Monthly Archive for September, 2005

Transrapid Worldwide

Nothing could better symbolize the German economy better than the Transrapid: Domestic demand and overall mood are down, but export is booming. This “new” transportation technology which could easily rival airplanes with its 500km/h for medium distance destinations is waiting since the late 80s to take off. In it’s homecountry, indecisive politics and a hesitating economy lead to a complete standstill, no maglev track beside the testing ground in the Emsland was built. The train is not compatible with the current system, building a railroad track from scratch would necessitate huge amounts of investment. On the other hand, maintenance cost and energy consumption is said to be quite lower, beside the speed gain. Environmentalists have been criticizing the project, but in comparison the maglev doesn’t look bad.

Bought by China in 2000, the Transrapid serves passengers travelling from Pu Dong airport to Shanghai, but the government thinks about extending the route to Hangzhou, which is 180km away. Also, Spiegel Online reports about plans to create maglev tracks in the United States and Great Britain and possibly in the Middle East. One of two plans to build a track in Munich is seemingly still in the air, but don’t hold your breath.

Magnetbahn: USA planen Transrapid-Strecken

Dangerously Unique

It’s pieces like this one, written by Moisés Naím, editor in chief of Foreign Policy that bring back into mind what normalcy is.

You are not normal. If you are reading these pages, you probably belong to the minority of the world’s population that has a steady job, adequate access to social security, and enjoys substantial political freedoms. Moreover, you live on more than $2 a day, and, unlike 860 million others, you can read.
[…]
At a time when values have become so common in political discourse, it is important to remain alert to when our advice is built on faulty assumptions about what is normal. When that happens, values lead to bad decisions, not moral clarity.

Foreign Policy: Dangerously Unique

update: check out this discussion at joi.ito.com

Hanami

Stumbled accidently over it, a website with short descriptions about bits and pieces of Japanese culture, famous people, history, lifestyle, etc.:

Hanami

Reporters sans frontières

Very useful, if you’re in a country with oppressive legislation…

Blogs get people excited. Or else they disturb and worry them. Some people distrust them. Others see them as the vanguard of a new information revolution. Because they allow and encourage ordinary people to speak up, they’re tremendous tools of freedom of expression.
Bloggers are often the only real journalists in countries where the mainstream media is censored or under pressure. Only they provide independent news, at the risk of displeasing the government and sometimes courting arrest.
Reporters Without Borders has produced this handbook to help them, with handy tips and technical advice on how to to remain anonymous and to get round censorship, by choosing the most suitable method for each situation. It also explains how to set up and make the most of a blog, to publicise it (getting it picked up efficiently by search-engines) and to establish its credibility through observing basic ethical and journalistic principles.

The handbook is available in Chinese, Arabic, Persian, French and English. WordPress is mentioned as well.

Reporters sans frontières – Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents

Dead Men Walking

A friend of mine is in Swaziland right now. She told me about how beautiful the country is – but also, how trouble riddled it is. Take a look at this. The top seven countries, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Namibia, Zambia and South Africa have between 20% and 38% HIV/AIDS infected among adults. Those are estimations, but considering the condition of the listed countries I’d be surprised if there were solid numbers. The data from Virtual HIV test comes mainly from UNAIDS and other international Organizations.

In Botswana, I’ve been told, companies take three times the number of apprentices because chances are, two of them will die soon. I can hardly imagine what’s going to happen in the next two decades. I don’t believe the international community is prepared for it though. In Germany, the number of new infections is rising again, with a total of about 44,000 people currently suffering from HIV/AIDS, but it is nowhere near such disastrous conditions as Africa.

HIV Statistic

Newspapers and Movies – Both Fading Fast

Exactly what comes to my mind every time I go to the movies: Newspapers and Movies – Both Fading Fast

(0)

Jidôhanbaiki…

…or vending machines are always good for a post. What you can’t see from the photos, the vending machines selling alcohol actually have a “closing time”, just as regular shops, which was some time in the early evening, can’t remember when exactly (2000 was five years ago, I’m glad I still have lots of other memories). If somebody knows if this is still the case, I’d be thankful for an update.

Via Digg: Vending Machines of Japan

Pandora's Musicbox

The site deserves its name – as soon as you start trying it out, you’re hooked. Based on the Music Genome Project, they listened to and categorized over 10,000 songs with attributes like influences by [insert music style here], mild rhythmic syncopation, electric instrumentation, extensive vamping, minor key tonality, antiphony, etc. etc.

Your personal DJ, suggesting music judging from your previous selections, at your service:

Pandora

Opera for Free

Opera’s state-of-the-art web browser is going to be free from today. They removed the ad banner and the licensing fee, as those two seemed to be the main reasons that limited Opera’s acceptance. The company is still making revenues though. It started with an online party where you could grab a free key for the browser, but it seems the company understood that they never could rival Firefox with their current business model. It’ll certainly cost them in the short run, but if it spreads out enough and grabs a few % from IE, it could work. Since IE 7 beta is going public on December 7th, things finally got into motion.

Opera for free

Japanese Castles

All the Japanese castles one would ever want to visit, currently are 58 in the database:

Japanese Castle Browser

An Election Less Ordinary

Half a year ago, Chancellor Schröder proclaimed that the people of Germany are going to vote for a new government this year. At that time, the SPD had just about 24% support in the population. The CDU, on the other hand, was in high favor with about an absolute majority. It seemed to be all so clear, today’s election was supposed to show a clear way for the future. One side defiant, insisting on continuity, the other side proclaiming the Wechsel (change), dividing the bearskin before the bear was killed. It came all so different than everybody expected. Instead of a clear mandate, neither SPD nor CDU got the upper hand, but look yourself:

SPD CDU Green FDP Linke other
33,9%
35,3%
8,2%
10,2%
8,4%
3,9%
-4,6%
-3,2%
-0,4%
+2,8%
+4,4%
+-0%

The “red-green coalition” is no more. The SPD gained remarkable 10% in the last months before the election, but still failed to become the biggest faction in the Bundestag. The only way Gerhard Schröder will continue to govern Germany is by asking the FDP into the boat. They again, announced they would never do this. Angela Merkel’s CDU lost over 3% in comparison to 2002, which is certainly disappointing and they can’t form a coalition with the FDP as planned. What’s left to do? They won and lost this election, the mandate to form a government is theirs, but with who? The Green Party announced they would rather be in the opposition than form a government with CDU and FDP. So, it’s either the Green Party or the FDP, one of them will have to sell its soul and contradict themselves in their respective campaigns. Both parties would loose all credibility and very possibly be marginalized until 2009. Every party announced they would talk to everybody else, except to the Linke/PDS. They said they are going to work in the opposition. They have no other option, since they can’t abide a red-green coalition, it would contradict everything they stay for.

Which leaves us with a big coalition. A Chancellor Merkel with Schröder’s SPD? I don’t see it, but the numbers don’t leave even one other politically viable option.

Pay-per-Vote

Don’t know who to vote for? Take a look at this, creative Ebayers offer advice for undecided voters or sell their own vote:
illegal Ebay auction (might die quick)

If you’re short on money and didn’t vote yet, take a look at Cashvote (German).

A Big Coalition?

The campaigns by SPD, Green Party, CDU/CSU, FDP and Linke turned up the heat. Three days to go, several politicians already announced they would rally until the last booth closed (which is going to happen at 6.p.m. on sunday). There’re still a lot of people – about a third of the electorate leo electorate – who haven’t decided yet who to give their vote to. Compared to a half year ago, when polls foretold the death of the SPD/Green Party coalition. Today, CDU/CSU lead by only a few percents, which is tremendously dissappointing compared to the expectations of a bold change and strong, new government.

Currently, chances are people vote for a big coalition between SPD and CDU/CSU: In a recent poll, 34% are all for it. The politicians are nowhere near this kind of enthusiasm. Angela Merkel (CDU) and potential (first female) chancellor already ruled a big coalition out. On monday evening, during the so called “Elephant Round” (with heavyweights from all major parties participating) she said that her party never could form a new government with a party they have criticized as much as they did in the last years. A reason fair enough, but there’s another reason as well. If both of the big parties are not in the opposition, then who is? A good government needs a good opposition. It’s the same in economics (a field I have to confess I know less about than is good for me, but this I do understand): If there’s no competition, sooner or later you get sloppy and unmotivated, the product you’re selling is not as good as it could be, but hey, you’re the only one who has it, so who cares? People will buy your product anyway.

In politics, accordingly you need someone who leads and someone who checks – and thus does the balancing. This is true on both levels, within the government and the opposition as well as on the government-opposition level. Unfortunately, there are a lot of good examples if you look around in the world what happens when you have a too strong government and an inefficient or even non-existing opposition, if too much power concentration leads to the whole ship leaning towards one side. In Germany, a big coalition of SPD and CDU would probably leave the Green Party, FDP and Linke in the opposition. In the case of the latter, having a party with extreme positions unbalanced by other parties in the opposition is certainly not a healthy thing – it is questionable the two other parties will be doing a good job in that respect.

Another problem with a big coalition: Traditionally, the SPD or the CDU form a coalition with a smaller partner. In a coalition, the big party is the People’s party in the positive sense of the meaning, the small party is responsible for the flavor. The major stream goes either more left or right, but it is the small party’s task to give it a certain spin, balancing the big partner’s motivation and aims in respect to reforms and new laws. Note that in the SPD/Green Party coalition the Green Party has a much smaller weight than the SPD, they never could push through everything they’d like to, but neither can the SPD – but the emphasis is on the latter’s political program in any case. In a big coalition, you have two People’s parties who are not used to have a tantamount partner, which would probably lead to even more friction than it is usually the case. In the worst case, the SPD and CDU would neutralize each other.

Trying to see it from another angle, there’s something politicians from both major parties certainly have thought about, but they’re not going to talk about it: If SPD and CDU form one government, they shoulder the responsebility equally. They couldn’t finger point as easily as they are used to do it one forming the government and the other being in the opposition. Most probably the concensus within the government would diminish to the smallest common denominator. In regard to the reforms which are neccessary to support the economy, a stalwart program needs to be pushed through, if nothing happens history could repeat itself. Germany already experienced a big coalition, and it didn’t go well. As it could happen again, SPD and CDU weren’t unable to tackle unemployment together. One result was that an opposition was formed outside the parliamentary structures and society was destabilized through radical factions as exemplified by the RAF, Germany’s left-wing terrorist group.

Ironically, Germany already had some kind of informal big coalition in the last few years. Most political decisions have to be accepted by the government and the Bundesrat (federal council) . It consists of the 16 Bundesländer (federal states) and is dominated by the CDU/CSU. After Chancellor Schröder lost North Rhine-Westphalia, the CDU/CSU was in the position to block any reform the government proposed. Interestingly enough, Merkel couldn’t do just that but had to agree to some of the ideas the government tried to put through since they were going into the right direction. CDU/CSU would loose all credibility if they blocked the government’s reforms just to suggest the same reforms later. In a big coalition, they would have to do just the same, cooperate instead of block and blame the other side. Problem is, it did’t work in the 60s, chances are it won’t work now. No party likes to blame its own government if the situation doesn’t improve, so a gridlock is the most likely outcome.

Thing is, if the people vote for it, they want it.

eBay swallows Skype for $2.6 billion

That’s a lot of money. Skype has over 50 million users, but $2.6 billion is certainly 50 times more than they earn in revenues. I can see eBayers using eBaySkype to contact each other, but honestly, how well do you understand mictures like Denglish, Konglish, Engrish, Chinglish, Spanglish, Franglais, Indian English and other variations?

eBay to acquire Skype for $2.6 billion

Master of Modern Japan

My studies at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf are over – yesterday I turned in my thesis and today I’m already busy with 100 other things.