Friday, October 31, 2014

The Drinking Game

In the United States, we have a binge drinking problem....particularity with university-age kids.  It's been an issue for a decade or two.

Here in Europe....the same type issue exists....although it's mostly those in their 30's and 40's.

In the past week, in France, some guys were out partying, and there came this challenge for a drinking contest.  The winner?  A fifty-seven-year-old guy.  He slugged down fifty-six shots of vodka and whiskey.  The press won't say how many minutes were involved in the challenge or what financial cost was involved (estimate at least a one-hundred Euro minimum).

The guy was proclaimed the winner, and then walked out of the pub.  Somewhere between the pub and his apartment or house.....he stumbled down and collapsed.  At the hospital later....he died.

It's one of many deaths and the French are tired of the mess.  So a law is being pressed through.  If you are of younger age, the encouragement crowd would be brought into court to face charges which could net you 15,000 Euro in fines, and a year in prison.  If you are of a mature age, the encouragement crowd would face six months in jail, and at least 3,000 Euro in fines.

Will it pass?  No far, no one says anything about discouraging this.  Will the judges enforce?  That's another question.

Can you imagine bringing witnesses into court on a challenge, and find that every single witness was already drunk....so how could you trust the value of their words?

So, don't get the idea that America has unique problems that don't exist elsewhere.  The same problems exist around the globe.

"Where's the Beer"

Last night, I sat and watched the ZDF (Channel Two) Culture Channel.  I admit, it's rare that I ever get around to watching that channel, and I doubt if they have more than fifty thousand Germans per evening watch it.

Around 1030 PM last night, they ran a documentary on Jimmy Carl Black, the drummer from Frank Zappa's band....Mothers of Invention.

It was probably one of the more interesting documentary pieces I've seen, but for odd reasons.

Jimmy Carl Black, was the kid who traveled in the big circles early on....made no real money....got a reputation as a five-star drummer....and toward the last ten years of his life....happened to bump into some German gal and settled in Germany.

The video piece was filmed in 2007/2008.....by two German gals (Boller and Brot).  They cover the last period of Jimmy's life, which they entitled as "Where's the Beer".  I know....it's an amusing title, but Jimmy probably liked it.

Jimmy was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2008, and died 1 November of the same year.  Roughly a 75-day period to reflect upon and settle up.  He was seventy, and had lived a pretty enriched life.  Over a seventy-year period.....he had accomplished legendary stuff.

For some reason, I reflected upon the documentary and Jimmy's adaption to Germany.  I think he generally saw himself as a guest, and enjoyed the decade in Germany.  The German ending to his story is a twist of fate in some ways.  He ended up finding lots of heavy rock fans in Germany, who appreciated the music.

So, if you happen to be up late one night, and this documentary called "Where's the Beer" shows up....open up a frosty beer, settle back and prepare for a five-star documentary.

And no, it doesn't mean I'll be going back to the ZDF Culture Channel daily or weekly.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The "Dorf" Explanation

Last night, I sat and watch HR (our Hessen state-run TV network).  The highlight of the evening was a brief eight-minute news piece on these "dorfs" in the state.....which now have no 'services'.  By 'services', I mean no butcher, no baker, no grocery, and no bank.  A "dorf"?  Well....an American would typically call it a one-dog town, where there's one stop-light, one gas station, and any gossip concerning anyone in town is five-star gossip.

It's a odd trend.  Years ago....most small towns of fifty homes....always had a butcher and baker.  If you had a village of a hundred-odd homes, you tended to have a small grocery operation and at least one bank.

They went through several Hessen towns which had seen fairly sharp downward trends over the past twenty years.  Their rail service?  Gone.  Their post office?  Gone.  Grocery?  Gone.  Some had an ATM machine still around but admitted they continually waited each day for it to be reloaded with cash.

Germany, since the wall going down in the early 1990s....has been on an urban trail.  Young people finish up their education, and if you live in a "dorf"....you find a job in a significant town forty to sixty minutes away, and then you move there.  The older folks stick around, and just always thought general services that they enjoyed for fifty years would be there.

What ends up happening?  Based on the way that the journalists told the story.....you just end up accepting this, and going on drive (maybe ten minutes.....maybe twenty).  What they didn't say.....was if gas stations were part of the deal.  I'd assume that a "dorf" of fifty residences.....would be sufficient for one gas station to survive.

For an American, it's part of the same thing that you'd see in rural areas of the south.  A bank might leave it's branch to shut down and just run an ATM machine.  The gas station?  It'll expand into a marginal grocery/gas station, which is just enough to make locals happy.  Post offices are fought over with intense commentary and political dialog.

It'll be curious to see how Hessen "dorfs" survive in twenty-five years.   If you have a community with no services, and nothing for at least thirty minutes driving.....why stay?  I could see vast areas of Hessen.....a town of fifty homes....just left to a dozen occupied houses, as the older folks die out.

State Unification in Germany?

Every year in the US.....there's at least one or two regional attempts to bring up the idea of splitting one US state into two, or three different states.  It's a marginal attempt, which is mostly designed to get media attention and just generate conversation.  Nothing much ever occurs from these events.

Today, an CDUpolitical player in Germany put out a suggestion of redesigning the sixteen German states into six.  Not splitting, but uniting.

The CDU Saarland Prime Minister tossed her map into the discussion.  Bavaria and Baden-Wurttenberg get to stay mostly as they are.  Hessen is the big loser in this design.....getting the Saarland, Rhineland Pfalz, and Thuringia (one of the old DDR states).  The three states going into Hessen....are the poorest of the sixteen states.

The intent of this idea?  There are different ways to view this.

Sixteen current states require a legislature within each, along with various state-run functions from education and infrastructure, to family and social structure.  A vast amount of the structure would just be carved out and handled by the six new states.

State by state identification for politics?  That's been an odd problem.  Individual state elections are held on the state's own schedule, and have dramatic affect on national politics.  The news media can come out of election in Hessen, and proclaim a national agenda has arrived on the scene....whether true or not.

The bitter fight between the sixteen states for funding from the national level?  It'd carve out half the fight, if there were less talkers on the circuit.

The odds of this occurring?  Zero.  No one in Hessen would buy off on putting this state with the three poorest states.  There's also the problem of Bremen disappearing as a city-state....something that only Hamburg and Berlin have currently.

History has an odd angle to this discussion.  Around 1800....there were 300 states and city-states in the Germanic region.  By the mid-1800s.....it was down to 39 states (having combined a number together).  Various events after WW II and through the 1960s changed the state make-up.  After the wall came down.....several East German states were pushed into the current mix of sixteen.  To be honest, there isn't much history of states ever dividing...they tend to unite....if anything.

Bavarians will even tell you that if given some freedom on this.....they'd just like to emerge as a separate country entirely.  They generally think the taxation deal of Germany is harmful for them, and they never get their contributions back for what they put into the system.

So, when you see this topic come up on German news....just nod your head and expect a three-minute report on the newest political suggestion.  Some political chat show will throw a couple of folks up to give some intellectual argument over the idea.    And then it'll all this drop out of discussion rather quickly.

An Act of Stupidity in My Local Town

Two days ago here in Wiesbaden....we had one of those rare and unusual episodes unfold on a city bus.  I need to state upfront....Wiesbaden is a fairly relaxed and non-hostile place....where your worst issue in the city is either stepping onto dog-poo or wasting thirty minutes to find a decent parking spot.

City bus pulls up in the mid-town area....picks up folks near 4:30PM on Tuesday afternoon.  It's crowed and hectic.  Kids are back into school, and every bus from 1:30 to 5:30 is fairly crowded with folks going home.

So, down on Doltsheimer Road, some disagreement of sorts erupts between two German guys (one is an older guy near sixty, and the other is mid-thirties) and six teens. The local press isn't clear about what the argument was over...maybe cursing....maybe loud voices....maybe pushing.  But there is some commentary from the two German guys to the teens.  A push or two erupts.  Then a scuffle. The two German guys got the brunt of the attack by the teens....punching and scratching.

The bus driver sees the stuff unfolding....pulls over....and by the rules, opens the doors.  The six punks?  They run out and escape.  Cops arrive, in fair numbers, and search the area.....finding nothing.

The rest of this story?  The local press was very careful not to say this....but the six punks (three male juveniles and three female juveniles).....spoke English, and were likely high-school kids with the US Army Post here in Wiesbaden.  The press avoided suggesting that....but we just don't have any British teens in the local area.  Therefore, by default, these are American punk teens.

It leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  Whatever happened on the bus got carried way out of hand, and these teens overreacted, with violent intent.  My humble guess is that the basic description of the teens has been surveyed and sent onto the American Army here in town.  Video?  Oh my.....every single bus now has three cameras, and records every single event.  So there's video tape of the episode, and some Army Provost Marshall guy will survey this and walk to the Hainerberg School director's office to ID the punks.

Unlike the US where you could do some really stupid stuff and walk away safely.....it's just not that way in Germany.  Too much video....smart cops....and investigative analysis that tends to put you into a bad situation.

If identified?  The Provost Marshall will bring the parents into the situation, along with the Army commander.  Better than ninety-percent chance that the kids will be directed to leave Germany.  This is usually where some stupid relative in the states gets a call asking them to take in "junior" or "Matty" for a year because dad's commander said they have to leave Germany.  From Ramstein in the 1990s....it was a pretty good statistical thing that at least one kid a year (minimum) from the community got tossed off back to the states.

Where does my comments lead to?  GI's get forty-plus hours of in-processing when they arrive in Germany.  It's been that way for decades.  They give the Army or Air Force guy plenty of orientation into driving, German laws, drinking, and consequences.

American teens of military personnel?  There's just not much orientation, and they just get dumped into the local school and told a minimum amount of information.  I don't necessary blame the Army or Air Force....it's just that no one seems to worry about some stupid punk doing something and not grasping the implications or consequences involved.  In this case?  The stupid bus attack will have consequences.  

The Hooligan Debate

What occurred in Koln over this past weekend.....has consumed a fair amount of political chatter and debate.  The cops will generally pat themselves on the back to say that they really kept it under as much control as possible, with forty-odd injured cops as the results.  The hooligans and extreme-right-wing will say that they met and demonstrated over frustrations.  And the political folks generally talk of banning such demonstrations in the future.

Where does this go next?

A big demonstration is scheduled for 15 November in Berlin and Hamburg.  The authorities say they will use current laws in place to ban the marchers.

German law is very open and friendly toward any and all marchers, but then draws a line at violence or public destruction.  The minute that your parade or group starts to harm anyone.....the banning law easily gets pulled out and utilized.  Of course, just saying your march is banned and thus stopping it....is mostly a bogus rhetoric game.

The amusing side of this debate?  The Islamic groups and Kurdish groups who've run marches over the past six months....kept things generally peaceful (there's been one or two exceptions to that).  They aren't listed on the topic discussion list by the German political folks....it's strictly the right-wing and hooligan crowd being discussed.  Naturally, there's going to be frustration that the authorities sided with the Muslims....something that will be noted by the public.

From video of the Koln demonstration, you would notice that the police have added a number of video devices to their efforts....trying to identify people in the crowd, and probably use the video later for criminal proceedings.

What happens on the 15th?  My humble guess is that several thousand people will merge in both Hamburg and Berlin, without a permit, and demonstrate. Oddly enough, there are several soccer games requiring a massive police presence already planned for that Saturday throughout Germany.  So you can expect almost every single cop in Germany.....working that day (probably over-time)....and few will be on the road or street for normal operations.

Violence on the 15th?  If I were the hooligans, I'd try to run a simple profile, with the intention of no fights or violence.  But knowing the typical expectations of such episodes.....there's going to be trouble somewhere in the mix.

Finally, all of this simply gets snowballed into something, with the public sitting there that evening....asking questions and thinking over what they see.  The hooligans would like to get public attention.  Whether it works or not....is the question.

German Love Boat Bankrupt?

If you ever watch Channel Two (ZDF) in Germany, there's an occasional TV....at least once a month) called "The Love Boat".  It's always a prime-time show, with an actual cruise boat (MS Deutschland), with a fictional crew taking on six to ten fictional German characters with issues, on a marvelous trip to some exotic land.

The scripting runs in various directions.  Love lost, love found.  Angry and frustrated people finding relief.  Corruption and greed, meeting an end-point.  Depressed people finding things are wonderful in strange and new lands.

My general review of the show is marginal.  Half the show ends up being a sales pitch for the ship or the place they are visiting.  You end up being in love with the background scenery and the cultural display.  The script?  I usually give it two stars.  There's only so much you can do with the scripting and it's more of a tool to display German stars in certain settings, with marginal acting.

Why bring up this whole topic?  Yesterday, the MS Deutschland declared bankruptcy. For 2013, it's a five-million Euro loss.  The judge accepted the paperwork, and it appears that there's enough capital to cover the crew, operations, etc....through the end of 2014.  Some port in early 2015 will receive the ship, while it rests there during the next phase.

Typically, German law allows for state ownership briefly of assets like this while they sort out the ownership business.  Someone will usually come forward with a deal or plan.....offering some payback to the original company (never a one to one deal).  At least that's how it's done with real companies.  In this case....a ship might require some different handling.

The blame for this?  In a curious way, the ship had passengers and should have been at least making marginal profits.  What business reports say (what few exist) is that the owners had a bond deal going to 2012, pumping cash into the operation.  That cash (in the range of fifty million Euro) basically was used up to pay past debt, and less than ten percent of the cash actually went into infrastructure, repairs, or upgrades.

My general prediction is that someone will appear with ample cash.....buy up the bankrupt ship and for a couple of years proudly proclaim themselves as the luxury boat owners at fancy parties and events around Germany.  And then one day.....the bankruptcy episode will repeat itself again.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thinking Outside of the Circle

Germans, especially political figures here in Germany....often surprise me with their logic and thinking.

Today, in local regional news.....a political figure for Mainz (just across the river) got into a discussion over the refugee business and how the city might be able to accommodate these folks.  They had to handle roughly 500 incoming folks for 2014, and their best guess is that a minimum of that number will come in 2015.  The guy talking here.....a SPD member....Kurt Mercator....even hinted that it'll go to 800.

It's hard to figure where he gets his numbers or if it's just a radical number pulled out of his hat.

This all worries the political guys because the news media takes cameras into these open halls and old depot buildings, and makes the arrangements look pretty miserable.

So, Kurt said there's a new idea on the table....as reported by the Rhein Zeitung (our local Mainz newspaper).  Kurt wants to get a older model river cruise boat that has cabins.  Yep.....a cruse boat that they would park on the Rhine.

Most of these typical Rhine River cruise vessels....say of the 1980's versions around....probably have near seventy-to-eighty cabins on board.  There's a eating area, with each cabin having it's own toilet and some simple furniture.

The negatives over this idea.  I sat and pondered.  First, you have to park it on the Rhine  and within the city of Mainz.  Typically, there's only two areas that we'd discuss this matter on.....the present area where tourist ships stop....which I seriously doubt it'd be there.  Or maybe further west where the old freighter port was located.

These cruise ships rely heavily up on professional cleaners and housemaids to tidy them up and prevent disease episodes.  Would that occur in this case?

One might worry about corruption built into this deal and maybe some "friend" of the SPD simply has an thirty-year old cruise ship that he wants to dump on someone or rent out.

How run-down would the ship be after three or four years?  That might be a curious question to ask and the owner might hang the liability upon the city, and they simply have to pay off the guy.

Locals taking a dim view of a cruise ship being used?  That's another odd issue that Germans might get upset about.  It's an image problem, and they can't really hide the refugee use of the vessel.

Finally, you come to the issue of some refugee kids playing around on the deck and suddenly falling off....then drowning.  You can sit and imagine the knee-jerk reaction of the city council and how quick they'd react.

Maybe it'll occur, and maybe it'll be a success.  It'll drag out all these future scenarios then.....more cruise boats retired and used for refugee ships.  Who would have thought it'd be that simple.