Saturday, November 30, 2013

Moral Bombing

On November 27, 69 years ago, Freiburg was bombed. The air raid lasted from 7:58 to 8:18 p.m. Within twenty minutes 14,525 bombs were dropped, 2800 citizens were killed, and nearly 90% of all buildings in Freiburg were destroyed or damaged. Air Vice-Marshall Robert Saundby named the air raid on Freiburg Operation Tigerfish.

Last Wednesday, the day of the remembrance, the Badische Zeitung devoted one page to the cataclysm that nearly annihilated Freiburg. The most famous aerial photo taken in early spring of 1945 is the one below showing the "intact" looking Münster church in the midst of the expanse of ruins of the surrounding houses.

©Stadtarchiv Freiburg
As early as 1942 the poet Reinhold Schneider had written a sonnet: Du wirst nicht fallen, mein geliebter Turm ... (You will not fall my beloved steeple ...) and indeed those Freiburgers who had survived the November 1944 air raid considered their Münster standing up among the ruins as a miracle. The fact is that the Münster was not directly hit. The blasts of the bombs detonating around untiled the roof but were not strong enough to topple the building. The reason is that in the Middle Ages all cathedrals were constructed based on previous experience. No calculation determined the necessary support for arches and roofs. Modern Computer Aided Design (CAD) techniques have revealed that medieval church constructions were usually built with safety margins of more than seven so that these buildings are extremely stable.

In the BZ article I read for the first time the English term: moral bombing. Up to now I knew about strategic, carpet, area bombings, and had even heard the phrase: We should bomb them back to the Stone Age but I never had come across the cynical combination of moral and bombing.

... pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches
During the First World War the press wrote about anonymous killing in referring to the imprecise bombing of cities like Freiburg. A captured French pilot said that he had no precise target pourvu que ça fasse des victimes boches (except that there were German victims). In the Second World War in addition to bombing military and industrial installations also residential areas were targets to undermine the morale of the German populace through bombing German cities and their civilian inhabitants. Nowadays military people boast about their surgical strikes by simply sweeping aside the death of innocent people who happen to be there at the wrong time as collateral damage. A new form of moral bombing?

Monday, November 11, 2013

St. Martin

On the 11th day of the 11th month at exactly 11 minutes past 11 o'clock a.m. St. Martin's Day is celebrated in Germany in predominantly Catholic regions. In Cologne the Carnival season opens on Altermarkt at exactly the same hour.

©German Culture
In the evening of St. Martin's Day boys and girls traditionally light up the candles in their lanterns, walk around the houses, and sing: St. Martin ist ein guter Mann, der uns als Beispiel gelten kann (St. Martin is a good man who can serve us as an example). The best-known legend of St. Martin, the bishop of Tours who lived in the 4th century, is, when he, then still a soldier in the Roman army, tore his cloak in two to share it with a freezing beggar at Amiens.

You already met St. Martin in an earlier blog. While the controversy about a new picture on Freiburg's Martinstor (Martin's Gate) is not yet resolved another dispute has developed in Germany. Rüdiger Sagel, Chairman of Die Linke (Post communist party) in the state of North-Rhine-Westphalia, said that in Kitas (Kindertagestätten > day care centers) you will not only find Christians but children of other beliefs too. One should not impose a Christian tradition on them. He instead is advocating a Sonne-Mond-und-Sterne-Fest (sun, moon, and star fest). In fact, in Protestant Northern Germany without saints the kids promenading their lanterns usually sing: Laterne, Laterne, Sonne, Mond und Sterne, brenne auf mein Licht, brenne auf mein Licht, nur meine liebe Laterne nicht (Lantern, lantern, sun, moon, and stars, burn away my light, burn away my light, but not my beloved lantern), a tearful disaster that happens once in a while.

Sagel's remark caused a storm of indignation. One politician considered the obsessive political correctness as being very sad. Another proposed renaming the Day of the Ascension of Christ to Day of Manned (sorry Human) Space Flight. The President of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman A. Mazyek, was quick in pointing out that many Muslim families like this spectacle of lanterns and torches. The idea of sharing, personified in St. Martin, is also anchored in the Muslim tradition. Some Kitas in the state of Hesse already renamed the Martinsfest whereas Red Baron will enjoy the candle-lit St. Martin's processions in Freiburg tonight.

Pictures added in proof:

On my way to a conference about Switzerland during the Second World War I met some adults who have remained young at heart. I took a photo with my iPhone.

When I opened the Badische Zeitung this morning I found a photo (©BZ) showing a young lady on a horse playing the role of St. Martin. Do you consider this obsessive political correctness?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Let There Be Light

In its weekend edition the Badische Zeitung (BZ) showed some pictures of illuminated Freiburg landmarks. Your reaction will possibly be that this is nothing special, however it is a new kind of lighting solely based on light emitting diodes (LEDs).

The New Town Hall and Bertold-Schwarz-Brunnen (©BZ)
The Green City has long been been unhappy about the amount of electricity (ab)used for the illumination of its landmarks. When the Federal Ministry of Education and Research opened a contest: Cities in a new light Freiburg submitted its master plan based solely on LED technology and was among the winners of 2 million euros.

The Münster church with its permanent scaffolding (©BZ)
The installation started at the Münster church, eventually included the Rathausplatz (Town Hall Square), and Freiburg's two medieval gates. Although the LED technology is still expensive the savings in energy consumption compared with conventional lighting technology reaches 80%.. The illumination of St. Martin's Gate now consumes only 1500 watts. In total the city saves 21,500 euros on its electricity bill per year.
St. Martin's Gate still without a picture (©BZ)

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Health Insurance Blues

When Red Baron visited Washington the other day the government was shut down. Many people told me that the reason for the shutdown was that members of the Tea Party were willing to vote on  the US budget only if President Obama agreed to curtail the expenditure of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. I do not understand American politics well but the introduction of the German health insurance system in 1881 was highly political too.

Following the first unification of Germany in 1871 the economic boom of the Gründerzeit (period when many industrial firms were founded in Germany) based on an accelerated industrialization created a few rich industrialists and a growing proletariat. By articulating the misery of the industrial workers, the Social Democratic Party  became a political power.
Bismarck at his desk (©Wikipedia)
Chancellor Bismarck was not pleased and convinced the other parties in the Reichstag to pass the Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie (Law against efforts of the Social Democrats that are dangerous to the public) in 1878.  Although the Social Democratic Party remained outlawed as an organization until 1890 its members continued their agitation and successfully stood for elections to the Reichstag and state parliaments as private candidates. Bismarck, the ancestor of all Realpolitiker (political realists), well saw that "to take the wind out of the socialists' sails" social improvements for the working proletariat were necessary. He convinced Kaiser Wilhelm I, by then 84 years old, to send an Imperial Message to the Reichstag (parliament) on November 17, 1881. The legislature shall pass laws covering the workers financially in cases of medical treatment, workplace accidents, invalidity, and old age.

The Krankenversicherung der Arbeiter (Law concerning the health insurance of workers) came into force on December 1,1884, once the necessary infrastructure of statutory health insurance funds (Orts-, Betriebs-, and Innungskrankenkassen) had been set up. The accident insurance followed in 1885, the old-age and invalidity insurance was introduced in 1891.

The so-called gesetzliche Krankenversicherung (statutory health insurance) became compulsory for workers with an annual income of less than 2000 marks. The premium in 1885 was 1.92% of income of which the employee paid 2/3 and the employer 1/3. By 1920 the contribution was 4.5%, in 1950 6%, in 1990 12.53%, and is now 15.5% with the employee paying 8.2% of his basic salary and the employer covering 7.3% of the premium. The income threshold in 2013 is 55,000 euros per year. Presently 89% of the German population is covered by statutory health insurance, the others are privately insured. This has only been true since 2009 when health insurance became compulsory for all Germans. Those who earn more than the income threshold and thus are not entitled to statutory health insurance must take out a private one. To this end private health insurance companies must offer entry contracts offering the same catalog of benefits as the statuary health insurance. This sounds rather complicated but that is not the sticking point.

You surely noticed the increase of the premium as well as the income threshold for the statutory health insurance system in Germany. Many governments in the past tried to cap the costs of medical care. In vain. Doctors use more refined methods, prescribe new expensive drugs, and employ costly diagnostic tools that must be amortized. The positive effect is that we are all getting older than our grandparents, the negative effect is a steady increase in costs without a brake. The best measure of limiting the costs in Germany so far was a reduction in the number of annual visits to the doctor. This was accomplished by the introduction of a Praxisgebühr, some sort of an entrance fee to the doctor's office. All patients with statutory health insurance must pay 10 euros per quarter in cash and at the counter. In a last gasp before they were voted out of the Bundestag (parliament) the Liberals had the rather bureaucratic Praxisgebühr abolished on January 1, 2013. Since then the number of visits to the doctor has already increased by 5%.

I read figures that ObamaCare will charge the US-budget with $940 billion over the next 10 years. Higher taxes should finance $400 billion whereas greater efficiency in Medicare should pay for $483 billion. You may read in Wikipedia: A 2011 comprehensive Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate projected a net deficit reduction of the US-budget of more than $200 billion during the 2012–2021 period: it calculated the law would result in $604 billion in total outlays offset by $813 billion in total receipts, resulting in a $210 billion net reduction in the deficit. The CBO separately noted that while most of the spending provisions do not begin until 2014, revenue will still exceed spending in those subsequent years. This argumentation is illustrated in the following chart.

All these estimations are full of uncertainties and are based on figures that were known in the years 2010 and 2011. Note the difference between 2010 and 2011 with the latter estimate being significantly higher in the following years and who knows what will be the situation beyond the year 2017?. Does the chart underline the known fact that the costs for health care will have only one direction: going up?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Diderot and Political Power

On a recent Monday Red Baron took part in an all-day seminar jointly sponsored by Freiburg's University and the Frankreich Zentrum: Diderot und die Macht (Diderot and political power). One paper by Dr. Michel Kerautret of the Assemblée Nationale Française in Paris had my special attention: Diderot et la Révolution américaine.

My readers already met the French editor of the famous Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers Denis Diderot in an earlier blog although in addition to being an atheist he was a philosopher, critic, narrator, dramatist, essayist, moralist, materialist, scientist, psychologist, an entertaining letter writer and regarded as a witty discussion partner among his peers.

As a philosopher of the Enlightment Diderot advocates a positive philosophy in the education of man (and woman). That is all that counts for him. In his view any religion is pernicious and priests start poisoning people at birth with prejudices. Man (and woman) are contaminated by rules that hamper their natural development.

With respect to political power Diderot welcomes enlightened absolutism but criticizes its bureaucratic excesses. He stigmatizes the princes who market themselves with slogans like: I am the foremost servant of my state but who nevertheless remain despots. Even when princes force their subjects to their well-being they still remain nothing other than "enlightened despots".

Diderot points out the social injustice in France to his king without any hope of improvement. With high hopes, however, he travels to St. Petersburg in 1773 taking his message to Catharine the Great only to find out that she likes to listen to him but does what she considers best for her and her country. She just had exercised the First Partition of Poland jointly with the "enlightened" princes of Austria and Prussia. Disappointed, Diderot returns to France just one year later. During his travels he avoids his special friend Frederick the Great in bypassing Potsdam as the map shows: J'etais bien resolu ... d'eviter le roi de Prusse qui ne m'aime pas, a qui je le rends bien ... Ce roi est certainement un grand homme; mais quinteux comme une peruche, malfaisant comme un singe, et capable en meme temps des plus grands comme des plus petites choses. C'est une mechante ame, et, je trancherai le mot: une tete mal faite par quelque coin (I was well decided to avoid the Prussian king who does not love me and I return it to him ... This king certainly is a great man but grumpy as a parakeet, malicious as an ape, and at the same time is capable of the greatest as well as the smallest things. He is a vicious soul, and I say it distinctly: a somehow badly done head).

Diderot's travel to and from St. Petersburg (©Wikipedia)
For Diderot Frederick is the arch-model of a Machiavellian ruler. Once in power, he who had written an anti-Machiavelli in his youth throws his earlier principles completely overboard and develops Prussia into a brutal military state.

Already as early as 1769 Diderot predicts the secession of the American colonies from Britain for she does not observe her own principles. For Diderot one nation suppressing another is worse than a despotic ruler. With the outbreak of the American Revolution Diderot who as an unmitigated adversary of slavery accuses the British of being tyrants over other people treating their possessions in America like those in Africa. Britain considers the colonists as backwoodsmen not having any rights. Diderot takes on the British who regard the revolting colonists as rebels: Yes, they are rebels for they do not want to be your slaves. Rebellion is the legitimate exercise of the natural and inalienable right of oppressed people. Turning to the Americans and thinking about the slaves they in turn exploit he hopes that the revolution may provide wisdom to the people so that they may apply their freedom reasonably.