gun safety fail.

When you pick up an AK-47 at your own wedding to fire into the air in celebration, and you accidentally kill three of your wedding guests—including your own father—does that mean bad luck for the marriage?

Say it with me now:

“Hey, Yutz! Guns aren’t toys! They’re for family protection, hunting dangerous or delicious animals, and keeping the King of England out of your face!”

your german culture lesson for the day.

Much of German cooking is based on the need to make crap ingredients palatable.  There’s your Sauerbraten, for example, which originated as a way to make a big, stringy, tough chunk of meat edible by marinating it for a week in a vinegar & spice bath before cooking it.  Since the Middle Ages, Germans have been eating French Toast, too…only in Germany it’s called “Arme Ritter” (Poor Knights), presumably because it was a way for poor folk to turn stale bread into a dinner.

Now, as a beer-drinking people, Germans had to come up with a way to turn substandard beverages into something drinkable as well.  You may invade a country and find that the local brew is not fit for a German to drink in its pure form, so you have to find a way to make do with it until the natives can be taught to brew a proper beer.

Here’s one way to turn crappy beer into an acceptable summer beverage:

The Drecksack.

drecksack

Literally “dirt bag” because of the dirty appearance of the beer foam after the mixing process, the Drecksack is prepared as follows:

–Take a pint glass.

–Fill it halfway to two-thirds of the way with beer, according to taste.

–Top it off with the cola of your choice.  (I use Pepsi One, or Diet Pepsi.)

The Drecksack looks barbaric to a beer lover at first glance, but it’s actually a pretty good, refreshing summer drink.  It’s mixed with all kinds of good beer, too, and it’s readily available in German pubs under various names.  Drecksack is used in Westphalia, around Cologne, and in the Ruhr area.  Around Hannover, it’s called a Diesel.  Mixed with Altbier, it becomes a Krefelder.  In Bavaria, cola mixed with Weissbier is called a Neger (negro), Mohr (moor), or Colaweizen (cola wheat).  The generic term for a beer-cola mix in most other parts of Germany is “ein Dreckiges” (a dirty one).

So there—now you know something about Germany you probably didn’t know before, and you can order a beer mix in a German Gasthaus with confidence and cultural awareness.  You won’t even get strange looks for drinking the excellent German beer diluted with cola.  The Drecksack is a common and perfectly acceptable drink choice, although some people consider them what we’d call “cheerleader beer” here in the U.S.—suitable for lightweights, designated drivers, and womenfolk.  To the less traditionalist, the Drecksack is a good drink for a slow summer day, because it won’t knock you upside the noggin like a Pilsener will when it’s ninety and sunny outside.

freeze! drop that router!

Oh, how awesome is this?

One of my daily reads is the Live Bookmark feed of the newspaper for my old German home city of Muenster.  One of the latest news items is the tale of a Muenster resident who was recently paid a visit by the Muenster police SEK (their equivalent of a SWAT team).  Apparently, someone had announced a gun rampage intention online, and the cops traced the threats back to the ISP account of the citizen in question.  The Muenster SEK dutifully rolled up in their tactical van, turned the guy’s front door into matchsticks, and proned the fellow out at gunpoint in his living room.

Problem is, he had his WiFi router set to the Open Network setting, without requiring a password for access, and a 27-year-old neighbor was piggybacking on that open connection.  Said neighbor was the culprit in question, so the SEK broke into the wrong guy’s home.

Now the police are denying any sort of legal or financial culpability.  According to the police spokesman, the wrongfully proned-out fellow is no better than someone who “goes on vacation, leaves his doors and windows open, and is then surprised when people commit felonies in his house while he’s gone.”

Now, keeping your WiFi access unsecured is not too smart, especially if you live in an urban area.  You don’t want to let your neighbor, Creepy Steve, piggy-back off your DSL pipe and shovel gigabytes of kiddie porn onto his PC through your connection.  However, as a former IT support guy, I know that the Magic Elf Box is a container of riddles wrapped into enigmas to a lot of people, and I’m pretty sure that the majority of folks who pick up a WiFi router at ChumpUSA just fire it up and leave all the settings at their default stage, because they don’t have a clue how to change them.

I think this calls for a new warning label on the WiFi router boxes: “Failure to secure your wireless network may result in your door getting stomped in by the local fuzz.”

on immigration.

As many of you know, I’m an American-by-choice.  Until right about five years ago, I was the citizen of a large-ish Western European country whose name rhymes with “Bermany”.  As a former immigrant, Resident Alien/Permanent Resident, and aspiring citizen, I have years and years of experience with the government agency formerly known as the Immigration and Naturalization Service, now the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service.

As someone with some exposure to the current system of admitting and incorporating foreigners into this country, I feel qualified to say that the immigration policies of the United States are not serving the country too terribly well, to put it mildly.

Now, I’ve never had a particularly hard time with the former INS.  I filed my I- and N-whatever forms as required, paid my fees, got prodded by a government-appointed doctor, proved my financial stability and language proficiency, and waited my required months and years for the official mill to grind.  I’ve never been treated in a discourteous fashion, and have—on occasion—been skipped to the front of the line.  (When I showed up at the Memphis regional office for my citizenship interview, for example, I walked into the full waiting room, and was called in almost as soon as I had taken one of the few remaining empty seats—last to walk in, first one to be called up.  Interestingly enough, I was also the only Anglo in the room.)  For the most part, my dealings with the INS were uniformly smooth sailing, comparatively speaking.  Still, the best day in all of my interactions with the friendly folks from the Immigration Service was the day I turned in my Green Card, just before taking the oath of allegiance in Federal court to become a citizen.

In contrast, there’s a friend of ours who is also a foreign national desiring to become a legal and sanctioned resident of this country.  She, too, has filled out her forms on time, paid her fees, and waited in line to get prodded and poked.  Unlike me, however, she has not received a whole lot of courteous treatment from the immigration officials.  When applying for a student visa at our embassy in her own country, she was told point-blank by the female U.S. consular official that “you people just want to come to America to get pregnant, stay, and take our money.”  In her dealings with the INS/CIS, she’s been talked to like a retarded child (despite speaking English natively), communicated with in sign language, or merely pointed in the desired direction without the courtesy of a verbal acknowledgement of her politely phrased question.

Our friend is better educated than I am (she holds a doctorate now), better off financially (without taking a dime in American taxpayer money in her life), and with better English than mine (she speaks the Queen’s English, whereas I sound like a linguistically slightly more gifted version of Arnie the Governator).  Yet, throughout our respective dealings with the INS, I’ve been treated with much more respect, courtesy, and efficiency than our friend.

The difference between us?  I’m a white (former) European who looks like any guy on the street in Minneapolis…and she’s a black woman from Nigeria.

Our friend has been in this country for over half a decade, attending American schools and paying her own way.  She’s working in a profession whose practitioners are in very high demand, thanks to the ever-increasing demand on medical and rehabilitation services by the older generation.  In fact, she’s the only specialist in her field at the facility where she works, and the only doctor in her field in the entire county.

Yet the Immigration service has been dicking her around for years, and her application for a Green Card or just a visa extension have disappeared in the bureaucratic fog without a word of feedback.  Now her work visa is due to expire in a few months, and the status of her application is still “In Process”, and has been since 2005.

This is a person who’s a net gain to our society.  She’s a hard-working, educated individual who speaks the language and follows the laws.  Her skill set is very much in demand here, and she pays her own way without relying on public money in any way.  Yet our immigration service is so unresponsive that she’s looking at relocation, because she doesn’t know if the application she filed almost five years ago has even been looked at by a human being yet, much less advanced to the next stage of the process.  She has to put her career on hold, sell her house, and pull up roots again, and we will lose a skilled worker who’s spending her time fixing up America’s sick and injured folks.

Where’s the sense in that?  I mean, if some white dude with an abbreviated college education and moderate IT skills can take Easy Street to naturalization (comparatively speaking), why is it that an educated medical professional from Africa can’t even get the courtesy of a yes/no answer on her application for a work visa before her time for legally staying in this country expires?  Is that in the best interest of our country, and the best way to handle the immigration issue?

The funny thing is that our friend is perfectly capable of cheating the system.  She has the money to pay some guy off the streets of the poverty-stricken county where she works to marry her and/or knock her up.  Instead, she has adhered to the law every step along the way.

In countries like the UK or Australia, they have a points system for determining someone’s eligibility for immigrating.  The better your education, and the more needed your profession, the higher you score.  Achieve a certain score, and you get your work visa or residency.  Transparent, objective, and effective.  In contrast, our system leaves a lot of room for subjective decisions…such as the personal prejudices of the official working on your visa application, who thinks that “your kind” only wants to come to America to make babies and collect welfare.

For most of this country’s history, our immigration policy has been “Can you hop off the boat under your own power?”  It’s only when the folks in charge decided that the wrongly-hued or wrongly-believing people were getting too many, that the gangway was pulled up, and the cries of “The boat is full!” started sounding.  It seems to be a tradition that every group of immigrants, once settled, spent a lot of time and effort keeping the next group of immigrants from contaminating the American Stew.  The Irish faced their share of discrimination, for example (“No Dogs Or Irish!”), and when folks were mostly satisfied that the Micks weren’t going to turn our WASPy paradise into an outpost of rampant potato-munching and whiskey-swilling Popery, the Irish joined forces with the rest to keep the swarthy wops out.  When the Italians were in, everyone turned against the Chinese and Japanese, and so on.  In the end, the entire “regional quota” system by which we issue visas only shows that we’re more concerned about keeping the color palette balanced, than considering what’s actually beneficial to the country as a whole.  And that’s how a medical professional with a doctorate can rate the same in importance as an unskilled laborer, just because they both have a passport from a sub-Saharan African country, and dark skin.

The professional in question, educated partly in American colleges, will be forced to take her skills and her knowledge, and leave the country.  Some other country will benefit from her intellect and her labor.  Sure, the U.S. college that gave her the doctorate got a lot of tuition money, but the lost income tax alone will more than negate that temporary cash infusion…never mind the loss of a highly-trained professional who is so much in demand by our health system that she could pick her job anywhere in the country if the U.S.CIS would let her.

And that, friends and neighbors, is a sad state of affairs, and a bad way to make immigration policy.  We shouldn’t be surprised when other countries start kicking our asses in the world economy if we’re not willing to give a chance to the world’s best and brightest, just because they happen to hail from the wrong area, or have the wrong melanin content in their skin.

canada day.

Happy Canada Day to our neighbors to the north!  (And they are quite literally our neighbors up here—NH shares a border with Quebec , and you can get poutine in a lot of places here in the Live Free Or Die State.) 

What, I ask you, is the proper protocol to observe for Canada Day?  Is one expected to throw a beaver on the grill? Ride a zamboni to work?  Run around with only a strategically placed maple leaf for clothing?  Drink a case of Molson Ice while listening to Anne Murray?  I don’t want to be culturally ignorant, so enlighten me, dear current or former Canadians.

(In exchange, I offer the proper ritual for observing our Fourth of July, which involves charring tasty animals on the grill while trying to balance the fine beer-consumption level where you’re comfortably sloshed, yet not so drunk that you blow off a limb with the obligatory fireworks.)