The Capital Letter

Wow, so tBlog has a new-fangled look. Dead fancy, though it would seem that a few glitches were not ironed out before the launch. I'm sure they'll get it sorted over the next few days. I see that now quite a number of my images no longer fit, and the html that was previously in my sidebar has become all muddled. I could spend ages getting it all sorted, but to be quite frank, I can't be arsed. So, I've just switched to a new template and left it at that. Besides, despite the upgrade, I won't be coming back. I'm now well and truly established over at Blogger, and that's where I'm going to stay. What a shame this upgrade didn't happen four or five months ago. I would never have needed to leave. Ah well, you can't win em all, eh? So, if you want to read the musings of a dis-located New Zealander in Berlin and Trier, you'd better follow this link to the new Capital Letter.

Berlin, 25th September 2005

Dear tBlog community, dear readers of The Capital Letter,

And so it's farewell. After just over six months, I've grown fed up with the pathetic service and constant downtime here at tBlog. So, I'm moving on. I've now set up a new blog over at blogspot.com. It has the same title, a familiar colour scheme and it will have similar content. Basically, I'm not changing anything much except the host, so it should hopefully feel like familiar territory to any readers who are prepared to follow me.

Follow this link to the new-fangled The Capital Letter.

For those of you who subscribe to my RSS feed in a news reader or aggregator, simply follow this link, which will take you directly to the feed of my new blog.

It's been an interesting last six months here at tBlog. The sense of community has been a real plus. It is tBlog's strongest suit, and what I shall miss the most. Pity about all the weaknesses that go along with it! Essentially, I think that tBlog is an excellent idea, implemented extremely poorly by a one-man team who is clearly completely overwhelmed. That is a shame, because it could be so great, but it just isn't.

Through my blog and through the tBlog chat and tmail features I've met some very interesting people, with interesting stories to tell. I've read some great posts from some excellent writers. I've seen some fantastic artwork. I've been a fascinated, at times astounded, witness of several knock-down, drag-out fights and disputes too. I've had several long posts and countless comments disappear into the ether, never to be seen again, thanks to the vagaries of tBlog. I've learned some html code, and ways to get around some of tBlog's quirks. I've made some friends, and the odd enemy. But most of all, I've had a lot of fun and learned a lot along the way. Thank you to all of you who have helped to shape my tBlog experience and to make The Capital Letter what it has become. I sincerely hope you'll click through to my new blog and keep on reading the musings of a dis-located New Zealander in Berlin.

With best wishes for your various futures, blogging and otherwise,
BerlinBear

OK, that's it. I've had enough. Not of blogging per se, but of blogging here at tBlog. I'm out of here. The performance of tBlog over the last two weeks, the down time, the blog entries and comments that have disappeared into the ether, the plunge in page views and site visits because readers just can't load my blog, the complete and utter lack of service, response to queries and complaints, etc. etc. etc. have finally got too much. I'm gone.

It annoys me immensely to have to do this, not least because I've paid for tBlog's "premium service" (Bwahahaha!) for a year, but there comes a time when things get so bad you have to cut and run. And that time has come.

I'll be setting up a new blog during the course of this weekend. When it's ready for public consumption, I'll post the new address here, and I'll email the bloggers who I know link to me. I hope that at least some of my readers and regular commenters will follow me to my new blog home.

And now, I'm off to set up a new, more reliable, blog ...

Here's an interesting little tidbit concerning the Berlin Police. It seems they are not the best drivers. In fact, they're so bad that they're having their fancy BMW police cars taken away and replaced with Volkswagens. Oops!

Expatica has the full story:
BERLIN - Police in the German capital are such bad drivers that they are losing their beloved BMW squad cars after having been involved in too many crashes, media reports said Wednesday.

At least 22 of the leased BMW 5 series estate cars have been totally demolished in accidents since the force took delivery of the vehicles in December 2002, said the Berliner Kurier newspaper.

Over 60 per cent of the crashes were the fault of officers behind the wheel, the paper added.

As a result, Berlin's cops are being downgraded in motor world and will in the future drive the slower and less sexy VW Touran van.

Naughty, naughty!

With all the kerfuffle of two elections at opposite ends of the world which have produced essentially the same result, i.e. no clear result yet, I haven't had time to keep up to speed with my regular postings of weird and wonderful news. While frantic coalition negotations go in both Germany and New Zealand while the electorates just wait to see what happens, I think it's time for me make amends. This should do it:
SYDNEY: An Australian man built up a 40,000-volt charge of static electricity in his clothes as he walked, leaving a trail of scorched carpet and molten plastic and forcing firefighters to evacuate a building.

Frank Clewer, who was wearing a woollen shirt and a synthetic nylon jacket, was oblivious to the growing electrical current that was building up as his clothes rubbed together.

When he walked into a building in the country town of Warrnambool in the southern state of Victoria on Thursday, the electrical charge ignited the carpet.

"It sounded almost like a firecracker", Clewer told Australian radio on Friday.

"Within about five minutes, the carpet started to erupt." Employees, unsure of the cause of the mysterious burning smell, telephoned firefighters who evacuated the building.

"There were several scorch marks in the carpet, and we could hear a cracking noise – a bit like a whip – both inside and outside the building", said fire official Henry Barton.

Firefighters cut electricity to the building thinking the burns might have been caused by a power surge.

Clewer, who after leaving the building discovered he had scorched a piece of plastic on the floor of his car, returned to seek help from the firefighters.

"We tested his clothes with a static electricity field meter and measured a current of 40,000 volts, which is one step shy of spontaneous combustion, where his clothes would have self-ignited," Barton said.

Read the rest of this wild story at Stuff.co.nz.

Weird, weird, weird. One step shy of spontaneous combustion?!? Makes you wonder just what he had been doing in his woolen shirt and synthetic jacket before he walked inside doesn't it?





Well, well, well! The polling booths are closed here in Germany and the first predictions and projections of the results are in - and they are astounding. According to the most recent projections less that 2% of the party vote separate the two main parties. Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU topped the party vote, with around 35%. But, surprisingly enough, the SPD appears to have polled at around 33.5% or perhaps fractionally higher. Of the small parties, the Liberal FDP appears to have performed the best, with marginally more than 10% of the party vote. Both the Greens and the Left Party have around 8%.

These projections, if they prove to be accurate, have all of the following implications:
1. Angela Merkel's CDU/CSU has performed considerably worse than expected.
2. Gerhard Schröder's SPD has performed better than expected.
3. CDU/CSU do not have enough of the vote to form a coalition government with their preferred partner, the FDP.
4. SPD do not have enough of the vote to form a coalition government with their preferred partner, the Greens.
5. The only possible coalitions which could form a majority government are the following: SPD + Green + FDP (a so-called "traffic light coalition", based on the colours of the parties - ruled out by the FDP); CDU + FDP + Green (a so-called "Jamaica coalition", again based on the colours of the parties - not yet categorically ruled out by anyone, but tricky to manage); SPD + Green + Left Party (ruled out by all three parties); SPD + CDU (a so-called "grand coalition" - not ruled out by anyone but neither Merkel nor Schröder are talking like that's the solution they want). And the thing with all these coalitions is: they are all problematic. In other words, at this stage, just as in New Zealand, it's pretty much a dead heat, and noone but noone knows yet which coalition will form a government, let alone who is going to be Chancellor.

What is most astonishing is that both Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schröder are claiming the mandate to build a coalition around their own party. In other words, they both claim that they will be German Chancellor and leader of the government in the next German parliament. Of course, they can't both be Chancellor, but it remains to be seen which of them proves to be right.

Fascinating stuff. The television stations are bringing nothing but confusion, wonder, disappointment (especially from the CDU/CSU camp), and most of all questions and queries about what on earth happens next. At present it is nothing but speculation, especially given that the actual results are not yet in, and that the parties have not yet begun coalition talks.

It seems that noone is the winner on the day. I wouldn't even dare to make a prediction at this stage how this is going to turn out.

For those of you interested in following the results as they come in, try the following sources:
ARD's election coverage. [German].
ZDF's election results. [German]
BBC News coverage. [English]
Deutsche Welle election coverage. [English]

If you can work out who on earth is going to be running this country in the next parliament, and how, please feel free to explain it in the comments!

Last week, eight days out from the New Zealand general election, I put on my political pundit's hat and had a crack at predicting what would happen. Now that the results are in, though we don't yet know what the make-up of the government will be, I thought I'd do a little assessment of how I got on. I'll do the same regarding my German election predictions once the results are in for that one tomorrow night or on Monday. Anyway, here goes:

1. Labour will get the higher percentage of the party vote, but not by much.
Tick, A+. Labour got 40.74% of the vote, just 1.11% more than National.

2. Labour will form a centre-left government in coalition with the Greens and the Progressives.
Uncertain at this stage, though the signs are good. Either the Maori Party or New Zealand First will have to be involved somewhere for Labour to be able to govern, but this may be by way of a less formal agreement than actual coalition partnership. With the jury still out on this, I'm going to give myself a tentative tick at this stage.

3. Helen Clark, current NZ Prime Minister, will remain PM but will stand down well before the next election, thus going out on a high, rather than risk being rolled after fighting a fourth, losing election campaign in 2008.
Remains to be seen. It looks good for her retaining the Prime Minister's job at this stage though.

4. Voter turnout will be extremely high.
Bang on. Official figures for voter turn out have not been released yet as far as I can tell, but this Herald on Sunday article suggests that turnout was probably in the high 80s. It won't have been close to the record 96% turnout in 1938, but it sounds like it was high enough for me to give myself full marks on this the easiest of my predictions.

5. Winston Peters, leader of the racist and bigoted New Zealand First Party, will not hold his Tauranga electorate seat, nor will his party reach the 5% threshold required for list candidates to get in to parliament. This, thank goodness, will mean the end of the party.
One out of three. Damn, damn, damn. Winnie didn't hold his seat (that's my one correct prediction), but his party did break the 5% barrier and will have 7 MPs in the next parliament, including, (alas! alack!) Winston Peters. Bugger!

6. ACT, the right-wing, economically Liberal party, will neither win an electorate seat (Epsom is the only one even in the frame, and it won't happen) nor reach the 5% threshold. This will mean the demise of that party also.
One out of three again. To my absolute astonishment, Rodney Hide - the ACT Party leader - easily won Epsom. As a result, Green MP Keith Locke may find himself havig to run naked down Auckland's main street after making a rather rash comment in public a week or so out from the election. ACT did not, however, get anywhere near the 5% threshold. But with two MPs in parliament, it'll be a while yet before the party meets its end.

7. Don Brash, leader of the National Party, and his campaign strategist, Murray McCully, will be the ones who (rightly) take the rap for botching what was looking a very promising campaign through incompetence, uncertainty and (though I hate to use the word) flip-flops. McCully will be binned as strategist and Don Brash will be rolled as leader within a year after the election.
Have to wait and see on this. I have a year's time for this one to come about. Fingers crossed.

As you can see, I can't give myself a proper score at this stage, but I'm pleased to see that at least some of my predictions where right on the button, even if a couple were rather wide of the mark. Let's see how I get on tomorrow.

Well, thankfully, it seems my pessimism this morning was somewhat precipitous. By the time to vote counting finished around midnight, Labour had caught up to, and then passed, National in the party vote. Better still, the Greens edged their way over the 5% threshold required to get represenatives into parliament (unless of course you win a constituency seat, which the Greens were never going to). But boy oh boy was it close! Look at these results from the official election results website:





Party

% of Party vote

Electorate Seats

List Seats

Total seats

Labour40.74%391950
National39.63%391849
NZ First5.84%077
Green5.07%606
Maori1.98%404
United Future2.72%123
ACT1.52%112
Progressive1.21%101


[Source: electionresults.govt.nz]

Look in particular at how close the two main parties are to each other! A fraction more than one percent of the vote, and only one seat out of 122 in it. My goodness.

Now, both Helen Clark, the incumbent Prime Minister and leader of the Labour party, and Dr. Don Brash, leader of the National party, will spend the next two days in meetings and on conference calls and private calls with the leaders of the small parties to see who can form either a coalition with a majority, or a minority coalition as well as an agreement from another small party to cooperate on matters of confidence and supply, which would effectively enable a minority government to be formed. Because Labour got the larger proportion of the party vote, Helen Clark certainly has the upper hand in the bargaining over Don Brash and National. It ought to be possible for her to form a centre-left coalition government with the Progressives (1 seat), the Greens (6 seats) and the Maori Party (4 seats) with some sort of confidence and supply agreement with New Zealand First. But not necessarily. Progressives and Greens are in the bag for Labour as coalition parties and both campaigned accordingly. But if the Maori Party's coalition demands are to unpalatable or unreasonable to Labour, it could all fall apart. In other words, it's looking positive to cntre-left, but we are not home and hosed yet.

Add in the complicating factor that the Special Votes, i.e. votes that were cast out of electorate by people travelling within New Zealand or overseas on election day (my vote is one of those), won't all be counted for at least twelve days, and there is still plenty of potential for things to change. They won't change by much of course, but as it stands, a shift of one seat could mean the difference between being able to form a government and not being able to. As I understand it, the Greens traditionally do well in the Special Votes, as do National. It is not inconceivable that we could yet end up with a hung parliament, or with and unstable government which wobbles and falls within a year. Personally, my money's on a centre-left coalition with an extremely narrow majority, but able to govern nonetheless. But then I've been wrong before.

Next post: I'll be assessing how I fared with my political punditry a week out from the election.

While counting goes on in New Zealand, Germany has entered the final day before its own general election. Tradition has it here that the parties take a break from campaigning in the last 24 hours before the polls open. But not this time.

Opinion polls are showing that this election is going to be so close, and that such a large number of voters remain undecided, that all of the main parties have decided to campaign today after all. All of the leaders and top candidates will be making unprecedented last-ditch appeals to voters during the course of the day. Gerhard Schröder will be speaking in Frankfurt, Angela Merkel will address a rally in Bonn, while the Greens' Joschka Fischer will be in Hamburg and the Liberal Free Democrats' Guido Westerwelle makes an appearance in Dortmund. Evidently, they all think that there are a few last drops of soft support to be wrung out of an undecided electorate. Good luck to them.

BBC News has a good summary of the details.

The polls in the New Zealand general election closed just over an hour ago. Counting is quick in New Zealand (small electorates, small population) and it should all be completed in about four hours from now.

It's still very, very early days in the counting, but the news I've awoken to is not exactly what I was looking for. National have a higher percentage of the party vote than Labour, Winston Peter's New Zealand First Party is polling well above the 5% threshold, the Greens are polling marginally below the 5% threshold, and ACT leader Rodney Hide is leading in his Epsom electorate. Yikes. Not only would that mean most of my predictions of last week were horribly wrong, it would also mean that in all likelihood we'd have a centre-right, tending far-right coalition government. Oh dear, oh dear.

As I type this, 8.6% of votes have been counted, so there's a long way to go yet and everything could change. I bloody hope it does.

The only prediction of mine that is looking good is the high turnout. The New Zealand Herald reports: Strong Turnout as New Zealand votes.

If you're interested in following the election results live, try either of these sites:

Election Results.

Scoop.co.nz's election coverage.

As New Zealand is 10 hours ahead of us here in Western Europe, in New Zealand it is already election day. The polls will be open from 9am, i.e. in just over an hour. I see that all the New Zealand-based political bloggers are refraining from posting anything about the elections today (and many have closed off or are monitoring their comments), because New Zealand law is pretty strict when it comes to not being allowed to do any sort of campaigning on election today, including on the internet. Lucky for me, I'm not in New Zealand, and nor is my blog provider, so I can say whatever I like, as can you in the comments section if you so desire.

Even in the final week before the election, the polls have been all over the place. As a result, it remains anybody's guess what's going to happen. The foreign newspapers which are covering the New Zealand election are all saying something along the lines of "too close to call", and they're right. I put my head on the block and listed my predictions just over a week ago. They could all go horribly wrong. Time will tell.

By the time I wake up tomorrow, the first results will be trickling in. Since I don't have access to New Zealand television, I'll be relying on the internet, so I won't necessarily have the news the fastest, but I will be keeping a careful eye on things and updating here as an when appropriate.

Anyone who has read more than a handful of posts here at The Capital Letter should have a pretty clear idea of the result I'm hoping for tomorrow: I'm after another centre-left New Zealand government, and I am particularly concerned about the future direction of New Zealand under a possible centre-right government led by Don Brash. I am convinced that Don Brash would be a disastrous Prime Minister for New Zealand, for a whole host of reasons. I cast my special vote accordingly at the New Zealand Embassy last week. I just hope that the majority of the electorate agrees.

I've never seen a New Zealand election campaign run this close to the wire. Nor have I ever seen an election in which I thought there was such a stark choice between two very distinct directions the prospective governments would lead the country in. As a result, I've never cared quite so deeply about the result of a New Zealand election.

I desperately hope that I'll wake up to the news I want to hear tomorrow. If I don't, my remaining faith in the New Zealand electorate is going to take a big hit. If my country takes a significant turn to the right, which I fear will be be the case if we get a National-led government after tomorrow's election, I certainly won't be in a hurry to go back. Let's put it this way: I've got everything crossable crossed.

Well, this'd completely stuff my predictions from last week about what's going to happen in the German election this weekend: the Leipzig-based newspaper the Leipziger Volkzeitung is quoting an anonymous CDU source, who claims that CDU candidate Angela Merkel would consider forcing fresh elections, rather than enter into a grand coalition (my prediction) with her centre-left SPD rivals. Officially though, the party is denying that this is the case.

Apparently, Merkel and the CDU have already sought legal advice from constitutional experts about how to go about this. the way it would work is this: despite not having a majority in the Bundestag, Merkel would attempt to get voted in as Chancellor. That would fail, due to the lack of a majority. She would then try again, which would still fail, and then a third time. The third time around, a "relative majoirty" (what exactly that is is not clear to me at this stage) would suffice for her to win the vote. The German President, Horst Köhler, would the have seven days to decide whether to appoint her as Chancellor despite a lack of a majority, or to dissolve parliament and call a new election immediately. Presumably, Merkel would inform the President that she doesn't believe she can run the country with a minority government and request a new election. Complicated, but fascinating.

It remains to be seen whether this threat is a real one or just a clever tactic to attract voters in the last few days before the election. But if she sticks to it, she will blow all my predictions out of the water.

N24 has all the details (in German, I'm afraid). I can't find an English link to this story yet, but when it reaches Deutsche Welle or the BBC, I'll update.

Let noone say that the election campaign here in Germany has been dull. Crikey!

Darn it! I was going to write a thorough and interesting post about the fact that it appears to be election season at the moment, what with New Zealand, Germany and Afghanistan all going to the polls this weekend, in addition to the general elections held in the past three days in Japan and Norway. But I am out of time.

I was going to comment on how fascinating it is that the electorate of a country with the best standard of living in the whole world, would still vote for a change of government. And I was going to note that it was close enough for Reuters to predict two different, opposite, results within 20 minutes of each other, here, and here. But I am out of time.

I was going to go into detail about the remarkable similarities between the political situations of Junichiro Koizumi, who has just been returned as Prime Minister of Japan with a strengthened mandate for his planned reforms, and Gerhard Schröder, who in all probability will not be returned as Chancellor here in Germany. I was going to talk about both politicians no longer having the support of their respective parties, both being in charge of ever increasing public deficits, both having trouble getting their proposed reforms through, both calling early elections, etc. But I out of time.

I was going to include witty comments about this story of a German Green parliamentarian, who filled out a "who should I vote for?" questionnaire and discovered that the party he represents was only third on the list of recommended voting possibilities. And I was going to include this interesting piece about the scandal surrounding the party political broadcast for the APPD, the Anarchist Pogo Party of Germany, whose campaign slogan is Arbeit ist Scheisse! (Work is shit!), and which I actually saw with my own eyes yesterday evening. Except that I didn't see it I only heard it, because the State-funded TV channel, ARD, which I was watching, had censored almost the entire screen for the entirety of the broadcast. But I am out of time.

I am out of time because I'm off to Trier again. More flat-hunting. I'm on the overnight train to Cologne in an hour's time, and from there on to Trier early tomorrow morning. Wish me luck! I'm going to need it, because the demand in Trier seems to be incredibly high. I'm not sure exactly when I'll be back yet, but I probably won't be posting much, if at all, in the next couple of days. At least it'll give you plenty of time to read all those links?

Shame, it would have been a good post, I reckon.

Gee, how do you think this guy feels about the America he's living in? Why doesn't he tell us what he really thinks?

Mark Drolette: Dear Fellow Citizens of the World.

He has a point on much of the stuff he's talking about, for sure, but fair and balanced it ain't (but then, nor is Fox News). It's all a bit too frothy and foaming at the mouth for my tastes, though it is comforting to see that there are people out there who share my concern about the direction(s) the Bush administration is taking the U.S. in. But if it's as bad as he says it is, it makes you wonder why he doesn't just leave, doesn't it? If he's already given up on America, and he appears to have, what's keeping him there?

Anyone who's been watching the news coming out of America in recent months will be aware that the U.S. Army is struggling to find enough fresh blood to fill its recruitment targets. It's tough to meet your quotas with all the negative coverage coming out of Iraq and the pictures available every night on the news channels.

All of that may be why, according to the Wall Street Journal, army recruiters have found their way to the Astrodome in Houston, where the evacuees from the Superdome in New Orleans are currently being housed. It might also explain the thinking behind this recruitment video over at Onegoodmove.org. Unfortunately for the U.S. Army, that doesn't change the fact that the video is completely beyond the pale, tactless, tasteless and frankly pretty shocking.

Or, as my good friend SecretSamurai put it in the heads-up email he sent me: "Oh my GOD!! How crass can you get?"

Quite.

Grrr, there are several things I wanted to post about this evening, but I see that tBlog is playing silly buggers once more, and taking ages and ages to load - if indeed it loads at all. Accordingly, I don't think I'll take the risk of writing a long post and having it swallowed by the tBlog monster. Instead, I'll wait till tomorrow and post then.

In the meantime though, I do have something important to say: Happy Birthday Ms. Bear!

You may have noticed that my Sunday pop quiz posts have dried up. The reason for that is that I have run out of cool photos of things that are worth doing a post about. When I have some more, the pop quiz will no doubt return, but for now the cupboard is looking a bit bare on that front. I have a new idea though for a recurring Sunday gimmick, but before I get into it, I need some input from my readers.

I was thinking that a sort of This week in history-type post on a Sunday evening might be good. In such a post, I would highlight a selection of important or significant historical dates coming up that week. I'd probably also provide a link or two to interesting resources or websites about each event, and if an event bore any personal relation to me (i.e. if I could remember it occurring etc.) I might add a few personal thoughts about it. Obviously, my this week in history posts would be anything but comprehensive and, like everything I write here, they'd be skewed towards the things that I find interesting. But let's face it, if you're reading this at all, you're used to that by now.

So, my question for you is this: what do you think of that suggestion? Would this week in history posts be something that you'd be interested in reading? Or is that not of interest, or something you'd prefer to source elsewhere? I'd be interested to hear what you think about the idea, and depending on the response, I'd pick it up from next Sunday. So tell me what you reckon in the comments.

Actually, while you're about it, tell me if there's anything you'd particularly like to see on this blog. Are there any topics you're itching to see me cover? Is there something I've been consistently overlooking and which deserves my attention? Or is there something you wish to God I'd shut up about? (Don't bother telling me to drop the Zimbabwe issue though, because that ain't going to happen any time soon). No promises, of course, that I'll a) listen to you, or b) be able to deliver what you're after, but I would be interested to hear suggestions and other constructive feedback.

Earlier today, on one of the email discussion groups that I subscribe to, a debate got a bit heated. The result, given that the debate was related to race and discrimination, was the inevitable reference to Hitler and the Nazis, with the unstated but nevertheless unmissable implication that the author's opponent bears some sort of similarity to that much-hated German leader.

Just as I had got to the point where I sighed an exasperated sigh and gave up on the thread, another email came sailing into my inbox. Headed with the subject line of An interesting fact about online discussions, the email in question read thus:
With all the great debates/conversations/view-sharing(s?) that propagate freely on this listserv, I just thought that this Law is something worth keeping in mind:

"Godwin's law (also Godwin's rule of Nazi analogies) is an adage in Internet culture that was originated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states that:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

I just thought that was how intelligent people resolved issues... guess it's more common. And I'm not sure, but I think [name of victim of Hitler analogy] might be a Nazi. Discussion, anybody?

So true, I thought to myself, and investigated further. As ever Wikipedia proved to be the font of all knowledge. The Wiki entry for Godwin's Law is as follows:
Godwin's law (also Godwin's rule of Nazi analogies) is an adage in Internet culture that was originated by Mike Godwin in 1990. The law states that:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1.

There is a tradition in many Usenet newsgroups that once such a comparison is made, the thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress. Godwin's law thus practically guarantees the existence of an upper bound on thread length in those groups. Many people understand Godwin's law to mean this, although (as is clear from the statement of the law above) this is not the original formulation.

It is considered poor form to arbitrarily raise such a comparison with the motive of ending the thread. There is a widely-recognized codicil that any such deliberate invocation of Godwin's law will be unsuccessful. See Quirk's exception below.
Godwin's law is named after Mike Godwin, who was legal counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation in the early 1990s, when the law was first popularized. (Godwin is now the legal director at Public Knowledge.)

Finding the "meme" of Nazi comparisons on Usenet both illogical and offensive, Godwin established the law as a "counter-meme," a term Godwin expressly uses in his 1994 article about Godwin's Law (see external link below). The law's memetic function is not to end discussions (or even to classify them as "old"), but to make participants in a discussion more aware of whether a comparison to Nazis or Hitler is appropriate, or is simply a rhetorical overreach.

Many people have extended Godwin's law to imply that the invoking of the Nazis as a debating tactic (in any argument not directly related to World War II or the Holocaust) automatically loses the argument, simply because the nature of these events is such that any comparison to any event less serious than genocide, ethnic cleansing, barbaric medical tests or extinction is invalid and in poor taste.

Richard Sexton maintains that the law is a formalization of his October 16, 1989 post [1]

You can tell when a USENET discussion is getting old when one of the participents (sic) drags out Hitler and the Nazis.

Strictly speaking, however, this is not so, since the actual text of Godwin's law does not state that such a reference or comparison makes a discussion "old," or, for that matter, that such a reference or comparison means that a discussion is over.

Now how accurate is that? I think it's bang on; so accurate as to be hilarious. But it certainly doesn't just apply to Usenet groups and discussion lists. It also applies to blogs, or at least the comments threads of blogs. I've lost count of the number of times I've seen discussion threads on political blogs descend into accusations of other commenters (or policies etc.) being akin to Nazis.

My personal favourite is the line of argument, a favourite of right wing death beasts, which goes: The Nazi's were lefties. Look, it's in the name of the party: National Socialists etc., etc. While this undoubtedly helps far-right wingers sleep better at night, safe in the "knowledge" that their ideology is distant from Hitler's while that of their opponents is not, it is a) utter bollocks, b) tedious, and c) almost never relevant to the discussion at hand in any way, shape or form.

Anyway, the point is, I was pleased and most amused to note that someone had taken the trouble to formulate a law about referencing Hitler or the Nazis in online discussions. And you can be sure that next time I see it happen, I'll be quick to cite Godwin's Law as irrefutable evidence that the discussion is over, and that I have won. Excellent.

I'm a bit late with Good news Saturday this week, given that it is, strictly speaking, already Sunday, but I do have something to share.

Back in 2001, 433 people were rescued from the sinking Indonesian fishing boat in which they were trying to reach Australia to claim asylum by the Norwegian freighter Tampa. It was big news at the time, with Australia refusing to accept any of the survivors as refugees. New Zealand, on the other hand, along with the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, took in significant numbers of the refugees. Of the 133 who came to New Zealand, 40 were Afghani teenage boys travelling without their parents. They became known as the "Tampa boys".

And this is where the news gets good. All 40 of the Tampa boys are now over 18 and all of them are registered on the electoral roll to cast their votes in next Saturday's general election. The New Zealand Herald has the full story. [Hat-tip to No Right Turn]
Every one of the 40 young men who came to New Zealand as frightened refugees from Afghanistan are on the electoral roll and now eligible to vote; for 33 of them it will be the first time.

...

Several of the older boys voted in 2002, but this year all are of age. In a poignant coincidence, their homeland, still racked by violence, goes to its own polls the day after to elect its first democratic parliament.

If the five Tampa boys who spoke to the Herald - Reza Ehklasi, 21; Amir Noori, 21; Safar Sahar, 20; Assad Nazari, 20, and Zakaria Safdari, 19 - are representative, they won't waste their right to vote. They are surprised to learn that some New Zealanders don't bother.

Pakuranga-based Mr Safdari, who is about to start working as a service station manager, says voting "defines your rights. You are part of the country".

Mr Ehklasi , a leather worker who was able to vote in 2002, says: "If you don't like the Government but you haven't voted, you can't complain. With your vote you can tell someone what to do for you."

Now isn't that good news? Having been granted asylum, these young men have been helped to fit in to and to participate in New Zealand society. They are enjoying freedoms in New Zealand which at the time they left their home country they could only have dreamed of. Some of them have jobs. One has even represented New Zealand in football (soccer). They are being given opportunities which they would otherwise have been denied. That is exactly how the asylum system is supposed to work. And that, if you ask me, is good news indeed.

There are 8 days to go until the general election in New Zealand, and 9 days until the general election here in Germany. In both cases, surprisingly enough, the question as to which parties will coalesce to form the government remains unresolved. Undeterred by the uncertainty, I have decided it is time to put my punditry hat on, put my neck on the line and make a few election result predictions. Here goes:

New Zealand - General Election Saturday, 17th September 2005


In terms of predicting the result in New Zealand, the polls have been no help whatsoever. In the space of just 10 days, there have been polls suggesting a) a substantial lead for the centre-right National party; b) a substantial lead for the centre-left Labour party; c) that the two parties are absolutely neck and neck.

Which of those, if any, accurately reflects the way the country will vote next Saturday is anybody's guess. So, for my New Zealand punditry I just have to go on hunches and the "mood" I've been getting around the New Zealand political blogs and news outlets. Here are my predictions:
1. Labour will get the higher percentage of the party vote, but not by much.


2. Labour will form a centre-left government in coalition with the Greens and the Progressives.


3. Helen Clark, current NZ Prime Minister, will remain PM but will stand down well before the next election, thus going out on a high, rather than risk being rolled after fighting a fourth, losing election campaign in 2008.


4. Voter turnout will be extremely high.


5. Winston Peters, leader of the racist and bigoted New Zealand First Party, will not hold his Tauranga electorate seat, nor will his party reach the 5% threshold required for list candidates to get in to parliament. This, thank goodness, will mean the end of the party.


6. ACT, the right-wing, economically Liberal party, will neither win an electorate seat (Epsom is the only one even in the frame, and it won't happen) nor reach the 5% threshold. This will mean the demise of that party also.


7. Don Brash, leader of the National Party, and his campaign strategist, Murray McCully, will be the ones who (rightly) take the rap for botching what was looking a very promising campaign through incompetence, uncertainty and (though I hate to use the word) flip-flops. McCully will be binned as strategist and Don Brash will be rolled as leader within a year after the election.

For those of you who have been following the New Zealand campaign, what do you reckon?

Germany - General Election Sunday, 18th September


Image hosted by Photobucket.com With respect to the polls here in Germany, they have at least been much more consistent and predictable than in New Zealand. For months now, they have been incidating that a centre-right coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP (Liberal Free Democrats) would have enough support to form a government with a narrow majority. However, just in the last week the tide has begun to turn and Gerhard Schröder's centre-left SPD has been increasing its support after languishing in the polls for months. For the most part, the SPD is pinching these votes not from the CDU/CSU (who have remained stable on around 42% across all the polls), but rather from the newly formed Left Party. This party is a combination of former Communists in the East and rebel leftist former members of the SPD in the West. At one stage the Left Party was riding high on 18% support in one early poll but, as you can see from the graphic to the right, which represents this poll released today, that support has dropped right away. It's also important to note that, although the support for Left + Centre-Left + Green is exactly equal to the support for Centre-Right + Liberal in this latest poll, the left bloc cannot form a government as both the Greens and the SPD have completely ruled out working in coalition with the Left Party.

In other words then, the polls here offer a more coherent indication of what might happen come Sunday. That said, my punditry below is based not just on the polls, but also on the feeling I've been getting from newspaper and television coverage here in Germany in recent weeks. Here are my predictions:

1. Germany will have its first ever woman Chancellor in the shape of centre-right CDU/CDSU candidate Angela Merkel.


2. However, rather than leading a centre-right coalition of CDU/CSU and FDP as had been widely expected, she will be forced into a so-called grand coalition of centre-right CDU and centre-left SPD.


3. All three of the main minor parties, namely FDP, the Greens, and the Left Party will easily reach the 5% threshold required for list MPs to gain seats in the Bundestag. The Greens will poll slightly higher than the FDP on election day, and the Left Party will poll slightly higher than the Greens, though most of the Left Party's support will be in the states of the former East Germany.


4. Gerhard Schröder will not hold a ministerial position or be deputy Chancellor. Instead he will slip into the background and be a backbench MP.


5. As a result of failing to manoeuvre his party into a centre-right coalition government, the leader of the FDP, Guido Westerwelle, will be rolled within a year of the election.


6. The grand-coalition will be a disaster. The policies of both the major parties involved will have to be watered down so much to bring about the possibility of cooperation that it will fail to achieve any substantial reforms and no real progress will be made. This at a time when Germany desperately needs progress and reform.


7. The grand-coalition will collapse and will not last the full term. As a result, there will be new elections here in Germany well before they are scheduled (2009), unless both the Greens and the SPD renege on their promise not to work with the Left Party in this parliamentary term.


8. The failure of the grand-coalition will be extremely good for the smaller parties, which will experience an upsurge in support at the general election as voters attempt to avoid a repeat of the grand-coalition debacle.

So, what do you think? Do you reckon I've hit the nail on the head, or am I way off the mark? If the latter, what do you think will happen come Saturday/Sunday, and why?

In each case, predictions 1 and 2 are the most important ones, as they indicate my best guess at who is going to be leading each country and in what political constellation. Just to up the punditry stakes a bit, if I get any or all of those wrong, I'm prepared to consider having to do or write something as "punishment" here on The Capital Letter. All reasonable suggestions in the comments will be considered.

I've sung the praises of Timothy Garton Ash on this blog on a couple of times before now. As I think I've mentioned, he's my favourite columnist in the Guardian and his columns on European politics and international relations almost never fail to impress.

His column in the Guardian last week was an excellent example of why. Entitled Stagger on, weary Titan, it compares the significance of the current quagmire in Iraq in which the United States currently finds itself entangled to the significance of the Boer War for the British Empire, and analyses the implications this might have for American dominance as sole superpower in the world. At the same time though, it provides a warning to those who might be tempted to wish for the speedy fall the US from top dog status:
If you are, by any chance, of that persuasion that would instinctively find this a cause for rejoicing, pause for a moment to consider two things: first, that major shifts of power between rising and falling great powers have usually been accompanied by major wars; and second, that the next top dog could be a lot worse.

So this is no time for schadenfreude. It's a time for critical solidarity. A few far-sighted people in Washington are beginning to formulate a long-term American strategy of trying to create an international order that would protect the interests of liberal democracies even when American hyperpower has faded; and to encourage rising powers such as India and China to sign up to such an order. That is exactly what today's weary Titan should be doing, and we should help him do it.

[Source: The Guardian. Read the whole column here.]

Excellent stuff. Amongst all the shrieking and bleating from cheerleaders for both the left and right in today's polarised world, it is always refreshing to find someone who combines clear thinking and originality with cool, calm and collected factual writing. And with TGA, I've found, you can almost ever go wrong.

Here's a story from the German ingenuity file. It's a bit over a month old, so no longer entirely current, but I have only just come across it and I think it's cool and worth spreading the word about.

In July of this year, Germany, just like the States, the UK, New Zealand, etc., was gripped by Harry Potter fever with the release of Harry Potter 6. The only problem was, it didn't come out in German at that stage, only in English. And yet, we had Harry Potter fans queuing up for their copies, in English, of the new novel, as well as countless newspaper articles about the release. Unfortunately for the poor Germans whose English was not good enough to allow them to read a thick fantasy novel in English, they had to wait 77 days - the time that the German translator needed to get HP6 translated and onto the shelves.

Observant readers will have noted that that 77 day cooling off period is not yet over, and the poor Germans are still waiting for HP6 in their native tongue to be released. Not all of them though, because an ingenious cooperative group of die-hard fans banded together to do an unofficial translation into German in just 45 hours. The Guardian has the story. It's only short, so I've included it in its entirety:
Thousands of German Harry Potter fans who could not wait for the latest JK Rowling epic to be published in their own language have translated the book in less than two days.

The "hobby translators" were too impatient to wait the 77 days required by German translator Klaus Fritz to complete the task and logged on to Harry-auf-Deutsch.de to finish the job in 45 hours.

To avoid any legal threats, the fans have pledged not to distribute their efforts to any third parties.

The "Harry in German" internet club is plastered with messages from members praising the idea. One member, Starlight, said: "My best friend thought translating some HP would be a good way to practise my English."

But it is not only students who have contributed to the patchwork translation. A 50-year-old mechanic said he took part to "prevent the brain from rusting".

Carlsen publishing house, however, is not amused. Spokeswoman Katrin Hogrebe told German news portal Netzeitung: "We would not cast judgment if we were talking about a group of people translating together in their kitchen."

She added that any violation of copyright laws would be legally acted upon.

[Source: The Guardian.]

For those readers who can read German, the Harry auf Deutsch website is here. No doubt for copyright reasons, the final product of the team translation is not available, but the message boards make for pretty amazing reading.

Copyright concerns aside, I think this is kind of cool. I've never read any of the Harry Potter books, and I'm not in much of a hurry to do so, but I'm not one of those types who pour scorn on HP fans. But it's not the fanaticism which impresses me, it's the cooperative nature of the project - thousands of hobby translators - and especially the rapidity with which they managed the task. Without having seen the final product, I can't of course pass judgement on the quality of the translation, though I must confess to being somewhat sceptical about how high the standard of translation and especially the consistency throughout the text could possibly be. I wouldn't go out and buy it, even if it were commercially available, but it is kind of nice to know that some people care enough and are keen enough to come up with their own translation of a book they are desperate to read. Good on them, I say.


An excellent news website here in Germany has just come to my attention, and I thought I'd share. I'll add the link to my Useful Links section in the left-hand sidebar as well.

For anyone who, like me, likes to gather their news and opinion from various sources around the world, rather than just relying on a single news outlet, Netzzeitung.de [German for web newspaper] is an excellent resource. It works a bit like a news feeder or aggregator, though only for 29 selected newspapers and magazines, and it's incredibly simple to use.

When you first log on to Netzzeitung.de, you'll be presented with a summary of the three most recent top news stories from a selection of about 25 different newspapers from around the world. Because it's a German website, the focus is fairly heavily on German news outlets, such as Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Der Spiegel, Focus, etc. However, there are also several English and French language newspapers included in the selection, plus one Dutch newspaper (no use to me!) and and Israeli newspaper too. Each article title is a live link which will take you straight to the online article, which opens in a new window so you don't lose your place at Netzeitung.de.

Better still, you can very simply customise the site to show only the news sources you're interested in reading. To do this, simply click on the little x symbol beside the name of the paper or magazine you don't want to see articles from. That source then disappears from your active articles list, and reappears as a named link in the righ-hand sidebar. If you change your mind and want that source back, just click on the link in the sidebar and, hey presto, it's back in your active list. The site remembers by means of cookies which sources you want to see and which you don't. But if you work on different computers, it's also very easy to save your preferences on their server with a username and password, so that you can log in from wherever you are to see only your chosen news sources. To do this, simply click on the link called Einstellungen zentral speichern/laden in the right-hand sidebar.

Unfortunately, the instructions are in German, meaning that this resource is probably best suited to people who can read German. However, even if you can't read German, but can use my instructions to find your way around it, there are enough English and French and other newspapers on there for it to be worth your while. Check it out. Of course, if your preferred source of news is Fox, and that satisfies your thirst for knowledge of what's going on in the world, then Netzzeitung.de is probably not the place for you. But then, if you're a Fox News type, you probably gave up on this incorrigible liberal long ago and won't even be reading this at all ...


Right, I'm back in Berlin and back in business. As I had expected, I didn't have any time to get on the web while I was in Trier, hence three full days of silence here on The Capital Letter. You can expect a proper post from me later this evening and for regular service to resume from here on in.

Watch this space.

In all probability, I won't be posting here between Monday and Wednesday. Very early tomorrow morning I'm off to Trier, Germany's oldest city - way out in the West, very close to the Luxemburg border - and I won't be returning to Berlin until late on Wednesday night. As my internet access in Trier is likely to be somewhere between very limited and none, don't expect to hear anything much from me until I return.

In the meantime then, have a good start to the week. I'll see you on the other side.

The Capital Letter: Home

Berlin Bear - Courtesy of Don Getty
Berlin Bear - Courtesy of Don Getty


Comments? Tips? Feedback? Something to say off-topic? Email me I'd be pleased to hear from you.


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