Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guest blogging for Pop City Pittsburgh 2

Today is a happy day!  In the middle of Christmas business madness some words and pictures about the gorgeous time Gabrijela and I had in Pittsburgh in October went live at Pop City Pittsburgh!

Please see our post here:

A European Perspective of Pittsburgh: Part 2

Just in case you missed the first part about our trip in spring 2012 you can find it here:

A European Perspective of Pittsburgh: Part 1

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Grinch vs The Communitree

It is that time of the year, when my blog posts get less frequent and  the book reviews stop, because instead of reading on my way to work I sit exhausted in the subway train with my eyes closed and my earbuds in to shut the noise of the world out.  It is Christmas time. 

The real Christmas dissapeared from my life when I started to work in retail in December 1994 to fund my life as a student at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster. I worked at a record shop and while I still think it is one of the coolest and most fun jobs a person can have, it's pretty nasty right before Christmas. It means long hours, hurting feet and legs and lots and lots and lots of people buying music, who have no idea what they want and what they are doing. And NO, you cannot behave like  the guys in this very fun "dealing with the clueless customer scene" in High Fidelity (l love the book by Nick Hornby and the movie with John Cusack is not that bad either). But working in a real shop is not even that bad. You feel the excitement of Christmas and if the shop is in the city center like ours you can always have an afterwork hot punch at the Christmas market and get the feeling at least a little bit.

For several years now I am not dealing anymore directly with customers. I am doing online marketing for online retail companies. While I love selling stuff over the internet that makes people happy this Christmas thing is getting tough for me. It is all just about increased campaign volumen, constant checking on business performance and lots of long extra hours at work. It is what the business demands and the career I chose. It is like it is, but sometimes I really miss the real spirit of Christmas in my life. 

And then last Monday I had this on my Facebook timeline from Pittsburgh artist, awesome dinner companion and friend Alexi Morrissey

"Me and Patrick Jordan are hosting this for 8hrs a day for the next 3 days. Robots! Toys! INSANITY!! Internet!" 
Below the post was the link to The Communitree.

I clicked. I pretty much always click Alexi's links, because they are usually worth it and saw .... *blink* (still there) *blink* (still there) *blink* Pat and Alexi in pretty awesome-ugly Christmas sweaters jumping in some kind of studio around a Christmas tree with some strange technical construction above dropping Christmas ornaments on the tree, but also on the floor or on Alexi's head or Pat's sweater (where it got stuck). WHAT  THE HELL???

I will try to put it in as rational and understandable words as possible:
Pat and Alexi were hosting a live webcast for 3 days / 8 hours each, where people could watch them doing ... stuff ... and also log into a website to use the machine to drop the Christmas ornaments on the Christmas tree in the studio. Every time an ornament would be dropped 5$ would be donated by two sponsoring companies to the children's charity Toys for Tots. Facebook likes for the site and the ornaments you dropped brought in extra money. The goal was to keep people engaged and playing along the show to get 20,000 $ in donations together.
This is the theory. For real Alexi's "INSANITY!!" described it much better. You can watch this video to get an impression:

The Communitree on TV

And yes, just in case you are wondering about the mentioned call into the studio (one more interactive element) from Germany - that was me. 

It was wild, it was crazy and it was ... magic and addictive for everybody who started watching. I LOVED it. I enjoyed the insanity very much, because it was the PERFECT contrast to my business numbers controlled professional life in a moment when I REALLY needed it.
The magic of the internet also shrunk the usually painful big distance of almost 4,300 miles between Munich and Pittsburgh to a felt 0, because I could see the guys and in parallel lots of my friends watched as well, dropped ornaments, posted and tweeted. It was a bit like having three great nights out together getting totally wasted.
And ... what was that ... this fuzzy feeling in my tummy? CHRISTMAS!!! As weird as it sounds ... hanging out on my couch with my notebook in my lap playing with a 4,300 miles away operating roboter while two guys were freaking out in front of a camera kicked out my personal Grinch and got me more into Christmas mood than I had been in years. And it felt GOOD!

I thank Alexi and Pat and the whole Communitree team for the amazing ride. It was so much fun and such a great success. I also have the deepest respect for what you all did, because doing 3 days / 8 hours each of live impro show must be INSANELY exhausting on every level.
I am so happy the 20,000 $ came together and I hope very much that The Communitree becomes a Christmas tradition!!!

The 3 days of  The Communitree are over, but of course you can still donate to Toys for Tots and other charities. I would love to use this chance to make you aware of one that is really close to my heart:

I am talking about kids looking forward to a sad Christmas away from home, because they had to escape with one of their parents / relatives (often but not always the mother) to a domestic violence shelter. These kids have seen often more bad than most of us. Don't you think just like me these kids should at least have a nice Christmas with some great gifts? I am sure you do!

YOU can help and donate to CHRISTMAS CRAZY - the charity of my lovely friend Michelle of the fantastic Burghbaby blog . Please read here for more information and get your Paypal accounts ready! Every $ will directly go into purchasing Christmas gifts. There is no costly administration or organisation behind it. It is just Michelle investing her time and energy to conjure a smile on the face of some kids who usually have not much to smile about. If you want your donation to have a direct impact, this is your way to go! THANK YOU!

Monday, November 5, 2012

No lockout can stop us ...

... from raising the next generation :)
This is my niece showing us proudly her new t-shirt "from Ameeeeeerica". 

She’s a good girl ... loves Jesus and America, too... Part V - Election Edition

Tuesday - the election day in the USA - is almost there and since I'm as usual pretty bad with keeping my mouth shut, I just inhaled and launched my blogging software to write my election post. 

As a German native, passport holder and resident I logically cannot vote in the USA although I care a lot about the future of this country. Thankfully - and we should not take this for granted - the freedom of speech is in place and in the United States as well as in Germany so I can at least write down my thoughts. 

Most importantly:  You should vote! Democracy is nothing that happens to you - you ARE the democracy and there is no bigger threat to the political system than not voting. It is your responsibility. Make your choice and your voice heard. 

IF I could vote - well you can see in the image on top who I would vote for. From the perspective of a German that is by the way an easy choice, because if that would be Germany, there would be no Mitt Romney and no Republican Party - at least not in the recent form - because their program includes several proposals that infringe the German constution and diverse laws in place. There is especially this one from the constitution, which would stop Mr. Romney and his team dead right way:

Article 20, paragraph 1:
Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland ist ein demokratischer und sozialer Bundesstaat

Translation:  The Federal Republic of Germany is a democratic, social and federal state.

Yes, we have the word SOCIAL in the constitutional definition of our nation and I am very proud of it. We are the living proof that a country can be one of the economically most successful countries in the world and a stable democracy with having at the same time a social system in place that is - although it is still by far not ideal - capable of providing a certain level of social security including health insurance, pension system, education and the security of basic livelihood for its citizens. 

Sometimes when I try to explain the social aspect of our political system to Americans (none of those a close friend thankfully) they stare at me puzzled and state: "So Germany is a socialist country!?"
SIGH ... no, it's not! By definition (Oxford Dictionary) socialism is:

"a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole."

The idea came up when the unlimited capitalism of the industrialization had led to an equally limitless exploitation of labor and an inhuman society benefiting only a small minority of capitalists.
Let's quote Kurt Vonnegut for better understanding of the idealistic concept especially contrasting the reality of the so called socialist countries at the former Eastern bloc:

""Socialism" is no more an evil word than "Christianity". Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve." (Kurt Vonnegut, "Man Without a Country")

That said ... Germany is by the definition no socialist country. Our system is called social market economy and it is the - fairly good working - approach to have the best of both worlds with providing a system of social security and allowing the privately driven economy to be succesful and internationally competitive. It is not perfect, it is always in a process of change, it is not easy to handle and balance, it does not come cheap for anybody, but - in my opinion - it is absolutely worth it.

That said ... Barrack Obama is by definition also no socialist. To get a better picture let's put his political positioning in an (international) perspective at the example of the political parties in Germany:
Here Obama with his program would not even really qualify for the Social Democratic Party - SPD (moderate left wing, 2nd biggest party in the country), because his approach is still significantly too conservative and "liberal" 
(note: the use of the word "liberal" is different in Germany it translates maybe a bit better as libertarian). His position can be best compared with the slightly more social wing of the FDP - the liberal / libertarian (see note above) party in Germany, that usually works in coalition with the conservative CDU/CSU.  The US Republicans are of all parties in Germany closest to the CSU, but in lots of the topics on their agenda they even range beyond the political spectrum we have here.

Barrack Obama is a hard working political realist (he was from the beginning much more realistic about what would be possible in a first term than many of his voters) who tries to be the President of all Americans - despite of race, gender, sexual orientation or social class. He is not a socialist, he does not want to cut your personal freedom, he supports although his political opponents try to maintain the opposite the US economy (Some interesting numbers about the mostly positive development during Obama's term can be found for example here at CNN), but he is also not the Messiah like super hero many had hoped for.  But what he does with all he got is fighting for a fair chance for a happy, healthy and successful life for all citizens of this great country. Wasn't that what America was once all about? 

So let the man just do his job for four more years.  Thank you.