Bafög

Bafög is need-based assistance given to German high school and university students until they complete their first degree. The need-based calculation contains a bewildering variety of factors that include the parents’ income and the student’s expenses. High school students don’t have to pay it back, and university students have to pay half back, without interest. The word comes from the abbreviation for the law that established the scholarship, the Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz [German education/training assistance act].

Update on 27 May 2014: After weeks of discussion about spending more on education, the federal government has announced it will start paying 100% of Bafög, rather than the current 65% federal money, 35% state money. The states will have to invest the 35%, ~1.17 billion euros each year, in schools and universities, though Wolfgang Schäuble said there are no control mechanisms in place to enforce this. Bafög is to be reformed again in 2016/17.

Update on 21 Jul 2014: The federal government announced they will be increasing Bafög by 7%, the Elternfreibetrag [?] by 7% —which will increase the number of students qualifying to receive Bafög by >110,000 university and school students—and the rent stipend to 250 euros/month. The increases will go into effect in the winter semester 2016/2017. The last time Bafög was increased was in 2010.

(BAFFIG.)

Das Feuilleton fährt fort

The Feuilleton
Goes on and on.

In a charming discussion of the state of the section of German newspapers that falls somewhere “between the people’s education and corporate publishing,” Süddeutsche Zeitung said this traditionally has been understood as a part of the paper that contained “cultural interest, alert/awake/astute contemporary-ism*” and “literarily inspired writing that simultaneously has lightness and sharpness/focus.”

The principle of the feuilleton is spreading, said Süddeutsche, into diverse areas that include sportswriting and fashion reporting. “Only with special, original, witty, backgrounded texts will you make progress against the tempo of the internet.”

* German’s delatinized calque for contemporary is “time comrade,” and so the nouned Zeitgenossenschaft is a bit of a play that reads as a time association, time confraternity or time cooperative.

(Doss   fight ɔ̃   faired   FOTT.)

Numerus clausus

Restricted admission.

With free tuition, German universities don’t use money to determine who gets an education and who doesn’t. But they’re having a bit of a budget crunch so, if they don’t get more money from the government, the universities threatened to restrict admissions of new students for majors that don’t yet have restricted admission.

Medicine and law are two famous numerus clausus departments, with admissions depending on how many doctors and lawyers the government calculates Germany will need in x years.

An informal way German universities do restrict admission is by requiring students to pass certain highly-set hurdles in order to graduate (though you can put off graduation for a very long time while still taking classes and haunting libraries). Humanities subjects frequently require a Latin proficiency certificate. Other subjects use statistics classes for the purpose. Medical students’ ranks used to be further thinned by a notorious class in physics.

Even with free tuition, money still limits who can study and who cannot. The semesters are set up with long breaks so students can work enough to earn money for the next semester. Student rebates are provided to try to help with the costs of living and the costs of not working. The rebates I remember applied for foreign students and included low rent on well-designed student housing, cheaper mandatory health insurance (incl. dental and medicines), reduced or free public transportation (trains, buses, subways), cheaper admission to museums, movies, concerts, lakes and swimming pools…

Bildungsbroker-Blödsinn

Education broker balderdash.

A British charity called the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas.com) which “controls admissions to U.K. universities,” charging fees of ~£23 per student to help >700,000 students sign up for university courses in the U.K. each year, has been selling marketers the data of those students and the data of ~15,000 of their parents and the data of younger children aged 13 to 16 who sign up for courses via another program they offer.

The charity has a “commercial arm” that apparently made £12 million in 2013 from selling the students’ information, to customers such as mobile phone companies, a large software company and a beverages company. The charity’s spokesperson told reporters they are “strictly legal,” selling children’s data within the requirements of British law.

The level of civilization this implies is lower than expected.

Achtung: an analyst said the sort of “carefully selected third parties” checkbox Ucas used “is usually preceded by a triple negative question so you don’t know if ticking the box gets you more mail or less.” In the case of Ucas, students didn’t dare opt out of sharing their contact data for fear of not receiving college offers.

(BILL doongz broke ah   BLID zinn.)

Drahtesel

“Wire donkey,” a German nickname for bicycles because they speed you on your way while carrying quite heavy loads.

A Chicago couple has put together an economic development program called World Bicycle Relief. They’ve given away thousands of “Buffaloes,” very stable heavy bikes that can carry 100 kg over the rear wheel. The bikes have one gear and one back-pedal brake and are put together in Africa from parts made in Asia, by >60 mechanics working full-time. No unusual or proprietary tools are required, such as Allen wrenches or chain keys. Everything can be taken apart and re-assembled; there are no unnecessary rivets. World Bicycle Relief also teaches people how to repair the bikes.

The group tries to give more than half the bikes to girls. Because, around the world, girls are often sent to bring the day’s water for their families, walking such long distances that this chore keeps them from attending school. With a Buffalo bike, they can bring back the water and then bike to school.

FAZ.net said it’s a good thing these bikes are so stable because they’re being used to transport AIDS patients in a volunteer program in Zambia. Farmers can use them to bring produce and milk to market. The bikes can earn a little extra income by being rented out to neighbors.

(DRAUGHT aezle.)

Nachrichtendienstlicher Schattenhaushalt

A non-native speaker’s attempt to translate
“intelligence agencies’ black budget”
into German, after the non-native German speaker was
very impressed by the clarity of WashingtonPost.com’s
succinct presentation showing where ~$50 billion goes that the U.S. government allocates annually to agencies in its National Intelligence Program.

One reason the C.I.A. is the top recipient (at ~$14 billion annually) is because e.g. they’ve been modding aircraft and G.P.S.-controlled 500-pound smart bombs and giving them to e.g. the government of Colombia. This is also from an excellently explained WashingtonPost.com article, with a well-designed timeline of the history, map of the area, blueprint of the missile and scaled drawings showing the relative sizes of the aircraft and bombs used in the four-step attacks on the F.A.R.C.

(NOCHH richh ten DEENST lichh ah   SHOTTEN house halt.)

Der schlimmste Feind im ganzen Land, das ist und bleibt der Denunziant.

“The worst enemy/biggest rascal in the whole damn country is and remains: a snitch.” Handy mnemonic reminding Germans not to squeal on their neighbors, even when the stress of dense living conditions can get overwhelming. Left-leaning German students will repeat this to you as a meme joke that’s crept firmly into their consciousness, while they diligently study education, journalism or history, enjoy detective shows on television and meet up in meatspace for ferocious protracted information-sharing discussions in the interest of bettering democracy. Perhaps it’s now understood that snitching on your fellow citizens will murder Anne Frank but finding out what governments and other large actors are up to and talking about it might save lives.

Bruce Sterling: “What’s a historian but a fancy kind of snitch?” is a deeply unsettling offhand remark.

Australian radio’s charming Phillip Adams asked a Mossad expert a chiming question in a recent discussion of the information asymmetry enabled by drones and other surveillance: “Are you allowed to spill all the beans?” Mr. Adams was bean facetious.

Now that I’m olderly, I can think of more specific examples of situations in which professional information-sharers might *not* share the relevant useful context they know:

Schoolteachers: the topic of censorship in schools is ancient, but people will still surprise you. My grandfather used to show kids how to carefully mix up explosives within the safety rules of his high school chemistry class because he knew a certain book was available in the local library.

Historians: the majority would probably object strongly to showing people who make fake reference books how to make more convincing fake reference books. Though there could be tempting exceptions. Pacifist historians for example might not mind hearing that widely available gunsmithing research had been used to glut an overfunded, underinformed collectors’ market fetishizing blunderbusses like baseball cards (but pacifist historians would care very much if they heard the shoddy cast iron was shattering and injuring people). Historians are disturbed by the introduction of fake evidence, a crime against future generations that might someday be correctable, and absolutely infuriated by destruction of genuine evidence, a crime against future generations that can never be made right. It is so easy to accidentally destroy genuine evidence; it is casually shown over and over in archeology adventure films.

Introducing something that is beautiful, but not real, but not falsely presented as something other than it is (or encouraging destruction of genuine evidence!) almost seems okay. A gorgeous art book that riffs on designs and pictures from old reference books without being disguised as one could be a beautiful gift to the world. With proper source citation.

Journalists: probably must deal with the problem of when to withhold information most often, being confronted by these dilemmas accidentally because it goes with the job and on purpose, by interested parties familiar with the job. Journalism’s evolving ethics, rules and procedures are thus very valuable and interesting.

Priests: have the chance to learn a lot about contexts and reasons in local communities but might be highly susceptible to targeted “for the better good” arguments not to supply the most honest why’s and how’s, especially when the unusual levers within their particular religion are applied.

Scientists: probably have the clearest rules about information sharing, while handling some of the most useful information. Publish everything that seems reliably true according to defined test methods, unless the government swoops in. Archive non-seized published information and its underlying data so they can be found again, forever.

Librarians: seem to stand back and let people discover their own answers, though some jewels of librarianship can and will provide wonderful succinct context when asked. That can go the other way too—there were stories about history students in Germany returning to hometown libraries and discovering systematic long-term local obfuscation of local people’s colorful Nazi pasts. As the decades passed, the cover-ups necessarily got more and more complicated, the information in the town got more out of synch with the information widely known outside the town, and the aging perpetrators in the institutions were more likely to err and get caught.

Universities: one of the most fun and possibly most expensive hobbies you can pursue in the U.S.A. (A more expensive hobby might be something else + a university education, such as raising a child.) Professors and, these days, untenured adjunct instructors give highly efficient shortcut answers that tesseract you to the most useful synopses, unless they’re lying. Figure out how to study more than the inadequate standard four years and you might get an education. Figure out how to return to college from time to time and you might keep it.

After I studied history in a country that wasn’t either Cold War superpower, it seemed to me that one of many things the U.S.A. had in common with the Soviet Union but not with other countries was that the U.S. allowed propagandistic tendencies in important national history professors. This only became apparent after exposure to its absence. Once “allowed” it seems hard to eradicate—I noticed the U.S. tendency in the late 1990’s and it’s still going on in 2013. Presumably, sponsors’ and university administrators’ ethical barriers to installing such “chairs” must be deliberately reconstructed and haven’t been; also it’s hard to muster the data and arguments to effectively criticize a history professor. The latter was true of nearly all professors in Germany, professional experts who enjoyed a certain god-like status that was susceptible to abuse, but might especially pertain to history professors in the U.S.A.

Novelists: Fiction writers lie, wrote Margaret Atwood, and they use lying as a devious form of truth-telling. Along those lines, Terry Pratchett’s Y.A. books’ relatively direct overgeneralizations about people and institutions seem to have stood the test of time well, providing some rare explanations twenty years ago that appear not inaccurate today, two decades and half a world away.

Older relatives, like me now: will explain a lot, especially via wandering anecdotes, like this blog post; but they won’t tell you why and how if the reason is that someone in your family screwed up. When they’re feeling bad because they think they screwed up themselves, they often won’t talk about that either.

Government watchdogs, auditors, rapporteurs, monitors, inspectors general; departmental offices of internal affairs, ethics, professional responsibility: in addition to systemic inbuilt ways these inspectors may accidentally or deliberately fail to find and report, or be prevented by inspectees from finding and reporting, important cases of waste, fraud & abuse, how their reports are packaged for the press can also hide their key discoveries. The surrounding context we would like to know more about is so difficult to communicate that perhaps it’s no wonder we would like to know more about it. During the Reagan administration, it made little economic sense that the president’s stories about a “welfare queen”—which turned out to be a fairy tale—found more resonance than the real e.g. $500 hammers, nuts and toilet seats the Pentagon was caught buying at the same time. Which was the bigger economic threat? Yet one fairy tale was easier to remember than two overpriced hardware items.

Bureaucracies that don’t include functioning, safe systems for reporting and fixing in-house errors are what create a WikiLeaks.

WikiLeaks and other disseminators and investigators of huge data troves: are flummoxed by too much data, where vast volumes can hide relevant answers, especially after misinformation was introduced. But software has now been developed and distributed that helps map these infinitely complex connections. Insignificance and the ephemeral nature of human memory will no longer shield nonhackers.

(Dare   SHLIMM sta   FIE nd   im   GONTS en   LOND,   doss   ISST   oont   BLY bt   dare   den OONTS ee aunt.)

Abgucken

“Looking off.” Looking at something and then copying it. Rome for example spent centuries inadvertently serving as a model to the tribes outside its borders, while trying to deal with them by alternately fighting them, bribing them and training them as mercenaries. Eventually some surrounding tribes that were feindlich gesinnt learned enough, formed large enough groups and took over the old empire.

(OB cook en.)

QuereinsteigerInnen

“Cross-enterers.” People who start a new career in nontraditional ways.

“Wissen, wie es war”

“To know what it was like.” Motto for the twentieth anniversary of the museum for the Stasi documents, the files and systems of the East German secret police, that were saved from destruction, reconstructed despite destruction, archived, read, evaluated, reread and shown to visitors from all over the world.

The decision to preserve the files was not as obvious now as it may seem in retrospect. Some well-meaning West German deciders wondered if finishing the Stasi’s destruction of the files might not be a benison to the Stasi’s victims, in the extremely short term. Fortunately for victims, for voters who in the decades since might otherwise have elected candidates with an “inoffizielle Mitarbeiter” (“unofficial coworker,” “unofficial employee”) past, for people living in police states who are making plans about what to do when the dictatorship falls, and for people living in potential police states, the documents were not destroyed, systems were developed to work with them while preserving privacy for the innocent, and the people at these archives are happy to share what they’ve learned with visitors.

(VISS en   vee   ess   vahr.)

Volksbegehren gegen Studiengebühren

“Referendum against tuition fees.” The states run the universities in Germany. Usually they charge very low tuition fees by US standards or university is free and students just have to pay registration and student union fees and buy subsidized cheap universal health insurance (includes dental and medicine). After some states experimented with introducing tuition fees in the 1990’s, almost all the states unintroduced them except Bavaria and Lower Saxony. In 2012, Bavarian citizens collected the 25,000 signatures required for a referendum to let people vote directly to eliminate college tuition throughout the state.

Though Bavarians have the Volksbegehren option, it’s hard to pass a referendum in practice. In 1968 the Bavarian state parliament (Landtag) made conditions for passing direct referenda much tougher, reducing the time frame from four weeks to two, banning public solicitation of signatures in the street or door-to-door, while requiring signatures of 10% of all registered voters for passage and, writes Hans Herbert von Arnim, making mail-in ballots much more difficult [von Arnim, Die Selbstbediener, pp. 162–3].

Before the voters had a chance to decide on the anti-tuition referendum however, Bavaria’s Interior Ministry (CSU) filed a complaint against it with the Bavarian constitutional court or Verfassungsgerichtshof in Munich saying the referendum was unconstitutional because it would affect Bavaria’s budget. The Bavarian constitutional court has interpreted the state’s so-called “budget caveat” or Haushaltsvorbehalt to mean that referenda that would cost money, i.e. most of them, can be kept from a vote if they will impact the state budget in a way that isn’t slight [von Arnim, p. 173].

Bavaria’s supreme or constitutional court is a bit unusual in Germany [von Arnim, p. 27] and possibly one reason voters might be glad to have a direct referendum option. Federal German constitutional court judges have to be elected by a 2/3 parliamentary majority, to prevent judiciary dominance by one party; they have a 12-year term; and they cannot be reelected. Bavarian constitutional court judges have been mainly elected by the CSU party, because it has governed the state since 1946; they have an eight-year term; and they can be reelected an unlimited number of times.

In October 2012, the Bavarian constitutional court decided eliminating college tuition would not affect the state budget and allowed the referendum to proceed. In January 2013 the referendum passed with over 1.3 million signatures. In response, the Bavarian Landtag or state parliament quickly passed a law eliminating college tuition on 24 Apr 2013.

(FOKES beg AIR en   GAY gen   SHTOO dee en geh BOO ren.)

Das Crowdsourcing von Umweltanalysen

“Crowdsourcing environmental testing,” including sharing of software platforms used and the data resulting from the tests, for the efficiencies associated with wider availability and to prevent knowledge losses that can occur e.g. when you underfund and then destroy E.P.A. libraries. Many experiments with crowdsourcing chemistry and biology testing are ongoing right now. For example, for the past five years high school kids in Lower Saxony, ~10,000 students so far, have been learning to test food products for GMO’s in high school lab classes, often finding modified products in foods labeled GMO-free. The curriculum includes pro and con discussions that must be pretty interesting.

Silicon Valley companies and other communities are experimenting with creating open source software and hardware kits for crowdsourced environmental testing and pharmaceutical testing, according to an interesting new book by Institute for the Future director Marina Gorbis.

(Doss   CRRROWD sauce ing   fun   OOM veldt on ah LOO zen.)

“Kein Buch mit sieben Siegeln”

“No books with seven seals.” Slogan for a movement being shared and discussed at the 2013 Leipzig Book Fair that publishes simplified-language versions of adult books to entertain adults with reading difficulties and help them practice reading. As someone who learned to read German as an adult by forcing my way through children’s books, stopping to look up words on every page, I really appreciate this project! It should also open new markets for publishing companies, in and outside Germany.

(K eye n   BOOCHH   mit   ZEE ben   ZEEG ell n.)

“Den kleinen Kreis der Kenner zu einem grossen Kreis der Kenner zu machen”

Much-loved words of Bertold Brecht in the 1930’s. He said, “What is democratic is turning the small group of people ‘in the know’ into a large group of people ‘in the know.'”

(Dane   KLY nen   k rice   dare   kenner   tsoo   eye nem   GROSS en   k rice   dare   kenner   tsoo   MOCHH en.)

“Eine kluge Erinnerungskultur”

“A smart memory culture,” what every society needs to devise in order to teach new generations about the past. What history shall we share, how will we communicate it, how will we refresh it? The theme of this year’s Buber-Rosenzweig award was “Giving the future a memory” [“Der Zukunft ein Gedächtnis“]. In her interesting speech at the ceremony, Dr. Charlotte Knobloch talked about “eine kluge Erinnerungskultur.” She quoted Hessian general district attorney Fritz Bauer, whose hard work made the Auschwitz trials happen, as saying “Nothing belongs to the past. Everything is present-day and can become the future again” [“Nichts gehört der Vergangenheit an. Alles ist Gegenwart und kann wieder Zukunft werden.”] and called for mehr Mut! More courage.

(Eye neh   clue geh   err IN err oongs cool tour.)

“Weltbürger, Wutbürger oder Passivbürger”?

World citizens, fury citizens or passive citizens“? 30 Jan is the anniversary of Hitler’s lawful accession to power via structural weaknesses in Germany’s first democratic government, known as the Weimar Republic. Discussion and analysis of whether Germany’s current democracy is structurally strong enough to resist international and national erosion factors included the commentary that a democracy requires sufficient numbers of democratic citizens who participate in it. Former Volkswagen C.E.O. Carl Hahn also said that citizens who travel and see non-democracies for themselves will prefer democratic governments to the alternatives, and that the best stability for a democracy depends on how well it educates and communicates values to the next generation.

(VELT burgher,   VOOT burgher   ode er   poss EVE burgher?)

Jugendgarantie

“Youth guarantee.” The EU is concerned about the high rate of unemployment among young Europeans under 25. They have announced a new program guaranteeing unemployed young people a job or education opportunity, saying that will cost less in the long run than the consequences of long-term unemployment. The guaranteed job, education, apprenticeship or internship is to start no later than four months after high school graduation if no job is found. This is an Austrian program that the government in Brussels now wants to implement across Europe.

(YOO gend garr on tee.)

Bildungsbürger

“Education citizens,” a societal class that places a high value on education.

(BILL doong z burgher.)

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