Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Пролетарии всех стран, соединяйтесь!

Workers of the World, Unite!

Happy May Day.

Perhaps the most enduring face of International Socialism is our friend Comrade Che. This is the hip side of Socialism. The one all the kids want to join.

Consequently, this is one corner of International Socialism that actually generates a profit margin. For example, you see him on T-Shirts around the world (except perhaps in North Korea ... Don't know about China, but I suspect even they have gotten into the market for Che memorabilia).

Last year I was in a town in the former DDR (East Germany ... look it up if you don't remember it being its own country), and the local tobacco shop had Cuban Cigars in a tin box with the Warhol-stylized image of Che on the cover. The shop was unfortunately closed ... it was May Day and Sunday, so you tell me which one governed here, but I assure you that would never have happened in the USA.

In fact, there is a vast array of Comrade Che merchandise to be had from the comfort of your home or local socialist hangout ... take a look at The Che Store online ... everything for the budding revolutionary. If you look closely, you'll see a section for Che clearance items ... even revolutionaries need to move inventory.

Too bad the real socialists don't have it so easy.

La Vie Royale

We were supposed to be wandering now, but the Partnerin decided to enjoy her croissant and coffee while watching the 60th birthday celebration of the Swedish King. Every time one of these European Royals has a birthday, baptism, wedding, funeral, whatever, she is glued to the TV. And she is not alone. I know plenty of Germans who are fascinated with the European Royals (which includes the UK subset, even though some of you don't consider the UK to be a part of Europe).

I think the Germans miss having their own Royal family. But they still have no shortage of so-called Nobles running around ... the "This von That's." Germans still show a lot of deference to the infinite number of "This von That's" you come across. In fact, most of the German business scene is dominated by "This von That's", probably to its detriment.

But how can an American criticize this while his own country-mates fawn over the likes of the Kennedy's, Bush's, Trump's, etc?

No One Here Gets Out Alive

This came across the Fox News crawl during their weekly "The Cost of Freedom" investing shows on Saturday ... it's one of those "Stupid Criminal" stories that just grab you:

Reuters: Two chinese thieves accidentally gas themselves to death with cyanide while robbing a gambling den. Five victims also die. Three of the robbers accomplices survived and have been sentenced to death.

Five victims, five perps. Symmetry is important.

Cyanide gas as a close-quarters robbery weapon ... only in a country where controls make it difficult for hard-working criminals to get their hands on "safe" weapons like guns.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This is not Rocket Science

"You're doing laundry now," asks the Partnerin, as if I am comitting a crime.

"What, I can't do Laundry?" I reply.

"No, it's 1:15 ... it's quiet hours."

Yep. It is a crime here to do laundry, or for that matter do anything that makes more than a whisper of noise. It's OK for the neighbors to start major garden excavations at 07:00, but don't spin the laundry at 13:15.

We were supposed to be out wandering today as part of the Partnerin's 3-Days-of- Holiday-Fun plan, but it was raining, so we cleaned house together because I was too lazy to do it last week. And now that we were into quiet hours, we had to turn to quiet pursuits, like lunch.

Nothing special ... I had Beans & Weenies and she made Haferflocken Porridge. It was time to use up stuff in the cupboard.

I don't know if I subconciously follow Department of Homeland Security advice when I do the shopping, but we have quite an accumulation of durable consumables, and it was time to eat down the stock, even though the apocolypse is not yet upon us. No doubt I will build up the stores again before the apocolypse actually arrives.

And then, over our DHS-approved survival meals, the Partnerin states,

"I want to build a tent over the bed."

I meekly reply.

"Yes, the room is drafty, and I wake up every day with a headache. I want to stop the draft!"

Yes, gentle reader, I know what you are thinking ... just put little foam strips into the window seals. Been there, done that, took pictures, and sent postcards!

And we have tried a number of other approaches. The problem is that as the house subsides due to the invasion of a neighboring tree's roots last year, the walls seem to have become rather porous. No leaks, but clearly a draft.

A tent is a reasonable short-term solution.

But how to do it? In America, land of pre-fab joist and plasterboard construction, drilling a few holes and putting in a few hooks is perhaps a 15 minute job. In Germany this can turn into a day-long ordeal. What I don't want to do is drill holes and put hooks in a very solid German ceiling. I did that once!

This isn't rocket science ... I can do rocket science. In my prior life, I was an aerospace engineer. It is amazing how useful that can be sometimes. The math background made getting an MBA easy. The geek-factor made computers easy to master. But the design and development experience is infinitely useful in things like figuring out how much weight a particular structure will present at several fastening points and how much weight those points will bear.

Even in Germany, you don't need to be an engineer to do this. You can, like America, put up 5 heavy-duty hooks and hang 20 square meters/yards of cloth from them and the job is done in a day ... remember, the drilling part?

I could use one hook to hang a few lightweight mylar "Space Blankets" in place, but the rustling of the material would drive us crazy. No, it had to be proper cloth, but now we had to get into densities and weights of the next order, and that meant multiple fastening points and spreaders and a whole system of weights and loading.

No, now this takes on a greater complexity: How can I maximize the weight bearing capability of a minimal number of fastening points, and simultaneously maximize the insulating benefit while minimizing the actual weight to be held in a semi-rigid structure that also maximizes useable headroom so we don't feel claustrophobic?

When I first started down the geek road, people were still using slide-rules. By the time I got to college, the venerable TI-59 was the the weapon of choice. With either of those things, cloth samples for evaluation and testing, and a ream of paper, I could have this tent designed and ready for prototyping in a day.

With my 1.5 KG, 1.83 GHz, 1GB laptop, MathCad, and internet access to various cloth manufacturer specifications, I had a 3-D model in a matter of minutes. Now we are cooking with gas!

This is proof of two things:

(1) That I need to get a life, and
(2) I've been in Germany too long, as I am now completely over-engineering solutions to the simplest of problems without actually delivering a workable real-world solution.

By the way, it might be easier to simply buy a canopy bed like in the good old days!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Every Breath Bernanke Takes ...

Sung to the tune of "Every Breath you Take" by the Police ... you remember that one, the Stalker's theme song.

Anyway, for this year's Columbia Business School Follies, the clever b-school students ... the future of American business ... put together a music-video spoof supposedly featuring their Dean, Glenn Hubbard, who was passed over for the post of Federal Reserve Bank Chairman, which was instead given to Ben Bernanke.

Although it features a lot of inside humor that perhaps only an economist or policy-wonk might find funny, the production values are good, making it a worthwhile watch. Go ahead, click on the start button to watch it (requires Flash player ... if you don't see the viewing window below, you might not have it).

To Live and Die in Frankfurt

I wonder why we waste our lives here
When we could run away to Paradise,
But I am held in some invisible vise,
And I can't get away.
To live and die in LA.
- Wang Chung,"To Live & Die in LA", 1985

The Partnerin came home from work last night after midnight. She started yesterday at 7 a.m., and she started today at 7 a.m. She is a better man than me. She may or may not hate her job, but she's not about to quit it without knowing what's over the horizon.

I wondered why I had Wang Chung on the MP3 player. This was the soundtrack to a somewhat cynical movie from the '80s. I didn't like the movie at the time. It was really out of place for the go-go Reagan years. The soundtrack was a gift from one of my Air Force buddies, who was slowly sinking into the abyss of depression that would end his career. He really connected with the film and its "everything, everybody is bogus" undertone.

Don't get me wrong, the sountrack is solid - the film would have been lost without it. But why is it on my MP3 player now?

My old boss, who retired and thus narrowed my own career choices here, told me he didn't think I was the type who could simply sit around. He was right. I seem to find plenty of things to do. I've certainly let blogging take a bit of my day lately. I finally got serious about learning German after having lived here for several years. I've baked a lot of bread. And I've finally gotten around to really seeing a lot more of Europe, which is why I took the gig here in the first place.

I don't know if I really miss working. I think I might miss some of the validation that comes from having a career and being regarded as a serious and competent professional, a subject matter expert. I might miss contributing to something larger. I might even miss the paycheck.

The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference. I've always loved working, but now I'm not even sure I miss the money. Cause for worry?

I apologized to the Partnerin last night for taking another call from a recruiter in London, for not finding something in Germany. Then she told me to not get too mad at her for pointing out that I have had more good prospects in the past six months than some people get in a lifetime and that I should be grateful for that. How could I ever get mad at her for that?

The sun is shining today. Time to put some new music on the MP3 player and go take a bike ride.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Chinese Takeout

So the Chinese decided to raise interest rates today, and all of my stops are being hit. Ugh! I remember Marty Zweig saying, "Don't fight the Fed," but I don't recall him ever saying anything about the BOC.

And on top of that Bernanke is yapping on about moderation in the US economy, with the glowing exception of energy, which poses an inflation risk in his eyes.

This isn't '87, when our brilliant Treasury Secy was trash-talking the Dollar, but it isn't exactly confidence inspiring either.

It certainly means US interest rates are going higher still.

If you want to put a little money on this (I really do mean a little), wander on over to the Iowa Electronic Markets at the University of Iowa. You can also gamble ... er, I mean "invest" in the outcomes of this year's US elections, most likely starting again sometime later this year.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Glengarry Glen Ross

On the tube right now, before my daily dose of the Late Show.

I was a rookie stockbroker in New York when this movie first came out, and what made it particularly compelling is how well it captured the atmosphere of a room full of desperate salesmen ... this group were supposed to be real-estate salesmen for a property development company trying to move vacation lots in the middle of the 1990's real-estate recession.

They were all hoping to get their hands on the golden sales leads that would guarantee them success ... lest you think this was just a movie thing, I was surrounded by other brokers who hoped the sales manager would come down from heaven with the golden leads of the day (every day he would come out and give a few cards to the star performers of the day, generally sales leads of people who had called the company's 800-#, so at least they were motivated prospects).

Other brokers spent inordinate amounts to get golden leads from "information brokers" who could give you lists of people who had $10,000 lines of credit in Atlantic City (makes sense, no?).

Still others simply used the White Pages, dialing Dentists and Doctors on Park Avenue.

Me ... I tried all of that, and I also called teachers, cops, and pig farmers in Iowa ... you would be surprised to hear it, but some of them actually had money to invest.

It was a numbers game ... you cold called 100+ people a day, hoped that 20 would actually talk to you, and that three would be "qualified leads" ... people with money who also had a need to do something with it.

A lot of us used canned sales pitches from time to time ... the firm we were at was generally low key, so we kept it calm and professional, but once in a while I would trot out one of the fabled "Lehman Brothers" cold-calling scripts (everybody on the Street had a copy of these things) when I wanted to simply ditch a call who wasn't going to buy (since you were never supposed to hang up on a live prospect) ...

"Come on Phil, reach down in your pocket, get a grip on that Louisville Slugger, and step up to the Plate!"


Never failed.

She Leg Presses 400 Pounds ...

In an article in a recent issue of The New York Times Magazine (link may require subscription, but try it anyway), former Secretary of State Madeline Albright says that at age 68 she still works out three times a week and can leg press up to 400 lbs.

On a good day I only do 300 .... Hmmm ... Won't say anything else for fear she will fly over here and kick my girly-man a**.

$4 Gasoline

Ok, first of all, having lived over here for several years and having paid roughly $3 to 4 per gallon of gas for some time, I must admit I am tired of hearing Americans complaining about paying $3 per gallon for their gas. Maybe I watch too much Fox News.

Let's ignore the argument of the political left that the Iraq war was about enriching Bush and Cheney's friends at Halliburton and the oil companies, but let's accept the argument that Iraq is about building peace and stability in a region of the world that contributes significantly to the production of petroleum, and that peace and stability is intended to underpin the free flow of petroleum at market prices. These are valid strategic policy considerations that might justify Mr. Bush engaging in nationbuilding there despite his earlier promise to not be a nationbuilder.

But at what cost? The total US consumption of oil is roughly 22 million barrels per day (by the way, only roughly 20% of US oil imports come from the region, 4% from Iraq alone). Assuming you get roughly 19.5 gallons of gas from a barrel of oil, you get a rough consumption level of 156.6 Billion gallons of gas per year. The US is projecting the 2006 costs of the war in Iraq to run roughly $94 billion. Divide that into the total gallons of consumption, and the war in Iraq has added roughly $0.60 per gallon to the cost of gas (if you looked only at gas attributable to middle-east production, multiply by 5).

If you take as a given that the operating overhead of collecting your taxes adds another 40 cents per gallon, people in the US are already paying $4 per gallon.

My first question is, "Wouldn't it be more productive/cost-effective to open new sources, such as drilling in Alaska and the Caribbean?" Why is Cuba drilling new wells off the coast of Florida while the US are not?

Next, Bush is under increasing pressure to impose price controls of some sort. That is sort of like King Canut commanding the sea to be still, and to his credit, Bush was calm enough yesterday to suggest it was not a workable solution ... of course, the fact that he felt pressured to speak at all yesterday is a sign of how politically weak the Republican position is becoming.

But what the politicians can control immediately is their own take at the pump. Roughly 46 cents of the cost of every gallon goes to Federal and State taxes on gas. Yes, this dubiously pays for roads, etc. By the way, the inflation adjusted cost of gas in 1981 was also roughly $3 per gallon, and the taxes then were only 31 cents per gallon. One can strongly make the argument that government greed is also a part of the problem.

Finally, as noted here about a month ago, the dollar is in decline, but the people who sell oil want/need to maintain purchasing power of the dollars they receive per barrel, so some of this upward creep reflects the declining value of the dollar, and that is a product of a declining confidence of the World Markets in the US Market even though everything in the US appears to be chugging along rather nicely. That is food for thought some other time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Confessions of an Addict - II

Perhaps more shameful than my own earlier admitted addiction, is the fact that I have also dragged the Partnerin into the dark world of Anglo-American TV.

We both watch West Wing. Even though it is fairly fast paced and somewhat US-politico jargon laden, she seems to follow on with little or no need for explanation. As an intersting aside, our first visit to the US was during the 2000 elections, during which she really got into the debates, and, to the horror of my family, she really took a liking to Dick Cheney, even though she probably leans more to the SPD on home-turf (to redeem her in most reader's eyes, she can't stomach Bush -- the Cheney thing was probably related to his gravitas). Go figure!

She certainly does not share my liking of 24, etc., but we do watch the odd cooking and travel shows.

We did enjoy the Donald Trump version of The Apprentice, but neither of us can take the British version ... sorry Brit readers, but Sir Alan is not as charming as the Donald ... I don't believe I just said that!

We both watched Paris and Nicole in a combination of amusement and disgust as they worked through the Simple Life. Couldn't take the second series however.

We watched in even more horror as Kathy Hilton ran her own little intern show, "I want to be a Hilton." Don't know if it is just me, but I typically want all of the contestants on these shows to be sacked or to perish.

What she really seems to be hooked on are the home improvement, Real Estate, and decorating shows ... Faves include The House Doctor, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and Location, Location, Location.

She's also been hooked on the Fab Five (Queer Eye for the Straight Guy), although that must have been in hiatus recently as she stopped watching it once they had gone through the third round of re-runs.

Enough said ... any more and I might be prosecuted for corrupting a perfectly nice German girl.

What's on the MP3 Player These Days

There might be some sub-conscious meaning to this, but I think it is more likely the result of random adds and deletes over the past couple weeks, in this order:

  • Wang Chung - To Live & Die in LA

  • Gwen Stefani - Love. Angel. Music. Baby.

  • Alizée - Gourmandises

  • KT Tunstall - Eye to the Telescope

  • Scritti Politti - Cupid & Psyche '85

  • Van Halen - Best of VH, Volume 1

Factoid 001

Here's an interesting factoid for you sociologists out there ... this is pulled from the Modern Language Association Language Map, the current edition of which is based on data from the 2000 US Census, primarily around the question, "Does this person speak a language other than English at home?"

Let's take it as a proxy for where Germans go when they move to the US. Hmmm ... California, Florida, New York, Colorado, Arizona ... no surprises there. But North & South Dakota? Minnesota?

Central Texas is interesting because the Partnerin's uncle was held there as a POW during WWII. When I met him he told me he always wanted to move back there after the war, but he never made it back there. What was really interesting is that the POW camp where he was held was just down the road from my Step-father's ranch. Small world indeed.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Confessions of an Addict

One of the uglier aspects of being an American is the fact that I watch entirely too much television. I go to great technical lengths to bring interesting Television to my living room, but I do not appreciate the marvel of technology until it is denied me, as was the case last week in Mallorca.

As mentioned, we stayed in a little village dominated by Germans. Because of this, the hotel we stayed in only provided 7 German television channels (SAT1, RTL, RTL II, ARD, ZDF, VOX, and ProSieben) and RAI (from Italy) ... suprisingly, absolutely no Spanish programming. Needless to say, it was an odd offering.

I have never in the several years I have lived in Germany watched so much of Stefan Raab (if that is how it is spelled), and I can honestly state that I am not confused as to why. Like Jen, I can somewhat embarassingly admit I took some pleasure from watching "Let's Dance", and I might actually watch the next installment.

But what I was really missing were the regular installments of 24, The West Wing, Boston Legal, Law & Order, and a few other things. (I was also missing Bloomberg TV and CNBC, but that was more about being on top of things so I can pay the rent).

You can get most of those shows in dubbed version in Germany, but despite the fact that dubbing has gotten better over the years, there is no substitute for the VO.

Shows like these and the 300 versions of CSI are the reasons why so many people hate America. They are the television version of crack.

If you look at television around the world, there are a lot of interesting, locally-produced shows, like the myriad talking-head shows one finds on German TV. But the shows that generally get watched are knock-offs of the American and British shows produced and aired on private networks, even the dreck shown on UPN and WB. Hate to say it, but even the Brits watch an inordinate amount of American-produced TV.

Hate to admit it, but I rarely watch German TV ... The first Krimi I watched in Germany is perhaps the best reason why. It was about the Customs Police ... it went something like this:

  1. After an hour and a half of following him around, the CP finally got their man for smuggling gold from Switzerland to Germany, as if that is a big crime problem.

  2. They knocked on his door.

  3. He answered and let them in.

  4. They told him he was caught.

  5. He reached across the table for what I thought might be his gun, but instead pulled out a cigarette.

  6. He reached across the table again for what I hoped would be a gun, but instead produced a lighter.

  7. He lit his cigarette.

  8. He then proceeded to drop the dime on all of his friends.

  9. Change of scene to Jail ...

  10. His friends shake their fists at him in his cell as they are led to theirs.

  11. Fin.

When I started to type this, I was watching The Late Show with David Letterman, the real thing from the USA and not the lame German imitation by Harald Schmidt. As I finish, I am now watching South Park. Really dreadful stuff this, but still some of the best in the Modern World (except for RAI and TvE when they've got the cute blondes jiggling around ... just kidding!).

Useless internet fact 4002 >>> Baywatch was the Number 1 watched show in Iran for years, unofficially of course.

Call Me Tab Hunter -- Redux

In an earlier post I posed the question, "What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this?"

9 times out of 10, when I bring a pack of this stuff to the checkout line, someone in line will say, "Tab® ... they still make that stuff?"

If you are a single male looking to meet a women between the ages of 30 and 55*, having a pack of this stuff in hand will get her to start the conversation.

More useless information you would not have or need were it not for the wonderful world of blogging!

* Conjecture valid only in USA.

Tab is a registered trademarks of the Coca Cola Company.

Always read the tiny print!

Technical Clarification ...

I noted in an earlier post that I did not have "Total Internet Access" while in Northern Germany. Claire commented that they do have Internet Access in Northern Germany, which is indeed the case.

What I meant to communicate was my disappointmment with the availability of broadband WiFi hotspots in that part of Germany ... lo-speed analog dial-up was available, but it just will not do anymore.

Yeah, I know ... Poor little spoiled American boy!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mallorca ... Debrief

This was my third trip to Mallorca. The first was to a corner of the island that was still mostly frequented by Spaniards with the occasional smattering of Brits and Germans. The second was frequented by a fairly balanced mix of Brits and Germans with an occasional Spaniard tourist here and there. This time we went to Paguera, which for all intents and purposes could be annexed by Germany tomorrow. It does have several nice stretches of beach, one of which is pictured above.

We arrived fairly late on the first night, and the hotel was kind enough to lay out a couple plates of aufschnitt (cold cuts) and fruit. I was not very confident of the food handling since the wrapped plates were essentially at room temperature, so I picked at the food and then suggested to the Partnerin that we venture out and see what we could find on the streets at midnight. Sure enough, just around the corner from the hotel was an imbiss, and even though we were only out of Germany for a few hours, a bratwurst and pommes sounded good.

We had to wait behind a couple of women who were waiting on their own pommes, when one turned around and started talking very lively to the Partnerin. Questions included things like "Where are you staying?" and "Do you know ... ?" It was clear that they were drunk, but less clear what they were after. Based on dress, jewelry, and styling, my New York instincts suggested they might also be hitting on the Partnerin, but she assured me that they were just a couple of nice, albeit drunk, women. Whatever ... I was never good at telling these things. Turns out we saw them waking up on the beach the next morning in the same clothing, so more likely than not they were simply looking for a place to crash and didn't find one.

We wandered about the island for most of the week, taking in things like the Cathedral in Palma ...

various landmarks, like the tower at Canyamel, which has a decent, albeit somewhat touristy restaurant that serves an excellent Spanferkel (roast suckling pig) ...

and lots of scenery, photos of which I might plug in sometime in the future ...

A few of the comments on my last post suggested that Mallorca is problemmatic for a number of reasons, like it being too much like Daytona Beach and too full of Germans.

Well, I used to live just down the road from Daytona Beach, and yes, some of the places around Magaluf strike me as being like the worst of Florida. But in all honesty, Mallorca is at best like pre-Disney Florida. In fact, I'm surprised it is not a part of the Disney family. Disney-world Mallorca would certainly bring it into the 21st century.

As for there being too many Germans, even the Partnerin was beginning to grow weary of her fellow country-persons after day two.

As for me, I was the exotic character by reason of being American. I'm sure that at any one time there might be as many as 10 Americans on the island, but I certainly did not come across any of them. What did start to happen after day four was that restaurant proprietors would give us a big "Ola" as we walked by, probably because as an American I tended to tip rather generously by European standards. On a couple of days people would start to talk to me in German, and when I replied in Spanish or English they quickly answered, "Oh, you are English ... I am so sorry!" I'm sure they were apologising simply for picking the wrong language!

On Day Five, I tried an experiment, walking into the restaurant and giving a big "Hi!" in a broad American accent. The first question was (in English), "Are you from America?" And quick and attentive service followed from there. They earned a big tip, and got one.

Perhaps the most fun thing for me was that it was one of the few places in the world where I have a linguistic advantage on the Parternin. I learned Spanish in the US and lived in Portugal for a year and a half, so I kind of spoke and understood the language. But the Partnerin could still follow the conversations based on her school French, so it is a slim edge. Not that we are in competition, but it is nice to have some shred of dignity somewhere in the world.

Mallorca is a nice diversion, especially when Spring seems to elude us in Germany. But someone is going to have to tell the folks at Disney so that they can do something to upgrade the package.

Monday, April 17, 2006

When the going gets tough ...

The Germans go to Mallorca.

I have spent more time on planes in the last five weeks than I would have imagined. But this was a planned trip with the Partnerin so that she could see a little sunshine and warmth on the tail of the Easter break. So we are off to Mallorca.

Sounds exotic to my American friends and family. In fact, before I moved to Europe, Mallorca was little more than a lyric in the Ringo Starr "No No" song ("No, No, No, No, I don't take it no more, I'm tired of waking up on the floor"). Ask an American where to find Mallorca, and you might hear "My Orca, I don't have an Orca, but you can see one at Seaworld." Actually, you won't get much more than a dumb stare.

But it is beloved to Germans and Brits alike. In fact, half of the fun is getting to pool-side early so you can watch them fight over the lounge chairs. Germans like to reserve their chairs by hanging towels over them and then disappear to heaven-knows-where ... the Brits seem to believe possession is nine-tenths of the law, and often toss the towels aside. As John Lennon said, and Germans tend to believe, possession is nine-tenths of the problem. Great fun to watch, but I'm with the Brits on the possession bit.

Mallorca is one of the two places where I probably cannot do much blogging (I have gone from Frankfurt to New York to Singapore via Frankfurt to Seattle via Frankfurt to the middle-US to Frankfurt to London via Frankfurt to Northern Germany and back to Frankfurt in the past five weeks, and the only place I have not had total access in all of that was in Northern Germany), but I will see what I can do ... especially since I have a few good easter stories to blab on about.

'Til then, Hasta la vista, Tierra del fuego, or whatever!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Thanks (LB - Afermath)

Thanks to all who commented on the Lost Blogs postings. I revealed my character on the last day, because I was stepping on a plane for yet another short notice trip and would not have the chance to comment until after the weekend.

My character was guessed pretty early, if I take the post of sj, who asked "Does his name start with H, and he's pretty damn famous?" in an effort to draw me out on Day I. Just Another American Expat worked his way through a few Caesars, but nailed it on Day IV. By way of aside, it could not be Julius because he was covered by Paul's book.

I spent a week and a half hiking Hadrian's Wall last fall, and he seemed like a good character to cover. Famous, but not so famous that everyone would know who he is in the first couple of days.

I played a bit with the history, but tried to be faithful to it. I was writing from his perspective, so I was trying to see him as he might see himself at the time. He really seemed to be an intriguing character (literally as well as figuratively), but at the same time he did a lot of good for Rome and, more than most of his predecessors and followers, established what I consider to be the highpoint of the Empire and Pax Romana. He was indeed a consummate politician, and quite a few prospered under his reign both from his public works projects (the pork-barrel is an eternal fixture) as well as from the relative peace enjoyed by Rome through the cessation of the never-ending wars of expansion (modern politicians could do well by occasionally reading their history). Despite any good he did for the people and the Empire, Hadrian was utterly despised by most at the end of his reign -- and for a host of reasons.

I like to choose dead Romans because I can then write with a stilted writing style and you, gentle reader, have to decide if it is me or the character. My thanks to everybody for the positive feedback and participation. It was fun.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Mere Mortal (LB - V)

My nobel predecessor, Augustus Caesar, once said, "I found Rome a city of bricks, and I left it a city of marble." I would like to think Rome is grander still for its time under my administration.

Under my predecessors, Rome was an empire of expansion. Under me, it became one of endurance. Many scorn me for turning my back on the constant wars of expansion, the old glory of Rome, that had become an increasing drain on Rome's coffers, yet surprisingly few complained when I discharged the public levies that were required to finance the burden of that glory.

In my time I have tried to excel at every possible learning and experience. But all of that is fleeting, for I am but human. I shall return to dust, with only stone and stories to mark my name. That being said, let them be good stones.

The wall we have built in the north of England will last for millenia. Even though plundered by farmers looking for stone through the centuries to come, it will still present a lasting testimony to the might and majesty of Rome. I find it curious that my own legacy will be inextricably tied to this tiny corner of the empire more than anywhere else.

Yes, Augustus left a city of marble, but the Pantheon that survives 2000 years later is the one that was rebuilt and improved under my reign. It will remain the largest domed structure on the earth until the 20th century.

I am painfully aware that I am speaking across generations — nay, centuries — and like most leaders I would hope that the record is kind to me.

But in my day I have been despised. I tried to please everybody, and in the end I pleased none.

I did not put my name on many monuments, nevertheless it has endured in various corners of the world.

I am Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus.

This post is part of the GBBMC "Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign" (see Kevin Apgar's site here for further details) in support of Paul Davidson's book The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, which you can order via Amazon. Kudos to Claire for getting me interested in this. Take a look at her posts and guess who she is playing this week.

BTW, How does one write like a Roman?

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Man of the People, Friend of the Senate (LB - IV)

Senatus Populus Quiritium Romanus ... the Senate and the Citizens of Rome; for these I serve.

I have always tried to be a man of the people. I light-heartedly dismiss obsequious toads who seek to impress me by recounting my titles and honors. I know my resume ... I do not need to have it repeated to me. The most common citizens could, if my name were Joe, call me Joe. I am first a Roman Citizen.

I have been a Roman soldier. I am now a Roman leader. I have reformed the Army, not because it was weak, but because it could be better. Peace through Strength ... he who would have Peace must prepare for War. We owe it to the troops.

And I am a friend of the Senate, despite the ignominius start to my office. The Senate is supposed to represent all that is good of the Roman people. Unlike my predecessors, I nominate able persons to the Senate, men of good character. No horses need apply.

This post is part of the GBBMC "Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign" (see Kevin Apgar's site here for further details) in support of Paul Davidson's book The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, which you can order via Amazon. Kudos to Claire for getting me interested in this. Take a look at her posts and guess who she is playing this week.

In the meantime, if you can guess who I have chosen for a character, enter your guess by using the comments section. Thanks for playing!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Consummate Politician (LB - III)

A lot of people have commented that I was the consummate suck-up to Father, but I find the notion absurd. The old man and I simply enjoyed our wine together. That he should choose me to follow in his footsteps was an honor placed in the confidence of my ability and not a simply a favor.

It turns out I can buy peace. The Parthians merely wanted to be rid of the ruler Father had installed over them. No problem there. I must also tend to executive appointments in some of the other provinces and protectorates.

I've heard a lot of moaning about taxes under Father, and I have endeavored to lighten the load where possible. On my own boyhood home, however, I have had to raise the load. They have not been too happy about this, so I have chosen to winter here so that I can better make the case. Although the locals are angry, only one of them has actually set upon me. Turns out he was simply mad. To the doctors with him. No sense executing a crazy man. And never show fear.

Some of the men have been a little too friendly with the wife. I need to do something with them. Forget not from whence ye came.

This post is part of the GBBMC "Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign" (see Kevin Apgar's site here for further details) in support of Paul Davidson's book The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, which you can order via Amazon. Kudos to Claire for getting me interested in this. Take a look at her posts and guess who she is playing this week.

In the meantime, if you can guess who I have chosen for a character, enter your guess by using the comments section. Thanks for playing!

It's Me

I've wrested control of my blog long enough to let you know I have returned to the European side of the Atlantic. If I were feeling hammy right now, I'd say something like "I just flew in from America ... and boy are my arms tired."

The unfortunate thing about moving around so much is that it is hard to keep up with the blogging scene while you are over the ocean. I guess I should have sprung for Lufthansa, which has over-water internet service on some flights ;) Nah, never mind.

My blog is hosting the "lost blogs" series this week along with 39 others in whose company I truly feel humble. I've clumsily guessed at the IDs of a couple of them, but I am feeling guilty at not having read more of them, especially given some of the really nice comments my guest-host has received from various corners of the world.

We discussed this, and have agreed on an official statement: "What can we say? We put the Lite into Literature."

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Always Under Way (LB - II)

The damp and cold of this wretched stretch of water are getting to me. I miss my beloved Athens; It was at this station that I was my happiest. Between the provinces and the capital, I despair that I shall never see her again.

The trip to the north was short. The Caledonians were their normal, cursed selves, but we have shown them our full might. The works are outstanding, but I could not help tweaking them a bit here and there. It's what I do for fun.

But now, we are off to deal with the Mauretanians. And I hear the Parthians are making noises. May the Furies descend upon them if they drag me back into that part of the world.

This post is part of the GBBMC "Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign" (see Kevin Apgar's site here for further details) in support of Paul Davidson's book The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, which you can order via Amazon. Kudos to Claire for getting me interested in this. Take a look at her posts and guess who she is playing this week.

In the meantime, if you can guess who I have chosen for a character, enter your guess by using the comments section. Thanks for playing!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Public Servant (LB - I)

40 days out of the capital to inspect the handiwork of our troops. A show of might, or a practical defense and toll-station? I learned my lesson at the Danube, that sometimes one must make a stand even where it seems least practical. But this is a good location ... it has a basis in geography.

I'll let history judge me. We will see how my works stand the test of time, how long I am remembered. I didn't really want this job, but someone must do it to ensure that the peace and prosperity of the people are secured. This was thrust upon me by my predecessor, my adoptive father. But I swear to the gods I will do my best. I will ride throughout all of the provinces to understand the problems they face. And I will establish the majesty of the empire once and for all.

This post is part of the GBBMC "Grassroots Blogger Book Marketing Campaign" (see Kevin Apgar's site here for further details) in support of Paul Davidson's book The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, which you can order via Amazon. Kudos to Claire for getting me interested in this. Take a look at her posts and guess who she is playing this week.

In the meantime, if you can guess who I have chosen for a character, enter your guess by using the comments section. Thanks for playing!


Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited ... Time for some bugs to die. I'm going flying.

The airport at which I earned my first pilot rating (picture above, which is not officially CAVU ... you can see the haze) is still open, but there is little to no flight training there any more. Mostly "serious" flying. I considered a life of "serious" flying once, but for me it looked more like a being glorified bus driver (don't hate me, fellow pilots!) driving someone else's routes. So I chose a life in Banking.

Actually, the city that runs my old home-base it is letting it whither on the vine because neighbors complain about the noise. It used to be that you could drive up to one of several flight schools and take a discovery flight as your first lesson. Nowadays, if you can find a flight school, you also need to prove your citizenship or get permission to take training in the US before a school will take you on. You also won't find a group of guys sitting around a coffee machine and talking about this and that with wild waving of the hands supposed to represent the aircraft in various manoeuvers. People seriously in need of a life who had found one. I miss those days.

So I found an alternative up the road where people still come out to the airport on a sunny day to talk and, perhaps, to fly. I try to do it at least once while I am back in the US. Usually in rainy and grey weather so I can keep my instrument flying proficiency up to date (you need that to fly in bad weather, when you can't see where you are going, or when you are flying with the big boys in busy airspace, or, in Europe, when you are flying at night and, around Frankfurt, most of the time). But today was a beautiful day, and it was time for some bugs to die!

Today's aircraft was the venerable Cessna 172 Skyhawk. Looks small, but it carries a couple of people comfortably (it has four seats, but I've never dared to fill them ... the aircraft runs out of capability to carry weight well before it runs out of space). With only two people and full fuel at a few hundred feet above sea level on a cool day, it flys quite well. A little mushier on warm days at several thousand feet above sea level.

Today's "mission": Do 10 practice takeoffs and landings ... so called "touch and go's," which I more affectionately call "crashes and dashes" ... and then head out to the north to look around.

Think of how many times you have really had a smooth landing in an airliner (probably not as often as you think). It's even more fun being bounced around in a bug-smasher like a Cessna. Here's what it looks like when you are almost lined up properly on final ... nobody's perfect, especially when they are being blown around like a leaf in the breeze. Many pilots find T&Gs boring, but we do it because we can all use practice with takeoffs and, more likely, with landings, which are really nothing more than controlled crashes.

As for heading out to the north, it was also a good day to see from a low altitude what is developing in America. Today was a turn over some new McMansions. When you see this going on for miles and miles, you can only marvel at how rich America is. This plus auto-malls full of brand new cars and SUVs. You see some of this in europe, but not nearly on a scale in proportion to the actual comparison to the USA. European per capita GDP is estimated to be roughly 75% to 80% of that in America. It is easy to see that from the air.

An American pilot can fly in Europe, but generally only in an aircraft that is registered in America. You can bring your own over, or you can try to find one already over here and rent it. Alternatively, you can try to convert your American license to a European license. In any case, flying in Europe is not cheap. You can fly an hour in the US for what it takes to start the engine in Europe ... OK, just kidding, but US costs are roughly one-half of those in Europe. This is why most professional pilots in Europe do their training in the US.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

I Can't Drive 65

America has these nice, big superhighways built for speed, and rather than live free, the people let themselves be held back to 65 or 70 mph. That's less than 130 kmh, which is the standard for most of western europe. Can you picture Americans actually allowing themselves to be second to the French in something?

Doesn't really matter, because from what I have seen, the posted speed limits are purely advisory. I am one of the few idiots actually adhering to a speed somewhere around the 5 or so mph they let you get away with if clocked. I just don't have the energy to explain a german drivers license to a local cop, much less why an American citizen would have one instead of an American license ... it would probably take three days in a holding cell before Homeland Security confirmed that it is a possible combination of credentials.

So I drive "slow." 70 mph or so. Thank heaven for cruise control. I'm so accustomed to doing roughly 110 mph to 120 mph on the Autobahn that the sight-picture of traveling at 70-mph is disconcertingly annoying.

When I was a child, we were regaled with tales of how German Autobahns are built for speed. I can tell you from experience that this is rarely the case. I can think of at least a dozen stretches where they are banked to toss you off the road if you are going too fast. They Autobahn was also fabled to have long stretches of straightaway that could double as runways for NATO aircraft in event of Soviet invasion. Yeah, perhaps, but not in too many places.

And many of the Autobahns narrow down to 2 lanes very quickly outside major metropolitan areas, with the effect that through most of the countryside you will be lucky to get above 160 kmh as a chain of slow-movers dominate the left lane for fear that they won't be able to get back into it if they relinquish it. Don't think of passing on the right, which by the way has become a commonplace part of highway driving in America despite being illegal in most states. In Germany there are still plenty of people who will turn you into the authorities, and this offense will cost you your license. (more and more people are doing it, however, especially around Frankfurt, which is populated with Bankers driving SUVs, and we all know that the laws don't apply to them!)

As for roadway markings, you have to cross the border into places like France, Netherlands, or Belgium to get a fuller appreciation of how bad german roadway markings are. At night, in Germany one can rarely see the lane marker strips ... hardly inspires confidence to go 200 kmh. Well, that's the idea ... they don't give you an explicit speed limit, so they "calm" traffic by other means, like making it impossible to see the road at night, especially in the rain. This doesn't really "calm" things however, with the result being far more spectacular accidents when they do happen. As for lighting, the last time I drove through Belgium, the highway was lit from Brussels to the border, but I entered a world of darkness from thereon. But I could drive really fast if I wanted to. Suffice it to say, German traffic engineers hate Germans.

This post could go on for ages about other things like traffic lights. For example, if you pull up to the stop-line in Germany, it is practically impossible to see the light if you are the lead driver ... I sometimes wonder if they do this to give the other, following drivers an excuse to vent their pent-up frustration through the horn (at least in France they have mini-lights lower down the post that can be comfortably seen by the lead driver). And in Germany, if you make a right turn at a light and that light is red, you stop in the intersection, meaning maybe one other car behind your, or perhaps none, can make the turn until the light changes again. As for right turn on red, forget it. It doesn't exist in Germany.

Meanwhile in America, with wide-laned roads built for speed, everone is chugging along at only 80 mph.

It's been a quiet week ...

Yes, I winged my way back to the USA for a few days. You lose a day or two when you do that, but the change in scenery makes up somewhat for that.

I had a productive meeting with a potential employer here, only in the sense that we a little less wary about one another. Will see where this goes. At the same time, no sooner had I left Germany than one of the major German companies actually proposed a Vor-Vorstellungsgespraech in response to recent Bewerbung from me. Gee, guess the official seal on the ZD clinched that.

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and a billionaire by way of, had a nice post entitled Getting Paid to Learn, looking back at some of the interesting jobs he has held over the years and how they helped him to move along to where he is today. It's an interesting take for those between jobs, because one of the natural tendencies for many of us is to re-tool by going back to school. Mark's take is to re-tool by doing.

It is nice to see a billionaire who is not totally removed from how an organization makes its money, but then again as he has pointed out in other posts he was a founder and not just a "hired gun." Many of those at the top (CEOs, CFOs, etc.) of the large organizations have no idea how their companies actually make money, which goes a long way to explaining why they are more interested in doing deals and jettisoning employees than selling product to customers.

I'm not a billionaire yet, but when I get there, I hope I remember how I got there. BTW, I liked Mark's story about learning how to cold call. During one stint as a stockbroker, I learned to dial and smile as I called roughly 100 people per day to pitch them on why they should give their money to me and XYZ Co. From that experience I have developed a great respect for the people on the front-lines of a business whose job is to separate the client from their money in one fashion or another, hopefully in a free and fair exchange of value.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Audience Participation Time ...

Don't be shy ... go ahead and participate by comment. What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see this?

I'm curious to hear your first thoughts, because there is one phrase I hear 8 times out of 10 when I am standing in the grocery check-out line buying a 12-pack of the stuff. Both from other customers as well as the check-out clerk. And I want to see if you have the same gut reaction.

Based on what I hear, you would think I am the only person in America still drinking the stuff, but that can't be since it can still (occasionally) be found on the shelves.

It actually conjurs up the funny image of people at the Coca Cola® Company staring at a map with push-pins in 6 locations across America and wondering why the demand for Tab® is only at those locations.

I couldn't find Tab® (dare I say "Classic"),which is $3.99 for a 12-pack, in New York last month ... they have re-packaged it as Tab Energy® (along the lines of Red Bull®), which they are selling for $7.99 for a 4-pack. But one can still find Tab® ("Classic") elsewhere across the country.

They call me Tab Hunter!

Tab, Tab Energy, and Coca Cola are registered trademarks of the Coca Cola Company. Red Bull is a registered trademark of Red Bull GmBH Ltd. Liab. Co. Austria. Always read the tiny print!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Back in the World

That's what we called travelling to the US in my Air Force days. The gods were good to me, but the trip still took too many hours for my liking. In my Air Force days I had developed what we used to jokingly call a "20-hour a**" (a phrase that in retrospect seems a lot more obscene than it did back then ... I must have been too literal back then).

The airline was also good to me, upgrading me to Business class for the trip over the water. I thought that the three hour layover in at the Port of Entry would be too much, but it is amazing how much time the TSA and its random searches can take out of one's margin of time, which meant that instead of sitting in the Club room and having a few adult beverages I was wasting a lot of time parading sans shoes and sans belt and being probed and felt up.

If you have never flown into one of the major Ports of Entry, you go through customs, then you pick up your bags, and if you are connecting you then re-deposit them and then go through yet another security line even though you have not once left the protected part of the airport. It can play havoc with connections. It used to be that having a one-hour gap between flights was enough, but now that TSA has enhanced its "screen anybody who might not look like an actual threat" program, you need to now allow for at least two hours to get through.

It's probably easier to sneak across the border ... oh, don't want to go there! Suffice it to say, the one thing that might cost the Republicans both the House and the White House is the combination of how easy they have made it for 11 Million+ "undocumented immigrants" to invade the US at the same time they have made it so difficult for several hundred million legal visitors and citizens to visit or return to it, and to then travel around it.

To simply travel around the US has become a pain. Do you think the sight of 3-year old girls and 80-year-old Grandmothers being wanded on their way home from Disneyworld and what administration brought this reign of terror upon the American people is lost on the average voter? The question is, can the Democrats play the issue without looking soft on security?

Probably not, since they are marching on May-Day to support the rights of "undocumented immigrants" to not be hasseled with the Amnesty the Republicans are trying to throw at them with their "immigration reform" bill. Both sides are pandering, and an observer is hard pressed to say that either are on the good side of the issue.

This trip forces me to revert to a US-style keyboard, which might seem like a non-issue to most of you gentle readers, but the "z's" and "y's" keeping catching me off guard.

"@" is back in its old familiar location, but since that is where " " " used to be, I can't quote anzthing, and mz emails keep going to And now I have to answer e-mails from Germany with "fuer" and "Gruessen" instead of the familiar umlauted characters, and it just looks odd.

This worries me, because my fallback plan was to take a temporary job back in the US when I get kicked out of Germany for not having a job, and instead of typing 70 wpm with no errors, I am back to below 40 wpm, which hardly makes for a good temp job ;-()

At least I have the right and the documentation to work in the US. Of course, it seems that all of the "good jobs" are bing outsourced, and all of the sh*tty ones have been taken by the "undocumented immigrants" who will do them for half of what they should be paying a decent american like myself. (No, I am not being serious here, but this is what passes for serious political discourse today both in the US and in Europe).

Did you ever stop to wonder if some Roman Senator in 326 A.D. was taking a stand against all of the "undocumented" Goths who were pouring across the borders, while the rest were blathering on about the Goths doing the work that Romans refused to do? Do you think the Romans of 410 A.D. might have had an epiphany that cheap labor was indeed expensive as Rome was being pillaged by the Goths?

I got to read der Speigel cover to cover on the way over, and there were a few articles just begging to be commented on somewhere, so perhaps in a later post as I lie awake jet-lagged.

Until then, all the best from the USA.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

What's in your CD collection?

"A mobile phone salesman was hauled off a plane and questioned for three hours as a terror suspect - because he listened to songs by The Clash and Led Zeppelin," according to an article in The Daily Mail.

I still occasionally listen to the Dead Kennedys ... I wondered why I kept getting the special "random" search when I go back to the US:


Because I wasn't having enough fun with German.

The interesting thing about learning Chinese in Germany is that it is helping me to further focus on improving my German. I empathize with the poor instructor, however, as she also occasionally struggles to find the right German word for something.

I started taking Chinese for fun. One of my interns had expressed interest in learning the language to be better equipped for a later career in China, and I thought "Gee that would be interesting!"

The intern never started, but at least has launched a promising career. Sort of raises a "Who is the master and who is the student" question. Maybe there is some psychological need compete with my former intern, or maybe I just like to learn new things. Who knows.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

A Lot was at Steak

Or a tale of two steakhouses (not intended to constitute an endorsement or recommendation, merely a statement of observations and experiences, so don't sue me!).

The first is a national (Germany) chain with a location in the West end of Frankfurt. This is not a Morton's®-class steakhouse, but you can get a decent meal for two with non-alcoholic drinks for under € 50.

They have what looks a salad bar, but I've never tried to go there myself ‡ ... the wait-person (usually a waitress) will bring you a freshly made salad with a dressing of your choice (why is it, BTW, that what is called American dressing here is called French dressing in America?). Another nice touch comes when you order a baked potato, which will come with sour cream (or is it quark? dunno, tastes like sour cream), and a little moment later you will receive a small serving dish with more sour cream without asking for it. How often does that happen in Germany? The steaks are decent, as are most of the other choices on the menu.

Two more surprises: They have a non-smoking section, and they are kid friendly (they have child seats and they bring your young ones coloring pencils and coloring pages). Nice touches. By the way, they even have an outlet in Palma de Mallorca, if you are homesick for a German steakhouse there, not that would be likely since Mallorca has many good Spanish steakhouses.

The second is also in the West End of Frankfurt. It is also not a Morton's®, but earlier in the decade they did call themselves Mortons (not affiliated with Morton's®) and then disclaimed it on the Menu by saying they were not affiliated with Morton's of Chicago®. I guess you can't be too clever in a city full of international lawyers, because they dropped the Morton's® name.

Notwithstanding that, they have excellent steaks and other fare. The quality is up there in the Mortons®-class of steakhouses, as is the price. Two of you will probably not get out of there for less than € 100, because you will most likely order drinks, appetizers, desert, etc. It's just that kind of place. Good for Business dinners, especially if you still have an expense account.

People do smoke there, and in fact you can have a nice Cuban cigar there if you like. I've never seen a child there.

An interesting touch is the Parade of Beef. They will bring their selection of cuts to the table for you to see and choose. This used to drive my old American boss crazy when we ate here because he knew precisely what he wanted and simply wanted to order ... he usually asked me to decline the presentation, but I would demur and tell him the theatre wasn't only for us and to let the people do their job. Don't know if they have outlets in Mallorca. Doubt it.

‡ (5.Apr 2006) I've been told you can visit the salad bar, but I've never seen anyone but the wait-staff doing it. I will need to do further research when I am back. Yum!

"Morton's" and "Morton's of Chicago" are registered trademarks of Morton's of Chicago, Inc. The author is in no way affiliated with any of the establishments mentioned in this article and has no financial interest in any at the time of publication. Always read the tiny print.

What Would Jack Bauer Do ?

Tonight was "24" night ... actually it would have been last night, but I taped it to watch after German class.

I heard rumors of a "Jack Bauer, Superhero" list floating around out there. Things like,

"In 96 hours, Jack Bauer has killed 93 people and saved the world 4 times. What the heck have you done with your life?"

I don't know if this is the original source, but you can find a fuller list here at

Monday, April 03, 2006

TGIM — (Thank God It's Monday)

I should be doing "things," but instead I am reading blogs, making goofy comments, and now typing away at this. Need to do the following today:

  • get my hair cut,

  • have a "Bewerbungsfoto" shot,

  • plant a bunch of flowers and herbs,

  • finish re-lighting the kitchen

  • build a little greenhouse for the herb-garden,

  • do my german-class homework, and

  • to also do my chinese-class homework,

  • need to actually go to german class,

  • pack for an upcoming trip to the US;

Q: Where does the time really go?

A: Here!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Yo quiero nachos ...

Like Jen, I found myself involved in a project that involved the disposition of a giant carpet. Unlike Jen, ours had nothing to do with cat piss.

Nevertheless, we had to do something with the rug the Partnerin's eltern had loaned to us when we moved together. The Partnerin hated it because it was large and dark red and, in the company of my large, black leather sofa, it made for a very dark living room despite what little of the brighter parkett was still visible around it. Yes, that carpet had to go back to the eltern.

That involved a trip to Ikea on a Saturday afternoon. I've liked going to Ikea over the years, and I think I have personally made a Swedish family or two quite comfortable with all the money I have tossed away in ´various flights of boredom to Ikea ... I love walking among the myriad rooms of Swedish perfection, followed by the mad dash through the racks of little kitchen gadgets, dishes, glassware, faux art, lights, and the ever present plants that we always seem to be adding to the collection. I could furnish three apartments with all of the Ikea-ware we have bought in the past few years. In fact, I have somehow managed to shop in Ikea stores in at least 7 countries now. But what does this have to do with nachos, you might ask?

Well, we didn't start out looking for a carpet at Ikea. In fact we have disagreed over one- and two- thousand euro carpets for several months now. I hate most of the high-end carpets that are sold in German furniture stores. We were on our way to yet another frustrating day of carpet shopping when the giant blue and yellow Ikea sign beckoned to us.
"Time to buy some more napkins," I said, referring à l'américain to what are called Serviettes on this side of the Atlantic. Ikea really has nice napkins ... er, serviettes.

"And we can use a new Salatschlueder," she replied. "And I want to get a couple of bath mats ... can we get a couple of new bath mats?" she asked.

"My darling, you're the breadwinner ... you can have all the bathmats you wish."
Well, we wandered around and saw little of interest. Maybe a new chair for the living room and a new office chair for our office in the guest room, but nothing so fetching that we wanted to commit to it then or there. And yes, we found napkins, but they had no blue or red, only yellow and green. Worse yet, the bathmats on display were dreadful ... they had gone what they considered "upscale" in design, quality, and price, but they color assortment had been picked out a decor-challenged buyer. There were no Salatschleuders to be found. Today I hated Ikea.

In the US, it is the death of a retailer to go stock-out on items, especially on the heaviest shopping days. In Germany, it is common practice. Don't go to a large retail grocer and expect to find anything but rotting vegetables after 6 pm on a Saturday. And Ikea probably re-stocks on Sunday, when all of us pesky customers are not in the way.

So as we dejectedly turn the corner to head for checkout, we come across a very nice, off-white carpet that we both actually liked, and it was only a couple hundred Euros. It had to be done.

But this was setting the stage for a serious project for Sunday. A ton of furniture would need to be moved, a large (2m x 3m) carpet moved out, cleaned, and wrapped for return to the parents, and then a lot of parkett would need to be scrubbed and reconditioned to adjust for the giant white square now left in our living room. That was a day long project.

Having gone through that, the next question was one of Dinner. "I want nachos," said the Partnerin. I had introduced her to nachos several years ago, but I had made the mistake of doing so with a sub-par batch made with the few off-the-shelf mexican food items one can find in a german grocery, including that gooey jar-cheese-food stuff. Since then, I can't entice her with fresh-grated cheddar. Only the jar-stuff will do. Ugh!

But it was 5 pm Sunday, and we had no ground beef. So, like all industrious expats, I made a dash for ... the Airport. No, not to travel to somewhere with Sunday shopping ... the airport is where you go to do your Sunday shopping. Besides, we had a few packets and letters to post, and that's where you go when you need a post-office on a Sunday. No harm, no foul, no problem.

So Nachos it was. Fresh guacamole, fresh salsa, and jar-stuff cheese. Yum!

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Quo Vadis, US Dollar ?

I had a somewhat industrious recruiter from the US contact me yesterday ... industrious since he actually bothered to contact me despite knowing that I am in Germany, but not so industrious that he was on top of the USD/EUR FX situation ... so in trying to nail down how much it might cost his client to hire me, he asks, "X Euros, is that more or less than Y Dollars?" And the numbers he quoted put the Euro to Dollar FX rate at about 0.90 USD/EUR, versus the actual rate of about 1.20 USD/EUR (for those of you who hear it quoted on AFN, that would be 1.11 EUR/USD versus the actual 0.83 EUR/USD).

I pondered the question for a moment, not for a lack of data, but for what I would be signalling with a correct answer, which would be that I might be roughly 33% more expensive for his client than he thought.

It reminded me of those lovely days of but 5 years ago, when the US dollar was somewhere around 80 cents to the Euro and when travelling to the US was roughly 33% more expensive than it is now. Despite that, clothing was still much cheaper in the US. Hotels, especially given the general standard of housekeeping in the US, were (and unfortunately still are) a total rip-off.

Meanwhile the general appreciation (some would say recovery) of the Euro has meant that if you owed any US Taxes due to things like the AMT, you have now become "richer" from the standpoint of the IRS and therefore found yourself paying even more AMT (until the recent change in Tax Code, which will allow you for 2005 to offset 100% of your US tax liability with foreign taxes paid versus the previous 90%)

But I digress, and on a subject that causes most people's eyes to glaze over, despite the huge importance this might have for their future well being ....

Which of course begs the larger question, where goes the US Dollar? For those of you gentle readers sitting on the Euro side of the Atlantic who have roots but little money back in the US, it is hard to cheer the rise of the Euro without feeling a little nagging guilt. It's even more difficult if you still have money tied up there in things like pensions, 401k's, IRA's, etc. as your net worth is sinking with the Dollar.

Sure the dollar has been bouncing between 1.15 and 1.22 (USD/EUR) lately, which seems like quite a reboud from the 1.30 of last year, but ask yourself where you really think the Dollar will be going given that gold has gone from around $420 per ounce to nearly $600 per ounce (it was recently at a 25-year high, but has come off that level to about $580 per ounce). And don't think that the climb of oil to a fairly steady level around $65 is purely symptomatic of things like hurricanes and increased Chinese demand for oil ... it largely is, but it also reflects a decline in the purchasing power of the dollars that oil is priced in.

So did the Dollar rebound when it went to 1.15, or did the Euro merely race it faster to the bottom while appearing to still have the edge because it was still above parity, and is the Dollar now regaining steam to the downside as economic growth slows to only 1.7%, a rate that some major Euro-zone countries would love to have.

Yeah ... fun stuff to ponder on a Saturday morning. Time to get a Bratwurst (that used to cost 2 Marks but now costs 2 Euros!).