Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Fight Fake News

Fake news has become a German word. Our Zeitungsente (newspaper hoax) is just wrong news, sometimes with a funny touch, while fake news has the connotation of being made up deliberately. Fake news is what in German would be called quite clumsily a vorsätzliche Falschmeldung. The shorter word Lügenpresse (lying press) is burdened with a Nazi past, so the American term fake news came in handy and has been adopted.

Local newspapers in Germany’s southwest have started a campaign with the strange slogan “Jedes Wort wert” meaning and translated “My newspaper is worth every word”. Strange indeed, for German readers generally have confidence in black-on-white print media along the lines of the statement of Faust’s famulus in Goethe’s theater play:

Denn was man schwarz auf weiß besitzt,
kann man getrost nach Hause tragen.
What we possess in black on white,
We can take home in confidence.

Fake news pollutes the political climate, and so many a man accuses the media as the source of all evil. Long-gone civilizations killed the messenger bearing bad news. Would a silencing of the sources be a remedy against fake news? Was there not a statement regarding the revoking of TV licenses?

Visiting the former GDR (German Democratic Republic) as a student, Red Baron experienced the making up of “facts” by communist trade union officials during a political discussion. Suddenly I found myself in a situation producing fake news. too. There is no excuse, but as a young man helpless as a kitten on the roof, I tried to beat my adversaries with their own weapons.

It is honorable that my local newspaper claims it is worth every word. Although I spend some time after breakfast reading the Badische Zeitung, the significance of its printed information* is quite variable for me. Browsing the NYT and Der Spiegel on-line makes printed national and international news in the BZ generally outdated. So I start with the arts and culture section followed by local news, although reports on traffic accidents do not interest me since they are interchangeable.
*My subscription includes the electronic version too. So when away from home I am informed about what is going on at home.

While fake news in the German press has rarely been no issue up to now, our media are instead accused of manipulating the news. Well, this is not news; haven’t media always done this? Their biased reporting is said in particular to have strengthened the new right-wing AfD* in the run-up to our recent general election. By spreading the story that members of the party were treated badly, the media were pushing them into the role of victims. Fact is that by their provocative right-wing statements and actions, members of the AfD deliberately place themselves into the role of martyrs seeking the pity bonus. Dealing with the AfD is a no-win situation, for ignoring them will make them pitiably, attacking them politically will lead to endless debates and to situations similar to what I experienced in the GDR.
*Alternative for Germany

The first showdown with the AfD at our newly elected Bundestag ended in a stalemate. Each parliamentary group, i.e., party represented in the federal parliament, has the right to propose a speaker of the house who will be deputy to the speaker proposed by the party with most seats. The "main" speaker, second in line to our federal president, is generally endorsed by most of the other members of parliament.

At the opening session of the new Bundestag, most deputies of the other parties refused the accreditation of the AfD’s candidate for deputy speaker in three consecutive ballots, pushing the guy into the role of martyr. His stigma? He had violated the Article 4 of our constitution (Grundgesetz) about religious freedom by denying people the right to practice their Muslim faith in Germany. Sadly, this is not fake news.

Frederick the Great living in the 18th century was more tolerant, writing in his rudimentary German: Alle Religionen sind gleich und guth, wan nuhr die leüte, so sie professieren, ehrliche leüte seindt, und wenn Türken und Heiden kähmen und Wolten das Landt pöplieren, so wollen Wir sie Mosqeen und Kirchen baun, Fr. (All religions are equal and good as long as the people adhering to them are honest people. And if Turks and heathens came to populate the land, we will build them mosques and churches, Frederick)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Socialism for Pedestrians

and communism ad nauseam. Here comes the blog announced earlier containing what I learned on the bus ride to Zürich about socialism and communism.

Karl Marx did not invent socialism, a word that most Americans abhor. Socialist ideas were articulated much earlier by the 1848/49 revolutionaries among others. Here is the translation of the decisive paragraph of an article published in Der Festungs-Bote No 10. It was the last newspaper printed in besieged Fort Rastatt towards the end of the Baden Revolution crushed by Prussian troops on July 18, 1849:

What is a social democracy and what is its aim?

Democracy alone will give us neither jobs nor bread, it will not pay the interest on our debts, it will not liberate us from sorrows and sufferings, for when trying to bring the people to power it always stumbles against the disproportion of property, of possession. Socialism tries to solve this disproportion by creating equality ... According to the socialists, the distribution of goods shall depend on work. Thereby the best possible equality among people shall be achieved. Each hardworking, decent, industrious man shall have the opportunity to acquire sufficient property to assure him a reasonable enjoyment of life...

This is the gist of modern socialism, whereas Karl Marx in his main work Das Kapital instead tried to give a scientific basis to communism. While in socialism people should have the opportunity to acquire sufficient property to assure them a reasonable enjoyment of life, in communism private property is limited to a few personal belongings.

Marx among his books (©Andreas Höfert)
According to Marx’s theory man* is a working social being. Man should find his personal fulfillment in his work, but he becomes alienated because the product of his labor does not belong to him. So he regards work as a burden. Although man is the brother of his fellow men, he becomes estranged from them mostly because of the private property he owns.
* For the sake of political correctness replace man by woman, he by she, himself by herself etc.

In communism, private property does not exist and all people are supposed to be equal. So man will eventually recognize himself as a human being. While in capitalism a minority dominates a majority, in communism a dictatorship of the proletariat will rule, a situation that Lenin called full democracy*. Communism will give peace, work, freedom, equality, and happiness to the world.
*In countries of the communist block after 1945 the term Volksdemokratie (people’s democracy) was coined.

During the revolutionary uprisings in Europe in March 1848, Marx lived in Vienna as a correspondent of the Cologne-based radical newspaper Rheinische Zeitung (Rhineland News). The working class living in the suburbs of the Austrian capital was the driving force of the uprising, in contrast to the revolution led by the bourgeoisie in other German regions and cities. Marx, who together with his sponsor Friedrich Engels had published the Communist Manifesto in February 1848, was all excited, imagining that the predicted proletarian revolution had come. However, it turned out that in Vienna the national guard and militia were fighting side by side against the enraged workers, protecting the private property of the bourgeoisie.

Marx was disappointed. Living in exile in London near the end of his life, he nevertheless had high hopes that Britain’s industrial workers would try the proletarian uprising. Marx, however, had not reckoned with reforming governments and clever factory owners. They appeased social tensions, agreeing with trade unions on increases in wages and reductions in working hours that in Marx's opinion were only peanuts. A good example is Bismarck's social legislation in the 1880s.

Lenin, in exile in Zürich, was well aware of this and concluded that the proletariat will not start a revolution. Is the working class just sluggish, lulled by their trade unions, or are workers even dumb?

When Lenin arrived in Petrograd in April 1917, he used his Bolshevik party to point the way for the working class, i.e., forced them to their happiness. Note that the Russian population at that time counted only 5% industrial workers but 80% peasants, so the proletariat was the serfs, not the workers. Without hesitation Lenin used the oppressed peasantry as auxiliaries of the revolution, pushing his April Theses:

All power to the Soviets,
Immediate peace with Austria and Germany
All land belongs to the peasants
All factories are controlled by the workers
Banks are nationalized
Creation of a Soviet Republic
Foundation of a revolutionary Internationale
Agitation and enlightenment of the masses and winning of a Bolshevik majority

From now on the slogan was peace, freedom, land, and bread.

Lenin usurped the bourgeois revolution of February 1917 and organized the October putsch against the provisional Russian government, a putsch that later became glorified as the October Revolution. The resulting war between the Bolshevik Red Army and the opposing White Army lasted until October 1922, when the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was eventually formed.

During the Russian civil war, no side took any prisoners. At the end more than eight million people were dead. Lenin did not live out his dream, for he died already in 1924 when Stalin took over.

So far all attempts at communist rule have suffered from the discrepancy between promises and “really existing socialism”. Human nature will always result in a nomenklatura, where some people are more equal than others.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Atdorf at Rest

Solar and wind energy require storage facilities to bridge periods when the non-fossil energy sources are not available. A most elegant solution is to use existing water reservoirs already producing electricity and upgrade them with water pumps. The latter will be turned on when there is surplus electrical energy from renewable sources, pumping water uphill back into the reservoir.

With the need for electricity in Germany’s south that is produced by off-shore wind parks in Germany’s north, local storage facilities are welcome. To this end, an artificial water reservoir near Atdorf in the south of the Black Forest is in the planning stage. Red Baron has reported about the compromised Atdorf project that has now been put to rest definitively. One Green deputy in Baden Württemberg's state parliament called the Atdorf's exitus "extremely regrettable. The decision is economically comprehensible but unwise in terms of energy policy".

Artist's view of the upper and lower water reservoir near Atdorf (©Der Sonntag)
In fact, the decisive arguments for stopping the project were economic. With the cost of electricity way down in Europe, the 1.6 billion euros for the construction of the Atdorf facility are just too high. Its capacity, on the other hand, is too small. A fully filled Atdorf reservoir would produce electricity at full power for a mere nine hours. In the meantime, Germany's continuous electricity supply is assured by many small gas-fired power plants. A final argument is that surplus renewable energy is more and more stored economically either in second-generation batteries or by producing hydrogen or methane electrochemically.

R.I.P. Atdorf, and the Black Forest stays green.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Peeing Like in the Wild West

was the title of an article in Freiburg‘s Official Journal. As an illustration, the Amtsblatt printed the following photo:

©Amtsblatt/ A.J. Schmidt
I blogged about the prairie project at the Mundenhof animal park before. Here are some more details. Next year Freiburg's partnership with Madison, Wisconsin celebrates its 30 years of existence. On this behalf, the two sister city committees intend to import some prairie feeling to the Mundenhof.

At present, there are only 270 square meters (0.07 acres) of European prairie land growing on water-permeable gravel soil. European grasses and shrubs generally bloom in summer while American prairie species are proud of the Indian summer. Short- and high-grass indigenous American plants will be seeded on an adjacent surface of an additional 700 square meters (0.17 acres).

In some sort of funny remark, the article in the Amtsblatt referred to the bisons at the Mundenhof as country-specific fertilizers. Well, first of all, the calf does not seem to appreciate his/her mother peeing in front of him/her. Secondly with the small surface of land involved overfertilization may already be a problem at present.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


When Red Baron read the above announcements he was all excited. Marillenknödel are not simply apricot dumplings. I had them once made in Geneva 25 years ago by an Austrian lady as the main course and still remember the taste of this juicy delight (Marcel Proust sends his regards). Already the name Marillenknödel sounds the k. and k. Monarchy (Austro-Hungarian Empire) for Marillen harvested in Austria are quite different from Aprikosen picked in Germany.

Afraid of being late with my inscription to the event I immediately choose October 1, as my date, but soon felt frustrated being informed that due to the lack of participants my date had to be advanced. When I went to the Augustinermuseum to buy my voucher I was told that in order to achieve a quorum of six participants they had finally moved me back to square one, i.e., October 1.

When at 5 p.m. the museum closed our group of only five started the scheduled guided tour of the exhibition Greiffenegg und Ramberg. Having already seen the exhibition twice I was the only person not having regrets when exactly at 5.15 p.m. all the lights went off in the exhibition hall. Following a long wait, the lighting could only be partly reestablished. While you can admire the graphic highlights in my earlier blog our guide had to use the light of his smartphone illuminating for us the most interesting drawings.

Later we walked up to the Greiffenegg-Schlössle and read on a sign that the restaurant was closed. However, when we opened the door we were well received being the only guests of the evening.

Improvised Greiffenegg drink instead of Ramberg aperitif
As an aperitif, the house offered the, on the occasion of the exhibition newly created, Ramberg drink with gin, tonic water, and peppermint leaves. However, our charming service lady soon came back and announced that tonic water was off.  Instead of Ramberg, the chef had prepared a drink baptized Greiffenegg based on Gewürztraminer wine on the rocks plus peppermint leaves. Here again, I had no regrets having tasted the Ramberg drink on another occasion. Both drinks need getting used to.

For the k. and k. three-course dinner I wanted to order an Austrian wine but in its absence, I finally opted for a white Burgundy from the vineyards on Freiburg's Schlossberg we were looking at while dining.

Salad of chanterelles, walnuts, and pears
The first course was so excellent that we asked ourselves whether there would be any further escalation.

Fillet of beef Esterhàzy-style and potato galettes
And there was. Red Baron had the best fillet of beef since years and could have used the double quantity of an incredible sauce.

I was overwhelmed and thinking: Why are only so few of my countrymen/women embracing the idea of a combined cultural-gastronomical event? The Greiffenegg-Ramberg exhibition comes to a close today but will be followed by one devoted to Rembrandt's graphics. Will the Augustinermuseum give the idea of a combined event another try?

Came in the Marillenknödel. I was in such a high mood that I forgot to take a photo of the dish. It was a nice dessert but did regrettably not revive my souvenir. At the end, chef and service united at our table and we were all praise. What a memorable afternoon and evening!

Applause, applause