Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Baking or Browning

We have this legal case brewing here in Germany.....over an odd topic....when is baking....really baking?

So, this starts with the ALDI grocery chain.  For Americans who aren't familiar with ALDI.....I'd describe it as a grocery operation that runs on discount to a big degree and you will find a streamlined and fairly unremarkable store operation.  It's not fancy....nor modern-looking....nor designed to be appealing.  It's simple, and they try to cut operational costs via every possible method that you could dream up.

ALDI had this idea a couple of years ago.....to have fresh bread.  This typically means that you employ bakers, and you run some oven in the operation.  My local grocery (500 ft away) has such a bakery, with two ovens and eight-part-time folks who toss the delivered dough products there, and they bake it.

Well....ALDI found that they could buy a process-system where you push a button....dough would be put onto a conveyor belt, and run through a heated system.....to be delivered a couple of minutes later as a hot bread item.  Pricing was very low, which appeals to most folks.

Somewhere in this use of the process-system.....the bakers union folks got involved and asked some stupid questions.  They say that this process is not baking BUT browning (the German term utilized).  If true, then ALDI can't use the term 'baking' in their advertising.

So a court has this problem to discuss.  Why this all matters?  For centuries.....craftsmanship has been a big deal in Germany.  Whether you were discussing bakers, roofers, carpenters, or butchers.....people protected their trade and expertise.  When a couple of German plumbers meet....it's almost like a secret society meeting, and they sit around with beers to discuss their trade, new developments, and the future trends.  ALDI has stepped into the middle of a craftsman issue.  Can a machine get the same status as a craftsman?

If ALDI loses?  Well.....there will have to be a sign change and some advertising switch, but I suspect that the machine-process will stay around.  Face it.....if you can get the same bread at a better price than the local bakery can provide.....there will be some folks who pick ALDI over the competition.

I've actually stood there and done the ALDI bread routine.  The only problem I had....was this five-minute wait to get the bread that came out.

The Meeting For Nothing Day

Everyone was hyped up for the EU-Greece emergency meeting yesterday.  The agenda was.....the Greeks would show up with new proposals....talks would occur.....and maybe some miracle deal would be drafted up.

Well.....the Greeks showed up for the meeting with no new proposals.  Yeah.....shocker.

What they said was.....they just didn't have the finalized new proposals list.

You can imagine the folks around this entire meeting.  There's probably fifty folks in the room itself who cancelled their schedules to be at this meeting.  Each of them have at least two or three support personnel who put time and effort into making sure their boss had some agenda and topics.  For the building itself, there's probably another three-hundred folks who provide security and support.....same deal.  All of this....for nothing.

What was to occur.....was a later introduction of the new proposals, and the strong effect of a Sunday meeting now on the schedule to either agree to the new proposals, or be prepared for plan B (the exit plan from the Euro).

I sat and watched a five-minute piece yesterday where the potential idea of the Drachma got discussed.  As the finance-expert guy (British) pointed out.....it takes a minimum of six months to get to a issuance point with a new currency.  With problems that might develop.....even six months might be impossible to meet on some schedule.  Then the issue of inflation came up.  When you swap out a currency in this case.....it's hard to predict just how quick a new currency might fall in the initial days.  Then he suggested in the case of Greece.....people might just stand there and continue using the Euro....especially if dealing with tourists.  So, it'd likely be a two-currency country and no one is quiet sure about the long-term effects of this situation.

An odd problem for the Euro note itself?  Well, this got brought up yesterday.  Euro notes have Greek symbolgy on them.....so one financial guy said that somewhere over the next year.....all of these notes would have to be swapped out with non-Greek symbology if the Greeks exit the Euro.  Cost?  Unknown.

I don't see much hope now for the new proposals idea.  There's just too much of an expectation by the Greeks for forgiveness over the bulk of the past loan, and the necessity of a new fresh loan which might end up being simply another forgiveness episode in the future.  Where the Greeks might finally stabilize, change their taxation and revenue program, and start to pay on debt.....is virtually unknown.  Even if they proceed onto the Drachma scenario.....one has to question how it would ever stabilize or create a solution-atmosphere for the Greek people.

In the American use of the 'fat-lady-singing'.....I believe we are barely at the middle of act two and the fat lady is still three or four acts away from coming out and singing.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Observing the Effects of Ramadan

We are in the midst of Ramadan.....the Muslim month where fasting is required (18 June to 17 July).  Normally, I wouldn't notice the effects or the behavior of folks involved in this.  However, I'm taking a class and there are a couple of Muslims within the group.  This being Germany.....it's a bit interesting.

For the first week of the event....I didn't notice too many odd things.....but as the heat spell arrived around the first of July.....you start to notice dehydration episodes.  Shorter attention spans.....more frustrations.....quiet behavior over the period prior to this.....and a slight temper.  From my Arizona period.....I ended up with various training episodes where you were supposed to recognize when people need water.  Well....in this case....this individual that I'm around....really NEEDS water.  And you can't say much because this is all his religious stuff.

If this was November, and we only had eight brief hours of sunshine per day.....I guess a guy could slide by and make it with the cooler temperature.  Naturally.....a guy with low blood sugar would be a problem still.....and it's just not that great of a thing for your kidneys.  Right now....there's fourteen hours of sunshine, and the temperature has been up around 35C (95F).

The issue I see is that as years go by, and each Ramadan comes up in Germany.....it gets tougher on folks to perform this ritual, and they began to take each one as a big negative with their German associates who are sipping water throughout the day and eating as they desire.  In the old country.....peer pressure and religious police would have been around to enforce things, and that's just not the method here in Germany.  I would anticipate more resentment of Germans or some people questioning the necessity of the fasting business.....as each year goes by.

No one in the 700 AD era knew enough about the body or medicinal practices.....to stand up to Muhammad and just say this is unhealthy to avoid water and dehydrate yourself.

I read up this morning on the typical practice of most Muslim guys (in the Middle East).  They usually stay up at night and try to sleep in the daytime....in a cool place.  If they were going to cheat (drink water).....it'll be some small reserve bottle that they keep hidden and it probably only gives them the barest of relief during the day.  Active guys working throughout the day?  That's something that doesn't happen much in Ramadan.  I read over comments of one guy who said instructors and professors don't put much effort out in the Ramadan period.....being too tired.

This morning, I noted that Iran had come out and arrested roughly a hundred university age folks for checking in hotels and pretending to be travelers (one of the waivers you'd get to drink water and eat food).  Apparently the religious cops came.....asked questions and detained these folks.  Flogging might occur unless someone figures out an alternate deal.

I sat and looked at one picture from a week ago....A Pakistani guy called the ambulance for his buddy, who'd fallen down on the street from heat exhaustion.  The ambulance arrived but they couldn't get the older guy to accept an IV-solution (liquid rule from fasting), and he wouldn't drink water.  All they could do was pour water over the head of the old guy and tote him off to the hospital.  No one said anything over if he survived or not.  From the picture.....he didn't look too good.

Looking over this deal....it's hard to say how Muslims intend to fit long-term into the German atmosphere.  I think the older guys who came into Germany in the 1950s and 1960s.....just avoided Ramadan and eased into German culture.  Today, with so many Muslims around.....there's more peer pressure and stress put on guys to perform by the rules.  But you'd have to ask yourself.....if you hired some 30-year old guy to do physical work around the warehouse, and in mid-July.....we'd be in Ramadan and this guy isn't sipping water through the water.....just how responsible are you the boss for his safety or his safety around others?  I personally couldn't allow some guy to get so dehydrated that he'd die on my work-floor.  I'm sorry.....but I'd be too preoccupied with safety and ensuring this guy lived.....to agree with his religious rules.

The Next Ten Days in Greece

I sat and watched a five-star interview on the BBC yesterday....a Greek business guy who was dishing out observations left and right on the economy and the impact of the current mess.  As he noted....Greeks aren't working now....most are sipping Ouzo and wine, and just sitting there in a waiting pattern.

Today, there's to be some meeting of the Greek govenrnment and the EU folks, along with bankers.  Greece is supposed to put new negotiation papers on the table.  The chief item that they desire is to have a fair amount of the debt on the table already.....to be forgiven and just forgotten.  It's in excess of 300-billion Euro from the loan of five years ago that was supposed to tide them over and fix the previous problems.

My humble belief is that the EU will hear out the offer, and then go back to their respected governments for a two-day discussion.  No one will hear much until mid Thursday afternoon.  I have doubts that the offer will be acceptable, so I'm betting that the EU simply comes back and offers some cash to keep the banks open for sixty days (free cash, which they will never get back), and strongly suggest that the Greeks either go to the Drachma or find some other fool to get free money from.

At that point, the Greeks will accept the free cash, but walk over to the Russians and finalize some deal involving them to leave the EU.

Greeks by Saturday will realize just how big a mess this has become, and regret the 'no' vote.  With food and gas now unavailable....the public will be in great chaos.

Somewhere along Wednesday of next week....I'll predict that the government of Greece is under pressure to resign.

Tens of thousands of Greeks will have packed up their cars and attempt to flee the country because of the problems.  Thousands will flow into airports trying to leave but discover that half the flights have shut-down because of fuel shortages and cash flow issues.

The election with the 'no' thing?  Worthless, if you ask me now.  It'll be forgotten within ten days.


Monday, July 6, 2015

Greeks After the No Vote

I sat through probably three hours of Greek theater stuff, with the crisis in full swing, from yesterday.  I got the prospective from the German political chat forum, with a few Greeks dealing out their view of the unfairness of Germany.  I got the prospective from the CNN folks who were there for the whole week and dumped updates throughout the day.  I got the prospective from the British Sky News folks, who interviewed the typical guy on the street.  And I got the plain old-fashion BBC coverage which gave twenty facts in a matter of five minutes.....something that is so rare on American news networks.

So, my ten observations:

First, no one really spoke up until Sunday in Greece over what happens on Monday.  Yeah....you'd think folks would think about this prior to the vote, but that wasn't apparently the case.  Monday and the entire week....I believe....will be very chaotic.

Second, tourism is taking a hit.  The folks who bought tickets six months ago....are still coming into Greece, but I fail to see how any typical Greek vacation will occur.  The last-minute crowd....probably ten-percent of all tourism in Greece?  They are suffering badly.  I watched an interview with hotel manager who handle mostly Greeks-on-holiday folks....who admitted no Greek is taking a vacation this year, and his hotel is suffering badly.

Third, some people connected to the political party in charge of the country seem to think that they can now come back to the EU and the banking folks, and demand a new negotiation package.  My view is that the EU sees nothing worth making an effort, and will just stall for two weeks while the public in Greece gets to the next reality.....a dead economy.

Fourth, I expect no banks to open on Monday in Greece.  I also don't expect banks to open on Tuesday or Wednesday.  Because of limited cash flow......I don't see more than one day this week where they might open for a few hours before they run out of the money they have left.  Next week?  Hard to say.

Fifth, in general....I'd say that seventy percent of German adult society has an opinion on this.  They'd say it's time for Greece to exit the Euro and move on.  Lingering won't do themselves any good.  I kinda agree with that philosophy.  Maybe going to the Drachma would be a better solution.  At least you could just print more money, if things got real bad.

Sixth, Greeks are growing pretty frustrated with political parties and politicians.  I'd take a guess that thirty percent don't believe anything that is said....even by journalists.

Seventh.  Maybe there should be a rule on how to allow a country to leave the EU.  Currently, I don't see how Germany or anyone could force the Greeks to leave the EU or dump the Euro.

Eighth. Even if you loan the Greeks another 300-billion Euro.....it really doesn't mean much because the current behavior and attitude of the Greeks is that nothing big has to change.  Tax avoidance is drilled into every single Greek businessman.  Revenue spending is drilled into every Greek political figure.  And Nazi invasion history is drilled into every Greek student.  If you wanted change.....this would be the wrong society to expect anything to change.

Ninth.  Oddly, this is the week where most German political figures would start their four to five weeks of summer vacation.  I would speculate that at least forty of the top names in political circles....even  for the opposition.....are stuck having to pull some kind of Greek chaos duty over the summer period.  Their vacation plans are screwed.

Tenth.  The vote yesterday?  It really didn't settle much of anything.  There's no road from the vote....going anywhere.  Other than agreeing it was a bad deal to accept, now what?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Why Would They Be Hostile?

This week.....more revelations of a degree came out over the NSA and Germany.  So, the basic story is....the NSA guys didn't really just limit themselves to spying on Merkel or the Bundestag folks.  Somewhere down the line.....they decided to go ahead and include the telephone numbers of ministries of finance, economy and agriculture, the German daily newspaper....the Sueddeutsche Zeitung (a left-of-center journalist effort) and two state-run TV news broadcasters.

Getting folks hyped up?  Well....yeah.  Although it's not much of a big crowd for being hyped up.  Maybe one individual out of a hundred.  I'd take a humble guess if you walked down to some bahnhof and questioned a number of folks hanging out....half might remember hearing about the story, and maybe five-percent can remember the majority of the story with its facts.

Frankly, on an average day.....this might rate as a number twenty story if the public had their say.  The state-run TV news folks?  It's usually story number two, behind Greece.  This might be worth discussing, but most Germans just don't care.

Why would Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the state-run TV journalists get hyper?  Well.....you need to sit back and ponder upon this.  Both thrive off government appointees who call up and want to vent or dump some sensitive information.  The CDU folks do it.  The CSU folks do it.  The Greens do it.  The Linke Party members do it.  The SPD Party members do it.   They have some really 'hot' info and want to use it to blame Merkel, France, the UK, or Bush/Obama.   For Sueddeutsche Zeitung reporters and state-run TV journalists to suddenly wake up and realize that calls get noted and might get passed around.....well, that would really unsettle the people who want to vent or dump info to the noted journalists.

What'll happen now?  Well....I'm guessing some folks will dump their current telephone number that they've had for twenty years.....buy some cellphone....and try to let their poor government 'sources' know the new number.

But if you were a government 'source', and now knew that the NSA guys had noted your behavior or information that you'd passed around....you might sit there and wonder if some NY Times reporter would get passed some sensitive data from the US secret 'source' and then a number of German idiot government employees would look stupid.

Yeah.....it's kinda like some tragic Greek opera.  Everyone trying to get the real bad story, and hyping up the blame game.....to then get turned around end up being part of another bad story yourself, and getting some kind of fraudulent blame.

So, the best thing to do, if you were a reporter for the German newspapers or state-run TV empire.....just act hostile and hope that someone notices that you are angry.

Note, the NSA didn't ask for the numbers for BILD, or spy on them.  That's probably a bigger story, if you ask me.  The BILD guys are probably sitting there and wondering how they can get NSA attention and look important like those state-run TV journalists.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Heat and Health

So, this is a true story.

Young German guy works for a sales organization who has thirty-five-odd employees.  They open from 10AM to 8PM, Monday through Saturday.  It's a nice building and all....although no windows and no air conditioning.  There's some fans staged around the display areas, but with the heat of the past couple of days....by 4PM, it's up near 36C (96.8F).  That's the peak....although nothing is really cooling off until at least 8PM.

So, out of the thirty-five-odd employees.....roughly 20 of them are Muslims.  Because of the number and the amount of peer pressure (most are guys).....there's some frustrations.  You see, it's Ramadan since 18 June, and will continue through 16 July.

No food.  No water.  From sun-up to sun-down.

Because of the lengthy summer day.....we are talking about 16-plus hours of sunshine and heat.

Dehydration issues?  Yeah.  Frustrations working around people who are sipping chilled water, eating an orange, or consuming something cool?  Yes.

Having worked around in Arizona and Panama, and having grown up in Alabama....I have an appreciation of heat and what it does to you.  When you start to get dehydrated.....you make mistakes.  You add up numbers wrong.  You say things which are wrong, or in anger.  In this type of situation.....you get frustrated with the non-Muslims because they sipping soda or water.  It's a frustrated that sticks with you....even when Ramadan ends.

Ramadan always in June?  No, that's the odd thing about this deal.  When this got invented, they decided to use a lunar cycle.  In eight years....it'll be in February.

Causing health damage?  Well....it's a curious over the years that I've come to notice a lot of guys from the Middle East with kidney issues.  They go off to specialized US hospitals and have check-ups but there's not much you can do for a person with these issues.

When Islam was created in the 600AD era.....there wasn't much for a guy to have to worry about.  You'd go through Ramadan and mostly sit around for the day....waiting for the sun to go down. Today?  You have to have a regular job....do physical labor.....think and perform mental actions.  All of this requires stamina and a healthy condition.

With another ten-odd days left, and this heat in Germany continuing.....it'll be curious to see how many guys and gals end up with some heat-stress related issue.

Update: I noted via the Independent (UK) that over 700 Pakistani individuals had died from heat stroke episodes as of the 24th of June, and the vast number relate to Ramadan.  They haven't updated the story since then....but you can figure another 700 likely by today on top of the previous number.

A Chaotic Greece

Greece will have the 'yes/no' vote on the EU bailout deal this Sunday (5th).  This is my script as to what happens.

The last election for Greeks was about a year ago, and 69-percent of the registered voters came out (roughly 6.33 million people).

My estimate that it'll be roughly the same number.....around six million.  No one in Greece is predicting the outcome of this vote.  My bet is that 'no' wins at around 55-to-60 percent.

What happens next?  The banks hint that they will be taking funds left in accounts where the amount is more than 8,000 Euro.  If you were a business man with 100,000 Euro in the account....you just lost 92,000 Euro.  You can figure out the amount of frustration involved at that point.

As for banks reopening next week?  I'd say zero chance on Monday, and if they do open for the remainder of the week.....you probably won't be able to remove more than a hundred Euro (my humble guess).

I'd take another humble guess that by the week of the 13th.....most banks will be shut down because there simply isn't any more cash.

Vacation cancellations?  Well, even if your reservations were solid and you carried a thousand Euro with you.....then what?  I can't see any taxis being in operation at the Athens International Airport because of the lack of money and no real way to pay for fuel or bills.  It's questionable if the subway system will continue to be in operation.....to get you from the airport into Athens.  And when you finally get there.....can you even be sure that restaurants are open to feed you because there's no market activity for fruit, vegetables, meat, etc?  How many shops will be open to sell you items?  That would be questionable as well.

By the end of July.....I don't see that many tourists flying in.

Maybe the current government can survive this deal but I have my doubts.  Most Greeks will be fed up with the crisis by the end of July, and demand another election.  You can figure at least six weeks for the political parties to run up their advertising and candidates.....so it'd be early September for some election to occur.  And then what?  Would any real change occur?

All of this leads me to predict that half-a-million Greeks will exit Greece between now and 1 October of this year.  Why stay?  You'd be better off as a street-sweeper in Germany or a car-wash guy in Austria.....than remain in Greece under these conditions.

The odd thing is that you can ask a dozen people what this election is about and to confirm some details over what they are voting for.....and I doubt if more than two people can really say much.  The rest will simply identify their party's platform and stance on what to vote for.  It's a sad way to handle this type of situation.....knowing nothing and relying on some political idiots to tell you how to vote.

Chaos in leadership.....usually gets nothing but chaos in life.