Archive for the 'opinion' Category

18
Mar
13

I’m staying Canadian: an open letter to the mayor of Hamburg, Germany

calvin-hamburg-hamburgerDear Mr. Scholz,

Thank you very much for your letter in which you invited me to become a citizen of the Federal Republic of Germany.  The recent introduction of standardised electronic EU permanent residence cards, one of which I had the pleasure of picking up recently (see below) has no doubt made it simpler for you to streamline your database and target the Ausländer of Hamburg in your drive to promote the benefits of citizenship in this great land.

I have given the matter a great deal of consideration, but have decided for a number of reasons that the chances of my becoming a German citizen are – at this time and most likely even if the temperature of Hell hits zero – zero.

Responding to only some of the many advantages you list:

All the rights I currently enjoy including the right to pay taxes will continue as before.

Mr. Scholz, I don’t mind paying taxes.  I’m Canadian, after all, where wallets are sold with special pouches that flip open automatically for quicker tax payment at every turn of the road.  But if you’re trying to sell me citizenship on this basis, you should re-phrase it somehow.  How about: You will continue to enjoy the warm, fuzzy feeling you get knowing your contributions to the great European Social Project and other black holes including the Elbe Philharmonic Centre, the new Berlin Airport and the bailout of Greece, will go on as before.

The German passport will allow me to enjoy visa-free travel to many countries.

Mr. Scholz, allow me to condense in a few lines how much of a pain in the kiester it was the last time my family crossed the Canada-US border by land on the way to Seattle.  I was flashing a Canadian passport, so no trouble there.  But because my wife was travelling on a German passport, we were singled out for special treatment and made to park our car off to the left in a huge lot and leave the keys on the dashboard.  I’m sure they had a good sniff though our undies as we shuffled off to a humungous building nearby to join the waiting queue of people in a similar situation.

Two hours and I forget how many US dollars in fees later, we were on our way again, but not before my wife and daughter nearly burst their bladders as they tried to find a toilet for those waiting their turn.  And to top it off – this is completely our fault – my wife forgot to get her passport stamped on the way out of the country, so there’s no telling what bureaucratic bullshit awaits our return to the US on holiday sometime this year.  An overnight stay in their specially designed hotel rooms, perhaps?

Ahah!  I now recall where the German passport has it all over the Canadian: when we were travelling to Turkey, the price of a visa for Canadian passport-holders was the highest in the world.  It’s more than double what anyone else pays.  That’s because Canada soaks the Turks for an equal amount for visas to Canada.  Fair is fair.  A German passport holder pays diddly-squat.

I won’t have to deal with the Foreign Residents’ Bureau anymore.

Because it is so very enticing, this point should be way up top.  But considering it is only once every five years that I have to get up in the middle of the night to stand around in front of a locked gate for a couple of hours to be handed at 6am a chit that allows me a couple hours later at 8am to get one of only 60 waiting-room numbers issued on any given day for the chance to hand over my new paperwork to one of your minions, well… I guess I can deal with it.  Besides, I love the smell of mothballs in the morning.  Smells like…

Mr. Scholz, I am unfortunately unable to continue this open letter because my upper limit of 700 words per blog post is fast approaching.  In a world where few read anything on the Internet beyond block letters superimposed over a cat pic photo, you have to keep it short and sweet.

Yours sincerely,

Ian OHamburg

PS. Damn the word count, when will Germans ever learn to spell my fz*cking name right?  I know nearly every automated computer system in the country explodes at the insertion of a capital letter in the midst of a name with no room for a space, but if you’re going to be communicating with Ausländer – some from countries with languages so bizarre the word for ball contains a glottal stop, four Ms and a silent Q – you really should try to update a bit.

18
Oct
12

I’m so ashamed of the BlackBerry I don’t own

I love reading articles about tech gear I don’t have and probably won’t be in the market for any time soon.

There’s this howler right now in the New York Times / International Herald Tribune about how BlackBerry owners are so embarrassed and ashamed of their devices because of the many things they can’t do in comparison to an iPhone or other Android device.

BlackBerry outcasts say that they increasingly endure shame and public humiliation as they watch their counterparts use social networking apps that are not available to them, take higher-resolution photos, and effortlessly navigate streets – and the Internet – with better GPS and faster browsing.

In the next sentence we discover how these luckless BlackBerry-owning wretches are forced to do things that most everyone did about five years ago:

This means that they have to request assistance to get directions, book travel, make restaurant reservations or look up sports scores.

God, what a horrible life they must lead.

Imagine having to contact another human being to find out a piece of information, even if it is only to ask another human being with a better device to gather said information from the Internet.

And what about that shame?  Unless you’re psychopathic, shame happens to us all.  We feel shame and even public humiliation when we realise that everyone knows we’ve done something most consider to be wrong.   So should I feel ashamed because I freely admit to my readers that I do not own a BlackBerry, or an iPhone, or an Androgizmoid?  That all I need is a Nokia cellphone and that no, I don’t have an app for whatever it is you’re looking for?  Is it humiliating to do as I’ve always done and look up the sports scores in a newspaper?

And what about holders of older iPhones?  Will they start having to hide them under a book or buy camouflage because their version doesn’t have the fastest connection technology?  Where is this obsession with tech taking us when our measure of our place in society is how many bazillagigabytes of information we can stream while eating ice cream and crossing the street?

I don’t know, maybe living in Germany for 15 years has atrophied my sense of irony, but the tone of the article was pretty straight-forward.  And its message is simple, updated for today: keep up with the Joneses, or feel the shame.  It’s been the same since people first started to wear clothing and seek warm shelter.

I do know that smartphones are capable of transforming the way we live our lives, and maybe mine would change for the better if I got one. The fact that most everyone I know has or wants one makes me wonder how it is I keep missing the point.   I’m tempted sometimes, but for now - just for now - no thanks.  I want to hold on to a bit of my old ways a little longer.  Maybe like the vinyl I listened to while writing this, cellphones will one day come back into fashion and I won’t have to feels like such a schmuck all the time.

08
Feb
12

Paris day 2: watch the gang of thieves in action

I may just be one of tens of millions of tourists who’ll visit Paris this year, but maybe if enough of them complain about the gangs of thieves roving the popular spots of this great city, something will finally get done.

Day 2.

I went back to Montmartre by myself the morning of my second day to catch the views now that the sky had cleared to an impossible blue.  I also went there to try to film the gang of thieves that had harassed us the day before.  My camera doesn’t take the greatest video, but the clip below will give you a good impression about what tourists have to deal with here.  Not just at Montmartre, but in front of Notre Dame cathedral and the Tuileries gardens to name just two places my friend has been forced to yell at them this trip just to keep the herd at bay.

Watch how they swarm around these Asian tourists, who are forced to flee in fear:

They carry these clipboards they thrust under your nose to distract you while the rest of them – having failed the courses in the finer arts of pick-pocketing – start patting you down like some TSA officer on too much coffee.

I hung around a bit hoping to get a closer shot of them, but by that time three of Paris’ finest flics ambled past and the gang had disappeared.

As the police trio strolled toward the grand staircase leading up to Sacré-Coeur, I approached one of them and said, “Bonjour Messieurs, I’m sure you’re aware of that gang of young women accosting tourists up here.”

Ah, oui,” said the tallest one.  “You mean the Romanians.”

“Yeah, the Romanians,” I said.  “They are SO AGGRESSIVE!  Yesterday I had to yell at them in English to get their paws off me.”

“That’s what you have to do,” he replied.  “You have to get rid of them.”

“That’s what you have to do on the street,” I said, “but don’t you think that’s trying to take care of the problem at the wrong end?  It’s like drug trafficking.  Can’t something be done to stop them before they even get out here?”

He gave me a Gallic shrug, sighed, turned toward the stairs and said, “Yeah, well, you know….”

24
May
11

Talking to a 14-year-old about Canadians and Americans

Girl: There’s this boy in my class. He’s SUCH a jerk!  All he talks about it how great it is in America and how lousy Canada is.  He even said he was going to do a class report on how much better the USA is than Canada.

Me: He must have been joking about that part.

I guess so.

–Does he know you’re also Canadian?

Of course!

–He’s just trying to get a rise out of you.

I know.

–Has he even been to the States?

Probably.  Yeah, I think they went to Florida on vacation.

–Florida!  They probably saw more Canadians there than Americans.  They all come down to escape the winter.

Girl laughs.

–You know, when I was a kid in Britannia Beach we had American families living among us.  The mine was owned by Americans.  Some of their kids would brag to us all the time about how great it was down in the States.  We used to roll our eyes every time and then talk about them later.

Laughs again.

–Americans are always shooting their mouths off about something, but Canadians don’t like it when people brag.  Actually, it used to be that way, but now I’m not so sure.  Last time I was in British Columbia I noticed how they now put The Best Place on Earth as a slogan on their license plates.   Canadians always used to be so modest, and now they’re trying to tell everyone that BC’s the best place on earth?   I mean, when you know you’ve got something special, you don’t go around bragging about it.  That’s the way we grew up, anyway.

11
May
11

Merkel lines on bin Laden

They say that bin Laden
Got shot through the noggin
Flown to the Arabian Sea.
Wrapped in a shroud as white as a cloud
And dumped overboard.  Now he’s just shark sushi.

In New York, in DC, when they heard the news
They flew to the places Al Qaeda had burned.
And crowed out so loud, so long, and so proud
Bin Laden is Dead!  But the news cycle churned

And in reaction, Frau Merkel, said she,
Was glad that bin Laden was as dead as can be.
Poor ol’ Frau Merkel, her words didn’t fit.
You just can’t say that.  It’s un-Christian, you twit.

But if she’d have said she’s sorry he’s dead
I suppose they’d be calling right now for her head.

So here’s some advice for dear Angie to take,
Reflecting on all that’s come in its wake,
Better to say in a roundabout way – just to keep the judges at bay -
I’m pleased that he’s no longer able to harm

Or just keep your mouth shut.
Works like a charm.

16
Jan
11

Canada in Dire Straits: Ban this!

Canada bans radio play of Money for Nothing after receiving complaint.

I want some…

I want some Sa-ni-ty….

Now look at them losers, that’s the way you do it
They ban a song and say it’s good for me
Now that’s just stupid.  That’s a load of bullshit
Banning some music – next they’ll come for me

Now that’s just senseless. Still they’re gonna do it.
Lemme tell ya: they’re just plain dumb
Maybe save a sister from some hurting feelings
Maybe save a sister from some bum

A lotta pissed off radio DJ’s
Can’t play that music any more
Gotta groove on shit like Patio Lanterns
That kinda music make you wanna just heave

That little redneck with the earring and the make-up
Yeah buddy, that’s what he wears
That little redneck’s got his own pickup truck
That little redneck he’s been puttin’ on airs

Canada should learn to drop the PC
They shoulda learned that songs don’t kill
Look at that loser, he’s gotta whine to some bureaucrat, man
And we all pay the bill

And he’s up there.  What’s that? More whining noises?
They say it’s to protect sensibilities
Now that’s just stupid.  That’s a load of bullshit
Banning some music – next they’ll come for me


13
Jan
11

International Day to Bite Me

I don’t know whether it’s because I stopped drinking coffee a few months ago, or passed the half-century mark a few months earlier, but nothing seems to bother me much anymore.   Not that I just let everything slide, but in dealing with obnoxious people or situations I’ve become a lot more mellow.  What’s the point of getting all in a lather anyway?  In most cases where you get all pissed off at someone or something, there two things at work: the situation and your reaction to it.   Only one of those is entirely in your control.

Nevertheless, there is something to be said about venting, in real life or right here.  So here goes.  Thank you, Deutschland über Elvis, he of the carefully worded, well-researched and always entertaining  posts on matters personal and cultural: may the third annual International Day to Bite Me be the success it deserves to be.

Ahem.

To the driver who honked and brayed at me from his rolled-down window because I was cycling with the traffic on the road instead of dodging pedestrians, spaced-out shoppers, dogshit and various obstructions found all too often on Hamburg’s laughably inadequate cycling path “network” – BITE ME!  Where the hell did you get your license, anyway?  It’s legal to ride on the road unless there’s a circular blue sign with a bike on it telling you otherwise.

To the pedestrian who yelled at me because I wasn’t on the cycling path but on the sidewalk because the cycling path is covered in tons of slippery grit left over from Hamburg’s spectacular failure to remove the December snows, not to mention the piles of filth left over from New Year’s Eve fireworks mayhem: BITE ME!

To the millions of brain-addled Germans who in an annual three-day orgy of mindless, wasteful consumerism spend upwards of 120 million frickin’ euros on fireworks for New Year’s leaving a heaving mess behind for weeks, months and years afterward – they NEVER clean it all up: BITE ME!

To the driver who assumed I was a jobless bum simply because I was cycling at noontime on a weekday: don’t you know some of us work shifts, full-time?  BITE ME!

To the grocery store nitwit who feels it’s his duty to tell me to put the items back in an orderly fashion on the shelf because “es gehört dazu” – BITE ME!  Do you have a cellphone?  Next time you see a federal crime in process, call a cop!

To the awful, pinched-faced cow supervising security at Gatwick Airport: lose the psycho bullshit!  Yes, your minions discovered a battery-powered iPod charger in my hand luggage and they -  in their ignorance of modern consumer technology – have every right to take every soiled piece of underwear out to inspect, rifle through every book, test every cranny for explosives and take apart and run the charger through a scanner a third time, but please: don’t stare at me for minutes on end while assuming some sort of accusatory tone when you ask me the routine questions.  Oh, and I almost forgot: BITE ME!

03
Jan
11

2010 blog year in review

After weeks weeks of not posting a thing, I now discover that WordPress.com has taken over this blog.  Or so it seems.  Perhaps it’s their way of reminding me to get my blogging ass back in gear, but some bot over there has seen fit to mail me a ready-made Year in Review post.  Perfect for a bone-lazy blogger like me who’s been wondering when, if ever, that urge to post regularly will ever come back.

Who knows?  Happy New Year anyway.

Snarky comments  in bold are mine.

=======================

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

The Blog Zombie Meter reads: Putrefaction stage

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 110,000 times in 2010. If it were an exhibit at The Louvre Museum, it would take 5 days for that many people to see it.

I’m sure each would demand his entry fee back.  As for the posts themselves, if you were to print out every post in 10-point and glue each word together, you would have enough to string from the Statue of Liberty’s base up to her armpit.  Aren’t stats meaningful?

In 2010, there were 53 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 374 posts. There were 143 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 30mb. That’s about 3 pictures per week.

Troll comments deleted: 13.  Spam referral links: countless.  Estimated date WordPress will do something about spam links: whenever.

The busiest day of the year was February 15th with 647 views. The most popular post that day was Are we raising our kids to be wimps?.

Go to freerangekids for the answer.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were cndrnh.blogspot.com, WordPress Dashboard, raincoaster.com, and toytowngermany.com.

See how important it is to comment on blogs and leave links back to your own on forums?

Some visitors came searching, mostly for the queen, horses jumping, naked 13 year old girls, swallows, and snake head.

That list is so embarrassing, I almost left it out.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Are we raising our kids to be wimps? August 2009
20 comments

2

Europe’s largest-circulation newspaper runs photo of naked 13-year-old June 2008
28 comments

3

Queen Elizabeth Foundation email scam reply December 2007
129 comments

4

10 things I learned about skating in Holland January 2009
51 comments

5

How we nearly tripped over a headless snake that had swallowed a dog whole March 2009
25 comments

Wow, wasn’t that fun?

WordPress.  The blogging platform that’s so good, it writes your blog for you!

25
Nov
10

Why we said no to Google Street View

Call it Blurmany if you will, call us uncool and throw eggs at our apartment building if you love Google so much, but I’m very happy to say I live here.

It didn’t take long for us to decide to say no to Street View.  After all, we already have an unlisted telephone number that’s kept our place reasonably quiet since we applied for it about four years ago.  We no longer get crank calls from drunk jerks in the middle of the night – usually students my wife teaches or once taught – bored out of their minds and playing around with their cellphones.  We also never get telemarketing calls.  I remember in Hong Kong we used to have to rip off five or 10 feet of paper every day from all the junk faxes until we made HongKong Telecom change our number.

With Google Street view, the angle was more subtle.  It’s very unlikely you’ll get hassles just because you’re visible online, and even less likely you’ll be burgled, the politician’s scare tactic of choice when this whole thing blew up in the German media a few months ago.  And as for getting caught sunbathing on the balcony – well, that’s obviously an argument put forth by those who don’t know how Street View works.

Sure it’s great for businesses, but what possible benefit could we, as private individuals living in a private household, obtain by letting Google put up a photo of the place where we spend the greater part of our lives for the whole world to see?   What have we to gain by it?

I could understand it if we were the owners of some boutique called snotty and desperate for a little free on-line publicity, we’d even pay for the right to have our store burst onto the screen with arrows, flashing  lights and pop-ups.

But here I am, some duff who was always taught to be wary of those on the sell side.  Since Google is basically a multi-billion dollar advertising company with the world’s most powerful search engine attached, why on earth would I want to help them?  What’s in it for me?

Even if we were to  ignore the accusations of WiFi network data theft and other questionable goals as their octopus-camera cruised the streets, the ONLY benefit to Street View that we could think if – and the only argument I found online in favour of not opting out – was that perhaps friends and relatives living far away could look you up.

Well, whoop-de-fucking-do.  One photo from the ground floor and a blanket email and that’s taken care of.

Google Street View is merely one more brick in the infrastructure for a much wider array of capabilities not even invented yet that could further erode what few avenues of privacy we have left.   Maybe it’s like trying to turn back the tide, but if we can spit back at it a little, maybe some good will come out of it.

05
Nov
10

Overheard in Hamburg

Cycling as usual to work I come up to a stoplight and see this woman yelling at a man down the street:

If you’d have said that to me during  wartime, you’d be headed for the gas chambers!

I see the man is Indian, maybe Roma, I can’t be sure.

I turn around and say to her: Such behavior on the street!

Oh yeah? she shoots at me.  He called me an asshole, what do you expect?

You’re not an asshole, I tell her.  Gas chambers? You’re a NAZI asshole!

Light turns green, off to work.




The banner photograph shows the town of Britannia Beach, BC, Canada, where I grew up. It's home. But I don't live there anymore.

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