New Rule: Germany Needs a TV-Show Like Bill Maher’s [en]

Germany has never been as renown for good comedy or politics, as it was for bureaucracy, luxury cars, or invading Poland. Needless to say that political TV shows here are pretty repetitive and uncontroversial. I have to admit that I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’m always bored to death when I get a glimpse of one these prime-time talk shows with high-profile political guests.

And while many German comedians like to have a poke at politicians, there seems to be few shows that seriously discuss politics from a humorous point of view. Actually, only the heute show comes to mind, which is — as the name suggests — more or less a rip-off of John Stewart’s Daily Show. It’s not bad, but definitely not as good as the original.

So sure, I’m jealous of the US for having great shows like John’s and Stephen Colbert’s. I’ve been watching them for quite some time now. But I got even more jealous, when I recently discovered Real Time with Bill Maher.

Unlike other comedy shows, which focus on monologue or dialogue, Bill Maher invites several guests and actually has a discussion with them. While some of the guests appear on the show regularly, there is a huge variety of guest from politics, culture and science — some rather famous, others hardly known outside their field. But they all seem to have interesting things to say on Real Time and actively engage in discussion. It may be because Bill does not shy away from inviting guests with different points of view. At the same time he manages to moderate conflicts and keep the discussion factual while encouraging witty humor.

Of course Bill (also being a stand-up comedian) throws in his own jokes now and then. For instance his proposal for a new gun control law, after the horrible Trayvon Martin incident:

I think we should have a ‘use it or loose it’ law. Yeah. Where at least once every 6 months you HAVE to shoot someone! After all, isn’t that what gun nuts really want? Otherwise what’s the point of collecting something that just sits on the shelf? I mean I collect rare Ming-Dynasty opium pipes — but I USE them.

Or this remark to Republican voters in the 2012 primaries:

For a Republican candidate to NOT disappoint you, he would have to be Jesus of Nazareth. And even Jesus would be toast after a few news-cycles, because:
– Feed the hungry? Sounds suspiciously like welfare!
– And heal the sick? For free?? … That is definitely Obama-Care!
– And turn the other cheek? Maybe you didn’t hear, Jesus, but this is the party that cheers executions!

Or his famous New Rule segments:

New rule: If you wanna send me a link, you must take the extra 5 seconds to tell me what it is! How do I know if I’m going to see some adorable kittens at play or a piece of truly disgusting fetish porn that will be burnt into my brain for the rest of my life? I NEED that info, because really at this point, I’ve seen plenty of kittens.

New rule: If you find yourself prefacing more than half the things you say with: ‘I’m not a racist, but …’ — you’re probably a racist.

New Rule: Mitt Romney has to start understanding why people don’t like him. It’s not because he’s rich. It’s how he got rich. […] Henry Ford […] Walt Disney […] Jobs and Wozniak […] Mitt Romney […] You see what the first 3 have that Mitt doesn’t? A product! Something they made besides money.

Boy, I really wish we had a show like that here in Germany. Although, to be fair, American politicians really make it easy for comedians. I mean German politics is fucked up (especially here in Bavaria) but luckily we don’t have weirdos that would match up with Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin or Rick Santorum.

Open Letter to the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society at London School of Economics [en]

Subject: Your controversy with the LSE Students’ Union

Dear Members of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society,

I’m writing to support and encourage you in your struggle with the LSE Students’ Union, which apparently originated around your endorsement  of a Jesus and Mo cartoon on Facebook. Actually, to me it seems the conflict only arose because some people decided to be pissy about it.

I mean, come on! This whole issue is utterly ridiculous! I’m not familiar with the organization structure of the groups at your University, let alone their statutes. Admittedly, I wasn’t even able to reconstruct which particular Jesus and Mo strip caused all the hassle. (Was it seriously just the cover art of the Jesus and Mo Vol. 3 book?) Nevertheless, as someone who has read most Jesus and Mo strips in the past, I can say that the issue has been blown out of proportion tremendously.

Can people be offended by Jesus and Mo? They certainly can! Do people have good reason to be offended by Jesus and Mo, based on “any form of racism and discrimination” or lack of “tolerance, diversity, and respect”, as the LSE Students’ Union claims? I strongly disagree with that notion! Being familiar with the cartoons, I can say that Jesus and Mo do not engage in discrimination, intolerance, disrespect, or similar towards any person or group. The strips criticize concepts, rather than people. And IMHO they pick on concepts that deserve criticism, and they do it in a calm, civilized and well-rationalized manner.

Now, if people are offended by that, that’s all well and good. But are you the ones to blame? Heck no! Different people are offended by all kinds of things. And I think its not very polite to knowingly rub such things in their faces.  However, you did not rub anything into anyones face. You did not walk up to arbitrary students and try to convince them to like Jesus and Mo cartoons.  You did not nail a Jesus and Mo poster to a church door. You did not shout Jesus and Mo punchlines from a minaret. And even if you did, the worst thing I could say is that you were not being very polite. Or as you yourself put it, “offence is not a sufficient reason for certain artistic and satirical forms of expression to be prohibited.”

I for one feel offended by the prevalence of religious ideology in our society. I feel deeply troubled by the effects of superstitious believes on public live and politics. The fact that well-educated and influential members of our society still believe in supernatural deities is an insult to my intellect. But I’m not blaming these people for offending me. You won’t see me running to mommy (or the authorities) and demand that everyone else changes their offensive beliefs. Likewise, the people that are offended by your reference to Jesus and Mo should stop being such crybabies about it!

Sadly, this controversy is not going on in Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Sumatra, or the US Bible Belt. This is happening in Britain, in Europe, for Bobs sake! In 2012! Whatever happened to our ideals of free speech and tolerance? Didn’t we learn anything from Voltaire? You are not the ones who are running contrary to these principles! But the LSE Students’ Union certainly appears to be.

That’s why I’d like to encourage you ‒ the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society ‒ not to give in to the demands of the LSE Students’ Union. I seriously doubt their claim that “the action of posting these cartoons was in breach of Students’ Union policy on inclusion and the society’s constitution.” And even if it was, there are higher values at stake here, and the respective statutes would need to be adjusted accordingly.

I’m confident that you’ll be be able to “engage with LSESU and work with them further to resolve the situation.” But please don’t compromise your ideals just to avoid conflict. I’m sure there are many people out there who fully agree with your stance on the issue. I certainly do. Please let all of us know, if you need any support!

Best regards,
Michael Riedel

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
probably not Voltaire

Titanic’s Überwachungs-ABC [en]

Die Titanic hat es mal wieder geschafft. Im aktuellen Heft gibt’s einen sehr guten Überblick zu dem, was mich im Moment an sogenannter “Sicherheitspolitik” stört. Leo Fischer kommentiert das Thema viel treffender und unaufgeregter als wir Internet-Nerds es je könnten:

Das kleine ABC der Überwachung

Der Herr Friedrich (und seine Vorgänger) sehen dabei nicht gut aus:)

Widerstand gegen Facebook formiert sich [en]

Dass ich persönlich kein großer Fan von Facebook bin, ist einigen Leuten sicher bekannt. Schön zu sehen daher, dass sich langsam Widerstand formiert!

Das entsprechende Engagement des Datenschutzbeauftragen von Schleswig-Hollstein mögen manche zwar für kleinkariert halten, es ist aber längst überfällig. Neulich wurde ich durch einen Telepolis-Artikel auch auf die Initiative Europe vs. Facebook aufmerksam, die sich kritisch mit dem Thema Datenschutz bei Facebook auseinander setzt. Die haben es wohl tatsächlich geschafft, die irischen Behörden dazu zu bewegen Facebooks dortige Europa-Zentrale mal etwas genauer unter die Lupe zu nehmen, was die Einhaltung europäischer Datenschutzbestimmungen angeht.

Auf der Website der Initiative gibt es auch eine schöne Auflistung dazu, welche personenbezogenen Daten Facebook überhaupt speichert. Da geht primär um den Teil der Daten, dessen Speicherung Facebook selbst zugibt ‒ also nur um die Spitze des Eisbergs. Ist zwar alles ziemlich offensichtlich, aber trotzdem ein netter Einstieg für Leute, die sich noch nicht mit dem Thema beschäftigt haben.

Höchste Zeit also, sich nach Alternativen umzusehen. (Google+ ist dabei kein Schritt in die richtige Richtung, denn es ist genauso zentralistisch strukturiert, und genauso von fiskalischen Interessen geleitet wie Facebook.) Werde mir mal genauer ansehen müssen, wie es derzeit um verteilte Ansätze wie Diaspora oder Buddycloud steht…

Update: Hier noch schöner kurzer Artikel bei, der meine Meinung zu Facebook ziemlich gut wider gibt.

Elektroviehgatter [en]

In manchen Gegenden der Alpen scheint es immer noch massive Vorbehalte gegen Radfahrer (wenn’s sein muss: Mountain-Biker) zu geben, die zu allerlei Schikanen führen:

Elektroviegatter - Radfahrer bitte ohne absteigen langsam durchfahren!Autsch!!! Im Bild sieht man’s schlecht, aber da ragen zwei stromführende Schwenkarme in Hüfthöhe über den gesamten Weg. Zum Glück war ich zu Fuß unterwegs, und konnte die Umgehung nehmen. (Wenn’s sein muss: den Chicken-Way.)

Wireless Earphones: The next generation [en]

Almost a year ago, I reported about the Bluetooth earphones I got. I still don’t get why so few people are using similar devices. Let alone, why there are so few similar products on the market.

The Bad

However, the model I picked (Jabra Clipper) was not all sunshine. After using it some while, it turned out that the wireless connection between my cell-phone and the earphones was rather frail. It worked most of the time, but when something got in between the two devices it easily got interupted, which lead to short breaks in the audio. Hence not suited for sports!

More annoyingly, the earphones always broke. I say always, cause it happened to me 3 times within half a year: The socket that connects the main part with the actual ear-plugs got messed up. It did not hold the plug properly any more, and I could only hear one channel. A simple matter of corrosion, I assume. Exactly the time of problem you’d expect with a high-tech device!

Anyways, I returned the device to the dealer, and got a new one no questions asked. Three times. The last specimen I had actually worked well for a couple of months — until I lost it. Due to all the trouble I had had, I decided to go for a different model this time…

The Ugly

This time I picked a product by Sony Ericsson, the MW600. It was a tough decission, since IMHO the device looks really horrible. It’s a bulky stick with an ugly logo on it, and a mostly irrelevant LC-Display. The whole Jarba Clipper was built as a flat clip itself, one that was solid and functional. The MW600 has a separate clip attached to it, which looks ugly, is fiddly, and does not seem overly robust.

Even worse, the thing has 5 buttons on it, plus one touch-sensitive volume control bar. The buttons are distributed all over the  MW600, which makes it allmost impossible to hold it without accidentally stopping music or dialing a call. In contrast the Jabra Clipper only had 3 easily distinguishable buttons, and made use of gestures (double-click, long press, etc.) for advanced functions. I could easily control the device without looking — and with my skiing-gloves on. I doubt I’ll be able to do that with the MW600 next season.

The Good

Looks and usability left aside, I’ve had the MW600 for a couple of weeks now, and I’m quite happy with it so far! Why? Mainly because it lacks all of the wireless connectivity issues I’ve had with the Jabra Clipper. Previously I assumed, these issues were due to limitations of the Bluetooth standard. But it appears that the antennas built into the particular devices make a big difference. With the MW600, I can hold the phone behind my back, and still listen music uninterruptedly. It also seems much more reliable during sports!

Needless to say that, so far, I didn’t experience any trouble regarding the audio jack that connects the ear-plugs. So overall, I’d recomend the MV600 over the Jabra Clipper at the moment. However, I really hope will bring Jabra a new release that fixes the quality problems described above. In that case I might be tempted to switch back.