jona: Natsume holding umbrella over Bem (Bem)
 photo abgang_475.jpg


So this is two cheerful posts in one day. One less planned than the other.

I was out for a walk and grocery shopping when my mother whatsapped me to tell me that Helmut Schmidt died this afternoon.

This is neither surprising nor in any way tragic. The man was 96 years old; he had a rich life with many successes, he was everyone's favourite former chancellor, he had an exceptional marriage for 68 years, he was spared dementia and got to stir the pot almost until the very end, and the people who are still writing he was 'respected but not loved' are somehow still stuck in 1992, thank you.

So I know I was projecting all over the place and that nearly bawling at the supermarket checkout had much more to do with my life in the last week or so than Helmut Schmidt dying.

But I still feel bereft.

I feel bereft that I live in a Germany that doesn't have Helmut Schmidt anymore.

This isn't about how he was always right and perfect; he wasn't. But that's not the point. It's also not the point that I feel immediately compelled to point out that I know it's easy to be a moral authority giving good advice when you're no longer actually in politics. Because I do know that.

The point is, a lot of those I consider great Germans have died in recent years. Marion Dönhoff, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Richard von Weizsäcker -- Helmut Schmidt was the last one to go now, and to me the most important one. The people I'd point to with a sentimental, 'There, that is my Bundesrepublik.'

I don't know who else is left who does that for me. I don't know if there's anyone in contemporary politics who could grow into that for me.

One of my very earliest television memories is watching Schmidt lose the chancellorship in a no-confidence vote. He was a pragmatist and a conservative Social Democrat, and I did a lot (though not all) of my figuring out what sort of Social Democrat I am by reading up on his struggles with a party increasingly to the left of him.

He was sometimes vain, often arrogant. But straightforward. An intellectual whose best autobiographical book is about his love for the arts and philosophy. A guy who made the tough calls in the face of terrorism and didn't lose himself or the country its soul. Who's in it because he thinks he knows better than everyone else but also because he has a true idea of public duty. Who's not married to his fourth wife and who spent his time as an Elder Statesmen writing knowledgable books about European integration, not making a fortune from Russian oil companies.

I don't know if everyone who's said in recent years, 'We'd need a Chancellor like Helmut Schmidt' would really mean it if they knew more about the nitty-gritty of his chancelorship and the flaws that came with the package. I think I'd mean it, though.

Danke, Herr Bundeskanzler. You were right a lot more than you were wrong, especially about Karl Popper. And, yeah, the missiles. And you will be missed. And you're still the only guy who'd ever get to smoke in my flat.


English obituary, if you're curious.
jona: Kame with his shirt off (JE - KAME)
Does it count as work when it's LJing about pensions?

I have just about had it with idiotic, pseudo-leftist, sentimental, manipulative articles on sad, impoverished pensioners in reputable German broadsheets.

Today's article was on Sueddeutsche.de.

The cast of characters:

-- Female pensioner, worked for ten years, was a housewife for ten years, worked another fifteen part-time. Did not save privately.
-- Male pensioner, was employed for a few years, became self-employed for the rest of his career. Did not take out a private pension or savings plan.

Their state pensions suck. This, no doubt, sucks a lot for them. It sucks in all sorts of ways. However, this state of suck is really not the fault of the German pension system. And yet the whole thing is bathed in this 'isn't it terrible, and where is the system? why isn't anybody doing anything about this?' undertone

It's really kind of endemic to newspaper articles about pensions that they get their causes and effect all fuzzy and wrong, and lather their image of the poor pensioners with a nice froth of moral indignation that is usually addressed entirely to the wrong culprit. This particular article, the prompt of today's little rant, takes the stupid to yet another level, in how it insidiously ties this guy's loneliness to the problem of pensioner poverty (when the article itself states the main reason for his loneliness as being based on a bad divorce). It's technically supposed to be an article about what it's like to be a poor pensioner in a very expensive city, which I think is a topic worth exploring, as I'm sure there's a difference between whether you're trying to live at social assistance level in Munich and Stuttgart, or in Leipzig and Berlin. But instead it's all about how bad these guys' state pensions suck, and it's really only one offender in many I've read now in my career as a Pensions Person (tm). I suspect it's just really easy and tempting to go 'POOR PENSIONER BAD. PENSION FAIL. BAD SOCIETY.', and who gives a crap about tackling these issues with any sort of nuance?

Do I think we should talk about pensioner poverty and what's going to happen in a few years, if the state pension level keeps declining? Yes. Do I think we should talk about the way it's often women who end up with really sucky pension provisions? YES.

Do I think you can explicitly and implicitly blame the state pension system for not providing enough for people who largely opted out of it? No.

You know, you don't (or shouldn't, in my not so humble opinion) build policy, especially pensions policy, based on what the smartest, most self-sufficient, most reasonable citizens will do. Because these are not your citizens. You build your pensions policy for the apathetic citizens, the citizens who are 25-years-old and will of course never turn into old people, the citizens who don't know how interest rates work, and the citizens whose eyes glaze over when they hear the word 'pensions'. Because these are the citizens you've actually got.

HOWEVER.

No government can build a pensions policy that provides generous, status-maintaining pensions out of no contributions. And if you think you can, you have failed the basic common sense test. While I have a lot of sympathy for people who miscalculated, or were a little stupid, or naive, or unlucky, or just not as lucky as they'd thought, or got screwed by the job market, and who can't really turn the cart around at age 65 -- because that is really the biggest problem with pensions, there are no do-overs -- I have NO PATIENCE ANYMORE with the journalists who take on just that perspective when they write about it, who pretend that it's somehow outrageous that ten years of full pension contributions don't give you 35 years of a full pension, and who contradict themselves in their own stupid articles because the image of the pity poor pensioner who was let down by the evil system is just that irresistible.

Because they are not helping.
jona: (je - jin huddling)
So, I'm working. (Yes, I really am.) But because of the sort of work I do and the kind of office I work in, I can also have the livecast of the German parliament session on, which for once is actually really interesting.

The German parliament is currently debating whether to allow restricted screening of IVF embryos for fatal genetic diseases, with a vote to follow around lunchtime. All the media are pointing out that this has been an emotional but respectful cross-party debate, with party discipline lifted for the bills and the eventual vote, and for once they're right. With no disrespect to the seriousness of the topic, THIS IS THE PARLIAMENTARY GOOD SHIT. (Which is why I have it on in the first place.) Some truly great discussion, and while I wouldn't say great oratory, there have been some excellent contributions, from all sides.

And yet. Cut for IDK, don't want to randomly spring the political on people. )

That aside -- the parliamentary good shit.

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the paranoid android

December 2015

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