discarded lies: friday, september 22, 2017 5:53 am zst
woe is we
daily archive: 01/01/2006
evariste in Discarded Lies:
How a sympathetic German sees us
These are a German's observations of American life. It's definitely quite interesting throughout, and sometimes hilarious. Here are some excerpts:
The American parties are located to the right of their German counterparts. Former President Clinton for instance, a democrat, would have to be placed at the right wing of the German conservative party CDU. Some people at the right end of the American Republican party are so radical that they would probably be under surveillance in Germany.

Prostitution, anal sex, and zoophily are not illegal in Germany but are illegal in many US states (prohibitions against anal sex were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003 however).

Many American cookers arrange the controls in a brain-dead way behind the hotplates, so that one constantly has to reach over the boiling foods. In Germany, the controls are at the front side.

The quality of the plastic bags you get in super markets is incredibly poor, so much so that they often give you a double plastic bag with a paper bag inside.

It is interesting to note that in Germany only people critical of capitalism use the term "capitalism", while in the US only people critical of socialism use the term "socialism".

The American system actively discourage confessions; if a suspect confesses, he or she will get the same punishment as if convicted by a jury. In Germany, a confession normally results in a much lower punishment.

The system of laws in the US is much more Byzantine and complicated than that in Germany. The German criminal code is a little booklet which one can easily read and understand in one afternoon, while the criminal section of the U.S. code comprises several thick volumes. And this is only the federal level; the states and even the local jurisdictions in the US pile on their own layers of criminal codes. On top of all that there's the "common law" which is a rather ill defined body of rules that isn't written down anywhere and that is the result of prior court decisions sometimes going back to England several hundred years ago. Common law is mostly used in civil cases and its importance has been decreasing in recent years. In Germany, only the federal government issues a criminal and civil code and there is no common law layer.

The civil and criminal codes are more transparent in Germany; however, the rules and regulations that apply to businesses are issued and enforced by various different bureaucracies and are much more numerous and a lot harder to navigate than the American ones.

In one area, the US approach is far superior to the German (or European) one. All information and data collected or produced by government research facilities is released into the public domain, without any copyright. Be it images from the Hubble space telescope, sequence from the human genome, satellite images of environmental degradation, or cancer statistics: in America they are all completely free to the public for any purpose whatsoever. European governments are much more protective and usually give out data like these only for non-profit research purposes under specific licenses, while retaining full copyright.

If you go to a college town in the US, you will see students studying in libraries, coffee shops, book stores etc. In Germany, it's rare to find students studying in public.

Many Americans take food supplements and vitamin pills daily, something that Germans sometimes find mildly amusing: "Just eat your vegetables!"

Americans smoke a lot less than Germans and virtually all public spaces except bars are smoke free. People generally look down on smokers as losers. Americans also exercise more, typically in fitness centers, which again many Germans find slightly suspect because of the closeness to body-building, which is generally considered to be utterly ridiculous.

Only about 50% of the members of the US House of Representatives have ever left the country. For a German, this is hard to fathom. But then again, Germany is only about the size of Montana.

There is a strange parallel between the relationships Canada-US and Holland-Germany: the smaller brother looks at the bigger one and finds fault with much of what he sees, he then desperately tries to do everything better, succeeds remarkably well, but tragically, his efforts are completely ignored by his brother and the rest of the world - he is simply too small and unimportant.

This is even more tragical in Canada's case since Canada is the biggest trade partner of the US but still completely and utterly ignored in the US public debate; nobody there knows the prime minister or the capital of Canada.

If I had to boil it down to a word or two, I'd say naive optimism characterizes the American mentality and deliberate, hesitant pessimism the German one. This is a crass simplification and does not mean that most or even many of the people share those characteristics; it just means that, assuming these mentalities, it is possible to explain many of the differences between the two countries, such as the much higher crime rate in the US, the higher need for security and lower degree of mobility in Germany, the much lower birth rate in Germany, and the higher level of friendliness in the US

In German restaurants, you cannot get free water with your food.

In Germany, when you have eaten in a restaurant, taking the leftovers with you is typically frowned upon; they are thrown away. In the US, it is customary to ask for a box.

American jelly donuts contain a lot more jelly than German ones.

Cheerleaders, high school girls cheering and dancing in short dresses for the boys' sport teams, actually do exist in the US. I had always thought they only exist on TV, just like the laughter in the background of soap operas. But no: girls actually do want to be cheerleaders. To Germans, the whole setup is ridiculous, sexist, and degrading.

Americans have a strange obsession with the points of the compass. Frequently inside a building you will find signs like "This elevator is out of order. Please use the one on the North side of the building." How am I supposed to know where North is? Why can't they just tell me where the elevator is?

Soccer is seen as a men's sport in Germany and as a women's sport in the US.
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zorkmidden in Discarded Lies:
Let's call war a 'truce' and move on
Since Palestinian terrorist groups announced a "truce" in January 2005, there have been 2,990 terror attacks in Israel. That averages to about 8.2 terror attacks a day. Quite the truce, isn't it? I would like to know which other countries put up with such "truces". And of course if it wasn't for the security fence racist apartheid wall, the number of dead would be much higher.
Jerusalem and the Judea district were the main dispatch points for potential bombers into Israel. In addition, terror groups recruited Israeli citizens to their cause, using drivers who normally smuggled Palestinian workers into Israel to transport bombers through checkpoints. Examples cited included the suicide bomber recruited by Islamic Jihad in Tulkarm who blew up in Hadera in October 26. The lack of a complete security fence in the Jerusalem area allowed the bomber to be transported from Jerusalem to Jiat and from there into Israel. The suicide bomber recruited by Hamas, who blew up in Beersheba on August 28, was smuggled into Israel from the southern Hebron Hills where the security fence has yet to be built.

The report noted that since the outbreak of the intifada in September 2000 and through July 2003 - when construction on the security fence began - terror organizations in Samaria launched a total of 73 suicide bomb attacks in Israel in which 293 Israelis were killed compared with 11 suicide bomb attacks in which 54 Israelis were killed since.
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guest author: evariste in Discarded Lies - Hyperlinkopotamus:
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guest author: Meshuganah Max in Discarded Lies - Hyperlinkopotamus:
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zorkmidden in Discarded Lies:
Empowerment and other myths
Once upon a time my job involved placing university freshmen in Math and English classes based on their assessment test scores. It made the beginning of fall semester a nightmare for me because I had to deal with long lines of disgruntled students who were trying to assure me that their Math skills were really above pre-Algebra and their English skills were definitely above 7th grade and if I wasn't such a bitch I would place them where they really belonged, in college-level classes and not in remedial education.

I was astounded to see remedial English and Math classes offered in US universities. What the hell were these students doing in high school? Perhaps my attitude was a bit hardened and I wasn't as supportive as I should have been but I resented incompetent students who really should be in a community college finishing up what they did not complete in high school, taking up my time not to mention valuable parking space. One girl, after seeing her placement in remedial English, yelled at me "but you don't understand! I've read Jane Eyre!" I wasn't impressed and I yelled back that I've read Jane Eyre too and she still had to take remedial English.

So how did these kids get to college? Self-help's big lie.
In U.S. schools, the crusade to imbue kids with that most slippery of notions — self-esteem — has been unambiguously disastrous (and has recently been disavowed by a number of its loudest early voices). Self-esteem-based education presupposed that a healthy ego would help students achieve greatness, even if the mechanisms necessary to instill self-esteem undercut scholarship. Over time, it became clear that what such policies promote is not academic greatness but a bizarre disconnect between perceived self-worth and provable skill.

Over a 20-year span beginning in the early 1970s, the average SAT score fell by 35 points. But in that same period, the contingent of college-bound seniors who boasted an A or B average jumped from 28% to an astonishing 83%, as teachers felt increasing pressure to adopt more "supportive" grading policies. Tellingly, in a 1989 study of comparative math skills among students in eight nations, Americans ranked lowest in overall competence, Koreans highest — but when researchers asked the students how good they thought they were at math, the results were exactly opposite: Americans highest, Koreans lowest. Meanwhile, data from 1999's omnibus Third International Mathematics and Science Study, ranking 12th-graders from 23 nations, put U.S. students in 20th place, besting only South Africa, Lithuania and Cyprus.

Still, the U.S. keeps dressing its young in their emperors' new egos, passing them on to the next set of empowering curricula. If you teach at the college level, as I do, at some point you will be confronted with a student seeking redress over the grade you gave him because "I'm pre-med!" Not until such students reach med school do they encounter truly inelastic standards: a comeuppance for them but a reprieve for those who otherwise might find ourselves anesthetized beneath their second-rate scalpel.
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guest author: annie in Discarded Lies - Hyperlinkopotamus:
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guest author: Stormi in Discarded Lies:
Silvester in Germany
In most of (Catholic) Europe, New Year's Eve is called Silvester, because that is the feast day of Saint Silvester. To my knowledge, there's no particular reason that Silvester got New Year's Eve instead of February 5th or July 19th, but there it is. I was invited to a Silvester party by a German colleague of mine and as with all events at which I turn up, hijinks naturally ensued.

Christoph (my colleague) and his wife Sylvia are lovely people. They have an Energizer bunny for a son, a four year old named Leon. Leon has the teeniest tiniest little crush on me, which, as you'll see, caused problems for him later. There was another four year old at the party, named Oliver. Oliver is the first gay four year old I've ever met. He's fruitier than Frank's yacht captain, I swear to you all. Moby would be proud to be the father of this child. He's related to Chris somehow or other, I think it's his sister's kid. Oliver wears a little green scarf knotted around his neck, even with his pajamas, and it isn't a cowboy or rocketship theme. The scarf is silk, and although it was pretty well knotted up it appeared to be a Gucci logo pattern. Things that make you go hmmm.

Oliver also has a doozy of a cowlick. I thought his mother had gelled his hair into this magnificent cone sprouting out the back of his head, but she said it's always like that. Really, it was amazing. I took pictures of it. Leon has a toy kitchen in the party room, one of those plastic ones that you give to little kids. It's got a sink, a rangetop, oven, even a fritteuse. Oliver spent much of the evening cleaning up the toy kitchen and making tidy little piles of the plastic french fries. When Leon wanted to play (his favorite game was pretending to pull a beer for somebody, making like the sink and faucet were a beer tap), Oliver would make a swishy-wristy gesture with his hands to shoo him out of the kitchen. But when they weren't playing in the kitchen, Oliver would stand very close to Leon and put his arm around his shoulder. Oliver also has the funniest grown-up facial expressions; when something annoys him he'll purse his lips together and raise an eyebrow. I do this, lots of other women I know do this, but only one man I know does this. That man is gay. Big surprise, huh?

I believe that Oliver has a crush on Leon, which is odd not only because they're four year old boys, but because they're first cousins. I know I'm in crazy-farmer land, but Saarland is supposed to be the West Virginia of Germany, not the Eifel. Leon is an affectionate kid, and like I said, he has a little crush on me. He likes to sit on the floor next to me and hug my leg, or stand behind me and pet my hair; when he sits on my lap he smooshes his face into my chest. I don't really let him sit on my lap too much. If I leave the room, he will follow me. It is kind of cute, but caused a major problem for Oliver. I was sitting in a chair and Leon was sitting on the floor next to me, hugging my leg, babbling at me half in German, half in four year old. Oliver kept giving him the hairy eyeball, which Leon didn't notice at all, but when Leon reached up to pet my knee, Oliver stormed over with the plastic basket from the fritteuse and whacked Leon in the head, and then he stomped back off to the plastic play kitchen and resumed stacking plastic food. But he kept up the dirty looks.

There were lots of other people about, aside from me and the Odd Couple. Chriss has a few sisters, at least two of whom were at the house along with their husbands and kids. All of the other kids seemed to be teen or pre-teen girls, and went upstairs to do whatever teenage girls do; occasionally you would see one dart into the party room for a bottle of Coke or you'd hear a shriek from ustairs. For the most part, we just sat around, ate food and drank punch. This punch is something else. Sylvia made it, and it's some kind of orange drink, not quite orange juice but not orange soda either. When I first arrived I saw her pouring bottles of champagne into punch bowls, so I thought it was some kind of champagne punch. Not so, grasshoppa. Firstly, there are hunks of pineapple lurking in the bottom of the punch bowls, which Sylvia had been soaking for three days in vodka. Then the pineapple and orange drink spent a few hours getting to know each other in the fridge before the party. The champagne, apparently, is mainly for the bubbles. To top it off, Sylvia put scoops of ice cream in the punch bowls so they melted and made a creamy layer on top. So I thought the stuff was just champagne. Hey, I'm a big girl, no problem. I had three cups of it, and was starting to get a little unsteady on my feet, before I thought to ask what was in it. D'oh!

What's a great idea when you're drunk on champagne punch and can't quite see straight? That's right kids, Jenga is a great idea. Charlie, Chriss and Sylvia's old landlord, lives a couple of streets over. He was there along with his wife and their passel of offspring. Charlie brought Jenga. And a bunch of other games. I like Charlie. If you ever meet foreigners, there's always this thing... they always say 'Oh, my English is not so good'; but their English is better than yours? Charlie's one of those guys. Almost no accent whatsoever. So, we played Jenga, four games. It seemed that the drunker we got, the better we did. Charlie's wife kept bringing him beer; I had Leon on pretty constant trips back and forth to the punch bowl. I don't know how high we got the tower, only that it was so high we couldn't see each other over it anymore. That's high.

We also played a game that somebody had handmade, machined out of stainless steel. They called it Rein-Und-Raus (All Out, basically), and it goes like this: You have this thing, a rectangle made out of metal, and it's got five holes in it and then a large bowl shaped hole at the end. You have these little pegs, and you share them out equally depending on how many people play the game. The pegs fit into the holes on the game board, and the holes are numbered 1-5. You play by rolling a die; whatever number comes up if it's 1 through 5, you put a peg in that hole. If it's 6, you throw it in the bowl. Your turn lasts as long as you're putting pegs away. If you roll and come up with a number where there's already a peg, you take that peg out and put it in your pile, and your turn is over. I'm telling you people, it sounds a bit boring, but it's actually really fun. The object of the game is to get rid of all your pegs; which is way harder than it sounds.

At 11:30, we went upstairs to watch a tv show. This program is a Silvester tradition in Germany, and it's called 'Dinner for One'. It's done in English, but even if you don't understand English it's easy to tell what's going on. There's a lady named Sophie, and it's her 90th birthday; she's having a party, and her butler James sets five places at the table. One for Sophie, and one each for four of her friends: Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy and Mr Winterbottom. The only problem is, all of Sophie's friends are dead. So every year, she makes James play the parts of all her friends. You can read a script of the program here. This is my fourth New Year's Eve here, my last one, and I'd never seen that program before. My friend Guido kept telling me about it, telling me how funny it was, and he was right.

After Dinner For One was finished, we only had about five minutes left until midnight. So we scurried around collecting glasses, I guess it wasn't much of a Silvester tradition for Chris and Sylvia to drink champagne, but I'd brought several bottles of Clicquot and Bohemian champagne I got in Prague last year, plenty for sharing. What is a Silvester tradition is to stand out in the street and set off fireworks. Chris' brother in law had set out a plastic rack of empty beer bottles and put bottle rockets in all of them and wired them up somehow so that they'd go off one after the other but with him only having to light one fuse. One of them went a bit wonky though, and shot straight through the open front door of the house! Scared the devil out of Leon, he was standing right there. He wasn't hurt, but his pants got a little bit charred and he had to be taken up to his room and comforted by his mom. The thing scorched a good big hole in the floor and wall where it landed in the corner of the front hall. Lucky it didn't go next to the interior door, or it would have probably burned the whole house down. Of course, this didn't deter anybody from lighting off more fireworks, and we spent the next hour standing out in the freezing cold drinking and blowing things up. When all the explosives were exploded, we went back inside and ate and drank some more. And then I called a taxi to take me home. And that was how I spent my New Year's Eve.

Happy New Year to you all!
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guest author: lady redhawk in Discarded Lies - Hyperlinkopotamus:
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guest author: joem in Discarded Lies:
Chanukah VIII - Days of Eight
In Ma'oz Tzur, we sing:


בני בינה ימי שמנה קבעו שיר ורנני?
b'nei vinah, y'mei shmonah - kav'u shir u-r'nanim
Men of insight, eight days - established for song and jubilation


This is a very poetic turn of phrase, but y'mei shmonah literally means "days of eight" - not eight days (which would be shmonah yamim).

The Maharal writes that seven represents the natural world (טבע - Teva) since the world was created in seven days. Eight is one above, and therefore connotes what he calls al ha-Teva, above nature (what others call lema'alah min ha-teva) or supernatural. This is the reason, he explains, that the bris milah is on the eighth day; we are going beyond nature. Further, the Kohein Gadol, who was the only person to go into the Kodesh ha-Kadoshim (Holy of Holies), a place where the laws of nature did not apply, wore eight begadim (garments).

Anagrams of שמנה


השמן
- ha-Shemen. The miracle of Chanukah occured with the cruse of oil, known as the פך השמן - pach ha-Shemen.

נשמה
- Neshama. The soul. The verse in Proverbs (20:27) says, Ner Hashem nishmat adam - "The lamp of Hashem is the soul of man." The Sfas Emes says that through performance of Mitzvot, Man brings the light of Torah to the world - ki ner mitzvah v'Torah ohr (Proverbs 6:23).

משנה
- Mishnah. The first recording of the oral law

What do all of these have in common? All are there, but hidden beneath the surface. The Mishnah alone is not used for deciding halacha - we need the elucidation of the Gemara. The Neshama, the soul, is the life force of a person, but it is beneath the surface; something that can't be seen. The olive, too, is a small bitter fruit; only by applying pressure, can we squeeze out the precious oil that is hidden inside.

We believe that life itself, and indeed, the entire universe, is miraculous - but we are so used to seeing it, day in and day out, that for us, it is expected, and therefore, "natural". One of the blessings that we say three times a day is thanksgiving "for the miracles that are with us each day".

The days of Chanukah - the "days of eight", come to show us that miracles are not only manifest in oil that burns for 8 days, or in wars that are won by the weak and few over the strong and many, but that every day, every moment, is really miraculous.

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