Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

A modest proposal

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Earlier today, I received a most disturbing communication from my good friend Jonatan Schnell. He has got his hands on a number of secret documents from various government agencies, and has asked me to publish the following excerpt:

This noble organization has been entrusted with two central tasks:

  1. Ensuring sufficient surveillance that unwanted transgressions of any kind are detected in a timely manner, ideally including the expression and formation of unsound opinions.
  2. Ensuring swift, accurate, and unavoidable corrective measures for such transgressions.

The last decades have seen many technological advancements and developments that raised our hopes of finally reaching success. Unfortunately, despite many partial successes, they have all eventually proved insufficient. I hardly need reminding you of how physical inspection of hard-drives has proved to be very fruitful, yet has far too often failed in the more important cases, through the use of high-grade encryption, often in conjuncture with the transgressor’s claim of “having forgotten” the passwords. Encryption in general, of course, has been a major obstacle, including not only hard-drives but also email communications and alternate networks like i2p and tor. Even HTTPS, although easy to circumvent, has caused considerable over-head, delays, and missed opportunities. Or take the unfortunate case of the aforementioned alternate networks: Left alone they risk nullifying our communication surveillance and de-anonymizing of Internet communication. (I stress again how important it is to continue our infiltration campaigns.)

The reason for failure is almost always that we are too far away from the immediate interaction, either in time or geographically. The best, but invariably most and often impracticability expensive, results are reached when we can apply direct surveillance, e.g. through camera and microphone monitoring or the installation of software directly on the computer of the transgressor. It is to be feared that even the most promising in-roads available, including the intended use of service providers such as Google, Facebook, and CloudFlare, will never suffice to meat our requirements, especially with the more surveillance-hostile elements.

The logical conclusion is to take this one step further, in a manner that ensures that all potential transgressors can be surveilled at a moments notice at no additional cost (after, admittedly, a high initial investment):

The enhancement of our citizens through physical implants to monitor their audio-visual input, including, indirectly, what they do, say, write, etc. In addition a GPS module might be added, allowing us to pin-point the location of any and all citizens at any given moment, as well as allowing us to track their movements and physical meetings over time. (Of course, some of the same benefits can be reached through tracking cell-phones. These have the weakness that they can be left at home, run out of batteries, or be temporarily shielded.) Long term additional surveillance of brain patterns, heart beat, and other biological signs can prove a valuable addition. For instance, if someone reacts negatively to a government message, we would immediately know that there is need for more dedicated surveillance; if someone reacts with arousal to another party of the wrong gender or below the age of eighteen, this can be registered and the corresponding warnings be issued to neighboring residents; and so on. The addition of the possibility to produce auditory or visual stimuli is particularly interesting. For instance, when a transgression is detected in flagrante the transgressor can be given immediate notification and instructions from law officers to stand down and await arrest.

To avoid removal or more temporary manipulations, these enhancements would regularly and automatically be in communication with a central controller (e.g. by radio or the cell-phone network). Any time an enhancement misses a check-in, this if filed as a violation and an APB is put out. After the transgressor has been apprehended, the enhancements are checked and/or replaced (at the transgressors cost) and corrective action is taken when appropriate. It would of course be made illegal to provide or use any structure or equipment that blocks the needed signals.

In the long term, the enhancements can be provided with the ability to directly incite an algesic response when the check-ins fail, as well as during any detected attempt at removal. This can be extended to a greater range of transgressions, like trying to enter or leave the country without using the official border crossings. Additional possibilities for aversion therapy are open: The wrong reactions to certain stimuli, the expression of unsound opinions, and other correctable transgressions of a similar nature can be swiftly and automatically handled by the enhancements themselves, causing the transgressors to associate such deviations with the algesic response.

Following this trail to its end (but here I fear that the political climate is not yet sufficiently matured) enhancements can be used for more conclusive corrective actions. Consider replacing the lengthy and costly procedures around e.g. a lethal injection by reaching the same result with a minor trauma in a suitable brain region. Or permanently incapacitating a hostage taker remotely, with the push of a button, through the same mechanism. Or removing a threat from a greater group (e.g. the Irish) of potential transgressors in one single action, including cases where large-scale incarceration or deportation would be the alternative.

A few practical details: Normally the enhancements would be added shortly after birth, ensuring that everyone is included from an early age (and as a positive side-effect reaps the benefits from the appropriate feedback to reactions and behavior even during childhood). Unfortunately, it would take several decades to reach a reasonable coverage in the adult population in this manner; while a single mass-enhancement in the entire adult population would be entirely impractical. A reasonable middle road is a two-pronged approach where high risk groups, notably convicts and those potentially engaged in subversive activities (including critics of our operations), are targeted with a mass-enhancement and the remainder of the population is enhanced at certain occasions where the necessary equipment can always be reliably made available, e.g. a driver’s license renewal or when first entering the country. This has the added advantage that enforcement can be kept high and voluntary through making the enhancement a mandatory condition for the government granting a driver’s license, letting someone into the country, and so on. Ideally, we will even be able to pass on the cost of the enhancement to the respective citizen.

While the costs of this might seem prohibitive in a first impression, there are considerable reason to believe that we can leverage these enhancements to not only cover the costs of the project but to allow additional financing of related projects, once a sufficient critical mass has been built. Our preliminary research indicates a great industry interest in access to selective gathered data for purposes such as targeted advertising and market research. Or consider allowing advertisers to send information directly to the ears and eyes of the subject, without having to use conventional devices that can be turned off or the advertising otherwise circumvented. The possibilities are endless.

Postscript: For those who have missed the allusions, the above is entirely fictional, specifically making a play on Jonathan Swift’s work by the same name, in which he suggests using Irish children as a food source. However, apart from the most extreme parts, the above is well in line with current developments with regards to e.g. governments cracking computers or smart-phones, engaging in unethical and often unlawful surveillance, etc. If the suggestions were viable today, at least some of them would be on the table with at least some politicians, law enforcers, and the like. This just looking at the modern West—in North Korea they would conceivably go all out.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 21, 2016 at 12:04 am

How to lose an election in a lost democracy

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In recent times, I have made several posts dealing with the themes like democracy and the U.S. presidential election—including How to win an election in a lost democracy, on how a truly disastrous candidate (like Hillary Clinton) could conceivably and hypothetically manage to win through placing a sufficiently bad candidate (like Trump) in the opposing camp.

While this was not a serious suggestion (at least not for the current election), I actually and honestly thought that the flaws of Trump would bring Hillary a victory—for the last week or two before the election, a sure-fire one, with not enough time left for a turn-around. This to the point that I actually failed to write the please-consider-what-you-are-doing post I had planned for last week, seeing it as a waste of time.

Election day came the miracle and one of the greatest reliefs I have ever experience—a major bullet was dodged.

Despite the title of this post, I will not try to analyze how this happened in-depth (I have not done the necessary leg-work). But: Trump likely managed to leverage his advantages among the uneducated/working-class/whatnot*, while likely sufficiently many in the rest of the population realized that Hillary was the greater evil, possibly aided by the email scandals that brought her long history of bad behavior to mind—as well as the many investigations that have all been prematurely interrupted. Trump was lucky (or campaigned well…) in that his distribution of votes gave him a majority of electors through winning most of the swing states, while having slightly fewer votes than Hillary overall. Voter turnout, how many of whose supporters actually voted, might have had a significant effect (often the case with upsets).

*Looking at statistics at e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_presidential_election,_2016 it is clear that the candidates have very different impacts on different demographics, including using criteria like education. That I side with the candidate of the “uneducated” while most of the “educated” go against my recommendations is annoying, but I can understand how someone like Trumps rubs the educated the wrong way—I too see him merely as the lesser of two evils and would like have preferred e.g. Obama. At the same time, I re-iterate my observation that education is not automatically a sign of intelligence or good judgment: Many of the educated who voted for Hillary will have done so because she too is educated, because she has a more sophisticated image, because the educated in the U.S. are “supposed” to vote Democrat, or similar. With the Republicans and the Democrats in general, there is often the problem that those with some intelligence are bright enough to see the right-most wing of the Republicans, the Fundamentalist Christians, and so on, as problematic; however, not bright enough to see that the left-most Democrats, the politically correct, the gender-feminists, …, are just as uninformed, irrational, dangerous, and otherwise problematic.

Looking back at the posts I did write, I want to repeat that this is not an ideal situation: Disaster was averted, but chances are that Trump, as the lesser of two evils, will prove to be a genuinely bad President—it is just that the alternative would with a high degree of probability have been even worse.

On the down-side, looking at the problems with democracy and its current failure, the victory of Trump could actually be the stronger side of that failure, with his extremely populist take. On the other hand, it is a positive sign that someone in no way established as a politician, and certainly not a professional politician, could win.

As for those who wanted Hillary Clinton because she was a woman, because it would be high-time to have a female President, or similar (all idiotic reasons to elect someone), they should take comfort in it being far better to wait a while longer and then get a woman who is actually worthy of the job. Someone like Hillary could, in a worst-case-scenario, have set back the chances for other women by decades. As a Swede I can point to a number of absolutely disastrous women, far worse than Hillary, who have been brought to the fore despite their lack of competence and other suitability to provide the female candidates the feminists cry for—and who have done exactly such damage. The single best example is likely Mona Sahlin, who came very close to becoming the Swedish Premier, but who also was deeply, deeply stupid and has repeatedly been caught in various, if minor, corruption scandals. In contrast, those women who have made it to the top without a significant leg up or with being a woman as a major selling point, like Thatcher and Merkel*, have done women a favour through actually proving that there are women who can do the job as well as the typical male Prime Minister resp. Chancellor.

*Notwithstanding that my opinion of Merkel has dropped considerably over the last few years.

As a side-bar, it can be interesting to briefly compare Bill and Hillary, especially because part of my aversion to Hillary is Bill’s Presidency and a wish to keep the Clintons in general (but Hillary in particular) out of the White House: Bill was a lesser evil than Hillary for at least two reasons (if we otherwise consider them fungible, which is likely unfair to Bill) in that firstly he had considerable relevant practical experience from his time as Governor, while Hillary had a gifted Senatorship and otherwise was the Governor’s/President’s wife; secondly his Presidency interrupted a long period of Republican dominance*, while Hillary’s would have extended a Democrat reign.

*One of my main observations concerning democracy, and power in general, is that it is a bad thing for a specific individual, party, organization, … to have great power for too long. Reasons include a growing risk of corruption, people confusing who they are as persons with their official roles, lack of new ideas, and too much resistance to change. Correspondingly, it is good when another party wins an election every know and then, even when otherwise the worse choice. For Bill, the last Democrat was twelve years back and the Democrats had had four of the last twenty-four years. For Hillary, she would have extended a Democrat streak to at least twelve years and twenty out of the last twenty-eight.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 10, 2016 at 11:27 pm

The 2016 Nobel Prizes II: Women and the Nobel Prize

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One of my articles was almost upset by the 2009 unprecedented naming of no less than five female laureates, including a historically very rare Chemistry Prize and a first Economics Prize. I left a corresponding disclaimer that I would revisit some issues if this turned out to be a normal state of affairs.

It did not*: The following year saw not one single female laureate, neither did 2012—and the same applies to this year. 2011 did see three, but they all shared the Peace Prize. The remaining intervening years saw one or two laureates, of which only two came in scientific fields (the 2014 and 2015 Prizes in “Physiology or Medicine” each saw a woman among the three** winners.) The others were all Peace or Literature Prizes.

*Here and elsewhere I draw my numbers from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_female_Nobel_laureates and http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/lists/women.html.

**The science Prizes are almost always shared, typically between the maximum three laureates allowed per Prize and year. Here and elsewhere, I will assume equal shares for the sake of simplicity and of avoiding leg-work. I do know of at least one historical deviation, however: Curies first Prize was shared in equal halves between the Curies and Henri Becquerel, with Marie and Pierre effectively receiving a quarter each.

Counting in 2016, we have seen a total of 8 female laureates with a total of 4 and 1/6 Prizes in seven years—a little more than one laureate and clearly less than one Prize per year. For comparison, the (admittedly cherry-picked) years 1945–1947 saw three laureates and 1 and 5/6 Prizes for very comparable numbers. 1963–1966 women did almost as well in numbers and scored in both Physics and Chemistry—in the 50 (!) years since, they have scored one Chemistry laureate and not one single Physics laureate.

In other words, there is at this juncture no reason to assume that we have entered a new era, nor that women are being artificially held back, as naive feminists like to claim: That the science awards have seen so little change, or even change for the negative, while Literature and Peace Prizes regularly go to women, is a clear sign that the main underlying reason is one of inherent differences between the sexes in these fields, be it with regard to ability, priorities, interest, or some other factor. How the Literature and Peace Prizes should be interpreted with regard to ability* is very unclear, due to the extreme subjectiveness** and the obvious recurring political agendas behind the awards; however, these are definitely areas where women are more inclined to get involved than in the sciences.

*But, outside of the scope of Nobel Prizes, I do note for the record that several of my own favorite authors have been women.

**Bear in mind that while the sciences can be subjective too, e.g. regarding what discovery is the more important, the problem is far smaller there. If worst comes to worst, almost any result in, say, Physics is something that we can test today or will be able to test in due time. There is no such test for works of fiction and many works lauded by one qualified observer is consider garbage by another. (Including the works of semi-recent Nobel Laureate Elfriede Jelinek—the choice of which caused a dissenting member of the election committee to resign in protest…)

As an aside, I see at least two possible explanations for the anomalous results of 2009: The one is sheer co-incidence, the equivalent of drawing a one-color poker hand. This is unlikely for any given hand, but keep drawing hands and it will eventually happen. The other is that female candidates were given an artificial leg up. In fact, this type of artificial support is extremely common in Sweden, where the drive to have men and women share everything 50–50 can be virtually pathological. Many consider the relatively low number of female laureates a failure of the election committees—or even of the respective field of science it self! They simple fail to understand that this type of award must be about accomplishment, not feeling good; about equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome.

Written by michaeleriksson

November 1, 2016 at 9:56 pm

The 2016 Nobel Prizes I: The Literature Prize joining the Peace Prize as a joke

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On my website, I have at least two articles relating to the Nobel Prize for which the 2016 Prizes have given more input. Since I still have not gotten around to consolidating the website, I will address them in two blog posts (this being the first):

I have already concluded that the Peace Prize is a joke, often being awarded to those unworthy, for political reasons, for things that might deserve some other award but not one for peace, or otherwise absurdly. Many similar criticisms can be raised against the Literature Prize, which has a similar degree of subjectiveness and is also, as far as can be guessed from the outside, occasionally abused to support a certain ideology, world view, or similar*.

*Today, this would be something in the general Leftist family. In earlier years, others might have had an advantage.

This year, one of the most controversial awards in the history of the Literature Prize has taken place: Bob Dylan.

When I first heard it, I actually assumed that it was an real, non-metaphorical joke… At this point, I am not willing to give the Literature Prize much more credence than the Peace Prize—and the Peace Prize absolutely none.

Now, I do not deny that Dylan has been one of the more important makers of music of the preceding century. He has a considerable talent, he has inspired and influenced many of his colleagues, and his commercial (if somewhat paradoxical) success has been considerable. If not for his weakness as a singer, I would likely be a fan myself.

However, even if we assume that his works should count as literature*, there are considerable questions as to his worthiness when it comes to this type of award. There are many, many extremely capable “regular” authors that have accomplished so much more in terms of literary achievement and are still awaiting their Prize. Worse: Is Dylan even the most accomplished lyricist in the world of music? Unlikely: He is more likely to be the (or one of the) most famous and visible among the lyrics-centric artists—and one who had considerable importance for the sixties movements that find approval with the election committee. (Realistically speaking, and without denying his very considerable abilities, much of his fame is a result of having had the right message for the societal moods of the 1960s. Ten years earlier or later and he would have been a smaller deal.) His musical attraction also stems to a large part from his highly unusual melodies and delivery, and when we look only at lyrics his stature is considerably weaker than when we look at his music as a whole**. All in all, I sincerely doubt that Dylan was given the Prize in recognition of his literary accomplishments, with political reasons and/or an attempt to cater to the wide masses on behalf of the committee being more likely explanations.

*I am open to the idea myself. Indeed, when we studied Swedish literature in school, the starting point was medieval ballads. However, others might want to rule it out, and they could turn out to be right. Certainly, if viewed as literature, there should be a strong focus on lyrics and not the overall music.

**This is obviously a problem when trying to judge more or less anyone: What part of the overall impression is lyrics and what is music? Would the lyrics that seem so great work without the music or with different music? Etc.

As for the actual Peace Prize: Santos is not someone I had on my radar screen until very recently. However, it is notable that his peace plan failed in a recent referendum (for good reasons, in my impression, being to lenient with evildoers) and he might not have an entirely white vest himself, depending on how the above Wikipedia page is interpreted. In a best case scenario, he was chosen a year too early; in a worst case scenario, he is the same complete dud that Obama turned out to be in terms of making the world more peaceful.

Excursion: If Dylan is not the greatest musical lyricist, who is? Frankly, I have nowhere near the depth and breadth of knowledge to answer that question authoritatively, even discounting the necessary degree of subjectiveness and the complication of dividing credit within groups. However, I suspect that the number of candidates stronger than Dylan is very large and that someone with the corresponding depth of knowledge in a given, mature area of music (with lyrics…) could find several or many such candidates in that area—opera, musicals, rock, blues, jazz, …

Note in particular that many of the candidates will be local forces singing in international obscurity. For instance, Cornelis Vreeswijk and Evert Taube were living legends, when I grew up in Sweden, but I doubt that any non-Swedish readers will have ever heard of them. (Admittedly, they are both dead and therefore ineligible.) Similarly, many candidates are likely to be found outside of the infamous Top-40 and be unknown even to their own compatriots.

For myself, I am very impressed with the works of Tori Amos* and Depeche Mode in terms of lyrics. The artist for whom I have spent most time listening to the lyrics is probably Eminem*—while they are not necessarily stylistically or aesthetically pleasing, there is a lot to think about with regard to what they tell us about Eminem and how that might apply to ourselves. Simon and Garfunkel go in the other direction, with lyrics that are rarely deeply thought-worthy but often beautiful or original. My exposure to REM has been comparatively small, but from what I have heard so far they could rate very highly.

*In a twist, both Tori Amos and Eminem appear severely troubled and if the often raised accusation of misogynism towards Eminem is given credence, a corresponding accusation of misandrism towards Tori Amos seems appropriate, although she is considerably more subtle. (Consider e.g. the song “Precious Things” or the album “Boys for Pele”—the one containing lines like “I want to smash the faces of those beautiful boys”; the other even having a thematic title that implies sacrifices of men to a goddess… ) In both cases, it can be argued that what appears is not so much a statement about perceived truth about the other sex—but of personal weakness, feelings of inadequacy, and/or frustration with the other sex. To boot, this is something that the respective artists seems to be at least partially, possibly fully, aware of, partly using the lyrics as a means of self-exploration or -therapy.

In a first draft, I also included Sondheim, specifically citing “Send in the Clowns”, and Paul McCartney*. I do not rule out that I would rate either above Dylan; however, for the purposes of candidates for “best lyricists” they likely fall short, with my favorable impression being too based on the overall music. (With the added complication of who contributed what to that impression: A very significant part of McCartney’s work is co-credited with Lennon, often with unclear responsibilities. Sondheim’s greatest success and, to my personal knowledge, best result was the collaboration “West-Side Story”, with music by Bernstein. The music by Sondheim himself has been so-so in the few works I have seen in full, e.g. “Sweeney Todd”.)

*John Lennon is dead and not eligible. (But I would likely still have favored McCartney.)

Written by michaeleriksson

November 1, 2016 at 9:52 pm

Follow-up: Reading GQ

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In the mean time, I have “read” through the rest of GQ, finding there to be so little content that I spent about the same time turning unread pages as I did reading. The already discussed problems, with extreme amounts of advertising, an embarrassing picture-to-text ratio, poor writing, …, consisted through-out. I also got through roughly half of Wired, before giving up: Shallow, uninsightful, and very obviously written for those with only a fleeting knowledge of IT and related areas—very, very different from its image*. Better than the GQ, no doubt, but nothing that an IT professional, a hacker, a computer enthusiast, or similar should waste his time on. (Especially in Germany, where C’t, the likely best general computer magazine in the world, is available at every news stand.)

*It is possible, however, that this give-away was not representative for the normal edition, conceivably having been tailored towards GQ readers. (I am uncertain whether I have ever read Wired on another occasion.)

Not only do I see my opinion that GQ* is useless cemented, but I am forced to conclude that its main purpose is to sell products for third parties—even when we look at the officially non-advertising parts of the magazine. Now, that a magazine has some degree of “crypto-advertising” or is too kind to products for fear of losing official advertising is quite common. Here, however, the scope is so extensive as to erase the line between content and advertising.

*With some reservations for international variation. This was the German edition and an at least theoretical probability remains that other editions are better.

An interesting twist is that this alleged men’s magazine has a readership consisting of roughly 21 % women. Had this been a magazine with no ostensible targeting of a male audience, say one dealing with fashion or “lifestyle” in general, this would be unremarkable—if anything the female proportion would have been smaller than expected. For a men’s magazine? Not a good sign…

Knowing what I now know, I would be less embarrassed going up to the same cashier with a porn magazine* than with another GQ. She might or might not disapprove, but at least she will not think me an easily manipulated semi-illiterate with no grasp of good writing.

*Not that I would when the Internet is loaded with free-of-charge porn.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 23, 2016 at 6:17 pm

Reading GQ

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A few days ago, I picked up my first (and very likely last) copy of GQ in the German edition. I was motivated mostly by the combination of a GQ (of which I have long been mildly curious), a watch special (watches being a sometime interest of mine) and a “Wired” special, for the joint price of EUR 6.50.

Frankly, this is the most ridiculous piece of crap I have ever encountered. It is actually considerably worse than what I have always imagined* “Cosmo” to be. Even the infamous German “Bild-Zeitung” has more to offer. “Gentlemen’s Quarterly”? A more apt name would be “Valley Boys’ Quarterly”.

*Never read it, but it has very poor reputation outside of the bimbo community and somehow it has come to symbolize superficiality and lack of intellectual aspirations to me—the type of thing Carrie Bradshaw reads. Still, I honestly doubt that it can be as bad as GQ.

For starters, the amount of advertising is beyond what I had ever imagined. There is actually considerably more advertising than actual content (based on the 130 first pages out of 250). The first non-advertising item is found on page 21 (yes, twenty-one!). However, even this is just the table of contents. Moving on, the first real content is found on page 29…

As for the content it self, it is mostly superficial, poorly thought-through crap, littered with grammatical errors and stylistic disasters. Notably, it appears that the authors are unable to use conjunctions (“and”/“und”, “but”/“aber”, and the like) without terminating the preceding sentence—even when this leads to fragmentation, lack of coherence, and other problems that reduce readability far more than do long sentences. The proportions of images to text are certainly not on an adult level—and most images bring little or no value to the respective article. Many twelve year old children would be intellectually understimulated…

The specific articles featured are possibly not representative of GQ, seeing that this particular issue has the theme of “women”. However, the lack of quality is unlikely to be an exception and there are a number of truly awful examples of lack of knowledge and/or ability to think critically, even by the already low standards of journalists. For instance, four pages are spent on repeating the long-debunked feminist lie of women not receiving equal pay for equal work (see several other posts of mine)—those who think critically and look at the actual facts at hand know that any difference in pay arises from UNequal work, including differences in full-time and part-time work, years of experience, education level, relative prioritization of work and family, etc.

Another good example is a brief piece on vasectomies vs. tubal litigations: For some reason, the authors consider it “sexist” that more* tubal litigations are made than vasectomies. Looking at the cited factors like costs, the proportions could conceivably be irrational, but to call them “sexist” is to apply the type of mindless assumption of evil that drive the modern feminist movement. Too boot, the discussion consists of cherry-picking and overlooks two extremely strong arguments for why it is more rational to go with a tubal litigation: Firstly, a vasectomy performed at a typical age affects a far greater part of a man’s fertile period than does a tubal litigation of a woman’s. Secondly, about half of all marriages end in a divorce. If a man with a vasectomy remarries, going by typical preferences, he will be the one having to explain to the new wife that children are off the table, while a woman with a tubal litigation will have it far easier with her husband. The effects of the choice will be more with the chooser and less with an “innocent” third-party when a tubal litigation is chosen.

*Allegedly: I have not checked the numbers in independent sources, but would be entirely unsurprised if they were incorrect.

The woman-centric part stretches to roughly page 92*. The following 38 pages consists mostly of advertising (duh), including a 10-page block dealing exclusively with “Olymp” shirts. The rest includes a piece on Helgoland that is poor enough to have featured in an airplane magazine, and weird arrangements of images with minimal alibi texts.

*Within the parts that I have read/skimmed-in-despair. There is more to come, according to the table of contents.

For those who wonder: The watch special was OK, but not on par with the specialist magazines. I have not yet started on “Wired”.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 18, 2016 at 1:16 am

Problems with buying an apartment in Germany

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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…)

  1. 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.

  2. 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.)
  3. 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.

  4. 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…
  5. The usability of most web sites in this area is extremely poor, including not working with JavaScript disabled, but being border-line unusable with it enabled (through factors like animations, marquees, requests that the user participate in surveys, and the like). Other common problems include poor search criteria, a minimal number of listings*, and “functionality” that breaks tabbed browsing—-something that would otherwise be extremely useful with this type of content (i.e. lists of entries where the user wants to review many of the individual entries at his own leisure and/or concurrently).

    *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…

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 13, 2016 at 12:00 am