Archive for the 'politics' Category

15
Mar
13

Death of google reader to usher in the new dark ages, experts say

Google reader cropSecurity and terrorism specialists in governments around the world have been bracing themselves for an unprecedented backlash of rage and fury in the wake of Internet search giant Google’s decision to phase out its popular – if unprofitable – feed reader service.  Used by tens of millions around the world as an archaic way of surfing the Internet without really trying, Google Reader will be pushed aside so the mega-firm can concentrate on more useful stuff like geeky heads-up display glasses.

“As of right now our security level is being raised to double-purple sparkly,” said Helmut Askew, US Undersecretary to the Overseer of Interior Externalities at the Pentagram.  A secret, never-before-used level of threat awareness to be invoked only in times of wartime and other unpleasant things, double-purple sparkly will first be felt by airline travellers.

“If you thought we were picky to the point of stupid about toothpaste, get ready,” lathered one official.

Security pros say this week’s Internet consumer outrage closely resembles the now-infamous 1985 Coca-Cola Co. Inc. decision to revise the formula for its popular soft drink soda refreshment beverage.  Coke’s replacement of its crappy, decades-old, overly sweet yet mystifyingly popular concoction with one slightly less crappy and less sweet outraged the addicted masses, who, urged on by the sugar cane lobby, managed to get Coca-cola to reverse its decision.

“Back then people didn’t go around shoving bombs in their shoe bottoms or strapping explosive devices around their midsections to wreak havoc on buses and planes,” explained L. Fin Gnome, security expert with Troll International.  “All we had to worry about was the prospect of global mutual incineration based on a computer malfunction or other misunderstanding. Those were the golden years, for sure.”

In addition to additional encore performances of airport security theatre, Pentagram officials say citizens wherever they are in the world must be aware that individual governments will be poised to clamp down on any demonstration, sit-down protest, hunger strike, random public gathering or topless protests taking place against Google’s decision.

“OK, we’ll allow boobage demos to happen only as long as  it takes to ensure we’ve got enough pics to show on the private news channels,” he said.

Philosophy professor Schmöckjr Pââp, Ph.D. of the University of Wallamoongdong, Australia, says the particular nature of the unprecedented international security clampdown reflects today’s new social media landscape.

“Today, it’s the individual terrorist venting wherever and whenever he can,” he said.  “Starbucks service too slow?  Tweet it.  Don’t like the weather?  Facebook status update.  Google Reader disappearing?  Blow up government and commercial buildings whilst your friends post the wreckage on Instagram. Even if you disapprove of their actions, once it’s on Facebook you have to hit Like to acknowledge your acknowledgement of the action.”

Statesmen and -women worldwide have reacted with shockage and appallation at the Pentagram’s elbow-jerk reaction to the Google Reader flappage.

“Bunga-Bunga, si, Doubla-purpla no!” said Silvia Berluscona, former helmsman of the Italian ship of state, now lying on its side after hitting rocks on the northwest coast and due to be towed sometime soon to a scrap metal yard.  “We who control all of Italy’s media will denounce this action if we can make money off it, or support it if we can’t.  And vice-versa.”

Russian President Voldemort Putin, fresh from another image-promotion tour where he showed off his somewhat perfectly buffed gluteus maximii to a fawning Russian media, said the Sotchi Winter Olympics of 2014 had already been planned as the most heavily securified Games on record, so the new threat level brought on by Google’s decision won’t have that much of a direct effect.

“We are already prepared for floods, washouts and mudslides,” said Putin to snickers and elbow-nudges from the Quebec wing of those journalists let out of jail long enough to be on hand at the press conference.  “Just look at Vancouver 2010!  We’ve got bigger trucks for bringing in more artificial snow if we have to.”

German reaction was straightforward and to the point.

“The Government of the Federal Government of Germany condemns in the strongest of terms the over-reaction of the American military, who should be taking world opinion into better consideration at this most critical of times,” said German Chancellor Angela Murkel.  “Nichtsdestotrotz and nevertheless we are prepared to send a small contingent of our troops to any regions affected, supplying them with pop-guns and Ravensburg puzzles – some in 3D –  because they’ll need to fill in their time somehow.”

Former US President Bill Clitnon said if he were still in the Oval Office, he’d be getting a… good grip on the situation and, uh…. ensuring there would be no stain on his legacy.

“Ah call on President Obama to do the raght thang and just put a stop to all this,” said Clitnon.

-the editors of Letters Home wish to inform readers that due to the above line involving the esteemed former US President the author of this piece has been relieved of his duties with immediate effect for breach of satire production rule 1: If using derivative material thou shalt at least refrain from recycling tired, old jokes about tired, old presidents.  Letters Home rejects having to resort to this course of action, and welcomes your visit in future.   Thank you.

21
Jun
12

The Germans don’t beef about draining my blood

I used to donate blood when I lived in Canada, but am no longer allowed to, even if I paid them.  Because I lived for more than three months in France in the early 1980s, I’m no longer eligible to give blood in Canada.

Eet ees ze vache folle, you see.  Mad Cow disease.  The Canadians fear I’m a carrier because France at the time I lived there was importing possibly infected beef from Thatcher’s Britain, a mad cow dominion if there ever was one.

Roast beef?  Hah! I could tell them that as a struggling student I lived exclusively on baguette and brie washed down with cheap wine, but it wouldn’t do any good.

In fact, if you applied Canada’s incredibly strict rules for donating blood to Germany, the entire system in this country would collapse.  That’s because Canada now says that if you’ve lived for more than five years at a time in Europe at any time since 1980, they won’t allow you to donate, either.

Canada is paranoid, I suppose, because there really is no way of knowing whether my blood is tainted or not, or, if I truly am a carrier, when it will flare up.  There’s this disease called Kuru that still pops up in former cannibals from New Guinea about once or twice a year, even though it was more than 50 years ago the last time they tucked into some filet humain.  Kuru is what they call a prion disease, and is like mad cow in that the cattle got it after being fed the ground-up – and infected – bits of their forefathers .  That was a bad idea, because it spread to humans and has killed more than 170 people so far.

But the Germans see beyond all that, and have no qualms about sticking needles into my left Canuck arm to drain a bit of fluid.

Every eight weeks I go to a clinic about 20 minutes away, down a litre of fruit juice while filling out a form that says I am still in a monogamous relationship with a human being I trust, have not suddenly decided to swap needles with strangers, and am not at the moment on day four of a three-day bender.

Then I go have some more juice while waiting my turn at the draining beds.   It takes only a few minutes of semi-horizontal relaxation with the friendly nurses, after which they give me a meal voucher I trade for two long, crunchy European wieners and a mound of potato salad washed down with another litre of fruit juice.  Gotta make sure I don’t collapse on the way home, I guess.

For all that they give me €23 to cover my bus fare, time and trouble.  But they also give me a bit more.  Even though your contribution is anonymous, indirect and just a drop in the bucket, it’s a good feeling to know it’s going to help someone get through their stay in hospital.

And you might call it the karmic installment savings plan, but some day I might be hauled in on a stretcher and need to make a withdrawal myself.

19
Oct
11

Hamburg car burnings hit close to home

A wave of car torchings that started in Berlin a couple of years ago and spilled over to Hamburg hit close to home over the weekend.  This burned out lump of charred Mercedes was sitting just around the corner from our place when I came across it this past Sunday afternoon.

There have been well over 300 car burnings in Hamburg so far this year.  It’s even worse in Berlin, where more than 500 have gone up in flames.  Police are powerless to do anything about it because it’s completely random who’s doing it and for what reason.  Putting an extra 200 Hamburg police on night patrols didn’t work out, so now they’ve scaled them back to 20, with just as much effect. 

Some say there’s a political motivation behind the attacks, that it’s the marginalised of society roving around getting their kicks watching fat-cat Mercedes, BMWs and Porsches reduced to scrap.   But there’s no pattern to the burnings or their timing, and there are never any notes left behind.  A couple of yahoos here and there have been charged and thrown in jail, but it just keeps on happening.  

We always thought we were living a decent life in a safe and modern country.   But having once again been the victims of theft and adding up everything that’s going wrong right in our midst, sometimes we get the feeling we’re living in some besieged Middle Ages village, its citizens left to fend for themselves and wondering when the next attack will hit.

11
Aug
11

Soak, rinse, repeat! How to get rid of those brown stains

It’s great to be back in Germany.

Best thing I’ve seen in the two weeks since our trip to Canada is this great T-shirt idea.

A man gave away 250 T-shirts at a recent gathering of neo-Nazis in eastern Germany.

The message on it was the usual crap you’d expect to see them wearing, so the sluggos lapped it up.

Problem for them is that a different message appears once you put the shirts through the laundry.

The message tells them to drop their Nazi ways with the help of an organisation of those who’ve already left. 

What your t-shirt can do, so can you.

This is such a brilliantly executed idea, but there’s only one problem: the assumption that the people wearing them actually wash.

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.

02
May
11

Who wants to read yesterday’s news, anyway?

It was beautiful to watch, but today’s a new day, Obama says bin Laden’s dead, and I’ve got work to do.

09
Mar
11

A couple of reasons why German healthcare is in such a mess

From some of the highest drug prices in Europe to bloated bureaucracies, there must be a dozen reasons why healthcare in Germany is an expensive mess – about 8% of gross wages for those on the public plan, and rising.

trust me i'm a doctor buttonA few years ago, during what turned out to be the longest stretch I’ve ever had to endure in a hospital, I got a good look at two of those reasons.

It started out as a routine blood test at my family doctor.

“This doesn’t look good” he says when showing me the results.  “You’ve got to see a specialist about this as soon as possible.”

So I get an appointment at a specialist who performs an ultrasound, along with another blood test.   When the tests come back he hums and haws, says it could be this or that, but to find out for sure, we have to take a tissue sample.  Jab a hollow tube through my liver and rummage through what they pull out.

“Just a couple of nights in the hospital,” he tells me.

I get sent to a third doctor, the one who’s going to be taking care of the hospital visit, who performs the third blood test in about three weeks, which comes back with the very same results.

Upon admission to hospital a couple of weeks later, they take another two blood tests, one on admission, another the next day.

“Look,” I tell them.  “I don’t understand.  I’ve got an arm like a junkie’s with all these needles.  Why do I have to get a new blood test every time I’m sent to a new doctor?”

“Because that’s the way we do it here,” they tell me. “You may be referred to another doctor, but they have to take a new test each time.  They can’t take the results of the former doctor at face value.”

I wondered how many billions each year are wasted that way, but it was the hospital visit itself that really opened my eyes to the way the system is set up to rip us all off.

Not only did they only perform the tissue sample the morning of my third day after admission, already forcing me to stay one more night than I’d planned for, but they also arranged to have me undergo a colonoscopy a few days later, because the tissue sample showed nothing abnormal, and they wanted to “make sure we aren’t missing anything.”

That was on a Friday, and they told me I’d have to spend the entire weekend in the hospital waiting for the colonoscopy to get underway the following Tuesday.

What?  Wait f0ur full days in hospital when I feel perfectly healthy just to prepare for another procedure that might not even be necessary?

“Screw you,” I told them.  “I am not spending five minutes in this dump more than I have to.”

Dump?  More like an asylum.  My time until then had been spent enduring the ravings of an attention-starved recovering alcoholic in the bed beside me, who, completely oblivious to the impact his constant ramblings and interruptions had on the rest of us, actually woke me up the night before the tissue sample, because he couldn’t sleep and so was watching his personal TV at 3 in the morning.  Mostly to get away from him, I packed up and left that Friday afternoon, signing a waiver on my way out saying that whatever happened to me that weekend was my own doing.

After a beautiful weekend hiking the storm-swept mid-winter beaches of St-Peter-Ording with K and the little red-haired girl, I showed up Monday morning at the hospital, spent a day drinking gallons of some vile solution turning my backside into a storm drain, submitted myself to an invasion by a 12-foot black plastic snake, and spent a day and a half recovering.  The only thing I was grateful for was their generous application of Demerol.  I liked it so much, I’d have let them do it again just to get more of the stuff.

I told my family doctor all this and he replied with what I’d been thinking all along.  “I’m really sorry you had to go through all that, but hospitals do that all the time..  Every night you stay there is worth a lot of money to them.  They maximise the time you have to stay so they can turn around and bill the health funds.  There’s really nobody checking to see if what they do is really necessary.”

To top it all off, I received a bill from the hospital for the daily user fee we all have to pay.  They completely disregarded the two nights over the weekend I had left the hospital, billing me for the full nine days.

I paid for seven with a note and a letter explaining why, with proof I wasn’t there and all the rest, but the bureaucrats ignored it.  Instead I received a nasty notice threatening me with legal action and all associated additional costs if I didn’t buck up for the two days I did not stay in their comfortable surroundings.

So I paid for those two days just to get them out of my hair, only to find out a few weeks later from my healthcare people that I shouldn’t have, and that I could get the money back if I applied for it.

But by then I was so glad to have the whole sorry mess behind me I didn’t bother.




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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