Friday, March 30, 2012

The Pirates are coming

Take 6
Cover of Take 6
The Pirate Party has now entered Parliament in the last two state elections over year in Germany (Berlin and Saarland). They have no comprehensive political platform (it is unclear what their position is on energy policy, for instance); they mainly campaigned on a battle against copyright, especially on the Internet.

I have already commented on the failure of Harpers and the New Yorker to take my money, and I also blogged about how I was not able to buy my own book (after contacting the publisher, a change was made, and my book is now available worldwide if you are looking for something to put you to sleep when you go to bed at night). The situation is ridiculous. A cartoonist has put together a strip on the general inability to purchase media when it comes out – even though the material is already available illegally.

And while there is a lot of talk about how copyright protects authors and creators of content, the fact remains that publishers (in the widest sense of the term) use copyright against content creators – one reason why a lot of artists (such as the one formerly known as Prince, but also lesser-known musicians such as Take 6) leave the major labels and create their own.

Want another example? Yesterday, my fellow blogger Margaret Marks also mentioned the case of a translator who was manhandled by the publisher of Harry Potter and by Warner Bros., which later did not want to pay royalties.

My material is widely plagiarized on the Internet, including by some organizations whose work I theoretically support. But I am not really worried, and I do not believe that copyright needs to be made stricter. The German version of my book is essentially an update of previous articles already published on the web, and they are accessible for free.

We do need to protect content creators and researchers, so we need copyright and patents. But we are also giving people reasons to justify breaches of copyright by making the system so ridiculous. Copyright needs to be reformed. I don't know if the Pirate Party will manage to do that itself, but maybe their very presence will force the issue onto the agenda.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Translation notes: don't do it in-house

Last month, a German company I had not yet done business with contacted me, saying they already had an English translation of their sales brochure, but they were not happy with the quality. I had a look at it and assumed it had been done in-house, or at least by someone German.

One of the most egregious mistakes was (and I don't mind listing it since you cannot find the firm in Google with this sentence): "Finally this investment is amortised". What they meant was "in the end, this investment pays for itself," but the confusion about what "finally" means produces quite the opposite meaning – an exasperated "we finally got our money back."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Equal Pay Day

Harald Schmidt
Cover of Harald Schmidt
One of the bizarre things about Germany is how openly German men belittle women. Today is Equal Pay Day, and an article over at Die Zeit talks about the matter. The eight comments displayed below the article are all critical, charging that women are themselves at fault and should stop complaining.

These comments are based on the distinction between the 21.6 percent wage difference that is "not adjusted" and the eight percent that is adjusted – meaning, as this article previously published at Die Zeit explains, that women with the same qualifications get eight percent less pay than men do in the same positions, but that the overall difference (including differences in qualifications, etc.) is 21.6 percent. In other words, most of the difference between male and female pay relates to actual differences in qualifications, ambition, etc. This distinction apparently is enough to send German men blasting away at their keyboards.

One interesting difference between Germany and the US for me has always been the acceptance of jokes on women on late-night TV. As I once blogged, Harald Schmidt (Germany's most famous late-night moderator) used to have a hard time doing without such jokes, and the Heute-Show – basically, a copy of the Daily Show – also has a male fake newscaster who does not refrain from remarking about how stupid women are. Germans tend to laugh at the jokes.

Humor is different in the US, as the Daily Show shows. Jon Stewart would never joke about how stupid women are – he would have one of his female staff members do that. If he wants to blindly discriminate against a group, it will probably be the Jews – because he's Jewish. If he wants to slander blacks, he'll have his Black Correspondent do so, etc.
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Myths and facts about Germany's switch to renewables

The Heinrich Böll Foundation (of the German Green Party) has just published a layouted version of my article entitled "Myths and facts about the German switch from nuclear to renewables" (PDF).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Next FDP "plagiator"

Just in case you are counting, yet another member of Germany's libertarian party (FDP) has had his PhD taken from him because his dissertation was found to be plagiarized. His name is Bijan Djir-Sarai; there does not seem to be much information about him in English on the Web.

What I find amazing is how many members of this party, whose slogan used to be "Leistung muss sich lohnen" (performance should be rewarded), cheated to get where they are.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fukushima = Hukushima?

Last night on the nightly news here in Germany, the newscaster pronounced "Fukushima" in a way I had never heard before: Fu-KU-shi-ma – which led me to wonder how the word is actually pronounced.

There is no dearth of information on the subject online. There is this sample, which does not sound completely unusual, whereas this guy felt strong enough about the subject to put up a dedicated website explaining that the SHEE that practically everyone in the English and German-speaking world is stressing is actually schwa, but that's not what I'm hearing in the song video below (warning: Japanese babe alert) – but before you listen to it, you might want to read this explanation of how the fu sound is actually very close to hu (take a look at the way people's lips are positioned in the video for that first syllable):

The hu certainly sound like the first sound in the English name "Hugh" in this rendition.

I have no idea what they're saying in that song (aside from "I love you baby, Fukushima. I need you baby, Fukushima" – if anyone has a translation, feel free to post as I could only find Portuguese, which I do not speak), but it is touching to see that the video seems to have been made only a few weeks after the disaster with various people expressing their affection for Fukushima – and this version is adorable.

Another thing that struck me from the video is how easy it seems to pronounce Japanese, which is indeed considered one of the easiest languages in the world in terms of pronunciation. And though this website does not directly comment on the pronunciation of Fukushima (aside from reader comments), I did enjoy the man's obvious annoyance in all of his instructions  along the lines of "it's To-kyo, not Tow-kee-yo." And while Japanese may be easy to pronounce, see if you can get your head around the proper pronunciation of Hiroshima.

On a similar note, I saw a documentary this week on German television, and a resident of the nearby town of Minamisanriku was actually in good cheer as he talked about what life was like now. He smiled as he said something I found especially interesting: "Since the disaster, everyone has been talking with everyone else."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Culture shock in reverse

About a month ago, I was visited by three engineering students from Korea. As you may remember, I visited Korea in late November – and wrote about the culinary experience here.

I thought I had done quite well for those eight days with all of the unknown kinds of food I had to eat with metal chopsticks, but when I saw the three young men trying to cut open a German bread roll at a breakfast buffet, I realized how awkward I must've looked the whole time.

The guys had filled their plates with cheese, salami, and jam from the buffet, and one of them put all three things on his bread before I had a chance to warn him. When the second guy looked poised to do the same, I tried as diplomatically as I could to explain that we generally don't throw our meats together with our jam.

But the joke was on me later that night, when I took them to have a schnitzel. I ordered two different kinds for them, and for me I ordered some venison with cowberry sauce (Wildgeschnetzeltes mit Preiselbeeren) -- a staple here in Baden, but for the life of me I cannot find a decent picture of it online to share with you.

Anyway, it is essentially chunks of venison with jelly, aka meat with jam. Why the Germans don't mix the two for breakfast, but only for supper – I was at a loss to explain it. And indeed, I had not even realized the conflict until then.
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