadn't noticed them much the past few years. Initially, long ago, these events (coincidences, mostly) used to nag at me once i started noticing them; i documented them in a journal, and felt compelled to try to unravel some deeper meaning (which i never divined). Now i'm just glad i perceive them, because they're pleasant in a strangely familiar way, like old friends that i've never met.


Posted by johan | Permanent link

Sat Jul 4 13:45:59 CEST 2015

Hotter in Berlin than Austin this Weekend

Today's forecast for Austin is a high of 33C (about 92F). Here in Berlin, seven hours further into the day, it's already 35C, and forecast to hit 37C (99F) today and tomorrow. Thankfully it should drop down to about 20C (68F) at night, so i won't just lie awake all night, sweating. Today's high in Brighton will be 22. (sigh)

Other than the oppressive heat in Berlin this weekend, life here has been good. We had a very enjoyable visit from both PL and US family a couple of weeks ago, and got to do a lot of touristy things, as well as see Anne-Sofie Mutter play a recital at the Berliner Philhamornie. We were in the very last row of gallery D, but Mutter's sound carried quite well.

We went to a lot of museums in Berlin, which are not nearly as full as those in London, perhaps because most of the major museums here charge a significant general entrance fee, compared with gratis in London. (Special exhibits usually seem to be an additional charge in both places, of course). This is a picture i took of the Golden Hat in the Altes Museum in Berlin. it's not directly related to the temperature being 37F today, but apparently it was used as a ceremonial tool to calculate (predict) important seasonal and astronomical events.

I've really been enjoying watching the Swifts swooping and screeching past the windows of the apartment. I don't really have any pictures of them -- they go much too fast. :)


Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: berlin, Music

Sat May 9 21:40:03 CEST 2015

First impressions of Berlin

After nearly three months here, this is a bit late, but work has been hellishly busy, and combined with all the stuff needing doing for the relocation, all i've really felt up for when not-working was "as little as possible." For a few weeks people were asking me what Berlin was like, or how i liked it, and i'm afraid all i could do was shrug. I suppose i really live in "Works-too-much-landia" rather than any specific geographic place.

Nevertheless, after a few months some impressions have been made. In no particular order:

  • The cashiers in Berlin are of super-human speed, accuracy, and efficiency. One day maybe i'll be a match for bagging my stuff as quickly as they can scan, but i doubt it will be any time soon.
  • The public transportation is amazing. (Except when it's on strike, like right now.) Trains and trams seem to come about every five minutes, and the network is extensive. Most of the time, the trains aren't too crowded. About one in 15 rides, i happen on one that's full, and it reminds me of how that was usually the case when i was riding the trains or Tube around London during commuting hours.
  • Bicycling here is pretty good -- automobile drivers are generally much more aware of non-car traffic, and seem to (mostly) obey the laws and not run people over (or run into each other). There's even dedicated left-turn lanes and signals for bicycles. The bike paths alongside the pedestrians are OK -- i supposed better than being on the road with the cars, but one has to look pretty much every direction for potential disaster, whether it's other bicyclists, pedestrians, cars, or dogs crossing the path unexpectedly.
  • Germans are generally pretty tolerant of my near-complete ability to communicate in German, but i need to learn the language. Google translate really helps for written stuff, but spoken language encounters are much too fast. Learning German is simply the right thing to do as a member of this society, but in more "technical" situations, like talking with a computer tech, kitchen sales person, or a doctor, it's really difficult to achieve a clear, shared understanding without being competent in a common language.
  • Spring is a distinct and amazing season here. (Compared with the UK or Texas.) It's long, and the days can be comfortably warm, or a bit chilly. The visual impact of the trees and plants returning to a "verdency," blossoming, and even becoming a dense canopy above some sidewalks is incredible.
  • I like how organized some things are... the "Pfand" (deposit on beer and some other drink bottles), and the Anmledung (registering your address with the local government) makes a lot of sense, though it is a pain.
  • For a couple of uneven income, income taxes are lower here than the UK for , but one pays for medical coverage (more like in the U.S.), so there's sort of a hidden tax there. Overall, i think cost of living is still lower than the UK, especially if you are comparing about housing in SE England, and you are someone who drinks alcoholic beverages.
  • Germans seem to be really into organic ("Bio") food. There are at least a dozen different grocery chains operating in Germany, and four or five in Berlin. Currently, i live within a five minute walk of two small Bio groceries, and within a 15 minute walk of two larger ones. Expanding out to a 30-minute walk, there are at least three more Bio groceries, one of which is entirely vegan.
  • I've never been anywhere so covered in graffiti.
  • When walking, one must remember look at the ground for dog poop, broken glass, and uneven sidewalks, more or less in that order of frequency, though not necessarily importance.
  • I think sparrows are the dominant life form. They are everywhere, and seem to occupy the niche taken by pigeons in London (and other places), Grackles in Austin, or Seagulls in Brighton. It's weird, because they are so small, but they are everywhere.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: berlin

Sun Mar 15 23:14:53 CET 2015

Farewell UK (Britain, England, Brighton-Hove)

Sunny rooftops in Brighton Farewell to the United Kingdom, my relatively happy and content home for the past four years and a bit. I genuinely enjoyed my time there -- about the only things that i disliked were the absolutely mental cost of housing and (when i bothered to think about it) the large tax upon alcohol.

I feel like i understand Pink Floyd and The Hitchiker's Guide (even) better now, and so many amazing places and things i saw: London, the South Downs, Oxford, Edinburgh, and some musical artists i never imagined i'd ever have a chance to see: Kate Bush's Before the Dawn, and the Penguin Cafe, a band put together by the son of Simon Jeffes (the father founded the Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but died long before i ever had a chance to see them). (As well as some other bands i'd never heard of, or didn't expect to see from quite so close up, like Camper van Beethoven and Coco Rosie in Brighton, The Amsterdam Klezmer Band, and TMBG(for the first and best time)! in London.)

Contrary to what most (especially British) people expect, the weather didn't bother me... after decades of miserably heat in the Southern half of Texas, mild Summers and mild Winters seemed like a pretty good deal.

And so much i didn't see -- Cornwall, Wales, the Peak District, Bath, most of the North. I guess i'll just have to go back.


Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: uk

Sun Mar 15 22:17:06 CET 2015

Writeup of more days from the Suisse (Switzerland) trip

I've written up through the 11th of Sept for our 2014 trip to Suisse.

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Traveling

Tue Nov 4 20:35:46 GMT 2014

Suisse (Switzerland) trip write-up: first few days

I've written up the first few days of the trip to Suisse (Switzerland).

Posted by johan | Permanent link | File under: Traveling