EUR 9.85, EUR 8.50

9.85 euros is what a liter of slowly warming beer cost at the 2013 Oktoberfest in Bavaria (6 million visitors were expected this year). 8.50 euros is the national statutory minimum wage the S.P.D. party promised to introduce in its recent election campaign. Looking on the bright side, this labor breakthrough is what the S.P.D. is now hoping to permanently achieve by agreeing to an identity-destroying grosse Koalition with the C.D.U./C.S.U.

Minimum wages in Germany are negotiated individually by each union though not for all job types. Notoriously, German hairdressers often work so many hours that their per-hour earnings are shockingly low. So do many cleaners, cooks, florists, healthcaregivers, waitstaff and especially also meatpacking industry workers whose jobs are subcontracted by subcontractors. ZDF heute journal reported on 17 Oct 2013 that 5 million Germans earn less than the proposed minimum wage, one in four workers in the former East Germany.

In the fight to prevent a national minimum wage, employers and their economists and their other academics and conservative politicians have made predictions about the damage a minimum wage would cause. In the fight to introduce a national minimum wage, proponents have discussed how it would ease strains on a welfare state’s social services, which have had to cover for employers of the working poor. In a country that keeps good records such as Germany it will be interesting to be able to measure the results against the predictions, and to compare them to results from other countries that introduced minimum wages such as Britain (with success) and Poland (results middling but the wage may have been set too low to do much, at 2 euros/hour). If it happens, the German minimum wage will be an ongoing experiment certainly subject to future negotiation and adjustments.

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.)

Mit Steuermitteln geförderte Dopingforschung

Taxpayer-funded performance-enhancing-drug research.

In 2011 historians from Humboldt and Münster universities finished an 800-page report called “Doping in Germany from 1950 to the present” that remained unpublished supposedly because of data privacy concerns for the many West Germans named in it. It found that a West German institute called the Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaft (“German Institute for Sports Science,” B.I.Sp.), founded in 1970, systematically with politician support researched performance-enhancing substances. At the time the researchers said they were trying to prove substances did not enhance performance, but when they found one that did it was then widely administered to West German athletes. The sports medicine physicians conducting the human experiments and administering the substances to athletes said West German politicians explicitly wanted this. This was not a reaction to East German doping; it was done in parallel, starting as far back as the 1950’s even before the East-West Germany conflict, according to sport historian professor and pundit Giselher Spitzer.

Athletes were not told about side effects. The substances were given to children, “to test age effects.” Pro soccer players doped too (pervitin and then amphetamines), though apparently there were few sports not involved. Epo experiments were done as early as 1988. The scientists worked with national sports groups to help doped athletes elude capture in competition testing. Sponsoring money for the performance-enhancement research was considerable, flowing from the West German government and from private sports associations mostly to the Freiburg university hospital but also to sports medicine centers in Cologne and other cities.

The Humboldt University sports history study was ordered by the Bundesinstitut für Sportwissenschaften (B.I.Sp.) and sponsored by the Deutscher Olympischer SportBund. Its findings were kept unpublished for two years. After an 03 Aug 2013 Süddeutsche Zeitung article about the report a spokesperson for the Deutscher Olympischer SportBund said the failure to publish and resulting ongoing exclusion from public discussion and review was the researchers’ decision. On 05 Aug 2013 the B.I.Sp. finally published it and apparently Hans-Peter Friedrich (C.S.U.)’s Interior Ministry, which the B.I.Sp. is still a part of, also released it.

What we still don’t know: Before the evaluation, many important files were apparently shredded. Files requested in 1991 from B.I.Sp. to use to answer a parliamentary inquiry from the S.P.D. party turned out to have been destroyed, for example (and apparently the B.I.Sp. started the Humboldt University research project at about the same time??). Not all the relevant original files were apparently registered in a-or-the federal archive [“Bundesarchiv“?], so historians will be unable to find them there due to that library guerrilla move. The Deutscher Fussball-Bund reportedly set unacceptable conditions for access to its archives, so information they contain did not flow into the study. Joseph Blätter’s international soccer organization Fifa only recently (2011) stopped destroying World Cup soccer players’ test samples only three months after collection. People are upset that anonymity and lack of prosecution have been apparently enjoyed by West German sinners but not East German. The study was sponsored to investigate only up until the year 1990. Apparently the published version is missing several hundred pages.

Solutions: Justice ministers from several German states are demanding a federal-level anti-doping law making the use of banned performance-enhancing drugs a criminal offense; this has been under discussion for years now. The president of the Deutscher Leichtathletik-Verband called for more such research to prevent all West German athletes from that era from being suspected of having illegally taken performance-enhancing drugs. Also, as news anchor Claus Kleber pointed out, because the actors have never admitted culpability we can’t know whether the unethical practices were stopped. They might still be going on today.

(Mitt   SHTOY ah mitt ellll n   geh FUR dirt teh   DOPINGK for shoong.)

Niederländische Zwischenhändler

“Dutch intermediary dealers.” EU findings from a total of ~7000 genetic tests on food products to investigate mislabeled horsemeat were announced on 16 Apr 2013. 0% abnormal test results in the UK, 3.3% in Germany and 13.3% in France, where purchases from Dutch intermediaries turned out to be particularly mislabeled. A French Green Party member claimed it wasn’t even proper horse meat being mislabeled, but rather slaughterhouse wastes. On se demande encore comment est-il possible qu’il y ait tant de chevaux en Europe? Where are so many horses coming from, that horse meat could prove cheaper than farmed beef and mutton on the global market? Racetracks?

Particularly customers of the shadowy Dutch figure known as Willy Selten are affected. Yet again, Dutch is funny if you know English and German but not Dutch. Willy Selten’s large meat wholesaler delivered to ~500 companies in 16 EU countries.

The EU commissioner for consumers wants to change government food testing to verify truth in labeling from a national to a European matter. He said this is another problem whose scope exceeds the capacity of individual national government offices. Crowdsourced cheap DNA test kits for species-specific markers would also help.

(NEE derr lend ish eh   TSVISH en hend lah.)

Spusi

Yet another cute German abbreviation, this time for “Spurensicherung,” the “evidence securers” crime scene specialists.

(SHPOO zee.)

Asse

According to Wikipedia, Asse, a.k.a. “Asse 2” because of an original Asse shaft dug there in 1906, is an old salt mine in Lower Saxony that was turned into a West German research mine in 1965 and also used as a permanent storage site for nuclear waste between 1967 and 1978. Politicians assured the public the mine’s known water problem could be reliably stopped forever, and lawsuits to prevent the project failed in court.

Low-level radioactive waste with particularly long-lived isotopes and medium-level radioactive waste with short-lived isotopes was stored there, in metal drums that were supposed to be used as transport, not permanent, containers. In the first phase of the experiment, the drums were stacked on one another. In the second phase the drums were stacked horizontally, like a woodpile. In the third phase, drums were dumped off an underground cliff and then rock salt debris was dumped on them. It is now known that metal drums last only a few years to decades when exposed to salt water, and these metal drums may have been further damaged by how they were placed into storage. Hydrogen is possibly forming.

No fees were collected for nuclear waste delivered between 1967 and 1975. In 1975 the law changed—“permanent storage” was not defined in German law until 1976, for example—after which Asse collected a total of about 900,000 euros in fees until the research program on permanent nuclear waste disposal ended in 1995. Asse’s remaining open caverns were carefully filled in with trainloads of rock between 1995 and 2004.

In 2008 it became known that Asse 2 was in danger of collapse due to water seepage and cracking, not surprising due to its history and the fact that its salt ceilings have been deforming by up to 15 cm/year for many years now. A state investigation was started and found, among other things, that radioactive salt water was first detected in the mine in 1995. Two billion euros are now budgeted for the cleanup, though experts estimate the cost will be closer to six billion. The site’s recent budgets exceeded 100 million euros/year, used for maintenance and public relations, reported ZDF heute journal, which broadcast disturbing photos of the damage in this report from 05 Oct. 2012. ZDF says the plan is to drill a new tunnel and remove the nuclear waste through it, though that might not be possible. It has been estimated the ceiling rock will start to fail in early 2014, and that cleanup can’t be started before 2036.

Update on 04 Mar 2014: New environmental minister Barbara Hendricks visited Asse for the first time. About twelve thousand liters of water are seeping into the nuclear waste storage site there each day, said ARD tagesschau.de, which is why the Bundestag voted one year ago to move Asse’s nuclear waste as quickly as possible, to protect local groundwater from radioactive contamination. During her hard-hatted and overalled inspection of the underground chambers, Minister Hendricks said she didn’t think the work could be easily speeded up because more than <120 people cannot be in the old salt mine at a time for safety and technical reasons. Local people are demanding that a second shaft be built immediately, to finish the cleanup before the old tunnels collapse.

(OSS eh.)

Weltmumienkongress

World Mummies Congress of the EURAC Research Institute in beautiful Bolzano, Italy.

(Velt MOO me en con gress.)

Vatikanologe

Vaticanologist. Someone who follows the Vatican.

(VOT ee con oh LO geh.)

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