“Schattenwissenschaft des Krieges”

“Shadow science of war,” headline to a Süddeutsche.de article about >$10 million the U.S. military has invested since 2000 in research projects at at least 22 German universities, careful curious institutions where $10 million can buy a lot of study. The Pentagon helped fund investigations into military explosive materials at Ludwig-Maximillians-Universität in Munich, for example; bulletproof glass [Panzerglas] and warheads [Sprengköpfe, exploding heads] at the Fraunhofer Institute in Freiburg; at Marburg, mini-drones and “nocturnal visual orientation in flying insects” useful for targeting munitions; at Saarland, $120,000 from the Army Research Laboratory for mathematical studies of linguistic structures, presumably useful in surveillance technology.

Süddeutsche.de and its investigation partner the Norddeutsche Rundfunk criticized the lack of transparency at the German universities and research institutes about having received the funding. Despite having “packs or prides of marketing experts,” the mostly-taxpayer-funded German schools’ reticence about U.S. military sponsorship meant journalists could only find them by going through lists in U.S. documents, including online searches of the database of the Federal Procurement Data System, which S.Z. said publishes all U.S. government purchases >$3000.

“And afterward strained excuses were even voiced, such as, the money was for basic research that surprised everyone when it turned out to have military applications. But the Pentagon would never have opened its cash register for pure love-of-neighbor, nor for scientific curiosity.”

Süddeutsche.de said 14 German universities have added “civil clauses” [Zivilklausel] to their by-laws stating that they will not accept research money from the German military, which also sponsors such projects. The University of Bremen did this, for example, and was then shocked to find its name in the U.S. database, having received $40,000 in 2011 and again in 2012 from the U.S. Air Force to study metal emissions in the upper atmosphere. Even if schools have such so-called civil clauses, the newspaper wrote, it is each individual German academic’s decision whether to accept military money for “dual-use” projects because academic freedom is guaranteed by Art. 5 of the German Constitution, section (3), which can be translated as “Art and science, research and teaching, are free. The freedom of teaching does not release instructors from their constitutional obligations” (to democracy and the human rights mandated elsewhere in the Grundgesetz, GG).

Update on 17 Dec 2013: The Swiss newspaper SontagsZeitung reported that in the past two years the Pentagon has provided “about a dozen” Swiss universities with “over a million dollars” in sponsoring for research projects in aerospace and computers. Schools included E.T.H. Lausanne and the universities of Zurich, Bern and Neuenburg.

(SHOTTEN vissen shoften   dess   CREE gess.)

Staubsaugen

“Dust sucking.” Starting September 2014, no household appliances can be sold in the E.U. that use >1600 W. In September 2017 that limit will be lowered to 900 W.

This is aimed at vacuum cleaners.

Effective Sept. 1, 2014, household appliances will also have to be labeled with simple symbols showing their power consumption, ranging from a green A for low electricity use to a red G for egregious.

The “Ecodesign Regulation” created exceptions for the following types of industrial-type vacuum cleaners, which sound funnier in German than in English:

Nasssauger, Saugroboter, akkubetriebene Staubsauger, Industriestaubsauger und Bohnermaschinen.”

“Wet suckers, sucking robots, battery-driven dust suckers, industrial dust suckers and Bohner machines.”

E.U. officials said vacuum cleaner manufacturers were consulted in advance, most models >1600 W have been sorted out already, and it’s not the size of their Watts, it’s how well they suck dust that counts.

(Sht OW! bzz OW! g en.)

Dann doch!

“Well, okay then.” Actually, this is yet another thrilled German headline about the warming of diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S.A. The wonderful détente is very exciting. Hopefully, now, we can all get rich together, a wish expressed by my Iranian kitchenmates at German university ten years ago.

A recently published “history of Iran for beginners” said the country had ~38 auto manufacturing companies, presumably in response to international sanctions. Perhaps innovators like Google or Tesla could work out deals with some of these groups to supply novel parts for renewable-energy car projects. There could now be excellent internationally sponsored engineering programs at Iranian universities, and training exchanges around the world.

(Don DOCK.)

 

Kosten-Preis-Analysengruppe

“Cost/price analysis group,” what retired inspector-general pricing & logistics director Harry Kleinknecht said the U.S. Army doesn’t have, “much less an experienced one.”

A recent inspector general report’s criticized that the Boeing company, the Pentagon’s number two supplier after Lockheed, tried to overcharge the military billions of dollars, discovered in four audits over the past five years. Boeing apparently misinterpreted an inflation formula ~$2 billion in its own favor, for example. The audits caught them e.g. invoicing for new helicopter parts but installing used ones, a situation so old it sounds like how Harry Truman said he rose to F.D.R.’s attention as a congressman during World War II: by driving a congressional committee investigating lethal waste, fraud and abuse committed by military contractors (and not by being a machine politician).

Retired I.G. Boeing auditor Harry Kleinknecht also criticized that the military’s tactics and force preparedness were insufficient “in complex negotiations” with its contractors and that it did not properly inspect, evaluate and respond to the quality of results delivered, or not delivered. When the military failed to know how many items they needed of a part while ordering it, they would let Boeing oversell them, millions of dollars. When they failed to know a part’s market price or what Boeing’s manufacturing costs were for it, they would let Boeing overcharge them, millions of dollars (~$2000 each for a ~$12 part, ~$600 each for a ~$10 part). Contracting officials lacked the engineering? accounting? criminal justice? experience to discern what some of the problems that needed fixing were, Harry Kleinknecht indicated. Bloomberg.com said the inspector general’s report deemed the military’s contract management “lax.” A spokesperson for the inspector general’s office mentioned that the wording of the military procurement contracts could have but did not prevent some of the more expensive and possibly dangerous suppliers’ misunderstandings in the suppliers’ favor, a situation that can hopefully be improved by leveraging the experience accumulated in this area for >100 years.

Thanks to Harry Shearer for mentioning this Bloomberg report on his weekly news podcast, le Show.

(COST en   PRIZE   on ah LEEZ en grue peh.)

Beispiellose Bergungsaktion

Parbuckling sans pareil, the clever, steady project to recover the Costa Concordia cruise ship from the rocks before the coast of the Italian island of Giglio.

(By shpeel LOZE eh   BERG oongs octs yo n.)

Seltene Sprachen und Dialekte, die über Crowdsourcing aufgenommen und gedolmetscht wurden

Researchers at the University of Melbourne have created a free app that lets speakers of endangered languages, whether encountered by academics doing field work or self-selected in networks of colingual neighbors and friends, use relatively cheap Android phones to record their speech. After the sound file is uploaded, people anywhere can listen, stop the playback at any point and record voice translations of the sentences into another language. The translation sound files are linked to the source sound files in the database, creating a vast verbal Rosetta stone that doesn’t require literacy to accomplish preservation and sharing. This archive of vocabulary, grammar and content—tales and histories—will be available for future linguists to explore, centuries from now.

In an interview about the project on Australian ABC Radio National, Dr. Bird said once the person demonstrating the software has explained how it works, it is older people especially in the village who are delighted and start recording story after story in these rare languages.

(ZELL ten ah   SHPRRROCHHH en   oont   dee ah LECKED ah,   dee   über   KRAUT sourcingk   ow! f geh nome en   oont   geh DOLE metched   voor den.)

Verschlüsselungspflicht für Telekom-Unternehmen

“Mandatory encryption for telecom companies,” one solution proposed by the opposition to Angela Merkel’s coalition in the wake of Edward Snowden’s surveillance revelations. Another solution, discussed by the ruling coalition, was supposedly transferring responsibility for saving searchable copies of all communications from public-sector government agencies to private-sector phone companies.

Update on 02 Sep 2013: NYTimes.com reporting and others’ follow-ups appear to indicate that the company AT&T has been keeping its own copies of phone communications, more than just “metadata,” and people have used it to access 26-year-old phone calls. AT&T employees could be hired to help government agents search their difficult database.

Update dated 4 July 2013: Holland’s Data Protection Authority issued a report on their investigation into mobile network packet inspection by KPN, Tele2, T-Mobile and Vodafone, finding that the companies illegally saved individual customers’ online data, such as websites visited and apps used. The data was furthermore saved in a “detailed” manner.

(Fer SHLÜSS ell oongs flichh t   foor   TAY lay kom oon ter NAY men.)

Lobbyplag

Website that says they use plagiarism software to compare text in politicians’ amendments and lobbyists’ proposals to find out if the amendments contain language copied from companies and industry groups. They’ve published a list of similar texts with politicians’ names and companies’ names. By necessity, the website is highly multilingual.

Lobbyplag.eu says its creation was motivated by the debate around EU data protection reform (with ~4000 amendments apparently inspired by lobbyists from every side of the issues and all corners of the world so far). Lobbyplag is also on Twitter.

 

 

Datenschutzsiegel

“Data protection seal of approval.” A 2008 book on data protection in Germany proposed creating independent auditing agencies who would inspect public and private organizations. If the organizations met standards for data protection, transparency, data security, etc., they would be issued the auditors’ “quality seal” which they could use in their marketing materials as a reputation booster. The auditors would be motivated to keep their own reputation high by not being pushovers, presumably. Multiple reliable auditors could watch each other. Set up well and done honestly, these inspections could ultimately enhance efforts at leak control by keeping whistleblowing from being the only way visible to try to fix the most broken organizations. When these inspectors published what criteria they used to calculate their ratings, smaller organizations down to families and individuals could learn tips about improving their own data protection.

Judging by online search results, squabbling about which data protection inspection seals are worthy may have already begun. There appears to be understandable concern that a company that produces consumer credit scores, which many Germans view with suspicion, also dipped its toe in the data protection certification business. Possible other models suggested for such an independent inspection system included the feared TÜV inspections and Biosiegel (“certified organic.” Bio means organic in German. Öko means treehugger.). An early boost was provided when a German state created demand for the certificate by requiring independent data-protection certification for products, programs and services used by state offices.

(DOT en shoots ZEEG ell.)

“Bin eine alte Kommode, die viele Schubladen hat”

“I’m an old cabinet that has a lot of drawers,” said actor Hildegard Krekel, known for playing the Sally Struthers daughter character in Germany’s excellent version of the Johnny Speight “All in the Family” family of television series, called “One heart and one soul” (Ein Herz und eine Seele). She was also the dubbing voice for Bette Davis and Helen Mirren, according to her obituary; Hildegard Krekel died of cancer on 26 May 2013.

Episode 4 of “Ein Herz und eine Seele,” under the Hitler-like Archie Bunker patriarch known as Disgusting Alfred, is about a funeral and was the reason a friend once explained to me that, in certain regions of Germany, the funerals are more fun than the weddings.

(Bin   eye n   oltah   come MODE ah   dare   FEEL ah   SHOE blod en   hot.)

Sponsoring-Karten

“Shponsoring tickets,” a new kind of money-equivalent created by big soccer and big stadiums. Shponsoring tickets nominally worth hundreds of thousands of euros can be printed for each large soccer game, apparently.

After auditors found valuable sheafs of these lying around in soccer club safes, German companies started developing accounting procedures to document gifted sports tickets. Now when German companies are caught in some other impropriety people point out it’s ridiculous that … isn’t being tracked as carefully as soccer tickets.

Update on 07 Mar 2014: Reporting on the Ukrainian crisis mentioned that Germany’s biggest soccer sponsorship is Deutsche Telekom’s, for the team Bayern Munich, and the second-biggest is Gazprom, for Schalke 04.

(SHPON soar ingk   CAW ten.)

Achtung, die Historiker kommen

“Here come the historians.” For about a year now, reported tagesschau.de, historians have been studying the influence of ex-Nazis within post-WWII German federal ministries other than the Foreign Service (which a historians commission already investigated from 2005 to 2010 at Joschka Fischer’s instigation). At Justice, for example, historians found nearly half the top bureaucrats after WWII had a Nazi past or “eine sehr starke NS-Belastung,” “a quite strong Nazi load.” The head of the Chancellery (Adenauer’s chief of staff) for ten years after the war had helped write the “race laws” in the 1930’s, for example.

Marburg historian Eckart Conze said Joschka’s initial investigation found more Nazis worked at high positions in the Foreign Office e.g. in 1951–52 than in 1937–38.

To uncover more NSDAP-related sins of omission and commission in West German legislation, regulation and adjudication, the historians want to continue the project by churning through thousands of relevant documents that have not yet been read through in this investigation.

(OCHH toong,   dee   hist OR ick ah   COM men.)

Schlichtungsstelle für Flugreisende

“Arbitration board for air passengers.” Created on 03 May 2013 by the Bundesrat to support consumers traveling by air. Starting November 2013, passengers in Germany can contact this office to seek information about passenger rights and financial remuneration from airports and airlines after e.g. delayed connections, missed connections and/or lost luggage. What airlines owe passengers after which screwups is also being defined in regulations.

Update on 01 Nov 2013: German air passengers can now contact the Schlichtungsstelle für den öffentlichen Personenverkehr [German Conciliation Body for Public Transport] to start arbitration proceedings in disputes with airlines. German rail, bus and ship passengers already had this right from that office. Costs for the proceedings will be paid by German transport companies; passengers requiring arbitration in a transport dispute will only have to pay their own costs.

The söp’s charming and helpful English page stated,

“A traveller can get help with a complaint about delays and missed connections, train and plane cancellations, damaged or lost luggage, faulty information, tickets and reservations, and/or bad service. The main task of the söp is the out-of-court settlement of individual disputes between travellers and the transport companies. Within this, söp also helps to strengthen the customer satisfaction with the transport company. […]”

“The söp follows a service and practical approach, as intermodal (‘verkehrsträgerübergreifende’) settlement scheme. It is common for travellers to use more than one form of transport (e.g., train to plane), which can take up a lot of time in a dispute by investigating the whole chain of transport, including the responsible contracted partners. With the söp the consumer does not have to deal with the question of responsibility and can, independent from the transport of choice, just deal with one contact person at söp (one-face-to-the-customer-approach).”

(SCHLICHH toongz shtell ah   foor   FLOOG rye zen dah.)

Ständige Mitgliederversammlung

“Perpetual members meeting” online, a new system the German Pirate Party is discussing creating to make it easier for them to vote planks into their party platform, closing gaps in their still-too-small election program. Currently they and their “base democracy” goal seem bottlenecked because they only manage to work through and vote on substantial numbers of issues at face-to-face conventions, which only happen twice a year. Hundreds of proposals are submitted online but at most a few dozen can be discussed over a weekend meeting. A 24/7 permanent online meeting tool would not only enable more frequent voting on more issues but also let more people participate in discussion, another Pirate goal. Also the presumable automated history tracking possibilities and potential to reduce redundant effort sound interesting.

Pirates against the SMV criticize the loss of online anonymity necessary to reduce potential sock puppetry by hackers and sysadmins. Among proponents, the excellent Marina Weisband blogged that the Pirate party did promise its voters to be more permeable to their ideas, and this software structure would correct their failure to do so.

Update on 13 May 2013: At 58% yea, the SMV did not get the 2/3 majority vote required to pass.

(SHTEN diggah   MITT glee dah fer ZOM loong.)

Baubeginn

“Start of construction,” on 10 May 2013 for the world’s biggest solar energy plant so far, at the edge of the Sahara desert in Morocco. Electricity from this plant will eventually be exported to Europe, among other places. The plant should be operational in late 2015. Morocco plans to build five other solar power plants by 2020, for a total output of 2000 MW.

Dii (Desertec industrial initiative), the group behind this 700-million-euro, 160-MW project, is an international nonprofit that helps plan MENA solar energy projects and is headquartered in Munich. The first Desertec project to be built, this Ouarzazate plant was cofinanced by the German government via the KfW development bank group (“credit institution for reconstruction” created as part of the Marshall Plan after WWII and now owned 80% by the German government).

Germany is maneuvering to meet its Energiewende goal of getting ~20% of its electricity from solar power plants in Africa and the Middle East by 2050.

Update on 01 Jul 2013: Temporary setback. The Desertec foundation, cofounder of Dii GmBH, has exited the 20-member public-private initiative effective immediately. The foundation owns the rights to the Desertec name, so this could mean a name change. Süddeutsche Zeitung reported the foundation was unhappy with the industrial consortium’s performance and the F.A.Z. reported “differences of opinion about strategy.”

(B OW! begin.)

Saatgutrichtlinie

“Seeds guideline.” The European Commission voted on 06 May 2013 to accept draft proposals for new regulations for harvested agricultural products that are going to be used as seed. The new rule requires seeds to be registered and tested before they are sold, perhaps including for genetic modifications and the virulent E. coli O104:H4 strain that turned out to be in salad sprouts seed in 2011.

(ZOTT goot RICHHT lean ee ya.)

Schellackraritäten

“Shellack rarities,” rare old records. Hildesheim University is working with Teheran’s Music Museum of Iran to digitize thousands of old Iranian records, preserving them, cleaning up the recordings and making it possible to share them on a large scale. The first recording devices were brought to Iran by caravan about 100 years ago through Istanbul, reports the F.A.Z.

Hildesheim Uni’s Center for World Music has done this before. They worked with Germany’s Foreign Office to collect old records of popular music from markets in Ghana, Malawi and Sierra Leone, saving them and digitizing them. Now African radio stations can play their countries’ old music.

(Shell OCK rawr ee TATE en.)

Neue Auflagen für inländische und ausländische Banken

“New requirements for domestic and for foreign banks.” A week after the EU passed a new package of bank reforms on 16 Apr 2013 intended to force European banks to operate on a more stable basis, an EU commissioner sent a letter to the USA’s Federal Reserve criticizing the Fed’s intention to impose similar terms not just on US banks within the US but on foreign banks in the US as well.

The key points in the Fed’s proposal would be to require large foreign banks to create North American holding companies for their activities there and to meet the standards US banks must fulfill for capital reserves and liquidity buffers in order to make the banks less vulnerable to failure. The Fed said in addition that the new rules were intended to mitigate risk from foreign banks’ recent tendencies in the USA to bet more strongly in capital markets, on short-term capital. The proposed provisos would apply for “large” foreign banks in the US, defined as having >$50 billion internationally and >$10 billion in the USA. Such as Barclays and the embroiled-in-scandal Deutsche Bank, “both of which have attempted to use modifications under corporate law to avoid stricter constraints in America” and both of which have received large bailouts from US taxpayers despite being foreign, the F.A.Z. pointed out.

This seems like a smart initiative taken by the US government and apparently before other governments such as the EU’s. There are dystopian science fiction novels about future earths in which only domestic banks are regulated and foreign banks go a-raiding abroad until they don’t much resemble banks any more.

(NOY ah   OW! f log en   foor   in LEND ish en   oond   ow! SLEND ish en   BONK en.)

Das neue Bankenpaket

The new package of bank regulations passed by the EU on 16 Apr 2013. It applies to all banks and is intended to strengthen their situation so they can’t bring down any more world economies. 1) Banks must set aside a higher percentage of reserve capital, a bigger “capital buffer,” to save them in times of crisis; 2) starting 2015 their total debt will be limited; 3) an upper limit was set for banker bonuses (max. 2x the annual salary).

(Doss   NOY ah   BONK en pock ate.)

 

UAW-Datenbank

 

“Adverse events database” (unerwünschte Arzneimittelnebenwirkungen-Datenbank). BfArM (Bundesinstitut für Arzneimittel und Medizinprodukte, the regulatory German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices) has created an online portal providing free access to its database of all suspected side effects reported to BfArM for all drugs since 1995. The UAW-DB is for doctors, patients, scientists and the merely curious.

The suspected side effects were submitted by hospitals, physicans and patients themselves, but not from clinical trials. Unlike the confirmed ones listed in package inserts and expert information sheets, the side effects listed here may or may not have been proven to have been caused by the medications used.

(OO AH VEY dot en bonk.)

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.)

Der grosse Knüppel

The big stick (actually, a Knüppel is a blackjack or sap). This week’s breathtaking breakthroughs in offshore accounting EU reform initiatives are said to have only been made possible by help from the USA, which used its very big stick of threatening to cut off uncooperative countries from the financial Mecca that is Wall Street.

Before the offshore data leak was published on 04 Apr 2013, it was Luxemburg and Austria versus 25 EU Member States regarding offshore anonymity, and now Austria is standing alone, which EU countries describe as being “isolated” and fear more than US Americans might expect.

(Dare   GROSS ah   c’nupp ell.)

Pustekuchen!

Poppycock! In this video op-ed from the Süddeutsche Zeitung, a commentator says it might appear that the best way to reform the world’s tax oases would be to let each fix their own lax tax laws, one-by-one. But piffle! No! Those 40+ tax havens are in competition with one another. Max Planck Institute researchers said market pressures would mean the last holdouts would become too powerfully wealthy and resistant to change. The best way is the one that is most politically difficult: negotiating simultaneous agreements with all tax oases.

(POUSSE teh KOO chh en.)

Markttransparenzstelle

The new “Market Transparency Office,” under the auspices of the German Federal Cartell Authority. The MTO is intended to gather and evaluate data from electricity companies and especially gas stations to ensure there is no price fixing. These data will not be shared with the public. It is not clear whether this new office will be functional or grandstanding.

Update on 12 Sep 2013: Starting today, drivers will have access to the price data ~13,000 German gas stations have been sending to the federal cartel authority [Bundeskartellamt] since 31 Aug 2013. The bundled data are forwarded to several phone apps and “registered consumer protection centers” or “consumer portals” drivers can use to compare gas station prices in real time; price changes are updated to the market transparency office every five minutes. Beta testing is scheduled to end 01 Dec 2013.

The following consumer portals have been approved for this so far:

http://www.clever-tanken.de

http://www.spritpreismonitor.de

http://mehr-tanken.de

http://www.ADAC.de

http://tanken.t-online.de

Spiegel.de reported another eight “information services” have been approved to help share the price data with consumers and another hundred have applied for approval.

The Green party called this a placebo office, criticizing inter alia that it does not fix inflationary pricing malheurs committed by the refineries (which have the same ownership as some large gas station chains in some cases). Also, it doesn’t cover all fuels or 100% of the market because the smallest gas stations can apply to be exempted. Germany has about 14,000 gas stations, so ~1000 are not participating as the service is launched.

(MARKED trons par ENTS shtell ah.)

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