I am currently considering buying an apartment, especially in the light of the inexcusable and utterly absurd behavior of my current landlord*. This has turned out to be extremely frustrating, even when discounting the predictable complication of attractive locations having high prices and low prices having unattractive locations (or some other problem). Consider:
*The one for my official residence in Düsseldorf. Not the one for my temporary apartment in Köln. I am very likely to write a long post on this at some point—but I am not certain that anyone will actually believe it! (Sometimes reality makes fiction look unimaginative…)
- In the flawed German system, I cannot hire* a realtor to search for me, because they only provide services towards the seller—for which the buyer has to pay.** Ask them to search for the buyer and they may or may not give a listing of the entries they currently have available***, but that is the last ever to be heard from them. If they do any work for the buyer, well, then they have additional work and no additional money…
*In any sense that matters. As a matter of form, a “hiring” is implied at the latest when an agreement to buy is reached with the seller, but for all practical purposes this just means that the buyer acquiesces to pay for the realtor’s services towards the seller. The real hiring is done by the seller—the buyer just pays.
**This used to be the case for rentals too. Fortunately, this idiocy has since been stopped—but only for rentals.
***More likely than not, they will either not respond at all or just tell the prospective buyer to have a look at their website—which is usually border-line unusable and highly uninformative.
- Realtors are highly problematic in other regards to, including that many of them only provide listings through meta-service providers like “Immobilienscout24” (effectively, Craig’s List for real estate), where they upload information provided by the seller, make the disclaimer that they make no guarantees whatsoever (just repeating in good faith), and wait for the prospective buyers to search. (Remember that the buyers are the ones who pay for this farce.)
- The lists of potential objects provided by most realtors and the large meta services often make no clear separation between apartments for buy-for-own-use and apartments for buy-and-rent-to-someone-else. These two use-cases are so different from each other*, however, that at least the buy-for-own-use-er will find half of the entries worthless— and often only finds this out somewhere towards the end of the page… The buy-and-rent-to-someone-else-er, OTOH, will be less than enthusiastic about the other half, because if he does not find a tenant, he is just leaking money.
*In theory, the buyer can get rid of an existing tenant through invoking “Eigenbedarf” (“own need”); however, this brings a considerable risk that the tenant will be uncooperative and possibly requires a costly and time-consuming detour over the courts. To boot, I have considerable problems with the ethics of this, its legality notwithstanding. “Pacta sunt servanda” is otherwise the theoretical cornerstone of German law, as well as of ethical business practices in general.
- Similarly, a very considerable proportion of the objects turn out to be “Zwangsversteigerungen” (court auctions; literally, “forced auctions”) that imply a considerable additional risk and a lot of bureaucracy that many are not willing to take. (However, it can have advantages for those who are willing to take the risk.) Of course, the price listed is then not the actual price but some vague estimate or minimum that could turn out to have nothing to do with the actual price paid by the winner of the auction…
*There appear to hundreds of realtors (be they individuals or companies) who each have just a dozen objects, of which just one or two are relevant to any individual buyer. It would be far better to have a dozen realtors with a few hundreds objects each. This too is likely a result of the flawed German model: The only reason that realtors do not have money effortlessly pouring in, is that the potential profits have lured too many people into this business…
- Due to utterly idiotic and over-killing money-laundering laws, the prospective buyer needs to give up a lot of information, typically including a copy of an ID document, even when just approaching a realtor with the wish for information on an object*. Not when he buys it, not even when he inspects the object in person, but when he makes a simple inquiry!
*Or so a number of realtors claim. I have not checked whether they are telling the truth, but am somewhat skeptical, because not all do require this.
- If everything seems to pan out, the object being really interesting, then the “Hausgeld”* turns out to be 400-something Euro instead of the the 100-something typical for the size of apartment I am looking for—might as well be renting.
*Frankly, I have no idea what this is in the English speaking world, but it amounts to a monthly fee to the apartment owners’ association to cover various costs, including for parts of the house not belonging to the individual apartments.
Looking at the U.S. Presidential election system, there is an interesting flaw in the two phases* involved: A candidate can win the first phase by having an ever so small majority, possibly even plurality, of his own party support him—and be without chance in the second phase through this support being too small.
*Preliminaries and main election. A case for more phases including preparations, declarations, nominations, and (of course) the election by the electoral college could be made, but I stick to the popular vote here.
In this setup, what is the best way to win an election? Make sure that a. you have a strong internal support, b. your opponent antagonizes almost half of his own party (or otherwise has a weak internal support and a strong risk of defectors). By planting, covertly supporting, whatnot, a poor candidate within the opposing party, the election result can be manipulated in a massive manner. The poor candidate does not even have to be “in on it”. In fact, I would be unsurprised if most variations of such (at least approximately) “divide and conquer” tactics work better when only the outside manipulators know the truth.
Notably, in the U.S. political landscape, with the two main parties both covering a very wide range of opinions and interests (the Republicans likely more so), this is not as far-fetched as it sounds. Take a candidate like Donald Trump*, who by playing the populist element and fringes of one party can gather a majority of his own party, while being highly unpopular in other parts of the party. Chances are that he will be able to mobilize a smaller share of the party members in the main election than a more main-stream/moderate/whatnot candidate—and he will see far more “defectors” from his own party than the opponent’s come election day**. In fact, a number of Republicans have actually publicly declared Hillary the lesser evil (something I very strongly disagree with, however problematic Trump may be). Similarly, with some reservations for how well the populism works, he is likely to miss out on most of the party-less vote.
*This post is very definitely inspired by the current situation. However, and I stress this strongly, I am not saying that this has actually already happened—just that it is a very real risk that it eventually will happen, the more likely after the parties have reviewed the events of the current election. However, similar stratagems have definitely been tried in other contexts in the past, notably during military conquests.
**Normally, almost every Republican voter will see virtually any Republican candidate as better than his Democrat counter-part (and vice versa), because even if flawed in character and sub-optimal in opinion, he will still be the lesser evil through belonging to the right party and having at least roughly the right opinions. The idea is to find a candidate who will disturb this principle with as many voters as possibly (while still managing to gain the party majority).
Say that election day comes, that the Republicans and Democrats are equally strong in general support, but that 80 % of the Democrats vote loyally while 20 % remain at home—and that only 70 % of the Republicans are loyal, 20 % remain at home, and 10 % actually defect. Well, that splits the vote 90–70, giving the Democrats an easy victory*, where we “should” have had a hard fight to the last hour of the election.
*Of course, with the all-or-nothing voting on the state level, such overall numbers are not necessarily important. However, in the given constellation, this would have kept every blue state in its traditional color, likely turned every swing-state blue, and quite possibly given some red states a do-over. The result is the same—an easy victory.
Now, consider the special case that you are put in charge of getting someone herself* almost unelectable elected. Suddenly, this strategy is not merely advantageous—it might be an outright necessity! For a disaster** to be elected, the opponent must at least appear to be similarly poor.
Bottom line: If you are Scylla and want ships heading your way, make sure the alternative is Charybdis.
*And, yes, I am most definitely talking about Hillary Clinton. However, I am still not saying that this is what actually has happened.
**In the case of Hillary Clinton, the disaster falls into two parts. Firstly, she is objectively a poor candidate, with a history of corruption, dubious qualifications, weird opinions, … She has even already more-or-less promised a cabinet with a male–female division of 50–50 based on the overall population distribution and ignoring actual suitability and availability of candidates—an idea fully on par with a wall to Mexico. Secondly, she is a candidate with handicaps when it comes to being elected, including being less than universally liked and more controversial among the Democrats than is safe for a candidate to be, being unusually disliked among the Republicans, being less telegenic and charismatic than many others have been (including Bill and Obama), and just (at least to me) appearing less natural.
Preamble: Through my work, I have spent a lot of time in hotels and apartments rented on a monthly basis, in addition to a number of more permanent residences. I intend to write down some of my experiences in a blog series (of which this is the first post), especially with an eye on several recent negative experiences, but also some more general, some (as below) dealing with unusual situations, and one dealing with how to live in hotels in the best manner.
A few days ago, I moved into an (at least by German and Swedish standards) very unusual apartment, roughly a hundred meters above the ground and with one of the most amazing views I have ever seen—better than many dedicated observation decks. This includes a fair bit of the Rhine, most of central (and not so central) Cologne, and a straight line of sight to the world-famous Cologne Cathedral (once the highest building in the world).
It is not quite the proverbial highest room in the tallest tower—but it is the third-highest (24th) floor in the 55th tallest building in Germany (according to Wikipedia; and, yes, the building does have its own Wikipedia page), with a clear majority of the taller buildings being used for offices and the like. By co-incidence, the second highest I have lived was also in Cologne, somewhere in the range 12th–14th floor, in a building clearly visible through my window, despite being several kilometers away.
After living here for just a few days, I cannot give a full evaluation of the house or positive and negative aspects of living so high above the ground; however, a few observations are possible:
- The exposure to the sun is not interrupted by other buildings, trees, and the like. The temperature within the apartment has been considerably higher than would have been expected from the outside temperature (by the standards of an ordinary apartment). While sub-optimal in the summer, this could be an advantage in the winter.
- This is compensated for by air movements being similarly uninterrupted: Open a window* and fresh and cooling air will pour in.
*The windows can all be opened, unlike in many newer buildings. In a building where they cannot, we had better hope for good air conditioning…
- A very unfortunate disadvantage, although I am not certain whether through the building’s tallness or its placement within Cologne, is disturbances through idiotic noise-makers—and that could get old very fast.
For instance, this weekend there was a demonstration of some sort that featured several hours of loud drums and several (or one multi-day) near-by events with third-rate music and hysterically shouting MCs. If such things happen often, they could poison the situation entirely.
Generally, I am of the opinion that such demonstrations and events simply should not be allowed in populated areas. If you want to have an event, an outdoors rock-concert, or similar, find an area outside of town, let those interested come to you, and leave those not interested (likely, a clear majority) in peace. If you have a political message to spread, start a blog or a party, talk to politicians, whatnot. Political demonstrations are only a legitimate tool for people artificially cut-off from otherwise expressing their opinions, e.g. through state censorship, or in situations involving a direct escalation against an unlistening and undemocratic* regime. Even in these cases, it is rarely sensible to demonstrate in general public areas and far better to do so in front of the appropriate government buildings.
*To which I count regimes that were democratically elected, but then ignore the will of the people or the peoples interests, go back on election promises in a large-scale manner, and similar.
- The apartment is a little run-down, but by-and-large well organized and thought through, including the provided furniture.
- An exception is the bath room which is small and has a shower bordering on too small*, a bathroom cabinet that partially blocks the sink, and a “platform toilet”**.
*According to the above Wikipedia page, the building was originally an office building, and it is conceivable that showers were added as an after-thought to existing toilets when converting to apartments, rather than setting up new bathrooms from scratch.
**A regrettable idiocy of the German plumbing are occasional toilets with an artificial platform that collects excrement above the water until the user flushes. Apart from the distasteful optics and increased risk of smell, this virtually guarantees that the user needs to apply the toilet brush after every “number two”, whereas a “normal” toilet is cleaned by the flushing alone possibly two thirds of the time.
- The water pressure is quite OK, contrary to my expectations, but it is hard to get cold water from the taps, probably because the long way from the ground or use of an internal water-tank (to ensure water pressure) gives the water time to grow tepid.
- The house-door uses a weird electronic key that requires a battery while still needing the key to be inserted into the lock and turned. Conceivably, this too is a left-over from the office-building days; likely the technology is a failed pre-cursor to later key readers, where a battery-less object, often a card, is simple held to the reader.
- The elevators have so far come in a timely manner and traveled with very few interruptions on the way. This is a positive surprise, seeing that elevators are often an issue even in buildings with less than a dozen floors. The explanation is possibly that the number of apartments per floor is low (three at “my” floor), while e.g. a hotel often has ten, twenty, or more rooms per floor.
- Did I mention the amazing view? If not: The view is amazing.
I make a post on Hope Solo and an outrageous and unjustified suspension, practically naming it the height of abuse, and what happens? More or less immediately a three-fold example that is equally bad pops up.
The French tennis federation has decided to suspend three of its players for allegedly damaging its image.
In one case (Benoit Paire), the crime, according to the article, consisted of “He reportedly sometimes stayed away from the village or came back late. He also made dismissive comments about the importance of the Games because there are no ranking points.”.
Here we have an adult man who “stays away” from a team location or sets his own hours—oh, the horror! Going by Wikipedia, he is 27 years old and has been a professional player for almost ten years—meaning that he is not only an adult, he is also used to traveling internationally, taking responsibility for his schedule, knows how to live his life when competing, … We are not talking a teenager leaving his home-town for the first time. If and in as far as he made any misjudgments (say, by getting too little sleep) that is his responsibility as an adult—not the French federation’s as a baby-sitter.
Now, if he had been a member of, say, a soccer or basket team, I could possibly, on the very outside, have seen a point, because he just might have damaged the teams coordination, training, spirit, whatnot. He was not a member of such a team: He is a tennis player, who competed in the singles (!) tournament.
As for “dismissive comments”: So what? Not only does he have a full right to free speech and opinion, but this opinion has considerable merit. By not awarding* ATP points, the Olympic Tournament is placed outside the normal world of professional tennis, and is diminished severely in value. Even when points were awarded, it was arguably only the fifth or sixth most important tournament of the year (behind the Grand Slams and, possibly, the Tour Finals)—and possibly not even reaching top-twenty over the entire Olympic cycle. Without points? I can understand very well how someone from within the tennis world would consider it a blip on the radar screen. This is not figure skating where the Olympics compares to the second best competition as France does to Luxembourg.
*I am not aware why this is so or who made the decision. However, since points are allocated by ATP (their tour and their points…), the IOC could be free of guilt.
The other two (double players Kristina Mladenovic and Caroline Garcia) apparently had the audacity to complain about incompetence on behalf of the federation—and appear* to have a good case to do so! This is one of the very, very worst signs of corruption: Trying to silence dissenters and sources of criticism through threats and sanctions, where, on the outside, solid arguments would have been used by a fair-minded organization. To boot, in my experience, the more prone someone is to censorship of criticism, threats against dissenters, etc., the more likely it is that the criticism is justified… The French federation does more to condemn it self that the two ever could.
*I do not know the details, but it seems clear that information that the two should have had was not communicated sufficiently early or sufficiently clearly. At worst, I would assume that they made their statements in good faith and in genuine disappointment and frustration, which might require an apology—not a suspension. At best, they are entirely right and the French federation tries to cover its own incompetence in an inexcusable manner.
I have complained repeatedly about censorship, shunning, forced apologies, whatnot directed at athletes who express other opinions than what disgraceful and unethical sports organizations consider acceptable, or where athletes are otherwise forced into certain behaviors, e.g. with regard to when they are allowed to show the logos of their sponsors. Whether someone is allowed to compete should be a matter of accomplishment and ability—not opinion. With a recent incident involving Hope Solo, we have reached a point where the athlete basically becomes a rightless tool, who has to do what (in this case) she is told and otherwise keep her mouth shut—or she risks seeing her sports career severely damaged, without any regard to actual accomplishments within the sport. This to a point that she has effectively lost the right to freedom of speech and opinion.
To make matters worse, this is just a piece of a larger puzzle, where having the “wrong” opinions is increasingly becoming one of the worst conceivable sins (“crimethink” and so on), where people have to watch what they say online lest they be fired, where scientists supporting the “wrong” hypothesis, even on plausible grounds and a fair chance of being objectively correct, have their funds canceled or are refused publication*, where most politicians are too cowardly to deviate from the established “truth”, but more than keen on attacking others who do, …
*Note that I am not talking about pseudo-scientists with a professorship, legitimate scientists who cling to disproved theories, or the mere incompetent. That these eventually lose funding, and so on, is in order—if they have been given a fair chance to prove their theories and have been rejected on scientific (!) grounds. I am talking about legitimate, competent scientists who are attacked solely for expressing an opinion which is not sufficiently politically correct.
Now, what did Hope Solo say? According to e.g. USA Today:
“We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”
This after having lost a chance at an Olympic gold in an upset loss—on penalties. The U.S had four golds and one silver in five attempts, won last year’s World Cup, and won their group without loss prior to this quarter-final; Sweden did not even have an Olympic medal, lost in the round of 16 at the World Cup, and finished third in its group after being smashed 5–1 by Brazil…
To which U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, according to the same source, claimed:
“The comments by Hope Solo after the match against Sweden during the 2016 Olympics were unacceptable and do not meet the standard of conduct we require from our national team players”
“Beyond the athletic arena, and beyond the results, the Olympics celebrate and represent the ideals of fair play and respect. We expect all of our representatives to honor those principles, with no exceptions”
Speaking as a Swede and country man of the “insulted” team: The only thing unacceptable here is the behavior of Gulati. Not only are Solo’s statements legitimate personal opinions, not only could they have been made in the heat of the moment, not only are they well within what can be expected by quite reasonable sports people having a bad day—but even if they had been unacceptable, there is no reasonable way this should have resulted in more than a slap on the wrist, say an informal warning between four eyes. Instead, she was publicly denounced—and received a six (!) month (!) suspension! Where is Gulati’s own sense of fair play and respect? (Or do only athletes need to prove these characteristics?)
To repeat: A six month suspension over a more-or-less harmless remark. There will be thousands of television viewers who said far worse…
This is the point were athletes and their managers need to start to consider refusing interviews or otherwise making public statements without the pre-approval and supervision of a lawyer—but, of course, if they do refuse, they will likely violate rules about post-event interviews, publicity appearances, and the like, and be suspended for six months…
There may well be remarks that are worthy of suspension, but, frankly, I am hard-pressed to think of anything not actually relevant for the (legal) courts that would warrant a six (!) month (!) suspension. Yes, had her team lost under similar circumstances against the Germans (who defeated Sweden in the Olympic final) instead and had she then made claims about “Nazis” or “doped-up East Germans”, then a suspension could have been quite legitimate, but even then six months seem excessive to me, considering the exceptional situation and the potential emotional turmoil. However: She said nothing of the kind. Her two sentiments were that the Swedes were cowards* and that the better team did not win**.
*They may or may not have been. I did not see the game, but it is almost becoming a problem that a considerably weaker team does nothing but defend and hope for a lucky counter when the stronger team slips or for a decision on penalties (as was the case here). This is a common scenario for e.g. FC Bayern. (We can, of course, discuss whether this is cowardice or a sensible strategy. Good sportsmanship, it is not.)
**Happens quite often, with many elements of chance being present—and even when it does not happen, the losing team and its supporters often have exactly that opinion. Certainly, the opinion that the U.S. team was better, would have been entirely uncontroversial before the game.
In this era of Internet news, one of my main news sources is svt-text—the teletext (!) pages of the Swedish national television, which I visit about once a day (albeit in the Internet version). The brevity of each individual page (being limited by what fits within teletext) makes the “articles” highly compact and it is easy to get a quick overview. If something seems interesting, there is always the possibility to find more detailed information elsewhere.
Unfortunately, the people behind this service are not intellectual giants, and I often find myself sighing over the unnecessary quality loss and inconveniences.
To take a few examples (some Internet-specific; some problematic for TV users to):
- The article titles are often so lacking in information that is hard to judge which articles are worth reading without actually reading them. In at least some cases, in particular with sports, even the rough topic cannot be predicted from the title…
For instance, I just called up the sports page and found the title “Rekordstort intresse för mästarna” (roughly “Interest for champions on record high”). What champions? What sport? What level (national? world? …?) What type of interest? Who is interested? Men’s team or women’s? “Ordinary” sports or “para-sports”?
Looking at the detail page, the actual story is so uninteresting that few would have bothered to open it with a better title and it can seriously be questioned whether it should have even been published in the first place: The Swedish national champions in floorball (!) have managed to sell 100 (!!!) season’s tickets. The page did not say whether this was the men’s or women’s champions. Honestly, this is something that barely qualifies for the local news paper of wherever these champions were based.
- During the conversion to HTML, links are added in such an unintelligent manner that any number occurring in the page stands the risk of being interpreted as referring to another page and being turned into a link. (Remember that teletext pages are identified by three-digit numbers.)
This has, admittedly, grown considerably better over the years, but it still happens, possibly as much as 15 years after my first visit…
This is the weirder as implies that the whole setup is amateurish, most likely in the form that a plain-text page is composed to be published “on the TV” without any alterations, while the Internet version is just generated from this plain-text without any semantic information. A professional would, as a matter of course, have kept the “master version” separate form the “TV version” and used a markup language (even be it a rudimentary one) to keep semantic information. The TV and Internet version would then both be generated from this master. This would include marking page references so that they cannot be confused with numbers during generation.
- While the language level is poor overall, there are two specific ever recurring and highly annoying problems:
Firstly, differences between A and B are almost invariably formulated as “A is better than B at [something or other]”, even when the “better” is highly subjective and even when it is not really supported by the text (e.g. because absolute numbers are compared when relative numbers would be appropriate). This in particular where differences between men and women are concerned*. I would only be marginally surprised if the headline “women are better than men at using drugs” would be used for an article reporting that women use more cocaine than men…
*Generally, they have a problem with a feminist or PC world-view, but with a Swedish news source that almost goes without saying…
Secondly, there is a virtual obsession with “hylla” (hard to translate, but “praise” when used as in the phrase “praise the Lord” is a decent match; “eulogize” can come close to, in some uses). If someone makes any form of positive statement about someone else, he allegedly “hyllade” him. If someone wins an international gold medal, one or two pages are dedicated to “tittarnas hyllningar” (or similar; roughly, “the viewers praise”)*. Etc.
*Why they waste space by including the praise of the viewers in the first place is beyond me. It has no news value and the page could have been saved for something more valuable.
The word, normally reserved for special occasions, is thrown around in a blanket manner and with very little value attached to it. Often it amounts to confusing “Would you have dinner with me?” and “Would you marry me?”…
- Naturally, as news items arrive or are removed, page numbers will change. To handle this should not be that hard: Alter the page numbers and references of all involved pages and then publish them together. But no: Individual pages are altered separately and published immediately, leading to such effects as someone opening a page on X and finding an article dealing with Y or both page 110 and 111 having the exact same contents.*
*Both can happen even when publishing all changes together, be it through unfortunate timing or because someone has opened an index page and then waited a minute or two before opening article pages. However, it will be a rare occurrence. The frequency at svt-text is far, far too high to be explained by such instances.
- Generally, there are many problems around page numbers and page handling. For instance, it is quite common that the contents that once were on page X stays on page X for days—even after the page contents have officially changed. (Following the new contents as a virtual page within the page.) Or take the leader-board for the recent British Open/The Open golf-tournament: With a fellow Swede winning, I tried to follow the results through svt-text, but found that every single time that I refreshed the page, the leader-board had moved to another page. After some five or six times I gave up (ESPN had something that worked much better). Is it not obvious that such contents should be treated differently and fixed on the same page? This especially since they do have a dedicated number interval for “live” sports results that is used for that exact purpose, e.g. to track the score of soccer games.