Monday, September 28, 2009

It's Alive!

Today is going to be a two post day . . .

For those who are interested, Smarty Jones lives on.

Thursday afternoon we discovered that if you crawl through the back that you can open the door from the inside; well the passenger door, not the driver's door, which the German had broken. The battery was okay, but we still could not get the car to turn on. Hmm.

My father-in-law, KH, got back from vacation on Thursday. When we informed him of the situation, he immediately said, "I'll fix it!" In my head I thought, "I think the car's computer needs to be hooked up, but okay."

KH and the German circled the car on Friday afternoon, ready to pounce. After trying many things, the German went inside to look something up on the computer. He came out and said, "Someone in an Internet forum suggest resetting the computer by disconnecting the battery completely and then reattaching it." And . . . it worked! I will be darned if the car did not start right up!

That only left the problem of the door. On Thursday, the German went to the Smart dealer, who told him that he probably just needed a new cable. On Friday, the German and KH took the door apart and fixed the cable. 28 Euro and a few hours later . . . done!

We did not call the ADAC. We did not have to get the car towed. It just cost 28 Euros and a few hours (and a little bit of pride to get it fixed). I am a bit disappointed. "New car for Claire" negations and discussions had begun and have no stopped. Come on, Sweetie. If I get a new car, I promise that I won't let the Dude touch it.

For those who are on the "terrible mother" bandwagon. I am sure that the Dude is going to break something else in the future. Strangely, we took the entire situation pretty calmly. Isn't stupid stuff part of being a parent? Also, the Dude is ALWAYS in eye sight. I know what he is capable of and I try to keep him out of trouble. And finally, I did not get mad at the Dude nor did I yell at him. It was my fault. I am the adult and take responsibility for what happens. I always have.

So, now that that saga is over . . . later today . . . Post-Election Bash: Germany Edition!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh . . . no . . .

Yesterday a series of unfortunate events unfolded at our house which may have resulted in us sending the Smart to automobile heaven. Comically, every single person in the house is responsible for the outcome, including the baby.

The Dude loves to press buttons, light things up and figure out how it all works. My car, the Smart (or Smarty Jones as I like to call her), is now one of his favorite toys. He can spend an hour sitting in the front sheet, shaking the wheel and going "brrrrmmmm!!" He can turn the lights on and off and once in a while even honks the horn. I probably shouldn't, but I let him do this every now and again when I need to have both hands to do something.

Yesterday, after running a few errands, I parked Smarty outside the kitchen window. I went inside the house to put lunch on the stove and let the Dude explore the car, while watching him through the window. Around 11:30 I brought him and gave him lunch. He went down for a nap without a peep and I wrote a blog.

At about 2:30 I got him up and ready to go to day care, which he does three times a week in the afternoons. When we got in the car, there were no lights and the thing would not even crank. I looked around trying to figure out the problem. Mother F***er. I noticed the headlight switch on. The Dude must of turned it on, and when I brought him in, I forgot to turn it off. The battery was D-E-A-D.

I stuck the Dude in the stroller and walked him to day care, and with a hint of panic in my voice called the German. "No worries, I will jump start it when I get home."

The German got home and pushed Smarty into the garage. He hooked everything up and jumped into Smarty, shut the drivers side door and got the battery going. All the lights immediately came on, but when he put the key in, the car would not start up.

I must pause at this point in the story to explain something, Smarty is . . . fickle. The car can only be unlocked using the electronic button on the key (there are no locks. How weird is that!) Sometimes she will not start if you have had the car unlocked and in park. However, if you press the key and lock the doors and then unlock them, the car starts right up. We knew this when we got the car, and it even came with a sticker in the owners manual.

Okay, where were we? The German was in Smarty with the drivers door shut. The passenger side was open (as that is where the battery is). The jumper cables got electricity to the car, but we could not actually get it to start.

We both knew that we needed the keys to lock and unlock the car again. We tried both keys furiously for 10 minutes before we realized that for some reason the computer was not recognizing the signal of the key. Perhaps the memory had been erased? Just then, the doors on the car automatically locked, locking the German inside the car.

The German got a little frustrated and yanked the handle on the door in an attempt to get it open. The handle came off. At this point, my mouth was hanging open and I was at a loss for words.

We disconnected the cables and the German climbed out on the passenger side. We were putting things away and discussing the key and door problem when he called out, "Don't shut the passenger side door, otherwise we will not be able to get into the car." I looked for the bike so that we could pick up the Dude from day care and the German walked over to me, but not before absentmindedly shutting the passenger side door. At this point I was laughing hysterically.

Smarty is currently sitting in our garage. We can not unlock the doors and get in the car because the keys no longer work. Even if we could get in the car, the drivers side door is now broken. Once we get in the car, I am not sure what shape the battery is in.

Any suggestions?

In a completely unrelated event, the Dude said the work "sh**" for the first time. Great. As if I did not feel like a bad mother before, on my 19 month old's first 50 words is profanity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

"Nazi" Really Is a Four-Letter Word

Whenever the topic of "health care" and "United States" come up in this household, the German gets a perplexed look on his face, looks at me and says, "I do not understand why Americans do not want health care?!" These feelings found their way into his comments on the video yesterday. This seems to be the only thing that is talked about these days, and has made its way to our dinner table. It is about time I tossed in my two cents.

President Obama, and all of those currently promoting health care reform, seem to have the best intentions. In fact, they have very good reason for taking up this cause. The facts are shocking.
  • The number of uninsured in American increases every day. In a newly released report, the US Census Bureau estimates that nearly 46.3 million people in 2008 had no health insurance. I have read critiques which argue that the estimate contains individuals who are "not citizens," and thus the number of uninsured Americans is actually lower. Um, okay. If you want to look at the number that way, then there are "only" 36.8 million uninsured Americans. Gee that number is so much better. (Despite what critics say, you should take a look at the new Census Report on Income, Poverty and Health Insurance. It really is eye opening.)
  • People in the US ALREADY die waiting to get treatment because they are either denied coverage for pre-existing conditions or refused referrals to specialists.
  • In the US hundreds of thousands of people go bankrupt because of their health care costs. One recent report from the American Journal of Medicine estimates 60% of 1.5 million bankruptcies (or about 900,000).
  • Americans spend more on health care but are not any healthier and do not live longer. In its 2000 report, the World Health Organization ranked the Unites States 24th in terms of life expectancy (Germany was 17th). In almost all of the rankings I looked at, the US was never in the top 10, and in one ranking ("health performance") was even 72. You know who was almost always at the top: France.
  • For more facts, you should really check out the National Coalition on Health Care Fact Sheet. They use a lot of different sources.

Is this really a system worth saving? All of this begs the question, what have the reformers proposed and why are some people so against reform? Let's talk about a few details, which President Obama laid out in his speech to congress.

1. All Americans must have health care.

This proposal is shocking to many Americans. "You can't make me have health care! If I do not want coverage, that is my choice. Live free or die!" Um, okay. The problem with this argument is that one person's "choice" might actually cause me to get sick, or worse cost me money. In Germany everyone is required to have health care. It is not negotiable. This month the American Journal of Public Health estimates that 45,000 individuals die every year because they do not have health insurance. Also, requiring people to have health insurance is good for business. Think of all those new customers!

2. Reform would make it illegal for health insurance companies to drop your coverage when you get sick or to place a cap on the amount of coverage you can receive in a given year or in a lifetime. It will place a limit on how much you can be charged for out-of-pocket expenses. It would require insurance companies to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms.

Yeah. I do not have anything to say about that. It all seems good.

3. A possible public option that would provide health care to those who cannot afford it.

This has been a sticking point for many. "It is SOCIALISM!" Calm down, people. First, in a socialist country there is no public "option" there is only the public plan. A public option might be able to provide the vast majority of uninsured with health care. It also is not directly opposed to capitalism. By providing an affordable option, the system would increase competition and force private companies to provide better coverage.

If you think the government should not be involved in this kind of "socialism," should we also get rid of medicaid, medicare and social security? If the government cannot provide good health care, then what is it providing to its military or government employees? I often hear people say, "He's got a government job. Good benefits." Hmm. What benefits are they talking about?

Now, much of the opposition to health care reform has involved shouting and pointing and disparaging remarks, none of which ARE ACTUAL ARGUMENTS AGAINST HEALTH CARE. However, we do need to think critically about reform and what the best way is. Mr. Wilson, when people get upset with you because you yell at the President, it is not because you yelled, it is because YOU LIED. There is a provision to ensure that illegal immigrants are not covered. Mr. Wilson, no one wants to muzzle you, but we would like you to stop grossly exaggerating and lying in order to produce fear and actually act like an adult and engage in reasonable debate.

These lies about reform have got to stop, as they lead to the hate filled comments, which are the worst. When many of my Democrat friends called President Bush a "Nazi," I called them out. As you may expect and understand, where I live, calling someone a "Nazi" is about the worst thing you can do. The right-wing movement, however, seem to have latched onto an idea and are not letting go.

What is it about health care reformers that makes them "Nazis?" Do you mean the LIE about death panels?? Nothing like that is going to happen! Do you know where is actually DID happen: Here in Germany.

The German's Opa has told me some stories. His mentally retarded sister (aunt? I am fuzzy about this detail as Opa speaks Plattdeutsch and I cannot always understand) was actually taken by the Nazis to a "hospital." Opa's father came home from work and found out. He immediately went to where his daughter was held, shamed the soldiers there (he was a field officer in WWI, so pulled a little rank), and got his daughter (sister?) back. When I think of some of the things that the German's family has been through (including Oma's escape from Prussia, fleeing from the Russians, and Great-Grandmother's rape in a refugee camp), then I have to look at some at these posters and right-wing accusations and say, "YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THE HELL YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!"

That's right. I just used all capital letters. But, I hope that you see where I am going with this. End of life counseling is NOT THE SAME as a gas chamber. Demonizing someone and using vile language is not an argument. It does not convince me, nor the majority of Americans.

Now there is an argument against reform that is pretty good. Um, Mr. President, how are you going to pay for this? I was not totally convinced by the statement, "Reform will pay for itself." I think I may need to see some numbers first.

When it comes to reform, I am sometimes not sure if this is the right time for it. But then I am reminded of a quote, "If not us, who? If not now, when?" The German told me something very interesting the other day. "Health care is like roads and clean water. It is a public good. You should not be allowed to make a profit from it." If only more people thought that way.

So, that is my two cents . . . for what it's worth.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Health Care Reform is Funny

Remember people, health care reform can be funny. Okay, not so much health care reform, but some of the arguments against it.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Help my Parents?

After watching this, I am may just have to air lift my mom and dad-squared out of the state.

Oh, and I will get to you this week, Senator. In the mean time, I need to go stand in line for my socialized medicine which I get for free.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Help the Dude

I have so many, MANY words to say about the health care debate in the US, as well as some of the overheated rhetoric going around. But it is Friday night, I am tired and have to work all day tomorrow. Let's get back to that next week. I am sure that problem will still be there.

For now, how about a little bit of the Dude?

He is getting big . . . and strong. And in a few weeks we are jumping the pond to visit my Motown family. Technically the Dude is only 19 months old (but don't tell him that). Travelers are not required to purchase a seat for their child until they are two. The German and I discussed the pros and cons and finally decided to purchase the kid a seat. I can barely hold him still for 15 minutes in line at the grocery store; a nine hour plane ride to Michigan . . . um, no. Also at 410 Euro per person round trip, we can actually afford it. (KLM October sales rock!)

Our next problem is the seat. I want to take my car seat on the plane, because child please, that little belt is not going to hold the Dude down if he something interesting and wants to chase after it. Also, the Dude likes sleeping in his car seat, so I am hoping that by strapping him in he will actually get some shut eye on the plane.

Naturally our car seat is not the kind permitted on the plane. This is where you come Internet. Do you know anything about car seats and which ones travel well on planes? Any suggestions for activities to keep him occupied? Word of warning, portable DVD players is out. TV will only hold his attention for about 15 minutes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Comment So Good It Deserves a Post

I got a really interesting comment / question on my post about the German election, Colors:
Would it be accurate to assume that the German election has not held your TV hostage (i.e., like the non-stop campaigning advertisements in the U.S.)?
NO IT HAS NOT. And there is a very good reason why. In Germany political parties are only allowed to campaign in the six week period preceding the election. That's right, BY LAW, no ads, no campaign posters, no events that are campaign related are allowed until six weeks before the election. Certainly German parties get around that by holding "general events" or "topical, issue speeches," which we saw a lot of this past summer. However, even these are pretty limited. These are not federal laws, but rather regulations set by the states and which all parties generally abide by.

In regards to TV, political parties cannot buy up a ton of time like US parties. It is illegal. Each political party is allotted an equal share of air time to show ads. That is all the time they get. Although the party must pay to produce its advertisements, the TV time space is free. The US Library of Congress writes:

The length of election campaigns is not defined by federal law. State and local laws limit campaign billboards to a few weeks before the election. State laws limit campaign advertising in radio and television to a few spots that are allotted in the month preceding the election. By an agreement among the states, the political parties may not purchase any advertising time on radio or television, and are thereby limited to the few officially granted campaign spots.
These two rules have important consequences. First, my TV is not clogged up with stupid ads, like you see in the US. I will never forget a commercial that I saw while living in South Bend. "Candidate X. Bad for fish. Bad for Indiana." All I could think was, "Wait, are fish allowed to vote now?" The second consequence is that political parties do not spend nearly the same amount of money on advertising as US parties do.

"Oh, Claire, that sounds great! Let's enact that here in the US!"

Yeah, wouldn't that be nice? It will never happen.

The Supreme Court in the case Buckley vs. Velo (1976), argued that "money is speech." That is, you cannot limit a person's ability to spend money to influence elections as that would be an impediment to free speech. This case is the ruling precedent on party and campaign finance. Given how both the Left and Right in the US would rather fall on their swords than limit "free speech," I do not see that rule being changed any time soon. How do you like them apples?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Monday Nights Just Got Better

At the beginning of the summer, our satellite service stopped showing the German Bundesliga Football games (THE professional soccer league here in Germany). This caused a little bit of anxiety in our household. It was clear that we would need a new satellite service that would provide both the soccer games (for the German) and the West Wing (for me). Unfortunately, this left us with only option . . .

Rupert Murdoch.

Premiere was the only satellite/cable system that could provide all the channels that we wanted. Naturally, a few months before we decided to do this, Rupert Murdoch bought Premiere and changed the name to "Sky."

The German and I were NOT happy. We do not care for Murdoch, as he is a monopolist billionaire who is buying as much media as possible in order to push his own political agenda. Monopolies in the media is undemocratic, but that does not appear to bother many people . . . except for us.

But Murdoch is clever. Our need for soccer and random movies and TV entertainment trumped our distaste. We swallowed our scruples and bought in.

Of course, other than a dirty feeling brought on by selling out our principles, we have had no problems. The service is good and we got a great first year fee. We even added a few movie channels that allow us to watch new releases IN ENGLISH! Sunday night movie night ruled in the house this summer, but now (American) football season is on and ESPN has taken over Sunday nights.

I do have a complaint: FOX changed my Monday night ritual!! They have taken off West Wing. Season 4 had just ended (CJ was mourning the loss of her cutie secret service guy). Now they have some crappy show called "LA Crash." I am sure Murdoch is not to blame, but I cannot help but wonder . . .

They made it up to me by adding "Mad Men" to the Monday night line up. The German and I LOVE THIS SHOW. First, the English is not too fast, so the German doesn't have to ask me ever five minutes what is going on. Second, Jon Hamm and January Jones are HOT! Eye candy for both of us. Finally, the story is great and keeps you guessing. We love the attention to detail and the 1960s feel of the show. Last night a mom lite a cigarette in the baby's room. We almost died! A different era indeed.

So, Mr. Murdoch, you are doing okay, but bring back West Wing . . . or else . . .

Monday, September 14, 2009


If you think this post is about the 1988 gang-cop movie starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall and directed by Dennis Hopper . . . you would be wrong . . . although wouldn't that be a change of pace . . .

No, I realized yesterday that I blogged a lot (seriously A LOT) about the US election last year. In just two weeks Germany is going to have a federal election, and I have written nothing about it. Shame on me! Time to change all that.

First, a little background: Germany has a parliamentary system and a proportional representation electoral system. As a result there are two large parties and three smaller parties. Neither one of the large parties gets enough votes to rule on its own, so Germany usually has a coalition government. Currently there is a "Grand Coalition" between the two largest parties: CDU and SPD. The talk of the country is who will create the next coalition.

"Colors" actually refers to the political parties in Germany. Each party is associated with a color:

CDU (Christian Democrats; kind of like the Repubs): Black
SPD (Social Democrats; just your average, middle of the road socialists): Red
FDP (Liberal Democrats): Yellow
Green Party . . . (this one is pretty self explanatory)
The Left (the REAL Socialists and former Communists): Red

The guessing game regarding the next coalition has led to all kinds of "funny" names. First, there is the "Traffic Light Coalition" (green, yellow, red), whose slogan could be "stop! no wait! go! no wait!" Then there is the "Jamaica Coalition" (black, yellow, green), who promise Rum to everybody. The most talked about (and perhaps most likely) is the black-yellow coalition, for which I have no funny slogan.

Last night the two primary candidates for Chancellor, Merkel (CDU, the current Chancellor) and Steinmeier (SPD, the current Secretary of State), had their one and only debate. The German and I watched and played a little drinking game. Every time Merkel said "Wachstum schaft Arbeit" (growth creates jobs; her talking point which she held onto like a raft in a storm): Drink! Anytime someone said "black-yellow": Drink! We almost finished a bottle of wine.

Most commentators declared the debate to be a draw. The newspapers this morning were mixed. Bild called it a "love fest" instead of a debate. Yes, Merkel and Steinmeier were cordial and there were very few direct attacks. In fact, the two are so cozy, almost like an old married couple, that they are starting to dress alike. Seriously, I think they had on the same black suit.

There are a few reason for this laid back "debate." First, I think that German politics are simply not as adversarial and personal as American politics so, we should not expect the same thing.

Second, I do not think that any of those snazzy coalitions that I mentioned above are possible. If you look at the numbers and how the parties interact with each other, I believe that the only coalition that is possible is the one that we have now. And secretly, I think Merkel and Steinmeier know that. They are going to have to continue to work together, for better or worse. Making it personal would make that relationship very difficult after the election.

Tonight the top candidates from the other three parties are debating. Unfortunately, it is late at night and not on a prime channel. You can tell that the media does not think they are important; which is wrong. One of these parties could be the "King Maker." We should also be allowed to see what they have to say. Besides, between the Leftist (and slightly crazy) LaFontaine, Guido (the gay FDP chief) and the Green-Man Trittin, you KNOW some crazy $hit will be said tonight . . . maybe I will actually stay up for those fireworks.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Poor Neglected Blog

Last week I got an email from my Grandfather. "Haven't they buried John Hughes yet?" That is when I realized that my poor blog has taken a beating. It's not the blog's fault really. It sits there patiently day in and day out waiting for me to come back.

Things were very busy in August. I finished up a research project and flew to Toronto last week to make a presentation at the American Political Science Association conference. The trip, presentation and paper were a complete success. However all of the work on my paper has lead to a somewhat new relationship to my computer.

The Laptop is now a "Work Area." It is the old ball and chain. When ever I sit down "for fun," all I want to do is watch John Stewart and check the scores. Writing, especially creatively, has been a bit draining lately. I don't think that I am the only one feeling this way, though. Some of my other expat blogger buddies have also taken it down a notch. I won't mention names; but I do understand.

Anyway, so life goes on. Another politician from South Carolina makes me love my state just a little more. People have made wild and crazy claims about health care in Germany WHICH ARE SIMPLY NOT TRUE. There is an election coming up in Germany soon, which has led to wild and crazy campaign posters ALL OVER THE PLACE.

The Dude has learned to push the chair to the fridge to get out the juice and turn on the stove. Today I caught him trying to stick keys into my office door, which I now lock because otherwise he opens the door and turns on my laptop just to push the mouse around. He notices that not all the keys are the same and I have a sinking feeling it will not be long until he can unlock the door. Also in the Dude's bag of tricks, knowing the difference between blue and green (and saying it), attempting to count "one, two, three," and looking at me with his beautiful blue eyes and saying, "Cookie, bitte." Does not matter if it is 8am and he just had breakfast, I cannot resist, I always cave and give him the damn cookie.

When I was at the conference last week, I went to a panel on internet websites and group mobilization. An older gentleman (how old? older than my dad, younger than my Grandfather) was sitting in my row. He had a mini-laptop on his knees and every few minutes he would furiously punch the keys. I craned my neck and it suspiciously looked like Facebook. Later we were discussing the impact of the 'net on civic participation, he cried out, "Blogging is SO over! Social networks are the future!" It took everything I had not too burst out laughing.

So, fingers crossed, I will get my butt in gear and start posting again.