Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘germany

Tax filings for 2020 / The German IRS and Elster (again)

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And again fucking, unusable Elster!

Among the problems encountered:

  1. I began the process in (likely) July, by creating the needed documents and making some preliminary entries. With one thing and another, the rest of the job had to wait, which should have be no problem in light of a COVID-related and blanket three-month extension of the deadlines.

    But no: A few months later, I received emails that some of these documents would now be automatically deleted by Elster, because they had gone unedited for too long. I wrote back and forbade this deletion, while pointing out that this was an inexcusable act of user hostility. (Even by the standards of Elster and the German “IRS”.) I note that there is no advantage to such a deletion, but potentially enormous disadvantages.

    They were deleted nevertheless.

  2. The field for messages to the IRS still (!) does not take line-breaks.
  3. That I had added such a message brought Elster into a destructive loop, where (the German version of) “check document” led to a semi-error page that pointed out that I had left such a message (and why?!?!), which repeated again and again on subsequent attempts. The document was still sendable, but this broke the apparently preferred-by-the-IRS workflow of check-and-send-from-the-results-page. (Cf. an older text for these absurdities.)
  4. The “check document” for the main document originally failed on the claim that I needed to indicate whether I had received COVID support—even when I had not. There was no obvious field for this anywhere, there was no indication of help on how to do this, and only an internet search revealed that I needed to add an entire new attachment to the document, which then contained two fields, one for yes/no on whether I had received help, and another for the amount for those who had.
  5. Generally, “check document” is extraordinarily incompetent at indicating where an error (real or imagined by Elster) is located and makes odd jumps. (And there is not or only rarely a visual indication which fields are mandatory in advance.) For instance, in the EÜR document, there are two fields that seemed irrelevant to me, but where “check document” insisted on an entry. I made one entry (indicating 0) and clicked the confirmation button for that entry. Now, I obviously wanted to continue with the second field, which was immediately below the first. But no: Elster took me back to “check document”, forcing me to go back and find the relevant field again.
  6. Did I mention that mandatory fields are usually not marked as mandatory? (Yes, I did.)
  7. I copied a calculated-by-Elster value from one document to another (and why is this not handled automatically?!?), because this value was needed as an input in the second document. The output value contained both a thousand separator and decimal places (and a decimal separator). The input field required a value in whole Euro (no decimal places) and could not cope with the thousand separator, giving me two separate error messages.
  8. A great help in filling out the EÜR could have been pre-filled fields based on last year (which works well with the other documents, where the advantage is lesser), so that I could e.g. see where I had put postage and where train rides and where this-and-that. Specifically in the EÜR, this does not seem to work, however, as only trivial fields (like name and identifiers) are filled out. Then it is down to guesswork or Internet searches to find the right fields.

And to this a few things I might have forgotten, the great many problems discussed in earlier entries, the incomprehensible German tax system, …

Fucking amateurs!

Written by michaeleriksson

October 29, 2021 at 10:35 am

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COVID curfews / Follow-up various

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I have repeatedly mentioned the risk that curfews will be imposed in Germany. In particular, in [1] I wrote:

As to [a suggested nightly curfew], what is that supposed to achieve?!? The nights are the times when the streets are almost free of people anyway, when there is the smallest risk of infecting or being infected. By locking people in at night, they either lose an option of fresh air and exercise for no good reasons or are forced to move these activities to the day time, when the risks are larger … Utterly idiotic. (Note that bars, discos, and the like are closed to begin with, irrespective of this curfew.)

Nevertheless, nightly curfews have become more and more common in Germany. Beginning today,* these curfews are pushed through on the federal level and imposed nationwide. The rules, however, are quite confusing and inconsistent, e.g. in that it is forbidden to leave one’s residence after time X**, unless it is done for exercise (or some other limited reason), in which case time Y** applies.

*Probably and with some reservations for the local incidence rate. Cf. excursion.

**I have seen conflicting claims and have not verified which exact numbers apply at the moment. The earlier, more local, Wuppertal curfew probably had X as 9 P.M. and Y as midnight.

This re-raises the question: Given that there already are strict restrictions on inter-household contacts (irrespective of time of day), that discos, bars, restaurants, etc. are all closed to begin with, that the few stores that are open close at 9 P.M.* anyway, that most workplaces close a lot earlier, etc. what could the purpose of this be?

*Going by the grocery stores in my neighborhood—other localities might have (or have had, pre-COVID) longer opening hours. Non-grocery stores typically close even earlier.

There is, obviously, some chance that this is yet another case of politicians making incompetent decisions, possibly just for the purpose of showing that “we are doing something” (even should what is done be ineffectual or do more harm than good).

In light of the exceptions, however I see a suspicion supported that I have hitherto left unstated for fear of looking paranoid, as it points to something truly nefarious, an inexcusable GDR-level agenda—that these curfews are intended to make it easier for the government to enforce other restrictions. Effectively, they are not there to (directly) combat COVID, but to give the government the tools to force the people to compliance (even be it with the indirect purpose of combating COVID).

For instance, without a curfew, family A could go visit family B, and unless they are observed together, a disgruntled family member tattles, or similar, the police would not be able to do very much. With a curfew? Nick them for violating the curfew on the way over, instead of the actual “crime” that they were about to “get away” with. (Conveniently, the exercise exemption is limited to one or, possibly, two persons, while the visiting restrictions have a similar one-person exemption.)

Looking at the future, this is could be highly problematic on at least two counts: Firstly, restrictions on civic rights are becoming ever more extreme and the ever more extreme is becoming “normalized”.* Secondly, this attitude of curfews and whatnots for the purpose of controlling the people could easily find a post-COVID** continuation, e.g. in that curfews are imposed to prevent AfD*** members from coordinating or that you-are-not-allowed-to-surf-the-Internet-anonymously-lest-you-spread-Rightwing****-hate-speech suggestions resurface.

*Notably, restrictions of dubious justification relative the crisis and the foreseeable benefit.

**If there is such a thing as post-COVID. Another immense danger is the COVID might remain and/or be milked by the politicians for so long that the next pandemic or whatnot appears in time to make the situation permanent.

***A popular-with-many-voters and hated-by-the-old-parties political party which is demonized and used as a threatening specter by the German Left—they must be suppressed or in a few years we will be gassing Jews and invading Poland.

****And note how often the focus is on explicitly “Rightwing” this-or-that, despite the Left almost invariably being the bigger sinners.

Excursion on governmental duty to inform:
As I noted in [2], there is too little information flowing in an explicit manner from the government. In effect, the citizens are supposed to hang on every word the press says, and hope that the press has got it right, in order not be ignorant of the current regulations. (And, again, not limited to COVID.)

This situation simply is not conscionable, especially with the way that the government dithers back on forth on some issues (note the Easter topic from [2] and some earlier texts) and with the often varying regulations on the federal, state, and municipal levels. Indeed, I outright missed the original imposition of a local Wuppertal curfew, only learning about it several days after the fact, because it did not find mention in any of the more nationwide sources that I had read. (And, frankly, I do not read that much German news anyway—in part, for lack of quality sources; in part, because of the high degree of paywalling.)

It absolutely, positively, and categorically must be the responsibility of the government to ensure that such information is given to the people—not the responsibility of the people to research whatever the government is currently up to. (The “how” I leave open for now, but this is one of the few areas where an email newsletter might make sense. With COVID and the often very short time from suggestion to decision, even putting paper notices in mailboxes might be justified.)

Written by michaeleriksson

April 24, 2021 at 11:15 am

Follow-up II: Plastic bags, the environment, and dishonest companies

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To revisit the topic of plastic bags vs. paper bags (cf. at least [1], [2]), especially with an eye on irrational and environmentally counterproductive policies:

For quite some time, most grocery stores have offered only paper bags and/or only sturdy plastic bags intended for multiple use. The chain Netto has been a pleasant exception, offering “regular” plastic bags until quite recently.

Now, these regular plastic bags, the misleadingly called “one-time” or “disposable” bags, have been quite good for multiple use: they fit well in the pocket of a jacket; are sturdy enough to use half-a-dozen to a dozen times;* and when they are too worn out, they can be used for garbage.

*Possibly more, as the limiting factor in my case has been the need for garbage bags …

The intended-for-multiple-use bags are, paradoxically, inferior in this regard: they do last even longer, but are a much worse fit for a pocket and I doubt that they are better on e.g. a uses-per-quantity-of-plastic* basis. Moreover, of the two bags that I have so far tried to use for a prolonged time, one fell out of my pocket and was lost within less than a dozen uses, the other developed a tear within a dozen uses, which grew to the point that I did not dare use the bag within a total of two dozen uses.

*To illustrate the principle: If a regular bag can be used a dozen times and an intended-for-multiple-use bag uses ten times as much plastic, it would take 120 uses to reach the same level.

The paper bags are near useless for repeated use: (a) they do not take folding well; (b) they easily tear, often on first use (and once torn, they are exceptionally weak); (c) a simple rain, and Wuppertal is very rainy, can kill them even on a first use. Moreover, even on a first use, they are sufficiently much weaker than a plastic bag that care must be taken to not load them too heavily and to not have e.g. the corner of a carton in a position to poke a hole. (d) they are less useful for other purposes too, e.g. as garbage bags (vulnerable to moisture, not closeable in the manner of a plastic bag).

Looking at Netto, the first sign of trouble was in January: I visit(ed) Netto almost exclusively for the plastic bags (cf. excursion), typically loading up enough on groceries to justify two bags, which I then used while visiting other stores until the bags were re-purposed as garbage bags, after which I went back for a rare Netto visit, lather-rinse-repeat. My January visit was a disappointment, as no plastic bags were available. I had to resort to a big paper bag, which was highly impractical for repeated use, even if somewhat sturdier than most other paper bags. I was highly annoyed upon discovering the almost taunting presence of ten check-boxes on the bag, where the proud and environmentally friendly owner was supposed to mark off how many times he had used this unsuitable-for-multiple-use paper bag! Not only was this a virtual taunt, but it also displayed a customer despising attitude where the customer is considered an idiot and/or a pathological virtue signaler and/or is to be used to shame other customers into repeated use.

I gave Netto a second chance a little later, and indeed found plastic bags again.

But: Today, I was out of plastic bags again. I went to Netto—and again found only paper bags. I restricted myself to one bag’s worth of groceries, packed up and left. Barely out of the store, the bag tears to such a degree that I had to carry the remains, barely covering my groceries, in my arms. So much for the quasi-prescribed ten uses!

Considering various other issues (cf. excursion), I will stay away from Netto indefinitely.

Now, about pockets: Should it not be obvious that pockets make the regular plastic bags the preferred version? Apart from human stupidity and irrationality as an explanation why this is not the case, there seems to be a wide-spread assumption that grocery store visits are done by car. Certainly, someone traveling by car need be less concerned over what fits or does not fit well into his pockets, what might fit but fall out (cf. above), and similar. But would it not be better to remain with regular plastic bags and discourage car travel instead?

Excursion on the impact of German reductions:
In the time since my last text on the topic, I have encountered claims (but not kept references) that the number of plastic bags ending up in nature from Europe is dwarfed by the African and/or Asian numbers (to some part, because the recycling quota is much higher in Europe). If so, the bans become the more absurd, as the your-plastic-bag-is-polluting-the-oceans argument is weakened considerably, and as the first lesson of optimization is to optimize where the effect is the largest. Moreover, I have encountered claims that, contrary to propaganda, the overall environmental cost is dominated by the pre-purchase effects. If this is true, the emotional manipulation through claims about suffering animals becomes the harder to justify and the use of e.g. paper bags becomes the more disputable as they, in my understanding, have a higher pre-purchase impact on the environment than plastic bags do. As with e.g. the disgraceful attempts to banish nuclear power, even at the cost of increased use of fossil fuels, the environment might then be harmed by the very attempts to protect it.

Excursion on Netto and my reluctance to buy there:
Visiting Netto is often highly annoying, especially through a repeatedly displayed customer-despising attitude. The three most notable issues:

Firstly, advertising statements that go on ad nauseam. Where other stores, gratifyingly, appear to slowly move away from this annoying intrusion, Netto has begun to use them comparatively recently.* Indeed, I have no recollection of them occurring, or occurring more than rarely, before the first COVID-lockdown, about a year ago, when Netto began to blast the customers with ever-repeating, patronizing, and redundant messages that the customers should keep their distance, and so on, and so forth. I suspect that Netto abused the situation to push advertising through the same channel, after the COVID-related messages were phased out. This especially with an eye on the ad nauseam, which applied to the COVID messages and now applies to the advertising: other stores might play a pop song** over the loud speakers, broadcast one or two ads, play a pop song, etc. Netto has a period of silence** followed by an ad, followed by an ad, followed by an ad, followed by an ad, on and on and on for minutes at a time, before the next period of silence begins.

*Reservation: their presence or absence sometimes vary from store to store, even within the same chain. My local impressions need not reflect the German-wide situation.

**Whether pop songs or silence is preferable, I leave unstated, as these songs are often poor or even annoying in their own right. However, with music there is at least a nominal trade similar to the one of most radio stations—we give you music and in return you listen to our advertising.

Secondly, the particularly annoying and patronizing COVID statements. The aforementioned loudspeaker announcements have been largely phased out; however, the store is still plastered with signs, including the absurd message “Heute trägt man Verantwortung”—“Today one wears [or carries] responsibility”. (Presumably, as a failed joke on the wearing of masks.) The view of the customers that shines through is inexcusable, as are the attempts at cheap manipulation, shaming tactics, etc. (In contrast, a legitimate message would have been e.g. “Per city [or whatnot] ordinance, we must enforce the wearing of N95-masks. We ask for your understanding and cooperation.”.

Thirdly, there is usually only a single check-out line open, even during “rush hour”, which leads to a disproportionate risk of queuing, with the associated delays and, I strongly suspect, an increased risk of COVID spread. (Which makes the aforementioned COVID messages even more absurd.)

Written by michaeleriksson

March 18, 2021 at 5:12 pm

Countermeasures more damaging than COVID / Follow-up: Various COVID-19 articles

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I just read a very interesting article on the damage by COVID counter-measures and how they, according to a peer-reviewed study, do more harm than good. This plays in well with things that I began to say as early as March 2020, or roughly ten months ago. (See [1] and [2], as well as quite a few later texts.)

Below, I will discuss portions of this article, but first I want to point to another case of pinning the tail to the COVID donkey. Going by current German reporting*, there are plans to (a) institute a nightly curfew, (b) mandate FFP2-masks** in e.g. stores. As to (a), what is that supposed to achieve?!? The nights are the times when the streets are almost free of people anyway, when there is the smallest risk of infecting or being infected. By locking people in at night, they either lose an option of fresh air and exercise for no good reasons or are forced to move these activities to the day time, when the risks are larger … Utterly idiotic. (Note that bars, discos, and the like are closed to begin with, irrespective of this curfew.) As to (b), either this is an(other) unnecessary measure or it proves that the old/current policy, in place for many months, was deeply flawed. The latter might very well be the case, as it allowed the use of virtually any mouth covering, including home-made masks and the scarf that I, myself, have been using. If so, however, it should have been obvious to begin with, and the old/current policy was mostly unnecessary, a cheap psychological measure, and/or another case of pinning the tail.

*Source is the non-archived Internet version of “ARD Text”. As I try to minimize efforts on this closed blog, I will not research alternate sources.

**Roughly equivalent to the U.S. N95-masks.

To the main issue:*

*Quote marks present in the cited article have been kept to indicate what words stem from the author of the study (one Dr. Ari Joffe) and when the author of the article. This especially as the article appears to, it self, quote another article/interview extensively.

  1. The study, by a previously pro-lockdown physician, claims that the damage outweighs* the benefits by a factor 10 (ten!). I do not know whether this figure pans out, or whether it pans out everywhere**, but it is a strong further indication that the crisis has been horribly mishandled.

    *And this likely limited to health, while measuring the effects of e.g. bankruptcies only indirectly through health effects. (As I began to write, I assumed the opposite, and only discovered my likely error during writing. For reasons of time, I will not research this in detail. This potential misunderstanding might be preserved in sub-optimal formulations below, but will not render the underlying thoughts incorrect.)

    **The study is likely based on Canada.

  2. A particularly important portion reads:

    Explaining further to the Toronto paper why he initially supported the lockdowns, Joffe noted he’s not trained to make public policy decisions.

    “I was only considering the direct effects of COVID-19 and my knowledge of how to prevent these direct effects,” he said. “I was not considering the immense effects of the response to COVID-19 (that is, lockdowns) on public health and wellbeing.”

    Not only does this match my main complaint, that there is no awareness of e.g. opportunity costs and side-effects, but it also points to a danger of listening to experts without applying own thought.

    However, exactly this blind following is often demanded or voluntarily practiced. This, unfortunately, appears to include the politicians who should know better in terms of public policy than the average physician: “Fauci et al. say that X, Y, Z; ergo, we must A, B, C.” Why not consult a few experts on business and economics, a few civil-rights’ lawyers, and whoever else might be relevant in addition to Fauci? Why not a few psychologist and psychiatrists on top of physicians and experts on infectious diseases?

  3. Overlapping, the article claims:

    He pointed out that government and public health experts did not conduct a formal cost-benefit analysis of various responses to the pandemic.

    I would go further: from what I have seen, even an informal cost-benefit analysis has only rarely been made or, when present, had an influence on decision making.

  4. The negative effects are not just economic. As I have pointed out, there are also competing health effects.

    “It turns out that loneliness and unemployment are known to be among the strongest risk factors for early mortality, reduced lifespan and chronic diseases,”

    I would have said “Duh!”, expect that most politicians appear either unaware of or “willfully ignorant” on this point.

  5. The media have been as bad as the politicians (another “Duh!” moment …):

    “Popular media focused on absolute numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths independent of context,” he said. “There has been a sheer one-sided focus on preventing infection numbers.”

    In a bigger picture, this repeats the failure of media (discussed in many previous texts) of providing the population with the information needed to think for themselves: media has a ready-made, pre-chewed opinion and the population should just swallow that opinion.*

    *Note that this is a bad thing even should the media have a sound opinion.

  6. Another big complaint of mine is that the risks of COVID-19 and number of the deaths from it has not been put in perspective relative other causes of death.

    “Each day in non-pandemic years, over 21,000 people die from tobacco use, 3,600 from pneumonia and diarrhea in children under 5-years-old, and 4,110 from tuberculosis,” he noted. “We need to consider the tragic COVID-19 numbers in context.”

Disclaimer: I have not read the underlying study, nor made any attempts at verifying the science or credibility.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 18, 2021 at 9:59 am

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Pointless smoke-detector tests and waste of other humans’ time and money in Germany

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I have repeatedly written on both undue government interventions and undue invasion of privacy and other intrusions through various service/test/measurement/whatnot companies, e.g. in A German’s home is not his castle / a few issues around inspections and meter readings ([1]).

Earlier this week, I had the yearly smoke-detector test: a professional service company (Objektus) came by, a man walked in with a broom stick (or something similar), used it to push the test button on the two smoke-detectors, noted that they made a hellish noise, and left again—after having spent likely less than twenty seconds in my apartment and doing nothing that I could not have done myself.

This for a legally mandated yearly check that involves paid professionals, a load of travel and bureaucracy, and which forces the victims to take large chunks out of their days to meet the dictated times, with direct and indirect costs that are in no proportion to the value* of the service.

*Even assuming that smoke-detectors bring significant value to begin with, to which I am at least somewhat skeptical (this appears to be more propaganda and lobbying than science and data, cf. parts of [2]); and even assuming that a yearly test, as opposed to e.g. simply swapping the detectors every three-or-so years, has more than the slightest value added, to which I am extremely skeptical.

For instance, this particular company dictates a yearly date with short notice (around a week) and allows one dictated back-up date with (this year) six days’ notice. At least the back-up date had a two-hour interval (12:15–14:15). For many, the time of day, length of interval, and a bit of a commute might well mean that half the work-day is gone. For someone with a longer commute, it might take out an entire day—in extreme cases, an entire week!*

*I have repeatedly done weekend commutes over very long distances, e.g. Düsseldorf–Munich. The current date was a Tuesday, implying that I would have had no realistic choice but to miss both Monday and Tuesday. With five-or-so hours of travel in each direction (main station to main station, not including “local” travel, not including time to deal with hotels, whatnot), I might then have been better off foregoing the entire week. Had the date been on a Wednesday, I more or less would have had to. If the lost time is not enough, consider the considerable travel costs relative the smaller amount of billable hours per travel.

Last year, at least, some actual work was done in that the smoke-detectors were swapped, but this is apparently not a yearly task. (I have owned the apartment for longer, but in prior years various factors have lead to no service at all taking place, including one case of my being entirely oblivious to the dictated dates as I did not occupy the apartment and one case of the service company simply not showing up on their own dictated date. But, apparently, the legal mandate extends even to uninhabited apartments.)

A much saner system would, as in the past, leave smoke-detectors to the discretion of those actually living in the apartments. Barring that, a system where a service company replaces them every X years and the inhabitants are simply mandated to confirm that “we pressed the buttons and a painfully loud noise followed” once a year, would be much better. Barring that, some better solution of date handling must be found (some variations are mentioned in [1].)

Excursion on opportunity costs:
The opportunity costs do not just involve time and money, but can also include lives—and I am far from convinced that this mandated yearly check leads to a net-savings in lives. For the check to bring value, we have to assume that the batteries run out (or some other problem occurs) between changes, that the inhabitants do not voluntarily make tests, that a fire actually does occur, and that the circumstances are such that the smoke-detectors actually would have saved lives in that fire. (Which they would not have e.g. if a crucial exit was blocked, if the fire was too small, or if the fire was discovered by someone awake before the smoke-detectors triggered—and I do suspect that most fires take place in the day time.) How many lives this will be per year, I cannot judge, but it will not be many—it might even be none in a typical year. Against this we have to measure deaths caused by the checks, e.g. through unnecessary traffic accidents due to travel by testers or inhabitants, increased stress at work,* negative effects through extra costs,* and similar. Here, too, I cannot judge the number of lives, except that it will be a low number. The relevant question is, will it be a higher or lower number? Here I would strongly suspect a higher number …

*Looking at aggregates over sufficiently many humans such factors are relevant, even if they are highly unlikely in any given case (and far less spectacular than a car crash).

Right now, there is also the whole COVID-thing to worry about. Considering how much else has been banned in wild panic, I find it inconsistent that the comparatively high-risk task of having service staff move from apartment to apartment and contact with stranger after stranger has not been banned. This, however, is likelier to be an issue with the Pinning the tail to the COVID-19 donkey approach to policy than with the current topic.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 28, 2020 at 10:19 am

The insanities of political hypocrisy

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Want proof that the world is sick, that there is as ridiculous difference in treatment of Leftist and non-Leftist ideologies, individuals, etc., and how unjustified the constant German Leftist cries of “Rechtsruck” are? Happy to oblige.

I just received an automatic email from the city of Wuppertal, which in its footer contained:*

*Some minor typographic changes have been made for technical reasons. Links have been removed.

Engels2020 – Denker, Macher, Wuppertaler.
Wuppertal feiert den 200. Geburtstag von Friedrich Engels!
Jetzt geöffnet: Sonderausstellung “Friedrich Engels – Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa” in der Kunsthalle Barmen

Engels2020 – Thinker, Doer, Wuppertalian
Wuppertal celebrates the 200th birthday of Friedrich Engels!
Now open: Special exhibition “Friedrich Engels – A spectre is haunting Europe” in the Barmen* art-hall.

*A part of Wuppertal and Engel’s birth place.

Now, that there is a focus on Engels around his 200th birthday in Wuppertal is unremarkable—but a celebration?!?! No, that is simply insanity, in light both of the result of his collaborations with Marx, which ultimate have resulted in more deaths than Hitler, and the incompatibility of his ideas with the norms that Germany (and other Western democracies) claim to support.

At the same time, even the slightest connection to anything even remotely Nazi, or even migration critical, even slightly nationalist, often even just traditionally Conservative, can be cause of condemnation.

In extreme cases, listening to Wagner can be a greater cause of suspicion than reading Marx or Engels …

Written by michaeleriksson

August 27, 2020 at 9:21 am

Continued problems with gas company and chimney sweeps / Follow-up: Life as a (bad) cosmic joke, disturbances, and my rotten-to-the-core building

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As I wrote a while back:

I have terminated my contract with the gas supplier, seeing that I use very little gas and have to pay an entirely disproportionate amount through fix monthly fees and that I can avoid the annoying chimney sweep (cf. at least [1], [2]) . I received a notification from the gas supplier that my contract was terminated—and, a little later, a second notification amounting to “someone has terminated the gas supply to apartment XYZ, likely an old tenant moving out. Because you are the owner, we have automatically opened a new contract for you.”, an interpretation of events and an action that is utterly absurd. (I have written back.) To boot, the chimney sweep also refuses to accept either that I have terminated my gas supply or that a terminated gas supply would be a valid reason to not check the heater, which from my point of view is just scrap-metal still hanging on the wall. Performing this check without any gas might be an interesting challenge. I wonder whether physically removing it would be enough …

In the mean time, I have sent I-do-not-know-how-many emails and letters to the gas supplier in order to get this fraudulent contract terminated. About six weeks ago, this Kafkaesque situation seemed to be concluded. However, today, as I went through this week’s mail, what do I find? Yes, you guessed it: a second message of “Someone has terminated the gas supply to apartment XYZ, likely an old tenant moving out. Because you are the owner, we have automatically opened a new contract for you.”, which is absolutely intolerable.

I have just written a very, very angry email to the management, demanding immediate actions. I will also make a complaint about fraud to the police and more general complaint to the mayor (this being a city-owned enterprise).

I will also at this stage abandon my policy of being cautious with naming names, especially of individuals: The culprit is WSW (Wuppertaler Stadtwerke), involved people who have not done their job sufficiently include, but is likely not limited to, Diane Rieke and Aline Scheffler.

At the same time, the aforementioned chimney sweep is now illegally and through defamation attempting to force a visit to my apartment to make an impossible check (no* gas, remember) by involving the Ordnungsbehörde (a German law-enforcement agency with an unclear translation). This has caused me immense additional, unnecessary efforts, including emails and letters back-and-forth with the Ordnungsbehörde and a four-page complaint to a supervisory agency. This has been made the harder, because the replies from the Ordnungsbehörde are often delayed in an inexcusable manner—for instance, the last letter was dated on the 28th (!) of July and was marked as delivered on the 10th (!) of August.

*With some reservations for an existing gas supply through the fraudulent pseudo-contracts above. I have not turned on the heater since the end of February, and I do not intended to do so even to check “whether”, because I fear that the result will be a message from WSW along the lines of “You are using gas after all, so our contracts are legitimate, Pay up!”.

Consistent with my policy change, I explicitly name Uwe Heinbach (running his company under that name) as the chimney sweep and his co-worker Sabine Wacker as the incompetent, lying, irate, and spoiled brat that I have been forced to interact with (cf. e.g. [2]).

Written by michaeleriksson

August 23, 2020 at 11:28 am

Tax filings for 2019 / The German IRS and Elster (again)

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Earlier today, I filed my (German) taxes for 2019—and, for once, with a few days to spare. This through a combination of a general increase in the last date for filing (July 31st; previously, Mai 31st), my less stressful workload, and the fact that I had less positions to file.* It still cost me several hours distributed over two days, to get everything in order and to use ElsterOnline, that utter bullshit tool that the German “IRS” has forced down the throat of the users.

*I spent half of 2019 on a sabbatical and then switched from IT consulting to writing novels, with no bills issued, no income, and much less costs for e.g. hotels and travel than in previous years.

I am not going to give a complete overview of Elster, as I have discussed it repeatedly in the past.* However, a few new (?) observations:

*Search for “Elster”, “IRS”, and/or “Finanzamt”.

  1. There is a new free-text field where the user can add a message to the IRS within the filing—finally: this has been years overdue.

    But: It is not possible to add line-breaks in this message. This repeats an inexcusable error, hostile to both the user and the IRS staff that later works with the filings, which was previously present in the specialized form for sending (external) messages. In that separate form, this error has been fixed—but it is still repeated here. Absolutely incredible!

  2. On several occasions, I tried to run my mouse over a field with outdated values to mark the contents, hit backspace, and then enter the new data. This was simply not possible, which is absurd for a functionality that works out of the box with a regular HTML form—unless somehow sabotaged, be it out of incompetence or malice. Instead, I had to click into the field, right-arrow until I was at the end, and then hit backspace until the field was empty.* This is the more annoying as the form based input and the structure of the forms more-or-less forced use of a mouse for tasks like navigating. This way, the user is forced to constantly switch between keyboard and mouse in a manner that goes too far. (And does it for no legitimate reason.)

    *In my impression, I was always, by force, put at the beginning of the field, with no ability to “click” to another position; however, I did not verify whether this was true. It is also conceivable that I could have “deleted” my way backwards with the “delete key”, but it is awkwardly placed and requires a simultaneous “shift” on my notebook, so that would have been more work—if it actually did work at all …

  3. One of the forms had two (times three; cf. below) fields for the Steuernummer*, one in a “cover” part, one in a content part. The latter was correctly imported from last years forms; the former had to be entered manually. WTF!

    *An identification number used by the IRS.

    To make matters worse, the forms insist on dividing the Steuernummer into three parts, each with a field of its own, which implies that a simple one-step copy-and-paste is not possible. To copy it within a form, with no additional sources, the tax payer then has to go forward one (or more?) page(s?), copy part one, go back to the original page, paste, go forward again, copy part two, etc., until all three parts are filled. (Personally, I committed parts one and two to memory and copied just the third part, trading a slight risk of errors for a reduced work load.)

  4. The data import from my previous filing was not complete. At least the VAT portion likely had not one single data field filled, which makes the new filing harder: there are a great number of obscure, poorly named, and poorly explained fields, and having the ability to just look at the old fields makes it much easier to identify which to use this year. Moreover, when I cannot rely on the old fields being pre-filled (if with outdated values), I do not just have to identify the correct fields, I also have to go through the sum of all fields on a just-in-case basis.
  5. While data import from the old filing was possible, I had no way of actually looking at the old filing, e.g. for comparisons per the previous item. For some reason, likely an arbitrary, unnecessary, and destructive time limit, they cannot be opened.

    And, no, there appears to be no way to save them locally in a reasonable format. (Something that I tried with my new filings, and likely last year too.) The only possibility to download the data, short of taking screenshots or saving countless individual HTML files, is a “save as PDF” functionality. This is sub-optimal and limiting to begin with, but, worse, this does not work at all on my computer (for reasons unknown). Odd: This should be a trivial task if implemented correctly: generate the PDF file server-side and then just let the browser download it. Possibly, the idiots are actually stupid enough to try generation client side, which is a recipe for unknown errors.* If it is server side and they still have bungled it, well, that is even worse.**

    *No, it cannot be justified by data protection. Such concerns are often legitimate, but here we had no data that was not already present and (at least somewhat) permanently stored server-side.

    **Software errors happen even to competent developers, but here we have a system that has been handling the 2019 taxes for almost seven months and is now in a high intensity phase. Not having fixed the problem by now, or having introduced it in the last few days, would be horrifyingly negligent. I also note that there was no error message of any kind, which would have been a must, had there been e.g. a temporary back-end problem, say, due to a temporary overload or system failure.

  6. Two fields were mandatory despite my having no value to provide (regarding transfer of assets from the private to the business sphere and vice versa). Here I had to add two entries of “0’, for no good reason. And, no, I could not just pick an existing field and enter the value “0”: these fields (in a wide sense) contained lists of fields, where each entry had to be manually added. Presumably, the IRS expects a detailed and enumerated list of each individual asset transferred, and it would then make sense to allow an empty list when no transfer has taken place. (This is indeed the case with other “list fields”.) But, no, an empty list was not allowed, and to signify that I had transferred no assets, I had to create two single list entries with the value “0” and an additional dummy “reason” (“name”, “details”, or whatnot).

    This is a “Software Development 101” mistake.

    (I have no recollection of this problem from prior years.)

I can only reiterate my yearly observation that this tool moves on a level of incompetence that is mind-numbing, including obviously faulty behavior, a complete disregard for established conventions, an extremely confused (and confusing) user interface, etc. As a former software developer, it boggles my mind that this type of shit can be made by (alleged) professionals—and while wasting tax payers money. Yes, I know, the government and incompetence, but still …

Written by michaeleriksson

July 29, 2020 at 6:34 pm

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Another bites the dust

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Almost exactly one year ago (15th vs. 17th of July 2020 resp. 2019), I discovered that my favorite store in all of Düsseldorf had been closed ([1]).

If I had made a list of private “must visit” stores in Düsseldorf before last year’s trip, it would have contained exactly two entries: Stern Verlag (books) and the local Conrad (electronics).

I am in Düsseldorf again, for the same reason (to avoid construction noise), and wanted to visit said Conrad. As you probably have guessed, it too has closed.

Looking up Conrad on German Wikipedia, it appears that there is a total of 20 German stores left (with an additional 9 internationally). Since 2017, no less than 6 (or almost one-in-four) have closed. The Düsseldorf store is the latest, on the 15th of February 2020. I doubt that the COVID restrictions will be helpful for the remaining stores.

On the positive side, there actually are other Conrads left, while Stern Verlag was a single store and likely the second best bookstore in Germany (after Dussmann in Berlin).

Excursion on my current “must visit”:
In my current situation, my list would only have one entry: the largest of the Mayersche, which by default has become Stern Verlag’s successor as best book store. The local Saturn as the largest electronics store is a close call, but fails on the presence of a decent size Saturn and a ditto Media Markt* in Wuppertal (where I live)—there is a major size difference here too, but the Wuppertal Saturn has at least reached a “critical mass”, much unlike the Wuppertal bookstores. (Conrad was smaller, but better priced and with a different product profile.)

*Another electronics chain, perversely under the same ownership as Saturn.

Excursion on cosmic jokes:
Add in that I actually picked* a hotel that is in the next parallel street to the former location, a literal stone’s throw away, and I cannot help suspecting another cosmic joke. Someone up there is having yet another big laugh at my expense …

*Not, admittedly, by design, but I did have a “Hey, its next to Conrad!” moment when I noticed.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 15, 2020 at 10:29 pm

Feminist nonsense in Germany / Disturbing news

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Another cosmic-joke day:

Checking the news shortly after wakening*, I am met with two absurd German news-items in the “poor discriminated women” genre:

*Viz. being prematurely awakened by some type of ruckus, which, from its length, is almost certainly a part of the construction works.

  1. CDU, an allegedly Conservative party, has decided on an internal women’s quota of 50 (!) %. In effect, women should be guaranteed at least half of all positions for “group elections of board members, such as deputy chairpersons and assessors” (according to an English source ([1])).

    Apart from the general dubiousness of quotas and the observation that equality of opportunity does not lead to equality of outcome, through e.g. different preferences and priorities, I note that: (a) An effective minimum of 50 % for women implies a very strong distortion that could move the party even further* into Leftist ideas and/or deepen its cowardly hiding under the label “Center” (instead of “Right”). (b) This is a party with traditionally more male voters and members than female ones, implying that the quota is inherently unfair and amounts to a massive pro-woman/anti-man step away from equality of opportunity—a woman who wants to make a CDU career will have it much easier than a man. (c) It is likely to move the party further away from the wishes of its voters, as women tend to have different political preferences than men.** (d) This, obviously, is yet another case of a women’s quota, despite there being no reason whatsoever to not use a generic sex/gender quota (if a quota is used at all).

    *Note a drift towards the Center in more than name for a long time, repeated absurd coalition governments with nominal archenemy SPD (Social-Democrat), increased acceptance of “New Left” ideals (including e.g. Gender-Feminist/-Studies propaganda), and a disturbing past of doing more to increase than decrease the redistribution state and the nanny state. As to why I am concerned about too many women, see e.g. [2].

    **The rise of the allegedly extreme “Right-wing” AfD is to a large part old CDU voters defecting due to alienation and disappointment with CDU’s behavior in the Merkel era.

    Ah, and this is apparently a “compromise” … To me, it looks more like a blanket capitulation.

  2. “Minister of Family” and SPD member Franziska Giffey is pushing a “national strategy for equality of women and men” (“nationale Strategie zur Gleichstellung von Frauen und Männern”, see a German source ([3])).

    Newsflash: Men and women have been equal in Germany since before I moved here in 1997—almost 23 years ago. (How long before, I leave unstated. On paper, it is much longer.) Looking at my own experiences in the office, being a woman appears to be a career bonus, in and by it self. Looking at overall society, very much of is geared at women. Looking at laws and redistribution, women appear to be heavily favored, through e.g. mechanisms like paid baby-breaks that come out of the pay of everyone else and the way that men’s health-insurance fees subsidize women’s.

    Particularly annoying is that Giffey is quoted as mentioning a payment difference of more than twenty percent and requiring governmental intervention. This despite the 77 cents on the dollar fraud having been debunked countless times, by countless people, in any major Western country where a version of it has been claimed. This staple of Feminist rhetoric is one of the worst cases of “fake news” in the history of politics.

    The claim amounts to demanding that women receive equal pay for unequal work, including shorter working hours; and it disregards the result of personal priorities, e.g. risk taking during negotiations and whether someone loses career years through a baby break. It also disregards the extensive transfers that take place from men to women.

    This is yet another case of women being given a major leg up based on the lie that they would be the victims of “discrimination” and whatnot.

Excursion on baby breaks:
At least in Sweden, I have seen the actual, but likely fringe, opinion that women who come back from even a lengthy baby or child break should not only have the right to be rehired by their old employers into the old position, but that they should actually receive promotions and pay raises on par with the men who did not take the same break … Say that a woman drops out today to have a baby and comes back seven-or-so years later, when the kid enters school. She has now been out of the game for seven years, she no longer knows the company internals*, she is unlikely to have kept up with the field (and whether she has is irrelevant to this fringe opinion), she has not put in the years of hard work to prove her dedication to the company, etc. (And she has not had to face the risk of a major screw-up leading to a firing or side-ways “promotion” into a career dead-end during those seven years.) Nevertheless, she is to be reinstated with a promotion and a pay raise …

*The importance of this can vary depending on the exact job and company, but the effect can be quite large, especially for more qualified positions. In e.g. software development, my own old field, it is not just a matter of forgetting large parts of the often enormous amounts of knowledge needed, but the world can have changed so much that she might have to start over from scratch. We have changes to the domain knowledge, internal processes, technologies used (possibly, even the programming language), best practices, … We are not talking weeks to get up to the old speed, but months or even years.

The motivations for this nonsense, in my recollection, has fallen into two families: It is only fair (how?!?) and being a mother will have brought so many new skills that she will be more valuable than before (naive beyond belief).

To the latter, I note a parallel in nonsensical calculations like The Telegraph on housewives—-who “deserve an annual salary of £159,137”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 8, 2020 at 9:17 am

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