Swabian Hausfrau

“One should have just asked a Swabian housewife,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel when asked about the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.

In Germany, the traditional image of a housewife in the region of Swabia has typically been a positive one: a woman who is wise with her family’s money. Yet is there anything behind that stereotype?

A funny comment in YouTube: “I’d like to see a Swabian and a Scotsman plan a holiday together. I can only imagine the depths of destitution they would stoop to.”

Germany’s future? Look at its cars

A well-done description of the current – September 2021 – situation in Germany. By the economist. Using the German automobile industry as a window into the wider challenges to the German economy and to German society.

It’s bottom-line question is whether the German people are capable of responding to the challenges of today and the near future.

Careful, cautious, averse to major change

Oliver Nachtwey – Professor of Sociology at the University of Basel in Switzerland – and a sharp-eyed observer of German politics wrote this guest essay in the New York Times the day after the September 26, 2021 federal elections in Germany:

“It could have been a fresh start. In the face of a number of pressing challenges, rising inequality, run-down infrastructure and spiraling climate change among them, the election was a chance for the country to chart a better, more equal course for the 21st century. Instead, Germany is stuck. Ms. Merkel may be leaving. Yet the Germany she cultivated — careful, cautious, averse to major change — will carry on as before.

The campaign gave us early clues. Typically, candidates for the highest political office seek to distance themselves as much as possible from incumbents, to demonstrate the superiority of their vision for the country. But in Germany, the main candidates vied to imitate Ms. Merkel’s centrist political style. It delivered four successive electoral victories, after all.”

Mr. German man loves insurance

An American woman. Married to a German man. About how her husband, and his friends, are enthusiastic about insurance. And about how shocked they were to hear that she, and her American friends, never even heard of such kinds of insurance.

Warning ! This woman is a youtuber. And an American on top. So, she is more than a bit animated. And frankly, she could have made her points in about two minutes instead of seven and a half.

Begin watching at minute 5:00.

American Optimism

Mark Shields is a long-time political journalist. He has had a nationally-sydicated column for decades, and is well known from his weekly analysis with David Brooks – a New York Times columnist – on the PBS NewsHour. Listen to minutes 7:28 to 9:25.

If you get killed, at least you won’t know it.

In some cases, Americans are willing to take risks even if no corrective measures are possible. This has been particularly evident in Americans’ willingness to risk death during air and spacecraft testing and early use.

Apollo engineer Jerry Woodfill once said “Among the early space missions, I’ve always believed that the greatest courage was needed by their first crews. Whether it was Al Shepard, the Apollo 1 crew, or shuttle astronauts John Young or Bob Crippen, the most likely danger would be the first time any new space craft was launched into space. Flaws in design or manufacture could very well be fatal during maiden missions.”

American Chuck Yeager, the first man to break the sound barrier, once said “It’s your duty to fly the airplane. If you get killed in it, you don’t know anything anyway.”

Some examples of Americans who knew they were risking death to go into space include:

On April 13, 1970, two days after its launch, an oxygen tank aboard the Apollo 13 spacecraft exploded. 

This led to a desperate attempt for the astronauts to return to earth alive – one that nearly didn’t succeed. Less than a year later, despite having just witnessed an almost-fatal mission, the Apollo 14 spacecraft launched with three crewmembers on board.

On January 28, 1986, the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members on board. However, prior to the launch, the astronauts were warned that some of the engineers were worried about the effect of unusually low temperatures on the seals for the solid rocket boosters. 

Although they were not told the extent of the engineers’ concerns, they were warned that launching on January 28th would be more dangerous than waiting for the next available launch date, and asked if they wanted to postpone. All seven decided that their mission was worth the risk of launching on schedule.

Fail Fast, Fail Often

“Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Everywhere”. By John Donohue. The New Yorker. May 31, 2015.

“Discussions about failure may come more easily in America in part because our businesspeople are so good at it. The failure rate for startups, using a yardstick in which investors lose everything (i.e., all of the company’s assets are liquidated), is between thirty and forty per cent, according to Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School. 

The rate is seventy to eighty per cent if failure is defined as not meeting the projected return on investment, and ninety to ninety-five per cent if it is measured by failing to beat a declared projection.

Despite these statistics, Americans remain remarkably optimistic about the process—last year, venture-capital companies staked forty-eight billion dollars in pursuit of big returns. And the fact that these investments are concentrated in a relatively small number of companies has not seemed to inspire much fear in prospective entrepreneurs. 

According to a study done by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a project run by Babson College and the London Business School, in 2014 among respondents between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four who were not already running their own businesses, just thirty per cent reported that fear of failure would stop them from starting one. 

And more than half of those Americans surveyed believed that there are good opportunities to strike out on one’s own.

“… make a comeback“

The New York Times online. May 3, 2015. An interview with Diane von Fürstenberg, Belgian-born American fashion designer best known for her iconic wrap dress. 

Interviewer:  You’ve had such a roller coaster life of great successes, as well as some pretty dark times. How did you manage through all that?

von Fürstenberg: I’m still managing through it. First of all, let’s talk about success. I lived an American dream. I was very lucky because I was very successful at 25 years old. Now it’s very common for that to happen in Silicon Valley. But at the time, it was not so common, and I was a woman and I was very young.

Now we go to failure. What does failure mean? You didn’t make it? So you didn’t make it. But by not making it, maybe you learned something else. America is a society where you always have a chance and where you can always make a comeback. So I would say that failure sometimes could be your biggest asset.

Ockham’s Razor

Isolate: To cause a person or place to be or remain alone or apart from others; to identify something and examine or deal with it separately.

Simplicity: The quality or condition of being easy to understand or do; the quality or condition of being plain or natural; a thing that is plain, natural, or easy to understand. Late Middle English. From Old French simplicite or Latin simplicitas, from simplex.

Sophistication: The quality of being sophisticated; development to a high degree of complexity; the quality of being aware or and able to interpret complex issues; the characteristic of having, revealing, or proceeding from a great deal or worldly experience and knowledge of fashion and culture. From medieval Latin sophisticatus, “tampered with”.

Elegance: The quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner; the quality of being pleasingly ingenious and simple; neatness.

KISS: The acronym for “keep it simple, stupid” is attributed to Kelly Johnson, an engineer at the U.S. weapons company Lockheed. Although there are several other variations, the principle states that systems work best if they are kept simple. Complexity should be avoided. Johnson had given a team of design engineers a set of tools, then challenged them to design a jet aircraft which can be repaired by an average mechanic under war conditions with these tools only.

There is nothing original about KISS, however.  To Leonardo da Vinci is attributed “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Mies van der Rohe, widely regarded as one of the masters of modern architecture, stated time and again that “less is more”. Antoine de Saint Exupéry, the French aristocrat, poet, writer (The Little Prince) and pioneering aviator has been quoted: “It seems that perfection is reached not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

William of Ockham (1288-1348), an English Franciscan friar and one of the major figures of Medieval thought, wrote that “among competing hypotheses, the one that makes the fewest assumptions should be selected”.

Margins of Error

The United States has enjoyed the most favorable margins of error. Risk-taking could flourish under such circumstances.

It is protected by two natural barriers, the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Its neighbor to the north – Canada – is culturally a cousin and has never been a threat. Its neighbor to the south – Mexico – was defeated in wars and lost large pieces of territory to the U.S. It, too, has never posed a threat to the security and stability of the U.S.

The indigenous population – the American Indians – were driven from their territorial homelands, killed in wars, placed on reservations. The nation has access to immense natural resources, chief among them land.

Margin of error: An amount (usually small) that is allowed for in case of miscalculation or change of circumstances.

Risk (noun): A situation involving exposure to danger, the possibility that something unpleasant or unwelcome will happen, a person or thing regarded as likely to turn out well or badly, as specified, in a particular context or respect; a person or thing regarded as a threat or likely source of danger; a possibility of harm or damage against which something is insured; the possibility of financial loss.

risk (verb): Expose (something or something valued) to danger, harm, or loss; act or fail to act in such a way as to bring about the possibility of (an unpleasant or unwelcome event); incur the chance of unfortunate consequences by engaging in (an action).