Blackface in Europa

Heute kann man in der deutschsprachigen Presse lesen, welchen Wirbel Oliver Pocher jenseits des Atlantiks angerichtet hat, indem er auf dem Wiener Opernball vor Kim Kardashian das Wort “Nigger” ausgesprochen hat. Ausserdem scheint sich ein österreichischer Komiker das Gesicht schwarz angemalt zu haben, in Anspielung auf Frau Kardashians Verlobten Kanye West. Leser empören sich in ihren Kommentaren über die übertriebene Sensibilität der Amerikaner. Die Agentur des Komikers erklärt, die Kostümierung werde falsch verstanden.
Kürzlich gab es einen ähnlichen Fauxpas in der Schweiz, als sich eine TV-Komödiantin nicht nur das Gesicht schwarz malte, sondern sich auch noch wülstige Lippen aus Plastik aufsetzte und mit clownesken Gesten und kindischer Sprache bemühte, den Vorfall um Oprah Winfreys Einkaufserlebnis auf der Bahnhofstrasse beiseite zu grinsen. Auch hier tendierten Leserkommentare dazu, den Kritikern der Aktion Überempfindlichkeit, Fehlinterpretationen und Humorlosigkeit vorzuwerfen.

Vielleicht gibt es tatsächlich Raum für Fehlinterpretationen. “Blackface” spielte in der europäischen Theatergeschichte wahrscheinlich eine andere Rolle, als in der amerikanischen. In Ermangelung eines echten Mohrs muss in Venedig halt ein schwarzbemalter Weisser auf die Opernbühne. Während das Amusement der amerikanischen Minstrel-Shows im wesentlichen darauf basierte, sich mit persiflierten Stereotypen über die schwarze Minderheit lustig zu machen. Mit welchem dieser Fälle die beiden neueren Blackface-Aktionen eher vergleichbar sind, dürfte klar sein.

Bleibt die Frage, was von Oliver Pochers Spruch zu halten ist. Das Gesicht hat er sich ja nicht schwarz gemalt, er hat nur gesagt er warte auf “Niggers in Vienna”. Gemeint war es wohl als Wortwitz auf der Basis eines Songtitels des erwähnten Kanye West (“Niggas in Paris”).
Es ist zwar ungerecht, aber bei vielen Dingen spielt es nicht nur eine Rolle was gesagt wird, sondern von wem es gesagt wird, und ausserdem wie und in welchem Kontext es gesagt wird. Das Resultat liegt hier irgendwo zwischen peinlich und geschmacklos.

Ein Deutscher, der etwas anderes als “school English” verwendet, läuft grosse Gefahr, sich im besten Fall lächerlich zu machen, und im schlimmsten Fall ganz fest in einen Fettnapf zu treten.

Man kann sich leider nicht darauf berufen, dass die Leute im Kinofilm gestern Abend ganze neunzig Minuten lang so gesprochen haben, oder dass Jimmy Fallon letzte Woche Chris Rock auch genauso auf den Arm genommen hat oder was auch immer. Es kommt einfach anders, es wirkt ganz anders, und geht meist schief wenn ein Ortsfremder sich auf den messerscharfen Grat zwischen Humor und schlechten Geschmack begibt.

Piloten bei Ryanair

Im Studium stellte mir ein imaginärer Professor Picot in einem seiner Bücher über die Neue Institutionenökonomik die Frage “warum gibt es überhaupt grosse Unternehmen: warum ist nicht jedes Individuum ein Unternehmer in eigener Sache?” Institutionenökonomen haben darauf eine ausgeklügelte Antwort. Im Kern geht es aber um Transaktionskosten, und da diese durch neue Technologien und soziale Interaktionsformen ständig sinken, sagen die Modelle für die Zukunft gravierende Verschiebungen der “Grenzen der Unternehmung” voraus.

Ryanair macht schon mal vor, wie es laufen kann.

Um für die irische Billigfluglinie zu fliegen, muss der willige Pilot eine eigene «Limited» Gesellschaft (Ltd.) mit Sitz in Dublin gründen. Diese «Ein-Piloten-Ltd.» bietet ihre Arbeitsleistung der Firma Brookfield Aviation Ltd. an, die ihren Sitz ebenfalls in Dublin hat. Brookfield ihrerseits verleiht dann diese Piloten weiter an die Firma Ryanair. Der Pilot sitzt also in einem Flugzeug der Firma Ryanair, mit der er aber in keinem direkten Vertragsverhältnis steht.

Für den irischen Billigflieger ergeben sich daraus viele Vorteile: Da das fliegende Personal nach Blockstunden bezahlt wird, fallen keine Grundkosten an. Zudem können von einem Monat auf den anderen Kapazitäten auf- oder abgebaut oder von einer Basis auf eine andere transferiert werden. Der Pilot als Unternehmer muss sich selbst um seine Pensionskasse, Sozialabgaben und Steuern kümmern. Sollte einmal die Blockstundenanzahl und somit auch das Einkommen gekürzt werden, trägt ebenfalls der Pilot dieses unternehmerische Risiko.

Nicht vorenthalten möchte ich Euch ein paar andere Höhepunkte aus dem Brookfield Vertrag. Da der Pilot bei keiner Fluggesellschaft angestellt ist, trotzdem aber irgendwo in den Simulator muss, zahlt er als Pauschale viereinhalb Euro pro Flugstunde an Ryanair für die Nutzung ihrer Trainingseinrichtungen. Steht einmal ein Flug mit einem Instruktor oder einem Examiner an, so hat der Trainee für einen Teil der Kosten aufzukommen. Ein First Officer verdient übrigens 60 Euro brutto pro Flugstunde.

Aus: Pilots of Swiss

 

McDonald’s 2013 employee benefits program

Anyone who’s enjoyed medical treatment in the U.S. will see McDonald’s healthcare program for what it is: largely symbolic.

Take a look at this, their benefits brochure.

If you consider that their employees earn around $7.50 per hour, a $30% co-pay for emergency treatment is almost prohibitive. Emergency rooms can cost $1000 just for walking (or, Asclepius forbid, rolling) through the door… and after that, the costs really start mounting.

Just the “green fee” for an emergency room will cost our burger-flipper a little over a week’s pay (before taxes).

A pig through the python

I just remembered a famous decision by Scott McNealy, the former head of Sun Microsystems, to ban PowerPoint from the Sun campus. I looked for an article to verify, and found one.

Apparently he trumpeted the productivity-enhancing effects of his Powerpoint ban. Sadly, whatever effect it had on their productivity or their creativity didn’t last, because as we all know they went down the tubes and had to be saved by Oracle of all things.

Kathleen Belleville, who worked at Powerpoint, argued: “now we’ve got highly paid people spending hours formatting slides because it’s more fun to do that than concentrate on what you’re going to say.” I find that convincing. The glitz and glamour of a presentation still has a disproportionate impact on the audience, and people know that, so they end up spending a lot of time messing with the formatting.

But I think the effect Powerpoint has had on its target audience is much worse: members of senior management are now so accustomed to bite-sized chunks of pre-digested “insight” that they have become addicted, and unable to digest facts on their own. I think that is dangerous.

A related and quite famous argument was made by Edward Tufte, who discovered that a NASA briefing which used PowerPoint as its presentation medium had led to a bad decision which doomed a space shuttle and its crew. However he criticizes the people creating the presentations and blames the bullet-point style of communication for leading to something like cognitive “rounding errors”.

Amazingly, I’ve heard colleagues interpret this same case as an example of the adverse effect of “overcomplicated” presentations with “busy” slides. Personally, I interpret it as a failure of management to fully parse the presented facts. I think a verbose report would have forced the readers to put some effort into comprehending the available data and understanding the situation.

Subservience

Consider this text:

Long emails get ignored and filed away. Short emails get read. People see the value without having to get out the reading glasses. A welcome email shouldn’t be a novel.

We used to have a really information packed welcome email for Basecamp. It had everything you’d ever need to know about your Basecamp account. And guess what? We got lots of support emails asking about the things people should have spotted in the welcome email. But they couldn’t see through all the fog we put in their way.

They provided all the necessary information but the customers “couldn’t see through the fog”?! They were too lazy or indifferent to read for their own good, is closer to the truth.

I’ve encountered this servile attitude quite often over the last couple of years, and I think it is harmful. A policy of licking customers’ boots is bad for the customer and worse for your own colleagues and employees.

Customers come and go, but capable colleagues should be retained for the long run. The person who put a lot of thought into that introduction e-mail will feel unfairly put down if her work is described as “fog”. Why should she stay?

Hot Dogs

Gene’s & Jude’s is one of Chicago’s hidden cultural icons. It’s too far off the beaten track for most tourists to visit, but real hot-dog connoisseurs actually do travel to Chicago and then make their way West to Grand Ave & River Road just to eat one of Gene’s & Jude’s “depression style” hot-dogs.

Here’s one. It’s lurking beneath the fries.

The Gene’s & Jude’s hot dog was recently elected “Best Hot Dog in America” by subject matter experts who compared more than fifty candidates across the continent.

The award is instructive; it tells me I need look no further. That’s comforting.

If I had to select a “Best Hot Dog of Chicago”, the crisp G&J would be top of the list, followed at a distance by Portillo’s and then by Superdawg. But none of the three would be my first choice for dinner: I haven’t developed a taste for hot dogs. It’s not just the American kind I’m lukewarm about, either. I feel the same way about German Frankfurter and Swedish Korv.

The thing I find striking about hot dogs and other forms of Wurst served at fast food stands is this: out of all available choices, they are the food with the lowest value added by the vendor. I say vendor because “cook” is always the wrong word to describe what they are doing. They unpack portions of processed and preserved foods and assemble them into an end product which is warmed up and sold.

Not that hamburgers or döner kebabs are healthy, or require years of culinary training to prepare. But relative to a hot dog they almost look like they’re cooked to order with fresh produce.

But it’s never just about the food, is it. In the US in particular, I think, for many the hot dog has a special meaning which transcends the relish. Almost no-one who’s talked to me about hot dogs so far has done so without mentioning childhood memories. Regular Sunday outings to a hot dog stand close by the Sunday School, or that promised visit to Soldier Field in Boston which finally came true… that sort of thing.

I don’t think I have a “memory food” like that, so I can’t really empathize. But I do understand the value of history. Some of those iconic fast food places have been around for a while. G&J’s has an interesting history (see the Wikipedia entry). It seems the owners lost the original, centrally-located store “in a card game” in the late 40s. Which goes a way to explaining why their new store is far out West and is not much more than an improvised wooden shack with linoleum floors. Cool place.

A more modern role

Switzerland has had very strict laws governing banking privacy since about the time of the first world war. Its principles of banking privacy have come under ferocious attack by other governments in recent years, especially from the U.S. and Germany, as part of a drive to increase revenue for beleaguered Treasuries and probably also as a bit of a warning to putative tax dodgers.
I think it is likely the banking laws will change, hopefully in some way which allows the Swiss to save face: it is hard for foreigners to grasp the cultural significance this seems to have for ordinary citizens, even those totally unconnected to the banking sector.
Negotiations about restrictions to privacy have been on and off for the last few years. The negotiations with the US seem to take place in the back rooms of American courts, whereas negotiations with Germany seem to take place via the newspapers. The US process sees ever-increasing damages claims and payments, while the German process is characterized by an escalation of a rather spiteful back-and-forth exchange of tabloid headlines, fueled by the feisty quotes and antics of politicians playing to their electorates.
A while ago, data files copied from Swiss banks were purchased by state revenue departments on the black market in order to find and prosecute tax dodgers. This has driven home the importance of data protection as a requirement for privacy in other areas of life. Banking privacy laws are ineffective unless the underlying data can be protected.
In a way, I think this avenue of thought may lead to an interesting new role for a fiercely independent country like Switzerland. A chance to remodel the cultural icon of banking privacy into a new and much more exciting story.
Plenty has been written about this, here’s a good example.

Systemic Paranoia

I think the concepts and vocabulary of “Homeland Security” are emotionally loaded, and it’s likely this is by design of the stakeholders. The core concept has led to the creation of staffed and funded organizations which can’t possibly be in a good position to justify their levels of staffing and funding. I’ll bet this situation leads to the routine over-deployment of resources (usually: armed and armoured civil servants) at the slightest hint of a marginally justifiable cause.

I recently had an odd experience in a commercial plane, which soon after landing was boarded by a CDC official, inexplicably accompanied by a swarm of armed goons, to investigate a cranky child.

Here’s a similar case, where the sighting of a glider near a nuclear power plant led to the deployment of apparently over-excited local law enforcement officials acting on behalf of FBI and DHS. I’d ask “what are these people thinking”, but they probably just aren’t. They just follow orders, or their manual, and are more than likely delighted about the expanded authority which has been bestowed upon them out of the blue.

Go ahead and follow the link. The AOPA’s using the case to sell their legal assistance, but nonetheless it’s an interesting case. It’s disturbing to see the police, and worse: the DHS trying to exert power where they have no jurisdiction (here: aviation regulations). Threatening to shoot down an unpowered aircraft which is too light to be a threat to a nuclear power plant (evident just by looking at it)? It’s disgusting.